After next year's summer interval, association football in West Germany will be completely reorganised. The current system of five regional "upper leagues" will be replaced by one largely modelled on the British pattern, with a "First Division", comprising the best teams from all parts of the country at the top. In addition; players will be entitled to much higher salaries and bonuses, thus coming much closer to the status of full time professionals than previously.
These decisions, made early in October, by the executive of the German Football Association, did not come out of the blue. A somewhat heated debate on the matter has been going on for a long time, but it actually took years before the "progressive" elements, that is to say the supporters of a first division, or "Federal League", as it will be known, had their way.
Ever since the war, football in West Germany has been played within an organisational framework that must appear strange and hard for an outsider to understand. Irrespective of political or administrative boundaries, such as the ten Lander, or provinces, of the Federal Republic, the country was divided into four regions: North, West, South-West and South. In each of these regions an "Upper League" was formed of the sixteen best clubs in the respective area, and the same was done in West Berlin. Next in the set-up came· a "Second League" in each region, with the exception of the North and Berlin. The teams in these upper and second leagues consisted of semi-professionals~ - players who received a nominal salary but were obliged to earn a normal, regular livelihood. (All other teams were made up of amateur players, and in each of the above-mentioned regions there was a "First Amateur League'' and a number of lower amateur divisions. These latter, however, are not affected by the new scheme.
What exactly were the shortcomings of this system? First and foremost, it is obvious that there cannot be eighty clubs of real first division standard even in a country as football crazy as Germany. Each of the five upper leagues can boast between two and five clubs at the most, which, over a longer period of time, would qualify as such. These, however, under the present set-up are matched most of the time against teams of lesser merit - which, of course, is bound to result in an overall playing standard below what it might be. Moreover, it is no secret that games lacking interest do not bring big gates, and most of the present matches are, in this sense, uninteresting. Secondly, it has been necessary year by year to play an additional tournament among the winners and runners-up of the regional leagues to find the German champions. This led to a timetable so overcrowded that there was hardly any time left for international games and the necessary preparations.
There is growing recognition in Germany as elsewhere that football, if it is to maintain its position, has to become much more internationally-minded. If, for instance, a foreign sports editor tried to find out, say in the middle of the season, which German team was currently at the top, he would get at least five answers. There could never be a "team of the day" which would raise interest beyond Germany's borders as long as there were five first divisions.
Much more has been said for and against the "Federal League" and now that it has to become a reality, the discussions have shifted to the details as outlined in the recent decision of the German F.A. Which clubs will be included in the future first division? Only sixteen are to be admitted: five each from the South and the West, three from the North, two from the South-West and one from Berlin. Applications can be submitted until December 1, some of the required qualifications being known already. The prospective first division club must be "successful", primarily in the current season, but past triumphs may also be taken into account. It must maintain amateur and youth clubs, be a non-profit organisation with an unsalaried chairman, financially sound, and it has to have a stadium with a capacity of at least 35,000 and floodlighting equipment. All the games will be played on Saturdays, in order not to keep the public away from the Sunday meetings of the lower rank and amateur clubs. As a rule, the players' salaries plus efficiency premiums must not exceed £107 per 'month, but additional bonuses (for having won the championship, the cup final, or for participation in international tournaments) are permitted. Transfer fees are limited to £4,450, twenty per cent of which may go to the player. On the other hand, he may become eligible for "loyalty premiums" up to £900, and no club may buy more than three new players in a season.
This article originally appeared in the January 1963 edition of World Soccer Magazine. You can subscribe for a ridiculously low sum by clicking here.