FEATURE | 5 of the Best – Germany’s ‘other’ European finalists

This Wednesday will finally see an event which has become a lamentably rare occurrence for those of us who love German football.

When Eintracht Frankfurt arrive in Seville to play the Europa League final, they will become only the third German side to do so this century, the second in the last two decades, and in fact only the first to play in the final of Europe’s secondary competition since its name was changed from the old UEFA Cup in 2009.

The stakes could not be higher for Eintracht. On top of playing for a place in the Champions League (in pot 1 of the group stage draw, no less), amazingly they will be bidding to be the first German club not named Bayern Munich or Borussia Dortmund to win a European trophy in a quarter of a century.

But win or lose on Wednesday night, there’s no doubt Oliver Glasner’s team have left their mark on Europe this season and have already added their name to an illustrious list of sides outside of “the big two” who have etched their names into Germany’s European football heritage.

In celebration of their achievements, here’s some of Germany’s “other” most famous finalists from years gone by.

Hamburger SV – European Cup winners 1982/83

Younger German fans who have watched HSV attempt to clamber out of the 2. Bundesliga for the last four years may be shocked to learn they spent a period in the late 70s and early 80s leading the nation, both at home and in European competition.

Having already won the Cup Winners Cup in 1977 and having flexed their muscles in doubling the German transfer record for English forward Kevin Keegan, Die Rothosen dominated Germany with three Bundesliga titles in five years, and played in a further two European finals, unsuccessfully, losing in the European Cup to Nottingham Forest in 1980 and the UEFA Cup to FK Göteborg in 1982.

Something that will emerge as a theme in this list is that often these sides are so vividly remembered not necessarily for the names on the back of their own shirts, but for the behemoths they were tasked with overcoming. There is likely no better example than this.

Hamburg’s route to the final was lacking heavyweight appeal, taking them through East Germany and Dynamo Berlin before Olympiakos, Dynamo Kyiv and Real Sociedad were bested. However, the Juventus side that awaited them in the final could scarcely have been more daunting. 

With a remarkable six players who had started the World Cup final one year earlier, Ernst Happel’s HSV were essentially facing the World Champions, not to mention with the addition of one Michel Platini, who was about to go on a then unheard-of run of three Ballon d’Or wins in a row.

With Keegan having long departed the club, another hero was needed, and it fell to a player who had been a mainstay throughout this golden period to step up. Felix Magath breached Juve’s superhuman defence in the game’s early stages, and that proved to be enough to bring the cup back home from Athens.

Borussia Mönchengladbach –  UEFA Cup Winners 1974/75

Bayern Munich’s 21st Century dominance, and the sad European drought that has followed for the rest of the country, has perhaps given rise to the belief that when FC Hollywood are eating at the top table, even scraps are hard to come by for anyone else.

Just as with Hamburg, Gladbach proved that even when Bayern get their trophy hoover out, there can still be plenty to go around elsewhere. 

With both three European Cups and three Bundesliga wins on the bounce, accepted wisdom would suggest that the 70s belonged to Munich. However, on top of matching those three consecutive league titles immediately after Bayern achieved the feat, the Foals played in an astonishing five European finals between 1973 and 1980. 

Really any of those ties would be worth talking about here, but only two of them ended in glory. Losses to Liverpool in both the 1973 UEFA and 1977 European Cups, followed by coming out on the wrong side of the first and only all-German UEFA Cup final, to who else but Eintracht Frankfurt, stopped Borussia from really entering the pantheon of all-time great European dynasties.

There were still two UEFA Cup wins, hardly anything to be sniffed at, and the 1975 vintage certainly stands out. A second-leg brace from future Ballon D’or Winner and Charlton player Allan Simonsen on top of a hattrick from Jupp Heynckes saw Gladbach beat Twente 5-1 in the second leg, which remains a record win in the final of the competition.

FC Magdeburg – Cup Winners Cup Winners 1973/74

Gladbach’s European adventures in the 1970s bring us neatly on to the 73/74 Cup Winners Cup. As West Germany’s representative, the Foals fell short of adding to their lengthy list of finals at the final hurdle. However, they do deserve a mention here for scoring an utterly ridiculous 29 goals in eight games before being eliminated at the semi-final stage by none other than AC Milan.

Although this was not a Milan side right at the peak of their 60s powers, they were still only a few years removed from their second European Cup victory, still captained by former Ballon D’Or winner and Al Pacino lookalike Gianni Rivera, and more used to coming up against the likes of Ajax, Real Madrid and Benfica on the European stage. Therefore when they were faced with relative minnows Magdeburg in the final in Rotterdam, they might have considered their 2nd consecutive Cup Winners Cup to be in the bag.

Magdeburg, locked in a back and forth battle with Dynamo Dresden across a number of years over who would claim the East German Oberliga, had had to settle for third place and the East-German Cup (the FDGB-Pokal) the previous season. This blessing in disguise, as it turned out, led to East-German football’s greatest moment.

With a side still containing many of the players who had earned them promotion in the previous decade, Magdeburg had to go through previous winners Sporting CP in the semi-final before taking on Milan.

Although the final was watched by a curiously small 4,641 fans, this did not diminish Magdeburg’s glory as they rolled out 2-0 winners, completing a double alongside the league title, and remain East Germany’s only European trophy winners.

Bayer Leverkusen – Champions League finalists 2001/2002

The most agonising season of all time? It would be tough to argue against the Leverkusen of 2002 going down as the greatest “nearly men” story ever told. 

Klaus Toppmöller’s side were a force of nature in Europe throughout the campaign, negotiating two extremely tricky group stages, moving on to deny Liverpool a blockbuster semi-final with Manchester United, before edging past an Alex Ferguson side who were still in the heart of their golden generation, to set up a famous final against Real Madrid at Glasgow’s Hampden Park.

Die Werkself gave as good as they got in the face of one of the most star-studded sides football has ever seen. Leverkusen’s side didn’t have as many big names as Real, who would see this match as the peak of their Galacticos era. 

Holding their own after Lucio’s header cancelled out Raul’s equaliser, in the end Bayer played onlookers to one of European football’s great moments, with Zinedine Zidane’s improbable swivelled volley before half time eventually proving to be the winner.

It was a heartbreaking end to a heartbreaking year for Leverkusen, who saw a potential treble turn to dust in the space of a few days, adding runners-up finishes in the Bundesliga and DFB Pokal. Nevertheless, the side of Michael Ballack, Ze Roberto, Lucio and Oliver Neuville will surely still live long in the memory.

Schalke 04 – UEFA Cup Winners 1996/97

Fans of The Miners are certainly in good spirits after their recent and immediate promotion following a season in the 2. Bundesliga. However, they will still look back wistfully at what is surely their club’s greatest moment as they won the UEFA Cup.

With the Champions League still living up to its name by allowing only Europe’s league-winners to qualify, this was a UEFA Cup at the height of its prestige, with recent winners having included Ajax, Bayern Munich, Juventus, and Schalke’s opponents Inter Milan.

British fans will remember this period as the “Football Italia” era – arguably Serie A’s peak. That was certainly reflected in the team sheets, at least for those outside of Germany. In terms of household names, Schalke were even more mismatched than Leverkusen in 2002, facing a side containing the likes of Javier Zanetti, Ivan Zamorano, Paul Ince and Youri Djorkaeff, with perhaps only one or two prominent names turning out for the Royal Blues.

Schalke were already assured of their place in the record books as this was to be the last UEFA Cup final played across two legs. After trading 1-0 home wins, thanks to goals from Marc Wilmots and Zamorano, it was Huub Stevens side who ensured they came down on the right side of this historical occasion thanks to their goalkeeper Jens Lehmann, who proved the hero in the penalty shootout to send the cup back to Germany. 

Stunningly, this has proven to be the last time to date a German side has won this trophy. 25 years later, we could finally see that dismal run come to an end on Wednesday night, with Eintracht vying to bring European glory back to Frankfurt for a second time.

Tom Jones

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