Magdeburg’s European Cup victory 50 years ago: football players with passion

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Written By Maya Cantina

1. FC Magdeburg celebrated its greatest triumph 50 years ago. At that time there was a lightness in the air in the GDR that quickly disappeared.

Football players from Magedburg in dressing gowns with a trophy

Lap of honor in bathrobe after victory over AC Milan: Jürgen Sparwasser (l.) and captain Manfred Zapf in front with the trophy Photo: image

“The trophy was in the shop window in the corner,” says Nadja Gröschner, pointing across the street. Nowadays she is the “city guide Henny G.” in a tight blue suit and cap. “And there was always a bunch of grapes in front of the Centrum department store.” Nod in agreement. Later, however, there will be no one among the thirty fans of 1. FC Magdeburg, simply ‘FCM’, who was there in 1974 the European Cup II moved here.

Tonight, under the leadership of Nadja Gröschner, memory and present merge into Fama, its ingredients: the first European Cup won by a GDR club, a dozen heroes, socialism and anecdotes. And of course optimism, or, as Erich Honecker would have said, ‘fiery enthusiasm’. Things look better in 1974. It is not the Croesus of AC Milan under coach Giovanni Trapattoni who takes the pot. It is the players from the GDR who bring the second most important trophy that European club football has to offer to Magdeburg. Only the national championship cup is slightly higher.

The trophy is also here today. A copy of VEB Metallbau, says Gröschner. Everyone must wear them on the “Passionsweg Blau-Weiß”, the name of the tour based on the club colors, such as captain Manfred Zapf, Jürgen Sparwasser and “Paule” Seguin. The New Germany of May 9, 1974 celebrates the victory on page 1 and congratulates Erich Honecker. The theme of the day is “Thanks to the Fallen Soviet Heroes” for the 29th. anniversary of the victory. Maybe that’s why they didn’t take a photo of the triumph in Rotterdam. During the celebration you see the players in white coats, with a lightness in their faces that only young, undamaged people have. They were given the bathrobes so that the Adidas stripes on the jerseys would not be visible.

Nonsense! They just look cool. So cool that Udo Jürgens has decided to say goodbye to his fans in white terrycloth from now on, says Nadja Gröschner. Anyone staying now will know that they have not booked a historically documented excursion from the city archives to mark the 50th anniversary of the European Cup victory, but rather a co-production between the Magdeburg Theater and the Magdeburg House of Literature.

Socialism with a new sound

Jürgen Sparwasser looks like a young god in his coat. Someone who a short time later completely climbed Mount Olympus when he scored the goal for the GDR and humiliated the West team in the World Cup final in Hamburg’s Volksparkstadion on June 22. Franz Beckenbauer later said that it was this defeat that caused his team to rebel against coach Helmut Schön at Malente’s training camp. Only now is the team being formed that will reach the final and beat the Dutch 2-1.

The GDR also contributed to this World Cup title. In the early 1970s, the SED state was doing well. The footballers belong to the first post-war generation. It is intended to build ‘socialism in the colors of the GDR’ and with a new sound. With “Yes! Yes! Yes! ‘And all that dirt,’ Walter Ulbricht could do nothing. The new SED leader Honecker turns up the amps. At the 1973 World Festival, “Renft,” recently kujoned, rocked for hundreds of thousands on Alexanderplatz and the “Klosterbrüder” from Magdeburg played as if “Jethro Tull” had landed.

“Axel Tyll, Motor Mitte Magdeburg, Martin Hoffmann, activist Gommern…” Gröschner pulls the handcart and a coffin recites the names of the heroes together with their home clubs, who testify that they all come from the Magdeburg district, at SKET, the Ernst Thälmann heavy engineers combine, work and are therefore amateurs, football lovers, not because of money, but because of their “zeal for fire”.

Extremely practical for the SED. Their officials pocketed the UEFA victory bonus, more than 200,000 Swiss francs, and footed the bill for the GDR national team’s training camp in Sweden. In Rotterdam, Magdeburg residents only receive 85 guilders pocket money, but at home they receive 5,000 GDR marks, a week in Bulgaria and a cutlery box.

FCM fans in three generations

Nadja Gröschner steers over the Elbe. The small group with their FCM hats and blue and white scarves are greeted by passers-by. And her passion lies not only with the historical FCM, but also with the current one. Most have season tickets. But the FCM, which has been the mini faction of the former GDR clubs in the second division with Hansa Rostock since 2022, is weakening.

Bernd Liedmann is in his early eighties, the oldest of the group and has good mobility. Moreover, his wife, two daughters, son-in-law and granddaughter never let him out of their sight. Three generations, and granddaughter Mandy Gädeke is not the youngest at 35 years old. Gädeke, who works in sales, sees her city differently these days, she says. How she has changed. “There’s always change,” her grandfather interjects.

Liedmann, a mason, must know. The socialist city, built after the destruction in 1945, is turned inside out. The Ernst Grube Stadium, named after a KPD politician, has disappeared. The MDCC Arena is now being built there, named after a company that no one knows anything about.

But the Genius Loci remained Heinz Krügel. In 2014 they erected a monument to the greatest FCM trainer and now a bronze Krügel stands and juggles the trophy in front of the MDCC building, which FCM fans call HKS for short, Heinz Krügel Stadium. Krügel would have cared for the players as he did his own children. Nevertheless, he looked at her. In a world where all comrades were on a first name basis, that was a distinction.

Bayern professionals prefer to eat on the bus

Krügel, born in 1921, is said to have trained for the 1st FCM for a long time. Things turn out differently. In November 1974, FC Bayern played against FCM, Regional Champions Cup, round of 16. Magdeburg loses. There is a state of emergency in the city. “BRD tourists” sit in bars and go to the Centrum department store. And the Bayern professionals retreat to their bus before the match to eat what they brought from the West. SED newspapers complain about the disregard for hospitality. “They were down there!” says one of the blue and white pilgrims, offended as if it were yesterday. The press is silent about something else: the Stasi had bugged the Bayern dressing room and offered Krügel the half-time speech by trainer Udo Lattek bee. Krugel refused.

Heinz Krügel was fired in 1976, reportedly due to lack of success, even though the club had become GDR champions for the third time in 1975. “The sun smiles at Nice, the whole world shines at us,” Krügel is said to have once said. That alone would have been enough to enrage Stasi boss Erich Mielke. Krügel himself later said that he was accused of “appeasement”. He is banned for life as a trainer and demoted to property manager of the Motor Mitte Magdeburg club, a kind of caretaker. It’s an exile.

The wind has changed. In November 1976, Wolf Biermann was deported. An exodus of artists follows. Those who stay will be disciplined or behind bars. The sound also stops. “Renft” is forbidden, the “monastic brothers” – socialism needs no monks! – had to find a new name, called themselves “Magdeburg” and released their first album in 1980. A year later, all band members submitted an application to leave the country, unique in the GDR. This is followed by a professional ban and imprisonment.

In January 1988, after a match with the FCM veterans in Saarbrücken, Jürgen Sparwasser stayed in the Federal Republic with his wife, who was visiting family in the West. Sparwasser later said that he initially only dared to go out with a low brim and a high collar. The GDR is not prudish when it comes to ‘traitors’. Lutz Eigendorf of Erich Mielke’s favorite Berlin club Dynamo, who fled to the West in 1979, died in a car accident in 1983. The circumstances of his death have never been fully explained.

Volunteer with the Waffen-SS

The lightness of 1974 is gone. No club has ever won a European Cup again, and no GDR team has reached the World Cup final.

Nadja Gröschner works in the garden department “Unterbär”. Here she led the couple. The walk to the stadium would have been a real passion in the rain. There is beer and bratwurst in Spartenheim. The old mason Bernd Liedmann sits contentedly at the table with three generations, six family members, and his wife gently places her hand on his knee, as if they still have a life ahead of them and the FCM has just won the trophy.

Time travel is over. The ‘city guide Henny G.’ becomes the boss of the fire station of the cultural center of Magdeburg again. Nadja Gröschner has been offering special excursions for years. She, her sister Annett and the writer Anne Hahn came up with this memory of 1974.

Author Annett Gröschner published an FCM book in 1999 with many photos and sources. ‘A club fan must cry seven tears’ is essential reading and a treasure trove in one for anyone interested in FCM. Gröschner also spoke on behalf of Heinz Krügel, who died in 2008.

His CV will posthumously receive another chapter in 2021. It turns out that Krügel joined the Waffen-SS as a volunteer in 1940 and was deployed in various countries until 1945. Krügel kept this part of his life hidden. The Stasi had known about this since 1960. 1. FC Magdeburg sets up a working group. She finds no evidence of involvement in war crimes and recommends including this part in the general biography at the Krügel monument.

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