We against Us: 22 June 1974 Hamburg ⋆ An Old International

We against Us: 22 June 1974 Hamburg

Every time a World Cup is about to kick-off, the Germans are somehow said to be among the favourites. While some teams were great, many German or West German teams were simply lucky: the team of in 1982 that beat France on penalties in a semi-final which was overshadowed by Toni Schumacher’s criminal assault on Battiston. The team in South Korea and Japan 20 years later were at best plucky but bloody minded enough to reach another final, the seventh in total. Ever since being re-admitted onto world football’s grandest stage in 1950, West Germany managed to secure a semi-final place in all tournaments but 4: 1962, 1978, 1994 and 1998. This is an impressive record. Add to that 3 victories, several runners-up and third place finishes and one has to consider Germany as the most consistent team in World Cup history since 1950. The other Germany, the GDR meanwhile often played well in friendlies but when matters became serious, the East Germans bottled it. Always. Except once: 1974.

Back in the Fold

The 1970s saw both Germanys become fully acknowledged members of the United Nations; then the ultimate recognition as a nation state – today recognition by FIFA would be the ultimate goal for young nation states. The World Cup 1974, staged in West Germany was the second event held in West Germany since 1945 and further confirmed that the country was now fully re-admitted into the sporting realm. The success of 1954 marked their return with aplomb, the Olympics in 1972, gave them the chance to show that Germans can be joyful people and know how to throw a party. Alas, it was not to be as the Games were overshadowed by the kidnapping of Israeli athletes on September 5. This tragedy had reverberations for the World Cup 2 years later as security measures were increased drastically; in fact security for the World Cup and the Olympic Games remained the same until 9/11.

The tournament in West Germany is linked with 2 things. Firstly, the tournament became a money machine; the era of hyper-commercialization of football had begun. Ticket sales no longer provided the largest income for the organizers. This revenue came from television rights and advertising. The election of João Havelange as FIFA president on the eve of the tournament marked the end of an era and subsequently, the event became ever more globalized and commercialized. The result we see today as FIFA are unpopular as pestilence and the tournament is surrounded in protest as in Brazil. Secondly, the 1974 World Cup will always be connected with Holland, largely thanks to their interpretation of Total Football. While it is not attempted here to go into deeper detail of this philosophy, it should be stated that besides Ajax’ sweeping success in the European Cup between 1971 and 1973, Bayern München and the West German team played a similar brand and were equally successful. They peaked in 1972 when a strong England side were beaten 3-1 at Wembley in the European Nations Cup quarter-final. It was the best German team ever to play according to Uli Hesse.[i] After the Soviet Union were beaten in the final, the French sports daily L’Equipe was inspired to write about ‘football from the year 2000’ and the Italian Corriere dello Sport enthused about the performance being full of ‘imagination and genius.’ Bayern were incredibly lucky in their 3 successive European Cup victories between 1974 and 1976.

Yet, 1974 was not 1972 and the West German team looked very different for the World Cup. The most obvious change was the inclusion of Wolfgang Overath instead of Günter Netzer, whose runs from deep in midfield simply were too much of England in 1972. Glanville described Netzer as a ‘sparkling star’ who made ‘thrilling runs with his blond hair flying, curling diabolic free kicks and distributing sweeping passes.’ The Cologne play maker Overath appeared to be more reliable for Beckenbauer and thus Netzer was side lined. Further, since his transfer to Real, Netzer was no longer considered for the national team as the DFB’s selection policy saw only domestic players fit for the national team. Netzer did play during the World Cup but his role was marginal to say the best.

German Angst

Moreover, the mood had changed dramatically in West Germany. In the spring of 1972, the tragic events of Munich in September 1972 were still unthinkable and the team played breath-taking football. The football played was a sporting symbol of a liberalized German society. Now, 2 years on fear and anxiety ruled the West German team in their training camp near Hamburg. In response to the Red Army Faction’s continuing terrorism in the FRG and in the wake of the attack on the Munich Games, security was on maximum. The West German base camp in Malente, to the north of Hamburg resembled a fortress. It created an atmosphere that was set to explode. It went off at the worst possible time: just before the tournament was about to kick off. The reason: money. The bonus offered by the German FA was considered an offence and the squad threatened to leave if their demands were not met. The DFB offered DM30000 per man should they win the World Cup; the players wanted DM100000. Franz Beckenbauer, the captain led the negotiations and succeeded. He convinced all players to stay and to play. The dispute was settled and the squad accepted the DFB’s offer of DM70000. The victim of all this was Helmut Schön, the grand seigneur of German football. He was a nervous wreck as a result. Schön simply was out of touch with this group of players who knew nothing but professional football and thus saw themselves as eleven businessmen on the pitch. The mutiny – later called ‘Malente Night’ – resulted in a power shift: no longer had the DFB any decisive power over the team. The Kaiser was now in charge.

This bad off-pitch form continued during the first 2 games against Chile and Australia respectively. Although 2 wins were recorded which should have calmed nerves of the media and the public, the latter were not satisfied. Chile were beaten narrowly, 1-0; the Australians 3-0 but the team simply did not convince. So much so that Beckenbauer showed his disgust with the supporters that he spat in their direction after the game. Bad manners indeed. Although Beckenbauer later apologized and said he overreacted, there was a point to be made here. The pressure was relentless. The development of German football since the late 1960s saw to that. The expectations were high due to the success of 1972. Nothing but a triumph was expected, almost demanded. When the team did not play convincingly, it was natural that there was reaction and a counter-reaction.

The Long Way West for East Germany

With the focus of the West German press on Beckenbauer and Müller, the East German representatives were less scrutinized and enjoyed their time in the West. Despite being neighbours, it has been a long way to West Germany for the East. The performances of the hammer and sickle team were anything but overwhelming in the past. Not once had the socialist version of Germany featured at a major tournament. They performed reasonably well at the Olympic Games, the World Cup for those countries under socialist or communist rule. Yet, in the qualifications for the World Cup or only the European Championships, they fell short and missed out. Mostly, they did so narrowly.

East Germany’s qualification group saw them pitched against Romania, Albania and Finland. An interesting draw it was in which Romania were seen as favourites, while the others were considered to take points off each other. The first surprise was that Finland denied Romania to defeat them. Romania took the lead in Helsinki and relied on defending it and duly conceded a goal. The draw was the first surprise in this group. Thus, when the Scandinavians arrived in Dresden for the first game against the GDR, they arrived as leaders of their group. The first half against the GDR seemed to confirm Finland’s superb form and East Germany’s lack of nerves when it matters. A goal after the break scored by local boy Hansi Kreischer however, changed everything. The game finished 5-0. Albania, the next opponent demanded a lot of respect in either Germany as the West failed to beat them in 1968 and thus were eliminated from the tournament. Albania played a very defensive game in Magdeburg; 2 late goals from Streich and Sparwasser finally secured a 2-0 win. The top game against Romania was lost due an individual error by reserve keeper Blochwitz whose long throw fell to a Romanian attacker who instantly lobbed the ball into an empty net. Half-way through the qualification everything was still possible.

In the return leg in Finland, the hosts were beaten 5-1. The return game against Romania in front of 95000 supporters was an intensely fought game. The GDR were in control and Romania simply defended, knowing that a draw would see them through. Just before half-time the Swiss referee awarded an indirect free kick in the penalty area just to the right of the penalty spot. Ducke, a prolific centre forward back-heeled the ball to Bransch, the captain who unleashed a fierce shot that was deflected: 1-0. The second goal after 61 minutes was similar as Bransch scored another from a free kick. However, the East Germans were not through yet but they made it clear that they were not intend to lie down and die easily. It was down to the last game vs. Albania to secure qualification. A victory was a must as Romania hammered Finland 9-0. The GDR beat Albania 4-1 and won their qualification group with a point advantage over Romania.

Hamburg, 22 June 1974

Jürgen Sparwasser was The game in Hamburg to this day remains the only match between the 2 German states in a tournament. From kick-off the West took the initiative and looked more decisive in their actions. The Eastern team, defending and attempting to create own chances, remained calm. The longer the game lasted, the more open the contest became. After half an hour the GDR had a clear cut chance. After a throw-in from the right, Lauck tanked himself through towards the goal line. His cross found Kreische, who only needed to poke the ball into an empty net, but he missed. Had he scored, there would today be no talk of a Sparwasser goal. Shortly after the West German Müller hit the post. During the second half it appeared as though the team of Beckenbauer have lost their nerves as Lauck increasingly commanded the midfield, thus eliminating Overath and later Netzer.

The crucial moment came after 77 minutes. A West German attack was stopped by the East German keeper Jürgen Croy whose throw found Erich Hamann around 30 metres from goal on the right. Hamann saw plenty of space ahead of him with no one attacking him. So he marched forward. Just 10 metres into the West German half he saw Jürgen Sparwasser sprinting towards the box and crossed. A perfect cross which bounced inside the D, it hit Sparwasser’s nose which helped to wrong foot Vogts and Höttges. He was through on goal, Maier came off his line, lunged towards the ball but Sparwasser lobed the ball into the net and turned away to celebrate. East Germany had beaten the favourites. Moreover, they even managed to win the group alas only to be drawn in a second group with Brazil, Argentina and Holland.

We against Us was the subheading of this game later in history. It left the West Germans with a major task at hand to rescue their World Cup campaign about which there was no doubt that they had to win it, as it was played on home soil. As it turned out, losing to the GDR meant Helmut Schön’s team had an easier group to play in, avoiding the favourites. Just like in 1954 the West Germans were beaten in the group stages but turned out to be winners at the end. In 1954 Herberger’s men were at the receiving end of a 8-3 shellacking by Hungary, 20 years later it was their little eastern neighbour who beat them. In the end the GDR finished a respectable third in their group behind Holland and Brazil but ahead of Argentina while the FRG topped their group after beating Poland, Sweden and Yugoslavia.

Poland beat Brazil in the third place play-off, reaching their best result at a World Cup and underlining the strength of Eastern European teams in general at the time while the final of Munich has become part of Dutch-German football folklore.quoted once saying that if on his tombstone one wrote Hamburg, 22 June 1974 everybody would know who was buried there. At least everybody in Germany would surely know that, and more so in former East Germany. In their sole appearance at a World Cup the GDR were drawn with West Germany, Australia and Chile in Group A. At the draw in December the room was quiet for a moment when the air suddenly was filled with tension only to be cleared by applause.

Around the Match

This goal has become one of the most famous in German football history, alongside Hurst’s 3rd goal in 1966. Helmut Rahn’s goal in the 1954 final against Hungary completes this interesting collective memory of goals.

Jürgen Sparwasser of all people later declared that the party officials charged the game. The truth lies somewhere in between. The game had become meaningless after Chile and Australia drew their final group match 0-0 and thus ensured that both German states were through before a ball was kicked. He admitted that hearing both national anthems played ahead of the game gave him and his colleagues goosebumps. East Germany underlined the progress of their sports policy successfully and were keen to prove that this success was not a one-off. Their five minutes of fame came just 2 years later when a similar team won the Olympic Gold medal in Montreal. Other footballing successes were not to come. The development stagnated towards the 1980s. For Sparwasser, the goal had an unpleasant side effect. He was treated almost like a traitor and was allegedly bribed with a house, a car and of course loads of money. Both he denied and said that he received 2000 East Marks and 2500 Deutsch Marks, like all his team mates. He later defected to the West where he still lives.

For Helmut Schön, the game carried great importance. He originated from Dresden but moved to West Berlin in 1950. It would have been a cruel blow had Kreische scored from close range: Schön was a very good friend with the father of Hansi Kreische. Further, he hoped his team would get their act together and start playing free from any mental brake. Unfortunately, this did not happen and his mood stalled.

The West German press saw no other possibility than a West German win and duly BILD argued why. After the match however, the paper’s front page read: ‘Not like this, Mr. Schön!’ Quite a contrast was delivered by the East German papers. As the party and thus the media considered the East too weak to be a match for the West, no big pre-game propaganda was spread. Instead, the press kept calm. More surprisingly, even after the game no paper used the result for political purposes. The result came as a surprise for them.

The game has been reduced to the moment when Sparwasser scored in the 78th minute and was and still is inextricably linked with his name. It was not Sparwasser vs. the West, it was a game between 2 teams of the same people with an unexpected outcome. Jokingly, Sparwasser underlined this idea by stating that if his tomb stone was engraved with Hamburg, June 22 1974, everyone would know who would be buried underneath. This would diminish the effort of the other 10 on the pitch wearing a blue shirt this evening in what was undoubtedly East Germany’s most successful year in its 40 year history.


  • 💬 Stuart Howard-Cofield

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