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Dec 1, 2012

Monumental discoveries

You've probably heard about Zidane and Materazzi. About the statue, I mean. The five-metre high bronze statue that was unveiled in September outside the famous Pompidou art museum in Paris. The statue designed by Algerian artist Adel Abdessemed. The statue which depicts, well, 'that' headbutt.

Granted, it's a rather unusual subject matter for a commemorative football statue. But at least it is a football statue. And there aren't that many of them around, at least not on the continent, something I found out about roughly a year ago, when Chris Stride from the University of Sheffield dropped me a few lines.

Chris and his colleague Ffion had started the Sporting Statues Project , which is not about suggesting or even commissioning new statues but about documenting the existing ones.

The two have compiled a database of about 120 such statues in the UK, roughly half of which are devoted to football players or managers. The most recent one is of course the Sir Alex Ferguson monument at Old Trafford, unveiled a week ago.

But it's not only widely famous men like Sir Alex who get their statue in the UK. Six days before the Ferguson sculpture was officially presented to the public, Port Vale legend Roy Sproson was also honoured through a statue. It cost £96,000 and the money was collected by fans after ten years of fundraising.

In Germany, however, football statues are conspicuous through their absence. If the English erect monuments for Sproson, Harold Fleming (Swindon Town) or Bob Stokoe (Sunderland), you'd think we'd do the same for giants of the German game, for managers like Sepp Herberger or Helmut Schon and players like Ernst Lehner or Paul Janes. But no.

It doesn't mean there aren't any, though. Especially the so-called 'Heroes of Berne': the players who won the 1954 World Cup are commemorated through monuments. In 2004, some 50 years after his goals won the final, Essen erected a Helmut Rahn statue. In 2006, Kaiserslautern unveiled a rather crowded statue, because the club had been represented by no less than five players in Berne and considered them equally deserving. And so Fritz and Ottmar Walter, Horst Eckel, Werner Liebrich and Werner Kohlmeyer are all immortalised outside the club's ground.

In 2008, Nurnberg proudly presented a statue of another 'Hero of Berne', namely Max Morlock, though the fact that he won the World Cup is only an afterthought in this case. "900 games for Nurnberg" announces the plaque, while the statue itself shows Morlock in his club gear and lifting the trophy for Nurnberg's 1961 national championship.

But you don't have to have graced the Berne pitch and you don't have to be dead to get your statue. As early as 1975, a sculptor by the name of Bonifatius Stirnberg, best known for various fountains all over the country, honoured Gunter Netzer, Berti Vogts and Herbert Wimmer, three key members of Monchengladbach's glory team, with a statue. It stands in Eicken, the part of the city where the club's precursor was formed in 1899.

This monument is pretty unusual, because the three men's limbs are movable. One year ago, this feature cost Netzer, or rather his likeness, an arm. There was some suspicion that Bremen fans had vandalised the monument, because Werder were in town when it happened. But since Netzer's left arm was left lying on the ground it might as well be that the limb came loose unintentionally. Speaking of bodily parts, the strangest football monument in Germany probably stands outside Hamburg's ground. It's just a right foot; Uwe Seeler's foot, to be more precise. Or a giant reproduction of Seeler's foot, to be totally precise. The bronze foot measures 3.5 metres in height and was put here in August 2005.

Less than two years later, St. Pauli fans painted Uwe's toe nails brown and white, which are St. Pauli's colours. Or rather, that may have been the plan. Instead, they coloured the whole of the toes, not just the nails, which pretty much ruined the joke. (The perpetrators were probably trying to get even. In 2005, Hamburg fans had literally tarred and feathered the large St. Pauli stone crest that stands in front of this club's ground.)

Maybe the fact that they can become targets for rival fans so easily explains why there are comparatively few football statues in Germany. Our neighbours, the Austrians, suggested a novel approach to this problem in February 2008. The city of Klagenfurt, where Germany were based during Euro 2008, announced it would built a three-metre tall statue of Franz Beckenbauer - made of sand.

The idea was to create a temporary attraction for German fans following their team. "Visitors to our city could use it as a backdrop when taking photos," Klagenfurt's head of marketing Helmut Ellensohn explained. He admitted that the sand statue, which would have cost about €15,000, would have to be protected from both rowdies and the rain.

In the end, the statue was never built. Maybe the people of Klagenfurt remembered that Ellensohn had spent €10,000 on a Christmas tree made of ice two years earlier and that this had turned into a disaster when temperatures suddenly soared and the sculpture melted after only eight days.

Anyway, while we don't have many football statues in Germany, we could argue we've had both the tallest and highest of them all - as the statue in question is not only 53.46 metres tall (173.39 ft) but also stands on a mountain.

I'm talking about the famous "Hermannsdenkmal", 20 miles southeast of Bielefeld. It depicts the Cherusci war chief Hermann, whose troops annihilated three Roman legions in 9AD. Hermann's Latin name was Arminius (he had one because he enjoyed Roman citizenship - yes, old Hermann was a bit of a turncoat) and the Bielefeld football club is named after him, "Arminia".

In July 1999, Hermann (the statue) was clad in a giant Arminia shirt, as the club had just been promoted to the Bundesliga. The shirt cost €10,000 to produce, was made of 130 square metres of fabric and the shirt number was 9 (because of the battle in 9AD). "He looks good," goalkeeper Georg Koch quipped about the massive figure. "We could use him between the sticks."

It didn't last long, though. Bielefeld went down, the shirt came off and that was the end of what may have been the most impressive football statue in the world.

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