Borussia Mönchengladbach’s Bundesliga Breakthrough: 50 Years On

It’s odd to think that one of the clubs who defined the Bundesliga’s early era, Borussia Mönchengladbach, weren’t actually one of those originally included in the league upon its 1963 inception. Instead, it took them a few years to reach Germany’s national top flight, eventually achieving promotion to the Bundesliga, a league they have gone on to win three times, having only missed three of the subsequent seasons, on the 26th of June 1965.

A Changing of the Guard

In the years immediately preceding and immediately after the creation of the Bundesliga, Borussia were a mid-table outfit in the Oberliga West, the league which held the first Bundesliga champions, 1.FC Köln, as well as heavyweights such as Borussia Dortmund and Schalke. However, the club’s fates slowly began to change in 1964. After the inception of the Bundesliga, Borussia took up a place in the Regionalliga West, alongside many of the other Western German sides from the Oberliga West not permitted to make the step up to top flight football.

Fritz Langner, Borussia’s manager for their first season in the newly formed Regionalliga, took up Schalke’s vacant managerial post in the Bundesliga at the end of the 1963/64 season, meaning the club in turn appointed former 1.FC Köln and Viktoria Köln coach Hennes Weisweiler for the beginning of 1964/65. Weisweiler would change everything.

It’s easy to say that in full knowledge of what Weisweiler’s team achieved over the subsequent eleven years, but from the off, Weisweiler did. In came a new, youthful team, which featured the likes of the legendary Günter Netzer, Jupp Heynckes and Bernd Rupp. It was a radical shift in selection policy; Heynckes and Netzer were both nineteen and experiencing their first taste of first team football, while Rupp and fellow teammates Walter Wimmer, Egon Milder weren’t much older or more experienced.

Regionalliga West, 64/65.

Borussia started the season in sublime form, winning their opening five games in emphatic fashion; a 7-3 win over Westfalia Herne wasn’t even the most impressive result which Weisweiler’s young side achieved in the opening weeks, as Mönchengladbach schooled STV Horst-Emscher 10-1. Good for the goal difference, sure, but what of the chasing pack? A loss at the Bökelberg to Fortuna Düsseldorf brought the Foals’ back within touching distance of the likes of Preußen Münster and Rot-Weiss Oberhausen, who had also enjoyed encouraging starts to the season.

The first round of decisive games in Borussia’s romp to the title were to come in October as Borussia secured back-to-back victories to nil against both Münster and Oberhausen. Goals from Heynckes and Netzer were important in the latter while a solitary goal from defender Rudolf Pöggeler beat the former, who had been Bundesliga debutants the previous season.

From here, Borussia built quickly. Two November defeats, to Alemannia Aachen and Rot-Weiss Essen, would briefly deny the club top spot, and suddenly the pursuit of a top flight spot appeared to be secured firmly on two horses, Aachen and Borussia, with the clubs trading places at the top of the table on an almost weekly basis.

The race for the title itself was to go the wire, with the decider taking place during the first weekend of May. Alemannia were due to travel to Niederrhein to face Borussia at the Bökelberg, with both sides level on points after thirty games played, and with Aachen only top by virtue of a superior goal difference by one solitary goal. Of course, a loss for either side wouldn’t be terminal – and both sides were almost sure of a spot in the promotion play-off round with Fortuna Düsseldorf a few points off the pace in third – but the game had something of the air of a title decider.

At home and with a slight edge in the recent record between the two teams, Borussia began the game more confidently, with Günter Netzer earning Gladbach an early penalty after his shot was handled by a defender in the area. Though Egon Milder saw his shot saved by Gerhard Prokop in the Alemannia goal, Borussia were to go into the lead in the opening twenty minutes as Bernd Rupp took advantage of a bad Prokop parry from a Heynckes shot. Borussia were soaring after twenty minutes.

Borussia continued to probe after the break, with Herbert Laumen going close before a Heynckes header was cleared off of the line. As the game began to ease off, with the result looking relatively safe for the hosts, Rupp was fouled in the area for a second penalty. This time, Netzer stepped up to the fray, burying his penalty to gift his side a 2-0 victory over their promotion rivals. The title, and a shot at promotion to the Bundesliga through a playoff round, was secured with two wins and a draw in the final three games.

Promotion Playoff

Borussia were paired with SSV Reutlingen, Wormatia Worms and Holstein Kiel in their side of the promotion playoff groups – with eight teams, with the top two of each of the German Regionalligen, bar Berlin and Nord, which only had one representative each, split into two groups of four with one shot at promotion to the top flight in each group. Aachen, meanwhile, were in with a shout of promotion alongside Borussia, but eventually fell to a club who, like Mönchengladbach, would go on to rule the roost in the Bundesliga in subsequent years, in the form of FC Bayern München.

Three wins and a draw from the opening four fixtures in the group put Weisweiler’s squad in a commanding position with regards promotion, with impressive wins over Worms (5-1 at the Bökelberg) and Reutlingen (7-0, again in home comforts) leaving the club a win away from promotion.

Having won their home tie with Holstein Kiel, Borussia headed to Schleswig-Holstein in fine spirits ahead of their fifth game of the group. A win would place them just out of reach of Reutlingen, who, despite being dismantled at the Bökelberg, still posed a threat in the table, while also ruling out any hope of Bundesliga football for Kiel too. Mönchengladbach twice took the lead, with goals from Jupp Heynckes and Günter Netzer, but Kiel eventually won 4-2 with a late brace from Gerd Koll adding to the original equalisers from Gerd Saborowski and Manfred Podlich. Like in the Regionalliga West, the decision was to go to the wire.

And so, on the 26th of June 1965, Borussia played host the Regionalliga Südwest’s second placed side, Wormatia Worms. Both sides, nervy at what was ahead, played out a goalless first half with Mönchengladbach dominating proceedings.

It was in the second half, though, that things began to go wrong. Reutlingen had equalised having gone behind to Kiel and suddenly Borussia found themselves behind, as their former midfielder Dieter Bedürftig of all people found himself on the scoresheet, netting Worms’ opener on the hour mark. A goal from Reutlingen against Kiel would scupper Borussia’s bid for promotion, as things stood.

Moments later, though, in the midst of the Bökelberg’s nerves, one youngster showed maturity beyond his years. Having been played in by Rudolf Pöggeler, Günter Netzer finally broke through Worms’ defensive line, tying the game up at 1-1. With twenty minutes left, and the score the same in Reutlingen, both teams were happy to play out a score draw, and at the end, Borussia Mönchengladbach emerged as a Bundesliga club; a status they weren’t to relinquish until relegation in 1999.

The 1964/65 Promotion Squad

Goalkeepers: Manfred Orzessek (38 appearances), Rudolf Krätschmer (2 appearances).

Defenders: Arno Ernst (39 appearances), Albert Jansen (39 appearances), Heinz Lowin (37 appearances, 1 goal), Rudolf Pöggeler (24 appearances, 4 goals), Gerd Schommen (3 appearances), Walter Wimmer (36 appearances, 1 goal), Siegmar Gollers, Uwe Blotenberg.

Midfielders: Egon Milder (36 appearances, 8 goals), Günter Netzer (38 appearances, 22 goals), Heinz-Willi Raßmanns (5 appearances), Werner Waddey (40 appearances, 7 goals), Hans-Otto Kulick.

Attackers: Jupp Heynckes (31 appearances, 29 goals), Herbert Laumen (32 appearances, 7 goals), Bernd Rupp (40 appearances, 28 goals), Werner Weigel.

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Conor Garratt

I am Conor Garratt, a 21-year old student from South West England. I study German and History at the University of Southampton, currently spending a year abroad in Mainz, Germany. I love football, especially German football, and am a Swindon Town & Borussia Mönchengladbach fan in my spare time.

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