Bundesliga: The Sixties


Kicking off in 1963, the Bundesliga was something of a late starter, but it didn’t take much time to catch up with the big boys. Now, with the league celebrating its 50th season and in rude health, TheInsideLeft takes a look back at the early triumphs its initiation heralded for German football…

Image: Peter Price (via Flickr)

The Sixties saw Germany rise to power again on the international football stage. Although World Cup success had been savoured in 1954, that triumph was in danger of proving a one-off until, the mid-Sixties, when Germany began to establish itself as a force ahead of the success of its club teams in European competition and the national team’s double triumph of the 1972 European Championship and the 1974 World Cup. Just as significantly, the Sixties saw the introduction of the Bundesliga, which became an instant success story.

True Intentions

In order to put the establishment of the Bundesliga in Germany into perspective, a comparison is needed. As the first season kicked off in 1963, the English FA was celebrating its 100th anniversary and, as a celebratory showpiece, the 1966 World Cup was to be held in England. By pure coincidence, it was Germany who would meet England in the final of that tournament.

The presence of Helmut Schön’s team in the final had been one of the intentions behind the establishment of a unified league in Germany: The DFB’s “blazer brigade” wanted Germany to be among the top teams in Europe but, more importantly, the world. Further, with the league set to be full-time, professionalism was officially introduced in German football, ending a system that demanded players to have ‘ordinary jobs’ while also playing, a process that had seen them labelled “shamateurs”.

However, that early success in 1966 was put into serious doubt two years later when Germany failed to qualify for the final four of the European Championship, finishing second in their group behind Yugoslavia after they failed to beat Albania. In the final stages, Yugoslavia finished second, while England were third; it was to be the last time the English finished ahead of Germany in a major tournament until… 2000 and 2004.

England vs. Germany

The years between 1964 and 1966 must be seen as the most successful in Bobby Moore’s career. Neither before nor after did he get his hands on so many trophies: three in three years. There was the FA Cup with West Ham United in 1964, followed by the European Cup Winners’ Cup triumph against TSV 1860 Munich in 1965 and then the biggest prize of all: the World Cup in 1966. All three finals were played at Wembley.

The years between 1965 and 1968 in European football seemed to be all about Britain and Germany, as the European Cup Winners’ Cup saw two Anglo-German finals and a Scottish-German encounter. After West Ham defeated TSV 1860 Munich 2-0 in 1965, Borussia Dortmund became the first German team to win European silverware by beating Liverpool 2-1 at Hampden Park in the year of England’s World Cup triumph. The following year, Bayern Munich beat Rangers 1-0 in Nuremberg to lift the same trophy.

In international competition, England beat Germany 4-2 in the 1966 World Cup Final, of course. But two years later, Germany finally defeated England for the first time in a friendly match, after 60 years of trying. The first competitive defeat for England in this fixture followed two years later, in Leon (Mexico) when England squandered a 2-0 lead to go out of the 1970 World Cup after extra-time, beaten 3-2.

According to Ulli Lichtenberger, author of Tor! The Story of German Football, this condensed period of Anglo-German football encounters saw Germany emerge as a “footballing superpower”, while England had reached the ultimate summit of football by winning the World Cup – arguably their climax. David Downing described the latter success as causing shock among football journalists worldwide, while David Thomson asked if “we will ever know how to win again?” in his account of 1966. At this moment, the answer to his question is well known.

From an historian’s point of view, the years between 1965 and 1970 (possibly until 1972) must be the seen as the fulcrum of the Anglo-German football rivalry. In seven years, the national teams played each other on seven occasions. More importantly, while England were more successful until 1968, the pendulum then started to swing Germany’s way. The victory in Mexico 1970 was down to mere luck for the Germans or misfortune for England, but the swing was already in full motion and the truth was hammered home in 1972 when the Germans beat England 3-1 at Wembley, despite fears aired by Günter Netzer ahead of the game that his team would receive a 5-1 beating. In his book The Anatomy of England: A History in Ten Matches, Jonathan Wilson described this game as the moment when England ceased to be world champions from a psychological point of view.

The Other Munich

While Bayern Munich managed their first international trophy in 1967, they were not yet the dominant force in German football that they would become during the Seventies and Eighties. Bayern only won their first championship in the Bundesliga in 1969, three years after TSV 1860 Munich were German champions for the one and only time.

TSV were, at that time, one of the best teams in Germany, as well as the better supported of the Munich clubs. However, with the arrival of Franz Beckenbauer at Bayern Munich in 1958, the tide started to change slightly. Der Kaiser became a vital part of Bayern’s success in the Seventies, as the team won three consecutive league titles (1972-75) and European Cups (1974-1976). A key component of the thriving national team as well, Beckenbauer became synonymous with the sweeper position from which he often roamed forward to initiate attacks and even score himself; these runs were to become his trademark. He became a symbol of Germany’s football revolution in the early Seventies, with Germany clearly one of the best teams in Europe and the world.

The Correct Decision

With all this in mind, it seems clear that the DFB made the right decision in introducing a unified league. Admittedly, success in the Cup Winners’ Cup often came easily as the opponents were not of the same calibre as they were in the Champions Cup.

This latter competition, known more commonly as the European Cup, proved far more difficult to win for Germany’s clubs and the quarter-finals claimed many of their representatives. Only Borussia Dortmund managed to reach the semi-final in 1963/64, when they lost to eventual winners Internazionale.

In the Fairs’ Cup, meanwhile, only Cologne FC (in 1964) and Eintracht Frankfurt (in 1967) managed to reach the semi-final of UEFA’s third competition. It is certainly fair to suggest that Germany reinvented its footballing structure with the introduction of the Bundesliga in the 1963/64 season. After all, the first seven seasons saw as many different winners of the league and, despite the fact that the average attendance for the Bundesliga across the Sixties was only a meagre 20,600, those behind the idea of a unified league for Germany considered themselves vindicated after the criticism that followed the presentation of their league reforms in July 1962.

Given that, within the first five years of its existence, German clubs had reached four European Cup Winners’ Cup Finals and managed to win three of them, while the national team was playing successful football again at the highest level, the Bundesliga was considered an instant success story.

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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