To many followers of German football today, Carl Zeiss Jena are but a hazy blur on the landscape. At best, known as a small club connected in some way to a company that makes camera lenses and specialist optical devices. An easy opponent in the first round of the DFB-Pokal.
An established part of the furniture in the 3. Liga, the Thuringian club is not exactly rocking the world. Their small and rustic-looking Ernst-Abbe-Sportfeld doesn’t come close to reaching its 13,000 capacity, and the few thousand that turn up to watch them play are rarely treated to anything special.
At the time of my writing this, Carl Zeiss Jena are sitting in fifteenth place, with five points from six matches played. Their latest result, a dull goalless draw against mid-table SG Sonnenhof Großaspach.
It was not always like this.
Making an impression
For older followers of the game, Carl Zeiss Jena will certainly ring a few bells. East German football was dominated by the Stasi-run BFC Dynamo and the more socially acceptable SG Dynamo Dresden and Lokomotive Leipzig, but there were a number of other clubs that also made an impression. FCC was one of these. Well, they made an impression me.
Like many football clubs in the former German Democratic Republic, Carl Zeiss Jena was not always Carl Zeiss Jena. Before the Second World War, the city’s leading club was 1. SV Jena, which emerged from the rubble in 1946 as SG Ernst Abbe Jena.
While a number of East German clubs and grounds were quickly associated with communist functionaries and political hacks, FCC were one of the few that were lucky enough to be associated with a name that would survive the changes in the early 1990s. A native of the city, Ernst Abbe was a physicist, optical specialist, and one of the original founders of Carl Zeiss AG. A name the city could be truly proud of. While the Ernst Thälmanns and Otto Grotewohls have long been scrubbed away, the Ernst-Abbe-Stadion is still the Ernst-Abbe-Stadion.
Three league titles, four cups
While the name of the ground remained the same, the club’s moniker would undergo several changes. This was a common theme in East German football, and Jena was far from the only city to see its club change name on a regular basis. SG Ernst Abbe Jena became SG Stadion Jena in late 1948 before becoming SG Carl Zeiss Jena the following year. In 1951, there were two changes: BSG Mechanik Jena and BSG Motor Jena. This became SC Motor Jena in 1954, before the final change twelve years later to FC Carl Zeiss Jena.
While they were always on the back foot in competing against the state-sponsored big boys, FCC were able to fill some spaces in their trophy cabinet. They claimed the FDGB-Pokal (Free German Trade Union Federation Cup, the wonderfully socialist name for the national cup) in 1960, and lifted their first DDR-Oberliga title three years later.
In the years before BFC Dynamo were effectively handed the league title every year, Jena were more than competitive. They followed their cup win in 1960 with further victories in 1972, 1974 and 1980, and added two more DDR-Oberliga titles in 1968 and 1970. They were also runners-up on nine occasions.
In European competition, the Thuringian outfit acquitted themselves well without ever threatening the established order. Their debut (as SC Motor Jena) in the first-ever European Cup Winners Cup in 1960/61 resulted in a semi-final finish, and they would make it to the quarter-final stage in the European Cup in 1970/71. The club also made the last eight of the UEFA Cup twice, in 1969/70 (when it was the Fairs Cup) and 1977/78.
Then, in the 1980/81 season, they reached the final of the European Cup Winners Cup.
Many Jena fans will remember the final in Düsseldorf’s Rheinstadion against Dinamo Tblisi, where they grabbed the lead just after the hour mark, only to see their Soviet opponents claim the trophy with two goals of their own. It was arguably the biggest moment in the history of the East German club, but a story of so near and yet so far. When Vitali Daraselia scored the winning goal for Dinamo, there were just four minutes left.
While there is no doubt that reaching a major tournament final was the biggest achievement in Carl Zeiss Jena’s relatively short history. But to find their most memorable performance on the European stage, one would have to go right back to the beginning of that wonderful campaign. Up against Serie A side AS Roma, FCC would not only give their fans an evening to remember, but provide every lover of the beautiful game with one of the most staggering comebacks in the history of European club competition.
It was an evening where every piece of the puzzle would come together, where a team that had expected to be gently ushered out of the tournament delivered a performance that was so supremely dominant, to the point of being almost perfect.
Blown away in Rome
For every great fairy-tale comeback story, there has to be a not so memorable opening act. Rapunzel, after all, had to be locked into the tower first before finding her prince. Up against the Italian cup winners and in the first leg at the Stadio Olimpico, the East German side were given a sharp footballing lesson.
After just five minutes, striker Roberto Pruzzo gave Roma the lead, and a certain Carlo Ancelotti doubled the advantage midway through the first half. Jena were struggling to keep afloat in the tie, and must have thought that they were as good as out when Brazilian midfield maestro Falcão added a third for La Lupa eighteen minutes from time.
When the two teams walked out on to the less glamorous Ernst-Abbe-Sportfeld a fortnight later on October 1st, 1980, nobody would have given the home side a chance. Their solid domestic lineup was surely no match for a Roma side that contained an array of international stars.
The Italian side were among the tournament favourites, and with good reason. This was the era of the clam shell Italian defence. A wall of steel, brutal and uncompromising. To score one goal against a well-drilled defensive unit was hard enough. Two was a real challenge. But to score four? All bets were off.
Nothing to lose
There was only one approach that could be taken. Risk everything, and charge in with the kitchen sink. With nothing to lose, the home team threw themselves into the contest. Sixteen thousand noisy fans cheered them on, with every stand in the small ground packed to the rafters.
From the start, the men in the blue and white hooped shorts were relentless. Roma ‘keeper Franco Tancredi was subjected to barrage of shots, and was forced to make a number of excellent saves. It was a matter of if rather than when Jena were going to score. When the Roma defence failed to clear midfielder Thorsten Kurbjuweit’s teasing cross, twenty-three year old Andreas Krause smashed the ball into the top left-hand corner of the net from the edge of the penalty area.
The ball was rushed straight back to the centre spot, and the barrage continued. When Thomas Töpfer made his way to the byline and set up seasoned campaigner Lutz Lindemann to finish from close range, the home fans must have started to believe. With seven minutes of the first half remaining, Hans Meyer’s team had scored two of the four goals they needed.
It took until the closing minutes of the first half before Roma even managed a shot on goal, but Jena’s veteran goalkeeper Hans-Ulrich Grapenthin was up to the task. Thirty-seven years young, the GDR international stood firm to block winger Bruno Conti’s well-struck effort. At the other end, there were more opportunities before Swiss referee André Daina blew to end a frantic forty-five minutes of football.
Tancredi and the woodwork
The second half started as the first had ended, and Tancredi was more than fortunate to block an early effort from the busy Krause. The future Italian international ‘keeper was not the only thing in Jena’s way. There was the woodwork too. First, a header from Jürgen Raab that hit the crossbar. Then, the crowd was treated to an audacious volley from all of thirty yards from Gerhardt Hoppe, that beat Tancredi’s desperate dive before pinging off the the upright.
The crowd could sense another goal, but there was a growing feeling of frustration too. When was it going to come? How was it going to come?
Then, a lucky break. Having replaced Conti at the start of the second half, Roma’s Roberto Scarneccia had only been on the pitch for four minutes. In an off the ball incident that only he could explain, Scarneccia bundled Kurbjuweit to the ground. Right in front of the referee. A flash of red, and the Italians were down to ten men.
It is often said that teams make their own luck, and that was clearly the case with Jena’s third goal after seventy one minutes. Finding some space just outside the box, Eberhard Vogel launched a shot towards goal. It took a looping deflection off an Italian head, and the Roma defence, not for the first time that evening, were all over the place. The ball fell perfectly for substitute Andreas Bielau, who made no mistake from the edge of the six-yard box.
Against all the odds, Jena had neutralised their deficit from the first leg. Every man had given his all, but coach Meyer’s changes had been nothing short of inspired. One could say that the introduction of Bielau was the perfect substitution. The striker had been on the pitch for less than a minute, and had scored with his first touch.
At 3-3 on aggregate, the match was set to go the extra time. But Meyer and his team were having none of that nonsense. They had dominated the game, and were not going to stop now. Roma only needed one away goal to turn everything back on its head, but the blue and white train was running at full steam.
Usually it is the wolf doing the hunting, but the team with the she-wolf on their shirts continued to look like lambs to the slaughter. Kurbjuweit tested Tancredi with a looping shot from distance, and the home side could smell blood. Somehow, they knew that the momentum would take them where they wanted to be.
With just three minutes remaining, Vogel was able find space down the left. His high cross was teasing but hardly testing, but the Roma defence were once again unable to clear the danger. The ball was hooked back into the box by Kurbjuweit, and finished with the deftest swing of a right boot by the brilliant Bielau. Tancredi, badly wrong-footed, managed to get a hand on the ball. But it was not enough.
4-0. The Italian defence had been smashed open again, and Jena had done it. 4-0. The miracle had happened. With just three minutes left on the clock, the crowd were doing their best to blow the stadium roof off.
These were the days where goalkeepers could pick up back passes, and the final minutes were calmly played out between the Jena back line and ‘keeper Grapenthin. It was probably the most the home defence had to do all evening. Then, the final whistle. Exultant fans joined the victorious players on the pitch, the culmination of an amazing and emotional evening.
Arrivederci Roma! Nur der FCC!
There have been some great comebacks over the years in European club competition, and many people will remember Barcelona’s miracle against Paris St. Germain. But, for me, nothing will quite beat that dramatic October evening in Jena. An evening where the unheralded underdog played like champions.
European Cup Winners Cup, 1st Round, Second Leg
October 1st 1980, Ernst-Abbe-Sportfeld, Jena
FC Carl Zeiss Jena 4 (2) – (0) 0 AS Roma
Krause (26.), Lindemann (38.), Bielau (71., 87.) / –
Jena: Hans-Ulrich Grapenthin – Rüdiger Schnuphase – Konrad Weise (c), Lothar Kurbjuweit – Gerhardt Hoppe, Andreas Krause (70. Martin Trocha), Lutz Lindemann, Dietmar Sengewald – Thomas Töpfer (70. Andreas Bielau), Jürgen Raab, Eberhard Vogel
Roma: Franco Tancredi – Maurizio Turone – Luciano Spinosi, Enzo Romano, Domenico Maggiore – Falcão, Agostino di Bartolomei (c), Mauro Amenta (63. Francesco Rocca), Carlo Ancelotti – Bruno Conti (46. Roberto Scarneccia), Roberto Pruzzo
Yellow Cards: Bielau / Torone, Ancelotti
Red Cards: – / Scarneccia 49.
Total shots: 27 / 3
Shots on Target: 13 / 1
Corners: 19 / 2
Referee: André Daina (Switzerland)
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