Friday, 2 March 2018

1986: The Miracle of the Grotenburg

Basel, Porto, and Besiktas will have their work cut out to overturn first leg deficits in the Champions League. If they need inspiration, they should take a look at the Miracle of the Grotenburg in 1986.

With just 32 minutes remaining in the second leg of their 1985/86 European Cup Winners’ Cup quarter final match, you could have forgiven many Bayer Uerdingen fans for taking a glance towards the exits. Losing 5-1 on aggregate to East German rivals Dynamo Dresden, Uerdingen needed a miracle to score the five goals required to make it through to the last four of the competition. They needed the Miracle of the Grotenburg.

Formed in 1905 as FC Uerdingen 05, the club had merged and split a few times with other clubs, before joining forces with Werkssportgruppe Bayer AG Uerdingen in 1953. After gaining promotion to the Bundesliga in 1983, the club managed to establish itself in the top flight. In beating Bayern Munich 2-1 in the 1985 German Cup final, Uerdingen qualified for European football for the first time in their history, continuing their rise in the domestic game.

Sweeping Maltese club Zurrieq aside with ease in the first round, Uerdingen’s 3-1 aggregate win over Galatasaray set up the Cup Winners’ Cup quarter final with Dynamo Dresden. A powerhouse in East German football during the previous decade, Dresden had suffered at the hands of Berliner FC Dynamo in the league, the Stasi (East German Secret Police) backed club winning ten titles in a row. But at least Dresden had the consolation of claiming East German cup final wins over the league champions in both 1984 and 1985.

Of course, the clash between the pair was more than just a quarter final. This was East versus West; communism versus capitalism; repression versus freedom. The chance to get one over on your rival from the other side of the Iron Curtain was appealing, especially in the propaganda fuelled state of East Germany. Losing would not go down well.

It appeared as if Dynamo Dresden had gained a significant advantage from their home leg, winning 2-0 in front of a 36,000 crowd, with second half goals from Frank Lippmann and Hans-Uwe Pilz. Beaten in five previous European quarter finals, Dresden were tantalisingly close to breaking their duck. Surely an away goal in the second leg would be enough to see off the challenge of their West German opponents? For Uerdingen, scoring the first goal would be vital.

Yet it only took a minute for Uerdingen’s bubble to burst in their Grotenburg stadium. Ralf Minge’s goal was met with a shocked silence, as the task ahead for the home team now looked impossible. Scoring four goals without reply seemed unlikely, and despite Wolfgang Funkel equalising on the night in the 13th minute, by half-time it was mission impossible.

Lippmann scored in the 36th minute, and when Rudi Bommer put through his own net just before the break, Dresden led 5-1 on aggregate. Some fans started to leave the ground, and the German national broadcaster (ZDF) must have been regretting its decision to show this match live rather than the Bayern Munich-Anderlecht European Cup clash. The tie was so far over that the fat lady had already dropped the mic and left the stage.

Uerdingen coach Karl-Heinz Feldkamp was faced with a damage limitation exercise as he entered the dressing room at half-time. Telling his team that they had no chance of winning the tie, Feldkamp informed his team that they had a duty to restore some pride in front of the people who had stayed in the ground, and the watching television audience.

They may have had one foot in the semi-finals, but not everything had gone smoothly for Dresden. A 19-year-old Matthias Sammer had limped out of the action in the first half, but his father, coach Klaus Sammer, would have been more concerned when keeper Bernd Jakubowski fractured his shoulder and was replaced by Jens Ramme.

Ramme had only made the trip because the Stasi insisted that reserve keeper Jörg Klimpel stayed in Dresden, due to his western contacts. It would turn out to be a harrowing day for both keepers who did make it to the West. Jakubowski was forced to retire from the sport due to this injury, with Ramme about to experience the debut from hell.

The chances of an astonishing turnaround looked slimmer as the second half progressed. Indeed, Ramme would not be beaten until the 58th minute, with Funkel scoring from the spot. But two goals in the next eight minutes created the belief that the impossible was now possible. An own goal from Minge, and a Wolfgang Schafer strike, put Uerdingen ahead on the night, but still 5-4 down on aggregate.

With 24 minutes remaining, Uerdingen still required two goals. Yet as the volume in the stadium grew, and the Dresden players started to get the feeling that not all was well, the momentum seemed to carry Uerdingen forward. Substitute Dietmar Klinger’s goal in the 78th minute levelled the tie, and with just nine minutes left, Funkel was handed the chance to complete his hat-trick and the mother of all comebacks.

Funkel came off his long run, and although Ramme dived the right way, the ball nestled in the bottom corner of the net, to send Feldkamp, the players, and the fans into raptures. The far-fetched dream was now a realistic achievement, and all of a sudden the nature of the match changed. Dresden, now acutely aware of the mess they were in, threw bodies forward, but two fine saves by Werner Vollack kept Uerdingen 6-5 up.

And then came the coup de grace. Racing away on the break, Schafer was a little fortunate that his original effort rebounded off Ramme and landed at his feet. But as soon as he slotted home, the tie was done and dusted. Dresden needed their own comeback in the three minutes remaining, but the night was all out of miracles; Bayer Uerdingen 7-5 Dynamo Dresden.

Immediately described as the ‘Wunder von der Grotenburg’, it was almost lost in the drama that Uerdingen had reached the semi-final of the Cup Winners’ Cup. Their adventure would end there, defeated by Atletico Madrid. But no one who had stayed (or returned) to the Grotenburg or watched the match on television will ever forget that night in Krefeld.

Lippmann, who Sammer had originally wanted to keep at home for disciplinary reasons, would become the centre of attention post-match. Escaping through a hotel underground car park, the striker chose to defect. He had been constantly under scrutiny from the Stasi, due to a previous drink-driving offence. But the decision to defect had not been planned; it was very much a now or never moment.

Lippmann had always wanted to play in the Bundesliga, and soon joined Nuremberg, portrayed as a money-grabbing enemy of the state. But, his decision had been so spontaneous that he left his fiancé and three-month-old daughter back in Dresden. They would be reunited in 1989, with partner and daughter making it to Austria through the Hungarian border, despite the Stasi’s efforts to turn Lippmann’s fiancé away from the former Dresden star by sending potential lovers to her door.

The match also proved pivotal for both captain and manager. Hans-Jürgen Dörner, Lippmann’s room-mate, and Sammer, who was already under pressure from the Stasi before the Uerdingen embarrassment, lost their roles at the club as the season ended. Dörner was forced into retirement; Sammer did return to manage the club in 1992. Yet both men, along with Lippmann, had their careers and lives dramatically changed by the events of March 19, 1986.

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