Wednesday 1 April 2020

1986 and the Miracle of The Grotenburg

At half-time in the second leg, it was 5-1 on aggregate and the result seemed a foregone conclusion. Football is a funny old game, however, and as the second-half would show the impossible is not always as impossible as it seems. Footballing miracles do happen and on this chilly March evening we would see a second-half of the like no one could ever have imagined, and that was just the half of it! This is the story of the Miracle of The Grotenburg.

When clubs from the GDR (German Democratic Republic ie East Germany) faced off against their German counterparts in the west it was nearly always the West German teams who came out on top. This meant when West German side Bayer 05 Uerdingen were paired against SG Dynamo Dresden from the East in the quarter finals of 1985-86 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup it was obvious they would be favourites. Of the thirteen previous East v West ties in European competition 1. FC Lokomotive Leipzig's 2-1 aggregate victory over SV Werder Bremen two seasons earlier was the only time a side from the GDR had triumphed over any of their West German counterparts. 

Nowadays known as KFC Uerdingen 05 and playing in the third tier of German football, Bayer Uerdingen have never been one of the countries biggest names. The club have not featured in the top flight Bundesliga for almost 25 years and were playing sixth tier football as little as nine years ago only just reaching the 3. Liga last season after two straight promotions. Between 1983 and 1991, however, the club spent eight consecutive seasons in the Bundesliga and during that period the club saw their greatest ever moment when they won the DFB-Pokal (cup) in 1985. The club lifted the trophy after a 2-1 win over the might of FC Bayern München who with two league games still left to play had all but won what would be their seventh Bundesliga title and the first of what would become five in six seasons.

That DFB-Pokal triumph guaranteed Bayer Uerdingen a place in the following season's Cup Winners' Cup which of course brought them that quarter final tie with East German rivals, Dynamo Dresden. Now in the third tier of football in a unified Germany, Dresden were a big name in GDR football and at that point had six Oberliga titles to their name making them country's second most successful club after BFC Dynamo the team of the Stasi (secret police). Dresden had won the previous two editions of the FDGB-Pokal and finished runners up to BFC Dynamo in the Oberliga during both of those cup winning campaigns. The previous season they had fell victim to SK Rapid Wien of Austria in the quarter final stage of the Cup Winners' Cup and were this time around hoping to progress even further. 

Dynamo Dresden were managed by ex East German international Klaus Sammer and part of their squad at the time was his son. A young Matthias Sammer made his debut for the club at the beginning of the 1985/86 season and would go on to play 23 times for the GDR national team before making a further 51 appearances for a unified Germany in which he was a key member of the side that won the European Championships in 1996. The Dynamo side at that time also included several experienced GDR internationals such as Ulf Kirsten, Jörg Stübner, and Reinhard Haefner, as opposed to Bayer Uerdingen who were largely devoid of any star names. Having said that, although some of Dynamo's players were big stars back home they were not so well known outside their homeland.

To reach the quarter finals Bayer Uerdingen had defeated Maltese minnows Żurrieq 12-0 on aggregate and then Galatasaray 3-1 over two legs with that 12-0 scoreline amazingly eclipsed by AIK Solna who defeated Red Boys Differdange of Luxembourg 13-0 in the same round. Dynamo Dresden, meanwhile, had defeated Cercle Brugge on the away goals rule and HJK Helsinki 7-3 on aggregate. For the quarter finals, Dynamo Dresden were drawn out first and would play Bayer Uerdingen at home in the first leg which would take place in March of the following year.

The East German government, as usual on these occasions, wanted to showcase their states superiority over their West German neighbours and were desperate for a Dynamo Dresden victory. Of course, if political point scoring was the name of the game then in the first leg Dynamo certainly did their bit. For a country paranoid about outside influences, security was in overdrive with every move of the visitors monitored. Whatever effect these conditions would have had on the visitors it certainly looked as if they didn't help as Dynamo managed a 2-0 victory thanks to goals from Frank Lippmann, more on him later, and Hans-Uwe Pilz. 2-0 by no means guaranteed progression to the semi finals but it certainly gave Dynamo the advantage going into the second leg.

If visitors to the GDR were strictly monitored well so too were citizens of the GDR when they travelled to the west. In normal circumstances, GDR citizens were unable to travel abroad outside the Soviet bloc but in professional football, these opportunities were more common. It was possible for a player with a dubious background to be denied the opportunity to join his teammates abroad in the west but for anyone allowed to travel they were under strict surveillance. Fratenisation with their western counterparts was heavily controlled and western influences kept to a minimum. There had also been in the past several occasions when East German sportsmen participating in competitions in the west had decided to escape from their party and defect to West Germany. This was known as Republikflucht and was something which angered officials back home. All of this meant the players of Dynamo Dresden really would have been watched like a hawk by the various officials travelling across to the west with them. Players working for the Stasi and spying on their own teammates was also not uncommon.

The second leg was to be shown live on West German television taking preference over the FC Bayern München/Anderlecht European Cup tie taking place that same night. Being an all-German affair Bayer/Dynamo was deemed by public broadcaster ZDF to be a better fit than the game in Munich even though that was technically a bigger match in footballing terms. Some viewers were not happy with this decision.

There had been a sell-out crowd of over 35000 in Dresden for the first leg whilst the second leg was also a sell-out as over 22000 turned up at Bayer Uerdingen's Grotenburg-Kampfbahn home and boy would those on the packed terraces be in for a cracker. At half-time, however, the tie seemed to be all but over. Dynamo Dresden had taken the lead after just 55 seconds thanks to a thumping header from Ralf Minge and although 12 minutes later another header, this time from Wolfgang Funkel, drew the hosts level Dresden ended up 3-1 in front at the break. Frank Lippmann poked the ball home at the near post after excellent build up play on 36 minutes whilst an own goal from Rudi Bommer six minutes later gave the visitors a seemingly unassailable 5-1 aggregate lead - cue even more complaints that ZDF had picked the wrong game.

A collision that injured Dynamo's keeper at 2-1 saw an inexperienced substitute in Jens Ramme end up between the posts for the visitors and he would certainly find himself busy in the second period. For those that thought it was game over there was a surprise in store! For the first 13 minutes of the second period, however, Dynamo held firm and no one suspected the goal glut that would follow. When Bayer Uerdingen were awarded a penalty on 58 minutes and Funkel grabbed his second by scoring from the spot it was seen as no more than a consolation yet events over the next 21 minutes meant it turned out to be anything but.

Bayer Uerdingen drew level on the night at 3-3 just four minutes after that penalty and although Icelander Lárus Guðmundsson will claim the goal it did take a heavy deflection off Minge. At this point, the home side were still two goals behind on aggregate and the away goals rule meant they actually needed three more without reply to win the tie and make it through to the semi finals at Dynamo's expense. Two minutes later, however, Wolfgang Schäfer scored on the half volley at an acute angle and some did begin to wonder if the truly impossible could happen? On 78 minutes Bayer substitute Dietmar Klinger ran past several players before unleashing a low drive into the bottom right corner of the net from just outside the box and the home side suddenly lead 5-3 on the night with only one goal needed to complete the most remarkable of comebacks. Yes, maybe the impossible could happen!

When a handball in the box saw Bayer Uerdingen awarded a penalty just a minute after they'd grabbed their fifth Funkel was given his chance to not only complete his hat-trick but also give his side the lead on aggregate. Ramme dived the right way but Funkel sent the ball through his arms and the impossible had happened, Bayer Uerdingen had scored five without reply in the second-half to somehow put themselves 6-3 up on the night, 6-5 up on aggregate, and more importantly firmly in the driving seat having pretty much been stuck in the boot at half-time. The scenes were wild, the players went crazy, and the fans were going berserk. Something so utterly ridiculous that not even the most ardent of home supporters would have contemplated had actually happened. Yes, at half-time Bayer had needed five without reply to win the tie and yes that is exactly what they had managed!

One goal for Dynamo Dresden and they would be back in pole position, however, and evidently their hosts were feeling a little nervy. Werner Vollack in the Bayer Uerdingen goal was soon forced to make a vital save and now it almost felt as if his side were clinging on for dear life. Bayer needn't have worried, however, as when on 86 minutes they were able quickly clear the ball forward from a Dynamo corner Schäfer was able to score from the resulting counter attack by firing home from the rebound after Ramme came out to block his initial effort when he was given the ball. The result was well and truly secure now! Bayer Uerdingen had done it!

By the end of the match over 16 million people were watching the events on West German television, over a quarter of the country's population at that time, and when the final whistle blew viewers in the two nations were no doubt left stunned. Remarkable, unbelievable, stunning, crazy, sensational, impossible, you could use all of these words and more to describe what happened in the second-half that night, but whatever words you use it was a comeback of the like you rarely ever see. The events on the pitch were so unlikely and improbable that they would be remembered for years to come.

If the match was incredible, however, events afterwards were possibly even more so. A first-half goal from close range aside, Frank Lippmann had not really made an impression on the pitch in the second leg but he certainly caused a stir afterwards. The morning after the game Lippmann escaped from the team's hotel through an underground car park and committed Republikflucht. Lippmann would later claim his daring escape was more of a spur of the moment thing as opposed to something he'd meticulously planned in advance. He'd always wanted to play in the Bundesliga and without really thinking too much about it took his chance. Lippmann would eventually join 1. FC Nürnberg but made only six appearances for them before joining SV Waldhof Mannheim and later moving to Austria in a largely unsuccessful and at times injury plagued post GDR career. 

Lippmann by all accounts had been an enigma as far as the East German state was concerned. For years the Stasi had reportedly been trying to recruit him as an informant but every time he was approached he steadfastly refused to co-operate. Now all the authorities could do was watch on helplessly as made a new life for himself in the west, albeit whilst taking some comfort out the fact his career in the west was far from successful. 

With such a humiliating result and a case of Republikflucht following it, there was bound to be repercussions. Klaus Sammer, for example, did not last long at Dynamo after the game. A state security report on the match and in particular the incidents that followed it stated in reference to the head coach that 'the working methods of the above mentioned comrade no longer meet the requirements'. Sammer was not the only casualty at the club either with captain Hans-Jürgen Dörner suddenly considered surplus to requirements and forced into early retirement. Another player forced into early retirement was Bernd Jakubowski who had started in goal for Dynamo before being substituted due to injury in the first half. It turned out Jakubowski had broken his shoulder and he would sadly never play again. 

Dynamo eventually recovered to win the Oberliga in 1989 and 1990, completing the double in the latter of those two seasons. In 1989 they also reached the semi finals of the UEFA Cup but lost to West German side VfB Stuttgart, this was one of three East v West ties after the Grotenburg affair and the western sides won all three. Despite some successes in the short term, long term Dynamo's future would be one of struggle. Post reunification, the club lasted only four seasons in the Bundesliga before relegation in 1995 and have spent most of the years since in the third and fourth tiers.

Over in Uerdingen, after defeating Dynamo Dresden, there was a Cup Winners' Cup semi final to look forward to. Bayer Uerdingen faced Club Atlético de Madrid for a place in the final and a 1-0 defeat away in Madrid in the first leg was far from terrible, but going 2-0 down at home in the second leg meant another miracle was needed. Bayer were unable to conjure up more heroics, however, and lost the game 3-2 to bow out of the competition 4-2 on aggregate. Despite the victory, things did not end well for Atlético though as they lost 3-0 to Dynamo Kyiv in the final.

The following season Bayer Uerdingen lost 4-0 on aggregate to FC Barcelona in the third round of the UEFA Cup but have never been anywhere near European competition since. In 1991 the club were relegated from the Bundesliga and so began their slow decline and the lower tier struggles described earlier. 

That magical night at the Grotenburg-Kampfbahn, the 'miracle of the Grotenburg' as they now call it, was in some ways the beginning of the end for Bayer Uerdingen. It is a night, however, that will certainly live long in the memory and a comeback that is up there with some of the greatest footballing turnarounds of all-time. 

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