Historical Football #13 – Football In The Protectorate

Historical Football returns to The Long Ball with a look at the interesting history of football in the Saar – a small region on the German border with France that for six years was a FIFA recognised country…

The world and politics of it post World War 2 was a complex and strange time when looked at now. Germany split in two, Israel was in its infancy and a small German region on the French border became a protectorate (essentially an independent state that got protection from a larger country in exchange for something else). Saar was a small industrial region of Germany that was partitioned off after the war and occupied by the French thus forming their own country of sorts – because they didn’t want to be part of France – with its own currency, nationality and, naturally, sporting credentials (Saar had a team at the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki). So began the story of football in the protectorate of Saar and the series of issues they would have…

The main team in Saar was FC Saarbrucken whom, like all other Saar based sides, were forced out of German football after the war. However, unlike the rest of the Saar sides, Saarbrucken were a quality side so rather than play in the newly formed Saar league (the Ehrenliga) they played as guests in Ligue 2 in France as FC Sarrebruck for the 1948-49 season. However, the guests were infinitely better than the French sides and romped to the Ligue 2 title (racking up some scores more akin to rugby along the way) which caused much embarrassment amongst the French teams. Naturally Saarbrucken expected to join the French Football Federation and play in Ligue 1 the following season but were unanimously rejected by the French teams and banned from Ligue 1 to avoid a German side winning the French league.

Without a challenge and barred from the two places they could get one, Saarbrucken turned to friendlies against other sides from around Europe in the short-lived Internationaler Saarlandpokal. Saarbrucken were eventually allowed to return to German football along with the other Saar sides in 1952 where they were one of the top sides. Saarbrucken actually represented Saar in the initial European Cup in 1955, drawing an AC Milan side boasting world class stars. The Saar side recovered from 3-1 down in the San Siro to win 4-3 beforre, after holding Milan for 75 minutes, collapsing in the home leg 4-1 to crash out in their only European appearance.

The Saarland national side came along three years after becoming a protectorate when FIFA accepted them as an independent footballing nation in 1950. They weren’t given membership until two weeks before the World Cup in Brazil ruling that tournament out and with no European Championships until 1960 they had to wait until 1953 for their first competitive international – a World Cup qualifier in Norway. The visitors started poorly, going down 2-0  as well as having to make an early substitute due to injury and having Theodor Puff playing with a broken fibula but managed to turn it around into a 3-2 victory. It was an excellent start but their next trip was to Stuttgart to face West Germany.

The Germans refused to fly the Saar flag then proceeded to beat them 3-0 which, after Saar’s 0-0 home draw with Norway and West Germany’s emphatic win over them, meant that the winner of the return match in Saarbrucken would go to Switzerland. The mostly FC Saarbrucken side played well in front of 53,000 but were undone by some poor refereeing – Saar had a goal incorrectly ruled out, a clear handball turned away and a foul on their keeper ignored for the third German goal – and went down 3-1 to the eventual world champions. In truth, the result mattered little to the Saarland players whom all felt German at heart with wing half Kurt Clemens (the only one to play abroad and whom would have played for West Germany at the World Cup if he wasn’t ineligible because of playing for Saarland) saying,

“…I wasn’t really unhappy with both results. I felt that I was German and didn’t want to prevent the team that I had supported as a little boy from getting to Switzerland. We wouldn’t have had a chance at the World Cup anyway…”

Saarland lining up pre-match
Saarland lining up pre-match

 The Saar produced a good side during the protectorate era. The strike pairing of Herbert Martin and Herbert Binkert both scored 6 goals for Saarland (the record) and were a fearsome pair. Both also played for Saarbrucken with Binkert scoring a hat trick when Saarbrucken defeated Liverpool 4-1 in a 1951 friendly. Defender Waldemar Philippi played in all but one of Saarland’s 19 internationals which is a record while Franz Imming was a former German international. Three Saarland players actually went on to play for Germany after their vote to rejoin in 1955 – Karl Ringel (1 cap), Gerhard Siedl (6 caps, 3 goals) and Heinz Vollmar (12 caps, 3 goals). The most notable Saarland alumni was none other than their boss, Helmut Schon who just happens to be the same one whom led West Germany to second in the 1966 World Cup, third in 1970 and winning in 1974 plus the European Championships in 1972.

Saar rejoined West Germany on 1 January 1957 which consequently brought an end to one of the more interesting and curious times in footballing history. Gone was the protectorate of Saar and so too the quality of footballers produced. Saarbrucken have flirted with the top flight a few times but are languishing in the lower reached and while others have reached the top tier in the past, no Saar side is setting the world on fire. It’s a long way from the heady days of the post-war years when a small German region became one of football’s most interesting stories. And that was football in the Saar protectorate.

That wraps up another Historical Football. Stay tuned for more coming soon on The Long Ball.

Thanks!

Further Reading

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