SEVEN TEARS – FC Magdeburg and the Fall of the Berlin Wall
The fall of the Berlin Wall on 9 November 1989 remains one of the most significant moments in modern history. Constructed more than three decades earlier, the barrier had been a symbol of the huge division that had been driven through Europe in the years that followed the end of the Second World War in 1945.
Yet, almost as quickly as it had been built in 1961, the wall fell as the “Peaceful Revolution” spread through East Germany – initiating change that would eventually lead to the reunification of the country on 3 October 1990. It was a series of events that caught many by surprise, and a period which eventually marked the end for much of East Germany’s established order – including it’s top flight football competition, the Oberliga.
For while 9 November 1989 may have signalled the beginning of the end for East Germany’s Communist rulers, the revolution also sounded the death knell for the Oberliga, which was to be eventually dissolved in 1991. Furthermore, the East German national team, by 1990, was a team with no purpose. It was to play its last game, a 2-0 victory over Belgium in Brussels, on 12 September 1990.
There is a twist to this history however, as many East Germans supported West German clubs and even the West German national team. So much so that Eastern European neighbours of the GDR experienced an influx of East Germans when clubs or the national team from West Germany played in Czechoslovakia, Poland and Hungary. Thomas Urban reports that in 1971 around 6000 East Germans made the trip to Warsaw to see West Germany play a European Championship qualifying match against Poland.
The Bleak Decade
For FC Magdeburg, three-time Oberliga champions, the 1980s were far less successful than the preceding decade, with the FDGB-Pokall triumph of 1983 providing the high point for the club from the Elbe. In Europe, a visit of Diego Maradona’s FC Barcelona to the Ernst Grube Stadion in the 1983/84 European Cup Winners’ Cup proved to be the club’s highest profile night of continental football.
In fact, it is fair to say that the 1980s proved a fairly bleak decade for the club. Most of the players that had been prominent in the team that had won the European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1974 had retired, and the succeeding generation were simply not as influential as the heroes of Rotterdam.
Magdeburg rarely finished among the top five of the Oberliga in the 1980s, although this changed towards the end of the decade when the club had a team good enough for a title challenge. A surprise third place finish (only two points behind league winners Dynamo Dresden) during the 1989/90 season meant qualification for the Uefa Cup, and also gave hope that, with the fate of the Oberliga decided, the club might have a chance to qualify either for the Bundesliga or the second division.
Alas, it was not to be. The decisive Oberliga season of 1990/91 proved to be disastrous for Magdeburg. The clubs that finished in the first two positions were to qualify for the Bundesliga, while those that finished third to sixth would take their place in the second tier of German football. While Hansa Rostock secured the league title to take their place in the Bundesliga with second placed Dynamo Dresden, Magdeburg finished in a disappointing 10th place.
Following a respectable third placed finished during the 1989/90 season, Magdeburg failed to deliver in the following campaign. From their opening five games, the club managed to secure just seven points, eventually finishing with 8 wins, 8 draws and 9 defeats.
The final disappointment came during the promotion play-offs that should have secured passage into higher echelons of the German professional football system. Magdeburg managed no win in three attempts and were left back at the station while others jumped on the gravy train to the Bundesliga.
Indoor Masters 1991 and the DFB Cup 1993
Despite the disappointment of missing out on Bundesliga qualification, Magdeburg did have some relative success at the start of the nineties, albeit in the country’s indoor tournament, the DFB-Hallenmasters which was held in Dortmund in January 1991. Pitched in a group with Borussia Mönchengladbach, Bayern Munich and Stuttgart, Magdeburg recorded no wins, but they were the only side from East Germany to qualify for the finals of the popular tournament.
Two and a half years later, Magdeburg also caused something of a cup sensation in beating West German outfit Wuppertaler SV in the German Cup. The victory was rewarded with a visit by Bayer Leverkusen in the next round, which saw a capacity crowd of 20,000 cram into the Ernst-Grube-Stadion.
Leverkusen eventually proved too strong for their hosts, with Andreas Thom scoring the decisive goal in the 72nd minute, however, a respectable display helped restore some much-need pride for a club that had experienced a difficult recent history. Incidentally, Leverkusen were to fall to a 5-4 penalty defeat to Magdeburg’s East German rivals, Dynamo Dresden, in the quarter finals of the cup.
No Wall, New Boundaries
Of course, Magdeburg has not suffer alone; yet their stumble and subsequent fall is surprising as they were arguably one of the strongest clubs in the old East Germany. As a whole, the country has suffered huge disappointment however. Despite limited success, such as Dresden’s semi-final appearance in the DFB-Cup of 1994, there has been little to shout about for clubs from the former Soviet Occupied Zone.
Hansa Rostock and Energie Cottbus, two of the most unlikely teams to reach the Bundesliga to date, have spent a combined total of 20 years in the top division. With Dresden and VfB Leipzig, who have since folded, East German clubs have spent up to a quarter of a century in the highest tier of German football.
Currently, there are nine teams in the top two divisions; yet of those, four are in danger of relegation. Only Union Berlin – who enjoy great popularity in England, Halle, Magdeburg’s arch rivals, and Rostock are relatively safe in their respective divisions.
Despite the Berlin Wall now a distant memory, its effects are still been felt. Regions such as Saxony-Anhalt, Thuringia or even Saxony have struggled to maintain themselves in the professional football pyramid. The events of the revolution in the GDR therefore, while liberating the people from an oppressive regime, sent most of its clubs headlong into mediocrity.