Bundesliga Fanatic contributor and German football historian Wolfgang Steiner presents another edition of our series looking back at some of the most significant matches and performances in Bundesliga history. This time, he profiles arguably the greatest performance by a Borussia Mönchengladbach side in the league and perhaps the greatest played by any German club. Mönchengladbach were at the height of their powers in the early 1970’s boasting players like Berti Vogts, Jupp Heynckes and the incomparable Günter Netzer and playing some of the most exciting football in Europe. They came up against and young talented Schalke side boasting a great defensive record and fielding one of the deadliest strikers in the league in Klaus Fischer.
Borussia Mönchengladbach 7 FC Schalke 04 0
Place: Mönchengladbach, Bökelberg
Time: Saturday, 3:30 p.m.
Date: 23 October 1971
Referee: Schröck (Riegelsberg)
The Borussia Mönchengladbach players and particularly Günter Netzer were in the form of their lives when this game was staged on Matchday 12 of the 1971/72 Bundesliga season. Just three days earlier, Gladbach had humiliated the Italian champions and catenaccio masters Internazionale 7-1 in the Bökelberg stadium, a side that featured players such as Giacinto Facchetti, Sandro Mazzola, Tarcisio Burgnich, Mario Corso, Jair, Roberto Boninsegna and Gabriele Oriali. That game went down in history as arguably the best ever display of a German club in a European Cup encounter. Manchester United’s legendary manager Matt Busby was among the spectators that Wednesday night and after the game he extolled, “There is no cure against this Mönchengladbach side. I am thrilled. At the moment, nobody can win here in Mönchengladbach.”
But unfortunately later UEFA annulled this great result as Roberto Boninsegna had been hit by a tin can so bad that he had to get substituted. People who witnessed the scene are still convinced that Boninsegna faked unconsicousness. But the score at that time was still only 1-1 and if Boninsegna did not have clairvoyant abilities, then the theory that he faked his injury in order to get the game annulled does not seem to have too much ground. Either way, one thing is almost absolutely certain, Inter would have lost that game with or without Boninsegna for there was simply no stopping Borussia Mönchengladbach at home in October 1971. Never did a German club side play as perfectly well as Gladbach did in those weeks.
It is unfortunate that this Gladbach side never got a chance to play the all-conquering Ajax Amsterdam of the early 1970s. (Both teams did however meet in two pre-season friendlies in August 1971, the first one was won by Ajax 4-3, the second one by Borussia 3-1). Inter managed to reach the 1972 European Cup final and it is not unlikely that Gladbach would have managed the same if their legendary 7-1 had not been annulled by UEFA. Thus 1972 could have seen one of the most fascinating European Cup finals ever; an on-fire Borussia Mönchengladbach vs. the Total Football of Amsterdam, Günter Netzer vs. Johan Cruyff. But it was not to be. Three days after the 7-1, Mönchengladbach proved that that result was not an aberration. FC Schalke 04 were the guests on the Bökelberg.
Schalke at that time had a formidable side, still considered their best since the 1930s. It was a young side that had not conceded a single goal in the previous six games. Between the goal posts stood the great Norbert Nigbur. He stood behind a very stable defense with seasoned sweeper Klaus Fichtel, stopper Rolf Rüssmann (who missed this game due to an injury and was replaced by Hartmut Huhse) and full backs Jürgen Sobieray and Helmut Kremers. The midfield consisted of Dutchman Heinz van Haaren, Herbert Lütkebohmert and Klaus Scheer. Schalke’s pride and joy however were the three forwards, which included two classic wingers in Reinhard ‘Stan’ Libuda and Erwin Kremers feeding a classic center forward Klaus Fischer in the middle. Schalke were in astounding form. Few would have predicted that Mönchengladbach would be able to again score seven goals against such a class opponent, but that is precisely what they did.
The epitome and culmination of the legendary Borussia Mönchengladbach side of the 1960s and 1970s is best exemplified in these two games against Inter and Schalke.
Before the game it was speculated how good the young Schalke side actually was, it was predicted that they would have to face their “Hour of Truth” at the Bökelberg stadium, a true test for the league leaders at the fourth-placed champions of the two previous seasons Mönchengladbach (who trailed Schalke by five points). Anyone expecting Gladbach to play a bit slower three days after that energy-absorbing tie vs. Inter saw themselves hocused. It must have been a mixture of enthusiasm after the seven goals against Inter and defiance to prove that Inter’s claims of Boninsegna’s departure being solely responsible for their debacle were unfounded. Mönchengladbach and Schalke staged a remarkable game. Schalke were by no means weak, in fact it was paradoxically their best away game up to that point. But their opponents were such a class above everyone else that even Schalke’s accomplished performance could not save them from doom that afternoon. Norbert Nigbur had established a new record of 551 minutes without conceding a goal, but after four minutes his aim to extend it at the feared Bökelberg had been shattered by Gladbach’s lethal goalgetter Jupp Heynckes.
Thirty minutes later, Nigbur had already conceded five goals – as many goals as he had to concede in the eleven previous games! Like a relentless tornado, Mönchengladbach had torn through their guests! Schalke’s accomplished defense seemed helpless in the face of this massive onslaught. Every one of Gladbach’s players was attacking, every Schalker had to defend, even the two wingers. Mönchengladbach’s performance in the first 35 minutes has to rate as one of the best ever by a Bundesliga side. Emblematic of Gladbach’s devotion to total football was a scene in the 58th minute, when their two full backs Berti Vogts and Hartwig Bleidick played a double 1-2 inside Schalke’s box, outmaneuvering half a dozen Schalke defenders with that move, but Bleidick’s shot was saved by Nigbur. In another scene, Vogts hit the post with a shot. After being up 5-0, Gladbach needed a breather and thus Schalke found opportunities to attack.
Jürgen Sobieray staged a magnificent solo run (but to no avail), Klaus Fichtel almost scored with a startling distant shot, Klaus Fischer could not find the back of the net with one of his headers, Herbert Lütkebohmert missed the empty goal, Erwin Kremers hit the post with a header. Then shortly before the break, Schalke got a penalty but skipper Klaus Fichtel’s shot was parried by Wolfgang Kleff.
It would not have mattered anyway, although it must be said that Schalke played fairly well in the second half (the ratio of corners was 8:3 in favour of Schalke). Schalke was unlucky not to score, their offense was working (except for Reinhard Libuda who kept the ball far too long when he was on it). Schalke’s undoing was the miserable performance of their lauded defense. During the first 20 minutes after the break, Borussia further increased their lead by two goals through Ulrik Le Fevre and Günter Netzer. Mönchengladbach’s football lesson was perfect – demonstrating how to stage sudden attacks over the flanks with through balls out of a cool-headed defense, players constantly moving around, switching positions, coupled with one-touch high-paced combinations, crowning their efforts with plenty of goals that were a joy to watch. Arguably Borussia’s best goal came after 29 minutes when Berti Vogts fooled the complete Schalke defense, then passing to Heynckes who had scored the first one.
Ulrik Le Fevre scored the goal of the year when he juggled the ball over several Schalkers and then scored with a direct hit (6-0) aqfter 52 minutes. After a little more than an hour, Günter Netzer’s commanding and powerful run over half the pitch was crowned with a tremendous shot (7-0). The atmosphere in the Bökelberg stadium reached the same heights as when Inter were stripped down three days before.
Ulrike Le Fevre scores his famous juggling goal:
After the game Schalke’s Yugoslavian manager Ivica Horvat said: “Today we looked like pupils although we gave our best. We could have attacked against Gladbach’s class defense for hours and hours without result. Maybe this rout came at the right time. This game was like a lesson to us. We went to the dogs. In six games we conceded no goals and then we get seven at once. That’s football.” Upon being asked to compare Inter with Schalke, Gladbach manager Hennes Weisweiler said that Inter was technically stronger while Schalke appeared more battlesome and willing to fight. Weisweiler stated that due to a higher number of goal-scoring opportunities, Schalke appeared to be better than the Italian champs. Asked about the game, Weisweiler said “Now one can’t play any better than we do at the moment. I am slaphappy about the great form my players are in. I even believe that we could win over the Italian fans if we play like that in Milan. During the end of the first half we were partly in danger of conceding some goals but then our pacey game prevailed. That is our great advantage over all other sides, our players are constantly moving. When Netzer is on the ball, he can choose from four or five players to pass to. Schalke only ever had two players ready to pass to.”
For Mönchengladbach, the best players were the internationals Kleff, Vogts, Wimmer, Müller and Heynckes. Their performances could only be captured with superlatives. But all of them were overshadowed by Günter Netzer’s immaculate showing. It is doubtful if there ever has been a player as commanding on a German pitch as Netzer in the games vs. Inter and Schalke. Netzer was in the shape of his life, he could not have played any better. In the years 1971 and 1972 Netzer was almost always in terrific form. His great performances in those days were highlighted by the European Championship winning side in which he was in command together with Franz Beckenbauer. But he never was as good again as in October and November 1971.
What came next?
Unfortunately for Mönchengladbach, a week after this magnificent performance against Schalke 04, UEFA ruled that the 7-1 against Inter was to be annulled and a repeat game had to be staged, this time in Berlin. But before the Berlin game, Borussia had to travel to Milan for the away game, which they lost 2-4. Inter were determined not to be outclassed again and they eliminated Gladbach’s attacking play with relentless brutality. Kicks, blows and hits were part of Inter’s recipe against Gladbach’s forwards that night. The game at Berlin ended 0-0 in front of 84,000 but Inter again successfully managed to contain Mönchengladbach’s attacks. Klaus-Dieter Sieloff wasted a penalty after 17 minutes and stopper Ludwig Müller’s leg was broken one minute before time (he was out for almost a year). Berti Vogts later suffered a knee injury and he was also out for several months (he lost his place in the German national team due to that and thus was not part of the 1972 European championship winners).
The greatest ever Mönchengladbach side was thus eliminated early from international competition for a second time running (they lost one of the first ever penalty shoot-outs against Everton the year before). It was very unfortunate that the only side that was arguably a match for Cruijff’s Ajax was ill-fated in their European endeavors. With half of their accomplished defense out for months, Gladbach found it impossible to catch Bayern and Schalke that year and thus had to contend themselves with finishing only third in the league in June 1972.
The young Schalke side quickly regained their composure and three weeks after the Gladbach debacle they were back at the top of the Bundesliga table where they would remain until March 25. From then on, Schalke would chase Bayern until the very last day of the season, with never more than a point between them. On that last day, both teams would meet in Munich’s newly built Olympic stadium before a crowd of 80,000 on June 28, 1972. In that game, Bayern ultimately proved to be the better side, featuring six players who had won the European Championship in great fashion just weeks before, while for Schalke only tricky winger Erwin Kremers enjoyed that honour. As a compensation, Schalke went on to win the German Cup in a 5-0 thrashing of Kaiserslautern just three days later on July 1. In the next season, Schalke would struggle immensely as their involvement in the Bundesliga scandal meant that many of Schalke’s best players were suspended, including goalgetter Klaus Fischer, sweeper Klaus Fichtel, stopper Rolf Rüssmann and right winger Reinhard “Stan” Libuda.
Further proof of the extraordinary season the young Schalke team had in 1971-72 is the high-ranking of their key players in Kicker’s weekly grades (1= best, 5=worst). Goalkeeper Norbert Nigbur ended up as the best-graded goalie with an average grade of 2.03, captain and sweeper Klaus Fichtel was the second best-graded defender (avg. 2.12) right behind Franz Beckenbauer, his partner in central defense, the young stopper Rolf Rüssmann finished fourth among defenders (avg. 2.17), the late Herbert Lütkebohmert managed no. 2 among midfielders (avg. 2.23, no. 1 was Günter Netzer) and outside left Erwin Kremers was the highest-ranked forward (avg. 2.27).
Due to their aforementioned involvement in the 1970-71 Bundesliga scandal, the international careers of Klaus Fichtel and Reinhard Libuda ended in 1971 and the young hopeful players Klaus Fischer and Rolf Rüssmann had to wait until 1977 for the DFB to lift the ban on players involved in the scandal, while Lütkebohmert and Sobieray were beyond their peak by that time and thus never got called up to play for Germany.
Borussia Kleff – Vogts, Sieloff, L.Müller, Bleidick (62. Wittkamp) – Wimmer, Netzer, Bonhof – Kulik, Heynckes, Le Fevre (77. Danner)
Schalke Nigbur – Sobieray (75. Manns), Fichtel, Huhse, H.Kremers – Lütkebohmert, van Haaren, Scheer – Libuda, Fischer, E.Kremers
Goal Scorers: 1-0 Heynckes 4. 2-0 Netzer 5. penalty 3-0 Bleidick 23. 4-0 Heynckes 29. 5-0 Le Fevre 36. 6-0 Le Fevre 52. 7-0 Netzer 64.