Wednesday, 12 January 2022

The Third Division Is No More! The Demise of Scottish League Football's Original Third Tier Which Folded After Less Than Three Full Seasons

“It’s time the third division of the league was dead. It does not deserve to be alive,” proclaimed the Sunday Post and within a month they would have their wish. 

Whilst third division football thrived after it was introduced south of the border in 1920, up in Scotland this was not the case. The Scottish League’s original third tier introduced three years after its English equivalent lasted only lasted three seasons before folding amid financial troubles amongst a large number of its clubs.

Discussed at the league’s AGM on 17 May 1923, the decision to introduce a third division to the Scottish Football League (SFL) was ratified at the end of the following month on 28 June. 15 new members were elected to the league and joined East Stirlingshire, last season’s bottom club in Division Two, to form the new Scottish League Division Three in the biggest expansion the league had ever seen.

Arthurlie, Beith, Brechin City, Clackmannan, Dumbarton Harp, Dykehead, Galston, Helensburgh, Mid-Annandale, Montrose, Nithsdale Wanderers, Peebles Rovers, Queen of the South, Royal Albert, and Solway Star. Some of them familiar names to the modern-day football fan, some of them anything but - these were the 15 new members of the SFL. The new clubs were given associate members status which gave them no voting rights but, nonetheless, they had all officially joined the Scottish Football League.

Arthurlie and East Stirlingshire gained promotion in the first season of the league meaning top scorers Queen of the South finished third and missed out. Vale of Leven and Lochelly United were relegated from Division Two. Leith Athletic would also join the SFL to take the league up to an uneven 17 teams for the 1924-25 season and the first in which the cracks started to appear. 

Whilst the 24-25 season started with 17 teams it ended with 16 as in February 1925 Dumbarton Harp resigned from the league, had their record expunged, and promptly disbanded. With a population of around 22,000 in the 1920s, not too dissimilar to the town’s population today, It is hard to believe that a town as small as Dumbarton could ever have hosted two league clubs but for the brief period that Harp spent in the league the town did just that. But whilst at the time Second Division Dumbarton FC were attracting crowds of up to 2,000+ Harp were more likely to attract just a couple of hundred to their home games. The problem for Harp, and what would become a common theme for many clubs in the division, was that their gate receipts did not cover increased running and travel costs with one home game netting them just £7 in revenue. This was a little over £450 in today’s money and less than the £15 match guarantee that league rules stipulated should be awarded to the away side. In short, they did not have enough supporters.

All parties concerned were keen for Harp to finish the season but financially it just wasn’t viable and the idea of the SFL subsiding their remaining fixtures, having been contemplated, was considered far too dangerous a precedent to set. 

It wasn’t just Harp who had been in financial trouble either with other clubs in similar situations having also considered resigning from the league but these clubs would survive for now at least. In the case of Montrose, a money-spinning cup tie at home to Glasgow Rangers helped keep them afloat.

Despite the troubles many clubs were facing, the 1925-26 season kicked off as usual. Nithsdale Wanderers and Queen of the South had been promoted at the end of the previous season with relegated Johnstone and Forfar Athletic replacing them. The financial woes of many did not get any better, however, and by the time winter set in they were getting worse. In January 1926 Galston became the second Third Division team to fold in less than two full seasons. Having, like many, coped perfectly well playing regional football the increased travel of a national division was too much for them. With the town of Galston having a population of just 5,000 in their case they could not draw large enough crowds to cover these extra financial costs of Third Division football - Like Dumbarton Harp, they did not have enough supporters and it was a similar story across much of the league.

Many clubs were still not getting anywhere near enough in gate receipts and Dykehead, for example, could only muster takings of £4 for one match against Montrose. In this instance when Dykehead could not pay their visitors the stipulated £15 share they were reported to the SFL who forced them to pay up. It was not only visiting clubs who had trouble getting paid, however, as the players were struggling too and a revolt over unpaid wages at Vale of Leven was amongst the many other financial issues affecting clubs. These issues of course included clubs not having enough money to cover travel costs which made several clubs, notably including Clackmannan and Beith, unable to fulfil certain fixtures in the latter part of that third season. Very quickly things would come to a head.

On 12 April The Scotsman reported that “The affairs of the Third Division of the League appear to be in a serious condition” and with the financial woes of many only getting worse, the chairman of Helensburgh called for an emergency meeting to discuss how the monetary situation could be resolved. When the meeting took place many suggestions were put forward but the most prominent as reported in the press was to merge the second and third divisions into one second tier split into two regional divisions in the same way that in England they had a Third Division North and a Third Division South.

Despite some positive suggestions, however, things still looked grim. “Third Division S.O.S” was a headline in the Sunday Post on 18 April whilst the following week they ran with the headline “Last Days of the Third Division” and in its pages seriously questioned if the division had a viable future. 

When several club representatives met representatives of the league in Glasgow later that month that future was still in doubt with the clubs reminded that the regional proposals mentioned earlier would need the support of the Second Division sides to go through. Assurances of promotion at the end of the season were also sought but could not be met. 

That latter issue above would soon be for many unsatisfactory resolved at the league’s AGM when it was agreed that there would be no relegation and promotion to and from the Third Division that season. With many fixtures still unfulfilled and full completion of the Third Division season increasingly unlikely it was, however, difficult to see how they could find a champion and runner up to promote anyway.

“In their great effort to gain promotion to the Second Division of the Scottish League, Leith Athletic are doomed to disappointment” duly reported the Brechin Advertiser at the beginning of May. With the above coming under the headline “Third Division to Go”, however, it was clear that not only could the current Third Division season not be finished, but the division also would not be able to restart next season either.

As it turned out, discussions at the AGM had gone beyond promotion and relegation and the whole future of the Third Division, or lack of, had actually been discussed and resolved too. This saw the Third Division completely disbanded with the clubs agreeing to join an expanded Scottish Alliance league complete with regionalised divisions to basically take the clubs back into non-league football.

There was one more issue to resolve, however. With no promotion or relegation, it was decided that the bottom two Second Division sides Bathgate and Broxburn United would have to apply for re-election to the league and four ex Third Division sides applied to take their places. In the most up to date league table, Helensburgh were sat atop the Third Division ahead of Leith Athletic in second but if the season had have been completed then third-placed Forfar Athletic would have been likely champions due to a large number of games in hand. This made Forfar more appealing in the re-election process. And so it was, with Bathgate successful in their re-election bid, Forfar, taking the place of Broxburn who would fold six years later, became the only Third Division team to keep their place in SFL for the following season, one which they still hold today.

That with little more than a whimper brought to an end Scottish League Division Three. A third tier would be revived for a short while after the war but this consisted mostly of the reserve sides of First Division clubs and a proper Third Division would not see the light of day again until 1975. That came about mainly due to the shrinking in size of the top two tiers of the SFL, however, rather than adding a load of new clubs. 

As for all the clubs that the old Third Division left behind, Brechin City, Leith Athletic, and Montrose would all be re-elected to the league within a few seasons but the rest would never return. Mid-Annandale, Peebles Rovers, Royal Albert, and Vale of Leven still exist outside the modern SPFL today but the rest are long gone. Leith only lasted as a league club until 1953 and folded two years later reforming in 1996. Brechin on the other hand hung about until just last year when they became the third team after East Stirlingshire and Berwick Rangers to be relegated via the new League Two promotion/relegation play-off system involving the winners of the Highland and Lowland Leagues that was introduced in 2015. Montrose are still in the SPFL having never left.

Finally, of the original 15 clubs who in 1923 joined the SFL and the new third tier that just leaves the fate of the three sides who along with existing members East Stirlingshire gained promotion from the division in its two fully completed seasons. Nithsdale Wanderers failed in a 1927 re-election attempt but lasted outside the league until eventually folding in 1964. 37 years later, however, the club actually reformed. Arthurlie resigned from the SFL in 1929 but continue to this day outside of it, whilst Queen of the South remain a league club to this day and currently play in the second tier Scottish Championship. 

Saturday, 1 January 2022

In Focus: Cove Rangers FC

It is certainly not uncommon in English football. Unfashionable non-league club, often with a new owner and a bit of money, rise to make it to the Football League and then truly establish themselves with a further promotion or two. But what about in Scotland? With a true pyramid structure in its infancy, this kind of thing has never really been common north of the border. Gretna FC were one of the few examples of this but they are hardly role models. Gretna fell far more quickly than they rose and a reformed Gretna 2008 currently play in the fifth tier Lowland League having seen their predecessors make it all the way to the Premiership. Could this all be changing, however?

Introduced in 2015, a new play-off structure to get into the Scottish football league (SPFL) has seen three teams in recent years make the step up and thrive. Also, with a full pyramid structure starting to be introduced for junior (non-league) clubs many more could follow. Of those aforementioned three, Kelty Hearts are seven points clear at the top of League Two with a game in hand in their first-ever season of league football whilst Cove Rangers were promoted out of League Two at the first attempt and midway through their second League One campaign are five points clear at the top themselves. Only Edinburgh City have failed to make a major impression having found themselves stranded in League Two despite being the first of the three to make the step up.

Cove’s rise to the second tier of Scottish football, if indeed it does happen, will come in part thanks to the long term backing of local company Balmoral Group who lend their name to the club’s new stadium opened in 2018. Albeit far from majority shareholders, the group have invested heavily in the club through sponsorship and the like as alluded to by one group of locals I spoke to on a recent visit.

Before I continue, I must confess that my recent trip to see Cove Rangers was not actually intended and came thanks to new COVID restrictions denying me entry to nearby Pittodrie home of Premiership side Aberdeen. Spending Christmas in North East Scotland with family gave me the chance to visit a new football ground but when Nicola Sturgeon introduced a 500 spectator limit my plans to visit Pittodrie had to be shelved. Cove Rangers had been my alternative, however, and with their previous match attracting only 585 attendees as long as I purchased a ticket in advance before they sold out I could get my football dose after all. Cove Rangers and the Balmoral Stadium it was then!

Based on the edge of the Cove Bay area just south of central Aberdeen, the Balmoral Stadium sits in the middle of a business park/industrial estate with, unfortunately, little in the way of match day entertainment in the vicinity. The stadium can be reached via the number 3 bus from Aberdeen city centre in about 15 minutes, however, and the city centre has all the pre match amenities a football fan could want. Opened in 2018 it has a modern looking main stand that seats 312 spectators. As a whole, the ground is perhaps basic but, nonetheless, more than functional. Opposite the main stand is a basic 50 seat grandstand, the sort of which you will find in non-league grounds all across Britain with two same size stands of the terraced variety on either side of it. I’d suggest the stadium may well be suitable for Championship football but should they ever reach the Premiership I’d hazard a guess it would not make the grade. Two all-seater stands behind each goal would no doubt do the trick, though, and in the process give it a similar feel to the Caledonian Stadium in Inverness. Perhaps we should not get ahead of ourselves, however. For anyone keen to visit it’s worth adding that a food van near the entrance and truck selling club merchandise next to it complete the ground and being in Scotland some of the culinary choices are a little interesting. Catering options include a macaroni pie which may seem rather strange to someone from south of the border like me but only until you remember that this is the same country that brought you the deep fried mars bar. Once you consider that then a scotch pie with macaroni cheese in the middle does not seem so weird after all.

Seven times champions of the Highland League, which they joined in 1986 after many years of local amateur football, Cove won the league three times in the four seasons that immediately preceded their promotion to the SPFL in 2019. Of course, with that further promotion since and a second looking a real possibility, that pedigree has stood them well in the two and half seasons since. 

Overseeing Cove’s SPFL adventure has been manager Paul Hartley who joined in the summer of 2019 - an appointment that some might have seen as a bit of a coup for the club. After all, Hartley was capped 25 times by Scotland as a player and had previously managed in the Premiership with Dundee. With a squad that includes several players who have top flight experience, Cove play an attacking brand of football that has seen them score 41 goals in 19 league games this season. That is a tally bettered in the SPFL only by Glasgow Rangers who’s two extra goals come having played one game more. Aside from their excellent league form they also started their Scottish Cup campaign with an excellent result against Championship side Queen of the South and now have an away tie against Premiership side Hibernian to look forward to. A well deserved 2-2 draw at home to Queen of the South saw the Dumfries based side stunned in the replay as Cove came away with a fantastic 3-0 win.

That excellent goals tally in the league includes four in their last outing the one in which I was present. After a first half in which Cove failed to find the breakthrough against bottom side East Fife, it did not take long for them to find the lead in the second period and by the 65th minute, they were 3-0 up. The pick of those goals was the third which was a curling effort from Blair Yule who ended up being the sponsors’ man of the match. East FIfe before long pulled a goal back only for Cove to make it 4-1. In stoppage time East Fife grabbed a second with a strike that their Twitter account compared to a rather famous Marco Van Basten volley you have most probably seen replayed a few times over the years! Stunning volley’s from the opposition aside, Cove were good value for their win, though, having controlled much of the game.

With that five point lead at the top of the table Cove will no doubt be favourites to win the league and gain promotion and should they do so I have no doubt they can hold their own in the Championship. A further promotion again, however, would need lots more hard work and investment, but why not? We shall have to wait and see just how far this Cove Rangers side can go.

Friday, 17 December 2021

The Year the Bundesliga Dominated the UEFA Cup

The winning goal in the 1980 UEFA Cup final came late on in the second-leg and saw the trophy handed to a West German club for a third time. It was always going to be a West German winner, at least right from the moment the quarter-final stage came to a close with all four ties having seen a West German side triumph.

For the 1979-80 UEFA Cup campaign there were actually five West German entrants in total with the lone side who did not make the semi-final stage only exiting one round earlier. All of the East German contingent may have exited before the third round, but it was a season in which West Germany well and truly made the competition their own and for West German football lovers it would certainly be a fascinating watch especially come the business end of the tournament.

Of the five, Borussia Mönchengladbach were actually the current UEFA Cup holders having defeated FK Crvena zvezda 2-1 on aggregate in the previous year’s final. They had also won the tournament in 1975 and finished runners up in 1973. After winning three consecutive Bundesliga titles between 1975 and 1977, and finishing European Cup runners up in the final of those three campaigns, Gladbach finished in second the following season before a disappointing tenth-placed finish last time out.

In the three years immediately before Gladbach's trio of championships, it was fellow participants FC Bayern München who had also won three Bundesliga titles in a row. Between 1974 and 1976 they also won a hat-trick of European Cup titles, succeeding where Gladbach had not. Now under the guise of Hungarian manager Pál Csernai, Bayern would also be crowned Bundesliga champions again come the end of the season and their side included Karl-Heinz Rummenigge who would both that year and the next win the prestigious Ballon d'Or award given to the best player in Europe (and since 1995 the world).

Also joining West Germany's two most successful clubs of recent times in that season's UEFA Cup were 1. FC Kaiserslautern, Eintracht Frankfurt, and VfB Stuttgart. In the previous season, Stuttgart and Kaiserslautern had finished their league campaigns second and third respectively behind champions Hamburger SV. Stuttgart had reached the UEFA Cup semi-finals six years earlier but otherwise had very little European experience whilst Kaiserslautern's best European performance to date was a quarter-final UEFA Cup exit in 1973. Eintracht Frankfurt, meanwhile, had finished fifth last time around and although they had never been real title contenders in recent times, they had won the DFB-Pokal two seasons running in 1974 and 1975. Also, having finished European Cup runners up in 1960 they reached the semi-finals of the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup in 1976 but their European record in the intervening years was rather mixed.

Kaiserslautern were the one West German side not to make the semi-finals, losing to Bayern in an all German quarter-final tie. Kaiserslautern’s progression to the quarter-final stage had been fairly uneventful but as for Bayern, however, they had been involved in a two-legged 4-3 thriller in the third round. A 2-0 first-leg home win over Crvena zvezda might have had the hosts thinking they were all but through to the next round, but their Yugoslav opponents had other ideas. 3-0 down after 49 minutes of the second-leg in Belgrade having been totally outclassed up to that point, Bayern looked like they could be crashing out of the competition having failed to regain their composure after a disastrous opening 45 minutes. 20 minutes into that second-half, however, Bayern grabbed a priceless away goal through Dieter Hoeneß, brother of the more famous Uli who had recently left the club, to put them back in the driving seat. Three minutes later Hoeneß claimed a second meaning the Yugoslavs now needed to score twice, something they would fail to do. Hoeneß's first came from close range with his second from the edge of the box - both more than enough to send Bayern through to the next round and that Kaiserslautern tie.

A strong second-half to the season would see Kaiserslautern lose only three times after the winter break. This was enough to see the club end the season in fourth place but obviously not enough to stop Bayern from winning the title. In the first-half of their campaign, Kaiserslautern had lost 2-0 to Bayern but in the second part of their season, they managed all three outcomes of win, lose, and draw against their Bundesliga counterparts. A league draw fell between two UEFA Cup legs that saw Kaiserslautern defeat Bayern at home before losing to them away in Bavaria. Kaiserslautern won 1-0 at the Fritz-Walter-Stadion and were 1-0 up within 13 minutes of the second-leg at the Olympiastadion in Munich. But in the end, Bayern's attacking prowess shone through and four goals, three of which came in the second-half, including two from Hoeneß, saw Bayern into the semis. However, 2-1 up and still losing on away goals it wasn't until a Paul Breitner penalty on 70 minutes to put them two goals ahead that they finally found themselves in the driving seat. As for star man Hoeneß, twice on the scoresheet again, his seven goals across that season's competition would make him joint top goalscorer alongside Gladbach's Harold Nickel.

Of the other three, Stuttgart’s drama came in round one against Torino whilst for Eintracht and Gladbach they were both involved in second round extra-time thrillers.

A 1-0 home win gave Stuttgart the initiative going into their second-leg but defeat by the same scoreline at the Stadio Comunale in Turin forced extra-time. Things got worse for the visitors when Torino grabbed a second goal a minute before the end of the first additional period and it looked as if Stuttgart were set to be knocked out. Right at the death in the 120th minute, however, a diving header from Hermann Ohlicher gave Stuttgart the vital goal that would level the tie at 3-3 and see them progress to the next round via the away goals rule. Torinio had tried to clear the ball but it landed straight at the feet of a Stuttgart man who found Ohlicher in the box and the midfielder who would spend his whole career at the club did his thing. Stuttgart also needed the away goals rule to get through round two. But although over the years there were some cracking East v West German ties in European competition their progression past Dynamo Dresden was not really one of them with a 0-0 second-leg at home coming after a 1-1 draw away in the East.

It was a case of two 1-1 draws for Gladbach against Internazionale of Milan as 180 minutes of action could not separate the pair. The two sides had famously met eight years earlier in the European Cup when a 7-1 first-leg win for Gladbach was later annulled because one of the visiting Inter players had been hit by a Coca-Cola bottle. The match was replayed and Inter advanced after winning the tie 4-2. This time it was the West Germans who came out on top, however.

Gladbach were managed by ex-player Jupp Heynckes who had recently replaced the great Udo Lattek and, desperate to prove himself, he would have been disappointed when his Gladbach side only managed a 1-1 draw at home in what had been a fairly open first-leg in which both teams had created plenty of chances.

Things then started badly in the second-leg at the San Siro when a gifted free header saw Inter take the lead on 24 minutes. But the scoreline was 1-1 at the interval after an equaliser from Harald Nickel, one of Heynckes new summer recruits, just nine minutes after his side had fallen behind. Nickel smashed the ball into the net off the underside of the crossbar, having beautifully brought it down on his chest. A goalless second-half forced extra-time but within four minutes of the restart Alessandro Altobelli, scorer of both of Inter's two goals in the tie so far, put the Italians back in front. Gladbach did not give up, however, and ten minutes later, having already had a goal disallowed, they were back level in the tie and ahead on the away goals rule. Substitute Norbert Ringels was the unlikely saviour, firing the ball into the top corner. Unsure whether to stick or twist, Gladbach opted to play defensive but were nearly caught out only for a goal that would have put Inter back in front to be ruled offside. The Gladbach defence then held firm, however, and catching Inter on the break they won a penalty during the second period of extra-time which saw Ringels slot the ball home to see off their opponents for good.

Eintracht's extra-time antics came after both games ended 2-0, the second of which had late drama in normal time to force those two extra periods. Defeat away at Dinamo București, a side who would reach the semi-finals of the European Cup four years later before losing to eventual winners Liverpool, came despite Eintracht having created plenty of chances themselves but was followed by victory in the second-leg. In that second match, it took until a minute into injury time for Eintracht to grab their second through Hölzenbein which was helped by a fumble from the opposition goalkeeper. Four minutes into the first of the extra periods Bernd Nickel, namesake of Gladbach star Harold, was on hand to slot home a third for the hosts from an acute angle and put them ahead in the tie. Knowing a goal for the visitors would see them ahead via the away goals rule, Eintracht opted for a defensive approach and held on with no further goals for a 3-2 aggregate victory. There would be less drama for Eintracht in the next round when a stunning display saw the tie all but over after 60 minutes of the first -eg with the Frankfurters 4-0 up through four separate goalscorers. A 1-0 second-leg defeat away in Rotterdam saw Eintracht defeat Feyenoord 4-2 on aggregate.

The quarter-final draw brought us not only that all German affair between Kaiserslautern and Bayern but also gave us what on the face of it seemed a mouth-watering tie when Gladbach were drawn against AS Saint-Étienne. Having won three French Ligue Un titles in a row between 1974 and 1976 and finished European Cup runners up in the last of those three seasons, Saint-Étienne had not fared quite so well in the years since. But hoping to improve their fortunes they had recently signed two big name stars in French international Michel Platini and Dutch star, and twice World Cup runner up, Johnny Rep. A year away from another league title they were, however, more than a little underwhelming against their West German opposition.

Losing the first-leg 4-1 at home, Saint-Étienne ended up losing the tie 6-1 on aggregate having been on the back foot for much of 180 minutes. An incredible display of counter attacking football in the first-leg, something Gladbach were very adept at, saw Nickel and Carsten Nielsen both score twice with all four goals for the visitors coming within a 16 minute period in the first-half and just seven minutes separating the first three. For his second which made it 3-0, Nielsen picked up the ball on the edge of the centre circle and beat several men before slotting home. For the fourth, Gladbach 'keeper Wolfgang Kneib threw the ball forward and Nickel latched onto it inside his own half, he then knocked it forward before beating a sliding challenge to get hold of the ball once more and from there running into the box and turning past two defenders before smashing the ball home. From one end to the other in seconds and the French side unable to stop them.

In the second-leg, Gladbach were 2-0 up within 15 minutes before letting their foot off the gas a little with the tie all but over. Although Saint-Étienne had played well in brief spells, Gladbach were ruthless at times and no one could really argue with the final outcome of the tie.

In the other quarter-final ties, Stuttgart defeated Lokomotiv Sofia 4-1 on aggregate and Eintracht defeated Zbrojovka Brno. Although two late goals saw Eintracht lose 3-2 away at the Czech side they had already, with four different scorers, comfortably won 4-1 on home soil so it did not stop them from progressing to the next stage. 

With four of the five West German sides in the quarter-finals progressing, the competition was, of course, now an all West German affair with a West German name guaranteed to be on the trophy. With the two biggest names left in the competition - Bayern and Gladbach - separated in the semi-final draw it was assumed a Bayern/Gladbach final would be on the cards – but things don’t always go as planned.

When FC Bayern beat Eintracht 2-0 at home in the first-leg of their semi-final, most German football watchers thought it was a case of tie over, after all, Bayern were heading for the Bundesliga title and Eintracht were hovering around mid table. How wrong they were! A Bayern side on the verge of the championship with several German internationals in their squad were supposed to be too much for their visitors from Frankfurt and it was big international star Breitner along with the lesser capped Hoeneß brother who between them scored Bayern’s first-leg goals that suggested they were. In the second-leg, however, a shock was in store. 

Behind thanks to a first-half goal from well capped Austrian international Bruno Pezzey which was poked home after a scramble in the box, Bayern, nonetheless, came within three minutes of securing a place in the final. Unfortunately for Bayern, however, right at the death Pezzey again found the net. This time it was a bullet header to send the home crowd wild and the game into extra-time. On a night that would be remembered by some for erratic goalkeeping from both stoppers, there was plenty more action to be had with a further four goals in the two extra 15 minute periods that followed and to the surprise of many, it was Eintracht who came out on top.

On the stroke of half-time in extra-time, Bayern scored what many thought was the vital away goal to send them through having fallen further behind on the night thanks to a Harold Karger strike just two minutes earlier. That Bayern goal was a long range effort from Wolfgang Dremmler that Eintracht goalkeeper Jürgen Pahl, who had fled East Germany four years earlier, should have probably stopped. The home crowd had suddenly been silenced. But the problem for the visitors was that Eintracht went on to score twice more without reply in the second period. Firstly, Karger, signed for 25,000 Deutschmarks the previous summer from Hessenliga side FC Burgsolms aged 23, was on the scoresheet again with a header of his own, one of several that would gain him the nickname "Schädel-Harry" (Skull-Harry). That came before, secondly, Werner Lorant finished the scoring from the penalty spot and the upset was complete. 

In the other semi-final, Gladbach would have to overturn a 2-1 first-leg deficit to reach the final. That first match of the tie in Stuttgart remained goalless until the 73rd minute in what was a cagey affair. The visitors took the lead and held onto it until the final five minutes when two Stuttgart goals sealed victory for the hosts with the second coming from the penalty spot. The second-leg was more of a fiery encounter but one that saw Gladbach turn the tie back in their favour with a goal in each half. The first of these was a diving header scored by a young Lothar Matthäus with the future World Cup winner at the time aged just 19. The second came from Winfried Schäfer who turned beautifully before finding the far corner of the net from the left hand side of the box. Those goals secured Gladbach a 3-2 aggregate victory and, of course, a place in the final against Eintracht. As for scorer of the second goal Schäfer, some may remember him as head coach of Cameroon at the 2002 World Cup. But never capped by Germany, that was the closest he ever came to playing international football himself.

Of course, it was not until 1998 that the UEFA Cup final was changed to a standalone match and so the 1979-80 final, as had been the case with previous years, would be a two-legged affair with the first-leg taking place at Gladbach's Bökelbergstadion.

Gladbach, as we know, despite not having had the European Cup successes of FC Bayern, still had a European pedigree greater than that of Eintracht. Eintracht had, however, beaten Gladbach 5-2 in mid-March and would finish only four points behind them in the final league standings. Despite this, and perhaps because of their greater European experience, it was Gladbach who went into the final as favourites. Also, If FC Bayern had been West Germany’s most successful side over the previous decade then Gladbach had clearly been second in command, albeit now not quite the force they had been just a few years earlier. But as we’d seen with Bayern in the previous round, however, stature mattered for nothing, and it was the underdogs who opened the scoring in the first-leg against the more favoured home side.

Gladbach went into the final in a confident mood but it wasn’t quite so simple for Eintracht. In the weeks leading up to the final, Eintracht were distracted by the uncertain futures of several key players who had either been linked with moves elsewhere or had stalled on contract negotiations. Meanwhile, on the pitch, Eintracht would for the final be without star player Jürgen Grabowski. Injured in that league win over Gladbach thanks to a bad challenge from Gladbach’s young starlet Matthäus, it was an injury that would sadly end his career. Talk of him potentially being fit enough for a second-leg start was very much misguided. Grabowski had featured for West Germany in the 1970 and 1974 World Cup and having made 536 appearances for Eintracht, it made him the second highest all-time appearance holder for the club just ahead of teammate Bernd Nickel in third.

The missing Grabowski and fellow stalwart Nickel aside, the club did not have any big names in their squad although they did, unusually for the time, have a South Korean amongst their ranks in Cha Bum-Kun. At the time linked with a move to Bayern but ultimately staying at Eintracht, Cha's 136 international caps are still today a joint South Korean record.

In contrast to the above, Karger, who actually scored that opening goal of the final, would make just 41 appearances for Eintracht. Schädel-Harry left the field with a torn cruciate ligament later in the game and the semi-final hero would only make a few more appearances for the club before being forced to retire early in part because of that earlier injury. 

Before taking the lead, Eintracht had already created several chances but having started much the better side their goal came as Gladbach were finding their way back into the game and was scored somewhat against the run of play. Scorer Karger beat Kneib to get on the end of a Nickel corner with his head. At 1-0 down Gladbach began to wobble again but on the stroke of half-time, it was they who grabbed the equaliser. Despite the visitors playing with growing confidence, an excellent save from Pahl saw the ball fall towards Polish born midfielder Christian Kulik who duly scored. Club captain Kulik, in his ninth season with Gladbach, controlled the ball beautifully before finding the top corner with Pahl left helpless.

The second-half would see first Eintracht retake the lead but Gladbach ultimately win the game. Gladbach were on the back foot for much of that second period and it was 20 minutes from time that Eintracht went back in front. Frankfurter native Ronny Borchers found himself with the ball in plenty of space on the right hand side and his cross into the box was met by the head of captain Bernd Hölzenbein. Hölzenbein's header was a spectacular one of the diving variety it only kept the visitors back in front for five minutes as Matthäus soon drilled the ball home for the equaliser. The winning goal that followed did not come until the 88th minute when Eintracht, seemingly holding on for a draw were undone by a diving header from Kulik that more than matched Hölzenbein's similar earlier effort for quality. 

Gladbach hadn’t had it all their own way in the first-leg and a trip to Frankfurt for the second instalment of the final didn't look like it would be as straightforward as they would have hoped. Meanwhile, with two away goals to their name Eintracht entered the field for that second-leg in a confident frame of mind in front of a capacity crowd of almost 60,000 at their Waldstadion home. Norbert Nachtweih replaced Karger but otherwise, it was an unchanged line-up for the home side whilst Gladbach made two changes in midfield and reverted from 4-3-3 to a 4-4-2 formation perhaps thinking an extra man in midfield might help them control play.

As it happened the match was a cagey affair and although Eintracht were the better side in the opening 45 minutes, they were largely restricted to long range efforts and, behind in the tie, head coach Friedel Rausch demanded more from his players in the second-half. Eintracht spent much of that second period probing the Gladbach defence but as the half wore on Gladbach had chances of their own including a powerfully struck free-kick from Matthäus that forced Pahl into an important save. Then as the end of the game drew closer and the Gladbach players started to feel as if they might get their hands on the trophy for a second season running it all went pear shaped for them. Rausch brought on a substitute who would win Eintracht the game and hand his side the UEFA Cup trophy. Fred Schaub was that man, and his winning goal came after some intricate play when Eintracht broke forward on 81 minutes. Eventually, Schaub got hold of the ball and ran halfway through the box before driving the ball past Kneib in the Gladbach goal and then racing off in delight. 

1-0 down, Gladbach swept forward in desperation but time ran out and, thanks to the away goals rule, it was Eintracht Frankfurt who won the UEFA Cup after, in the words of Kulik, Borussia Mönchengladbach had "screwed it up in the second-leg." Wild celebrations followed from the Eintracht squad as those in red hugged each other in scenes of unbridled joy whilst the masses of home support in the stadium raised the roof. Shortly afterwards there were emotional scenes, however, as just before Hölzenbein lifted the UEFA Cup trophy the fans were chanting the name of their injured hero Grabowski who would have almost certainly featured in the final had he been fit enough.

It was a case of sheer dejection from the visiting Gladbach contingent, however. In many ways the end of an era, it was what had ended up being a missed opportunity for them, one final shot at glory, what would have been one last hurrah shall we say. Having won the Bundesliga just three seasons earlier they would not win it again although they did remain competitive at times. However, regularly featuring in the UEFA Cup throughout much of the 1980s the closest they came to reaching the final again was a semi-final defeat to Dundee United in 1987. 

As for Eintracht, whilst the 1980 final essentially failed to be one last hurrah for Gladbach, it wasn’t exactly the start of anything spectacular for themselves. Invited to the City Hall for an audience with the mayor, once the festivities died down there was little in the way of progression other than a lone DFB-Pokal triumph the following year.

Despite having only taken charge in the January of the previous year, manager Rausch was immediately out the door for pastures new having decided to leave for Istanbul and Fenerbahçe SK with club captain Hölzenbein heading for America and the Fort Lauderdale Strikers a year later. With this upheaval, Bundesliga success continued to elude Eintracht. Meanwhile, failing to defend their UEFA Cup crown with an away goals defeat to FC Sochaux-Montbéliard of France in the third round for much of the following decade they failed to even qualify for Europe.

Monday, 29 November 2021

Wild Scenes From Scotland!

Unfortunately, I have not posted any new articles/features on the blog this month. Having said that, you can read me in the brand new issue of Halb Vier, just out this week, which is an excellent fanzine for English fans of German football. See here.

I also do have a new feature lined up to hopefully be posted on here this month which is well underway and I know you will love it! 

But whilst you wait for your In Love With Football fix, and also for your copy of Halb Vier to arrive, you can kill a little bit of time by watching this excellent video from the weekend by Footy Adventures. The guy running the channel does a lot of football travelling and groundhopping, particularly, but not exclusively, around Scotland and this latest video involving a cracking Scottish Cup upset is well worth a watch.

Friday, 29 October 2021

When Bayern Lost 7-0!: How Klaus Fischer and Schalke 04 Inflicted on Bayern München Their Heaviest Ever Defeat

On Wednesday night FC Bayern München were knocked out of the DFB-Pokal with a 5-0 defeat at Borussia Mönchengladbach. This was the club's heaviest defeat for 43 years. On that occasion they lost 7-1 at Fortuna Düsseldorf, but the club’s heaviest defeat of all time actually came just over two years prior when they lost 7-0 to FC Schalke 04 in 1976. Here is the story around the biggest loss in the history of Germany's most famous name and also the player who put four past them that afternoon.

Asked if there was a huge party in the dressing room afterwards, Klaus Fischer told 11freunde in a 2009 interview that he couldn't remember. One might assume this bout of amnesia on the subject was due to him having celebrated by drinking copious amounts of alcohol and if indeed that was the case then who could blame him? After all, his side had just put seven past their more than illustrious opponents and he himself had scored four of those seven.

FC Bayern München had lost only one of their opening eight Bundesliga matches of the 1976-77 season. With three draws also to their name, however, it was hardly a near perfect start but, then again, it was also anything but a disaster and certainly gave no indication as to what would follow in game 9. Hoping to improve on last season’s third placed finish, the club were desperate to regain the form that had seen them not only crowned Bundesliga champions for a third successive time just two seasons before last but also attach those league accomplishments with three successive European Cup triumphs between 1974 and 1976. Instead, however, a rude awakening was in store.

Delivering that shock would be FC Schalke 04 – a club Klaus Fischer would spend 11 years at. The Gelsenkirchen based side made the 400-mile trip south to Munich's Olympiastadion having won four and lost four of their opening league fixtures with a 2-0 defeat away at 1. FC Köln preceding their trip to Munich. Since the turn of the decade Schalke had only once finished outside the top half come the end of each season but, a second placed finish and a cup triumph in 1972 aside, they had hardly set the world alight.

Sepp Maier, Franz Beckenbauer, Hans-Georg Schwarzenbeck, Uli Hoeneß, Gerd Müller, and a young Karl-Heinz Rummenigge - It was a star-studded FC Bayern side who walked onto the field in front of over 50,000 spectators at their then Olympiastadion home on 9 October 1976. Opponents Schalke did also have some international stars in their ranks, indeed Fischer, signed from TSV 1860 München aged 20 in 1970, would gain 45 caps for Germany and become Schalke's all-time record appearance holder with 556 games under his belt, his 226 goals a club record in the Bundesliga era. But Fischer aside, Schalke did not quite have the big names FC Bayern did, and as shown, certainly not in recent times had the same successes.

Even at half-time in this fixture no one could have imagined the final outcome. Against a Bayern side playing a 4-3-3 formation with Beckenbauer as sweeper Schalke were ahead but their lead was only by two goals - the rampage was yet to come. A low right footed drive that went through legs of Schwarzenbeck and past goalkeeper Maier saw Fischer give the visitors the lead on 11 minutes with his fifth goal of the season whilst an Erwin Kremers header just before the interval saw Schalke double that lead. 

Whatever Bayern head coach Dettmar Cramer said to his players at half-time it clearly did no good as within a minute of the restart Schalke had scored a third when Fischer headed home to claim his second - a marvelous diving header one must add! 

Cramer had taken charge of Bayern in early 1975 to bring an end to the five year tenure of Udo Lattek who wasn't able to survive a poor first half of the 1974-75 season. Lattek would soon find Bundesliga success at Borussia Mönchengladbach with two straight titles in 1976 and 1977 before returning to Bayern in the mid-1980s to once again win three successive league titles. Although Cramer had helped steer the club to the final two of their three straight European Cup triumphs, further domestic success had alluded him and at the end of the current season he would be out the door.

18 minutes after Schalke scored their third Manfred Dubski grabbed them a fourth whilst three minutes later Fischer completed his hat-trick to make it 5-0 and the travelling support were now well and truly in dreamland. This time it was a kind of scissor kick for Fischer, similar to but not quite the overhead-kick type of goal he would gain a bit of a reputation for with one particular effort for Germany against Switzerland the following year going down in folklore.

It seemed as if five just wasn't enough for Schalke, however. An excellent counter attack via a long ball forward ended with Rüdiger Abramczik grabbing Schalke's sixth on 74 minutes whilst eight minutes later Fischer was ready and waiting to complete the rout when a low cross into the box saw him claim his fourth of the afternoon and his sides seventh. Fischer once said that “Football is a simple sport” and the man born in Kreuzstraßl near the German-Czech border had certainly made it look simple against Bayern that afternoon.

7-0 the final score - FC Bayern München's heaviest ever defeat, FC Schalke 04's biggest ever win. Today that record still stands for Bayern, Schalke broke theirs with an 11-1 DFB-Pokal win over FC Teningen in 2011. 

Two years earlier Bayern, then league champions, had seen themselves mauled 6-0 by Kickers Offenbach but, having hoped that nightmare was a one off, here they were having suffered an even more horrifying fate. Having conceded 18 goals in their opening eight league matches they’d now conceded over a third of that total in one game alone.

In terms of what do you do after a 7-0 drubbing, the answer for Bayern was a 5-1 home win against fellow Bundesliga side Hamburger SV in the second round of the DFB-Pokal whilst the following month they would defeat Brazilian side Cruzeiro Esporte Clube over two legs to win the Intercontinental Cup and be considered world champions of club football. Unfortunately, their domestic cup run would come to an end at the quarter-final stage, however, as would their hopes of a fourth successive European Cup triumph. A 3-0 aggregate defeat against Dynamo Kyiv their undoing there. The club's Bundesliga form would in the short term recover very well from the 7-0 humiliation with an unbeaten run of five wins and a draw following that disaterous afternoon. Later, the club’s form would be mixed, however, and Bayern ended the season in seventh place.

Schalke would lose as many games in the rest of the season as they had in the eight preceding the Bayern one - a further four in total. An excellent run of form that would see them finish runners up to Gladbach in a thrilling title race which saw Schalke finish only one point behind the Udo Lattek coached champions.

In the longer term, Bayern, who interestingly gained revenge by defeating Schalke 7-1 the following season, would eventually be crowned Bundesliga champions again three years later. A second successive triumph would follow but that same season, 1980-81, would see Schalke relegated and Fischer leave for 1. FC Köln. 

I think we've all lost count of how many more Bundesliga titles FC Bayern München have won in the decades since then, that 7-0 humiliation having had no bearing whatsoever on the 45 years that have followed. The same can also be for FC Schalke 04. They would soon return the Bundesliga and have remained in the top flight for most of the years since, with Fischer even taking temporary charge on a couple of occasions. But Schalke faced Bayern on that sunny October afternoon having never won the Bundesliga and all these years later are still yet to win it. Schalke may have been far superior on the day, but in the end, it is Bayern who went on to dominate German football whilst Schalke were left in their shadows.