Cold War Classic, no. 10 – West Germany v East Germany, 1974

  • Another offering from Joey Smith – the following is an adaption of an excerpt from “Politics On The Pitch #5: Groups of Death Part 2” over on Pyro On The Pitch.com. While the kits aren’t really the main issue for once, it would be remiss not to include this most ultimate of Cold War Classic match-ups, as the two German entities whose existence book-ended the Cold War came face-to-face for the first and only time.

When the short-lived, post-World War 2 state of the Saar Protectorate – administered by the French, but German in every other way – took part in their one and only World Cup qualifying campaign (for 1954), the geographically selected group was always going to see them come up against their West German countrymen.

The World Cup would come to West Germany itself 20 years later – by which time Saarland had been long absorbed back into the Federal Republic of Germany (as the West was formally known) – and it seemed inevitable that the remaining, third post-war German state would not only qualify for the first time, but also be drawn alongside the hosts for a debut showdown between capitalist west and communist east.

The Democratic Republic of (East) Germany had been formed in 1949 and, under the Deutscher Fußball Verband der DDR governing body, participated in their first international football match against Poland three years later. As discussed back in in Politics on the Pitch #2, blue and white were chosen as kit colours to reflect the uniforms of the East German socialist youth organisation.

A thick v-neck design, rather like a sailor’s uniform, was used in 1957.

After their 1952 entry to FIFA, 1958-1970 had seen fruitless World Cup qualifying campaigns before qualifying Group 4 brought real East German hope for the 1974 edition. Lower-ranked Albania and Finland were like East Germany in having not yet made a tournament finals, leaving Romania – boasting three finals appearances back in the 1930s, and more importantly a spot at the recent 1970 World Cup in Mexico – as group favourites, although not exactly an elite squad either.

As they had done during World War 2 against the Russians, the Finns did the Germans a favour early in the group with a heroic 1-1 draw in Helsinki against Romania in September 1972. It would prove a vital slip-up, as Romania would go on to take ‘all two points’ (awarded for a win instead of three until the 1998 qualifiers) against East Germany in Bucharest the following May; ultimately the latter’s only dropped points in the group.

The most crucial group game came on September 26, 1973 in Leipzig for the return fixture, with a 2-0 win for East Germany putting them back in the driver seat. Still with a chance to go through, Romania would take their revenge over Finland at home with a desperate 9-0 drubbing in October, but it was to be in vain as a 4-1 East German victory away to Albania in November delivered top spot by a point.

While no internationals had yet taken place between the two divided halves of Germany, a number of friendlies did occur between club sides from East and West in the 1950s before the wall. The introduction of European competitions later resumed such encounters, starting with Dynamo Dresden v Bayern Munich in the 1973-74 European Cup, and Fortuna Düsseldorf v 1. FC Lokomotive Leipzig in the UEFA Cup of the same season.

And so the stage was set in January 1974 for the World Cup final draw in Frankfurt. Seemingly admitting the fallibility of grown men in the 1970s, FIFA used the ‘innocent hand’ of a young, local choir boy to draw the teams, eliminating any element of potential dirty play from a morally corrupted adult.

With West Germany automatically placed in Group 1 as hosts, the dramatic moment came when East Germans were also drawn in the group, drawing first a moment of hushed shock from those in attendance before emotional, spontaneous applause. Even though it had always been a possibility, along with the fact that the tournament was on ‘enemy’ soil anyway, it was later falsely rumoured that the East German regime would withdraw the team to avoid the overtly political encounter.

Adding to the intrigue, one of the locations for games in the group was the enclave of West Berlin, amazingly meaning that East Germany would play a World Cup game in a city entirely surrounded by itself. Unfortunately, the all-German clash wasn’t scheduled for here, but both sides took on Chile (fresh from their own bloody coup d’etat in 1973) in the Olympiastadion, less than 10km from the Berlin Wall.

The political atmosphere was matched by surprisingly poor June weather for the tournament, with particularly dreary and wet conditions – perhaps the worst ever (at a World Cup that is, not of all time). As Chilean protesters attempted to grab the attention of the world with regard to their country’s dictatorship in the match against Australia in West Berlin (three out of three at the venue for Chile, who technically could still progress), most fans and non-fans alike were concentrating on what was to come that evening across the country in Hamburg for the final group game.

On June 22, more than 60,000 crammed into the Volksparkstadion – where West Germany had also taken on Saar in 1953 – for the 7.30pm kick-off and thankfully the setting sun shone low in the sky. There was a respectful silence for the DGR’s national anthem and a section of East German supporters were visible in the ground.

East Germany, who had been primarily using white shirts and blue shorts as a first preference by this time, were the official ‘home’ team in the tie. But, perhaps displaying a gesture of goodwill, the East graciously emerged in their change kit of blue shirts and white shorts, allowing West Germany to continue wearing their usual home white jerseys. Interestingly, the East Germans were in short sleeves while the hosts were in long sleeves, but both wearing unbranded Erima.

Finally, the time came and the heavy-favourite Western professionals kicked-off against a team who all had day jobs back in the East. Early on, West Germany were close to opening the scoring, but it remained 0-0 until the 77th minute when Jürgen Sparwasser – a member of the 1. FC Magdeburg side that had just impressively beaten AC Milan to win the Cup Winners’ Cup in Rotterdam – broke through the West German defence to score.

The TV cameras went to the celebrating away supporters in the crowd, who were doubtlessly all involved in the East German government in some way, rather than regular fans who may have taken the chance to defect. Permits had been in effect since 1972 that allowed younger East German citizens to cross the border (pensioners, who were less valuable to the state, had been able to visit the West since 1964), although they were only usually granted to ruling party elites and their ilk in reality.

The shocked home crowd looked on as the clock rolled down before the final whistle confirmed it: the lowly East had conquered the West. Granted, West Germany’s two prior victories against Australia and Chile had already secured them a place in the next round, but, like in qualifying, East Germany ended the group in pole position.

In the end, the result was possibly the best thing that could have happened for the hosts, as they entered a manageable round 2 group alongside Poland, Sweden and Yugoslavia, while the unfortunate East were placed in the far tougher group with Argentina, Brazil and the Netherlands. Elimination came after two defeats, with respectable 1-1 draw against the Argentinians in the other game.

West Germany of course went on to win the World Cup for the second time, but East Germany had won the arguably more important ‘all-German cup final’ and would always have that.

Well, until October 3, 1990 at least, when the state would formally cease to exist.

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