Bundesliga: The 1970/71 season that shook West German football to its core

Bundesliga Long Reads West Germany 1970/71

Few countries lived through such a tumultuous 21st century as Germany. It lost two World Wars, was home to one of the most despicable leaders to have walked the earth, and was also split up into two separate territories by the Allies following their victory in 1945. The Cold War may not have been as ferocious as the battles before, but the danger of nuclear conflict was always imminent, and Germany was at the heart of it. Only when the GDR (East Germany) and the BRD (West Germany) were reunited as one whole Deutschland in 1990 was there any semblance of peace in Europe’s biggest country.

With all this going on, you’d have been forgiven for failing to notice that there was any football taking place. But the Cold War period saw the birth of the Bundesliga, the country’s first professional league, which still lives on today. This league was only open to West German sides until 1991, with East German clubs having their own division on the opposite side of the Iron Curtain.

The Bundesliga was inaugurated in 1963, decades after other top European leagues such as Serie A and La Liga. The reason was a seemingly never-ending debate over professionalism in sport. Germany had been proud of its amateur sports status for years, and a nationwide football division would have made that almost impossible to keep with tradition. Travelling around the country, certainly at the time, was no easy process, and required a more professional attitude.

1.FC Köln were the division’s first winners, followed by Werder Bremen, 1860 Munich, Eintracht Braunschweig and 1.FC Nürnberg. Bayern Munich did not claim their first title until 1969, which was then followed by back-to-back titles from Borussia Mönchengladbach in 1970 and 1971.

They won the last one of those by two points, with Munich behind them in second. It was a close finish at the top, but it was the fight at the bottom that would be remembered as one of German football’s darkest moments.

That season, Kickers Offenbach were relegated, along with Rot-Weiss Essen, finishing just a solitary goal behind Rot-Weiß Oberhausen above them in 16th.

Horst-Gregorio Canellas was the owner of Kickers at the time and was understandably furious at his club’s relegation, which was confirmed on 5th June, the final day of the season, after his side had lost 4-2 away at Köln.

He was still seething the following day as he held a party for his 50th birthday. As a well-connected man in football, and owner of one of the best 18 clubs in the country, many of the biggest German names in the sport had been invited, including then West German national coach Helmut Schön and DFB general secretary Wilfried Straub. Several journalists also attended the bash, which has now gone in German footballing folklore.

Despite his team being unable to avoid the drop, the season had thrown up many difficult questions. With several results questionable at best, Canellas had a joker up his sleeve, one he was all too eager to show off to his guests.

The host had some interesting news to share and proceeded to play two tape recordings, the first of which was with Hertha Berlin players Tasso Wild and Bernd Patzke. During the conversation, the two footballers could clearly be heard asking Canellas for 140,000 Deutsche Marks for their Hertha side to beat Arminia Bielefeld, who were Offenbach’s direct rivals in the relegation battle. Incredibly, this was only after Biefeld had themselves promised Hertha DM220,000 should they offer no resistance in said match. However, as Wild had a soft spot for Offenbach, he would be willing to make do with DM80,000 less.

As if that wasn’t enough, Canellas also played a conversation with Manfred Manglitz, the Cologne and West German goalkeeper. Just like Wild and Patzke, he was also looking to make some extra cash. DM100,000, to be exact. In return, he assured Canellas that Cologne would lose to Offenbach, with Manglitz claiming to have already persuaded five of his teammates to throw the game.

Canellas, however, appeared to be loyal to the principles of football on this occasion and did not hand over the money to Manglitz. As earlier stated, Offenbach lost that game to Köln – in which the infamous goalkeeper did not play – whilst Bielefeld somehow managed to beat third-placed Hertha in Berlin 1-0 for what was only their third away of the season. They had started the day a point behind Offenbach, but with the three points, they leapfrogged their way into a comfortable 14th place.

Although his side were relegated, Canellas was quietly confident that they would be reinstated to the Bundesliga with his proof. However, despite later confirmation that Bielefeld had indeed paid Berlin to lose – for a rate of DM15,000 per player – Offenbach’s relegation was upheld. And things were about to get worse. Along with Wild and Manglitz, Canellas was handed a lifetime ban from the sport. Canellas was judged to be just as guilty as those who had contacted him, despite no concrete evidence that he had ever parted with any money. After all, he had admitted to attempted bribery, the investigators argued, and he was caught on tape having the conversation about throwing matches, whether he paid or not.

This awoke the beast inside Canellas, and he became a man possessed as he attempted to uncover as much about the affair as possible. After all, it seemed unlikely that only Bielefeld, Hertha and Cologne were involved and he had journalists, players and even their family members willing to give up information and contribute to the story of a lifetime.

In the end, the scandal was far more widespread than he could have ever imagined. Firstly, he discovered that West German international Max Lorenz, of Eintracht Braunschweig, had been given DM40,000 as a reward for his side not losing to Rot-Weiß Oberhausen on the last game of the campaign. And Oberhausen themselves were also involved, with their chairman Peter Maassen paying Manglitz’s Köln DM30,000 for Oberhausen to be assured of a victory as far back as May 22nd. The win ended up being essential to their Bundesliga survival.

It also emerged that Schalke, one of the biggest sides in the country, had been a part of the dirty deals. Bielefeld, who were found to have secured themselves three wins through large payments when all was said and done, had sent Die Königsblauen DM40,000 so that they could obtain another important victory in a game between the two. Astonishingly, eight of Schalke’s team, including three members of West Germany’s 1970 World Cup squad that reached the semi-finals, swore under oath that they had not accepted any payments of any kinds in order to throw football matches.

Canellas ending up collecting a huge amount of information that would have made the many protectors of the amateur game role in their graves. Once he had finished unearthing all of the season’s hidden secrets, 50 players from seven clubs had been found guilty of taking or offering bribes and bungs in order to secure results or to deliberately lose, as well as two coaches and six officials. And there may have been even more, with two-thirds of the whole division mentioned at some point along the way. Even the mighty Bayern Munich were brought in to question, although unproven, as they were accused of paying DM12,000 to Duisburg’s goalkeeper if he would allow the Bavarians to put a few more goals into his net. All those who were found guilty were fined and given some kind of suspension, although many of them were pardoned in the coming years, including Manfred Manglitz and Canellas himself.

The ramifications of the scandal were numerous. At the time, relegation from the Bundesliga was every player’s worst nightmare. Whilst the top division was professional, the amateur wilderness remained below. Players were unable to earn more than DM500 a month and had to find other work to supplement their income. Fear can make people do crazy things, and as the scandal showed, they will sometimes go to extreme lengths to secure their future. To attempt to avoid a repeat, a second professional tier was created: 2.Bundesliga. Although it was still a step down from the first division, it still offered players a stable career without the need to resort to bringing the game into disrepute to survive.

Even more importantly, though, the maximum wage was abolished just a year later, in 1972. Professionalism had already been implemented, of course, but its introduction been limited. Now, however, players would be able to earn whatever they could extract from their employers, effectually eliminating the need to take an extra buck in the most unsportsmanlike of circumstances.

Unsurprisingly, in the eyes of the general public, football and the Bundesliga had been tainted. In just two years, overall attendances for the division dropped from 6.3 million in 1971 to just over 5 million in 1973. One million people had turned their backs on the game.

Fortunately for Bundesliga, West Germany were victorious at the 1974 World Cup – despite losing a group match to East Germany, the first and only time the two would ever face each other – and Bayern Munich won three European Cups in a row to restore some of the pride that had been previously lost.

Some repercussions can still be seen today, however. Schalke are still known in some quarters as ‘FC Meineid’ (FC Perjury) for their involvement, with Ruhr rivals Borussia Dortmund in particular unwilling to let them forget. They don’t have the worst of it. Most of the clubs whose names were soiled by the findings now play their football below the top divisions, with Offenbach themselves playing in the fourth-tier. There was even another money scandal in 2005, with a referee admitting to fixing games in the lower divisions and the DFB Pokal.

What had started as a birthday party went on to become the single most unforgettable scandal in the Bundesliga. Horst-Gregorio Canellas’s 50th birthday went down in history. His 51st, one would imagine, will have struggled to reach the same heights.