The development of the DFB, from its humble beginnings to becoming one of the biggest professional associations in world sport, almost quintessentially reflects football’s triumphal march across all the continents on our planet. The DFB’s history shows the meteoric rise of football to becoming a nation’s most popular sport, a process in which the DFB not only became a sporting powerhouse, but also an authority of high importance from a socio-political point of view.
Professor Konrad Koch was a great pioneer for the sport which originated in England. There was no way to predict what football would turn into when he put the “Rules of Football” down on paper in 1874. Football in Germany did not have an easy start, branded as an “English disease” or similarly disturbing labels by the society. Gym teacher Karl Planck for example wrote in 1898 that the movement required in football made humans adopt a striking resemblance to monkeys.
Fortunately, there were other opinions as well. Football enthusiasts in the German Empire were unstoppable. Soon there were clubs and championships and even unofficial “Great-National games” against France and England. The game was still a mix of rugby and football but making it very popular with the youth at the time.
Berlin was the capital of the football movement and in 1890, it hosted the foundation of the German Footballers’ Union, which still lacked acceptance across regional borders. The desire for a central association, bound with a structured match plan and mandatory rules and norms (for example such as the fact that goals should have actual crossbars and not, as was the case in the beginning, ropes as the top boundary) eventually led to the creation of the DFB.
During an event for the “General German Sportfest” held in Leipzig in July 1899, a preliminary discussion for the creation of the Germany’s Football Association took place. The “Leipzig Ball Sports Clubs Association” was delegated to plan the foundation assembly. The first meeting offered no results, however, but on January 28th 1900, the time had come: 62-22 was the final vote count in Leipzig’s “Mariengarten” and the decision to create the German Football Association (DFB) with Prof. Dr. Ferdinand Hueppe as its first chairman had been made.
The foundation for football’s rapid rise to vast popularity amongst the German people and the DFB’s progress towards becoming a sporting authority of high importance on a socio-political level was laid. Milestones in these developments were the introduction of the German championship in 1903, the formation of the national team, who began playing their games in 1908 and the outlining of national and regional associations, as well as the implementation of the DFB general assemblies. At first, these were held annually, then every two years after the war, before deciding in 1983 to hold these meetings every three years.
Football had become an everyday subject in society by the 1920s and the country’s most popular sport. Stadiums were built everywhere in order to accommodate for the growing interest. Kicking the ball around had become the most favoured activity on a Sunday and the sceptics were already on the retreat.
The national socialists incorporated the DFB into the “Special Department of Football” in 1933. The game remained the same and the enthusiasm grew constantly. When Germany hosted England or world champions Italy in the 30s in Berlin’s Olympiastadion, more than 100,000 supporters came to watch. The same applied for the final games of the German championship, which were held at the same venue. Germany’s national team took part in the 1934 and 1938 World Cups, after they had abstained from the competition in 1930.
When the war had practically brought everyday life to a halt by May 1945 and the population in Germany were worried about acquiring food and shelter, football became a medicine for the pain they were suffering on a daily basis. Bayern München were back to playing football just six weeks after the war and the US military authorities promptly arrested the club’s president, as the game had not been officially approved.
However, on the whole, football had become an unstoppable activity. On November 4th 1945, northern and southern leagues enjoyed their first matchdays. Club football was back in action and, when the DFB was re-established on July 1st 1949 with a ceremony in Stuttgart’s opera house, and when the FIFA executive committee granted the DFB re-entry into the world’s football organisation on September 22nd 1950, the national team games were also back on the schedule.
The 1-0 victory against Switzerland on November 22nd 1950 in Stuttgart had an unbelievable meaning for the contemporaries. The Neckarstadion was unable to hold the vast crowd of visitors which was estimated at more than 100,000. They slid down muddy hills wearing their Sunday finest in order to witness only a friendly match, just to be part of the occasion when the world wanted to play with Germany again.
We now know what has come of it all: Four World Cups and three European Championships, as well as many triumphs in Europe’s club competitions. Football also helped Germany strengthen from within, thanks to its organisation. Not every team could win the championship, but every team could win the cup, at least in theory. Introduced in 1935, the DFB-Pokal competition has prompted surprising victories and sensational upsets right from its inception. It’s a fascinating competition, especially in games that resemble a David vs. Goliath scenario.
Germany’s U19 championship was introduced in 1969 and since then has become a form of Bundesliga itself. Women’s football has had its own German championship since 1973 and the country has had great success in that department too, winning two World Cups and eight European Championships.
There was an even greater and more historic event in 1990. On November 21st in Leipzig, as part of Germany’s reunification, the north-eastern German Football Association became a new regional association and joined the DFB. East Germany’s Football Association (DFV) had been disbanded a day earlier.
The DFV remains a part of German football history. It lasted for 38 years and began with its admission into FIFA in 1952. The same year, the DFV witnessed their first national game from 293 matches in total: On September 21st 1952, East Germany lost 3-0 to Poland in Warsaw. East Germany only participated in a World Cup once, but it was there that they managed their most impressive victory. On June 22nd 1974, they recorded a 1-0 victory against eventual title-winners West Germany in Hamburg in the final match of the group stages. Jürgen Sparwasser made football history by scoring the winner.
DFV’s gold medal at the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal thanks to a 3-1 final victory against Poland also remains unforgotten. 1. FC Magdeburg’s victory in the 1974 Cup Winners’ Cup was East Germany’s greatest success at club level (see also “East German Football” and “Olympic Games”).
The reason that football had been more successful in the west is closely linked to the introduction of the Bundesliga in 1963, which allowed professionalism to manifest itself in German football. The idea for a national league had been an old concept, controversially discussed since 1908. Its rejection in various general assemblies did not make the thought disappear, however, especially since several of Germany’s neighbouring countries had already introduced such a competition.
Underhand sales continued in German football and slush funds were quite common. This led, for example, to Schalke 04 being expelled from Germany’s Western Football Association for one season in 1930. Slush funds were also proving a problem in the lower leagues, which led to the introduction of a maximum wage in 1950.
The inaugural Bundesliga matchday on August 24th 1963 opened the door for professionalism in football Germany and maximum wages would soon disappear. Today, the principles of a free market economy apply and not just the footballers themselves earn good money in a sport that was at first ridiculed. The vibrant feedback from the stadiums and the social importance of football proves that the pioneers of the sport were on the right path.