Today marks the anniversary of the friendly in Marburg, Germany on 20th July, 1975, the pre-season result that was the prelude to Rangers’ serious push on the 1976/76 Championship. ‘Bild’- the German market leading newspaper, the biggest selling daily paper in Europe in 1975 (and still is today in 2010) wrote:-
‘In front of 7,500 astonished spectators, the British team from London were more athletic and had more bite than their opponents. After Jensen’s opening goal (10th minute) and Bowles’s equaliser (29th minute), Webb and Vogt’s opponent Bowles then outwitted the disappointing national keeper Kieff with three headed goals. The loss of Heynckes through injury made the trauma for Gladbach complete.’
‘Rheinische Post’ – the regional newspaper whose coverage area included the city of Monchengladbach wrote:-
‘The current German football champions, Borussia Monchengladbach, have already collected their first defeat of the season under their new coach Udo Lattek. In front of 7,500 spectators in Marburg, Borussia surprisingly lost against the British First division club Queens Park Rangers by 1-4 (1-1). Jensen scored the first goal for the champions after ten minutes, but Bowles and Webb (2 goals each) were responsible for the turnaround. For Borussia, Bonhof and Wimmer looked listless and complacent and goalkeeper Kieff revealed significant weaknesses.’
So what was it that caused the German press to report in such a manner on what many people might nowadays consider was probably a meaningless pre-season warm up game versus an English First Division team that had only finished 11th in the First Division the previous season ? Here’s the story – 35 years on.
The Gladbach team of 1975 was a “who’s who” of West German football. Herbert Wimmer, Uli Stielike and Jupp Heynckes, plus the previous year’s World Cup medal winners Berti Vogts and Rainer Bonhof, were the stars of the Gladbach team. Additionally the team featured the classy Danish internationals Allan Simonsen and Henning Jensen. Wolfgang Kleff, the Gladbach and West German international goalkeeper, had to face up to a very similar challenge with Sepp Maier for the German national ‘keepers position as that faced by Phil Parkes from Peter Shilton for the England goalkeeper’s shirt in the same era – both men top quality goalkeepers, but with one man tending to get the preference over the other for the national team shirt.
Most of the BMG players came up through the Youth team, earning the club the nickname that is still frequently used today, “Die Fohlen”, or in English, “the Foals”. In July 1975 they were not only the reigning German Bundesliga champions but, barely two months previously, they had beaten the Dutch side Twente Enschede 5-1 in Enschede to win the UEFA Cup. At the time BMG were Bayern Munich’s biggest rivals in Germany with Bayern winning the Bundesliga 3 years in a row from 1972 to 1974 with Borussia then matching that feat from 1975 to 1977. Udo Lattek had just joined them from Bayern Munich at the time of the game in Marburg, taking over as coach from Hennes Weisweiler who had left to take charge at Barcelona after 11 highly successful years with Monchengladbach.
In the match programme, Weisweiler was referred to as the “father of the BMG miracle”. When it was announced that he was leaving for Barcelona the Monchengladbach fans had unveiled a banner, “Hennes – our hearts accompany you to Barcelona”. The programme goes on to highlight that BMG were not about to be presented with a willing victim that day. Rangers were described as an ambitious club and a team with a strong fighting spirit, concluding, “QPR will make it difficult for the German team to win.” How right they were !
Rangers’ manager, Dave Sexton, was a real student of the game and he was fascinated by continental football – in particular the style of play of the Dutch and Germans, and especially coaches like Rinus Michels and Hennes Weisweiler. In his book on football coaching, ‘Tackle Soccer’ published in 1977, Sexton wrote, “European competition often produces fascinating battles between teams of different styles. For these games preparation is essential.” Within just a few months of taking over from Gordon Jago as manager at Rangers in October 1974, Sexton was travelling regularly to the Netherlands and Germany to study the tactics and training methods adopted by the leading clubs of the time. Rangers finished 11th at the end of Sexton’s first few months in charge, with few people anticipating what Sexton was preparing for and what was to come next for the club in the new 1975/76 season and the UEFA Cup campaign of the following season.
Stan Bowles recalls in Chapter 10 of his highly enjoyable autobiography, “As the new campaign began, Dave Sexton was convinced that we were heading for a special season. He really believed that we could win the League Championship. None of us really thought about the title; although we knew that everything was coming together and that we were all playing well. But Dave was adamant: we could be champions. As a coach, Dave was forever on the lookout for new methods and he used to get a lot of his training ideas from Holland and Germany. Dave was totally fascinated by the Germans and every summer he used to take us to a place called Hennef, a pretty little village surrounded by forest. In our 1975 friendlies, we beat Borussia Monchengladbach and Benfica. We couldn’t wait for the season to begin, we knew that something special was on the cards.”
Joe English, a Rangers fan for over 40 years, travelled to Germany for what would be the first of many visits he made for pre-season games in the 1970’S and recalls, “The game was played in Marburg, a University town 100km north of Frankfurt. Keith Friend, who organised the Supporters Club travel, arranged a trip. I made my own way there independently as I think the Supporters Club were only going to that one game and the team were playing a couple more games that I also wanted to see. In my crazy youth, we always used to go and see the Rangers abroad regularly pre-season – places like Germany, Holland and Belgium. I also went to Bergen, Bratislava, Cologne and Athens in the UEFA Cup run in 1976/77. Monchengladbach were really top dogs in Germany at the time and it was a big deal to beat them – and we really MURDERED them ! I remember that it poured down with rain in the first half. The locals were very appreciative of Rangers though, they liked our style of play. We got good Press afterwards too. I made a very good friend that day who is still a close friend now. I got talking to this guy called George, a young police recruit, and he still comes over to see Rangers two or three times a year. He lives in Marburg and is an Eintracht Frankfurt fan. He actually prefers Rangers to Frankfurt ! On that trip I stayed in a Youth Hostel which was actually in a castle in Marburg. There were about a hundred Rangers fans at the game and a lot of us had a drink before the match in the medieval town square. The club were training at Hennef, which is quite a long way from Marburg, quite close to Bonn.”
During the match itself, a pass from the West German international Herbert Wimmer to Danish international Henning Jensen opened the scoring to put the German champions in front. Stan Bowles equalised to make it 1-1 at half-time. In the second half, Rangers ran away with the game, going into the lead for the first time when Dave Webb scored with a header from a Stan Bowles corner. The third goal came from a pass from the right wing to Bowles to head home and goal number four clinched the game when Don Masson crossed from inside the penalty area to enable Dave Webb to head yet another goal, his second of the game, to close the scoring. Watch it for yourself in this very rare footage recently up-loaded to You Tube
Within 3 weeks of this match taking place, Rangers had beaten the current Portuguese champions Benfica 4-2 in another friendly and, in this first away game of the season, visited the Baseball Ground and beaten the reigning English champions Derby County 5-1 to get the club off to a flying start in a season that was ultimately to end in the team heartbreakingly close to winning the English Championship.My thanks to Thomas Wendt in Berlin, Michael Loffler in Munich and Lennart Andersen in Dusseldorf for their assistance with the research and the translations that helped prepare this piece, as well as to Joe English of course for sharing his vivid recollections of the game as well as photos from the trip.The details of Joe’s Photos are as follows:-
1. The one taken outside “Zur Lokomotive” pub is in Marburg old town centre. Joe is on the left with two un-named QPR fans.
2. The panorama shots taken during the game are of the main stand at the University of Marburg Sports Ground.
3. Lastly, the pic of fans with the flag was taken one week later in Padderborn and shows Joe with Dave Button, Mick Salmon and Dennis Frith