June 26, 2017

Remembering Football in the Third German Nation

“A house divided against itself cannot stand.” So said former US President Abraham Lincoln. For 45 years Germany stood as a divided nation, East against West, Communism against Capitalism.

What people tend to forget however that is while this Cold War raged between two ideologically opposed superpowers on the German-centric battlefield another Germanic nation began to spread its wings on the national stage… and what better way to take flight than with the beautiful game.

The Saarland is located right on the border with France and is the smallest of all German federal states. Yet for nearly ten years after the end of World War II it was its own autonomous region, albeit with a very French-minded governance.

The history of the region is one of complex back and forth power struggles, be it from the Roman legions, who marched across the land over a thousand years ago, right up until its 1957 unification with West Germany.

Annexed and governed after World War 1 by the League of Nations, with France given control of its vast coal mine reserves, it was 15 years before it returned to Germany in the 1935 plebiscite. By the end of the Second World War, though, the region once again found itself under French influence.

Yet while the region as a whole had been taken under the influence of France, it still possessed its own constitution and Government. Another area where it possessed its own control was the game of football. In July of 1948, one month after the commencement of the Berlin Airlift, the Saarland FA was founded to rule over the game in the state.

By June of 1950 the Saarland was officially accepted into the FIFA family and by the end of the year would go on to play its first international match against a Swiss B selection. The players were mainly drawn from the state’s biggest club, 1. FC Saarbrücken.

The team from the capital city of the same name played in the French second division under the name FC Sarrebruck, after being forced from the German leagues. Despite winning the second tier and proving themselves far too good for such a level they were not allowed entry to Ligue Un.

The French clubs were wary of having this German club in their league showing them up.Even after Jules Rimet himself campaigned to have them become a full fledged member of the French Football Federation, over 500 French clubs vetoed the idea.

Back on the national front the Saarland side were plodding along nicely and entered into the 1954 World cup qualifying campaign, where faith would have it that they would draw Norway and none other than West Germany.

The Saarland side was to be led into the campaign by Helmut Schön, who had taken over the job in 1952. The legendary Schön would later lead West Germany to World Cup glory in 1974, but in 1952 his task was to plot a way for his nation to qualify at Germany’s expense.

First though was the no small matter of taking on and beating Norway in Oslo. It proved to be a tight affair between two evenly matched sides, but the Saarland came out victorious in the end, coming from two goals down to win 3-2.

The next group match saw the West Germans also make the trip to Oslo, but unlike their fellow compatriots they only managed a one all draw. Saarland, temporarily at least, sat top of the group. The next fixture in the group finally brought about the long-awaited tie between the two German national sides.

The match took place in Stuttgart in front of a full house with an almost derby like feel to the atmosphere. The West Germans proved too strong for the plucky underdogs winning a comfortable 3-0 affair.

What followed was a nil-nil draw with Norway in the return leg in Saarbrücken. The Norwegians were then taken to the sword 5-1 by West Germany, setting up a winner takes all final round match with the Saarland.

A crowd of 53,000 turned up in Saarbrücken to watch and see if the Saarland could overturn Germany and reach the World Cup. It would prove not to be as the superior West German team ran out winners on a final score line of three-one.

Saarland would not be going to the World Cup after all, but for some there was mixed emotions at the final whistle. Disappointed with the defeat yes but also glad to see Germany qualify. Saarland player Kurt Clemens spoke to the heart of the matter when he said, “I still remember today that I wasn’t really unhappy after both defeats. I felt that I was German and I didn’t want to prevent the team that I always wanted to play for as a boy from getting to Switzerland.”

This qualifying campaign would prove to be the Saarland’s most notable contribution to the national football landscape. The Saar treaty of October 1956 finally reunited the region with Germany, it officially re-joined on the January 1,1957.

As the saying goes the light that shines twice as bright lasts half as long and that is certainly the case with the Saarland. In a six-year spell the country would play 19 international matches, the last of which was a 3-2 defeat to the Netherlands.

The Saarland only existed only briefly but left an impression as Germany’s third footballing nation.

1 Comment

  1. Wow, I’d never heard of this. Been to this region in the late 80’s with a youth team on tour from the U.S.

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