You don’t have to be a fan of German football to enjoy this book. It’s packed with great stories of the characters that have enlivened German football from the days when it was seen as a dangerous foreign pastime up to May 25, 2013 when two German teams met in the Champions League final. It also discusses the difference between German and British fans’ views of their clubs. I have a feeling that Birmingham City fans are divided into two groups: those that are content to be customers and those that want to be more connected as German fans are.
The stories include an account of a championship final that took place in 1922, before substitutions and penalty shootouts. Nuremberg and Hamburg played for 3 hours and 9 minutes before the referee stopped play on account of darkness. The replay ended in a draw too and was stopped when injuries and players sent off reduced the Nuremberg team to 7 players. In April 1924, the German national team was made up of players from rival clubs Nuremberg and Fürth who refused to speak to each other and travelled to the game in two different railway coaches. Following a game in 1973, when Bremen fans shouted insults at the Bayern team bus, the players got off the bus and fought them.
The evolution of football in England and Germany was similar. In both countries it was played by upper class or middle class amateurs then became popular with the working class and the pressure to pay players came after that. The difference between the two countries was that the process happened about 40 years later in Germany. A nationwide professional league, the Bundesliga, was not established until 1963. In both countries, there were ‘under the table’ ways of paying supposedly amateur players before clubs became professional. And after the Bundesliga was formed there were ways of getting round the salary cap and upper limit for transfer fees. Uli Hesse claims that Kaiserlautern probably paid twice the allowed amount for Jacobus Prins and added the extra expense to a bill for new floodlights.
However, German football’s long tradition of amateurism and anti-commercialism has persisted and so has support for the 50+1 rule even though it discourages benefactors from investing in a club. Hesse says the rule tells investors “please gift us cash, but don’t even dream of telling us what to do with it.” It means that most German football clubs are still clubs not commercial companies; members have a controlling stake. In 2012, when Uli Hesse asked the chairman of Borussia Dortmund why he backed the 50+1 rule, he replied,
“Whenever you have investors, some kind of corporate demeanour begins to engulf the club. And that’s not our mentality. The German fan wants to have the feeling that he is part of the whole. In England, the fan is now basically a customer and can by and large live with that. But if you tell a German supporter that he’s just a customer, he’s going to kill you. He has to feel connected to the club and that’s only possible through the 50+1 rule, because when you really get down to it, the parent club’s members are still in control. Of course we run the limited company autonomously but if the members one day think I should leave, they can sack me.”
The national team’s ups and downs are also documented, including the dramatic slump after winning the European Championship in 1996. The World Cup in 1998 was a disappointment and at Euro 2000 Germany didn’t get past the group stage and only scored once in its three matches. Hesse tells how the German game changed after that. The change was based on youth development and in 2001 the governing bodies decreed that only clubs that ran a youth academy would be granted a licence to play in the Bundesliga. During the ten years following the launch of the Extended Talent Promotion Programme in 2002, the average age of Bundesliga players went down from 27.6 to 25.3 years. German football is now benefitting from an abundance of young players that are better schooled, with young legs that can run longer and need less time to rest. This has resulted in success; two German teams reached the Champions League final in 2013 and the national team won the World Cup in 2014.
Tor! The Story of German Football by Uli Hesse, 2013 edition – revised and updated