Uwe Seeler, widely considered to be one of the greatest German footballers of all time, was born on 5 November 1936 in Hamburg, where he subsequently joined his beloved local club Hamburger SV at just nine years of age.
In 1953, aged just 16, Seeler made his first-team debut for Hamburg and even today he still has fond memories of that opening appearance. "I was an early bloomer, but when I played my first game in the top league at just 16 it still came as a complete surprise. We played Gottingen 05 at the Rothenbaum stadium and the opponent marking me was twice as big and heavy as I was. Even so, I played well and won a few headers," Seeler tells FIFA.com.
Seeler's career progressed rapidly and just one year later he was called up by then coach Sepp Herberger into the German national squad. "Our team for the 1954 World Cup had fallen ill with jaundice and several players had dropped out. As Sepp Herberger knew me from a FIFA youth tournament the year before, he actually considered taking me to Switzerland," recalls the former striker affectionately known as Uns Uwe (Our Uwe).
"However, the squad had already been registered so I didn't travel. The first international after the World Cup was in Hannover against France and after 15 minutes Herberger approached me, put his arm around me and said to 'Go out there and show them what you can do and why I picked you'. I didn't have any time to think about it and was out on the pitch before I knew it."
Seeler would go on to win a further 71 senior caps for his country, with his first appearance at a FIFA World Cup™ finals a particular highlight: "I will always remember my first World Cup match in Sweden in 1958. I had only been selected as second-choice centre-forward, but at the training camp Herberger took me to one side and told me I would be starting against Argentina. We won and I scored my first World Cup goal."
An iconic figure in German football history thanks to his goalscoring feats, the positive-thinking Seeler is even able to look back wistfully at some of his country's most painful defeats: "Two other games which I will never forget are the 1966 World Cup Final against England and the 1970 World Cup semi-final against Italy."
Perhaps it is this optimistic outlook on life and especially on sport which made him so successful. After all, he managed to take part in four FIFA World Cups - a feat that puts him on a par with legendary figures like Pele, Diego Armando Maradona, Ronaldo and Oliver Kahn.
I remember once asking Fritz Walter how mad you'd have to be to keep
playing at 50, but seeing as I kept going until the age of 61 I'm sure
you are getting an idea of how sane I am!
And of his four visits to world football's top table, the man named honorary captain of the German national team chose to highlight one finals in particular: "For me, the best World Cup was in Mexico in 1970. I was almost 35 years old then and a lot of people were wondering what an old crock like me was doing in the heat of Mexico. Of course I prepared myself specially for this World Cup and, playing alongside Gerd Muller, everything went really well. Words cannot describe the emotions we experienced at that time, but I think we were a well-loved team."
"The excitement was unbelievable. Even the players who became world champions in 1974 later said that the Mexico World Cup was the best. We did a lot of travelling around to little Mexican towns giving out presents and the people were so gracious, it was very moving. Something odd happened too. After the the game against England, when we came back from 2-0 down to win 3-2, our evening meal was delayed because our cook from the hotel had been almost crushed during the celebrations and had to take a breather. It wasn't a major problem, though. Most of the time we were just thirsty because the games took place at midday in 55-degree heat."
Seeler retired in 1972, drawing his glittering career to a close in a game pitting HSV against a World XI. However, six years later Seeler made an unlikely comeback with Irish side Cork Celtic. "That was to do with my job. The adidas representatives in Ireland asked me to play in an invitation match," says the forward. "But what I didn't know was that in Ireland you could register guest players to play in normal league matches, so that's how I made my one and only league appearance in Ireland. We lost heavily but I managed to score two goals and the club wanted to hang onto me. I was too old, though. Still, it was a nice experience."
After a host of benefit games with the 'Uwe Seeler Classic 11', Seeler has since been forced to hang up his shooting boots for good. "I stopped at 61. The doctors wouldn't allow me to continue playing because I had suffered too many injuries and operations," he explains. "I remember once asking Fritz Walter how mad you'd have to be to keep playing at 50, but seeing as I kept going until the age of 61 I'm sure you are getting an idea of how sane I am!"
These days, though the father of three daughters still keeps fit by playing golf, cycling and walking his children's dogs, his love for the beautiful game and particularly HSV remains undiminished. "I'm an original Hamburger and they will always have a special place in my heart," says the former president of the current league leaders as the interview draws to a close. "I'm an avid fan. HSV are my club, and I am sure that we will finish in the top three of the Bundesliga this season."