The Malta Independent 11 August 2022, Thursday

German Football: Celebrating 100 Years of the national team

Malta Independent Saturday, 5 April 2008, 00:00 Last update: about 10 years ago

One hundred years to the day - on 5 April 1908 - the German football team played its first international match against Switzerland in Basel, with the Swiss winning 5-3.

A crowd of 3,500 braved a hailstorm to watch the match at the Sportplatz Landhof in Basel and they saw Fritz Becker,described as a disobedient pupil who loved football more than he feared teachers put Germany ahead with his country's first goal to put hisname down in German football history.

Becker recounts how the Swiss keeper did not move as he thought the shot was going wide. Well it was and would have missed the target, but Becker, a fast runner who used to compete in school relays, got the ball before it went out and deflected it into the net.

Switzerland quickly hit back and went into the interval 3-1 in front before the teams shared four goals after the break.

That’s only ‘official’, according to the reference books, because between 1899 and 1901, even before the German Football Association (DFB) formation in 1900, five international matches were played between different German and English selection teams which all ended as large defeats for the German teams. A mere week prior to the 1908 game between Switzerland and Germany, a combined Berlin team had lost 5-1 at home to an English XI. This encounter never made the archives as a true international because it only marginally involved the two FAs.

The early history of the German national team was anything but efficient or well organised, often marked by haphazard player selection and confusion about the scheduling of games.

While the DFB liked to think itself as the central governing body, German football was in fact firmly in the grip of various regional associations, who jealously guarded their own rights. The lack of a national league gave them further power, since the DFB had no reliable way of finding out who the best 11 in the country were. Thus the matter of selecting the national squad was largely put into the hands of the regional Football Associations.

The problem with the set-up was not that there was no national coach but that each regional association tried to get at least one of its players into the squad. The thing to be avoided was not a weak ream but over-representation of one region. That explains why the players forming the inaugural team of 1908 came from 11 different clubs.

These were: Baumgarten (Germania Berlin) – Hempel (Sportfreunde Leipzig), Jordan (Cricket-Victoria Magdeburg) – Ludwig (SC 99 Koln), captain Hiller II (1FC Pforzheim), Weymar (Victoria Hamburg) – Hensel (FV Kassel), Forderer (Karlsruher FV), Kipp (Sportfreunde Stuttgart), Becker (Kickers Frankfurt), Baumgartner (SV 04 Dusseldorf).

One of the effects of this parochialism was that nobody could agree on a settled line-up, let alone grant it time to gel together. Germany’s first nine games saw seven different goalkeepers, a trend which would carry on well in the 1920’s. And on 4 April 1909, there were even two official German teams playing on the same day. A side featuring six Berlin players drew with Hungary in Budapest, while a Karlsruhe-led XI beat Switzerland 1-0 on home soil.

The second problem the DFB had in creating a truly national team was its insistence on a rigid definition of amateurism. Many good players could not afford to leave their jobs for two or three days needed to participate in an international game.

Self-inflicted weaknesses of this type would prove to be a stumbling block for German international football for decades to come.

The first year of the national team ended with a record of three staright defeats, losing also 5-1 against England in April and a 3-2 defeat at the hands of Austria in June.

The next season saw Germany’s first victory - a 1-0 over Switzerland with a Eugen Kipp goal. But celebrations proved premature. Of the next 21 internationals, Germany would only win five. What’s more, four of these five victories came against Switzerland, fast becoming the one opponent Germany were looking for when they began to feel depressed.

The first match after World War I in 1920, the first match after World War II in 1950, when Germany was still banned from most international competitions, and the first in 1990 with former East German players after unification, were all against Switzerland.

Since that first international, Germany has seen more ups than downs, winning the FIFA World Cup in 1954, 1974 and 1990 and the UEFA European Championship in 1972, 1980 and 1996 to estabblish itself as one of the world’s best football countries.

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