“Uwe, Uwe, Uwe…” Many thousands of throats echoed the first name of the most popular West German footballer at the time – 29-year-old striker Uwe Seeler. It was July 31, 1966, the day after the final in which West Germany had been defeated by England, in extra time. The team had returned to German soil in Frankfurt and was received as the winner. Losing England, in the lion’s den called Wembley, was no disgrace – the way it happened was sour; England won 4-2, and had taken the lead in a 2-2 draw with a goal that wasn’t actually a goal. Decades before goal-line technology was invented, Geoff Hurst shot the ball into the crossbar and it came back into the field through the goal-line. Goal, the Swiss referee Gottfried Dienst ruled on the instructions of his Azerbaijani linesman, and that paved the way to England’s first and so far only world title.
Many years later, the German football magazine kicker choose a photo of Uwe Seeler as photo of the century shortly after the World Cup final. A defeated Uwe Seeler, shoulders slumped and his head bowed to the furthest position, walks down the field, heading for Queen Elizabeth in the royal box and the silver medal. A uniformed attendant walking beside him holds his right hand on the broken player’s back. This became the picture of the lost final for West Germany – a broken Uwe, Uns Uwe, as the Germans affectionately called him. Our Yours. It was Seeler’s third World Cup, and he hadn’t been closer to the world title and he wouldn’t come again.
It didn’t matter if he had already been there at the 1954 World Cup. Hamburg-born and raised Seeler was 17 at the time and had been at the forefront of the first team of the local HSV for more than a year, the club where his father played and where Erwin Seeler registered his sons Uwe and Dieter as members in 1946. A month and a half before the World Cup, which became known as ‘The Miracle of Bern’ due to the West German victory led by Fritz Walter over the Hungary of Ferenc Puskas (Germany had still lost 8-3 to the Hungarians in the preliminary round), played Seeler’s stars in a FIFA youth tournament. He scored thirteen of the eighteen West German goals. National coach Sepp Herberger would have liked to take the young attacker to the World Cup in Switzerland, but registration for the selections was already closed.
Der Alte Bomber
Seeler made his World Cup debut in Sweden in 1958. West Germany lost the semifinals to the host country, Brazil won the world title. Four years later in Chile the same world champion, again with Garrincha and Pelé. West Germany lost in the quarterfinals to Josip Skoblars Yugoslavia. In 1966 the Germans were unfortunately stranded at Wembley, in 1970 in Mexico Pelé would become world champions with Brazil for the third time and Uwe Seeler was left empty-handed for the fourth time – for the third time as captain. Little consolation: Seeler narrowly trumped Brazilian superstar Pelé by becoming the first footballer to score in four consecutive World Cups. That last time Seeler was in the pleasant company of the other one for the first time at a final tournament bomberGerd Müller, 24-year-old Bayern Munich striker who died in 2021. The goal machines went through life as Der Alte Bomber and Die Junge Bomber. Seeler was positioned behind Müller by national coach Helmut Schön, in midfield. That meant he had to cover even more meters, and that in the summer heat of Mexico – but Seeler accepted his new role.
And also as a midfielder, Seeler scored arguably the most important goal of his career – in the quarter-final against title holder England. And as so often from an almost impossible position. Just before time, Seeler headed a cross from Karl-Heinz Schnellinger towards goal, goalkeeper Peter Bonetti had no chance: 2-2. Müller scored the winning goal in extra time. In the semi-final that followed, the Germans had to bow to Italy in a match before more than 100,000 spectators at the Aztec stadium that went down in history as ‘the match of the century’. In a blistering extra time, Gianni Rivera shot Italy to the final. The Germans, led by Seeler, were able to leave the arena with their heads held high – Seeler’s colleague and good friend Franz Beckenbauer even with a broken shoulder, in a makeshift sling. Two months later, Seeler played his last game for the national team against Hungary, shortly after he was awarded the Bundesverdienstkreuz, the highest award in West Germany that had not been given to an athlete before. He had scored 43 goals in 72 international matches.
‘Mistake Your Cousin’
His retirement from club football came in 1972, after nineteen years at HSV in which he played 476 games and scored 404 times. „Forget your niece”, sang the Austrian schlager king Udo Jürgens at the farewell party, as an occasional variation on his hit that year Vergiss die Liebe nicht. Even after his football pension, the Germans cherish him like Einer von uns and Einer wie keiner.
Club player Seeler’s entire crop: the league title in 1960, the cup, the DFP trophy, in 1963 after a final against Borussia Mönchengladbach in which he scored all three goals. European success failed to materialize in the nearly twenty years that Seeler played in Hamburg; in 1968 HSV lost the final of the European Cup 2 to Gianni Rivera’s and Karl-Heinz-Schnellinger’s AC Milan, in the Kuip in Rotterdam. He was chairman of Hamburger SV for a while in the 90s,
In 1978 Seeler made another comeback, in foreign service: a one-off appearance for the Irish Cork Celtic, in an official match. His team lost, but Unser Uwewho also remained spectacularly normal off the field alongside his wife Ilka Buck (former handball player at HSV), said goodbye in style at the age of 41: he scored twice.
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