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Transfer Rater: Pepe to Arsenal, Darmian to Roma

Football Whispers

A league of their own - part two

On July 28, 1962, 129 German FA (DFB) delegates voted on the formation of a nationwide, professional league during their annual meeting in Dortmund. What came to be known as the Bundesliga, literally: federal league, won the vote in an unexpectedly one-sided manner, 103-26. There was a lot of hand-shaking and back-slapping and when the result of the vote was announced over the tannoy to the fans watching Borussia Dortmund play a friendly against Bremerhaven at the nearby Rote Erde ground, the news was met with a round of applause.

However, the trouble had only just begun.

It was decided to start the new league as early as possible, in August of the coming year, 1963. That left the DFB only twelve months to legalise professionalism and organise an entirely new competition, let alone answer pressing questions such as: How many teams will the new league have? And which ones?

From a modern viewpoint, one tends to think it would have been possible to simply use the coming campaign to determine the make-up of the Bundesliga, the way reforms of the league system have been handled ever since. There were five Oberligen, which formed German top-level football in 1962, so you could have said the best four teams from each would qualify for a 20-team Bundesliga.

However, that was impractical for a number of reasons. One was that the Oberligen were not of equal strength. If the system suggested above had been used, big and strong clubs like Schalke (from the Oberliga West) and Stuttgart (from the Oberliga South) would have been kept out at the expense of smaller and weaker teams such as Worms (from the Oberliga Southwest) and Spandau (from the Oberliga Berlin).

Another reason was that the DFB introduced two novelties at once, professionalism and a nationwide league. There was no guarantee this would work and many observers did indeed predict that the league was doomed to fail and clubs would be ruined. (See 'A league of their own - part one'.) So it was necessary to minimise the risk.

This meant that the new league needed to have not only as many big and tradition-laden clubs as possible in order to be attractive, it also needed to cover as many regions as possible in order to be truly nationwide and become popular everywhere. And finally it needed to be made up of financially sound clubs, as the DFB couldn't well afford having a club going bust because it found out too late it couldn't shoulder the costs of professional sport.

In other words, it was quite clear from the beginning that there would be some sort of selection process according to certain criteria. Which is why the clubs were waiting with bated breath to hear more details about those criteria. Some of them are still waiting...

More than two months went by until the next decisions were made. On October 6, 1962, the 31 members of the DFB's advisory board came together in Frankfurt and voted on various suggestions made by various committees. These included the number of clubs to be admitted to the Bundesliga. In another one-sided decision (29-2) the number was set at 16. However, there was a proviso: should the 1963 finalists not be among those 16, the number of Bundesliga clubs would rise to 18. After all, you couldn't start the new league without the reigning champions. (In the event, this proviso wasn't needed, as Dortmund and Cologne contested the last-ever final.)

The board members also decided where those 16 clubs should come from: five from the Oberliga West, five from the South, three from the North, two from the Southwest and one from Berlin. This time the vote was unanimous.

Then the board passed a new bylaw, the so-called Bundesliga Statute. It covered all kinds of details, such as when, for how much money and how many players a club could sign from another club. Crucially, it also rejected full professionalism. This didn't really come as a surprise, because Hermann Gosmann, the DFB's president, had said months earlier that "unrestricted professionalism could have unforeseeable consequences", hinting he feared that the clubs would lose their status as charitable, non-profit organisations.

Still, the decision to set a cap on salaries, transfer sums and signing-on fees would cause many headaches in the seasons to come. Soon there would be bung scandals that led to an expansion of the league to 18 teams and, a few years down the road, there was the big bribe drama of 1971. But for the time being, this rule was not the most hotly debated issue. What people really wanted to know was: who would play in the new league?

And so the most important decision the advisory board made in October was naming the five-man committee that would oversee the selection process. Three of them were not representing clubs: the merchant Walter Baresel from Hamburg; Dr. Willi Hubner from Essen, a solicitor; Hermann Neuberger, a journalist (and, this would soon play a role, the former press officer of Saarbrucken FC). The remaining two members of this all-important committee did come from clubs, though from clubs that were all but automatic choices for the Bundesliga anyway: the chain-smoking Franz Kremer, the president of Cologne FC who had made his money selling promotional items such as pennants and beer mugs, and Nurnberg's president Ludwig Franz, a lawyer by trade.

To this day you'll find reports that say Eintracht Frankfurt's president Rudi Gramlich was also a member of this committee. You'll see in a minute or two why this rumour is still alive, but it's only a rumour. Gramlich wielded power at the DFB and did sit on a committee, but it wasn't this one.

The Bundesliga committee fairly quickly sent out tender documents to all bigger clubs and told them that the deadline for applying to the Bundesliga was December 1, 1962. These documents mentioned that "sporting achievements since the 1951-52 season" would be taken into consideration when selecting the 16 clubs for the Bundesliga, but it wasn't explained how.

It was widely expected that between 35 and 40 clubs might be willing to take the risk of turning professional and apply for the Bundesliga. But when the deadline came, no less than 46 teams had sent an application to the DFB headquarters in Frankfurt. Baresel, Hubner, Neuberger, Kremer and Franz now had less than nine months to annoy and disappoint 30 of them.

On January 11, 1963, the committee announced that nine clubs had been found: Cologne, Dortmund and Schalke (from the Oberliga West), Nurnberg and Frankfurt (South), Hamburg and Bremen (North), Hertha (Berlin) and Saarbr├╝cken (Southwest). They also announced that two clubs had retracted their applications and that 15 others had had their applications rejected, among them Oberhausen and Borussia Monchengladbach.

This was a mistake. Nobody found fault with the nine clubs selected, but Oberhausen were appalled their bid had been rejected at such an early stage. "I can't believe this," president Peter Maassen said. "Our economic situation is excellent and we're just as good as some clubs that are still in the running." The committee then made matters worse by telling the rejected clubs they hadn't collected enough points over the past 12 seasons. The five men still didn't explain the formula they were using, but they told the clubs how many points they had.

That was another mistake. Of course the figures were leaked to the press, who then deduced the formula that had been used to arrive at the points totals and published their own 12-year rankings. These were met with euphoria by fans of Alemannia Aachen (fourth place in the West, well ahead of Munster, Meiderich or Dusseldorf) and Offenbach (fifth in the South, but very comfortably ahead of both Bayern and 1860 Munich).

On May 6, 1963, less than four months before the new league would kick off, Aachen were having a club party, during which the coming Bundesliga season was discussed, when news came that the committee had named the final seven Bundesliga clubs. They were Stuttgart, Braunschweig, Kaiserslautern, Karlsruhe, Munster, 1860 Munich and Meiderich, the latter today called MSV Duisburg.

Tempers flared not only in Aachen and Offenbach. Bayern, too, were livid. It didn't help matters when the committee explained that 1860 had been selected because they had won the final season of the Oberliga South. It may have been okay to use the 1962-63 season to tip the balance in a tight race, even though nobody had ever let on that this would be the case. But in the 12-year rankings, Bayern were almost sixty points ahead of 1860. And Offenbach were almost 100 points ahead of Bayern. (To put this into perspective: In the Oberliga North, Bremen were in second place with 396 points, Kiel in sixth with 294 points. So 100 points were a lot.)

It was quite obvious that the committee felt Munich, the third- biggest city in the country, had to be represented in the Bundesliga no matter how. The problem was that they had never said anything to that extent. And so the conspiracy theories flourished.

In Aachen, they said that Kremer didn't want a Rhineland rival in the new league. (Hence also the absence of Gladbach and Dusseldorf.) In Offenbach, they said Gramlich didn't want a club so close to Frankfurt. (The two grounds are only ten miles apart.) And at Borussia Neunkirchen, then a pretty good team, they said that Neuberger had been partial to Saabrucken's cause. As recently as the 1990s, the club asked the DFB for a detailed explanation of how the Bundesliga clubs were selected back in 1963. There was no reply.

The committee hurried to explain that, for example, Kremer had left the room when the others voted on potential clubs from the Oberliga West, but of course that didn't help matters. Many people asked the DFB to start the league with 18 teams instead of 16 and add Aachen and Offenbach, but the governing body would not be swayed. Aachen then filed a lawsuit but ultimately lost.

When the Bundesliga finally kicked off - at 5pm on August 24, 1963 - there were eight games. Dortmund's Friedhelm Konietzka scored the first goal, in a 3-2 defeat away at Bremen. Ludwig Franz's Nurnberg drew 1-1 in Berlin. Franz Kremer's Cologne won 2-0 away at Saarbrucken and would go on to win the Bundesliga's inaugural season.

Interestingly, all the clubs that felt hard done by quickly made it to the Bundesliga anyway. Neunkirchen were promoted in 1964, Aachen in 1967, Offenbach in 1968, Oberhausen in 1969. Oh, and Bayern in 1965. They would go on to do quite well in this new league, actually.


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