With the return of the Bundesliga for the second leg of its 50. season, the Bundesliga50 series continues with the 3rd part of the history of the German football league. This part will focus on the 1980s.
After the first taste of success during the 1960s and the most successful decade for the national team, the 1970s, the 1980s saw German football establishing a status quo. Bayern’s domestic dominance became manifest with 6 league titles and 3 DFB-Cups. Internationally, German clubs managed a meagre 2 triumphs, Hamburg in 1983 winning the European Cup while Mönchengladbach reached their fourth UEFA-Cup Final in 7 seven years in 1980, their second in a row which they lost to Eintracht Frankfurt in an all German final. The national team too, started brightly into the decade, letting themselves not being disturbed by the negative atmosphere at the 1980 UEFA Euro in Italy, beating Belgium 2-1 in the final. How good the team was, is reflected by the fact that 6 out of 11 players were elected for the UEFA team of the tournament: Horst Hrubesch, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, Hansi Müller, Karl-Heinz Förster, Hans-Peter Briegel and a young blade by the name of Bernd Schuster. Only two other nations were featured in this XI: Italy with Tardelli, Zoff, Scirea and Gentile while the Belgian midfielder Jan Ceulemans completed the team.
‘Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and 10 Robots’
During the 2 World Cups Germany managed to reach the finals, losing both: 1982 to Italy, prolonging the dismal record against Italian national teams since the 1960s. The semi-final between France and Germany became a matter of life and death for Patrick Battiston after he was criminally fouled by German goal keeper Toni Schumacher. Schumacher further acted cynical and as if nothing had happened, chewing gum and waiting for the game to continue. Schumacher explained his absence with the fact that Battiston was surrounded by angry French players and he simply wanted to keep things calm. He was later invited to attend the French man’s wedding. The foul could be regarded as a 50/50 ball as Hesse-Lichtenberger has pointed out and many might agree with that but it was his attitude, despite his explanations, after the foul that somehow destroyed the image of professional football in Germany and certainly did some harm for the reputation abroad. About the 1982 team Pele spoke of ‘Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and ten robots.’ Needless to add that Germany won the game but were beaten in the final.
It was only four years later when Germany reached another final, this time displaying a much more positive thinking and attitude than at the previous tournament. Reason for that was the change at the head of the team. Jupp Derwall was ousted and replaced by Franz Beckenbauer, then still a young coach with a point to prove, now regarded as THE elder statesman of German football, Die Lichtgestalt.
Personalities and Characters
To write about the 1980s and German football is besides the relative success also about personalities; and there were plenty emerging during this decade. To make this clear, the 1960s and 1970s have had their main characters, too. One has to think about Uwe Seeler, Günter Netzer, Gerd Müller, Paul Breitner, Franz Beckenbauer to compile an illustruous list of names that had and still has iconic status within German football. However, the 1980s were not short of characters either. What was the main difference however, was that the previous generations, the first ‘superstars’ of the Bundesliga, have experienced a different league system where professionalism was still illegal and players had to have ordinary day jobs. In the 1980s, the players were entirely children of the Bundesliga, thus had fully embraced life as professional players. It does not need any further explanation that this had side effects on the their attitude towards the media, the fans and even their coaches.
The incident involving Toni Schumacher was just one; Uli Stein, the number 2 goalkeeper for the World Cup in 1986 called national coach Franz Beckenbauer a ‘Suppenkasper’, a clown. He did so in a funny way to mock Beckenbauer’s appearance in an advert for soup during the 1960s. However, Beckenbauer got it all wrong and immediately suspended Stein from the tournament and from the national team. Stein possibly acted out of frustration as he played the best of seasons for Hamburg but still was no.2 behind Toni Schumacher, who has had an average season to say the least.
Both, Stein and Schumacher have published books during their careers. Stein re-called his life as a professional football player and re-traced his way from a young goalkeeper at Arminia Bielefeld and his biggest triumph with Hamburg in the European Cup in 1983 to the stage in his career where he inevitably has to think about options once his playing days would be over. Schumacher’s book was a bombshell at the time of publication. He openly described doping practices among Bundesliga players, without naming anyone. However, he was regarded as a traitor in player circles and even the DFB did not protect him; Beckenbauer ended his career with the national team after being pressurized by DFB head Wolfgang Neuberger, according to Schumacher.
Another great personality on the pitch was Bernd Schuster. After the mediocre performance at the 1978 World Cup, Schuster was more than a silver-lining at the horizon for German football. He somewhat confirmed those hopes with a stellar performance at the UEFA Euro 1980 where he was Germany’s and the tournament’s best player. A difficult character to say the least, Schuster more often than not spoke his mind and it was this that made him become an outsider with the national team. He played his last game in 1984 against Belgium and missed the European Championship in France. Germany were eliminated by Spain and national coach Jupp Derwall was fired, the first time the DFB had to fire a coach. Franz Beckenbauer pleaded to get him to play in Mexico in 1986 but his wife, Gabi who acted as his manager demanded DM 1m for his return. The DFB might have been desperate but not that desperate.
Europe is our playground
Besides the rather mediocre performances of the national team, German club teams regularly featured in European Cup finals. The only triumph during the 1980s in the European Cup came in 1983 when Hamburg beat Juventus 1-0 after a strike by Felix Magath. Bayern have reached two finals, losing both. In 1982 Aston Villa proved to be too strong for them while 4 years later it was FC Porto who emerged victorious in the final in Vienna. In the Cup Winners’ Cup no West German team reached the final, only Carl Zeiss Jena and Lokomotive Leipzig, both from East Germany, reached the final in 1981 and 1987 respectively, losing both. The UEFA Cup appeared to be the playground for West German clubs as Frankfurt lifted the trophy in 1980 against Borussia Mönchengladbach and Leverkusen in 1988. Hamburg reached the final in 1982 but surprisingly lost both matches against IFK Goteborg, then managed by Sven-Göran Eriksson. A rare final appearance came in 1986 for FC Cologne but they lost to Real Madrid just as VfB Stuttgart lost their final against SSC Neapel in 1989.
Football’s popularity tested
Despite the relative success, football lost a lot of ground in terms of popularity, particularly towards the end of the 1980s. Reasons for that were manifold. The problems ranged from hooliganism and uninspired performances to the appearance of Boris Becker and Steffi Graf. Yes, Becker’s Wimbledon triumph possibly cut a huge swath into football’s following. On top of that Bernd Langer won the US Masters and Michael Gross won 6 European Championship titles in swimming. Attendances at grounds were at its lowest during the 1985/86 season with 18399 after the 1980s started with healthy figures of 24000 on average in 1980/81. The figures eventually recovered but never reached the heights again during the decade.
How to finish the 1980s? Clearly, the national team underlined their status as a ‘footballing superpower’ with one title and 2 final appearances at the World Cups in 1982 and ’86. However, the football was no longer as feted as it was in the early 1970s. The same has to be said about the clubs’s performances. Regular final appearances without winning anything gave credit to the doubters of the claim that the Bundesliga was the strongest league in Europe. This claim came under continuous scrutiny every time a club lost a final to an English club (until 1985) or an Italian team. Unlike their English counterparts until 1985, German teams did not look very good in UEFA’s club competitions while the national team once more had to be considered among the favourites each time they entered a tournament, something that cannot be said for England.
Lastly, looking back onto the 1980s it can be said that the decade has to be classified as a time where German football was in transition in terms of transmission. TV became ever more important and with the arrival of commercial channels, it was only a matter of time until football tapped got onto that gravy train while the stations saw the potential for valuable market shares. Playing wise, Germany were certainly among the top teams of the football world, yet their style, a very physical approach accompanied by man-marking was the latest fashion during the 1980s, even though it may look somewhat slow nowadays. However, within the rigid system there was still place for players such as Lothar Matthäus and Pierre Littbarski who were excellent in their skill and certainly made the difference in a team that lacked some esprit.
It was during the 1980s that German footballers were often labelled as machines or even tanks, a stereotype that has lasted until the early 2000s. Nonetheless, they played some decent football and their success proves that they must have done something right.