Erwin Kostedde was the first black footballer to appear for the Germany national team. Luckily origin and skin colour are of no importance today. It was a lot different back then though. Kostedde, who resides as a pensioner in Münsterland, often had it tough during his career.
However long ago it all was, the look at the table shows the days during which the stories began. He led Kickers Offenbach to the top of the Bundesliga table shortly before Christmas in 1974, after they were previously deducted points. Neither Offenbacher Kickers nor points deductions play a roll in the Bundesliga table these days and it’s completely normal fortunately, when a black player pulls on the Germany shirt. Jérôme Boateng became the first to win the World Cup with Germany in July – a Berlin-born man with Ghanaian roots.
A certain Erwin Kostedde became the first black player for the Germany national team on 22nd December 1974. He plied his trade for Offenbacher Kickers back then and no less than Franz Beckenbauer stated that he could potentially fill the void that Gerd Müller had left after retiring following the World Cup Final. The Bild newspaper read “Fantastic! Germany’s black gem in the national side,” when Kostedde received his first call-up for the European championship qualifier against Malta.
Erwin Kostedde was already 28 back then, his career had taken a few bumps and was full of plenty of highs and lows before he achieved his dream: “It was my boyhood dream and I wanted to prove it to myself without fail,” he said 40 years later. It was no ordinary debut, quite the opposite in fact. A 28-year-old, who played for Kickers Offenbach – and above all, a black player. The magazine Kicker wrote: “For the first time in Germany’s history, a coloured player will wear the DFB kit; an actionn that would no longer be an implicitness if you knew how tough Kostedde had it on his way to the top, not most recently due to his skin colour.”
It happened before in shops, that he was unattended to, and also with the thing that he loved the most and held the key to a happy life, it happened the most: In football. “These days every team has five or six foreign players. I was the only one who stood out though,” he said. He had to endure defamatory fan chants on occasions. But he repaid it all with the hardest currency in football – goals. After he was crowned Belgian top scorer with Standard Liege in 1971, he moved to Offenbach in Germany, where he had already played professional football for Preußen Münster and MSV Duisburg. He bagged 80 goals in four years and also netted the 1974 goal of the year against Borussia Mönchengladbach. He controlled the ball at full speed with his chest on the edge of the box and thundered a volley off of the underside of the bar – a mesmerising goal, one which midfielders score. But only the good ones.
When then DFB head coach Helmut Schön was no longer there for him, Kostedde emphasised “that Franz had really done a lot for me.” He completely stood at the forefront with the papers reporting on the “modern Christmas march”. There was a small, or better, fat problem with the attire prior to the flight. No suit trousers that the DFB team had would fit Kostedde’s rather thick thighs – to begin with. Therefore Beckenbauer said that “Erwin was the next Gerd Müller.” Kostedde says today: “I would have played a lot more than three internationals had Gerd Müller not been around then.”
Then came the seldom game on a hard pitch against an amateur Maltese side, who earned 2,500 DM in a year but still ran for their lives. World Champions Germany fielded five debutants and narrowly won 1-0 through a goal from Bernd Cullmann. Kostedde was left empty handed, as he was in both of the following games, but was still given a run out at Wembley in 1975 – and his last against Greece in October of the same year. He sums up his career like this: “I’m very disappointed in myself that I played so little and didn’t score for Germany. It’s only down to me as I’m honest. I was just extremely under motivated.
But he still wrote history and opened the door for which many followed him. From Jimmy Hartwig, who succeeded him, to World Cup runner-up Gerald Asamoah, to Boateng and Antonio Rüdiger. Kostedde said in 1974: “I’m proud to be the first black player in the national team. This will definitely boost people of the same skin colour as me.” He was no longer ignored at the till as everyone knew his face from one place or another. “I was aware that my skin colour would be a burden for me without my success,” he acknowledged at the time. And they would continue at times. The story of Erwin Kostedde, who went onto play for Hertha BSC, Borussia Dortmund, Werder Bremen and second-division side VfL Osnabrück, took on a tragic turn for the worse after his career.He lost me more than a millon DM – "my entire compensation" – due to investment fraud as "I had often trusted the wrong friends." This story, that has forced him into a life of humility until now, all but ended in summer 1990. He was wrongly accused of an 'armed robbery' of an amusement hall in Coesfeld – for 160 DM. Dubious witness statements and glaring investigation errors led him to six months in custody, including a nervous breakdown. The police only presented Kostedde at the identity parade although the law required six people. “We completely ruled out finding five black people in the Coesfeld area,” said the Head of Department. And the witnessed simply recognised the only person that she could recall at the time.
He was then unable to swear any longer, whether it was this man or another. The other witness knew Kostedde ‘from the stadium’, “I saw him play at Schalke.” Even if it was over ten years ago. It was a scandal. Kostedde received compensation to the value of 3,000 DM. They could have given me more than 10 million DM, my life was ruined,“ he says even today. "I never thought that something like this could happen in Germany.” He was released on 13th June 1991 but was a broken man. He said at the time. “I wish that i was never caught.“ He says today: "I still think of it today. I became a different person.”
Erwin Kostedde even has guilt in his life today, where he lives in Telgte in Múnster as a 68-year-old pensioner with his wife. He has 'nothing more to do' with football, he stated. Bue he has done so much for football.