Book Review: Tor!
Tor! by Uli Hesse
Published by WSC Books
As a voracious devourer of football history while growing up, I had always been cynical about West Germany’s win over Hungary in the 1954 World Cup Final, the so-called ‘Miracle of Bern’. After all, an enormous European country vanquishing a much smaller one was hardly on a level with that same large nation’s defeat to Algeria in the 1982 tournament and those Hungarians are to this day rated as one of the three most undeserving teams to miss out on overall glory.
But in the new update of this simply magnificent account of German soccer history, Uli Hesse almost made me change my mind – for this is a wonderful story of the development of the game between the Rhine and the Oder, set against a momentous political backdrop and written wittily and engagingly with a cleverly angled nod to an English audience.
The nostalgia rush was warming to a kid who watched on wide-eyed at Wembley as a green shirted Karl-Heinz Rummennigge scored twice to defeat England in a friendly in the aftermath of the Spanish World Cup — one that had seen the Germans slip to defeat against the North Africans but also taken part in a shameful game of convenience against Austria before somehow reaching the final.
That wasn’t the only time that Germany progressed further in a tournament than the supposedly meagre talents of the squad had hinted — 2002’s first ever World Cup meeting against Brazil is another case in point and even as recently as the 2008 European Championships, one suspected that this was no vintage German team.
To dwell on these worthy labourers would be unfair of course as the history of the sport in the Federal Republic has churned up plenty of pizzazz — take the 74 side contained the holy Bayern Munich triangle of Gerd Muller, Sepp Maier and the Kaiser himself, Franz Beckenbauer while 1990’s winners led by Lothar Matthà¤us were their equal and the classic matches are legion — a 3-1 victory over England at Wembley in 1972 is almost as vital a benchmark as those final wins and the thumpings suffered by the same nation and Argentina in particular were probably the most significant results of the South African World Cup.
Hesse is also excellent on the club game — the shambolic regionalism of the pre-Bundesliga is depicted along with the way its structure was influenced by the post-war carving up of the map, while the influence of the Nazis on the sport’s administrators is far from glossed over — events described in the earlier sections of the book were less familiar to me and Hesse has left no stone unturned in his research.
Indeed, I was left racking my brains as to whether anything was left out and the book is comprehensive in its 300 or so pages — we Englishmen could learn from the way as seemingly significant a triumph as the 1980 European Championship win is relegated to a couple of paragraphs, rumours of drug-taking among the 1954 squad are mentioned but rightly dismissed through lack of real evidence and Hesse is restrained when it comes to Borussia Dortmund’s Champions League win over Juventus.
All the above are noteworthy but perhaps insignificant in that they did not represent historical forces at work – none could be described as watershed occurrences or moments — unlike the whole course of football in the former German Democratic Republic. Presumably, Hesse’s short chapter on the subject was restricted in length by the lack of available sources, the work of the Stasi notwithstanding, and a whole book on East German football would be a book I for one would certainly rush out to buy.
Coming back to those watershed moments, the final sections of the book are strong on the way German football has reinvented itself following on from the catastrophe of the 2000 European Championship, the emergence of players of non-German descent in the squad so thrillingly evidenced to the tune of the vuvuzelas, and the country’s current position as the current hot bed of football on the European continent — witness last season’s Champions League final which for the first time featured two German teams and the ongoing brilliance of Bayern Munich.
But in truth, German football has always been pretty entertaining and the continuity with previous times is probably more marked than the current revolution would lead us to believe. Indeed, the dominant German players in the current Bayern and Borussia sides as well as those who currently hold starting places in the national team, have more in common with their forebears of previous eras now that Mesut à–zil is struggling for form and Sami Khedira with injury.
Tor is published by When Saturday Comes and is perhaps the jewel in an impressive but relatively sporadic line of book publishing entered into by the magazine over the past couple of decades. It’s a wonderfully told account of a gripping subject and it is to be hoped that further editions will be published in the years to come.