Tor! The Story of Germany Football (2002) by Uli Hesse is a very readable, enjoyable history of Germany Football. The book covers German football from its infancy as an imported game that was looked down upon to the game being the most popular sport in the country.
German football is curious compared to other major European countries because the game came late to Germany and the established sporting organisations of the time, which were into martial gymnastics, opposed it. However, the game caught on fairly quickly from 1900 to 1920 became the major sport in the country. However, many sporting clubs that played soccer played a number of other sports before taking up soccer leading to curious club names such as Munich 1860 that didn’t actually start playing soccer for 40 years.
German football did not have a united, professional league until 1963 which is far later than England (1888), Italy (1929), Spain (1929) or France (1932). Remarkably, before the appearance of a single unified professional system Germany managed to win the World Cup in 1954. However, this is slightly misleading as Germany had a system of multiple top level leagues that played each other long before the Bundesliga appeared.
The book deals with the wars, Nazi Germany and WWII is a direct, calm manner. The fact that the Nazis were not fond of football helped. However, quite a number of German coaches and players became Nazis to get on under the regime.
The rebirth of German football after the war is regarded, with justification in the book as quite a triumph culminating in the remarkable 1954 win. The period of the start of the Bundesliga and the problems stemming from salary caps and maximum transfer fees is also really interesting. It’s hard to imagine now that German football was deeply damaged by corruption early on.
The 1970s, with the rise of the two power clubs of Borrussia Moenchengladbach and Bayern Muenchen and the success of the national team in winning Euro ’72 and the World Cup in ’74 and the success of German teams in Europe is fun and interesting to read. For anyone who watches German soccer it also remarkable to see how many of the players from that era are now coaches and senior figures in the Bundesliga now.
The 1980s is regarded as a grim decade with physical soccer, heavy injuries and Bayern steam rolling others in Germany but German club teams not doing well in Europe is perhaps harsh. In this era the German National Team won Euro ’80 and reached 2 World Cup finals but was not loved in Germany. The win in 1990 is not regarded by Hesse as that great a triumph. Interestingly at the time the Bundesliga had a marked decline in spectators and looked like many other European leagues to be decaying and struggling with crowd violence and thuggish football. However, this decline would be halted by the influx of vast amounts of money as the major leagues in Europe turned to pay TV and had their incomes explode, leading to vastly higher pay for players and feeding back into improvements in the stadiums and in the presentation that have led to a resurgence in attendance in various leagues across Europe.
The book was written in 2003 but the current state of the Bundesliga is vigourous health, with huge crowds and lots of money. Bayern are the dominant club but Hesse’s beloved Dortmund will win this year. German teams have not been faring particularly well in Europe but with new finance rules that mirror Germany’s financial rules coming in it may alter that.. The German National team have been in the top 3 at the past 3 World Cup’s but have yet to win anything since 1996, one of the longest spells for them since winning their first trophy in 1954.
The book is well worth a read for anyone interested in top level soccer. There is quite a bit of history in the book, but it’s there to explain what has happened in German football during the period. The book dispels some common beliefs about German football and also shows how the game has succeeded and explains some of the reasons why it is a healthy, financially sustainable game in Germany.