do not mention the war

Goals to remember

In Cold War, England, Football, Germany, History, Identity on September 30, 2011 at 10:05

Jürgen Sparwasser, the scorer of East Germany’s most famous goal, against West Germany at the World Cup 1974 once said that there are only three goals that are being discussed by the Germans: Rahn‘s goal to make it 3-2 against Hungary in 1954, the third goal scored by Geoff Hurst in 1966 at Wembley and his from 1974 in Hamburg.

Another quote by Sparwasser went that everybody would know who was buried under the gravestone with the inscription reading like this: Hamburg, Volkspark, June 22, 1974. Of course it refers to him as his career was reduced to that moment when he scored his famous goal against West Germany in the group stage of the 1974 World Cup.

There is a truth about the first quote certainly, but all three goals stand for very different things. The winning goal by Rahn in 1954 for instance cannot be compared with that of 1974 as both encapsulated very different times and surroundings. And related to very different audiences: 1954 is more important for West Germans, while 1974 counts far more for East Germans but was the moment after which the West German team sat down and started talking. The result is clear: Germany went on to win the tournament, while East Germany were condemned to footballing minnows on the international stage.

However, Heinrichs pointed out that during the tournament and more importantly, after the final, that there were voices which spoke of Germany as being a football world power again, with the emphasis being on world power. This certainly was as unfancied as was the singing of the first verse of the German national anthem, at which point many radio stations rapidly ended their transmission from Berne that day. The goal scored by Rahn to make it 3-2 after 84 minutes has been used and misused for multiple purposes. The main misuse was to connect it to a construction of national identity in West Germany that went as far as to claim the goal and the final as well as the economic miracle being the only fixed points on which to hinge German national identity post-1945.

The one goal in the middle from 1966 is completely free of any ongoing debate about identity for Germans; it is more about right or wrong. The Third Goal by Hurst and the triumph in 1966 for England are of far more greater importance for English football fans than to Germans, which is largely due to the fact that Germany since then have cruised past England and achieved far greater things about which England have dreamed would start after their famous victory in Wembley 1966 and which they are chasing ever since.

The victorious world cup campaign of West Germany in 1954 is said to have triggered a wave of national reconciliation of a battered and beaten people. Sport seemed to be the ideal outlet for feelings of national identity again. However, the aim of the squad manager Sepp Herberger was to play football and leave a good impression, thus trying to rebuild some positive German reputation. If anything this plan has worked rather well and has caught most observers unawares.

Is it really necessary to add anything to 1966? The goal, it was established later, was not a goal as the ball never fully crossed the line. Germany got their revenge in the World Cup in 1970 knocking England out 3-2 in extra time after coming back from 2-0 down. In 1972 they beat England at Wembley and ever since have achieved a positive record against England when it mattered most. Rather, in English memory and nostalgia, the whole finale of 1966 has a special place in the nation’s collective memory. Which is why it is also labeled ‘the fatal victory’ as England have not achieved anything similar since.

Which brings us to 1974. This year is connected in the memory of many East German football fans with two things:

1. May 8, the Kuip of Rotterdam. AC Milan were hot favourites against FC Magdeburg to win the European Cup Winners Cup. Against the odds, Magdeburg recorded a 2-0 win and are the only side in East Germany having won a European trophy. Sparwasser himself rather favours his goal in the semi-final of the competition as one of his greatest goals. (It was the goal to make it 2-1 against Benfica)

2. As Sparwasser pointed out June 22 1974 Volksparkstadion Hamburg. The GDR beat their western neighbour and for many, their compatriots 1-0 thanks to a goal by the young Jürgen Sparwasser.

The latter certainly helped to inspire the West German team to have a vivid discussion about team matters. It is said that after this game, Beckenbauer and Co. were even more determined to win the tournament.

It is not far away to argue that the years between 1972 and 1975 were the most successful from a German perspective. But that is a different story.

The three goals discussed stand for three different periods in West German history as well as Anglo-German relations. 1954 it was the return of a morally discredited country to the footballing stage. 1966 Germany were already seen as a rival in England and 1974 they have surpassed England. The same can be applied for the political sphere. In the 1950s Germany just started to experience what normal life could be again. The mid-60s saw the economic miracle in full swing while the 70s had Britain at the mercy of other European countries in order to survive.

Literature: Arthur Heinrich: 3:2 für Deutschand. Die Gründung der Bundesrepublik im Wankdorf-Stadion zu Bern. Göttingen: Verlag Die Werkstatt, 2004

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