Obituary: Walter Frosch – The Death of a German Football Icon

Last week, German football was saddened by the death of one of its greatest icons, Walter Frosch. Frosch, became a German football legend for his on-pitch performances, his extravagant antics off it and, perhaps anecdotally, his moustache and floppy hair. A lover of football and life in general, he lost his fight with cancer, which lasted for almost two decades, on November 23rd 2013 at the age of 62 in a hospital in Hamburg.

Born in Ludwigshafen am Rhein in 1950, Frosch began his career with his hometown amateur club, Arminia Ludwigshafen before moving to the Regionalliga Südwest at the age of 19 by the hand of SV Alsenborn. After four years there, he made the short trip to Kaiserslautern, which is where he began to make a name for himself. One would think that such a transfer would not be the cause of any problems but, as it turns out, Walter Frosch was to be at the centre of huge controversy. His transfer to the Red Devils was apparently impugned by Bayern München, who claimed that Frosch had signed a pre-contract with them that winter of 1974. The DFB came in to deliberate in the matter and delivered the verdict that Frosch was to honour his contract with Kaiserslautern… not before serving a 4-month ban.

After two seasons in Kaiserslautern, during which he played 43 matches and scored 3 goals, he made the move north to Hamburg’s brown and white district, St Pauli. At Millerntor, he won promotion to the Bundesliga for the first time in the club’s history after a run of 27 unbeaten matches and earned his fame as one of the most merciless central defenders in German football. In fact, Walter Frosch is the reason why there is a one-match suspension after reaching four yellow cards (five today). Frosch, during the 2. Bundesliga Nord 76/77 season, managed to rack up a total of 18 yellow cards (some publications have wrongly mentioned the number of 27 or 19). Funnily enough, his only red card in his career came in a DFB Pokal match for Alsenborn in a 3-0 defeat against Fortuna Düsseldorf in 1971, and none of those 18 yellow cards six seasons after that transformed into a red. With two matches remaining in the season, against SC Union Solingen and Wacker Berlin, Frosch said that he “would go and get two more yellow cards, because 20 is a round number, isn’t it?”.

And that was the character he was, which in turn made him a cult hero in the stands, as he was later named in the St Pauli XI of the century. Another of his famous quotes came when, in 1976, he was rumoured to be called up for the Germany B side, managed then by Jupp Derwall. Frosch replied that “Walter Frosch plays only for the A-team or for the World XI”. His extravagant personality also translated into his lifestyle; Frosch was a chain smoker who could smoke up to 60 cigarettes a day and also enjoyed his beer quite a bit, a regular sight in Hamburg’s pubs, both during and after his career. However, Frosch, who never denied his excesses, claimed that they never deterred his performance on the pitch, and this is something that nobody can dispute.

Furthemore, Frosch enjoyed a goalscoring touch uncommon for defenders, particularly those like him, notching a total of 36 goals throughout his career, 22 of which for St Pauli. Not a bad tally for a pub regular. His manager at St Pauli during the promotion season, Diethelm Ferner, was aware of Frosch’s lifestyle and had even tried to talk to him about it but he trusted Frosch’s ability to perform on match day and so left him to it. In fact, it was Frosch’s personality that made him into the man he was, a born optimist, according to Ferner, who pulled the team together and forwards; a Jekyll and Hyde character, a friendly and nice man off the pitch but a fierce competitor on it who would do anything for success and for his team and teammates.

The following season in the Bundesliga, St Pauli finished bottom, most likely partly due to Frosch’s persistent injuries, which allowed him to only take part in 18 matches in the whole season. Under the stewardship of Sepp Piontek the following year, St Pauli finished sixth in the 2. Bundesliga Nord but financial problems meant that they lost their license and were demoted to the Amateuroberliga Nord for the 79/80 season. Frosch stayed loyal to St Pauli despite their demise but left for Altona 93 in 1982, where he ended his playing career after three seasons with the Hamburg club. After his retirement, he managed two restaurants in the city, one of them the one at SC Victoria Hamburg’s ground.

In 1996, he was diagnosed with tonsil cancer, which he battled bravely until his death this year. However, up until 2008, he was fairly active and involved in social events such as testimonial matches, although his physical appearance had clearly deteriorated, showing Frosch as a thin and weak-looking man with a rugged voice due to his condition. Only three things remained the same: his spirit, his hair and his thick moustache. During one of these testimonials, he was interviewed by a reporter at pitchside, who asked him what that lump was tucked in his socks. “Cigarettes” replied Frosch. The 36-second video went viral on the Internet and it currently boasts over 2.2 million views.

However, this funny moment exemplifies the tragic end to such a colourful character. Frosch himself admitted after his retirement that he hadn’t lived a healthy lifestyle and when asked who the toughest opponent he ever faced was, he immediately replied “the bar”. Frosch’s health deteriorated considerably in 2008 due to organ failure and he had to learn how to walk and speak all over again. After five more years of operations and fighting, Frosch lost his battle with cancer just weeks short of his 63rd birthday. However, he will be forever remembered by St Pauli and German football fans as one of the most iconic figures of German football in the 70s and in its whole history.

Rest in peace, Froschi.

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Aleix Gwilliam

Is a 27-year-old living in Barcelona who gets more pleasure from watching German lower-league football than from going to watch his hometown team at the Camp Nou every other week. Passionate about European football, its history and culture, you can follow him on Twitter at @AleixGwilliam

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