Saturday, December 31, 2011

DDR on the other hand stuck – by 1976 the pattern was settled and quite peculiar: no outstanding favorite, but a group of 5 clubs competing year after year. Four were constant – Dynamo (Dresden), Carl Zeiss (Jena), 1. FC Magdeburg, and Lokomotive (Leipzig). The fifth club varied, but Dynamo (East Berlin) was increasingly consistent, although not yet a contender. Among the constant four, Dynamo (Dresden) and somewhat better than the rest and Lokomotive (Leipzig) the weakest. Yet, there was no great club in East Germany, and this combined with small league hided the supremacy of the top five: it was invisible by surveying the table alone – points did not show a divide. It was becoming clear only when looking at all final tables since 1970.
There was one more peculiarity: DDR was the only East European country where Army and Police clubs did not rule domestic football – Dynamo (Berlin) was not even seen as potential champion yet, and Forwarts (the Army club) was champion in 1969 for the last time. Since then the club sharply declined and was not even in Berlin any longer, but in Frankfurt Oder since 1971. Hardly a real relation, yet a curious similarity nevertheless: the decline of Forwarts mirrored the decline of CSKA (Moscow) – both Army clubs seized playing major role since 1970 and never restored leading positions (the fall of the Communist system is the marker – CSKA recovered since 1990; Forwarts disappeared altogether). As for Police-sponsored football – Dynamo (Berlin) was building strength, but so far hasn’t win a single championship.
Perhaps those were the best years of East German football, if results are the whole indicator: World Cup finals in 1974; Magdeburg Cup Winners Cup winner in 1974; DDR becoming Olympic champion in 1976 – these achievements were never to be repeated, but so far it looked like East German football was on the rise. And Dynamo (Dresden) finished first in the spring of 1976 – their third title. Sitting, left to right: Watzlich, Hafner, Kotte, Urbanek, Boden, Sachse, Heider, Helm, Richter.
Standing: Dorner, Schmuck, Kreische, Ganzera, Schade, Weber, Lichtenberger, Muller, Riedel.
The squad was representative for both the success of the ‘top 5 clubs’ and the coming troubles for East German football: best players were concentrated in those clubs, making them dominant. 13 players of this squad played for the national team – a very serious number, and also unmatched by any other club at the time. But the best players of the country happened to be practically one generation… most of them were slightly over 25 years of age by 1976 and had many years to play yet, but they also reached the limit of their abilities – yes, they harvested the fruits of their labour, but the 1976 Olympics was also their swan song. No significant new talent was elbowing its way and stagnation was in the air – the best East German generation was strong enough to become legendary at home, yet not a single player became international star. For Dynamo (Dresden) this season was perhaps their best ever as well: they won 19 out of total 26 matches, losing only 2. They scored astonishing 70 goals, having the best defense as well, allowing only 23 balls to end in their net. Dresden finished 6 points ahead of the second placed Dynamo (Berlin).
Lokomotive (Leipzig) won the Cup, beating Forwarts (Frankfurt Oder) 3-0.
If anything, Lokomotive were establishing themselves as ‘cup’ club – they always fell short of really contesting championship, but they flourished at the cup tournaments. It was decent squad, yet, of lesser pedigree than Dresden: it was sturdy team, lead by the national team players Wolfram Lowe, Henning Frenzel, Joachim Fritsche, and Manfred Geisler. Kuhn, Altmann, Friese, Roth, Sekora, Grobner completed the team – a bunch of promising youngsters and well respected older guys, but in the big picture – second-best players, just a bit under the stars of East German football. Which explains why they were good at cup tournaments, but not league-champions material.
At the bottom of the Oberliga were Chemie (Leipzig), stronger club once upon a time, and Energie (Cottbus) dead last. Hansa (Rostock) and 1. FC Union (Berlin) were promoted, after winning the 5-club promotional tournament between the winners of the 5-leagued Second Division. From present day standpoint, curious names: since the German Unification Hansa (Rostock) and Energie (Cottbus) are arguably the most successful former East German clubs, given their steady performance in the First and Second Bundesliga. Both clubs were small fry in DDR… as well as Union (Berlin). ‘True” Berliners never wormed up to the Communist clubs of Army and Police, and Forwarts had to be even relocated elsewhere. But ‘true’ Berliners had no chance of supporting the ‘true’ Berliner club – Hertha was out of reach in West Berlin. In spite, ‘true’ Berliners supported Union… aware of that, the rulers of the country kept Union down. The club had no official support and no big sponsors – without means, Union normally played in second division. Promotion to the Oberliga was a heroic achievement, although the club clearly had no chance of even establishing itself among the best. If anything, at least East Berlin restored itself among the big European capitals: in football terms, that means a city with more than one club playing in First division. May be so, but East Berlin was not playing central role in East German football so far.