SEVEN TEARS – The Sacking of Heinz Krügel

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Updated: February 16, 2014

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FC Magdeburg are among the best supported clubs in Germany’s Regionalliga Nordost, the country’s fourth tier of football. With an away following that often numbers in excess of 500, their passionate support creates a lively atmosphere that often outnumber the home fans.

The real success of Magdeburg, a town only 40km from the border with West Germany, came four decades ago however, with the appointment of Heinz Krügel. A former East German national team manager, Krügel had also coached Leipzig, Rostock and Halle before landing at Magdeburg in 1966. His brief was to get the club back into the Oberliga, a feat he had already achieved with both Rostock and Halle.

Krügel’s 10-year-tenure at Magdeburg proved to be the most successful for him personally and for the club. Three East German league titles were taken to the Ernst-Grube-Stadion, along with three domestic cups and most significantly, the European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1974. Never before and not since has the club seen such success.

Magdeburg won a final league crown in 1975 before Heinz Krügel, the most successful coach in the club’s history and possibly in East Germany, was fired. The reason for Krügel’s dismissal? A lack of care for young talent and the failure to win all three competitions Magdeburg had competed in. The decision to sack Krügel was one of the club’s most controversial in its history and is, today, remember in a terrace chant popular with fans that sings of ‘seven tears’ – a euphemism for seven significant tragedies in the club’s history, of which the sacking of Krügel is one.

Most knew Krügel took great care for Magdeburg’s young players. The best example of this was the team that lifted the Cup Winners’ Cup in 1974. It was a team recruited entirely from within 50km of the city and one made up of players in their early to mid-20s.

With this in mind, it is certain that their were other reasons behind Krügel’s dismissal. In fact, it was more or less a political act. Krügel, a man living for football, was open to new ideas. However, these ideas did not originate in the Soviet Union but South America and Western Europe. For the Communist Part members that ran both East Germany and Magdeburg, this was not acceptable.

The East European or ‘Communist brand’ of football was often decried as being functional. The players were considered to be part of a whole that served the purpose of winning. Flair or individuality was frowned upon. Ironically, Magdeburg’s class of 1974 played technically superb football that was on a par with its western counterparts. It was just that style, that Krügel believed to be beneficial – allow skill to prosper and success will come. Unfortunately from Krügel, no one at Communist Party headquarters shared this view.

There had been moves to get rid of Krügel from 1974, however, the continued success of Magdeburg made this impossible without causing a major storm among supporters. At this time, Krügel was also further alienating himself from the regime. One example of this came in September 1974 when Bayern Munich travelled to Magdeburg for a European Cup game. Krügel was approached by the Stasi, who intended to bug Bayern’s dressing room in an effort to give Magdeburg an advantage. Krügel refused to cooperate however.

Nonetheless, the chance to sack Krügel came in 1976 when Magdeburg finished third in the league. It was not just misfortune. Despite an attack of Jürgen Sparwasser, Joachim Streich and Martin Hoffmann scoring 59 goals during the season, both domestic and continental performances suggested something was going wrong at the club.

This was enough to ‘delegate’ Krügel to the little known BSG Motor Mitte Magdeburg, where he became maintenance manager of the facility. It was an unprecedented move and was comparable to the great Sir Alf Ramsey being demoted to manage a non-league club after losing the World Cup quarter-final to Germany in 1970.

The final straw came when Krügel allegedly abused party official Walter Kirnich by saying ‘Krügel and the FCM – that’s a name in Europe. You, you are just a peasant from the Börde.’ Additionally, Krügel said that had he adhered to the DFV’s (East Germany’s FA) coaching manuals, Magdeburg would not have won against Milan – claiming his players would have been too exhausted.

The sacking of Heinz Krügel was the first proverbial tear shed by supporters  of FC Magdeburg. Not since has the club reached such heights and won such accolades and admirers. Krügel was officially redeemed in 1991, at which point he was retired and living near Magdeburg. The club’s fortunes declined after 1976, except for success in the FDGB-Pokal where there were triumphs in 1978, 1979 and 1983, and Magdeburg finished no higher than fourth sport in the league.

In December 2006, Magdeburg unveiled a new state-of-the-art stadium called the MDCC-Arena, However, among fans the ground is known as the HKS, which is short for Heinz-Krügel-Stadium. Unfortunately, only the area in front of the stadium is officially dedicated to Krügel.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of Magdeburg’s 2-0 victory over Milan in the final of the European Cup Winners’ Cup in Rotterdam and to honour Krügel, supporters are attempting to raise money to get a monument erected in his memory. In order to finance it independently, they have come up with the idea of the Heinz Krügel Aktie. This is a share scheme worth €19,74 which they hope will raise €25,000. The statue will then be unveiled at 2200 on 8 May 2014 outside the club’s stadium. Currently, they have collected just over €24000 with three months to go.

Heinz Krügel died in October 2008 without seeing Magdeburg return to professional football in Germany. However, he remained loyal to the club in his later years and served in several honourary functions after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Most notably of course, Krügel served as a reminder of a once great club.

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