SAARLAND: DAS VERGESSENE LAND

Germany is a nation that has irrevocably changed Western society. Whether it is through revolutionary cultural ideals, like that of the Bauhaus architectural movement, or the impact of two world wars; we are all shaped by Germany’s influence.

We all know of Germany’s troubled times, of a nation marred by great divide, tyranny and warfare. One thought that instantly springs to mind is of the vivid images of the Berlin Wall destruction, in November 1989. The “Berliner Mauer” was an anti-iconic symbol which marked Germany’s split into the Western led Federal Republic of Germany and the Soviet-controlled German Demoratic Republic. The division, agreed in Potsdam in July 1945 by Allied leaders, sparked 45 years of great contrast and pain for families who were torn apart.

It comes as no surprise to hear that national identity has been a huge issue for Germans, both from the East and West. Many have spent the bulk of their lives living with separate ideologies, lifestyles and cultures from those across the border between East and West Germany.  However, many of you will be surprised to hear that, in actual fact, three newly-formed German states were formed in the fall out of the Second World War. The third was Saarland.

Saarland became a French protectorate, in effect a separate state mentored by the French, on 16th February 1946. Previously a German state, the region had been sectioned off by the French, who were wished to keep Saarland for themselves, instead of unifying it with the rest of the Allied influenced West Germany. Ultimately, those at the top of France’s political hierarchy wanted to see Saarland as becoming one with France. The idea of amalgamation was made even more attractive to the French, due to the Saar coalfields, one of Europe’s biggest and an economic powerhouse. With three previous German-led invasions in 75 years, many felt France deserved the Saarland as compensation for their previous crises.

In many ways, the effects of France’s mentoring role were seen across Sarrois society. In all schools, students were taught German and French in equal measure, and the Franc was legal tender along with the Saar Mark, before the Saarland became integrated fully within the Franc. France’s supposed “superiority” was also subliminally shown through the Sarrois currency, with the circulation of “French Franc” notes and “Saar Franc” coins.

The Saarland became an independent state in December 1947, which coincided with the creation of the Ehrenliga, the Sarrois national league. In an obvious act of defiance against French amalgamation, the ten-team Ehrenliga acted, at least for its first season, as a feeder league to the German Oberliga Südwest, one of the five regional predecessors to the Bundesliga.

This was swiftly followed by the foundation of the Saarländische Fuβballbund (SFB) in July 1948, and the first steps towards establishing an independent football culture were established. However, for Saarland’s best club, 1. FC Saarbrücken, the league’s quality was unproven and seemingly inferior. In an act of betrayal, both against the SFB and the Sarrois efforts to be seen as independent from France, Saarbrücken joined France’s Ligue 2 for the 1948-49 season.

Temporarily renamed FC Sarrebruck, to fit in with their French counterparts, they comfortably won the league, six points clear of Bordeaux and Lens. However, Saarbrücken’s promotion was vetoed by the division’s members, despite a favourable reception to the idea from France’s political figures and the French Football Federation (FFF). A scenario that could have proved to be political gold dust for those seeking for French amalgamation was roundly frowned upon by French football teams across the country, as they were afraid of the embarrassing prospect of a German team winning the French Ligue 1.

Saarbrücken was now left without quality footballing opposition, as they were unwelcome in France and saw themselves as too good for the Ehrenliga, the Internationaler Saarland Pokal was created to test themselves as they trounced their Ehrenliga opposition. The Pokal was an invitational event, in which several teams played friendly matches against Saarbrücken, and the three teams with the best result against the hosts would join them in a semi-final elimination. The likes of Rapid Vienna, Standard Liege and the newly invincible Hadjuk Split lined up to play the Sarrois side, with Hadjuk Split convincingly defeating the local outfit 4-0 to qualify for the semi-finals. However, home advantage proved too strong, and Saarbrücken comfortably prevailing, defeating Hadjuk 1-0 before triumphing over Stade Rennais 4-0 in the final, to add to their comfortable Ehrenliga triumph.

The tournament was considered a large success, partially because of the dead-end state of Saarland’s Ehrenliga. Having cut off its link to the Oberliga Südwest after its first season, the Ehrenliga was seen as nothing more than a local league. This decision was reversed in 1950, so the first Sarrois team, by coincidence Saarbrücken, played in the Oberliga, as the Saarland Pokal was held for a second time. More German teams participated, and qualifying friendlies were played on a two-legged basis. However, renewed interest towards the Ehrenliga resulted in the Pokal’s downfall. With no sponsors and little enthusiasm for the tournament, the 1951-52 Pokal was cancelled.

Despite, the Pokal’s cancellation, the tournament acted as Saarland’s first international experience, at both club and national level. Saarland’s national experiences started soon after the Pokal’s creation with her induction as a full member of FIFA. The SFB, led by Hermann Neuberger, was granted membership in June 1950, just two weeks before the start of the World Cup in Brazil. This came two months before West Germany’s invitation to FIFA, and two years before East Germany. This decision came just under a year after the SFB decided against becoming a member of the FFF, in what would have been a huge step towards a full Sarrois unification with France.  

Its squad was composed mainly of Saarbrücken players, and played its first international fixture against Switzerland B on the 20th November 1950. Prior to the tournament, Saarland did not have a national anthem, so chose to sing “Ich weiβ, wo ein liebliches, freundliches Tal” (“I know of a lovely, friendly valley”), which became the region’s anthem even after its unification the Germany, until 2003.

Saarland continued to play against national “B” teams, until she decided to enter the 1954 World Cup, held in Switzerland. She was drawn into a triangular qualification tournament with Norway and their neighbours, West Germany. Led by Helmut Schön, the Sarrois faced Norway, away from home, to kick off their qualifying campaign. The match also marked the national team’s first fixture against a full international side. The game did not start well for Saarland, as they fell two goals behind early on and were down to 10 men, due to injury. Against all odds, Saarland beat Norway 3-2, and was, for a short time at least, top of the group.

However, the might of West Germany, soon to win their first World Cup, proved too strong for Saarland as they sustained emphatic defeats of 3-0 and 3-1 to dump them out of the tournament, finishing second in the group ahead of Norway. These proved to be Saarland’s only international competitive fixtures, and they played several friendlies against much stronger nations such as Uruguay (1-7) and Yugoslavia (1-5), before their last international against the Netherlands on the 6th June 1956, a close encounter that resulted in a 3-2 loss for the Sarrois.

Shortly afterwards, on the 27th October 1956, the Saar Treaty dictated that Saarland were to unify with West Germany, and did so on New Year’s Day of 1957. Saarland’s loyalty to Germany is even more extraordinary as, just a year before, the Sarrois people voted, with a two thirds majority, against amalgamating with France in a national referendum.

Those who had taken part in any of Saarland’s 19 international fixtures were free to play for their new nation, and Helmut Schön led West Germany to both the World Cup and the European Championship during his managerial reign in the 60’s and 70’s. Hermann Neuberger, the leader of the SFB, conceived the idea of the Bundesliga in 1962 and later became President of the DFB until his death in 1992. As for the Ehrenliga, it continued in various forms, in the ever-changing German football pyramid, until 1978 when it was replaced by a newer Oberliga Südwest, the third tier of German football.

Although Saarland’s contribution to international football was short-lived, its time on the international scene has produced key figures that have influenced German football for the better. Saarland shall be forever consigned to the scrap-heap of FIFA’s defunct members, but her significance in football will continue to be felt well into the future.

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