1903: German Fußball’s First Tournament

 Author’s Note:

 In 1903, The German Football Association held the first championship in association history. Thirty teams were eligible. Six entered. Move forward to August 2017, I found myself watching the film Leatherheads, a Gridiron Football film starring George Clooney. In Leatherheads, Clooney is a captain of a team in a failing league. His actions rejuvenate gridiron football and turn it into one of the most popular sports in America. As I was watching the film, I began researching the history of our beloved German Football Association. I quickly realized that there simply was not much information on the roots.

The solution to not having easily accessible information? Do the hard work and make easily accessible information. I contacted historian, and friend, Callum Seniuk knowing he would be very interested in working alongside me on this endeavor. I also messaged Bundesliga Fanatic editors Abel Meszaros and Travis Timmons. This lead to getting into contact with the wonderful Uli Hesse. All of the help on this article has been terrific and Callum and I could not have done this article without it.

I must disclaim, this article is not a complete history of the 1903 tournament. This is merely a brief history of the championship. You will not find a minute-by-minute guide on each individual match, but you will find an overview of the clubs who participated along with some story lines. The history does not begin here, nor does it end here. There is always knowledge waiting to be discovered.

-Aidan Reagh

The Clubs

Thirty could come. Six did. VfB Leipzig and DFC Prag would find themselves in the first final. Karlsruher FV would be eliminated thanks to a telegram, and SV Victoria 96 Magdeburg would cease to exist before World War II. Every club has their story.

VfB Leipzig

The year is 1893. The city of Leipzig is creating four football clubs. One of the four to be created are SC Sportbrüder Leipzig. Move forward five years, in 1898, gymnastics club Allgemeine Turnverein 1845 Leipzig merged with SC Sportbrüder Leipzig to become VfB Leipzig.  When the German Football Association (DFB) was formed in 1900, VfB Leipzig became one of the original 86 clubs to join a federation that now has over 26,000 clubs. VfB Leipzig won the first ever German Championship in 1903, won it again in 1906, and for a third time in 1913. VfB Leipzig brought home the DFB-Pokal in 1936. The club also won the East German cup in 1976, 1981, 1986, and 1987. On an international stage, VfB Leipzig won the Intertoto Cup in 1966 as their one major international title.

Also in 1966, the club rebranded as 1. FC Lokomotive Leipzig. The side currently plays in the fourth division in the Regionalliga Nordost.

DFC Prag

DFC Prag were founded in 1896 by a group of Jewish players with German roots in Prague. When the DFB was founded in 1900, the federation tried to find clubs that were ethnically German, which is how a team in modern-day Czech Republic managed to find themselves in the German federation. Despite not being a native-German side, club president Dr. Ferdinand Hueppe became the first president of the new federation. When it came time for the 1903 Championship, DFC Prag were quiet favorites and confident of “going the distance” in the competition. However, the Prague side took a controversial route in the first championship.

In the semifinal, DFC Prag were set to play Karlsruher FV. The story goes Karlsruher FV received a telegram from “The DFB” saying that the semi-final match was rescheduled.  Obviously KFV did not arrive in Leipzig for the originally scheduled match, which gave DFC Prag a free pass to the final. It remains unknown as to who sent the telegram, but that did not matter to DFC.

Rather than doing the smart thing and resting up for the final against a team that actually played their semi-final match, the DFC Prag side decided to go on a pub crawl the night before the final. Obviously this did not lead to a great performance in the final, in fact it led to a 7-2 Leipzig win. What could have been a historic legacy of a non-German based team winning the first German tournament led to a disastrous performance for the team.

DFC Prag disappeared after World War Two, but in the summer of 2016 a rejuvenation effort appeared. A team operating under the DFC Prag name announced the intentions of building a youth squad with the goals of a senior side. As time passes, maybe one of football’s original giants will return to a premier stage.

Altonaer FC von 1893

Founded in 1893 as Altonaer Cricket Club by a group of students. The introduction of English sports such as cricket, rugby, football across Europe in the 19th Century, many teams found their origins in these sports. Admiring the beautiful game loved today, Altonaer changed their name to Altonaer Fussball und Cricket Club and then to Altonaer Fussball Club. The district of Hamburg was starting to embrace football.  A year after its creation, the team in northern Germany was quickly finding its footing.

Taking part in the Altona-Hamburg football league, formed in 1894, it was an upward trajectory in this team’s brief history. Six years later and Altonaer became one of the 86 to join the original German Football Association, commonly known as the DFB. The 1903 German Football Championship saw Altonaer prove its case as a team to be reckoned with. Their quarterfinals match saw them face Magdeburg, a team established in 1896. Altonaer couldn’t have predicted what was to come. Playing at their homeground with an attendance of 200, the home side thrashed Magdeburg 8-1. It was looking good for Altonaer. Their next opponent was VfB Leipzig, a team that had swept past Britannia Berlin. Playing in Leipzig, Altonaer faced the prospect of advancing to the final of the first tournament sanctioned by the DFB. Despite scoring three goals, Altonaer were unable to get past Leipzig. Down and out, Altonaer returned home. Knocked out but still playing their part. The final of the German Football Championship was played at Atlonaer’s stadium, the Exerzierplatz. This wasn’t the only part they played in the final, Franz Behr, player for AFC, was the referee in VfB Leipzig’s victory over DFC Prag.

History was made in 1903 and more would be made as time passed. Despite playing an important role in the first German Football Championship, Altonaer struggled to find form that would put them into a final of a national tournament. The team from a district in Hamburg found themselves playing in the top-flight leagues between World War One and Two. The end of World War Two saw Altonaer reach the heights of reaching the semi final of the DFB-Pokal in 1955 and 1964. With the creation of the Bundesliga in 1963, Altonaer found themselves playing in the second tier of the Regionalliga Nord. Between 1969 and 1981, Altonaer found relative stability before dropping down to the fifth tier of the Landesliga Hamburg-Hammonia. Unfortunately. due to financial reasons, in 1997, Altonaer had to leave the fourth tier of the Regionalliga Nord. Altonaer currently find themselves playing in the Regionalliga Nord. Maybe one day the team from northern Germany will find themselves playing a role in historic events again.

Karlsruher FV

Every region has to have a first. For southern Germany, Karlsruher FV took the title as the first football club in the area when the side was formed in 1889. Who was the founder of Karlsruher FV, you ask? None other than the man who helped form a side known today as Eintracht Frankfurt, Walther Bensemann. Bensemann would also go on to create the major publication Kicker.  Despite dropping out in the semi-final due to a telegram mishap, Karlsruher were a dominate side in Southern Germany, winning 8 titles between 1901-1912. One might think that Karlsruher had a legitimate shot at winning the 1903 Championship, which certainly adds to the mystery of the telegram scandal.

In 2004, Karlsruher FV faced bankruptcy and were disqualified from the DFB. Thankfully, in 2007 the club returned to amateur levels. The good news in this is the club is alive. The bad news is, things have not gone well for the best German side at the beginning of the 20th century. Karlsruher continues their fight for a return to the Bundesliga today in Kreisklasse C Karlsruhe Staffel 1, also known as one of the lowest divisions in German football.

Britannia Berlin

Britannia Berlin were founded in 1892 and became one of the founding members of the German federation in 1900. The side was eliminated in the first round with a 3-1 loss to future champions VfB Leipzig.

Due to World War One, the club became Berliner SV 1892 and has not really enjoyed much glamour in their history. Berliner SV 1892 are playing in the Kreisliga today. Maybe one day the football side will be on a similar standard as the rugby union with the same branding.

SV Victoria 96 Magdeburg

SV Victoria 96 Magdeburg was Magdeburg’s first club, founded in 1896. The side played their first competitive match against Cricket Viktoria Magdeburg and prevailed 6-3. The side was viewed as a premier team in Germany and were paid to appear against other clubs. SV 96 joined Verband Mitteldeutscher Ballspielvereine in 1900 and represented the league as champions for the 1903 German Football Championship. 200 spectators appeared for their match against Altonaer FC in the first round, but Magdeburg were thumped in an 8-1 defeat. In 1904, the side again won the VMBV title, and again fell in the first round of the national championship. The club won six titles between 1906 and 1917 but began to fall to complacency. In 1937, SV Victoria 96 Magdeburg became bankrupt and were liquidated. The club has yet to return. SV Victoria 96 Magdeburg went from one of the best teams in Germany to bankruptcy — oh how the mighty have fallen.

The Results


  • Altonaer FC von 1893  8-1 SV Victoria 96 Magdeburg
    • Altonaer FC von 1893 Goalscorers
      • Miklós Bradanovic x2
      • Herder x2
      • Paul Ploetz
      • N.N.
      • Walter
    • SV Victoria 96 Magdeburg Goalscorers
      • Hans Adam
  • Britannia Berlin 1-3 VfB Leipzig
    • Britannia Berlin Goalscorers
      • Richard Müller
    • VfB Leipzig Goalscorers
      • Bruno Stanischewski x2
      • Heinrich Riso


  • DFC Prag-Karlsruher FC
    • Match was not played due to Telegram Scandal, DFC Prag won via forfeit.
  • VfB Leipzig  6-3 Altonaer FC von 1893
    • VfB Leipzig Goalscorers
      • Bruno Stanischewski x2
      • Edgar Blüher x2
      • Heinrich Riso x2
    • Altonaer FC von 1893 Goalscorers
      • Walter
      • Herder
      • Miklós Bradanovic


  • VfB Leipzig 7-2 DFC Prag
    • VfB Leipzig Goalscorers
      • Walter Friedrich
      • Adalbert Friedrich
      • Bruno Stanischewski x2
      • Heinrich Riso x2
    • DFC Prag Goalscorers
      • Meyer x2


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Hailing from Ohio in the U.S., Aidan started watching soccer to better understand the game he played. Now he's a coach specialized in goalkeeper training, and loves writing about the Bundesliga. Aidan's true love is Borussia Dortmund, but respects the passion of all Bundesliga clubs (even Schalke). Aidan also contributes writing to the Yellow Wall Pod and underthecoshblog.com (Canadian soccer coverage). You can find him on twitter @aidan_reagh.

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