Germany v Switzerland: 70 years of respect above rivalry

  • Germany and Switzerland meet in the UEFA Nations League this week

  • 2020 marks the 70th anniversary of Germany's reintegration into world football

  • tells the story of how the Swiss FA played an integral role in the process

When Germany and Switzerland face each other in their UEFA Nations League group match on Tuesday evening, the players can expect the usual neighbourly rivalry. What many of them might not know, however, is that one side owes a debt of gratitude to the predecessors of the other.

This year marks the 70th anniversary of Germany’s reintegration into world football, and it is a story that cannot be told without mentioning the support of the Swiss Football Association.

Out in the cold

In the aftermath of the Second World War, Germany was a pariah state and had to begin the long and arduous task of rebuilding a nation, or rather two nations with the country split into Soviet-aligned East Germany and Capitalist Bloc-aligned West Germany.

Both were shunned by the international community and excluded from official sporting competitions. The 25th FIFA Congress in July 1946 confirmed the decision of the Executive Committee in 1945 to prohibit sporting relations between FIFA member associations and the German association and its clubs, due to the absence of a “national organisation governing football and capable of maintaining relations with football organisations of other nations” and on the principle that sport and politics must not mix.

A matter of principle

The Swiss FA, however, argued, by virtue of the same principle, that politics must not influence sporting decisions, and that football could act as a tool for international reconciliation and help a young German population to overcome its isolation. At the 26th FIFA Congress in July 1948, Swiss FA president Ernst Thommen tabled a motion that FIFA-affiliated associations be permitted to play friendly matches against German clubs. The Congress pushed the matter back for the Executive Committee to decide, and the Swiss FA was forced to reject countless invitations by German teams to play against Swiss clubs.

At the following Executive Committee meeting on 6 May 1949, the members were split on the issue but ultimately granted temporary permission for clubs from FIFA member associations to play friendlies against German clubs, provided that they sought prior permission from the occupying forces. This was a significant victory for the Swiss FA and for football as a bridge builder between nations.

Germany v. Switzerland: 70 years of respect

All or nothing

However, the Swiss FA did not stop there, and campaigned for the reinstatement of the recently reformed German FA (Deutschen Fussball-Bund, DFB). Thommen again used the democratic forum of the 27th FIFA Congress in June 1950 to put forward a proposal that the Congress recognise the legitimacy of the DFB and allow the resumption of full sporting relations between clubs of FIFA member associations and German clubs. Although the proposal gained support from various member associations, it was deemed that the matter should be determined by the Executive Committee.

The Executive Committee duly debated the matter at its meeting of 23 September 1950 and unanimously approved the reinstatement of the DFB. The same day, Thommen telegrammed the DFB informing them of the good news.

Such was the gratitude of DFB President Dr. Peco Bauwens that he immediately returned the telegram, thanking Ernst Thommen and the Swiss FA, and inviting the Swiss national team to play the very first friendly match against West Germany. The two associations did not waste any time in organising the game and, on 22 November 1950, West Germany played its first post-war match after many years out in the cold. More than 100,000 spectators packed into Stuttgart’s Neckarstadion to watch overjoyed as West Germany defeated Switzerland 1-0.

The (re)birth of a proud footballing legacy

The Swiss FA’s faith in the power of football to heal divisions and bring social cohesion was crucial to the rebirth of the DFB and German football, and the awakening of one of the superpowers of the world game.

The West German national team was the focal point of German hopes and aspirations of restoring pride to a humiliated and demoralised population during the tough post-war years. Just four years after the Swiss FA’s successful intervention, West Germany achieved what many thought impossible, winning the 1954 FIFA World Cup™. The host country: Switzerland.

The venue of the final will forever live in German football fans’ memories, as West Germany’s victory is known as the “Miracle of Bern” (“das Wunder von Bern”).

Commenting on the 70th anniversary of the friendly match in Cologne, FIFA President Gianni Infantino said, “This anniversary is important because it shows how football unites people and breaks down barriers. During one of the darkest times in human history, football gave people hope once more and, without the campaigning of the Swiss FA, we might never have seen so many iconic players and magical moments of footballing history when we did.”

Indeed, since Fritz Walter and Co paved the way in ’54, lifting the Jules Rimet Trophy in Bern, the world has marvelled at generation after generation of indomitable German teams and football fans the world over all know the names of the captains who have followed in Walter’s footsteps and lifted the FIFA World Cup Trophy: Franz Beckenbauer, Lothar Matthaus, Philipp Lahm.

When the two sides meet in Cologne on Tuesday evening, the Germans will surely show their opponents little mercy. However, Switzerland’s pivotal role in bringing football back to Germany and German football to the world should surely be celebrated.