BUNDESLIGA 50 – The birth of Germany’s Professional Game

Updated: June 9, 2013
The birth of the Bundesliga

The 1960’s saw West German football scale the heights of the international game for the first time in almost ten years. World Champions in 1954, the country endured a barren spell until the middle of the decade when it reaching the 1966 World Cup Final, before going on to win the European Championship in 1972 and the World Cup of 1974.

German club sides also began to make their mark on the continent during the same period, with both Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund winning the European Cup Winners Cup. More importantly however, the decade saw the establishment of a national league, which became an instant success story. This is the first piece in a series covering the last five decades of the German Bundesliga.

True Intentions

To put the establishment of the Bundesliga into perspective, a comparison among the other major footballing nations of Europe is needed. For this reason, it is beneficial to look at the English Football League and compare the new German model with that of the country where modern football began.

By the time the inaugural Bundesliga season kicked off in 1963, the English Football Association was celebrating its one hundredth year and the country had also been chosen to host the World Cup three years later.

By pure coincidence, it was Germany who met England in the final of 1966, with the hosts lifting the trophy after a 4-2 victory in extra time. Despite the defeat however, the presence of Helmut Schön’s team in the final could be seen as a product of the hard work which had gone into establishing West Germany’s first unified national league.

Furthermore, with the full-time status of the Bundesliga, professionalism was officially introduced to Germany for the first time, ending a system which had demanded players also had ‘ordinary jobs’ while playing football.

With professionalism, the game in West Germany was able to compete with its counterparts in countries such as England, Spain and Italy, and the success of the national team in 1966 was seen by many as the start of a new dawn for football in the country. Nonetheless, the inroads made in 1966 were soon put into serious doubt, however, as West Germany failed to qualify for the final four of the 1968 European Championship.

Despite being among the favourites, Schön’s side finished second in their group behind Yugoslavia, failing to beat minnows Albania along the way. The tournament was eventually won by hosts Italy who beat Yugoslavia 2-0 in Rome’s Olympic Stadium.

In addition to the World Cup final of 1966, the decade also saw English and German sides meet in two European Cup Winners Cup finals. The first came in 1965 when West Ham United beat TSV 1860 Munich 2-0 at Wembley, while the following season Borussia Dortmund become the first German team to win European silverware by beating Liverpool 2-1 at Hampden Park.

Two years after the World Cup Final of 1966, West Germany finally beat England after 60 years of trying. The friendly encounter in Hanover, saw Franz Beckenbaur score the only goal of the game, giving his country some degree of revenge for their defeat at Wembley Stadium.

The first competitive defeat for England against West Germany came at the 1970 World Cup in Mexico and proved a pivotal one – coming as it did in the tournament’s quarter final. Alf Ramsey’s reigning World Champions stormed into a 2-0 lead , before they were beaten 3-2 in extra-time.

This condensed period of Anglo-German football encounters saw West Germany emerge as a footballing superpower, while it could be argued England have been in decline ever since that World Cup defeat in Leon in 1970. From a historical point of view, the years between 1965 and 1970, and possibly until 1972, can be seen as the fulcrum of Anglo-German football rivalry. In seven years both teams played each other on seven occasions.

More importantly, while England had enjoyed overwhelming success up until 1968, following that first triumph over their rivals in Hanover, West Germany took the ascendancy.

And while the quarter-final victory in Mexico may have been down to a good deal of fortune for the West Germans, a shift in power had begun between the two nations. This was hammered home in 1972 when the West Germany beat England 3-1 at Wembley Stadium. The writer Jonathan Wilson described this game as the moment when England ceased to be world champions from a psychological point of view.

The Other Munich

While Bayern Munich managed their first continental trophy in 1967, they had not yet become the dominant force in German football they would go on to become during the 1970s and 1980s.

The Bavarians may have won a record 23 titles stretching back to the old regional based tournament, however, their first Bundesliga title did not arrive until 1969 – three years after city rivals TSV 1860 Munich had lifted the crown for the one and only time in their history.

While the mid sixties saw 1860 enjoy their most successful spell, the club ultimately provided Bayern with one of the greatest footballer in German history, Franz Beckenbauer. The man later known as ‘Der Kaiser‘ decided against joining 1860 after one of their players slapped him in the face during a friendly, subsequently heading to Bayern instead.

Beckenbaur went on to play a vital part in Die Roten’s success of the 1970s, helping them to three consecutive Bundesliga titles between 1972 and 1975, and three European Cups in 1974, 1975 and 1977. The Munich-born player was also a significant influence on the West German national team and starred at Mexico 1970 before captaining the side to World Cup triumph four years later.

Inventing the sweeper position from which he often roamed forward to initiate attacks, Beckenbaur scored 14 goals in 103 appearances for his country and was a key part of German football’s revolution of the early 1970s – making them one of the best teams in history.

The Correct Decision

With the overwhelming success of the Bundesliga, it is clear the DFB made the right decision in establishing a unified national league. Admittedly, success in the European Cup Winners Cup was less significant than any victory in the European Cup, however, it was nonetheless a significant achievement and marked the start of the German football’s rise to prominence.

Nevertheless, the European Cup itself proved far more elusive to win and for West German clubs, the quarter finals seemed to be the zenith of their progression for some considerable time.

Borussia Dortmund were the only club to reach the semi-final stage during the decade, when they lost to eventual winners Internazionale in 1964. In the Fairs’ Cup only Cologne FC in 1964 and Eintracht Frankfurt 1967 managed to reach beyond the quarter finals.

In hindsight, it is certainly correct to suggest Germany re-invented it’s football pyramid with the introduction of the Bundesliga in 1963. There was a competitiveness seldom seen in other leagues with seven different winners in the first seven seasons and crowds were much higher than expected.

After two years with 16 teams, which saw an average of almost 28,000 spectators per game, the league was extended to 18 teams however, this was accompanied by a drop in gate figures to 24,600 for the 1965/66 season.

For the remainder of the decade, crowds dropped and the decade saw an overall average of 20,600. Reasons for this drop are speculative. It could be that the novelty factor of the new league had worn off by the end of the decade, as well as the extension of the league which saw clubs with smaller grounds playing in the top flight and thus dragged the figures down.

Other speculations include that a diversifying leisure culture kept people away from attending live matches as well as the first economic crisis that hit Germany in the mid to late 1960s after the ‘economic miracle’ brought affluence for the Germans.

Despite the drop in attendances, the Bundesliga had proved to be a huge success and the introduction of professionalism to German football had begun to see results by the end of the decade. Heading into the 1970’s, German football was about to scale heights that few people could have predicted.


Next Week: The 1970’s

For more from Christoph, follow him on Twitter at @wagnerc23

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