Modern Football in Germany (pt. 2): Modern Football & Professionalisation

This is the second part of the series and looks at how modern football and professionalisation are linked in German football culture. There are clear similarities here, but also differences to the development in Great Britain 50 years earlier.

You can read the first part of the series here.

Modern football: football enthusiasm becomes part of German society

Many German soldiers first got to know the game of football as a military sport during the First World War; they loved and lived it. Here, in the pure war of position, the games served primarily to psychologically stabilise troop units and lift their spirits, but also found general popularity among the non-noble milieus due to its class-levelling character. This enthusiasm did not end with the end of the war – on the contrary. Some played football in clubs from then on and many more became enthusiastic spectators. By 1920, the DFB had cracked the 500,000 mark for its membership. Now football began to become a mass phenomenon in Germany as well.

At this time, in the Weimar Republic, football took on a mediating role between the German population and the Reichswehr. The boundary between civilian and military sport was blurred. The word Kampf became a key term in the 1920s: combat games, Kampfbahn, Kampfgemeinschaft, etc. Football served as a pre-military field to introduce the coming generation to the virtues of soldiers, despite the prohibition of an army. In addition, many paramilitary associations disguised themselves as sports clubs, such as the boxing and sports department of the NSDAP. However, this was renamed Sturmabteilung, SA, by Hitler relatively early on, in November 1921.

While sports like football were a good outlet after the end of the First World War to compensate for the psychological strain of the war years, they harboured a clear potential for violence in the interwar period. Many of those who had experienced the game of football during the war played such unfair football or behaved so rudely as spectators by storming the pitch and threatening violence against referees and opponents that football not only gained widespread popularity in the early 1920s, but at the same time acquired a very bad reputation. The highly respected referee Peter Joseph “Peco” Bauwens simply resigned in 1925 because of the behaviour of players and spectators at half-time of the match between 1. FC Nürnberg and MTK Budapest.

At the same time, football developed into a veritable economic commodity due to the large number of spectators. The DFB once again tried to restore this lost respect by linking it to the soldierly concept of honour – successfully. Modern football and professionalisation were far away at that time, but had long existed under the table.

The first radio broadcasts

In Germany, as in England, football was supported by journalism, the beverage and construction industries, betting shops, photography and sporting goods manufacturers. Cigar and cigarette factories as well as schnapps distilleries also profited from the sport, for it was customary in the spectator stands to fortify oneself with a drink from a hip flask or a cigar in between. New and in this case quite elementary for those interested in sport was the modern medium of radio, whose sales figures increased rapidly between 1923 and 1926. It was a win-win situation for both sport and medium: radio stimulated interest in following sport and those interested in sport bought radios. It is disputed when the first match was broadcast in Germany: Was it the match between Preußen Münster and Arminia Bielefeld on 1 November 1925 or the DFB final between SpVgg Fürth and Hertha BSC (late 1925), which was commented on by radio pioneer Bernhard Ernst? Whatever the case, the DFB initially supported the broadcasting of football matches, only to row back sharply in 1928: In order not to jeopardise viewer numbers and thus the clubs’ income, broadcasting rights were only granted for the DFB final and three international matches. These clear restrictions led to fierce protests from viewers and indeed, from 1932 onwards, more football matches were again broadcast via radio; especially those matches for which a reduction in viewer numbers was not to be feared.

The DFB was not an isolated case. England and Sweden, among others, also had the broadcasts partly banned (Sweden) or discussed a general ban (England).

Modern football: Professionalisation becomes legal (for the first time)

In the mid-1920s, the first serious attempts were made in Germany to make football a paid profession. Because of the Dawes Plan (1925) and its subsidies, many cities began to build new stadiums in order to fill the municipal coffers with the help of football enthusiasm. In order to repay the mortgages more quickly and to utilise the stadium to capacity, attractive matches had to be offered and therefore football greats had to be attracted to the city’s clubs. In addition, Germany’s participation in the Olympic Games was possible again from 1925. The ambition to nominate a particularly powerful team was therefore great. Grants paid under the table had long been the rule.

The DFB stuck to its soldierly ideal of the footballer guided by honourable merit, not financial merit. Violators were threatened with disqualification from the championship and cup competitions. At the same time, many clubs wanted to be competitive with other countries. As early as 1925, the DFB had passed an amendment to its statutes that made it very difficult for German clubs to play against foreign professional teams. (The boycott was only lifted in 1930 under pressure from FIFA).

Due to the financial losses of the Great Depression, which hit the lower middle class (white-collar workers, skilled workers) in particular, there were renewed efforts to introduce modern football and professionalisation of football from 1929 onwards. Paying footballers under the table was by now the norm, but the DFB continued to stick to its principles. What’s more, in August 1930 it banned 14 Schalke players and also several Schalke officials and imposed a hefty fine of 1000 Reichsmarks on the club. The reason: Schalke’s top players were workers in the Consolidation pit, but were only entrusted with lighter tasks and thus did not have to work underground, but received significantly more pay than their colleagues.

The punishment as a deterrent for all other clubs completely backfired for the DFB: many other successful clubs pressured the association to withdraw the punishments and threatened to leave otherwise. The West German Football Association demanded a separation into amateur football and professional football. The DFB still refused, but when in 1930 the German Professional Association was founded within the West German Football Association and a Reichsliga (founded by sports journalists) was established, it relented. Schalke was exempted from the draconian penalties. But modern football and professionalisation was not yet legalised. The clubs’ insistence remained and two years later the DFB probably feared the division of football so much that, like Alcock in England about 50 years earlier, it legalised the sport of football in order to then be able to control it better. But the Reichsliga planned for 1933 did not come to pass. The National Socialists were not directly to blame for this; professional sportsmen might even have accommodated them. No, Felix Linnemann, who had been chairman of the DFB since 1925, was entrusted with the management of the football department in the German Reichsbund für Leibesübungen in 1933 and directly reversed what he saw as the forced legalisation of professional football.

Modern football: Professionalisation football becomes legal (again)

In 1950, even before the DFB was re-founded, the delegates’ meeting of the national associations decided on a contract player statute to legalise paid football. A player who pursued another profession was nevertheless not allowed to receive more than DM 320 per month, i.e. no more than the salary of a skilled worker. The annual salary was used to calculate the transfer fee. This always included a guest match with the new club.

Modern football and professionalisation were far away again at that time.

Then, in 1954, Germany surprisingly became world champion. In the following years, however, the importance of the national team declined noticeably due to a lack of success. Many players moved to clubs abroad, where modern football and professionalisation had long been established and they received higher salaries. For example, to Italy, where Helmut Haller (1962-1968 FC Bologna, 1968-1973 Juventus Turin), Karl-Heinz Schnellinger (1963-1964 AC Mantua, 1964-1965 AS Rome, 1965-1976 AC Milan) or Horst Szymaniak (1961-1963 CC Catania, 1963-1964 Inter Milan, 1964-1965 FC Varese) played. To counteract the trend, the DFB decided at its 1962 national convention to introduce a professional players’ league, the Bundesliga. In addition to amateur players and contract players, there were now licensed players who could receive three times the salary of contract players and collect part of the transfer fee. But the regulations were still quite restrictive in the 1960s, which is why only 34 players are said to have played football as a full-time profession in the first Bundesliga season. They needed a good reputation, but were not allowed to lend their name for advertising purposes and thus receive further wages, and the total remuneration from wages, hand money, bonuses and transfer fees was not allowed to exceed 1200 DM per month.

For the DFB, the introduction of the Bundesliga was worthwhile: the national team was successful again and since many households already had a television in the 1960s, the DFB was able to finance itself through television broadcasting fees, advertising revenue and sponsorship money.

For contract and also licence players, playing football within the limits set by the DFB was not profitable and so it is not surprising that in the 1970/71 season there was such a big bribery scandal and the DFB was once again forced to rethink. In 1972, the market was opened up – since then, the incomes of professional footballers have been rising continuously. The liberalisation of the electronic media and the Bosman ruling of December 1995 have further strengthened this effect.

Conclusion: Modern football through eventisation and tactics

But when did modern football actually enter Germany? Depending on how you look at it, there are three possibilities:

  1. if you link modern football to general national enthusiasm, it was the First World War.
  2. if modern football and professionalisation are associated – and its consequences, it was the 1960s and 1970s, since the first legalisation in 1932 lasted only a few months.

If, on the other hand, the term “modern football” is taken as a starting point, the beginning is in the 1980s. Until 1976, this term did not even exist in German-language literature. Since then, there was a brief minor peak from 1987 to 1988, which was reached again from 2002 and surpassed at least until 2008.

Was the first accumulation of the term at the end of the 1980s due to coach Arrigo Sacchi’s move to AC Milan and the idea of play he established there? Was this event actually so appreciated in German-language literature? Or did it have another cause? Unfortunately, I don’t have an answer to that.

More on the modern football here:

The European Super League: History does not repeat itself, it rhymes