“Listen, Atze, Radio Luxembourg has just broadcast it: you need to get home as soon as possible.
– Now you’re playing in the Bundesliga!
This is more or less the exchange that takes place in the summer of 1965 on a beach in the North Sea between Hans-Günter “Atze” Becker and his friend. Aki is the captain of SC Tasmania Berlin, a team that in the previous season played, finishing third, in the group of the second division reserved for teams from the capital, divided for four years by a Wall. What the friend tells the then 27-year-old defender is not a joke, but the pure truth. Like Becker, other players are recalled to Berlin. Almost all of them are on holiday: some, like goalkeeper Klaus Basikov, are even outside Germany, on Lake Garda: they have won a trip thanks to the radio competitions of the ADAC, the German Automobile Club.
The squad must be available because the club originally from the Neukölln district, then part of the American sector of West Berlin and founded by imaginative former sailors, who wanted to put a Tasmanian Devil in the club’s crest, has been fished out by the DFB, the Football Association of the Federal Republic. An unexpected choice, following the craziest summer in the history of German football.
A chaos triggered at the end of June by the scandal, the first of the newly formed Bundesliga, involving Hertha Berlin, the only team from the capital to play in the first division. The directors of the Alte Dame are under indictment for a debt of 192 thousand marks and for breaking the rules on the payment of players. These irregularities cost the Herthaners their exclusion from the 1965/1966 Bundesliga and reduced the number of teams registered in the league to fifteen.
And here the fight passes between the halls of the DFB and the courts.
Initially, the federal leaders would like to fill the missing place through a tournament between Saarbrücken and SSV Reutlingen , the two runners-up in the promotion group, Karlsruhe , first of the relegated teams, and Tasmania. The project did not go through because all or almost all of them appealed to the court, which on June 2 rejected Hertha’s requests for clemency and accepted Karlsruhe’s appeal, readmitted to the Bundesliga. The verdict concerning KSC will be overturned two weeks later by the Federal Court of the Football Association at the request of Tennis Club Berlin and Tasmania. In those days there was even talk of a 17-team Bundesliga.
Political reason and the intention not to displease too many clubs lead to a final decision. As part of the public is demanding, especially under pressure from the conservative publishing group headed by Axel Springer, Berlin, the divided and isolated city (it is completely surrounded by East German territory), will have a team in the Bundesliga.
But not TeBe Berlin, fourth in one of the play-off groups for promotion but excluded from the Federation, and not Spandauer SV, who renounced to participate mainly for financial reasons.
Tasmania Berlin will thus play in the top league, together with newly promoted Bayern Munich and Borussia Mönchengladbach and the two “relegated” teams, Karlsruhe and Schalke 04.
The latter will also be readmitted to calm the storm over the choice, (very) political and (little) sporting, to necessarily include a West Berlin line-up. No relegation on the field and an 18-team league, as it still works today, 50 years after that crazy summer.
In addition to the preferential treatment of West Berlin teams, another problem makes other Bundesliga clubs turn up their noses. It is the level of the formations of the capital, considered by many to be decidedly lower than the average of the first division. And looking at the Tasmania Berlin squad that is preparing to start the championship, you can’t blame them all. The base of the team at Franz Linken’s disposal, from captain Atze Becker, midfielder Peter Engler to forwards Ringo Usbeck and Wolfgang Neumann, they are the team that finished third in the Berlin group of the second division in the previous season.
The management has reinforced it with a few supporting players and a single champion. A champion, yes, but one who has already largely taken the boulevard of the sunset. He is Horst Szymaniak, 32 years old, more than 40 caps with Sepp Herberger’s German national team, with whom he played the 1958 and ’62 World Cups, also being included in the ideal eleven of the Swedish tournament. Now, however, Schimmi is back from four years in Italy where, between Varese, Catania and Inter, he has no longer impressed as he did at the end of the fifties.
A player who, however, can be useful and who, above all, is within reach of the pockets, always empty, of the Tasmanian managers.
Despite the arrival of Szymaniak, however, few in the squads are confident, because everyone knows that that season will have a single championship, at the end of which, barring epochal cataclysms, they will return to Serie B and therefore to do, in practice, the amateurs. So much so that Captain Becker, like others, did not abandon the job he held before the promotion, at the technical office in West Berlin, but simply renegotiated it by obtaining a part-time job of 10 months, so that he could train regularly.
Atze himself goes to the penniless Tasmanian leaders to negotiate again the terms of payment of himself and his comrades. It asks for and obtains an increase in the fixed fee compared to performance-based bonuses which, in Italy as in Germany, constituted the majority of players’ income.
Because everyone has understood that there won’t be many victories in Neukölln.
On the first day, in front of 80,000 spectators at the Olympiastadion in Berlin, Tasmania won 2-0 against the non-relegated Karlsruhe, thanks to a second-half brace from Ringo Usbeck. This is the first of two victories that the team from the West sector of the capital will achieve in that Bundesliga season.
The number of fans, which dropped dramatically to 827 (January 1966, home match against Borussia Mönchengladbach), had to wait more than nine months to see another one, that is, the match with Borussia Mönchengladbach. Borussia Neukirchen on 21 May 1966, in which Tasmania beat Saarland 2-1, with goals from Zeh and Neumann. Between these two successes, which would be equalled by Wuppertaler SV in the 1974/1975 season, everything happened. Less, in fact, a victory. Two draws (an epic 0-0 away draw against Kaiserslautern, the only point obtained outside Berlin by Tasmania), many defeats (28, including a 9-0 loss to Meidericher SV), the sacking of coach Linken.
108 goals conceded and many episodes, handed down between reality and legend. Like the one concerning Charly Dörfel, Hamburg’s left winger who, with his team leading 4-0, would have wanted to rage and ridicule his opponents. Opposing him was Uwe Seeler, the captain of HSV and the German national team, one of the most beloved goalscorers in the history of the Bundesliga. And unser Uwe, our Uwe, at the end of the game had thanked the Tasmania captain for the correct play shown by him and his teammates. Or like when, due to the chronic lack of money, the players of the Tasmanian first team had to train on a cobblestone field where the ball could hardly be seen, especially with the snow, so frequent in Berlin winters. Players who, again due to economic problems, had to endure the last trip to Gelsenkirchen without stopping to sleep in the hotel. Departure on the previous night, arrival before the match, defeat and return.
An incredible season in its negativity, which soon became the object of ridicule. It is said that a joke based on the dialogue between father and son was circulating in Berlin:
-How long has it been since Tasmania won?
The players, however, took it philosophically, including leaders Szymaniak and Becker.
The captain, who wore the Berlin jersey until 1971, often recalled the overall positive atmosphere in the dressing room and how much that year marked him, as he told the German edition of Goal.com: “That season shaped me. I worked as a youth coach and I always told my boys to be consistent when you lose. That’s what character is all about.”
However, the Sport-Club Tasmania 1900 Berlin no longer exists.
It went bankrupt in 1973, giving rise to Tasmania Neukölln first and Tasmania Gropiusstadt later (in whose youth team Antonio Rüdiger played as a child). Since 2011 there has been an association called Tasmania Berlin and plays in the Berlin minor leagues, playing its home games at the Neukölln stadium, named after Werner Seelenbinder, sportsman and hero of the anti-Nazi Resistance.
Some time ago, in May 2015, the new Tasmania had the honour of meeting, in the sixth series, the Tennis Club Berlin, its historic rival. A match lost 0-2 but also livestreamed in Bolivia and China at the behest of Tom Irving and Stuart Russell, two Englishmen who live in Berlin and support TeBe.
Things that happen (almost) only in Berlin.
Cover ©photo Carlo Cosio/MondoFutbol