Monday, March 5, 2012

Club Spotlight : Dynamo Desden Oberliga

  The story of East German DDR-Oberliga football is a complex one, as Ulrich Hesse-Lichtenberger has written: "Most of the things that happened ... seem utterly bizarre and often downright incredible to someone who has grown up in a completely different society." This, perforce, is but a sketch and those wanting further information are directed to Behind the Wall: East German football between state and society, by Mike Dennis, professor of modern German history at the University of Wolverhampton, on which I have drawn heavily. First things first. There were four categories of clubs in East German football: The Dynamos: Connected to the secret police. Every club with the Dynamo prefix (eg Berlin, Dresden) was directly answerable to the head of the Stasi, Erich Mielke, who had little difficulty jumping the "fit and proper person" hurdle.
 The Vorwärts, which were overseen by the Ministry of Defence. Big in the 60s.
 Good old-fashioned football clubs with no affiliation to secret organisations (eg FC Magdeburg and FC Carl Zeiss Jena).
 Works Teams (Rotation Babelsberg, Turbine Potsdam and the oft-relegated Traktor Gross-Lindau).

Football may not have been a religion in East Germany but it did carry a hefty ideological burden. Here's the Stasi's Mielke: "Football success will highlight even more clearly the superiority of our socialist order in the area of sport." Perhaps and maybe. Of more immediate concern to the East German football fan were the practical difficulties which he had to overcome. Not the least of these was the practice of Leistungssteigerung durch Konzentration, whereby teams could be moved on a whim from one end of the German Democratic Republic to the other. In 1954, for instance, Dynamo Dresden were relocated to Berlin and, for obvious reasons, had to change their name to Dynamo Berlin. Relocation, Relocation, Relocation was a popular Thursday night filler on East German television throughout the Fifties and Sixties as fans tuned in to see where their club might go next. Even if they didn't move, they often changed name. Three times champions SC Wismut Aue were obliged, for a period, to call themselves SC Wismut Karl-Marx-Stadt even though they had never been near the place. Imagine the headache of awaking to discover that without so much as setting foot in The Hawthorns your club were now called Norwich West Bromwich Albion.

And then there was the constant problem of defection. Not doing a Sol Campbell and defecting from one part of north London to another, but going the whole hog and moving from one political belief system to another entirely opposed to it. That's the kind of move designed to raise the hackles of your average fan. On top of all this there was bribery. Players intriguingly often stored their bungs in their vegetable racks, which led to much talk of carrots, lettuce and celery in dressing rooms up and down the country and also explains the origin of the term "turnip head" later to be wheeled out and used against Graham Taylor. Despite all these handicaps football was bigger in East Germany than many sports in which the country traditionally excelled (swimming and bobsleigh come to mind). There were two national football papers, Fussballwoche and Deutsches Sportecho, both, as the titles suggest, cracking reads. And when the national team played against the West in the 1974 World Cup in a match billed as an example of "the triumphal march of GDR sport and the certainty of victory in the class struggle with West German imperialism", more than 70% of the country tuned in. The match finished FRG 0 GDR 1 (Sparwasser 77) and was the undoubted high point in the 40-year life of East German football. Cannily, they knocked back imperialist requests for a rematch. Low points were much more common. 

 None lower than when, as Dynamo Dresden were celebrating yet another championship, Mielke ghosted into their dressing room like Satan with a grudge to inform them that next year BFC Dynamo would be champions. This turned out to be an inspired piece of tipping. And with the Stasi on board, motivating referees and suggesting certain players might do certain things, BFC went on to enjoy a run of success remarkably similar to that achieved by Manchester United under  Sir Alex Ferguson. All of which meant that as the curtain closed on East German league football there were not many mourning its passing. That said, in its last season in its purest form, the Oberliga proved to be a cracker, as with one game of 1989-90 remaining Dynamo Dresden found themselves level on points with FC Karl-Marx-Stadt and FC Magdeburg, with the hated BFC Dynamo not even on the podium (the collapse of the Berlin Wall, among other things, having weakened the Stasi's grip on events in the Oberliga mid-season). In a little gem of a 1-0 at Karl-Marx-Stadt (now restored to its old name, Chemnitz, in case you're looking for it on a map), the home side defeated Magdeburg. Their efforts were in vain, though, for as they were securing the victory, Dynamo, playing at home in "the Florence of the Elbe", were handing out a 3-1 drubbing to Lokomotive Leipzig to win the title on goal difference. And that, barring an unlikely communist resurgence, was pretty much that. The league struggled on as the NOFV-Oberliga for one more season before reunification took its course. Eighteen years on, there is not a single team from what was East Germany in the Bundesliga.   






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1 comment:

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