1950-51 East German Oberliga

This article was originally published on ostklassiker.net.

The East German Oberliga has a reputation for being one of the most manipulated sporting competitions the world has ever seen. The favouritism enjoyed by several big clubs in the 70s and 80s is relatively well-known, but the manipulation can be traced right back to the start of the league’s existence. Nothing illustrates the ridiculousness of the whole system better than the 1950-51 season.

Organised football in the Ostzone was barely three seasons old, and indeed the Deutsche Demokratische Republik had itself only existed for a year. The first two Ostzone championships had been played as a cup competition and were won by Zwickau-based SG Planitz and ZSG Union Halle. The first league competition was in 1949-50 and won again by SG Planitz, by then renamed as ZSG Horch Zwickau. The fact that the capital city of Berlin was not even represented in the newly-formed Oberliga was obviously an embarrassment for the ruling party, the SED. Until that point, teams from the capital had played in top Berlin league along with teams from the Westzone. This obviously wouldn’t do, so three teams were re-allocated to play in the Oberliga from 1950-51, namely Union Oberschöneweide (later to become 1. FC Union Berlin), VfB Pankow and SG Lichtenberg 47.

The Oberliga would now contain 18 teams, up from 14 from the previous season. To balance this out, the authorities declared in late 1950 that four sides would be relegated and only two promoted for the 1951-52 season. After further confirmation of this decision in January 1951, suddenly it was declared that only two teams would be relegated instead of four. Why, I hear you ask? Well, I’m sure it had nothing to do with the fact that, at the time, VfB Pankow were rock bottom of the league, setting a string of records for being completely rubbish that would never be beaten in the 40-year history of the Oberliga. 34 games, 131 goals conceded, 29 scored and an outstanding away record of P 17, W 0, D 0, L 17.

Even with the relaxed relegation regulations, VfB Pankow still finished bottom, a massive 13 points adrift of second-bottom SG Lichtenberg 47 (there were only two points for a win in those days too). With Union Oberschöneweide  finishing 15th (and originally in a relegation place), it seemed like the experiment of trying to integrate the Hauptstadt clubs into the Oberliga had failed miserably. But East Germany’s sporting authorities thought otherwise, declaring that VfB Pankow would remain in the league for the following season as Pankow, the area of Berlin where the DDR government was based, had a right to a place in the top tier – VfB Pankow were saved. And in addition to that, it was also declared that Berlin, as the “political, financial and cultural centre of the country”, also had a right to a second team in the top flight, meaning that Union Oberschöneweide also stayed up.

Another controversial event during the season concerned the teams fighting it out at the top. Motor Zwickau started the season well and were leading the Oberliga by 3 points from Turbine Erfurt in second with BSG Chemie Leipzig 2 points further away in third. On 10th December 1950, Zwickau travelled to Leipzig for a top of the table clash. Zwickau were leading 2-1 with seconds to go when Zwickau goalkeeper Joachim Otto catches a deep free-kick and is then pushed over the line in the scrum in front of the goal. The referee gives the Chemie equaliser and the Zwickau players are furious. They protest to the officials and then leave the pitch without acknowledging the other team. This was bad enough, but it got worse: the Zwickau team refuse to accept the pennant and flowers being offered by the Society for German-Soviet Friendship. The thing was, this match had been selected especially by the ruling party to underline the relationship between the two countries, and the episode was highly embarrassing for the authorities. Action was swift, and a few days later the East German Sport Committee announced the following:

1. The main sports facilities at the Georg-Schwarz-Sportplatz shall be closed from hosting football matches until 15th January 1951. The facilities shall only be reopened once all seating inside the barriers has been removed. BSG Chemie Leipzig shall play their home games within this period outside of the city and/or district at a neutral ground.

2. Mr. Dittes (head of administration), Mr. Richter (team manager) and Mr. Schubert (captain) from BSG Motor Zwickau shall be removed of their responsibilities. The final replacement of these members of staff must take place in conjunction with the German Sport Committee.

3. With the exception of Mr. Breitenstein, Mr. Schneider and Mr. Otto, BSG Motor Zwickau players who took part in the match against BSG Chemie Leipzig on 10.12.1950 shall be banned from all football matches until 8th January 1951 due to damaging behaviour towards the Democratic sporting community.

At the first game after the announcement of this judgement, at Aktivist Brieske-Ost (what a name!), club captains of both teams were given a bunch of flowers by the District Association for German-Soviet Friendship whilst making a kind of public apology. After all,  Stalin’s birthday was only four days away and all citizens of the GDR were to honour him in the proper manner – including footballers.

The fight between BSG Chemie Leipzig, Turbine Erfurt and Motor Zwickau ended up lasting most of the season, with the former two ending up equal on points after 34 matches. This resulted in a play-off match between Chemie and Turbine at the Ernst-Thälmann-Stadion in Chemnitz. Turbine Erfurt were missing two of their “spine”, Wolfgang Nitsche and Helmut Nordhaus, through suspensions caused by “inappropriate behaviour” after having a few too many following an unofficial international match for East Germany against Poland. Despite having some of the better chances over the course of the match, Turbine succumbed to a stronger BSG Chemie Leipzig team and conceded twice in the final 30 minutes, losing both the match and the title.

Results and table (rsssf): http://www.rsssf.com/tablesd/ddr51.html

Short film about the play-off match: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PQoVPsQs-p0

I obviously wasn’t even alive, let alone in East Germany, in 1950, so most of this information is taken from the incredible “Die Geschichte der DDR Oberliga” by Andreas Baingo and Michael Horn. Available here: http://www.amazon.de/Die-Geschichte-DDR-Oberliga-Mit-Spielerlexikon/dp/3895334286/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1326304863&sr=8-1 

Also by David Tunnicliffe:

East German football and the fall of the Iron Curtain

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