Bundesliga 50: The 1960’s – The Rise of Professionalism and the Anglo-German Rivalry

The 1960’s were characterized by Germany’s gradual rise as a force in international football again. The success in 1954 had been a one off but from the late 1960’s Germany was an established force in international football and the rewards paid off in European Cups as well as triumphs at the European Championship in 1972 and the World Cup in 1974. More importantly, the 1960’s saw the formation of the Bundesliga, which became an instant success story. This is the first piece in a series covering the last 5 decades of the Bundesliga, commencing with the 1960’s.

True Intentions

To put the establishment of the Bundesliga in Germany into perspective a comparison is probably necessary: By the time the first season kicked off in 1963, the English FA celebrated its 100th anniversary and as a show piece the World Cup 1966 was held in England. By pure coincidence it was Germany who met England in the final. Reaching international finals like that was one of the intended goals behind the establishment of a unified league in Germany. The DFB’s ‘blazer brigade’ wanted Germany to not only be among the top teams in Europe, but more importantly, the world.

Furthermore, the establishment of the league meant that professionalism was officially introduced in Germany, ending a system that demanded players to have ‘ordinary jobs’ on the side while playing football, i.e. being shamateurs. However, the success of 1966 was put into serious doubt two years later when Germany failed to qualify for the final four of the European Championship, finishing second in their group behind Yugoslavia after they had failed to beat Albania. Yugoslavia finished second, England were third. It was the last time they finished ahead of Germany until 2000 and 2004.

England vs. Germany

For Bobby Moore, the years between 1964 and 1966 must be seen as his most successful. Never before and not after did he get his hands on so many trophies: three in three years; the FA Cup with West Ham United in 1964, the Cup Winners Cup in 1965 against TSV 1860 Munich and the biggest prize of all, the World Cup in 1966. All finals were played at Wembley too.

The years between 1965 and 1968 in European football seemed to be all about England and Germany as the Cup Winners Cup saw three Anglo-German encounters in the final. In 1965 West Ham United beat TSV 1860 Munich 2-0. The year of the World Cup saw Borussia Dortmund become the first German team to win European silverware by beating Liverpool 2-1 at Hampden Park. A year later Bayern Munich beat Rangers in Nürnberg 1-0.

England beat Germany in the World Cup Final in 1966 4-2 but two years later Germany beat England for the first time in a friendly match after 60 years of trying. The first competitive defeat for England against Germany came in 1970 in Leon (Mexico) when England squandered a 2-0 lead to go out of the competition after extra-time, beaten dramatically 3-2 in the end. This condensed period of Anglo-German football encounters saw Germany emerging as a footballing superpower as Uli Lichtenberger described it, while England reached the ultimate summit of football by winning the World Cup and arguably their climax. David Downing described the effect of England winning the World Cup as causing a shock among football journalists worldwide. David Thomson asked if ‘we will ever know how to win again?’ in his account of 1966. The outcome of this question is well-known by now while Germany took an entirely different trajectory.

From a historian’s point of view, the years between 1965 and 1970, possibly until 1972 must be the seen as the fulcrum of the Anglo-German football rivalry. In 7 years both teams played each other on 7 occasions. More importantly, while England had been more successful until 1968, the pendulum started to swing Germany’s way during those years. The victory in Mexico 1970 was down to mere luck for the Germans or misfortune for England, but the swing was already in full motion and the truth was hammered home in 1972 when the Germans beat England 3-1 at Wembley despite Günter Netzer’s fears of a 5-1 defeat ahead of the game to. Jonathan Wilson described this game as the moment when England ceased to be world champions merely from a psychological point of view but it was also the moment Germany had arrived.

The Other Munich

While Bayern Munich managed their first international trophy in 1967, they had not been the dominant force in German football they would become during the 1970’s and more importantly during the 1980’s. Bayern only won their first championship in the Bundesliga in 1969, three years after rivals TSV 1860 Munich were crowned German champions. In fact, 1860 were one of the best teams in Germany at the time and were even better supported than Bayern Munich. With the arrival of Franz Beckenbauer at Bayern in 1958, the tide started to change slowly. He became a vital part of Bayern’s success in the 1970’s when the team won three consecutive league titles (1972-75) as well as European Cups (1974-1976). He invented the sweeper position from which he often roamed forward to initiate attacks and even score himself. These exciting runs up the field were to become his trademark. He was part of Germany’s football revolution in the early 1970’s when Germany clearly became one of the best teams in Europe and the world.

The Correct Decision

In hindsight, it looks as though the DFB made the right decision to introduce a unified professional league as it empowered even the smaller clubs in the country. Admittedly, success in the Cup Winners Cup often came very easy as the opponents were not of the same calibre they were in the European Cup. However, it was nonetheless a knock-out competition and even the least known club were able to make a big club stumble and fall as FC Magdeburg and East Germany showed in 1974. The European Cup was a far more difficult competition to win and for Germany’s clubs the quarterfinals was the stage teams were most often eliminated. Borussia Dortmund were the only club to reach the semi-final in 1963/64 when they lost to Internazionale, who later won the title and their first European trophy. In the Fairs’ Cup only Cologne FC in 1964 and Eintracht Frankfurt 1967 managed to reach the semi-final of UEFA’s third competition.

It is certainly correct to state that Germany re-invented its’ football pyramid with the introduction of the Bundesliga in the 1963/64 season. The first 7 seasons saw as many different winners in the league. After 2 years with 16 teams which saw an average of roughly 28,000 spectators, the league was extended to 18 participants which was accompanied by a drop in gate figures to 24.600 for the 1965/66 season. For the remainder of the decade, this figure dropped constantly and for the 1960s the average for the Bundesliga was only a meagre 20,600 per stadium. Reasons for this drop are speculative: it could be that the novelty factor of the new league had worn off after almost a decade as well as the extension of the league where clubs with smaller grounds played in the top flight and thus dragged the figures down. Other speculations include 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 1960’s after the ‘economic miracle’ brought affluence to the Germans almost overnight.

Given that within the first 5 years, German clubs reached 4 Cup Winners’ Cup Finals and managed to win 3 of them as well as the national team playing successful football again at the highest level before being controversially beaten in a World Cup final by England, the Bundesliga proved to be an instant success story. Moreover, those behind the idea of a unified league for Germany saw themselves vindicated against criticism that was brought forward in the immediate time after the presentation of the league reform in July 1962.  More importantly, the creation of the league laid the foundation of future success and the league as we all know it now.

Recommended Reading:

Ulli Hesse-Lichtenberger: Tor! The Story of German Football, London: WSC Books, 2003.

Jonathan Wilson: The Anatomy of England. A History in Ten Matches, London: Orion Books, 2010.

David Downing: The Best of Enemies. England vs. Germany, London: Bloomsbury, 2001.


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