do not mention the war

Match of the Century, Football miracles and Jahrhundertspiele

In Britain, Cold War, England, Football, Germany, History, Identity, Sport on March 1, 2012 at 14:50

This blog is all about the Anglo-German rivalry and how it affects everyday life, football and politics. However, there are games that were labelled ‘Match of the Century’, ‘Miracles’ like the World Cup final of 1954 or the victories of West Germany against England in 1970 and 1972 or the ‘Jahrhundertspiel‘ between Italy and Germany. In each of the following examples at least either of them is always present, England or Germany, making a necessary link to the Anglo-German football rivalry. Where does this love for labelling games come from? And were these games really what their labels promised?

Matches of the Century:

1: Hampden Park, Glasgow 1947

The first game in this list was played in Glasgow in 1947 between a British team and a ‘Rest of Europe‘ XI. It mainly served as a confirmation that British soccer was still superior to its continental counterparts. The scoreline was 6-1 for the British team. Dominic Sandbrook noted that the magnitude of this score line ‘struck most native observers as appropriate.’

2: Wembley Stadium 1953

Only six years later British soccer, and more notably English football was left shocked to its core when the home team were soundly and deservedly beaten 6-3 at Wembley. It was the ‘twilight of the soccer gods’ as one paper noted afterwards. Geoffrey Green in The Times noted a ‘new conception of football’ in which the ‘inevitable happened’: England at last were beaten by the foreign invader on solid English soil. Normally Scottish people would take immense pleasure seeing England beaten. This time football journalists sensed the dramatic change this defeat meant not just for English but British football. A trend that was only reversed in 1956 when England finally had a team that could be considered serious challengers for the World Cup 1958 in Sweden. If only. The Munich Air Disaster destroyed all hopes for England and the Three Lions went out in the group stages.

The Miracle of Berne 1954, Leon 1970, Wembley 1972 tbc.

1: Berne 1954

In German sports writing a lot of journalists, readers and the public refer to the final of Berne in 1954 as the Miracle of Berne. Moreover it was and still is equated with the resurgence of Germany as a respected country after the total defeat of 1945. It is indeed an achievement of some sorts that Germany after only nine years since the war won football’s most prestigious price against the team that hammered them in the group stage 8-3 and were high favourites: Hungary. It is said to be one of the key moments in the history of West Germany in the development of a democratic society. This however, is to burden this game with too much significance. It was a game of football in which Germany overcame the odds and the favourites and won.

2: Leon 1970

16 years later German football writers had found another miracle to enthuse about. Again it was at the World Cup. Germany were facing England in a replay of the final four years earlier and were 2-0 down when England started to retreat and conceded the pitch to Germany. Led by Beckenbauer, the Germans attacked the goal and were rewarded: it was 2-2 after 90 minutes and 3-2 for Germany after 120 minutes. Once more England and Germany played each other, once more it was extra time. Ever since there are discussions whether or not England have lost the game because Bobby Charlton, arguably their best player was substituted, or if Banks, had he been fit, would have saved the header from Seeler that meant extra time. Or the heat, the hostile atmosphere towards England, the substitution of the ineffective Libuda for Grabowski. There are many points that can be discussed and argued about whether they were the cause for England’s defeat. Nothing of these of course stopped the German press to write about the Miracle of Leon.

3: Wembley 1972

The best German team ever beat England two years later at Wembley for the first time. Again there was talk of a Miracle, which again does not hold forth, if examined. Germany had to go through a period of transition after the Bundesliga bribery scandal of 1970/71 meant a number of experienced first tem players have been banned from football. This paved the way for new talent to come through and shine. And they did. Hoenness, Netzer are just two of a crop of excellent players. Netzer has been in and out of the team for a while and it needed such a performance as this in Wembley to manifest his status as one of the greatest players ever to wear the German shirt. Jonathan Wilson noted of Netzer’s performance that his legacy was long and bleak and continued that it was in April 1972 when England finally ceased to be World champions, at least psychologically. None of this of course justifies the label Miracle.

The Jahrhundertspiel

This match, translated Match of the Century, was the semi-final between Italy and Germany at the 1970 World Cup in Mexico, the same where Germany for the first time beat England in a competitive match. Right after the macht, the Mexican tv commentator declared this match was going into history. He went even further when he stated that this game did not deserve a winner nor loser and that soon there will be a sign put up saying Italy vs. Germany, 17 June 1970. A few years later this has happened indeed. Gianni Rivera, scorer of the fourth goal for Italy, wondered why the match has such a reputation at the time in Italy and over the years in Germany, too. He stated that the game was very slow when compared to recent standards, which is normal as the game has evolved over the 42 years ever since. Beckenbauer shares his opinion and blames the media for the hype surrounding this match. Indeed, most of the Italian papers declared this a classic game of football in the days after the game.

Of course it is easier to make sense of some things by sticking a label to it. Yet, miracles happen very rarely if at all and particularly not in football.

  1. […] it was the semi-final, played in Mexico City. In German football history, this game has become the ‘Jahrhundertspiel’ (match of the […]


  2. […] fouled in the penalty area, which resulted in a spot kick. He was also involved in the game against England in Leon. It was Libuda who was substituted for Grabowski, a swap that was later said to have changed the […]


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