What do you mean by a great footballer?

Bundesliga: Society's playing field

Dietrich Schulze-Marmeling

Dietrich Schulze-Marmeling

Dietrich Schulze-Marmeling has been one of the most renowned German book authors in matters of football history for years. At Die Werkstatt he published books on the soccer world championship and on the clubs Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund. His book "FC Bayern and its Jews. The rise and destruction of a liberal football culture" was named "Football Book of the Year" by the German Academy for Football Culture in 2011. With "Barca or the art of the beautiful game" and "The king and his game. Johan Cruyff and world football" he took third place in 2010 and 2012 respectively.

History of the Bundesliga

Why did Germany take a different approach to professionalizing football? Which clubs were competing for the top alongside FC Bayern? How did Italy's radiance change German football and how did football become what it is today?

Dortmund's Lothar Emmerich (front) celebrates the first goal in Bundesliga history. Timo Konietzka (back) shot it after only 58 seconds in the game Werder Bremen against Borussia Dortmund in Bremen's Weserstadion. (& copy picture-alliance / dpa)

On July 28, 1962 at 5.45 p.m. the time had finally come: In the gold hall of Dortmund's Westfalenhalle, the delegates of the extraordinary DFB Bundestag vote with a clear majority for the introduction of a "central division with licensed players under the leadership of the DFB", known as the "Bundesliga". In the "Hammelsprung" [1], 103 delegates voted with "Yes", 26 with "No".

Germany was a latecomer. The DFB leadership had resisted a national league for decades, also because this could not be achieved without legalizing professional football. The national league and professional football were two sides of the same coin. In addition, a national league means a shift in strength in favor of the big clubs.


After the First World War, soccer had developed into a lucrative spectator sport in Germany. Between 1920 and 1933, an average of 43,787 spectators flocked to the finals for the German Championship, ten times more than before the war. When the national team appeared, an average of 36,533 spectators were welcomed - compared to 9,635 spectators in the years 1908 to 1914 [2]. As the number of spectators grew, so did the income of the clubs and associations. But the players were not allowed to participate. The DFB forbade them to capitalize on their skills. In 1920 the DFB issued an amateur statute.

Source text

Amateur statute of the DFB

We fight professional gambling for ethical reasons. (...) It would be an outrage on our German youth if we wanted to encourage professional gamblers in Germany even in the slightest.

Source: Amateur statute of the DFB 1920, quoted from Greens 2007



Violations were now pursued with the utmost severity. The later national coach Sepp Herberger was one of the first victims of the hunt for professionals. At the end of 1921, the Mannheim Herberger had switched from the "workers' association" SV Waldhof to Phoenix 07 Mannheim and had collected 10,000 marks in the process. However, his new club did not keep the promise of coaching training. The patron Max Rath succeeded in luring the young national player to the "bourgeois" VfR Mannheim. The angry Phoenix officials now filed a voluntary report with the association about the forbidden payment of money. Although Herberger returned the 10,000 marks, the DFB declared him a professional player and imposed a lifelong ban. On March 26, 1922, the harsh sentence was reduced to one year in an appeal hearing.

The Weimar years and the struggle of "degeneration"

For the entire Weimar years (1918 to 1933), a dispute raged in German football between tough advocates of a purely amateur sport and proponents of professional football or at least a more liberal interpretation of the harsh amateur regulations. The development to professional sport could not really be prevented. As interest grew, so did expectations. In order to satisfy this, more and better training had to be carried out, but this was not possible with full employment and without the guidance of professional football coaches. Loss of wages had to be compensated for, and a number of kickers only had a "sham job".

In order to strengthen their own team against the competition, other clubs looked for good players. These were lured with generous hand money, the placement of attractive jobs or business takeovers, the provision of apartments and their furnishings as well as accrual and victory bonuses. The culture pessimists at the top of the DFB viewed this development with horror. They could neither get used to the idea of ​​sport as entertainment nor to competition, which they criticized and defamed in the same way as the conservative gymnasts.

The undated photo shows a goalkeeper in action during a football game in the 1920s. (& copy picture alliance / Ullstein picture)

The DFB sees the professionalization as a sign of the national downfall

For Felix Linnemann, President of the DFB since 1925, professionalism was "an unmistakable sign of the decline of a people", which is why symptoms that indicated a "transition process (...) to professional sport" were "with all their might (.. .) fight "are [3]. The group around DFB chairman Linnemann faced a number of clubs who were of the opinion that further quality improvement required the legalization of professional football. These clubs recognized and accepted that football was not only for physical exercise, but also - as the huge crowds proved - for entertainment. And that he also got his fascination from the competition.

Ambitious clubs - such as FC Bayern Munich and 1. FC Nürnberg in southern Germany - were entirely geared towards sporting competition and found the ideological and political instrumentalisation of football to be a hindrance to their own development. When FC Bayern won the South German championship in the 1925/26 season, its players were at least "half professionals". A regular player could earn up to 150 marks a month. In the mid-1920s, a worker in Munich earned around 200 marks a month. With the help of football, this could almost be doubled.

In February 1925 the board of directors of the DFB decided at a meeting in Hanover to reject professional sport "for all future" and severely restricted the traffic with foreign professional teams in order to "give visible expression to the fight to keep German football clean. (.. .) The DFB is and will remain a pure amateur association "[4]. Foreign players who wanted to play in Germany now had to serve a one-year sentence "to keep out unwanted elements" [5]. At the beginning of the 1920s, some Hungarians had enriched German football, including the "football god" Alfred Schaffer, who was hired by 1. FC Nürnberg and was well paid for his services.

The "Hanoverian Resolutions" weaken the national team

The result of the so-called "Hanoverian Resolutions" was a ten-month international break and a weakening of the national team, the favorite child of the DFB and its regional associations. Guido von Mengden, functionary of the West German Gaming Association (WSV), where the toughest advocates of amateur sport sat, didn't care.


Guido von Mengden, official of the West German Gaming Association (WSV)

Better, ten million Germans are real sports people and our national team loses to half the world, than ten million just watch as the German professional over-upper class beat up the whole world.

Quoted from Heinrich 2000, p. 89



Bayern Munich versus DFB

The big clubs were against the "Hanoverian decisions" by storm, especially in southern Germany, where they often and gladly measured themselves against the professional clubs from Vienna, Budapest and Prague - also in terms of improving the quality of their own football. The poor performance of the German national team at the Olympic soccer tournament in 1928 proved Bavaria's President Kurt Landauer right.


Kurt Landauer, 1927

That is what German football lacks most of all, the competition from abroad! These games would give us new ideas, and players of all levels could learn from them. But as it is, we are practicing the worst inbreeding that must become perishable. We completely lack the international standard, we believe we are strong enough to successfully take up the fight with the elite teams of all nations.

We believe it, we cannot provide the proof because we do not have the opportunity to do so. So finally away with the nonsensical ban on gambling.

Source: Club Nachrichten des FC Bayern e.V. Munich, No. 3, March 1927



The FC Bayern Munich team in 1928 (& copy picture-alliance / dpa)


Kurt Landauer, 1929

Who gives the German Football Association the right not to approve games with professionalism teams at all? We South Germans have just had the closest sporting ties to our eastern neighbors,
(...) these games have always been among the most beautiful and instructive. (...) The players from Budapest, Prague and Vienna have remained exactly the decent athletes they always were. Competing with them is a vital necessity for German football. It has been proven that German, especially southern German football has stagnated in recent years.

Source: Club Nachrichten des FC Bayern München e.V., No. 10, October 1939



In August 1930, 14 players from FC Schalke 04, including Fritz Szepan and Ernst Kuzorra, were declared professional players by the WSV and were therefore banned from playing for the DFB. Schalke responded by reporting a number of competitors for their part for professional play, including FC Bayern Munich. This counter-action and a wave of solidarity with the Schalke team led to the fact that the bans were gradually lifted until the "Knappen" were able to play again in a game against Fortuna Düsseldorf on June 1, 1931 - celebrated by 70,000 in the officially only 40,000 Spectators seated Gelsenkirchener Glückauf-Kampfbahn [6].

The debate about professional playing divides German football

Towards the end of the Weimar Republic, German football was on the verge of a split. In September 1930, the DFB Bundestag, which met in Dresden, again rejected the introduction of professional gaming. In November 1930 representatives of the large clubs met in Eisenach and agreed on a plan for an independent "Professionalism Reichsliga".

The threat had an effect: In October 1932, the DFB Bundestag in Wiesbaden gave the green light for the legalization of professional football. A final decision was to be made at the following association meeting in May 1933. Independently of this, on November 19, 1932, Albert Bauer, an official at Wacker Munich and a staunch supporter of professional football, founded a South German association for professional football games. Bauer sought permission to host professional games in urban stadiums. The DFB threatened the cities that they would no longer be taken into account when awarding international matches if they allowed Bauer's kicker to play in their arenas. But the threat fizzled out. The German Association of Cities recommended that municipalities open their public facilities to professionals. In Munich, the city office for physical exercise declared that it would ignore the demands of the DFB in the future [7].

On January 30, 1933, Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of the Reich. In the following months, German sport was "reorganized", and DFB boss Felix Linnemann used the "leader principle" to turn back the wheel of history [8]. In September 1933 the DFB issued new amateur regulations, which de facto meant a return to the statute of 1920. German football persisted on a special route, which it later exported to the areas occupied and annexed during World War II [9].

Introduction of the Gauliga

1935: Hertha BSC is Gaumeister (& copy picture-alliance / dpa)

After the National Socialists came to power, the Gauligen [10] were introduced. This brought about a certain concentration of performance [11], albeit below a level that would have required the legalization of professional football. At the same time, a broad, centrally controlled training system was set up. A rapidly growing coaching staff in the Reich and in the districts was entrusted with the task of transforming amateurs into world-class players. The aim of these efforts was to build a strong national team - but without professionalising club football. This policy manifested itself, among other things, in the drastic increase in international matches, from 4.8 per year in the period from 1920 to 1932 to 10.6 in the years 1933 to 1942 [12].

The German special path - national players remain "state amateurs"

As for the national team, the DFB didn't take it that tight with its amateur regulations. The national players were to a certain extent "state amateurs". Before the 1934 World Cup, Reichstrainer Dr. Otto Nerz generous exemptions from their employers, the issue of wage replacement did not cause any problems. The DFB team came third in Italy after defeating Austria's professionals 3-2 in the "small final". At home they celebrated themselves as the "amateur world champion" [13]. Viewed over the entire stretch of twelve years of dictatorship, however, the "German Sonderweg" hardly led to success. At the 1936 Olympic football tournament, where officially only amateurs competed, the self-proclaimed "amateur world champion" Germany retired prematurely after a 0-2 defeat against the "underdog" Norway. At the 1938 World Cup, a team made up of Germans and Austrians failed against their first opponent, Switzerland.

Hitler salute by the German national soccer team on November 16, 1941 in the stadium in Dresden. The game against Denmark ends in a 1-1 draw. (& copy picture-alliance)

From amateur to contract player

The process of modernization and liberalization, the connection to the general developments in European and global football, did not continue until after the Second World War. However, the way to modernity was initially at a snail's pace. It is true that a league was founded in southern Germany in September 1945, which meant a further concentration of performance and could not function without a certain degree of professionalism. Which is why the 16 clubs present unanimously decided to drop the amateur point of view.

In the south, a professional football conference in 1947 introduced the "contract player"

For Gustav Sackmann, one of the co-founders, the league did not go far enough. As in the years of the Weimar Republic, consideration was also given to professional leagues that were independent of the association. In some places "football entrepreneurs" founded their own professional clubs. For example in Kassel, where the traditional club Hessen Kassel kicked out three players who had joined the professional club Rapid Kassel [14]. Sackmann and Albert Bauer, who wanted to found a professional league in the early 1930s (see above), planned to start a professional league on September 1, 1948. The basic salary of the players should be 200 D-Marks gross. Allegedly they had already won 40 clubs and 500 players and had working capital of 25,000 D-Marks [15]. In the end, however, the more moderate representatives of southern German football prevailed. In December 1947, a "first German professional football conference" took place in the south, convened by those responsible for the Oberliga Süd. On August 1, 1948, southern Germany's upper division clubs decided to introduce the "contract player" with the 1948/49 season [16]. Switzerland's contract player statute served as a model.

The west and north of Germany set up major leagues and legalize contract players

Soon the other regions of what would later become the Federal Republic of Germany copied the southern Germans. With the 1947/48 season, top leagues were also played in western and northern Germany - and in July 1949 the contract player was also legalized here. Berlin followed with the 1950/51 season. The contract player was initially only a compromise between two epochs or a modification of the "German special route". He was no longer a flawless amateur, but neither was he a real professional. Thus it said in paragraph 3, paragraph 1 of the contract player statute restrictive: "The player has to exercise a profession." The monthly salaries were initially not allowed to exceed 160 D-Mark, later 320 and 400 D-Mark (1958) - which, however, was often not adhered to. The footballers weren't professionals yet, but they did enjoy certain privileges, including trips abroad.