Even in Germany, few football fans will ever have heard of the Anton Schmitz pub on Alsstrasse in Eicken, a district of Monchengladbach. On the other hand, the club founded there more than a century ago is a household name: Borussia Monchengladbach.
In November 1899, a group of young players broke away from Germania sports club and set up FC Borussia. Just a few weeks later, the men opted to join the youth section of the Congregation of Mary, as the institution had its own pitch. Eight months after that, what was destined to become one of the nation’s most successful clubs formally came into being.
Birth of an institution
Borussia Monchengladbach was officially founded on 1 August 1900 as Borussia 1900. Just 12 years later, the club had won promotion to the top tier, and claimed a first west German championship in 1920, defeating Koelner BC 3-1 after extra time in the final.
Borussia had merged with Germania 1889 athletic club in 1919, but the union only lasted two years and VfTuR 1889 M.Gladbach gave way to Borussia VfL 1900 e.V. Monchengladbach, the name it still bears today. Borussia’s first senior German international was 21-year-old defender Heinz Ditgens, who made his debut in a 9-0 victory over Luxembourg at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.
After the chaos and trauma of the Second World War, Borussia resumed league operations in mid-June 1946. They were promoted to the second division (west) in 1949, and the Oberliga West, the regional top flight at the time, a year later. Following a string of relegations and promotions, Borussia cemented their place in the Oberliga and claimed a first title in 1958/59.
Another trophy followed in August 1960 when Borussia beat Cologne 3-1 to win the West German Cup. They would follow that a few weeks later with a maiden DFB German Cup triumph after a 3-2 victory over Karlsruhe. In the same year, Borussia became the first German contenders in the new European Cup Winners’ Cup, where they were knocked out by Glasgow giants Rangers in the last eight.
Monchengladbach earned promotion to the Bundesliga in 1965, a year after Hennes Weisweiler became head coach. The club’s widely-used nickname, the Foals, stems from the legendary Weisweiler’s tenure, as he was renowned from grooming and bringing on young players.
The making of a legendBorussia advanced to figurehead status in German football in a golden era during the 1970s. On 31 October 1969, Monchengladbach moved to the top of the Bundesliga for the first time in their history, and remain second in the all-time roll of honour for leading the league at the end of a complete matchday, behind only serial champions Bayern Munich. The Foals claimed their first national title on 30 April 1970, with the plaudits raining in for coach Weisweiler and his team’s potent blend of youth and experience.
The history books record a curious incident on Matchday 27 the following season. With two minutes left in Borussia’s home meeting with Werder Bremen, Gladbach’s Herbert Laumen ended up in the net in a vain attempt to reach a Gunter Netzer free-kick. The striker hit the rigging with sufficient force to break the left-hand post and, as there was no replacement goal and the damage could not be repaired, the referee abandoned the match. The incident spelled the end of wooden goalposts in the professional game, and the offending post is now on display in the Borussia museum.
The immediate consequences were less rosy for Gladbach, as a German FA tribunal awarded the points to Werder. Despite this, Borussia finished the 1970/71 season with a wafer-thin advantage over Bayern, and became the first club to retain the Bundesliga title.
The men from the Lower Rhine remained a dominant force for many years, both on the domestic scene and in Europe. The 1972/73 campaign brought a second DFB Cup triumph and a place in the UEFA Cup final, although that ended in defeat to Liverpool. 1974/75 remains the most successful year in the club’s history, as Borussia brought home both a third league title and the UEFA Cup.
Weisweiler now departed to coach Barcelona, but new boss Udo Lattek led Borussia to a Bundesliga hat-trick with titles in 1976 and 1977. However, the season which produced a fifth national title ended with a painful defeat, again to Liverpool, but this time in the final of the European Champions’ Cup.
As it transpired, the high-water mark had been reached, although the next couple of years were not without entries in the club annals. On 29 April 1978, Gladbach thrashed Borussia Dortmund 12-0 to record the highest-ever margin of victory in the Bundesliga. A year later, they beat Red Star Belgrade to claim the UEFA Cup again, and although they also made the final in 1980, the trophy was lost to Bundesliga rivals Eintracht Frankfurt.
Over the next ten years, Borussia remained among the elite in German football, but trophies proved elusive. Gladbach lost the 1984 DFB Cup final on penalties to arch-rivals Bayern, and made the UEFA Cup semi-finals in 1987 only to go out on the back of a home defeat to Dundee United.
The 1990s proved a troubled decade for the proud club as they slid towards a muted centenary year. By now meandering in mid-table in the Bundesliga, the Foals reached the DFB Cup final in 1992 but lost to Hannover. A 16-year wait for silverware ended in 1995 with a third triumph in the domestic cup, but there have been no additions to the trophy cabinet since then.
The club sank to a nadir four years later with a first-ever relegation from the top flight. Borussia were back in the elite two seasons later, but as a humble shadow of their former selves. Tenth in 2005/06 was the best they could manage, and they slipped to the second division again a year later.
The presentBorussia regained their top-flight status at the first attempt and were back for the 2008/09 campaign, but the glory days of the 1970s are a fast-fading memory, with finishes in 15th and 12th places in the last two seasons.
Things have taken a dramatic turn for the worse this term, as boss Michael Frontzeck and his men are engaged in a desperate fight against relegation and look destined to be battling to retain their top flight status until the very last day.
The main ray of light in an otherwise gloomy landscape at the club is the emergence of a crop of supremely promising young players, graduates of an exceptional youth generation a couple of years ago. The likes of Marco Reus (21), Tony Jantschke (20) and Patrick Herrmann (19) have hinted at immense potential future value to the Foals, and hold out hope of a return to more-settled times. The club’s top priority must be to retain its home-grown starlets as a first step in the right direction.
The stadiumThe Foals moved to the newly-constructed Borussia Park in July 2004. The state-of-the-art arena, built on a site relinquished by the British military, replaced the legendary but ageing Bokelberg and boasts a capacity of 54,057. The Borussia Park site also houses the club’s administrative headquarters, a fan shop, a restaurant, the training facility and extensive car parking. The stadium, built at a cost of €86.9 million, has staged three Germany men’s internationals to date, and is one of the nine venues for the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2011 in Germany.