The Battle of Gothenburg 1958 ⋆ An Old International

The Battle of Gothenburg 1958

What happened on June 24, 1958 at the Ullevi Stadium in Gothenburg when the hosts Sweden met the World Cup holders West Germany? Conspiracy Theorists had a field day despite Germany having a bad day at the office.

Mirroring the Past into the Present

With each new edition of the World Cup there is at least one match where the label ‘battle’ is attached. In 1954 there was the Battle of Berne which saw Brazil kicked off the pitch by Hungary. Four years later West Germany came to Sweden as holders and once again made it to the semi-final, something that would become a habit for the Germans with the odd quarterfinal exit here and there. The World Cup in Chile in 1962 saw Italy and the hosts square off and as a result yellow and red cards were introduced later. It is the semi-final between Sweden and West Germany that should be the focus of this article here. The game became notorious not only for the football on offer but for the Swedish supporters making some noise. Their cheerleaders stood right by the pitch side and the terraces were thundering with a constant heja, heja, heja to support the host nation. This was unheard of yet fitted the mood before the game in the press and the public. Almost 40 years later, English papers would similarly heat up the public mood before the semi-final against Germany during the EURO ’96.

Sure, support for the home nation during a World Cup is always significant and Sweden was no different and certainly no exception. The Swedish supporters simply did what the Germans did and since they were at home, they outnumbered the visitors. The role of the visitors was that of a fan to push the flames of the Swedish supporters. Four years before the Germans travelled to Switzerland to follow their team, they did the same in 1958 except that they behaved rather negatively, which in turn annoyed the Swedes and led them to support their team vociferously. One member of the organising team of the World Cup 1958 admitted that maybe the cheerleaders exaggerated a little bit or rather, no one could have foreseen the effect this may have and also that Sweden would progress into the final. The German magazine 11Freunde added that this kind of support had a long tradition in Sweden and the country was ahead in this respect to its European neighbours.

Uli Hesse reported the Swedish disliked the exuberant pride the Germans took in their currency, the Deutsche Mark. The papers did their job, too by adding to the sentiments against Germany. The Germans had found their arrogant and loud swagger way too quick for the Swedes and they let them feel it. It all came to a head during the semi-final.

In the stands the German FA demanded that some seats were provided for German supporters but the Swedish organisers refused at first. Germany, in the person of Peco Bauwens, himself a character whose nationalistic rhetoric in 1954 caused some severe consternation, the DFB threatened to call the match off if no seats were provided. There were some seats and the match went ahead.

There was another point which disturbed the Germans: it was the choice of the referee. Istvan Zsolt was Hungarian and in the wake of the match, there theories that he deliberately gave Sweden an advantage as retaliation for the lost World Cup Final four years previous. After the match, no German observer failed to point out this fact. This is nonsense as it was the Germans who beat themselves.

The match was frantic; Sweden won six corners inside the first 20 minutes but it was Germany who opened the scoring through Schäfer who volleyed Seeler’s cross into the net from 12 yards. It was Seeler himself who almost made it two. Just before half-time Sweden equalised. His shot went just over the cross bar and the Swedish keeper did not move.

It was during the second half that the game became its edge. At first it was Juskowiak who was sent off for retaliation. Hamrin had repeatedly fouled him without being warned by the referee. The German lost his temper and kicked him for which the referee had no other option than to order him off the pitch. The numbers should have been level as Parling fouled Fritz Walter who needed to be treated at the pitch side. Effectively down to nine men, Germany had no chance. Though late they came, the goals came and decided the match for Sweden. After 80 minutes it was Gunnar Gren who scored a great goal into the top corner before Kurt Hamrin made it three for Sweden after 87 minuted from an impossibly tight angle.

The build up to Hamrin’s goal, Sweden’s third. Via WikiMedia Commons

The team of Sepp Herberger also lost their third place play off against France which is still a good result at a World Cup. Moreover, there was no word of discontent with the result. The scapegoat was someone else and Peco Bauwens led the charge. He accused Sweden of incitement of the German people adding that no more shall we enter this country, no more shall we play against Sweden. Back home in Germany, Swedes were refused service at gas stations and bars, their cars had the tires slashed in retaliation. Of course, the war had to be mentioned as one magazine asked: ‘What have we done to the Swedes? In both wars, no German soldier even set foot on Swedish soil.’ The Saar-Zeitung wrote:

40000 representatives of this mediocre people, which has never achieved anything more than average in national or folkish matters, poured hatred over us that are rooted in a minority complex.

Another factor of course was the matter that Swedish players such as Hamrin and three of his team mates played professional football in Italy and thus were silently accused of play acting and diving. It was forgotten then by the press and the DFB that German players, though officially amateurs did indeed receive payments for their playing services from their clubs and thus were effectively shamateurs. It did not stop the papers and the DFB to go into the offensive and rant against everything: the referee, the organisers and of course the Swedish team. The invitation from the Swedish FA to attend the post match banquet was declined and the team travelled home after their match against France.

Helmut Rahn later stated his surprise that the Swedes took so long to score their goals and Juskowiak could never forgive himself to lose his temper and was never the same player again. He played another six times for Germany. Hi died a broken man in 1983. It took another five years before a German team would play another friendly in Stockholm, despite some critical self reflection from the Swedish papers such as Stockholm Tidene. The writer said that those cheerleaders and singers inside the stadium were not nice and no fairplay. A Swedish-German collaboration concluded that Sweden was surprised by quick recovery of Germany and the apparent affluence which they did not hide away and which caused some resentment.

There is some truth in this statement. When Germany travelled to England in 1966 they were equally met with reservation despite big efforts. The German press reacted with disgust to English reactions when the England had reached the final at Wembley. The English however reminded the Germans of their own recent past and possibly did so in their own way and the Germans did not like it. However, 1958 and 1966 were different times. For the World Cup in England Peco Bauwens was no longer at the head of the DFB and they new head Hermann Neuberger, though not much better as 1978 would show, remained largely silent and let the team speak on the pitch.

However, the match in 1958 was a similar occasion. Germany had experienced the Nazis and their methods to get the masses behind them with similar methods: with constant repetitive chants and slogans. The Swedish crowd in their very own way did remind the Germans of their own recent past and the Germans did not like it.

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  • Michael Wiemer

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