Today is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Fritz Walter
Walter captained the "Miracle of Berne" team in 1954
"The strength that he gave to football can still be felt today"
"He was a special person: he had a big heart but was humble to go with it and always ready to help out. If someone asked him to do something and he thought that it was important, he lent a hand. And of course he was a good footballer, a world-class player in our era, I can assure you of that. When he had something to say to us, he found inspiring words and was very convincing. What he said carried weight. He didn’t shout – he just explained everything clearly so that everyone understood."
Those are the words of Horst Eckel, speaking about his former team-mate Fritz Walter, who would have been 100 years old today. Together they were part of the famous 1954 FIFA World Cup™-winning team that gave Germany its first title. Franz Beckenbauer, who went on to win the World Cup twice himself (in 1974 as a player and 1990 as a coach), previously described Walter as "without a doubt the most important German footballer of the century".
When you think of Walter, you think of Kaiserslautern, the Germany national team and the Final of the 1954 World Cup in Switzerland. The attacking midfielder spent the entirety of his storied career with the Rhineland team, while for his country, he was the first to receive the UEFA Golden Player award ahead of the likes of Beckenbauer, Gerd Muller and Lothar Matthaus.
In the Final of the 1954 World Cup, he led the German team to the "Miracle of Berne", one of the biggest upsets in the history of the tournament – a 3-2 win over a seemingly unbeatable Hungary side that had thrashed the Mannschaft 8-3 in the group stage.
Some 60 million Germans were sitting by their radios when the final whistle was blown and heard the words of a highly emotional Herbert Zimmermann shouting into the microphone: "It’s over! It’s over! The game is over! Germany are world champions, defeating Hungary three goals to two in the Final in Berne". It was an absolute sensation.
Born: 31 October 1920
Died: 17 June 2002
61 international appearances (33 goals)
First player to be added to Germany’s hall of fame
FIFA World Cup winner 1954
German league winner 1951 and 1953
FIFA Order of Merit holder
Played for Kaiserslautern for 30 years (384 matches, 327 goals)
The man from Kaiserslautern is still revered today throughout the country, and on his 65th birthday in 1985, the club changed the name of their ground from the Arena auf dem Betzenberg to the Fritz-Walter-Stadion. The Red Devils, who have since slipped down into the third division, have a very particular way of honouring their club legend, with a creative work of art mown into the pitch featuring a silhouette of Walter in action.
A few weeks ago, Walter was given another honour when he became the third footballer after World Cup-winning coaches Sepp Herberger and Helmut Schon to be depicted on a German stamp. "We all know Fritz Walter as a great footballer, but even after he had hung up his boots, he remained very committed to the game, particularly at youth level," said German federal finance minister Olaf Scholz at the ceremonial unveiling of the stamp, in the presence of the one surviving member of the 1954 team, Horst Eckel.
Fritz Walter carried the hopes of an entire nation on his shoulders. His performances as captain of the 1954 World Cup-winning team made him into a historical figure. He could always see the big picture and he remained humble throughout his entire life. He showed an entire nation that rolling up your sleeves can actually work. The strength that Walter gave to football can still be felt today.
4 Jul 1954: Fritz Walter of West Germany poses with the Jules Rimet trophy after winning the FIFA World Cup Final against Hungary played in Berne, Switzerland. West Germany won the match and trophy 3-2. \ Mandatory Credit: Allsport/Hulton\
1954 FIFA World Cup Switzerland <br />Final: Germany - Hungary 3:2 <br />Fritz Walter, Germany with the Jules Rimet Cup
I always wanted to be like him as a footballer. Now that my career is over, I can say: 'I've always played for the team - like Fritz Walter.'