The Loan That Got Away

I have a daily football trivia calendar on my desk at work, which is something of a traditional Christmas present from my wife. It’s a nice wee distraction most days and can also start a conversation with people from time to time. I don’t think it’s ever inspired a blog post though – until now.

The calendar has a question for every day of the year, and a wee factoid or ridiculous quote in the top right hand corner each day. The factoid in the top right hand corner for 16 September 2015 was as follows:

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The old calendar page

This made me curious. The Manchester United Munich side is one I’ve always been a bit fascinated by – just how good Duncan Edwards, Tommy Taylor et al would have been had they not tragically perished on that icy evening in Bavaria has flitted in and out of my mind since I first learned of the “Busby Babes.”

So I looked into this alleged offer, thinking it might be apocryphal. Surely Madrid wouldn’t have been that generous, in the middle of their 5-year domination of European football? But, belying the stereotype of one of the world’s richest clubs, they had indeed been that generous. Thanks to an Independent article regarding a book by John Ludden  (“A Tale of Two Cities: Manchester and Madrid 1957-1968”) I was able to confirm that arguably one of the greatest players to play the game, and certainly the greatest never to have won a World Cup, could have played for Manchester United for the remainder of the 1957/58 season.

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The thought of Di Stefano playing with one or all of these three sets the imagination off

I say “could” because, with the two clubs having agreed the move, the FA (in their insular wisdom) blocked di Stefano’s transfer, as the calendar rightly states, claiming that the loan would block the passage of young English players through the United ranks. This being the same FA who thought both the European Cup (no English representation in its first year) and the World Cup (no English representation until 1950) were a terrible idea. Right. For the FA not consider the fact that United’s side had only just had the heart ripped out of it in tragic circumstances and with a manager still recovering from the disaster seems a bit callous, certainly by modern day standards.

Having had the kibosh put on the di Stefano loan, Madrid were nonetheless willing and able to assist United in the period immediately following Munich. With the Reds struggling for survival in the First Division having lost a number of key players, Madrid were on hand to provide United a barometer of how far they still had to go, in a friendly environment. As time wore on, between the first friendly in October 1959 and the last in December 1961, the gap between the sides closed back to what it had been pre-Munich – largely non-existent. 

The circle was then complete in 1968 when United defeated Madrid in the European Cup semis, on their way to that famous win after extra time against Benfica at Wembley. Busby had finally achieved his dream of winning the cup with the big ears. What I can’t help but feel, though, is that if the FA had been a tad more forward thinking (what are the chances), United could have had a fascinating piece of assistance on their way back from the horrors of Munich. 

O/T – Berlin

I love Berlin. It’s a city of so many different styles, different viewpoints and different important historical events mashed into one hub of 3.5 million people.

The new wife and I went on a short break there after our wedding last week. Having thoroughly enjoyed our last stay in Germany’s capital, we were rather excited to be back.

I thought rather than giving an exhaustive account of our 4 night trip, I’d share a few pictures of some of my favourite buildings in the city.

Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church

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Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church

The building in the picture above is the fantastic Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church (or Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche). It’s in the centre of the former West Berlin, on one of Berlin’s main shopping streets, the Kurfürstendamm. The story behind the church, as with most buildings of a certain age in Berlin, is an interesting one.

The church was originally built in the 1890s to commemorate the first Kaiser Wilhelm and lay largely unscathed, though development of the shopping districts in the west of the city continued to spring up around it, until the Second World War. The church was heavily bombed by the Allies (as indeed was all of Berlin), hence the incomplete top of the spire in the picture – the spire and a small entrance hall are all that remain of a once magnificent building. Despite efforts to demolish the entire building in the early 1950s, the church still sits in its prominent position in the centre of one of the busiest shopping streets in Europe.

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A night-time view of the church, with its modern bell tower behind it.

I love this building primarily because it is a physical reminder of the utter futility of war. A church building reduced to a shell of its former self, but the German populace have chosen to allow the shell to remain in place, I think to remind themselves what they lost in World War 2 and to remind themselves not to take a path even resembling National Socialism ever again. The small exhibition in the former entrance hall of the church has among its exhibits a pair of nails from another ecclesiastical victim of World War 2, Coventry Cathedral. Again, displaying the utter futility of war and the common loss war can bring to both sides.

The church has now been supplemented with a 1960s-era bell tower and a place for its congregation. But the remaining spire and entrance hall will hopefully for decades to come act as a physical reminder of why war is, as Baldrick once said, a horrid thing.

the Fernsehturm

East Germany (or the “DDR” as the vast majority of Germans seem to refer to it) was an interesting experiment of a country. A populace under vast surveillance, where you risked death climbing over a wall to escape and had to wait years for a car that did 0-60mph in about 4 minutes and was made of plastic.

One thing they did get right, in a sense anyway, was the Berliner Fernsehturm. The second tallest freestanding structure in the EU sits in the former East Berlin square of Alexanderplatz. It has a rather apologetic pavilion at the bottom of it, but the views from the top are predictably spectacular.

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The Fernsehturm, with the Berlin Cathedral immediately to its right and bits of the German Historical Museum to the left and right.

The tower was built at something of a two-fingered (or perhaps one-fingered) gesture to the West – the East can do big things too and do them just as well. One thing the atheistic DDR government didn’t bank on, however, is the fact that when the sun shines on the Fernsehturm, the reflective glass on the upper part of the sphere creates a bit of a cross shape – the “Pope’s Revenge” as the West Berliners soon coined. Predictably, the tower is visible from most points of the city, particularly the central districts, and must have been something of a bizarre sight for West Berliners from the other side of the Wall.

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A little feeling of what the tower might have looked like from the other side of the wall.

In short, the Fernsehturm is huge, it’s ridiculously out of proportion to the rest of the city and it’s a bit ugly. And that’s why I think it’s generally fantastic.

The Victory Column

The Victory Column (or Siegessäule) was built to commemorate Prussian victories in Denmark and France in the 1860s and 1870s. It stands at the end of 17th of June Street (so called in recognition of the East Berlin uprising on that date in 1953), facing the Brandenburg Gate.

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The Victory Column

Again, it’s the history of the column that makes it interesting. When the Siegessäule was first constructed, it sat outside the Reichstag. However, when Hitler came to power and employed Albert Speer as his chief architect, they had other ideas. The Victory Column was moved from the Reichstag to its current position in the middle of a roundabout, in the middle of the Tiergarten, in 1936. This was part of the initial preparation work for Hitler’s planned “Welthaupstadt Germania“, which would see the Siegessäule sit on a wide east/west axis, which would intersect with an even wider north/south axis at the Brandenburg Gate.

As it turned out, the Column’s move was one of the few parts of the “Welthaupstadt” vision which were carried out. The move also turned out to be a very luckily positive one for the Siegessäule. While the Reichstag was bombed into submission at the centre of the Battle of Berlin which concluded the European side of World War 2, the Column remained largely unscathed in its new position (other than a few choice pockmarks). It now offers wonderful views of the city back down 17th of June Street – a photo with the Reichstag, the Brandenburg Gate and the Fernsehturm all in one is quite a pleasure to take.

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The Brandenburg Gate is just about visible at the end of the road in the middle of the frame, with the Fernsehturm and Reichstag clearly visible to the left

In all, I hope this has given a wee flavour of Berlin – a city I love for so many different reasons, a few of which have hopefully been captured in this post.

Einigkeit. Recht. Freiheit. 

This post is explained below the italics:

I’d always wanted to sing the German national anthem in chorus with 50,000 or so others, having learned the Deutschlandlied word for word a few years back when I did some German night classes. That the opportunity to do so arose on one of the most poignant evenings in sport in recent years made it all the more special. 

Those three words mean unity, justice and freedom. Tuesday evening’s Germany v Netherlands match was far more about those three words than a game between two historic rivals. 

The friendly match in Hannover was one I’d booked weeks ago, as part of our “mini-moon” trip to Berlin following myself and Clare’s wedding this Saturday past. It then became clear that, with a 2045 kickoff and a 2230 last train from Hannover to Berlin, we’d have to miss at least the last 15 minutes, and probably the last half an hour, to make sure we made our high speed ICE back to the capital. 

As it was, in the context of Friday’s events and Europe’s defiance in the face of its terrorist enemy, it was something I was very happy to do. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, that most steadfast of world leaders, was in attendance in Hannover

I had written this (rather good in my opinion) introduction to a blog post on tonight’s game, prior to leaving for Berlin this morning. Unfortunately, the match has been called off as a result of what appear to be credible threats. From a more selfish point of view, I wonder how much football tourism I’ll be able to do in the coming months and years. This is a terrorist threat that for some reason despises our way of life – I hope that someone has the means and brains to stop them. 

I’ll also happily admit to being scared. Having got married on Saturday in particular and with my new wife (as ever) by my side, it was a horrible feeling getting back to Hannover Hauptbahnhof, waiting for the train to leave and following the ever more lurid rumours on Twitter. However, we are back safe and determined to enjoy the rest of our time in Berlin.