With the advances in modern football, sometimes we forget the past and where we came from. And so GGFN aims to describe one of the most exciting finals of German football, using the league final as a conduit of hope and as the substantiation of the cultural and social importance of the sport we love.
In the years before Bundesliga, the German title was decided through a set of groups. These groups, called Oberliga’s. There were five in total: Oberliga Süd, Oberliga Berlin, Oberliga Nord, Oberliga West and the Oberliga Südwest. The winners and runner-up of four of these qualified for the Championship. Berlin only had one place in the championship and that place was obviously awarded to the champion of the Oberliga Berlin. The nine teams of the 1959 German Championship were: Eintracht Frankfurt (Winners of Oberliga Süd), Kickers Offenbach (runner-up of Oberliga Süd), FK Pirmasens & Borussia Neunkirchen (Oberliga Südwest), Hamburger SV & Werder Bremen (Oberliga Nord), Tasmania Berlin (Champions of Oberliga Berlin), Westfalia Herne & 1. FC Köln (Oberliga West).
The Championship season started off with a qualifying round where the runner-up of Oberliga Nord and Südwest, the least populated areas of the country, faced each other in a game. Werder Bremen beat Borussia Neunkirchen by six goals to three. Then the remaining eight teams where divided into two different groups. The winners of these two groups faced each other in the grand finale in Berlin later.
Games in the group stage were played with some great results and amazing attendances. The game between Tasmania Berlin and HSV managed to lure 90.000 to Olympiastadion in Berlin. This was merely five years before the very same Tasmania set the record in the Bundesliga for lowest attendance when 800 people saw them lose against Borussia Mönchengladbach in Berlin. The group stage slowly concluded and Eintracht Frankfurt had won the first group. Coach Paul Osswald had managed to stir things up in Hesse and his Eagles were playing the football of their lives. The prolific striker Eckehard Feigenspan was the main threat up top, but there were plenty of other great players. Hungarian national István Sztáni went on to score 23 goals in 57 appearances for the Eagles from Main.
In the other group, however, Kickers Offenbach had managed to clinch the top spot ahead of favourites, Hamburger SV. Kickers Offenbach was a much smaller club than both Eintracht Frankfurt and HSV, so this was a triumph worthy of many rounds of applause. Offenbach as a town isn’t too grand. It’s merely a suburb to Frankfurt, or at least belongs to the metropole Frankfurt am Main. While this was a smaller rivalry at the time, it was about to blow up after the final.
The final was played in June 1959. The grand finale between Eintracht Frankfurt, the biggest and proudest club in all of Hesse versus Kickers Offenbach, the erratic and irregular newcomers, also from Hesse. Eintracht Frankfurt had enchanted most with their style of play during the Oberliga-season and in the group stage of the Championship. Richard Kress, Sztáni, Dieter Lindner and Feigenspan formed a formidable core at the magic club and they were to face a hard-working and hard-tackling side in Kickers Offenbach. What was to become the rivalry of all rivalries had begun.
As the game kicked off, Eintracht scored right away through Sztáni. Kickers Offenbach responded rather quickly though equalised after only eight minutes through the late Engelbert Kraus, a German national who spent most his career at Kickers. However, the prolific Frankfurter Feigenspan restored the Eintrachtler’s lead after only a few minutes and calmed things down on both sides of the tracks at the Olympic Stadium in Berlin. This rivalry was still quite cool, it had never been a big game when these two met, but neither of the sides had a clear rival and the fans of both sorely needed a club to despise. So, this became bigger than it perhaps was. The fact that it was an actual final inspired this, but there seemed to be a mutual yearning for a team to hate on both sides.
A rivalry between FSV Frankfurt and Eintracht Frankfurt has never existed. Both clubs have had a mutual sense of respect for one and another. Eintracht have often helped FSV with financial matters and vice versa. When FSV and Eintracht faced each other in the 2. Bundesliga in 2011/12, Eintracht decided to play both games at the Commerzbank-Arena and FSV got to keep their share of the ticket sales. During this summer, Eintracht faced FSV in the Saisoneröffnung of the stadium and once again, FSV got to keep the ticket sales. While there are a few clubs in Frankfurt, Eintracht have always been rather Confucian regarding the smaller clubs. They’ve provided when it was needed and have been helped when it has been needed.
While Bayern München have been more Machiavellian in their actions towards 1860 and Unterhaching, Frankfurt have decided to help their kinsmen. The other big clubs in the area, 1. FSV Mainz 05, SV Darmstadt 98 and SV Wehen Wiesbaden perhaps aren’t too keen on Eintracht Frankfurt, but it’s merely a case of minority complex. Eintracht and their fans don’t really care about Mainz or Darmstadt because they are quite simply too small to even be bothered about.
Back to the final. In the 23rd minute, Helmut Preisendörfer equalised for the Kickers from Offenbach am Main. The rest of the tense game was cagey and tough and with no real opportunities to score, the 75,000 spectators at the Olympic Stadium witnessed the beginning of a proper rivalry between two clubs in dire need of one.
Extra-time beckoned and followed, both teams stepped onto the pitch full of hope. In the 92nd minute however, the referee took a decision that was going to form the direction of this rivalry and while this is the situation that sparked the flame that began the rivalry between Kickers Offenbach and Eintracht Frankfurt. Kicker’s midfielder Heinz Lichl tackled the lightning quick Kress in the penalty area. The referee pointed to the penalty spot. The reliable goal scorer Eckehard “Ekko” Feigenspan steps forward. He took a few deep breaths, enjoying the humid Berlin air before shooting. Goal! 3-2 for the Frankfurter Eintracht and Feigenspan celebrates with his team mates. Is this the goal that will finally bring the title to Frankfurt? Kicker’s midfielder Lichl still claims that it was a clean tackle and that Kress exaggerated. Kress always shrugs when confronted by fans of Kickers. He states the opposite, that Lichl’s tackle was ugly and that the penalty was as clear as daylight.
Sztáni again! Goal for die Adler and Olympiastadion was at boiling point. 4-2 for Eintracht, was it done? Still about ten minutes to go and Kickers Offenbach showed that they aren’t giving up on their dream. Then Kickers score with ten minutes to go through Siegfried Gast and there’s hope again for Offenbach. Can they equalise, gain momentum and clinch the title? Will they become the ruling force in Hesse? This was a proper case of power struggle and a possible shift in power. Eintracht had always been the bigger club, but had never won a German league title. If Kickers were to win the title before Eintracht, then they would forever be the first German champions from Hesse.
There is still plenty of time to go, the spectators keep on chanting, keep on hoping for some magic. Sadly, for the Kickers it wasn’t to be this time either. Ekko Feigenspan completed his hat-trick in the 119th minute and won the title for Eintracht Frankfurt, the first and only to this day for the club.
In 1959, Frankfurt’s famous opera was destroyed because of World War II. The skyline was nowhere to be seen and even though Frankfurt was a banking capital, it was a city on its way up, financially and socially. When Eintracht Frankfurt won the German Championship in 1959 it was a part of the lengthy process of rebuilding the city. When they celebrated the title on the famed Römer Square in central Mainhattan, the title gave people some hope that the city was going to become better than it once was.
This title meant lots to the city of Frankfurt. People compare it to the German World Cup triumph of 1954, when they clinched the title against a superb Hungary team and gave the people of Germany some hope for the future. In cities crushed by the terror of war, football can truly set things alight and make people hope and dream again. This is a big part of the ever-lasting beauty of football and its increased importance. As stated earlier, this was also the case for the people of Frankfurt, a city that had been crushed by allied bombers and that needed rebuilding. To celebrate the new title on the newly built Römer square was a sign of hope, a sign of a prosperous future and the perfect beginning of a new era.
While this rivalry has cooled down due to the lack of games between the two parties, should Kickers rise in the ranks then we would witness a derby with some proper heat am Main.
Note by GGFN’s Axel Falk: As an Eintrachtler, I genuinely hope that Kickers do just that. I want to witness a derby between Eintracht and Kickers and I want to see us crush the offspring of Offenbach.
By Axel Falk.