Bundesliga 50: The 1970’s – Scandals, Success and Sponsors

Part 2 of the anniversary series, Bundesliga 50, has a look at the 1970’s, a period during which German football came to the fore once more but only after some scandalous revelations were shaken off. The 1970’s were arguably Germany’s most successful decade and to this day remains its golden era, in club as well as international terms. Never before and not since has Germany dominated the European football scene as they did between 1972 and 1980.

It all started with a tape…The Bribery Scandal 1971

The success story of the Bundesliga that started with its formation in the 1960’s was soon contrasted with a dark one in 1971, when the first scandal was made public. The bribery scandal shook the Bundesliga to its core and it took almost the whole decade for all investigations to be completed. It all started with a tape that was played by Horst-Gregorio Canellas to the audience at his 50th. birthday party on 6 June 1971. The tape contained secret recordings Canellas had made with other club representatives and players to make sure that his club, Kickers Offenbach, would not be relegated. These attempts were futile but it turned out that buying and selling the results of games was a widespread practice and phenomenon among German professional players. In total, 18 games were manipulated and 52 players, 2 coaches and 6 club officials, including Canellas himself, were involved and eventually banned from football, either for life or for at least 2 years. Most players were reprieved but had to pay a hefty penalty nonetheless. Some of the players involved were internationals such as Klaus Fichtel, Klaus Fischer and Reinhard ‘Stan’ Libuda, all of Schalke and some of the first ‘stars’ the Bundesliga had produced.

The scandal also brought to light that Canellas had contacted the DFB as he found out himself that something was going wrong, only for it to fall on deaf ears. The scandal had enormous and wide reaching consequences as two thirds of clubs in the Bundesliga were implicated, while it remained inconclusive whether the other clubs were lily whites. With the World Cup coming to Germany, critics stated that the DFB acted too quickly and only superficially with the forthcoming tournament in mind. However, with a historian’s view of events, it is clear that the scandal had a distinct cathartic function for German football. It brought to the fore a new generation of talent, which was to dominate the decade. For the public however, the scandal threw a negative light on professional football that was to last for the decade.  Surprisingly though, it only influenced the attendance figures in 1971/72 with 18700 and the all-time low of 17400 on average for the 1972/73 season.

All About Gladbach

As mentioned before, the 1970s were arguably Germany’s most successful decade at club and international level. Bayern Munich and Borussia Mönchengladbach won 5 European trophies and no less than 8 national championships (Bayern 3, Gladbach 5) between them plus a national cup triumph each. That’s 10 trophies in total for two clubs only, underlining further their domination of German football but also the peak and quality produced in those years. Gladbach had two more final appearances against Liverpool in 1973 in the UEFA Cup and 1977 in the European Cup, losing both 3-2 and 3-1 respectively.

In a way, the 1970s were all about Gladbach. Their rivalry with Bayern defined the era and Gladbach’s exciting attacking style symbolized the ascent and evolution of german football during the era.  They got their first league title in 1970 and repeated the feat in 1971, thus setting the tone for the decade, which was to become their most successful; but also becoming the first team to win back-to-back titles since the mid-1950s when Borussia Dortmund won the forerunner of the Bundesliga in 1956 and 1957.

Gladbach in the 1970s were also about Günter Netzer, the first playboy of German football. The man himself would never accept such a label and reply that he was rather shy by nature. In his last game for the club, the German DFB Cup Final 1973, he would depart for Real Madrid, he was a sub. However, during extra-time he went up to his coach, Hennes Weisweiler saying, ‘I’ll be playing now’ as Christian Kulik went down with cramp. Spoke, went on to the pitch and scored the winner for Gladbach in his last match for his club.

Braunschweig and the Deer

Eintracht Braunschweig achieved something football fans from Lower Saxon crave for their teams: winning the league. They did so in 1967, preceding Wolfsburg’s success from 2009 by more than 40 years. Hanover had their time in the sun in 1938 and 1954 but since the establishment of the Bundesliga have not won the Bundesliga title. Braunschweig were also pioneers in the 1970’s as they were the first team in Germany to have a sponsor on the front of their kit. As they were heavily involved in the bribery scandal of 1971, they needed money and became inventive but by doing so laid the groundwork for clubs all over the country for decades to come.

A local spirit company, Jägermeister, led by Günter Mast decided to invest into the club to enhance the profile of the family company. As a result, the deer of Jägermeister adorned the club’s crest between 1973 and 1986. It helped push sales for Jägermeister and generated income for Braunschweig in hard times. More importantly it once more showed that those administering the game in Germany, were out of step with the game and its immediate environment. Initial restrictions issued by the DFB with regards to the size of the adverts (18cm) were happily applied by Eintracht. Within weeks more clubs requested kit sponsors to be allowed and in 1974, the DFB gave in and officially sanctioned advertisement on football kits. The rest, as they say, is history. Advertising on football kits has become a huge factor in the revenue for clubs.

Unprecendeted Success

The 1970s were all about success, unprecedented success for German football on an international level, either for the national team or club teams. While the clubs in question have already been mentioned, a paragraph on the national team has to be included.

The idea behind the introduction of the league was clear: create a platform for professional football but more importantly, bring success to German clubs and the national team. The clubs had their fair share of success in the 1960s as has been pointed out here. The 1970s saw the German national team reap the rewards for this move. It began with a solid performance during the 1970 World Cup Mexico, particularly against England, where the team of Alf Ramsey were already 2-0 up and looked certain winners, when a goal by Franz Beckenbauer changed the momentum and the result. This was only the beginning as things got better after this.

The 1970s are the decade described as the ‘decade of total football’ invented by the Dutch, especially Ajax Amsterdam who ran riot in Europe winning three consecutive European Cup between 1971 and 1973. The national side could not repeat this feat. The Germans proved that it was possible. Not only did Bayern manage to win three European Cup from 1974 until 1976; the Nationalmannschaft were also the team to beat in Europe from 1972 until 1980 and were arguably the best in the world in 1974.

However, it is the team of 1972 which is often regarded as the best ever German side, with some justification. Never before and not since has a German national side boasted so much creativity and spirit like this team had. Their performance at Wembley against England leading up to the ’72 EURO finals left the English press speechless. Moreover, the feeling that England had somehow been relegated to a footballing backwater became reality. While Germany won the European Cup of Nations in 1972, their best performance came against in the quarter-final at Wembley. Geoffrey Green, sports writer for the Times, wrote about the match as an ‘experience England could do without’ while Ken Jones, ‘the voice of sport’ at the Daily Mirror saw ‘the tiger of 1966’ Geoff Hurst become ‘a tabby cat of 1972.’ For the Germans this victory was incomprehensible as Die Welt has noted and led to questions of England’s footballing development since winning the World Cup in 1966.

That the West German National team were the best in Europe during that decade was certainly true and proven on the pitch throughout the decade. After their impressive form and performances of 1972 they once more appeared in a final in the same competition 4 years later in Belgrade. This time however, they lost on penalties against Czechoslovakia. Not so impressive were their performances at the 1978 World Cup were they lost to Austria and went out in the quarter-finals. It meant the end for Helmut Schön, the ‘great old man of German football.’ He was replaced by Jupp Derwall, his assistant. This somehow marked the end of an era as the football became more bureaucratic and predictable.

In the end…

While the introduction of the Bundesliga in the early 1960s looked as though the administrators of the game in Germany re-invented the wheel, the bribery scandal reminded fans, the media, administrators and observers that those in charge of the game had simply caught up with reality and that without the introduction of the Bundesliga the scandal might have come earlier and possibly been on a larger scale. However, the scandal served several purposes. Firstly, it was a reminder that football players are human beings and just as susceptible as others. Secondly, professional football was a business and as a result professional players acted as businessmen, i.e. making hay while the sun shines. Finally, it served as a cathartic element for the national team. The result was almost immediate success as the impressive team display of 1972 bore witness.

That this was not a one off, triumph in the World Cup 1974 followed, as well as another final appearance in Belgrade 1976. After those successes saturation set in and in 1978, the end of a great team was cemented by defeat against Austria in the quarter-final. The 1970’s of German football are remembered for the bribery scandal and as an indirect result, the team of 1972. From unknown depths to unprecented heights this decade is best described. It remains the most successful decade by far and saw Germany underline their status as a footballing superpower. A status they often fall back upon in recent times.

Recommended Reading

Günter Netzer: Aus der Tiefe des Raumes, Cologne: 2005
Uli Hesse-Lichtenberger: Tor! The Story of German Football, London: 2003
Jonathan Wilson: Anatomy of England in 10 Matches, London: 2010

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