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Culture

German Bundesliga Celebrates 40th Anniversary

The German Bundesliga will celebrate its 40th anniversary this year when the new soccer season kicks off on August 1. Deutsche Welle looks back at the up and downs of Germany’s professional league.

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Dortmund's Timo Konietzka scores the first ever Bundesliga goal in 1963

Forty years and 38,058 goals ago, the German Professional Football Association (DFB) re-launched its top flight national league as the Bundesliga. As the 18 teams of the modern era prepare once more to do battle over the championship trophy, this year’s anniversary provides an opportunity to look back over four decades of soccer excitement.

Despite having a national league before the devastation of World War II, Germany only really got going in the professional stakes with the birth of the Bundesliga in 1963. In an example of how circular the game can be, the first winners of the league were 1.F.C. Köln, this season’s newly promoted second division champions who return to the top flight for the anniversary of both the league’s launch and their first championship.

Humble beginnings

In its early days, the Bundesliga was almost unrecognizable from the mammoth business-orientated operation it is today. As elsewhere, there were very few foreign stars, no one had even heard of outside promotional activities and there was considerably less money floating around in the game.

Even though the Bundesliga is currently suffering a financial crisis due to the collapse of the Kirch Media empire, which sunk in bankruptcy, taking millions of Euros with it in promised television revenue, the league is positively swimming in cash in comparison to its position in the late 1960’s.

Taking inflation into consideration, clubs at the time were loath to spend more than a few thousand German marks on individual players. Eyebrows were raised when Karlsruhe paid 100,000 marks for Günther Hermann in the 1966/67 season and jaws positively dropped when they repeated the fiscal feat by spending the same amount of money on Hans Georg Lambert. In the context of today’s game, these transfer fees spent to secure a quality player for a number of seasons would now pay for the skilful services of David Beckham for about three days.

Bayern launch era of dominance

As the Bundesliga’s first decade came to a close, Bayern Munich’s ascent to the top of the German game began. Their first Bundesliga title was secured in 1969, some 37 years after they first won the German league in its pre-war form. In its 40 year modern history, the Bundesliga trophy has had the name of the Bavarian giants etched on its silverware a further 17 times since that occasion.

The 1970’s saw Bayern set new heights in the Bundesliga under the watchful eye of legendary coach Udo Lattek. Throughout the decade of terrible perms, long locks and bushy beards, Bayern won three titles back to back, beginning in 1972, three European Cups – following each of those championship wins - one German League Cup and one World Club Championship trophy. The decade also introduced truly world class stars ‘Der Bomber’ and ‘Der Kaiser’ to the world.

Fußball Gerd Müller 1:0 gegen Peru Bundesligageschichte

Der Bomber strikes.

As well as being known as the ‘Der Bomber’ due to his devastating effect on opposition defenses, Gerd Müller was also called ‘Little Fat’ Müller during his Bayern days. Despite being diminutive in stature, Müller broke record after record during his career, helping Bayern to a yet unbeaten tally of 101 goals for and 38 against in the 1971/72 season, scoring 40 of his teams total himself. He would eventually end his playing days as the Bundesliga’s all time top scorer with 365 goals to his name.

Enter 'Der Kaiser'

The great Bayern team of the 1970’s also sported a young defensive midfielder by the name of Franz Beckenbauer. As well as helping himself to all manner of domestic trophies alongside his Munich team-mates, ‘Der Kaiser’ went on to be crowned European Footballer of the Year twice in 1972 and 1976 and become the youngest captain to hold aloft the World Cup in 1974.

The Bundesliga entered its third decade ailing from a disease that would affect much of European football throughout the 1980’s and, sadly, beyond. German soccer hooligans and right-wing groups leeching off authentic fan bases regularly caused extensive trouble at Bundesliga games and bitter rivalries such as that between neighbors Borussia Dortmund and Schalke 04 often degenerated into violence. It was a decade that saw drastic steps taken throughout the Bundesliga to stamp out racist and nationalist elements accused of stirring up trouble. With concerted efforts made by the clubs, the 1990’s provided an almost clean book for the Bundesliga – that would eventually help make it the moneymaker it is today.

An attractive league

With many of the negatives cleaned away from the German game, new interest in the Bundesliga came with the introduction of top foreign stars which made for a more attractive, skilful and profitable game. While the national team were cleaning up on the world stage, domestic German football was back on the map with 1996 Bundesliga champions Dortmund beating Juventus Turin to win the European Cup in 1997.

The turn of the century brought some of the most exciting finishes to the Bundesliga in recent years with the 2000/01 two-horse title race between Bayern Munich and Schalke 04 being decided by a Patrick Andersson 93rd minute free kick for the Bavarian’s.

Meisterfeier in Dortmund

Borussia Dortmund celebrate their 2001/02 championship win.

The following year also went to the very last day of the season with Bayern, Dortmund and Bayer Leverkusen all potential champions when the whistle blew for kick-off. The top spot changed hands throughout the game as the goals flowed, but in the end Dortmund’s last gasp 2-1 victory over Werder Bremen gave them their third Bundesliga title.

Many experts, including 14 of the 18 Bundesliga coaches, believe Bayern Munich will repeat last year’s stroll to a record extending 19th title in this anniversary year. The champions kick-off the latest campaign against Eintracht Frankfurt on Friday night, hoping that it will once again be their year.

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