Thursday 20 December 2018

Tales from the Bundesliga

It's hard to believe that the Western half of Germany did not have a national professional football league until 55 years ago. Before a new national division called the Bundesliga was created in 1963 football in West Germany was regionalised with a series of play-off matches at the end of the season to determine who would be national champions.

Recently I found myself reading The Fussball Book by Dave Wangerin, a 50p find in the Whitley Bay FC Club shop of all places. It detailed the formation of the Bundesliga before going through each season up until the early nineties with a written summary followed by detailed final league tables and lists of cup results amongst other statistics. The book also covered the East German Oberliga and not just its West German counterpart. Interestingly the East Germans set up a national league some fourteen years before they did over the border in the west. 

But of the various interesting stories that stood out in the book, most came from the Bundesliga, particularly the league's early years. There are many fascinating tales, from a team winning the championship one season only to be relegated the next, to a now worldwide superclub being overshadowed by city rivals who these days sit in the lower divisions, and at a club I saw live earlier this year, the story of a brief one season sojourn in the Bundesliga for a team that currently plays in the sixth tier of German football having spent the majority of their history since in complete obscurity.

Our trip into the annals of Bundesliga history starts in Berlin in 1965 where the city's top side Hertha Berlin were found guilty of making illegal extra payments to their players and forcibly relegated. For a fledgling league having just finished only it's second season, not to have a team from a city as large as Berlin included wasn't considered ideal and so one was found for the following season. The club in question being Tasmania 1900 Berlin who had narrowly missed out to Hertha in the original selection process for joining the new Bundesliga. However the previous season it was actually Tennis Borussia Berlin who had finished top of the Berlin section in the second tier Regionalliga, and they were naturally unhappy at being overlooked.

Tasmania it was though who were promoted for the 1965/66 campaign, but their stay in the Bundesliga was rather short lived. Two wins, four draws, and twenty eight defeats, saw them finish rock bottom and some eighteen points from safety. Tasmania never came anywhere near the Bundesliga again and because of financial difficulties the club Tasmania 1900 Berlin actually folded in the mid seventies. A new club called simply Tasmania Berlin was founded as a successor to the original club and currently play in the sixth tier Berlin-Liga. Their current plight is a far cry from playing in the Bundesliga, although the history section on the current clubs website refers to the 1965/66 team as the 'worst Bundesliga club ever' so maybe it's not a period they really want to remember. 

One other thing to mention is that in neither the website's history page or the excellent book I've been reading does it mention where the name interesting name (for a German football club at least) of Tasmania actually comes from. I had myself wondered if it had anything to with that island off Australia by the same name, and according to wikipdia which may not always be the most reliable of sources this is actually the case. Apparently the original founders of the club had been intending to emigrate to Tasmania and used that name when creating the team.

Tasmania were of course the team I mentioned seeing in action earlier this year. As part of a trip to Berlin I saw them away at Füchse Berlin who's ground would struggle to meet the standards of many stadiums in the lower echelons of English non league football. There were about 200 people in attendance and a very late goal saw the home side come out on top 3-2. Füchse's story isn't one covered in the book but the league tables do show that the club based in the Berlin suburb of Reinickendorf (the club's name is sometimes written as Reinickendorfer Füchse) were actually members of the then second tier Regionalliga for a few seasons at the beginning of the Bundesliga era but very quickly disappeared from view well out of sight of the higher echelons of German football.

Füchse v Tasmania in 2018
Tasmania's lone Bundesliga campaign is interestingly where we can begin our next story, that of TSV 1860 Munich. Whilst Tasmania were suffering what some might call the worst season in Bundesliga history, 1860 Munich found themselves at the other end of the table for most of that campaign and would eventually end up champions at the end of it losing only four games in the process. Near neighbours FC Bayern Munich finished the season in third place, an impressive feat considering it was their first ever Bundesliga campaign having been promoted the previous season. Curious that since 1860's 1966 title win the now world famous FC Bayern have went on to win 27 Bundesliga titles, 5 European Cup/Champions League trophies, and 17 German Cups, whilst 1860 who last season were promoted from the fourth tier Regionalliga Bayern have failed to win a single major trophy since. How the tables have turned!

Next we must turn to a team called 1. FC Nuremberg who hold the honour of winning the league championship one season, only to finish second bottom and get relegated in the following one. Known as Der Club, Nuremberg were in all conquering side in the 1920's winning 5 national titles over the course of the decade, and although they had been less successful in the years since they were once again champions in the 1967/1968 season finishing three points ahead of second placed Werder Bremen. 

Nuremberg having won the title invested their finances not in strengthening the team to try and stay on top, but on a new sports complex. The cost of this took its toll and the club found themselves in a financial mess that meant several star players being asked to take a pay cut. Naturally a few key players left and the following season they couldn't maintain the previous campaign's form. That may not have been too surprising, but the extent of their loss of form certainly was, with the team finishing second bottom after a truly disastrous season and thus meaning relegation to the second tier.

The first seven Bundesliga titles were won by seven different clubs and it wasn't until 1970/71 that someone managed to retain the title. Borussia Mönchengladbach have this honour pipping FC Bayern to the title two seasons running. Bayern would then dominate by winning three titles in a row before Mönchengladbach then found themselves back on top again in 1975.

Other notable events in the early days of the Bundesliga include a match fixing scandal that saw numerous players from varying clubs banned from football and culminated in 1972 with Arminia Bielefeld being forcibly relegated for their part in the whole affair. 

Germany in particular the western half may have been a rather late developer in terms of having a proper national football league, but as we have seen once they finally got one going it certainly did not disappoint! Compared to the current situation where FC Bayern have managed to find themselves champions for each of the previous six seasons it was in those early years definitely a lot more competitive too.

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