“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there” wrote L.P. Hartley at the beginning of The Go-Between. Certainly the final of the 1974 European Cup Winners Cup was a good example of this concept. It was witnessed by a crowd of only 5,000 people, featuring only one player who wasn’t from the country of the team they were playing for, and the winning team had an average age of 23 with every player in the team having come from within 50 kilometers [31 miles] of the city they were representing.
Contrast final to this year’s Europa League final (the competition that the Cup Winners Cup was integrated into), which had a crowd of 46 961 and where only 6 of the starting 22 players even came from the countries of the teams they represented. You can watch the whole of the 1974 final here or if you just want to watch the goals and get a sense of the small crowd here.
The winners of that final on May 8th, 1974, were 1. FC Magdeburg, who beat AC Milan 2:0 at the Feijenoord Stadion in Rotterdam and became the only East German team to win a major European trophy.
Part of the reason for the small crowd was that only 288 hand picked party dignitaries were allowed to travel from East Germany; possibly none of them were actually fans of Magdeburg. When not playing football, many of the squad worked at the Ernst Thälmann heavy machinery factory. Just over 6 weeks later the Magdeburg striker, Jürgen Sparwasser, scored the only goal in the World Cup group game giving East Germany victory over West Germany in the only official game they ever played (however West Germany went on to win the tournament, that they hosted, 2:1 against the Netherlands in the final).
Managing that side was a man named Heinz Krügel. He had been a footballer until he suffered a serious knee injury and had to retire, so he went into coaching. During his career he managed the army sports club of Leipzig, Rostock, the East German national team, and 1. FC Magdeburg’s rivals, Hallescher FC Chemie.
However, in 1965 1. FC Magdeburg was created as a football only club from a previous club known as SC Aufbau (many football clubs in Germany actually began as gymnastics or other sporting clubs, of which football was only a branch, often coming much later in their history). When they were relegated, after their first season, Krügel was brought in to manage them. In the next ten years he first got them promoted and then went on to win three East German Championships and the FDGB Cup twice, followed by the Cup Winners Cup. Unfortunately, he made enemies of the Party in the process and was eventually sacked. However, he is a legendary figure in Magdeburg and even though the current stadium is officially called the MDCC-Arena, fans know it as Heinz Krügel Stadion or HKS.
Magdeburg itself is a city with an impressive history. It was founded by Charlemagne in 805 (making it 1212 years old this year) and became the seat of the first Holy Roman Emperor, Otto I in 937. His tomb is in the cathedral at the center of the city.
If you arrive there by train it is only a short walk east into the old town where the cathedral and many other old churches are clearly visible. From there you can catch the number 4 or number 6 trams (or the 15 if you are in the Altemarkt) across the Elbe River headed in the direction of the stadium.
Depending on which tram you catch there is a walk of about 10 minutes to the stadium, but there were lots of fans headed there, so it is easy to stay on track. Alternatively, the walk from the main station to the stadium is just over 3.2 klm [2 miles] and gives you the chance to walk across the Anna-Ebert Bridge and get a really good view of both the river and the city.
It is clear that the football team is very important to Magdeburg. Earlier in the week the club announced that they had sold over 10 000 season tickets (a new record for them). As well, there are stickers, graffiti, and flags visible all over the city. Even early in the day, when I first arrived, there were already people decked out in the blue and white of the team.
The stadium holds 25910 people and, even though the contingent from Würzburg (today’s opponents who, to be fair, had to travel 325 kilometers [just over 200 miles]) was very small there was still an impressive official crowd of 15922 people announced for the game. During the week, on Matchday 3, Magdeburg had sent a crowd of 1000 people to Meppen (which is a little further away than Würzburg) certainly much better than the 288 who had been allowed to travel back in 1974.
One of the things that I really enjoy about the crowds at German football at all of the levels I have attended, is the singing, chanting, and enthusiasm which the fans show for their team. A huge number of today’s crowd were wearing replica football shirts (I counted 10 different variations) and even more were carrying scarfs because it was a little too warm to actually wear them today.
The size of the crowd made the singing even more effective but there was still a lovely family atmosphere. Before the game began the announcer pitted different sections of the stadium against one another to see who could cheer the loudest. At half time there were birthday, engagement and anniversary announcements, so it was again clear that the club values its input in the community.
The game began very hectically, with Würzburg looking like they would play deep balls over the top on Magdeburg’s right, to test the speed of Schiller. They won a free kick when he brought down Mast and then a corner from that but it came to nothing. Immediately from the ball being brought back into play there was a cynical challenge from Schuppan, for Würzburg, and he received the first yellow card. The first 25 minutes were very stop start because of constant niggling fouls and by the end of that time there were three yellow cards in total. However, there was a lot more than that happening at the same time.
Some teams really like to start their attacks from very deep in defense, with the goalkeeper playing short balls on the ground to the fullbacks and working forward. To counter this, Magdeburg were pressing hard, with their forwards rushing up to pressure the defenders and try to make them rush the ball. In the sixth minute this paid off, with a bad throw in from Schuppan being collected by Schwede who slotted the ball past Hesl and into the back of the net. The crowd went crazy. Three minutes later they were crazier still when a long ball from the back sent Turpitz into the box. In attempting to clear the ball Neumann made contact with him and he threw himself down to collect the penalty which Weil converted to make the score 2:0.
For the remainder of the first half the same patterns seemed to emerge. Würzburg would try to play the ball deep on the wings, to use their pace against Magdeburg, but the defenders would block the attackers from the ball as much as they could. On the other side, Magdeburg would pressure the defenders every time the ball went into Würzburg’s half and they managed to create a few more half chances. Both sides committed fouls whenever it looked like the other might get a half chance. However, the crowd was happy with a 2:0 score at half time, the only thing that made them even happier was the news that Halle were behind 1:2 to Osnabrück.
In the second half the game started to open up as both sides started to keep the ball on the ground a bit more. Nikolaou was able to start controlling the play for Würzburg as the Magdeburg forwards began to tire and built some very promising attacks but they struggled to find the final ball. However, it was the blue and whites who had the best chances, with first Schiller heading just wide from a free kick and then Beck putting another header on goal but Hesl was able to tip it over the top. Finally, in the 80th minute, a third goal came at the other end as Taffertshofer was able to slide a ball into the penalty area for the substitute Bytyqi to put the ball away. Even before that it had been clear that Magdeburg were trying to waste time, bringing the ball down into the attacking corner and holding it there, but now it felt like the momentum had shifted. Würzburg kept pushing forward, trying to pressure the home team into a mistake and Mast was able to put one shot just wide and then a second directly into the hands of Glinker as the crowd counted down to time. Remarkably, as the referee blew the final whistle it was Magdeburg who almost scored but the whistle had blown before Schwede was able to put his second goal into the net.
Another exciting game of football in the 3. Liga with the home side ultimately going home happy. 1. FC Magdeburg are up into 6th, just one point behind the leaders and if their excitement was dampened a little by the news that Hallescher FC had come back to draw 3:3 at VfL Osnabrück, it was only a little. The walk back into town allowed me to notice just how many locals had traveled to the game by bike (mostly because they kept going past me) many of them still singing the songs and chants that had been a big part of the game. Magdeburg has a lovely city, a sizable fan base and a stadium that, I would argue, is better than at least one former Bundesliga club that I have attended. All they need to now is to produce this level of football consistently throughout the season and they might start to dream again of nights like May 8th, 1974.