November 19, 2017

Guy Acolatse – The first black professional footballer in Germany

Guy Acolatse made his way to the Millerntor in a cab not knowing what awaited him on July 14,1963. The Togolese midfielder had made his debut for the national team as a 17-year-old, and four years later he had offers from France, Belgium and from FC St. Pauli. Little did he know what was to come when he decided to join the German side. Upon arriving at the ground he saw a huge group of people waiting. “There must be a game today”, he thought to himself, before St. Pauli’s new coach Otto Westphal told him that everybody had just been waiting for him. The Buccaneers new man in charge had coached Phönix Lübeck and the national team of Togo before joining St. Pauli, and Westphal himself wanted to bring Acolatse with him to Hamburg according to the midfielder, he told NDR:

FC St. Pauli were looking for a number 10 and Otto Westphal asked if I was interested to come to Germany. And I said yes.

Media headlines

The arrival of the first black player in Hamburg was the talk of the town at that time, and the media went into overdrive to cover the arrival of the African star. The German newspaper ZEIT described the signing of the first professional black player as a “publicity coup, which has given the more accomplished teams in the Bundesliga pangs of jealousy”.

The tabloid newspaper Bild described Acolatse’s attributes as “Dark as the night, quick as an antelope and a shot like a rifle designed to kill elephants”. The journalists of Bild weren’t just amazed by Acolatse’s skills on the pitch and his skin colour, writing:

He can write on type writers, he can play football.

However, pointing out how different Acolatse’s skin colour was compared to the average German seems to have been a fairly important point for the Bild journalists, as they compared it to the”colour of a mocha which could kill a heart”. It wasn’t only the media who were fascinated by Acolatse’s skin colour:

The Germans thought of me as an attraction, they had never seen a black man in their entire life.

Some people went even as far as trying to see if they could scratch the colour of Acolatse’s skin by applying their fingernails according to the midfielder.

The FC St.Pauli squad ahead of the 1963/64 season.
The FC St.Pauli squad ahead of the 1963/64 season.

Impact at St. Pauli

The buccaneers were back then playing in the Regionalliga Nord, which was a regional division and one of the second tiers of German football at that stage. Acolatse’s coach Otto Westphal had high hopes for his midfielder, telling Bild that he could”develop into a great player”. The Togolese player paid his coach back by scoring a goal in his first friendly. Acolatse carried his great form into the start of the season. His performance against Altona 93 in the first match of the 1963/64 season was met with great enthusiasm by the fans and the media sang his praises. The Hamburger Abendblatt wrote about his “exquisite technique, sublime touch and selflessness in front of goal”, while Bild found a simpler way of putting it, writing:

Togo negro delights 7,000 spectators.

Acolatse himself found his way in the second tier, most of the time using his splendid technique. Every now and then he dived to draw a foul he admits these days. Sometimes Acolatse felt that his opponents were afraid of him, and he used that to its fullest advantage:

When I played I did tell my opponents:’Hey, if you touch me I’ll bite you! The Negro bites!’ Those guys were older than me, but they were afraid of me.

St. Pauli topped the table of the Regionalliga Nord after all 34 matches had been played. Acolatse had featured in 24 matches and had proven to be a valuable asset to the team, mainly by assisting the star strikers Peter Osterhoff and Horst Haecks.  The playmaker himself scored only 2 goals during his first season at the club.

If you asked Acolatse himself one of his greatest moments came during the promotion play offs during the 1963/64 season. St. Pauli had to face Tasmania Berlin, Borussia Neunkirchen and FC Bayern München. The Buccaneers managed to get a draw and a win against  Tasmania, but lost their other four matches. However, one special player made his debut for Bayern München against St. Pauli and scored a goal in the Bavarians 4-0 win over St. Pauli at the Volksparkstadion. Acolatse remembers this match to this very day:

I played against Franz Beckenbauer. He made his first appearance back then. I simply can’t forget that!

St. Pauli lost 6-1 in the return leg, with Acolatse scoring the only goal for the brown and whites.

Otto Westphal left the team after the season and St. Pauli couldn’t repeat their success from the 1963/64 season. Acolatse was still an integral part of the team, playing 18 matches and scoring 5 goals during his second season at the club. Kurt Krause overtook St. Pauli after the tumultuous 1964/65 season and told Guy Acolatse that his services were no longer  needed . The playmaker featured only in 1 game in his last season for the Buccaneers and left the club to join St. Pauli’s local rival’s Barmbek-Uhlenhorst. After three years he returned to St. Pauli to play for their second team another three years, every now and then filling in the first team if needed. In 1973 Acolatse started coaching youth players in Hamburg before leaving the city altogether in 1980 to move to Paris(where he still lives to this day).

Looking back

Kurt Krause never told the playmaker why his services weren’t needed anymore. Acolatse is to this day disappointed about how his career at St. Pauli ended:

The coach said from the beginning that I won’t play.

However, when he looks back at the years he spent in Germany he does so with a smile on face. Back in the 60s he was one of the first black men to arrive in the country, but despite that he had a good time when he was out and about in Hamburg:

Back then I was the only black person in Germany and the only Togolese player. The people were giving me looks when I was walking through Hamburg, being a black guy. But, I didn’t mind.

Back in the 60s Germany was a booming nation recovering from WWII. Acolatse remembers in particular how the Mönkebergstrasse changed during his first two years in Hamburg. Back in 1963 there were only a few stands on that street, two years later it was a bustling street full of shopping centres. Playing football for the second biggest club in town was a lucrative life style, even back then according to the midfielder:

Today the players are getting paid loads, which wasn’t the case back then. But, I made a good living. A worker in Germany was paid 400 DM back then. I made five times that with the bonuses for the matches and so on. That was a lot of money. I had an apartment and a small car, at first a FIAT and then my dream car which was a VW 1600.

And whilst his opponents on the pitch may have shown that they were afraid of Acolatse, the man who issued his driver’s license managed to take that to a whole new level. Upon entering his office to fetch his certificate the man behind the desk was struck by so much by fear that he started slowly walking back as Acolatse approached him, until he hit the wall and had nowhere else to go. His colleague next to him had a massive outburst of laughter whilst this going on. To smooth things over the midfielder went outside to fetch three cups of coffee and in the end the man who had been so afraid upon seeing a black man for the first time in his life ended up inviting the midfielder to a dinner at his parents place.

The midfielder himself says that his time in Germany was great, putting an emphasis on how well he was cared for by the club. St. Pauli’s fans back then weren’t as open minded as they were today if an article published by Hamburger Jugendbrief is to be believed. Acolatse himself seems to think that the frustration of the team playing badly might have gotten to some of the spectators:

…If you are playing badly the spectators are starting to grouch, they want you to play well after all. The people yelled: Ey Guy, if you don’t score you’ll get a banana. You little monkey. But, even if you did score one or two goals and the team ended up loosing despite that, the spectators were still mad. Today’s big players can’t seem to deal with that, they feel insulted by it and they cry racism. You are playing for the audience. I can’t say bad things about the Germans from back then. I lived a great life here!

Guy Acolatse returned to Hamburg to celebrate FC St. Pauli’s 100th birthday back in 2010. The fact that he could attend the club’s birthday party and give interviews to the media about his time in Hamburg is down to the research work of a St. Pauli fan and his Togolese friend.

Sources:

Johannes Freytag: Acolatse – ein Afrikaner sorg für Aufsehen
Gabi Bauer and Peter Piro: Die hatten noch nie einen Schwarzen gesehen
Michael Prahl and Christoph Nagel: St. Pauli. Das Buch.

Feel free to leave a comment below.

The following two tabs change content below.

Niklas Wildhagen

Niklas is a 30-year-old football writer and podcaster who has been following the Bundesliga and German football since the early 90s. You can follow him on Twitter, @normusings, and listen to his opinions on @TalkingFussball and on the @AufstiegPod.

1 Comment

Leave a Reply