Tor - A History of German Football, by Ulrich Hesse-Lichtenberger

While fabric and cloth were prized possessions, there were flags and banners in abundance that no-one seemed to want anymore. With a bit of dexterity they could be turned into football kits once you removed the swastikas

Tor – A History of German Football, by Ulrich Hesse-Lichtenberger


It's not often that I have my eyes opened in such a dramatic, revelatory manner. A very kind friend sent this book through (knowing I had enjoyed David Winner's equally exciting book on Dutch football, "Brilliant Orange"). Now football history is a subject I have always had an affinity for, but German football history? Well... armed with the few cliches I could muster, I set about to read "Tor", only to have every idea I had about German football (the promotion of mindless efficiency over style, lack of sporting grace etc etc) utterly shattered. In fact I was so won over I have now decided I really want a 1954 replica shirt (as seen on the Toffs website). I also now "support" 04Schalke, especially after reading about the famous team from the 1930s with the likes of Szepan, Kuzorra, Urban et al.


Time and time again football somehow triumphs, over the muddle headed nature of the German football authorities, amateurism, '14-'18 and '39-'45, over the economic collapse in the '30s, Naziism, corruption, hooliganism and even over (well, at times) Bayern Munich's team from the 1980s.


The really moving parts of the book are the descriptions of the attempts to set up the first post war league, the Oberliga Sud which kicked off in November 1945; faced with almost impossible odds, a competition was nevertheless set up and fully working despite hardships you couldn't imagine. I quote, (1954 World Cup winner) "Max Morlock's legendary 1. FC Nurnberg travelled to tiny Altotting because they had been promised a butchered sow. The pig made the bus journey back to Nuremberg packed in towels and lying between the feet of the players, who carved it up themselves."


Another quote; "At Hamm, the club used gravestones to shore up the stairs on the stands, carefully placing them so that the inscriptions faced away from the people flocking to the football..." And on the subject of strips... "Kits were also scarce. That is why a number of teams suddenly took to playing in red and white strips often with the addition of neatly cut holes. Because while fabric and cloth were prized possessions, there were flags and banners in abundance that no-one seemed to want anymore. With a bit of dexterity they could be turned into football kits once you removed the swastikas."


Other extraordinary facts to consider are that (West) Germany won the 1954 World Cup represented by an essentially amateur team whose players took part in regional competitions (the winners of the regional leagues met in a cup final each year). Secondly - the even more extraordinary fact - well, an extraordinary fact seen now I suppose, at the time it must have been depressingly apparent, given Hitler's lack of knowledge about football and the Nazi desire to win at all costs, mutating into the creation of a pan-Germanic XI: that Germany & Austria were forced to amalgamate their teams in 1938 (a year after the Germans had arguably one of the greatest teams in Europe, the "Breslau Elf").


In the dressing room during the 1938 World Cup, the Greater Germany side sat split between Austria and Germany, eyeing each other with hate. "Then the fabled Viennese technician Josef Stroh took a ball and began juggling with it with various parts of his body. The Austrians exaggeratedly applauded Stroh. 'Pepi is a wizard', they said 'he's got some touch'. The Germans got the message and their eyes wandered over to Szepan. The Schalke player rose and asked Stroh for the ball. Then he imitated the Austrian's moves and tricks with uncanny exactness. As an encore Szepan volleyed the ball against the wall, only inches above the heads of the Austrians. A cold silence covered the room. Then Szepan whispered: 'You arseholes'."


Post war stories centre round the brilliant teams of the early 1970s and the "pivotal" role of the Kaiser (Mr Beckenbauer) and the massive corruption scandal unearthed in 1971 (bungs aren't the half of it, but I won't ruin the plot...)


German football only loses its way (like English football) in the 1980s when winning becomes the be-all and end-all. To his credit Lichtenberger doesn't try to excuse this, he merely laments the fact that Germany, once fabled for Beckenbauer, Muller and Netzer is now better known for Matthaus, Effenberg, Schumacher and Kahn. I can't resist allowing myself one anti-Kahn jibe (supplied helpfully by Lichtenberger) Apparently the big goalie took part in a sponsored penalty shoot-out with some children, the rub-off being that every goal scored by the kids represented money to an orphanage... Of course Kahn couldn't stand to be beaten so he saved every single one. A long way from Bert Trautmann...


Still let's leave with a positive image... think of Fritz Walther, German captain in 1954, and gentleman.


Words: Richard Foster.