Bundesliga: The Eighties


The “Bundesliga 50″ series continues with the third part of our history of German football. After two strong decades, things couldn’t possibly get any better for German football fans in the Eighties, but they didn’t get much worse. However, a worrying trend for losing in major finals began to emerge…

The Bundesliga is in its 50th year in 2012-13 and the famous piece of silverware has been lifted by some famous names over the years (Peter Price)

Image: Peter Price (via Flickr)

After the first taste of success during the Sixties and the national team’s most successful decade in the Seventies, the Eighties saw German football establishing a status quo.

Bayern’s domestic dominance became manifest with six league titles and three DFB-Cups. On the European stage, German clubs managed a meagre two triumphs, Hamburg winning the European Cup in 1983 and Mönchengladbach reached their fourth UEFA Cup Final in seven years in 1980, which they lost to Eintracht Frankfurt in an all-German final. The national team, too, started brightly into the decade, not allowing themselves to be disturbed by the negative atmosphere at the 1980 European Championships in Italy, to beat Belgium 2-1 in the final.

The strength of that side was reflected by the fact that six of them were elected for the UEFA team of the tournament: Horst Hrubesch, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, Hansi Müller, Karl-Heinz Förster, Hans-Peter Briegel and a young blade by the name of Bernd Schuster. Incidentally, only two other nations were featured in this XI: Italy’s Tardelli, Zoff, Scirea and Gentile were included, while the Belgian midfielder Jan Ceulemans completed the team.

“Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and 10 Robots”

In both World Cups held during the Eighties, Germany managed to reach the final, losing both: in 1982 to Italy, prolonging the dismal record against Italian national teams that had endured since the Sixties. Just as memorably that year, the semi-final between France and Germany became a matter of life and death for France’s Patrick Battiston after he was outrageously fouled by German goal keeper, Toni Schumacher. Schumacher then appeared to act as if nothing had happened, chewing gum and waiting for the game to continue, something he later explained by pointing out that Battiston was surrounded by angry French players and he simply wanted to keep things calm. Interestingly, he was later invited to attend the French man’s wedding. The foul, however, contributed to the denigration of German football in the eyes of other nations. Discussing the 1982 team, Pele spoke of “Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and 10 robots.”
Four years later, Germany reached another final, this time displaying a much more positive mentality, largely due to a change at the head of the team. Jupp Derwall was ousted and replaced by Franz Beckenbauer, then still a young coach with a point to prove but now regarded as the elder statesman of German football – Die Lichtgestalt.

Europe is our playground

Besides the rather mediocre performances of the national team, German club teams also featured regularly in European finals. However, the only European Cup triumph of the decade came in 1983, when Hamburg beat Juventus 1-0 after a strike by Felix Magath.

Bayern did reach two finals, though, losing both. In 1982, Aston Villa proved to be too strong for them, while four years later it was FC Porto who emerged victorious in the final in Vienna. In the Cup Winners’ Cup, no West German team reached the final, although Carl Zeiss Jena and Lokomotive Leipzig, both East German clubs, reached the final in 1981 and 1987 respectively. They enjoyed no more luck, however, and both were defeated.

The UEFA Cup appeared to be the playground for West German clubs, as Frankfurt lifted the trophy in 1980 and Leverkusen sensationally overturned a 0-3 first leg deficit to beat Espanyol on penalties in the 1988 final. Hamburg reached the final in 1982 but surprisingly lost both legs against IFK Gothenburg, then managed by Sven-Göran Eriksson. A rare final appearance for FC Cologne arrived in 1986, but they too lost, with Real Madrid the victors. VfB Stuttgart contested the last UEFA Cup Final of the decade, losing to Napoli in 1989.

Football’s popularity tested

Despite the relative success achieved, football lost a lot of ground in terms of popularity during the Eighties, particularly towards the end of the decade. Reasons for that were manifold. The problems ranged from hooliganism and uninspired performances to the appearance of Boris Becker and Steffi Graf. Yes, Becker’s Wimbledon triumph possibly cut a huge swath into football’s following and, on top of that Bernd Langer winning the US Masters and Michael Gross taking six European Championship titles in swimming may have had an impact. Average attendances at grounds were at their lowest during the 1985/86 season – at 18,399 – after the 1980s had begun with healthy figures of 24,000 on average in 1980/81. The figures eventually recovered but never reached the same heights again during the decade.

Looking back on the Eighties, the decade can be classified as a time when German football was in transition in terms of transmission. TV became ever more important and, with the arrival of commercial channels, it was only a matter of time until football jumped onto that gravy train, while the stations saw the potential for valuable market shares. Playing wise, Germany were certainly among the top teams of the football world and their style – a very physical approach accompanied by man-marking – was the latest fashion during the Eighties, even though it may look somewhat slow nowadays.

However, within the rigid system there was still place for players such as Lothar Matthäus and Pierre Littbarski to excel with their technique and they certainly made the difference in a team that sometimes lacked esprit. It was during the Eighties that German footballers were often labelled as machines or even tanks, a stereotype that lasted until the early 2000s. Nonetheless, they played some decent football and their success proves that they must have been doing something right.

Christoph Wagner is the editor of anoldinternational.co.uk, a football blog with a strong historical emphasis. He is currently writing a PhD thesis at DeMontfort University, Leicester on football journalism in England and Germany. He also blogs about Anglo-German football and cultural relations at donotmentionthewar.wordpress.com. You can find him on twitter @wagnerc23
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