FC Magdeburg – The Trabant that roared.

The mid-seventies were a particularly good period for German football. Not only did Die Mannschaft, take full toll of home advantage by lifting the 1974 World Cup, their clubs sides were also dominant. In 1974, Bayern Munich were Champions of Europe, and would retain the European Cup in the following two seasons. Borussia Mönchengladbach secured successive Uefa Cup triumphs in 1975 and 1976 and Hamburg took the Cup Winners’ Cup in 1976.

German footballing success was not confined to the western half of the divided country though. Despite Franz Beckenbauer lifting the Fifa World Cup Trophy, on a politically tense June evening, their eastern brethren triumphed over the eventual champions in the final group game in Hamburg to top the group thanks to a late goal from Jürgen Sparwasser.

Although politically, the victory over West Germany was a high watermark for the east, in footballing terms, it was Sparwasser’s club, 1. FC Magdeburg, that flew the flag highest for the DDR in those few years of German footballing hegemony. A mere few weeks prior to that less-than-fraternal international triumph, they became the only East German club ever to lift a European trophy. The story of FC Magdeburg and their European triumph is a akin to that of the Trabant, totally built in East Germany and defying much logic and the expectation of many cynics to reach its destination.

Although officially founded in 1965, 1. FC Magdeburg – known to its fans simply as ‘Der Club’ – can trace its roots back to the the tail-end of the 19th century. After a few mergers and incarnations, as with so many sporting organisations in the country, the as yet renascent 1. FC Magdeburg’s fate was shaped by the outcome of the Second World War, and the fact that it was squarely in the area of Soviet occupation as the victorious powers carved Germany apart.

In 1945, players of two defunct clubs in the city, Magdeburger SC Prussia 1899 and Cricket Viktoria Magdeburg joined forces to form Sportgruppe Sudenburg, which after another merger became BSG Eintracht Sudenburg, and then joined SAG Krupp Gruson. All of such decamping and realigning took place in less than five years. The following year it was renamed BSG Stahl Magdeburg, and twelve months later as BSG Motor Mitte Magdeburg.

At this time, sport was very much a propaganda tool of the East German state, and excellence on the field was a requirement. To facilitate this, the football department of the club was then transferred to SC Aufbau Magdeburg in 1957, before finally, in 1965, it was deemed expedient to launch the football club as a separate entity.

Still under the SC Aufbau Magdeburg banner, they were promoted to the DDR-Oberliga in 1959 and settled into a fairly unspectacular run of form until lifting the FDGB-Pokal in 1963, qualifying for European competition. After three successive draws against Galatasaray, the third being a play-off game in neutral Vienna, only coin toss gave the Turks victory. Retaining the domestic cup, tMagdeburg again qualified for Europe the following year, this time reaching the last eight before falling to a West Ham United team containing World Cup heroes, Moore, Hurst and Peters. It would be their 1974 European venture however that would afford 1. FC Magdeburg their unique status.

Whilst in the west the Bundesliga was laying the foundations that led to its dominance of European and through Die Mannschaft, world football, in the east, there was a tussle between Magdeburg and Dynamo Dresden for supremacy. Der Club’s aspirations were fired by coach Heinz Krügel who, produced nine full East German internationals from the club between 1969 and 1974, including Sparwasser and three others who triumphed over West Germany in Hamburg in 1974.

In 1972, Magdeburg took the DDR-Oberliga title for the first time, fielding the youngest squad ever to achieve the honour. As Krügel’s squad matured, their success grew. They won the domestic cup again in 1973 and the following year regained the championship title. The cup success had given passage into European competition again, and Krügel’s team would go on to create history.

The first round saw them paired with Dutch club NAC Breda. After slugging out a goalless away draw, a fairly comfortable home win with two goals in a three-minute spell around the hour mark by Axel Tyll and Martin Hoffmanann saw them home. Their second-round opponents would be much less accommodating.

Banik Ostrava were entering their Golden Era in Czechoslovak football – and Europe. Having won their domestic cup competition to qualify for Europe, they would repeat the feat in 1978 and become champions, securing a  domestic Double. In Europe, they would win four Intertoto Cups in the seventies, reach the quarter-finals of the Uefa Cup in 1975 and the last four of the Cup Winners Cup in 1979. It was therefore no great surprise when Magdeburg returned from the Městský Stadion with a chastening two goal deficit. It would take a huge effort to turn things around in the second leg.

A penalty on the half-hour, converted by Wolfgang Abraham offered hope, but well inside the last ten minutes, that was all the home team had managed. With just five minutes remaining though, Martin Hoffman scored to level up the aggregate and take the game into extra-time. The momentum was now clearly with the East Germans and just ahead of the break, it was Jürgen Sparwasser who netted what would be the deciding goal to eliminate Baníček.

 In the first couple of rounds, Magdeburg had benefitted from playing the second leg at home. The trend wouldn’t continue in the quarter-final against PFC Beroe Stara Zagora of Bulgaria. Although a lesser known club, Beroe stamped their credentials in the previous round, giving the Basques of Athletic Bilbao a torrid time in the home leg, and taking a 3-0 lead across to Spain. A single goal defeat in the intimidating San Mames was probably worthy of equal respect.

The first leg was played at the Ernst-Grube-Stadion, and despite concerted pressure on their opponents, Magdeburg found the Bulgarians every bit as tough a nut to crack as the Basques had. The game was in its final quarter when right winger Hans-Jürgen Hermann finally achieved the breakthrough. Three minutes later, defender Siegmund Mewes, up from the back to supplement the attack added the second to give Magdeburg a decent lead to defend in the second leg.

Following a mirrored pattern of the first game, the home side pressed, but Krügel’s team were resolute and, again as in the first leg, it away only in the final 20 minutes when the first goal came, Vutsov netting a penalty. The Bulgarians couldn’t capitalise on the late lead though, and by the time Hans-Jürgen Hermann equalised with just eight minutes to play, the tie was almost over anyway.

Through to the last four of the competition, the East Germans may have begun to think of glory, but the task ahead looked daunting. Also left to compete for the trophy were AC Milan, Borussia Mönchengladbach and Sporting Clube de Portugal. Few would have dissented from the view that Krügel’s team were the weakest of the quartet.

When the draw was made, Magdeburg had been paired with Sporting. If they were the least difficult of the three possible opponents, it was a Pyrrhic victory, if one at all. They travelled to Portugal for the first leg and on 10th April, achieved a remarkable 1-1 draw in Estádio José Alvalade, even having the temerity to take the lead with a goal from Sparwasser just past the hour mark. Defender Manaca equalised with just less than fifteen minutes to play, but Magdeburg held on for a draw, and travelled back to East Germany with a credible opportunity of progressing to the final.

Two weeks later, in a game officiated by English referee Jack Taylor who, a few months later, would take charge of a much bigger game, Magdeburg entertained the Portuguese team in front of a crowd nearing 35,000. An early goal from young midfielder

Jürgen Pommerenke inside ten minutes put Magdeburg ahead in the tie, but with only a single away goal necessary to square things up, the Portuguese club were still very much in the contest. And that’s how it stayed until 20 minutes from the end when Sparwasser added the second and a promise of a less tense end to the game. It was a brief period of relief though as eight minutes later, experienced striker Mário da Silva Mateus scored to give the visitors fresh hope. Despite late ferocious pressure, Magdeburg held on and as Milan had defeated Borussia Mönchengladbach in the other semi-final it would be the Italians, holders of the trophy, who stood between Magdeburg and unexpected, unprecedented glory.

The final took place on 8th May 1974 in Rotterdam’s De Kuip stadium in front of a paltry crowd numbering less than 5,000. Whilst it may have seemed like an eerie atmosphere to the superstars of I Rossoneri, Magdeburg seemed less concerned.

Milan dominated the early possession and territory, but as the break approached they hadn’t breached the resolute Magdeburg backline. With a couple of minutes remaining, and another attack breaking down in the Magdeburg half, Martin Hoffmann gained possession and sprinted forward, blond hair trailing behind him. Reaching the left edge of the Milan box, he crossed. With German support arriving, defender Enrico Lanzi felt committed to intercept. Lunging forwards though, he only succeeded in diverting the ball past his own goalkeeper and into the net. Despite the flow of the game, Magdeburg turned around in the lead.

The goal should have galvanised Milan, but the increased confidence it gave to the Germans became an increasingly important factor and their thrusts in pursuit of a second goal began to carry increased conviction. A run and cross by Hoffmann brought danger, but a mishit shot saw it cleared away. The ball fell to Sparwasser though and looking up he spotted the run of Wolfgang Seguin into the right of the box, and delivered a perfect pass. Controlling the ball, Seguin fired powerfully past Pizzaballa from a tight angle to double the lead.

There was now less than 15 minutes to play and despite increasingly frantic efforts to get back into the game, Milan drew a blank and Magdeburg saw it out for the victory. Shortly afterwards, captain Manfred Zapf assumed a unique place in history, becoming the  only East German to captain his club side to European glory when he lifted the Cup Winners Cup.

Sport and politics are often uncomfortable bedfellows, and sadly for Der Club this was not the start of a sustained period of success. In fact, it was almost the opposite. In 1976, just two short years after he had guided the club to unexpected European renown, Magdeburg dismissed Heinz Krügel,. As was often the way in such times, the decision was less to do with exploits on the field and more with the supposed political correctness of the manger as deemed by the Political power-brokers. Magdeburg would not reach such heights again, and their drive was stuck in neutral.

With reunification, Magdeburg saw players decamping to the west. Further forays into Europe followed, but they were all too brief. As the years went on, other clubs – such as old rivals Dynamo Dresden – surpassed Magdeburg domestically and their stock fell away.  Fanciful hopes of entering the top-flight Bundesliga were quickly dispelled and they ended up in the third tier of the league structure with the resultant exodus of both manger and any decent players. A brief false dawn saw promotion to 2. Bundesliga, but financial mismanagement and a period of administration saw them down in the fourth tier in 2002.

Fame is often fleeting, but, should anyone be asked a quiz question as to which was the only East German club ever to win a European trophy, their fame would rise again, as Der Club would be the answer, the Trabant that roared.

(This All Blue Daze article was originally produced for the ‘These Football Times – Germany’ magazine).


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