Thursday, 16 April 2009

"Schalke, Schalke, Schalke"

"Schalke, Schalke, Schalke" the chant rings out in the Gewerkenstrasse as the successful Schalke team celebrate their fourth German championship in 5 years with a parade through the city of Gelsenkirchen.

The crowd turned out in their thousands but the names on everybody`s lips was those of Fritz Szepan and brother-in-law Ernst Kuzorra. The two hometown boys had not only changed the way German football was played but revolutionised the game on a much larger scale.

Beckenbauer, Muller, Klinsman, Matthaeus, all names who roll off the tongue when thinking of the greats of German football, but before these four were even born, it was Szepan and Kuzorra who were establishing Germany as one of the footballing giants of the world.

The duo were natives of Gelsenkirchen and were part of the team that dominated German football throughout the nineteen thirties (with the help of their most famous fan who was in a position of some power throughout that time).

Despite the dominance of that decade, it started late for "Gelsenkirchen-Schalke 04" who were still under a ban from breaching a payment rule 1929, and saw them suspended from playing for over a year and a half. It didn`t put the fans off however, and the first game back drew a crowd of over 70,000 people to Glückauf-Kampfbahn.

The ban followed a number of the team receiving 10 Marks instead of the allowed 5 as compensation for playing in away games throughout the 1928/29 season.

The two began life as miners in Gelsenkirchen, even after Kuzorra was signed by his home town club at the age of just 14. It was three years before he would eventually begin to play a key role in the future of the club.

The story of Schalke`s success was put down to a number of factors including the incredible support, the fuhrer`s influence, but nobody could argue that the reason for the blue and white success was down to the two inspirational home grown talents. Szepan would go on to make a bigger name for himself on the international scene getting 34 caps for Germany and captaining the side for 30 of those games. Kuzorra amassed just 12 caps but scored 7 goals in these appearances.

It was the idea of playing short quick passes on the floor that led to the success of the team, a system that became known as the Schalker Kreisel. Whilst it may seem obvious to the modern day footballing fan, following the great Liverpool teams of the seventies and Arsenal`s Invincible`s at the turn of the century in the days of Szepan and Kuzorra it was almost unheard of. The defenders of the time had no way to deal with the concept which promoted the two to legendary status throughout the country. When the Schalker Kreisel was first seen abroad it was known as the "Scottish" as that was the origin of such style.

When the two retired in 1950 it brought an end to the great Die Knappen (The Miner`s, a nickname given to the club because of their industrial roots) side which had been the Manchester United of their generation. Die Königsblauen (The Royal Blues) won just one more German title from 1950 onwards (1958) further enhancing the significance that the two brought to the team.

There was no escaping the conditions that surrounded everything at this time, and whilst Schalke were crushing the opposition, the Nazi movement was gathering pace as the Second World War approached. Both men would benefit differently from the movement however, Kuzorra was often approached personally by the Fuhrer on numerous occasions to promote Aryanistic values, which were expressed by Kuzorra`s success and athleticism. Much to Hitler`s dismay, the Schalke striker refused to get involved in politics. It was a personality trait by Kuzorra that was blamed for his limited appearances for the national team after a reported bust up with the German coach Otto Nerz.

Kuzorra`s legend has lived on long after his death in 1990 and he was voted in Schalke`s all time greatest XI in 2004 and the majority consider him Schalke`s best player of all time. German president Johannes Rau was asked if a stadium in Germany should ever be named after a sportswoman rather than a man as was usually the case. A question to which the Bundespräsident replied: 'Und wie soll das denn dann heißen: 'Dem Ernst-Kuzorra-seine-Frau-ihr-Stadion'? ('And what name would that be: 'Ernst-Kuzorra's wife's stadium'?'

It was the willingness to stave away from National Socialist benefits which kept Kuzorra in such high regard. Szepan however was refused a street name after him close to the new Veltins-Arena due to the winger`s acceptance of a business from the Anti-Semitic government. Fritz paid just 7,000 marks for the company (previously owned by German Jews who had the business taken off them), which turned over six times the amount in the first year alone.

Political views aside Szepan was just as significant to the Schalke side as Kuzorra but it`s Kuzorra`s name which is held in higher regard as some of the Blues fans see a taboo of praising Szepan due to his post football alignment with Hitler. Had they had the same effect any other time in the last 100 years there names would have been placed firmly on the same pedestal as Maradona and Pele as greats who could work magic with the ball, whilst achieving great success at the same time.

By the time the two retired Schalke had won the Gauglia Westfalen every year it ran between 1934 and 1944 as well as six German Championship's and one cup.

Whether or not you find it acceptable to praise a team that was "supported" by the most notorious dictator of all time (due to the aryan routes of their most famous duo), there`s no doubting that Schalke`s team of the 1930`s changed the way football was to be played forever. Adolf Hitler may be remembered for his despicable foreign policy and infamous attitudes towards other races, but what he did indirectly for football was the basis for the great Carlos Alberto goal against Italy in 1970 and the Arsenal team`s footballing ideology which saw them go a whole season without defeat as a result of their quick short passing game.

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