Matthew Monk

Matthew Monk is a school teacher from the UK who has the World Cup as one of his greatest passions. He will share his views about the past, present and future of this event.

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Do you believe in miracles?

    It seems impossible to escape anniversaries in Europe right now. This weekend is the 60th anniversary of the D-Day landings, the defining moment of 20th Century European history, and the birth of the modern, peaceful society we all enjoy living in so much. Living in this continent sixty years later, taking part in our continental parliamentary elections next Thursday, planning which hot part of the continent to spend a few weeks of August in, and settling down to watch Euro 2004 from the comfort of my living room and widescreen TV, it is virtually impossible to imagine another time when my country was at war with another tribe of European people. Now that is not to say that I live in some sort of utopia where everyone is happy and well off far from it in actual fact but the Europe that existed before 1945 and the continent constantly divided by war and conflict has gone, and could almost never come back.

    What changed after D-Day and WWII was that European peoples realised that they all had to live and work together in order for any of us to prosper and rebuild from the ashes that the whole continent had been left in after 6 long years of Nazi aggression and tyranny. We had a common purpose that overlay national borders or ideas; we needed economic and social rebirth and hope, and found that the only way to do it successfully was to come together as political and economic bed-fellows. The formation of the European Union saved Europe and created a safe, secure future for us all. Yet even within this truth it is easy to forget that some European nations had much further to go and much more to rebuild than others.

    Germany in 1945 was on the verge of being sent back to some sort of terrible medieval Dark Age that time would eventually forget. Other countries suffered as terribly during the war, and cities all across the continent lay in ruin, but in Germany it seemed that so much had been decimated in the Allied drive to subjugate Hitler that nothing could ever regroup and be re-grown. Indeed many of the victors wanted just that, a cowed Germany left beaten and in ruins to ensure that the militarism and crazed power-lust so evident in its ruling class for the previous 120 years could never re-emerge to start another conflict. And that it never has, even though Germany has risen again to become the third largest economy on Earth and an industrial and political powerhouse, firmly at the centre of the new European project in this new century.

    The economic miracle of Konrad Adenauer's West Germany in the 20 years after 1945 will go down in history as one of the Human Race's great rebuilding jobs. Out of the ashes of defeat and military occupation grew a society built on hard work, humility and respect, in which German industry and ingenuity was re-focussed on peace and prosperity and imperialist ambition was abandoned. Yet West Germany was a hard and heartbroken place at the same time, ripped apart by a schism between the remnants of its older lost generations, decimated by successive wars and the memories that brought and its new, young generation alive only in a time of peace and far more likely to benefit from the rebuilding than their parents.

    Why am I telling you all this? Well, a second anniversary is about to be upon us. On the same day the final of Euro 2004 takes place in Lisbon it will be exactly 50 years since West Germany won it's first World Cup Final, in Berne against Hungary. Tonight in Kaiserslautern the current German and Hungarian sides will meet to mark that anniversary, and Germany will bask in the memory of a better time, an innocent time when the exploits of Sepp Herberger's team brought a little light and happiness into a world full of shame and defeat, at a time when the economic miracle was far from complete, and most German people simply struggled to survive.

    In every football playing country a certain date and time holds sway over all others. For the English we venerate July 1966 and our World Cup win. The French have 1984 and 1998, the Italians 1982, Holland 1988. And Germany has July 4, 1954, when Fritz Walter led his team of amateurs to win the World Football Championship Final - the World Cup Final - against the Magical Magyars of Puskas and all the rest. His team defeated the finest group of players the world had ever seen, after being obliterated by them in the group stage earlier, and truly deserved the right to hold the Jules Rimet trophy aloft, shining a little of its golden hue into every beating German heart.

    It was not just that the Germans had beaten the mighty team of Puskas's English Conquerors. It was not just that they had done that despite being a team of amateurs, with day jobs as shop workers, cinema projectionists, petrol station attendants and lottery ticket sellers. It was not just that less than a fortnight earlier they had been demolished by that very same team of ultra-modern professional footballers, 8:3. It was not even that Puskas and Czibor had given the Hungarians a 2:0 lead within 18 minutes of the final kicking off. It was simply that for the first time since the British, Russians and Americans had conquered their country 9 years before, ordinary German people had a reason to feel proud and happy and most importantly never needed to be embarrassed to be a German again. 'The Miracle' and 'The Wonder of Berne' as it is still known all across Germany re-ignited a people at war with themselves and led to an up swelling of joy only the fall of the Berlin Wall and re-unification has matched. A German could be a hero again, not always a criminal or a hero fighting in a war that so many had wished had never been fought. How could someone be a true and lifelong hero taking part in something so shaming and agonising as the war had been? Now Germans had someone to aspire to be: a Fritz Walter or a Max Morlock, Helmut Rahn and Horst Eckel, even decidedly average goalie Toni Turek had played the game of his life.

    That is why this anniversary is so important to Germany, to some eyes nearly as important to Germany as the anniversary of D-Day is to the victorious Allies of WWII. It's just a shame that it now seems that those 11 miracle-workers and German Heroes may have cheated to do it.

    The story first circulated in the British newspapers on April the 1st this year, April Fool's Day. At first those reading the story had to be careful, for April Fool's Day each year is the press's one opportunity to legally and legitimately have a little fun and make a story up. We've had Spaghetti growing trees and footballs masquerading as baby Panda eggs down the years, but German's cheating to win the World Cup? That had to be a joke too far, and a hope too far even.

    In fact the story had existed for nearly 50 years. The first person to espouse it publicly had been the vanquished Galloping Major Puskas himself, in an interview with France Football the year after the tournament. Stories had come to light of Helmut Rahn contracting jaundice two months after the final and of him being sent to a sanatorium to convalesce. Nothing so controversial so far, but then the Walter brothers followed suit, as did Max Morlock and Karl Mai. Where was this jaundice coming from, and why were so many of the heroes of Berne catching it? Rahn suggested that the German physio had used a dirty syringe to inject vitamins and glucose into some of the players before the final, and that he himself had carried the disease back from South America that year, as did his club team-mate Fritz Herkenrath, who incidentally had not played for Germany in the World Cup. Puskas was not impressed. A dirty syringe had been used, yes - his allegations went -to dope the German players before the final with stimulants and other illegal chemicals. They were cheats and had cheated the better team out of its World Cup.

    West Germany was outraged, even though little reporting of the interview was ever made outside France, Hungary and West Germany itself. Puskas even later took his charges back and suggested he had been incorrect, and that West Germany had beaten his side fair and square. And it was all forgotten to the mists of time, especially as Germany went on to dominate European and World football for the next forty years.

    That is until a certain Walter Broennimann, a groundsman at the Wankdorf Stadion in 1954, came forward. He had found, he claimed, several syringes after the final, together with several ampoules of what he believed were amphetamines, which had obviously been used prior to the match. He had passed on his discovery to the Swiss company that employed him, who swore him to secrecy. Broennimann, not wishing to stir up trouble, and with little proof to back his case up remained duly silent and whatever he had given his manager had long since been destroyed.

    And then, finally, while preparing a documentary timed to match the glorious fiftieth anniversary of Berne a German production company interviewed Broennimann and he made his allegation. West Germany and its heroes of the Miracle where little more than common cheats and Hungary had been robbed.

    Germany went into palpitations. If this allegation were true then everything honest and pure about this most valued and cherished of German sporting moments, this highlight of a people rebuilding themselves from pariah status was false, and Walter and his heroes were miracle-workers no more. Instantly, Professor Loogen, the German team doctor that day, admitted that he had given his players vitamin C injections to give them more stamina as a matter of course, but that he had little proof that they did much to help. And like Rahn had said all those years before he had used 'dirty' needles, unable to clean then to a sufficiently high temperature using his old Soviet style sterilisation 'cooker'. The three surviving players all now well into their seventies came out next to say they were furious at the renewed allegation, and that the doctor had only ever given them injections to help them 'stay fresh'.

    A planet long tired of German victories in the World Cup and European Championships, and now basking in the worst prolonged German slump in history, sensed blood. Germany had admitted injecting its most heroic set of players with preparations designed to 'keep them fresh' before the 1954 World Cup Final, then eight caught jaundice and two even died from Cirrhosis of the liver in the years after the victory! They had to be cheats, had to have just been caught out committing the worst of sporting sins and worst of all, had robbed the Magical Magyars of their rightful World Title. The English in particular found a remarkable sense of happiness in this news, and as the reports continued into the 2nd of April, and a particularly clever and nasty April Fool's joke was discounted, the country smiled broadly with its predictable sense of 'I told you so' attitude.

    There is absolutely no proof that West Germany cheated to win the 1954 World Cup Final. On the face of it, their remarkable victory has always seemed suspect because Hungary was so obviously the best team in the world in the years before the 1954 tournament. They had invented a whole new style of football with a deep-lying centre-forward dropping off too decimate defences still rigidly holding 2-3-5 formations. They had several of Europe's greatest ever footballers at their disposal Puskas, Czibor, Hidegkuti and Kocsis and had just demolished England home and away by an aggregate score of 13:4, and beaten this self-same German team 8:3 in the first round of the World Cup! So why did the Germans win? How did the Germans win?

    There are three factors which still hold up to much more scrutiny than the drugs allegations does. First, West Germany were not such a bad side themselves. They may have all been amateurs, but each player was playing for a well-run, highly competitive club side which could hold their own in Central Europe's Mitropa Cup matches. Germany might not have had a dedicated national league system, but it had regional leagues and a national league championship and cup final each year. Several of its players Fritz Walter, Morlock, Rahn were established and outstanding footballers. This was no push over of a team, and after losing to Hungary in their previous contest, West Germany had gone on to beat South Korea, Turkey, Yugoslavia and Austria on the way to the final. They played some outstanding football, especially in the 6:1 thrashing of Austria in the semi-final, and arguably deserved to be there.

    Second, Ferenc Puskas had picked up a painful leg injury in the first match against Germany and had not played much in the rest of the tournament. Even though he seemed to have no ill effect at all when scoring early in the first half, he then noticeably carried this leg for the rest of the game and probably was not fit enough to play at all. Hungary without Puskas were still a magnificent, arrogant team, but without a fit Galloping Major pulling his strings in attack, Hungary were just not the same.

    Third and probably most importantly, it rained heavily on the day of the final, turning the playing surface of the Wankdorf into a mudbath. Hungary played in the same type of football boots that the game had always been played in, heavy leather things with permanent, fixed length studs nailed in place. West Germany, under the tutelage of visionary coach Sepp Herberger had employed Adi Dassler and his fledgling adidas company to manufacture lighter, more supple boots, which very cleverly used screw-in studs. Once the rain started, Dassler and Herberger knew that the Wankdorf's pitch would never hold up to the scrutiny a hard game would give it, and put longer studs into their player's boots. With much better grip than their technically superior Hungarian opponents, West Germany had a much more level playing field. Whether that helped Helmut Rahn score his decisive goal is very open to question, and had Puskas's 80th minute equaliser not been ruled out for a harsh looking offside decision, we may never have been discussing the matter at all. In fact Adi Dassler and his ideas might well have been lost, and Joao Havelange might never have been approached by his son Horst twenty years later, and the World Cup might have still been played in places like the Wankdorf.

    I personally would like to believe in miracles, and that the Wonder of Berne was just that, a wondrous, once in a lifetime miracle which proves that even the greatest sides fail to reach the pinnacle of immortality winning the World Cup brings. Anyway, another West German generation did exactly the same to Holland twenty years later in Munich, and like it or not, sometimes the pretty, 'best' team does not win. Throughout the late 20th Century doping in sport was epidemic. British cyclist Tommy Simpson died of a heart attack halfway up the hellish slopes of Mont Ventoux on a sweltering hot stage of the Tour de France while pumped full of amphetamines and alcohol in 1967. How many of those East German female athletes like Marita Koch really ran the 100 and 200 metres that fast without steroids? How many of you believe that Flo-Jo Florence Griffith Joyner herself was not pumped full of more steroids than Ben Johnson and Arnold Schwarzenegger put together when she 'won' the 100 metres at the Seoul Olympics in 1988? Sport is littered with enough cheats. I sincerely hope that the 1954 West Germans were not. But then, I believe in miracles.



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