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Exploring Europe at the British Library

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Discover the British Library's extensive collections from continental Europe and read news and views on European culture and affairs from our subject experts and occasional guest contributors. Read more

21 June 2024

Miracles and Fairy Tales: some German Football Stories

It’s generally acknowledged that success in major sporting events can boost a nation’s morale, and that even those uninterested in the sport itself may on such occasions be carried along by the enthusiasm of their sport-loving fellow citizens. One such footballing event in 1950s West Germany was the final of the 1954 World Cup tournament, played in neighbouring Switzerland.
 
This match has gone down in German history as ‘das Wunder von Bern’ (‘the miracle of Bern’) because it saw underdogs West Germany defeat the favourites Hungary. As described in a previous post the Hungarians were at the top of their game in the early 1950s and the final was theirs to win; after all, their ‘Golden Team’ had thrashed Germany 8-3 in the group stage of the tournament. As anticipated, they took an early lead, but Germany were unexpectedly quick to equalise and at half time the score was level at 2-2. With six minutes of the second half to go, German forward Helmut Rahn scored a third goal. A late Hungarian equaliser was ruled offside, and when the whistle blew, West Germany were World Cup winners.
 
Book cover with four black and white photographs from the 1954 World Cup final
Cover of Peter Kasza, 1954, Fussball spielt Geschichte: das Wunder von Bern (Bonn, 2004)  SF.427 [Bd. 435]
 
For many in West Germany the win became symbolic not just of sporting success against the odds, but of a new sense of national identity and self-confidence. The Federal Republic was only five years old, and memories of the Nazi regime and the Second World War were still raw. The cup win offered something that Germans could be unconditionally and unproblematically proud of. Writers and historians have described it as a kind of rebirth for a country still grappling with its recent past. It was also the beginning of the West Germany’s rise to be a major footballing nation.,
 
The 2003 film Das Wunder von Bern, by life-long football fan Sönke Wortmann, dramatises these themes on a personal level through the fictional story of Richard, a former prisoner of war returning from a decade in Soviet captivity and trying to find his place again both in his family and in a very different Germany. A last-minute trip to the cup final with his 11-year old son Matthias, who idolises Helmut Rahn but has a difficult relationship with the long-absent and traumatised Richard, becomes a turning-point for Richard’s reconciliation with his family and his country. 
 
Film poster for Das Wunder von Bern with an image of a young boy and a smaller picture of him and his father playing football on a piece of waste ground
Poster for the 2003 film Das Wunder von Bern
 
It has been suggested that the significance of the ‘miracle of Bern’ as a turning-point for the nation as a whole has been overemphasised and mythologised, and no doubt films such as Wortmann’s help to feed that mythology. But it was definitely a fillip for the young Federal Republic, just as the ‘Sommermärchen’ (‘Summer Fairy Tale’) of the 2006 World Cup was would be for a reunified Germany 52 years later, when the country hosted the tournament.
 
Germany didn’t win in 2006, being knocked out in the semi-finals by eventual victors Italy (although they defeated Portugal in the runners-up game to finish third). But the success of the event once again gave Germans a sense of national pride, and helped to normalise the waving of the German flag and wearing of its colours to reflect this, something regarded with more wariness in previous decades. Sönke Wortmann also made a film about this World Cup, this time a documentary, Deutschland, ein Sommermärchen. Like Das Wunder von Bern three years before, this enjoyed huge success.
 
Cover of 'Deutschland, ein Sommermaerchen' with colour photographs of footballers celebrating and a footballer lying on the grass taking a photograph
Cover of Sönke Wortmann & Christoph Biermann, Deutschland, ein Sommermärchen: ein WM-Tagebuch (Cologne, 2006) YF.2008.a.38179
 
Germany’s triumph in another World Cup in Brazil in 2014, although not such a watershed moment as 1954 or 2006, was rapturously received at home. The final had the nation gripped, with impromptu ‘public viewings’ set up outside houses and shops.
 
A group of people sitting on a street and watching a football match on a television that has been set up outside a shop
A ‘public viewing’ of the 2014 World Cup final on a Munich street (photograph: Susan Reed) 
 
As Germany hosts this year’s European Championships, feelings are a bit more muted as political divisions and the rise of right-wing parties make flag-waving seem more problematic for some. But so far fans have been enjoying the atmosphere, and the fact that a Bhangra-inspired song by ‘Lovely & Monty’, two Sikh taxi drivers from Hamburg, who perform in their video draped in the national colours, has become a viral hit, suggests that Euro 2024 can showcase a diverse and modern Germany.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections

Further reading:

Thomas Krömer, ‘Mehr als 90 Minuten: das Wunder von Bern (Regie : Sönke Wortmann, D 2003)’, in Wie der Vater, so der Sohn? Kulturpsychoanalytische Filmbetrachtungen, ed. Hannes König, Theo Piegler (Giessen 2017) YF.2018.a.15212 
 
Franz-Josef Brüggemeier, ‘Das Wunder von Bern: the 1954 football world cup, the German nation and popular histories’, in Popular historiographies in the 19th and 20th centuries : cultural meanings, social practices, ed. Sylvia Paletschek (Oxford, 2011) YK.2011.a.11297 
 
Die WM-Show : wie wir die beste Fussball-WM aller Zeiten am Bildschirm erlebten : WM 2006 YF.2009.a.10872 
 
Markus Voeth, Isabel Tobies, Christian Niederauer, Fussball-Weltmeisterschaft 2006 : was die Deutschen denken und dachten; Geschichten, Kuriositäten, Zitate, Bevölkerungsumfragen (Stuttgart, 2006)  YF.2010.a.17024 

Ulrich Kühne-Hellmessen & Gregor Derichs, Steht auf, wenn ihr Deutschland seid: die Geschichte eines weltmeisterlichen Sommertraums (Zürich, 2006) YF.2012.b.756

17 June 2024

Ukraine: A Life in Football

The history of Ukrainian football starts with the establishment of the Odesa British Athletic Club in 1878 by British workers of the Indo-European Telegraph Company. For a number of years, the club functioned as exclusively British. According to the archival documents, the first Odessites – Piotrovskii and Kryzhnovskii, and later a well-known aviator and athlete Sergei Utochkin – joined the club only in 1899. Artem Frankov, a Ukrainian sports journalist, believes that amateur footballers in Odesa actively played outside the official OBAC structure, but the participation of Ukrainians had not been recorded. The first big match, however, was reported in the local press (Odesskii Vestnik).

Lviv became the official birthplace of Ukrainian football. In 1892, with active support from Archduke Franz Ferdinand, it became an integral part of annual fairs aiming to demonstrate achievements in economic and social life. On 17 July 1894, Gazeta Lwowska, in an article about the fair, tried to explain this gymnastic activity as a game where players bounce a ball with their feet.

Screenshot of the 161 issue of Gazeta Lwowska published in 1894

Screenshot of an article in Gazeta Lwowska, attempting to explain the intricacies of football. Image from https://jbc.bj.uj.edu.pl/dlibra/publication/22161

The section of the article focuses on the ‘Sokol’ rally, or demonstration of sports competencies by members of a newly formed athletic society. Vasyl’ Nahirnyi, a Ukrainian Galician architect and public figure, was its founder and head, while another educator, publisher, and promoter of sports in Galicia, Volodymyr Lavrivs’kyi, published the first rules of the game in Ukrainian.

It was probably at that time that the term ‘kopanyi m’iach’ started being used to name this game. Abbreviated as ‘kopanka’ (the stress is on the first syllable) – a kicked ball – the term existed in Galicia until the end of the Second World War but never spread to other Ukrainian lands and did not enter the Ukrainian literary language. In a scholarly article on Ukrainian national football terminology of the late 19th and early 20th century, Iryna Protsyk of the National University ‘Kyiv-Mohyla Academy’ comes to the conclusion that “Despite the fact that Ukrainian system of football terminology during the investigated period was in the process of formation, there was certain domination of national football terminology over foreign terms: 75 per cent football names themselves, 23 per cent – loanwords from different languages and 2 per cent hybrid special names.”  

Diagram of a football pitch from Volodymyr Lavrivs’kyi's ‘Kopana‘

Diagram of a football pitch from Volodymyr Lavrivs’kyi's Kopana

School students started playing football in Uzhhorod (Zakarpattia) in 1893, and the first official match took place on 15 August 1901. The game attracted an audience of 1,000 spectators – a significant part of the town’s population of 14,000 people. The local team lost 0 : 3 to one of the strongest Hungarian teams, the Buda Athletic Club.  

Historians think that Czech workers from the machine factory Grether and Kryvanek in Kyiv introduced local workers to football. The first games were recorded on a football pitch opposite the factory in 1900, at present – a site of the National Cinema Studio of feature films named after Oleksandr Dovzhenko.

It is not surprising that football remains popular in today’s Ukraine. Not only is it widely played, but it also is the subject of academic research. The Geographical Faculty of the Ivan Franko National University of Lviv offers a course in the History and Geography of Football.

Even if one is not big on football, it is impossible not to have heard about Valeriy Lobanovskyi (1939-2002), Oleh Blokhin (b. 1952), Ihor Bielanov (b. 1960) and Andriy Shevchenko (b. 1976). All three prominent Ukrainian footballers, at various points trained by Lobanovs’kyi, were honoured with the Ballon d'Or (the Golden Ball), the most prestigious and valuable individual award in football.

Front cover of A. Frankov  ‘Futbol po-ukrainski‘

Cover of Futbol po-ukrainski by A. Frankov (Kharkiv, 2006) YF.2008.a.10294

In preparing this blog, I have been searching the catalogue for footballers’ memoirs. Unfortunately, our holdings in this area are not strong, and it would be good if we could cover these gaps retrospectively.

Image showing the cover of ‘My Life  My Football‘ with a colpur photograph of Andriy Shevchenko

Cover of My Life, My Football by Andriy Shevchenko and Alessandro Alciato translated from Italian by Mark Palmer (Glasgow, 2023). Awaiting legal deposit copy

Having said that, I have made an interesting discovery. For the Euro 2012 Championship, Ukrainian writers published a collection Pys'mennyky pro futbol, with contributions from Serhiy Zhadan, Yurii Andrukhovych, Yuriy Vynnychuk and Artem Chekh, among others.  

Image showing the cover of ‘Pys'mennyky pro futbol‘

Cover of Pys'mennyky pro futbol (Kharkiv, 2011) YF.2012.a.9453

Artem Chekh joined the Ukrainian army at the beginning of the war in 2015. When the full-scale invasion began, he went back to the front line. Several weeks ago, we learned that Serhiy Zhadan also joined ZSU.  

Stories of Ukrainian footballers after a year of war were published in the Guardian in February 2023: ‘The military call and I deliver’: voices from Ukraine's football after a year of war. A list of names of coaches, players and referees who are still fighting and those who have tragically lost their lives in this war can be found here.  

Despite the ongoing war, the Ukrainian national football team is taking part in Euro-2024. They will play Romania on Monday 17, Slovakia on Friday 21, and Belgium on Wednesday the 26. We wish them beautiful goals and good luck!  

Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator, East European Collections

Further reading: 

Volodymyr Banias, Lopta : futbolʹni istoriï, zhyttiepysy,  statystyka. (Kyiv, 2017). YF.2023.a.2955 

Dynamo (Kyïv) : 1927-2007  [ed. Mykola Neseniuk]. (Kyiv, 2008). LF.31.b.5023  

Andy Dougan, Dynamo: defending the honour of Kiev. (London, 2001). M01/22988

Oleksandr Kabanets, Piramida : futbolʹni turniry Ukraïny 1910-1940-kh rokiv. (Kyiv, 2022). YF.2023.a.687 

Kalendar’ Sokol na rok 1895. (Lvov, 1894) (https://geography.lnu.edu.ua/en/course/history-and-geography-of-football )  

Ivan Iaremenko, 100 futbolistiv Lʹvova : persony lʹvivsʹkoho futbolu. (L’viv, 2021). YF.2013.a.23444 

Denys Mandziuk, Kopanyi m'iach : korotka istoriia ukraïnsʹkoho futbolu v Halychyni : 1909-1944. (L’viv, 2016). YF.2017.a.23960 

Iryna Protsyk, ‘“Kopanyi m’iach uchyt’ boronyty i zdobuvaty”: tematychna klasyfikatsiia ukrains’koi terminoleksyky kintsia XIX – pochatku XX stolittia.’ Visnik Natsional’noho universytetu “L’vivs’ka politekhnika.” Problemy ukrains’koi terminolohii. 2016. N 842. Pp.151-157. (http://tc.terminology.lp.edu.ua/TK_Wisnyk842/TK_wisnyk842_4_procyk.htm ) 

Valentin Sherbachev, Lobanovskii. (Kyiv, 1998). YA.2000.a.1865 

 

14 June 2024

Can you learn to play football from a book?

With the Euro 24 football championships kicking off tonight, here is the first in a series of blog posts about the beautiful game as reflected in our European collections. Our first post looks at Hungarys glory days in the 1950s.

Can you learn to play football from a book? Apparently so, or at least attempts were made in the distant past, like with the 1954 hidden gem entitled Learn to Play the Hungarian Way: a Soccer Manual for Young Footballers Showing the Methods Used by the Hungarian Champions.

Title page of Learn to Play the Hungarian Way

The title page of Bukovi & Csaknády’s Learn to Play the Hungarian Way (Budapest, 1954) 7919.bb.56.

What may sound even more surprising for some, in this slim volume Hungarians set out to teach the English-speaking world the tricks of the game. Others may of course be fully aware that 70 years ago Hungarian football was really a phenomenon to take notice of, the national side having won gold at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics. The next year they defeated England 6:3 at Wembley in the ‘Match of the Century’ and 7:1 in Budapest in 1954. Although favourites for the 1954 World Cup in Switzerland, Hungary came second behind West Germany there, but only after convincingly beating the likes of Brazil and Uruguay on their way to the final. Such a series of major football successes and their heroes like Puskás must have been hugely inspirational for the Hungarian people in so many ways, especially during the bleakest Communist period of the fifties.

Black and white photograph of a football crowd beneath a board showing the score England 1 - Hungary 7

Full time at the Hungary v England on 23 May 1954 in Budapest. Image by FORTEPAN  via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 3.0)  

Against this backdrop, the book was written by two coaches and, like the original, its English translation was also published in Budapest. It explains all the elements of the Hungarian game style from the various types of kicks through ball control, feints and tackles to shots and headers, not leaving out goalkeeping either. Tactics occupy a separate chapter, while sample training schedules to help reach one’s optimal fitness level are offered at the end.

The game has obviously developed and changed a lot since then, so perhaps not many young footballers would want to learn to play competitively from this book nowadays, but contemporaneous works like it certainly give researchers and interested fans a historical perspective by recording different stages of and some notable contributions to that development.

Demonstrating the skills in the photographs throughout the book are members of the ‘Golden Team’ itself.

Black and white photograph of a footballer leaping forwards to head the ball

When ‘diving’ in football was more innocent: the ‘pike dive’ illustrated in Learn to Play the Hungarian Way

The introduction was penned by Jimmy Hogan, who, before ending his career at Aston Villa just as the Second World War began, had managed a wide range of European clubs, including MTK Budapest from 1914-1921 and again from 1925-1927. So it all came full circle: an English coach instilling his advanced methods in Hungary and decades later the Hungarians teaching others!

From the 1970s, football in Hungary went into a long and painful decline, but recent signs of improvement have been giving cautious glimmers of hope again, including now at the 2024 Euros. Who knows, maybe this time…?

In the British Library’s Hungarian Collections we hold many other football-related items, just two quick examples here:


Front covers of two Hungarian football books

Covers of  Iván Hegyi, Magyarok nagy pályán : a labdarúgás legendái (Budapest, 2015) YF.2016.b.2107 and  László Hetyei, Magyarok a labdarúgó Európa-bajnokságokon (Budapest, 2016) YF.2017.a.16160

Ildi Wollner, Curator, Central/East European Collections