Football is for You and Me

Football Discourse in Germany. German football is currently engaged in a debate about football tradition. Reason for this is the rise of RB Leipzig, a club sponsored mainly, if not exclusively by Austrian sugar drink manufacturer Red Bull. The discussion has shown a huge rift among the football public as the following will highlight. Read more →

Gambling and Technology

This post is a short excursion into the history of betting and football. As soon as urbanization saw the evolution of modern sports in the 19th century, this also led to an increase in gambling. Initially outlawed, the authorities soon gave in in order to keep this form of leisure pursuit under their control; albeit it was a futile effort. Before football’s domination, gambling was more often connected with horse or dog racing or cock fights. However, a codified game such as soccer has become since 1863, was a far better possibility to place bets. Richard Holt points out that

the chance of a small windfall was a source of hope as well as amusement.

Further, life for working class people was hard and many did not believe that they could save enough to improve their lives. Gambling therefore was a little effort connected to the hope of hitting the big time.

Football as a sport enjoys the greatest popularity worldwide. Since it is one of the easiest games to play, this is understandable. It is quite a different thing however, to predict the results of a high profile football game. All one can rely on is probabilities and recent form of the teams playing each other. But how often do these predictions turn out to be wrong? Examples abound. Take the Cup Winners’ Cup final of 1974. AC Milan had won the trophy in 1973 against Leeds United and managed to reach the final the following year. Here they encountered East Germany’s FC Magdeburg and the game was considered a dead rubber for the Italians. The success of Magdeburg stunned many of the punditry class. Another German team to upset an Italian outfit in the Champions League was Dortmund who beat their nightmare team Juve 3-1 in 1997. These two examples show that predictions, tendencies and probabilities can have no value if minor events turn the match on its head.

This uncertain nature of the game has naturally attracted people to place money bets on the result of any given game. Historically, this has led to an after game rush to the local book makers. With the change of technology however, odds and gains and losses are instantly available. Supporters are now able to place such bets online using their iPad at an iPad Casino while on their way to the match.

Another source for the betting success is the scarcity of goals in football. Matches can end 1-0 and the goal was scored in the first minute or in the very last. All excitement is bestowed in this moment of joy or despair. This has encouraged major book makers to provide sponsorship deals to the sport, as we have seen with companies such as Bwin and bet365.

Nowadays, placing bets on soccer has become a very easy task and is possible 24/7 thanks to technology. It is almost beyond our imagination how slow this industry once was and how patient punters had to be in order to get their result and know they had won.

Note: This post was written in collaboration with and Red Star Media.

Bill Shankly once famously stated:

‘Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.’

That this is not the case was shown last weekend during the Bundesliga game between Schalke 04 and Eintracht Frankfurt. One of the Schalke banner carriers collapsed 15 minutes into the game. Initially, no one reacted. It was a photographer who alarmed the paramedics and with their help and Schalke’s team doctor, the man was re-animated in front of Schalke’s South Stand and was later safely transferred into hospital. He suffered a contraction of the cervical artery and could have died but for the woman raising the alarm. He is now said to be re-covering.

What was more astonishing was the reaction of both sets of fans. They fell silent almost immediately after the incident. The Schalke support stopped as soon as they realized that it was serious. The Frankfurt support joined in and fell silent.

It was gesture rarely witnessed in a German football stadium. Television stations were left wondering why the ground was so quiet. Schalke coach Jens Keller had to inform the Sky broadcast team after the match. The TV presenter insinuated that the lack of any atmosphere was down to the lack of attractive football offered by both teams during the first half. That this was not the case, surprised the reporter.

It is normal that the incident has caught media attention but the reaction of the fans went largely unnoticed. It gives an idea of the image the German media have of football fans. Had the supporter been hit by a missile, the discussion would naturally be a very different one. The tabloid Bild would have had a feast. Yet, this time both sets of fans showed compassion and no one gave a dime.

Shankly might not have agreed with the head line of this post but it was a sign that there is more to life than football.

Last night’s quarterfinal return leg between Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid was put off as a dead rubber after the 3-0 defeat in Madrid. At least this was the view of a German TV journalist who annoyed Jürgen Klopp, Dortmund’s charismatic coach, with this statement. That the tie was far from over, was proven last night, As Dortmund overran Real like ‘Panzers’ as one Spanish newspaper claimed. Read more →

FC Magdeburg – VFC Plauen Match Report

Magdeburg’s chances for promotion have received a knock last week when they were defeated by Neustrelitz, who deserve to be top of the league. The visitors, Plauen, had nothing to lose as they are safe from relegation and have nothing to do with promotion either. Nonetheless, it was an entertaining match on a wonderful sunny afternoon in Germany.

Breathtaking 25

The home team were caught on the wrong foot: 2 minutes were played and they were 1 goal down already. A misplaced pass on the right wing saw 2 Plauen attackers quickly combining and finishing. The aftershock of last week’s defeat was very much visible. Matters were made worse only 2 and a half minutes later when a corner was headed into the net by Christian Beck, Magdeburg’s top scorer this season. It could not get worse. Read more →

Goals, Goals, Goals

Richard Gutjahr, an articulate German journalist who established his reputation for experimenting with all things online, once summarized the relationship of the Germans and the internet thus: It’s complicated. It is indeed, if one reads the statistics Gutjahr presents. The generation older than 45 years fears that with the internet a general trend to stultify society has commenced. Its’ not just the social anxiety towards the internet, it appears German football also does not embrace new technology.

During a meeting of all executives of Germany’s 36 professional football clubs the introduction of goal line technology such as Hawk Eye as it is used in the Premier League was voted against. The reasons given: too expensive and not technically sound, yet. Read more →

How to Assess Strength

Is the German Bundesliga really the strongest league as it is often declared? What are the measures for such an assessment? Where did such a claim origin? Was it just a much sought-after tag for the Bundesliga after the all-German final of the UEFA’s most coveted competition? An Assessment.

The success of the Bundesliga over the last years was well received outside Germany and raised questions about the capability of German clubs to nurture talent and re-invent themselves after a lenghty period without any meaningful success. Highlight certainly was the qualification of all 4 clubs for the knock-out stages of the Champions League this season. However, come the first knock out stage this number has been halved with Schalke conceding 9 goals against a rampant Real while Leverkusen were hammered by Zlatan and his co-mercenaries from Paris. Read more →

40 Years – 7 Tears: Magdeburg Pay double Penalty

It was all set: The champagne in the fridge, the venue for the after match party. The sun was doing her best on this early May weekend. The veterans from Rotterdam 1974 played the warm-up game for the men’s team. Albeit, all this turned out to be premature.

The ground, the old Ernst-Grube-Stadion, was decently filled with around 5000 awaiting the club to beat VfB Lichterfelde in their last home game of the season.

Restructuring the Pyramide

The 1993/94 season was another decisive season. The then third tier, the Oberliga Nord/Ost, was to be dissolved among a huge restructuring of the amateur football level. The new construct to qualify for in this season was the Regionalliga, a semi-professional league below the divisions 1 and 2. Of course Magdeburg were among those teams seen as favourites to qualify; simply their name suggested they belonged at least into the third tier.

Before the rewards were collected however, there were some matches to be played. A decent start to the season saw Magdeburg take maximum points from the first 4 games. Unfortunately, this hope soon faded. In October Magdeburg managed no win just 2 draws and 1 defeat; the worst came in early November when Union Berlin put 9 (N-I-N-E!!!) goals behind Frank Pietruska without a reply.

Still on Course

The kickers from the Elbe were still on course to qualify in early spring but it was their away form that would cost them dearly at the end. Defeats at Stendal (3:2) Dessau (3:2) Zehlendorf (1:0) Cottbus (3:0) paired with home defeats and draws made the affair a very tight one indeed and suggested that the players were losing the grip on their qualification campaign. The biggest set back however, came with the last home game of the season against unfancied Lichterfelde.

Lichterfelde have a bit of history of their own. Their were a house hold name in the football system of Berlin dating back as far as 1892. The forerunner of VfB Lichterfelde were LSU Lichterfelder Spiel-Union and Brandenburg 92. Several ups and downs  as well as some fusions saw VfB Lichterfelde emerge in 1978 after LSU and other clubs from the Berlin borough continued their descend into nether regions of Berlin football. The VfB meanwhile established itself soon as a force to be reckoned with and it was no co-incidence that the club should finish second in 1995 and 1996 before finally slipping down again. They have since agreed to fusion with BFC Viktoria 1889 and play under the name FC Viktoria Berlin 1889 in the Oberliga Nord/Ost and ironically are playing in the same league as Magdeburg again.

Desaster Strikes – Twice

On May 8, 1994 Magdeburg needed a win to secure qualification ahead of Hertha Zehlendorf, a draw would put more pressure on the last day of the season, therefore securing 6th place at home was the aim. After missing out on direct qualification for the second division, this failure was to be corrected in the second attempt and the 3rd division was of course only seen as a stopover on the way to Bundesliga 2.

It was one of those days. Magdeburg made the game for most of the 90 minutes. Yet, it was their wastefulness that gave Lichterfelde hope and inevitably, 2 goals. To add insult to injury, the home team were awarded 2 penalties – 2 chances presented on a silver plate to Axel Domine – were wasted. And the fate was sealed: Magdeburg were condemned to 4th division football for the time being. Lichterfelde spoiled the party in no way any one could have foreseen by sitting deep and letting Magdeburg come. And they came and pressed but found no way through. 1-2 it remained and almost immediately it was clear throughout the ground that this was it, that the team had blown a huge chance. It turned out to be their last of the season as the final game of the season saw Magdeburg winning again but so did Hertha Zehlendorf and secured automatic qualification on goal difference as both Magdeburg and the Berlin club had the same points.

Worse to Come

If this was bad, worse was to come the following season. By winning 5-2 on the last day of the season, away at Preußen Berlin, Magdeburg just avoided relegation. Being in the 4th division is bad but was deserved with this team, dropping down another level would have meant the end for a once proud club. The mistakes on the pitch where a team completely out of their depth could not play consistently were equalled by incompetence by the club’s officials. The mix of local talent and people bouhgt at inflated prices or of dubious talent was very honourable but simply was not working. As a result, the gate figures averaged 444 during the season.

A change in off pitch personell seemed to work well as with Hans-Dieter Schmidt a well-travelled man took over the manager’s position and later became head coach of the team. Teamed up with Eckhard Meyer, a local pub landlord, Schmidt built a squad around Frank Lieberam, a local boy from Halberstadt, who played for Dynamo Dresden, VfL Wolfsburg and had a stint in Japan before he received a call from home.

New Rival, New Life

With the promotion of Fortuna Magdeburg in 1996 FC Magdeburg for the first time had a local rival to face on the pitch. It was this the team that looked sharp on the pitch and managed to stay unbeaten from January until May 1997 to secure promotion to the third division. It was a header by Marcel Maltritz that secured promotion to league 3 on the last day of the season. Maltritz later was transferred to Wolfsburg and Hamburg before he found his home at VfL Bochum where he was club captain from 2007 until 2010.

The tears shed in 1994 over another failure of the team were washed away by plenty tears of joy in 1997. Once settled in the third division, Magdeburg fared well and had never anything to do with relegation. They improved the following season 98/99 with a thrid place finish behind Chemnitz and VfB Leipzig. The millennium saw new challenges lying ahead of them.

This is the third part in a series of seven articles looking at the history of FC Magdeburg’s history since 1974, the year of their biggest success, the Cup Winners’ Cup victory against AC Milan in Rotterdam. Follow the links to parts one and two.

40 Years – 7 Tears: The Fall of the Berlin Wall 1990

1964 – 1974 – 1994 – 2004 – 2014 These 5 dates stand for important dates in the history of FC Magdeburg’s history, one of East Germany’s most popular and successful clubs, before and after 1990. After 1990 with an altered omen. In a series of articles, An Old International recounts the history of ‘The Greatest of the World’ from Magdeburg. Part 2 looks at historical events in 1990 that affected the whole of the GDR.

Part 2 of this series looks at the period from 1989 until 1991 during which the Berlin Wall came down after 28 years and East German Oberliga suffered its heaviest loss of talent in its 40 years of existence. Read more →

France – Holland Match Report

After 2 weeks of Champions League football, the international break provided some interesting insight in the state of the French and Dutch soccer teams at this early stage of the World Cup year. The insights can be summarized very quickly: France seem to have the core of a team that will surprise some while the Dutch looked bleak and will have to re-think.

The match commenced as is common place at such occasions: slow. That is normal given that the teams haven’t played together for long time and the need to get accustomed to each other was visible. Holland got the better start initially when they were in possession. Slowly, however the French team got the game into their firm grip; a grip they were not to losen during the entire game. Their intent on taking the game to the Dutch became clear just after 20 minutes. At first it was Benzema who was denied by Cillessen in the Dutch goal. Only a minute later it was once more Benzema who was involved in goal action. Unlucky, he was offside and the goal disallowed. Read more →