The Miracle of the Grotenburg ⋆ An Old International

The Miracle of the Grotenburg

There are games that are embedded in football folklore, even more than thirty years later. One of these games happened Krefeld, a town not known for its footballing exploits. Yet, in the 1980s the local team FC Bayer 05 Uerdingen were a force to be reckoned with. In March 1986 they hosted East German side Dynamo Dresden in the second leg of the quarterfinal of the old Cup Winners Cup. It was epic.

Krefeld? Uerdingen?

Bayer Uerdingen as they were known until 1995 play their games in the Grotenburg Arena which is in Krefeld. Uerdingen and Krefeld merged in the 1930s but the name Krefeld remained. Since 1953 Bayer acted as a sponsor for the club which explains the name. Unlike the better known Bayer 04 Leverkusen, Uerdingen have never been a regular in the Bundesliga but found themselves going up and down between the leagues. Their most successful spell came in the 1980s when they played Bundesliga throughout the decade. The biggest success came in 1985 when Bayern München were beaten in the DFB-Pokal final in the Olympic Stadium in Berlin. The following season, Uerdingen set Europe alight on their way to the semi-final.

It was there where they met Dynamo Dresden. Ties between East and West German clubs were rare in the European Cup because the level of the GDR football was no longer as high as it has been in the 1970s. The main stage were by now the UEFA-Cup and the Cup Winners’ Cup. It was the latter where Uerdingen and Dresden met.

The way to the quarterfinal in the Cup Winners’ Cup was always an easy one as there were only two rounds before Christmas and the action re-started only in March. However, the competition in the 1985/86 season lacked no quality as Benfica, Atletico, Dukla Prag, Rapid Vienna and Dynamo Kyiv were among the teams to beat in order to lift the trophy. Bayer Uerdingen had to deal with Żurrieq from Malta which they outplayed 12-0 over two legs and Galatasaray (3-1). Dresden had a somewhat easier ride with Cercle Brugge and HJK Helsinki. The Belgian side were beaten on away goals with the tie ending 4-4 and Helsinki had won the first leg at home before conceding seven in Dresden but also scoring two. The number seven was to play a significant role in the next round against Uerdingen.

The first leg at home in Dresden went to Dynamo, 2-0. Frank Lippmann and Hans-Uwe Pilz scored. In the return match a fortnight later Dresden went ahead in the first minute of the match and added two more before the interval. It was game over surely, even though Uerdingen pulled one back; it was 3-1 at half-time, 5-1 on aggregate. “Mission impossible” was what the Uerdingen coach, Kalli Feldkamp had thought. He told his players to get stuck in in order to limit the damage. There were 18 million people watching this match as German broadcaster ZDF decided to show this match instead of Bayern’s game against Anderlecht in the European Cup. Feldkamp’s words helped somewhat. His team came out of the dressing room and within 13 minutes scored. Funkel converted a penalty: 3-2. Only five minutes later, they scored again: 3-3. What helped Uerdingen was the fact that Dynamo had to swap keepers during the break. Bernd Jakubowski, the number one goalie was injured after a collision with Wolfgang Funkel. At this point politics came into play. Dresden’s second keeper Jörg Klimpel had been suspended as he met relatives from West Germany before the match: he was not allowed to travel as the club and the party feared he might not come back. It had to be keeper three, Jens Ramme, who never had played before. The Dresden coach, Klaus Sammer, said afterwards that

‘during the second half fear reigned in our defense.’

What has happened then has to be described as a miracle. Uerdingen played as though they were obsessed and Dresden had nothing to stop them. How else is it explicable that Dresden conceded another four goals during the last half hour? It was one team’s miracle, the other team’s nightmare.


For Uerdingen it was the climax. They played Atletico in the semis but lost 4-2 over both legs. There was a third place finish in the league that season to top off this remarkable achievement. Two years later Barcelona proved too much for them in the third round of the UEFA-Cup, scoring four without reply. To put this into perspective, in the quarterfinal Dundee United beat Barcelona, 3-1 over two legs. The results in Europe however could not paint over the slow decline of Bayer Uerdingen. They slipped further down the league with each season passing and eventually were relegated in 1992 but bounced back up straight away only to go down again two years later. The death knell came in 1995 when Bayer ceased its sponsorship of the team. The club re-named to KFC Uerdingen and the decline accelerated as money was a severe issue. As deep as the sixth division they fell in the early 2010s. Currently they are third in Liga 3 after winning promotion last season. Among their squad is a certain Kevin Großkreutz, once of Borussia Dortmund and a World cup winner in 2014.

As for Dresden the story was a very different one. In 1987/88 they were back in the UEFA-Cup only to go out in the first round. They have reached however, the quarter-final of the UEFA-Cup during the 1988/89 season where VfB Stuttgart was the better team. The last performance on the international stage came in 1990/91. Dynamo had won the East German league and played in the European Cup. The quarterfinal was the end of the journey, in their 98th game in Europe, two short of the century. Red Star Belgrade beat them 3-0 in Belgrade. The return match had to be abandoned after 78 minutes as crowd trouble spilled onto the pitch. Hooligans from all over Germany had gathered on the terraces and caused mayhem, throwing bottles and stones onto the pitch and fighting with riot police. It was a sad end to a fantastic history in the European Cup for Dynamo Dresden. Ironically, a year later Red Star Belgrad would be at the centre of a similar incident that would lead to the outbreak of war and the end of Yugoslavia as we know it.

image credit: Ulrich Häßler via Wiki Commons, CC-BY-SA 3.0

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