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Miracle of Berne Stars Face Doping Allegations

DW Staff (nda)April 1, 2004

The legend of West Germany's remarkable World Cup triumph in 1954 has been tarnished by a television documentary containing allegations that the winning squad took performance-enhancing drugs before the final.

High on victory or just high? The victorious West German side of 1954 are accused of cheating.Image: AP

The 1954 World Cup win is one of Germany's most proud sporting moments and was the inspiration behind one of the country's most successful modern films, "The Miracle of Berne," which refers to the Swiss city where the final was held.

But now a documentary made by Germany's ARD public television network about the glorious postwar sporting miracle has claimed that the World Cup winners were given performance-enhancing injections before taking to the pitch to beat a highly favored Hungarian team 3-2. The report contained an interview with the former groundsman of the Swiss stadium where the final was played.

Walter Brönnimann claimed that after the game he discovered several syringes in the German dressing room along with used vials in the drains but was sworn to secrecy by the company he worked for.

The revelations add fuel to a fire that has simmered for 50 years. Rumors that the West German players might have taken drugs have dogged the World Cup winners ever since the final whistle was blown on their remarkable comeback from two goals down. Theories including the use of illegal supplements have circulated as justification for the Germans amazing turn of form after the same Hungarian side thrashed them 8-3 in the first stage of the tournament.

Deutschland Geschichte Kultur Fußball WM 1954 Fritz Walter
World Cup winning captain Fritz Walter.Image: AP

The shock victory over Hungary in the final came less than a decade after World War II and gave the ravaged nation a huge boost as it emerged from its postwar trauma and helped trigger the ensuing "Economic Miracle." As a result, Germans have been loath to cast any aspersions on the conduct of their first World Champions.

The German Football Association (DFB) has denied the reports that players had used performance-enhancing stimulants but the organization has acknowledged they received glucose and vitamin C treatments.

Doctor admits vitamin C shots

Franz Loogen, the doctor of the World Cup-winning side, admitted injecting the players but reiterated the DFB line that the injections were only vitamin C shots. "I injected the players with vitamin C to improve their stamina, he told Germany's Bild tabloid on Wednesday. He added: "You can't measure the effect, but the players believed in it." Loogen said he once told the players that laboratory rats that had been given the injections had been able to swim for three hours longer.

Fussball-Nationalspieler Helmut Rahn Bundesligageschichte Das Wunder von Bern
Helmut Rahn.Image: AP

However, the ARD reported that in the days after the final several players, including Helmut Rahn (photo), who scored the 85th-minute winning goal, got jaundice. Several other members of the winning team later fell ill before the end of the following season.

Loogen admitted in the newspaper interview that players who got sick may have caught viruses because the needles used to inject them had not been sterilised properly. The former team doctor said he had used an old Soviet "cooker" to heat the syringes and said it might not have reached the correct temperature to kill germs.

Surviving stars deny doping

Horst Eckel, now 72 and one of only three surviving players from the squad, confirmed that he had received injections but denied the accusations that the team were drug cheats. "I'm furious that after 50 years this can be suggested," he told Bild. "We didn't know the word doping."

Eckel also admitted that he had received one glucose injection during the tournament but it was not before the final against Hungary. "It was only once. I swear that we didn't get anything before the final match. Just once we got glucose injections -- I can't remember which match it was any more."

Another player, Hans Schäfer, 74, added: "The doctor did give us preparations to keep us fresh. But we didn't take drugs."

Eckel blamed the media for trying to spoil the legacy of the 1954 World Cup winners. "These people are trying to foul the nest and ruin everything 50 years after the fact. I've talked with doctors who laughed about this. Doping with vitamin C? That's impossible. I don't understand the world any more. It's insulting."

Asked about the groundsman's revelations about used syringes and vials in the West German dressing room after the final, Eckel said: "I can't explain that."