The James Dean Allure of Borussia Mönchengladbach

“The Best of the Celtic View: the 100 covers that made you laugh, cry and cheer”; how could we resist a title like this when it was published a couple of years ago? The dear old Celtic View, brainchild and celebrated organ of the legend that was Jack McGinn, 40 years old and the raison d’être of the blatt that spawned this blog. “Here are,” the cover of the book gushes, “the 100 covers of the Celtic View that made us laugh, cry and cheer”. I don’t remember cheering at too many of the View’s covers (anybody who cheers when they see a Celtic View cover needs help) but I did laugh in a GIRUY way at some of the front pages during the dark days of the 90s, and I may even have shed an inner silent tear when I saw a picture of Martin Hayes grinning back at me from the cover of the View holding aloft the Celtic scarf for his signing on photo shoot.

From the early years, when it was an 8 page broadsheet, who can forget the Celtic Boy feature, the terrible cartoon that used to take up about half of the front page or the Spotlight on a Fan? Yet for all its many faults, Pravda did have one feature that left a lasting impression on me. Bob McDonald’s European football round-up I can genuinely claim to have given me a lifelong interest in the game beyond these shores. Every week Bob would have a page to round up the latest news from the major leagues on the continent. In the 70s his German coverage would mainly focus on the two teams toughing it out for the Bundesliga at the time, Bayern Munich and Borussia Moenchengladbach.


For no other reason than I liked the look of them in the grainy monochrome images that would accompany Bob’s German round-ups I was rooting for the Foals in those days rather than Bayern. In Germany it became a bit more complicated than that, with a football public that seemed to invest in both clubs a largely mythological aura, depending on one’s political viewpoint or even age. Holger Jenrich wrote: “All the reformers or progressives sided with Borussia instead of Bayern. They considered the team’s risky ‘look-out-here-I-come’ football a continuation of political change through football means.” According to Helmut Bottinger it was, “Gladbach or Bayern: radicalism or rationality, reform or pragmatism. if need be Bayern would win 1:0. They never played themselves into rapture, they won in a calculating manner. Contrast this with the young Foals who played free of all restraints, irresistably moving forward.”

It was all romanticised wishful thinking not backed up – indeed mostly contradicted – by the facts. But it helps to explain why a relatively small club from north western Germany became hugely popular. The Bayern – Gladbach dichotomy is explored in a chapter of Tor, Uli Hesse Lichtenburger’s essential read for anybody with an interest in german football. In this extract he examines the James Dean allure of the Foals:

“And that’s also the main difference between Gladbach and Bayern. Borussia, as a team, were more sexy. Apart from Netzer, this aura didn’t really have to do with the players themselves. After all, there were people like Horst Koppel at Gladbach, who played with a toupee for three seasons, and – but let’s not drag Berti Vogts into this again. What made Gladbach sexy in a James Dean sort of way was an element of tragedy counterbalancing all that gung-ho football and juvenile swagger. These players, one sensed, were somehow doomed, jinxed.

As always, Netzer comes to mind first. The most exciting German footballer of all time played only 20 minutes in a World Cup. And that was in the defeat against the DDR in 1974.

The things most people remember first about Gladbach are not their record victories, which never meant a thing anyway. Even the 12-0 win against Dortmund on the last day of the 1977-78 season was not enough: it would have taken another three goals to win the league. It’s the defeats. Gladbach’s two UEFA Cup triumphs (in 1975 and 1979) pale in comparison to their epic clashes with Liverpool in 1973 (UEFA Cup final), 1977 (European Cup final) and 1978 (European Cup semi-final), all of which were lost. Then there was the ill-fated penalty shoot-out against Everton in the 1970-71 European Cup, which could have been avoided but for a mistimed display of stereotypical German cleanliness. Gladbach were leading 1-0 in the first leg when goalkeeper Wolfgang Kleff decided to remove a roll of toilet paper from the box. Howard Kendall seized the opportunity and equalised from a distance.

Or how about the scandalous European Cup quarter-final against Real Madrid in March 1976? The first leg finished 2-2, at the Bernabeu it was 1-1. That second match was refereed by the Dutchman Leo van der Kroft, who disallowed two perfectly legal Gladbach goals in the second half. Netzer, then playing for Real, said even his Spanish team-mates had no idea why the goals weren’t given. UEFA suspended Van der Kroft.

It was all strangely reminiscent of Gladbach’s semi-final tie with Milan in the Cup-Winners Cup two years earlier. The Germans needed three goals to win the tie, and they got one early. Then the Spanish referee denied them a penalty for handball, refused to send off Karl-Heinz Schnellinger (playing for Milan), who broke Christian Kulik’s ankle with an awful tackle, and crowned his performance three minutes from time by looking the other way when Bernd Rupp was scythed down in Milan’s penalty area. However, these outrages and hard-luck stories paled into insignificance compared to the pinnacle of the Borussia drama. That was a game hardly anyone saw, but everyone recalls.

On October 20,1971, Gladbach played Internazionale at home. It was the first leg of the European Cup second round, and Inter’s team featured four men who had played for I taly against West Germany in the unforgettable 1970 World Cup semi-final (marred, according to Germans, by disgusting Italian play-acting). There were 27,501) in attendance at Gladbach’s small ground, the Bokelberg, and they were the only people who really saw what happened that night. The club had demanded an extra payment of DM6,600 from German TV to cover sales tax which they refused to pay. So the most legendary match featuring a Bundesliga club was not shown on television.

It was 1-1 after 20 minutes, Roberto Boninsegna having equalised after Jupp Heynckes’s early goal. Led by an awesome Netzer, who had had his leg in plaster until a few days before the match, the Foals then stampeded across the pitch for 30 minutes that produced five goals against the fabled Inter defence. Netzer himself scored twice, first from free-kick, then a breathtaking chip with the outside of his right foot. The Italians were able to stem the tide until eight minutes from time, when even muscle-man Klaus Sieloff was allowed to score to make it 7:l.

“In the spring of 1971, the Bundesliga scandal had covered the game with its dark, deep shadows,” wrote Karl-Heinz Huba, “but then, right in the middle of the darkness, there came deliverance. Only once in a blue moon can a team somewhere on this planet manage a game like that.’ Matt Busby, watching the match for UEF A, said: ‘What a fanatastic team! Such pace, power and invention!’

Tbe second leg was won 4-2 by Inter, a rough affair that left four Gladbach players injured. And yet it was Inter who reached the next round and, eventually, the final against Ajax. That’s because after 29 minutes of the first leg, an empty can thrown from the stands had hit Inter’s Boninsegna in the throat. He was carried off the pitch and substituted, whereupon Inter filed a protest with UEFA. The match was replayed in Berlin and finished scoreless.

Most people who witnessed the incident swear that Boninsegna was acting, and the report of the Red Cross attendants stated there was no mark to be found on the player’s body. Max Merkel, the Austrian coach, later wrote: ‘He was having a natter with his mates while lying on the ground, telling them to complain to the referee. Since that day I know that, in football, an Italian lying down is often more dangerous than one standing up.’ Why Boninsegna should have done such a thing, at a time whlen it was only 2-1, is unclear. The investigating UEFA commission claimed that Busby visited Inter’s dressing room and found Boninsegna unconscious.

Whatever the truth, this match remains the best example of the mishaps that seemed to befall Gladbach with regularity when the stakes were highest, sometimes even in the league. In 1971, with seven games to go, Borussia led Bayern by a point and were playing Bremen at home Two minutes from time, with the scores level at 1-1, a cross sailed into Bremen’s box and Herbert Laumen rose to head it in. He missed the ball, fell into the net, and the sudden tug caused the left goalpost to break at the base. There was no spare goal available and no one connected with Borussia hurried to repair the damage, hoping for a replay, so the game was called off. Three weeks later, the DFB decided the home club was responsible for the equipment and awarded both points to Bremen. It may have been a correct decision, but it was typical, very hard Gladbach luck. Bayern, meanwhile, had lost (as always) at Kaiserslautern, but suddenly found themselves back in the running thanks to a rotten piece of wood. And that, somehow, was also typical.


There is a very good introduction to the emergence of Gladbach as a force in the Bundesliga by St. Anthony on Celtic Underground:

“The Best of the Celtic View” by Paul Cuddihy and Joe Sullivan

“Tor! – The Story of German Football” by Ulrich Hesse-Lichtenburger


For a chance to win an item of your choice from our NTV store (see link at top of page) visit our website and click on the competition link at the top of the home page or go here

See the video below which features some of the incidents in the article. Nostalgia at its best.

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