Five myths of German football history: What’s true, what’s fiction?

The ball is round. A game lasts 90 minutes. Whoever scores more goals wins. And in the end it’s always the Germans. That’s logical, isn’t it?
No, not everything is always as clear as it is told. Because facts and fiction often mix in football history.

Numerous legends have been created, but a lot of knowledge about the early decades has also been lost. This is where it is important to shed light on the darkness. Here are five myths of football history.

Number 1: Konrad Koch brought the game of football to Germany: false

German football history is always said to have begun with Konrad Koch in Braunschweig. Yet this is merely a myth. A myth that has spread all too easily. Not least through a cinema film about Konrad Koch with Daniel Brühlor through a TV documentary broadcast only a few years ago.

The rules Koch used to teach his pupils at the Martino-Katharineum in Braunschweig have even been preserved. If you look at the little booklet, it is clear from the drawing of the pitch that this is not football, but very similar to rugby.

Correct would be: Englishmen brought the game of football to Germany. Or: Konrad Koch brought rugby to Germany.

How did the myth come about?

Until the 1880s, “football” was a collective term for different types of games, including rugby and football/association football (“football”), because there was not yet such a clear distinction. All types of game were called football, including the rugby-like game that Konrad Koch brought to Germany. In the FA Rules, there was previously the fair catch or sometimes the touchdown to decide drawn games.

Incidentally, the first documented football match (= without permitted handball) took place in Lüneburg in September 1875. It was brought over by English traders and holidaymakers who played football with each other in parks and attracted interest. That’s how football really came to Germany.

Number 2: In the first German rules (“Jena Rules”, 1896) it says: “The pitch must be free of trees and bushes”: wrong

And wrong three times: The Jena Rules were published as early as 1893 and are not the first German rules. The oldest known German football rules to date are the 1890 rules of the Bundes deutscher Fußball-Spieler, an association of Berlin football clubs with a national orientation. Moreover, the Jena rules did not apply to the whole of Germany (and were not intended to do so), but only to the Jena football club.

The biggest misunderstanding, however, is that the rules state that the pitch should be free of trees and shrubs, because a reading error happened here: the shrubs are actually stones. Granted, shrubs are also obstructive on a football pitch, but they are usually quite bendable and don’t cause too much of a change in direction as stones do.

Correct would be: The first rules of the Jena football club (“Jenaer Regeln, 1893) state: “The pitch must be free of trees and stones”.

How did this myth come about?

There is simply a reading error here, because the Jena rules were written in the old German script. There may have been some confusion about the year. In short, someone has unknowingly passed on something wrong here and it is copied without further examination.

Number 3: In 2020 we celebrated 50 years of women’s football in Germany: false

Women’s football was already played in Germany before 1970, and so successfully that many other national and international federations, faced with the threat of losing power, knew no other way to help themselves than to allow women’s football. They hoped that they would be better able to keep it down if they were part of the federation.

Correct would be: To say that women’s football has existed in Germany for 100 years. And: After the 1954 World Cup, so many women wanted to play football that the DFB forbade them to play on its members’ pitches.

How did the myth come about?

I already took an in-depth look at the history of women’s football in Germany here.

And it is important to mention that the ban by no means applied to the whole of Germany, but only to the members of the DFB, i.e. only in the Federal Republic of Germany. In the GDR, women’s football was never banned, but it was not really promoted either.

Number 4: The protective hand (“Schutzhand”) is not a punishable handball: wrong

Even in the referee journals of 1929 and 1930 this is pointed out, although the term “protective hand” had not yet become established. Here, “reflex actions” or “reflex movements” were still used: Whoever holds the hand or hands so protectively in front of the face risks a deliberate hand action, because one could also have turned away or ducked.

Correct would be: There is no protective hand in the rules. It does not exist and did not exist.

How did the myth come about?

The term “Schutzhand” was used for the first time in the DFB referee newspaper in 1931, although the national team coach and author of the article at the time, Otto Nerz, only quotes this term and obviously did not know it beforehand.

He describes a case in which a German referee named Weingärtner decided on a protective hand in an international match between Sweden and Norway and explained afterwards in an interview that this was common practice in Germany (spoiler: it wasn’t.).

Nerz clarified that the term ‘protective hand’ did not exist in the rules. However, he then stated, contradicting reports in the referee newspapers of 1929 and 1930, that the referee could decide on a protective hand if he was 100 per cent sure that there was no intention. And in this way he manifested – perhaps more prominently than Weingärtner’s interview in the Swedish Idrottsbladet – the myth that an unintentional raising of the hands in front of the face should not be judged as intentional handball, but as a protective hand.

Number 5: The yellow and red card were introduced at the 1970 World Cup: wrong

Warnings and sending-offs were given verbally. This was not always easy in international matches due to language barriers. After an incident at the 1966 World Cup, the English referee Ken Aston came up with the idea of introducing specific signals for cautions and sending-offs: a yellow and a red card. According to him, he had the idea at a traffic light.
Fifa was quickly enthusiastic and so Aston’s idea was not only tested at the 1970 World Cup in Mexico, but also at the 1968 Olympic Football Tournament (also in Mexico) and subsequently approved as a recommendation.

Correct would be: The yellow and red cards were introduced for the 1970/71 season. Before that, they had been tested at the 1968 Olympic Football Tournament and at the 1970 World Cup.

How did the myth come about?

Obviously a misunderstanding, because cards were already shown at the 1970 World Cup.

N.B. – This article first appeared on WebDE in German as a FRÜF column on 28 June 2022.