Uwe Seeler ⋆ An Old International

Uwe Seeler

Uwe Seeler whom most Germans have simply called ‘Uns Uwe’ has passed away. This nickname is due to him never having played abroad but always stayed in Germany: for 19 years he was worn no other shirts than those of HSV and the German national team.

For English football two moments will remain closely linked with Uwe Seeler. One is a photograph of him leaving the pitch after the World Cup final in 1966. We see Seeler with his head low; one might assume in agony after missing out on international football’s biggest price. And yet, the photo is misleading as Seeler simply bowed his head to look at his laces which had become undone. This fact becomes true when looking at the whole series of photos taken by Sven Simon and at photos taken from a different angle. We see Seeler touching his shin pad. He later stated this was only out of discomfort, nothing really was in need to be done on neither the pads nor the shoes.

However this misconception fitted perfectly well with the image the West Germans intended to leave while being in England. The national team manager at the time, Helmut Schön, drummed it into his squad that leaving a good impression outweighed the importance of winning. Reading records from a local newspaper in Derbyshire attest that the Germans have succeeded at this.

In England and more importantly in the English sports press this image went hand in hand with the idea of the Germans being honourable losers, making England look good at having beaten not only a very good football team but also humble people who accepted defeat with grace unlike the Argentinian captain Ratín who has been sent off but who only left the pitch after a long dispute with the referee and also had to be calmed down by his team mates.

The other instance came four years later when both sides met again at the World Cup 1970 in Mexico – this time around the quarter-final and it was Seeler’s header with the back of his head that levelled the score thus securing extra time during which Gerd Müller scored the winning goal from close range.

It was sweet revenge for Seeler alas, he never won the World Cup, despite playing in four tournaments: 1958, 1962, 1966 and 1970. The closest he came was in 1966. In a career that lasted almost two decades and during which he only played for one club, the scarcity of trophies is the only mark on an otherwise superb career. With Hamburg he win the German championship in 1960 and the DFB Cup three years later. With the national team he came second, third and fourth at the 1966, 1970 and 1958 World Cups respectively. He won the first golden boot in Bundesliga history in 1963/64.

He was difficult to defend against as his centre of gravity was low, allowing good acceleration. His trademark however were overhead kicks and headers, both from often impossible angles. The header against England is quite exemplary here. He was at the period one of the best centre forwards in the game.

Uns Uwe

In the early 1960s he received offers from abroad, Inter Milan to be precise, but decided to stay at Hamburg. It was this that endeared him to the masses which thus nicknamed him ‘Unser Uwe’, which was shortened to ‘Uns Uwe’ in the North German accent. And it stuck with the larger public over the decades. Additionally, his modesty and his down to earth attitude made him one of the most popular people even after the end of his playing days. At the same time, it fit perfectly well with the German mindset that home is the best place and abroad is only dangerous.

Uwe Seeler was one of those people who have been around for ages but of whom the public never tired. He was named honorary captain of the German national team, the second after Fritz Walter. In total there are six men and two women who have received this honour: Fritz Walter, Uwe Seeler, Franz Beckenbauer, Lothar Matthäus, Jürgen Klinsmann, Philipp Lahm, Bettina Wiegmann and Birgit Prinz.

Uwe Seeler, 5 November 1936 – 21. Juli 2022

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image credits: Ron Kroon via Wiki Commons under CC0 1.0

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