The German scandal

Published : Aug 31, 2013 00:00 IST

The German team, which had so surprisingly rallied to beat Hungary in the final of the 1954 World Cup in Berne, had all but certainly been on drugs. The World Cup over, the team had been ravaged by jaundice, the bulk of its members out of the game for a good time to come. By Brian Glanville .

When Germany, as they were then billed, though in fact they were West Germany, the then World Cup winners, met England in a friendly match at Wembley in December 1954, having won the World Cup in Switzerland in the previous summer, only three of that Cup-winning team were present. All of them defenders, Werner Liebrich, Josef Posipal and Werner Kohlmeyer. The Walter brothers, Fritz, the prolific and inspiring captain, his brother, centre forward Otmar, Helmut Rahn, the charging bull of an outside right, such a menace in the final versus Hungary, Toni Turek, the goalkeeper, were among the distinguished absentees. It had for months past been an open secret which suggested why.

The German team, which had so surprisingly rallied to beat Hungary in the final in Berne, had all but certainly been on drugs. The World Cup over, the team had been ravaged by jaundice, the bulk of its members out of the game for a good time to come.

Certainly Ferenc Puskas had no doubts about it. Captain, inside left and a dominant figure of a superb Hungarian team, hot favourites to win that World Cup, twice in the 1953/4 season the humiliating conquerors of England, 6-3 at Wembley, 7-1 in Budapest, Puskas spoke of witnessing German players being sick in their dressing room. The dressing room under whose floor boards, an attendant had revealed many decades later, he had found discarded syringes.

When Germany and Hungary had met earlier in a competition constructed like a madman’s fly trap, the Hungarians had annihilated Germany 8-3. It might though be said that the most important kick of the match and perhaps even of the whole competition was inflicted by the German centre half Werner Liebrich on Puskas himself, injuring him and his famous, formidable left foot so badly that he would not play again till the final itself; and then, it seemed, only because he talked his way back into a team which had played excellent football without him; he was plainly still not fully fit. To add insult to injury, you might say, he insisted on other changes in a team which had no need of them.

Puskas didn’t have a good game in the final, understandably enough, yet close to the end, with Germany 3-2 ahead, he broke clear to score; only for the goal to be contentiously disallowed by the Welsh linesman and English referee. It might well have been, however, that even if the goal had stood, their doping would have seen the German players fresher and stronger than Hungary in extra-time.

FIFA at the time did nothing about the scandal. There were then no dope tests after a match and though the growing circumstantial evidence clearly indicated that the stories of doping which circulated soon after the match were valid, it would have been too late to gather concrete evidence.

But just how serious the scenario was and just how appallingly widespread was the West German practice of doping not only in football but in a plethora of other sports has only now dramatically been made known: by an 800-page study compiled by the diligent Humboldt University of Berlin. Regarding that notorious final, the report states that the injections, which the Germans maintained merely consisted of Vitamin C, were in fact composed of pervitin, an amphetamine.

Yet this, as the devastating report tells us, was merely the tip of an appalling iceberg. In a secretive programme which lasted for decades, somehow strangely unsuspected, where as what the East Germans were doing to their swimmers and athletes was all too well known, but shamefully ignored by the relevant international bodies, that 1954 final shamefully apart, there was no such suspicion of the West Germans. Yet, as the Humboldt report records, West Germany too spent vast sums of money through the Government itself into secret research on doping, involving anabolic steroids, testosterone, amphetamine and a hormone known as erythropoietin. All sports were involved and it seems that just as in East Germany, young children, utterly unaware of what was being done to them, were surreptitiously given such drugs.

Morally then there was nothing to choose between the West Germans and the East, though it was commonly acknowledged that while West Germany was recovering so strongly economically, East Germany was a wretched rump of a Communist state, which cynically used sport as a means of giving itself some kind of international cachet, which would otherwise have been impossible.

All too well known was the phenomenon of the East German girl swimmers, powerful, hulking women with massive arms and shoulders who won medal after medal in Olympics and other international competitions. Still larger, brawnier, stronger and heavier were the German women shot put and discus throwers. Who in later sporting life, would pay a terrible price from what had so deviously been done to them from childhood. The fate of many of them was pitiable. Hair grew in unwanted places, their health was pitifully undermined. This we have known and deplored for many years, yet till now, bewilderingly, the West Germans have got away with such atrocities.

According to the Humboldt report, West Germany’s football team may well have been taking such stimulants 12 years after the scandal of 1954; at the 1966 World Cup finals in England. Though, in parenthesis, it might be said that when the East German soccer team was eventually admitted to international competition it showed no signs of excessive stamina.

The report however records that after 1966 final at Wembley, won by England after extra-time, three un-named German players tested positive for the banned drug ephedrine though they may have taken it unwittingly as a decongesting for curing colds. Not that this in other sports at international level and elsewhere would have been a valid defence.

What slightly baffled me is that the highly effective and respected Dr. Alan Bess, former England and Arsenal doctor, in charge of anti-doping in 1966, never mentioned the matter to me, in our long friendship. Though he did tell me how Gigi Proance, the players’ agent working with the Italy team, had sent him a urine specimen in an unlabelled container before the tournament began; and that when he tested it, the needle “went wild.” He told Gigi that there was no way the Italians could use whatever stimulant the specimen contained.

In the event they’d be sensationally knocked out by North Korea. Alan who has for many years been a University professor in Canada, recently retired and left no trace with the Canadian Football Association, to whom he was a consultant. Thus we can but guess at what happened over the ephedrine and why the German team wasn’t confronted with the evidence. Overall a shocking story, even if cycling, through the years, has been a far more evident offender than football.

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