Coming 33 years after the first, the Wembley meeting of Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund in this season’s Champions League will be just the second all-German European club Final. Eintracht Frankfurt and Borussia Mönchengladbach contested the first one – the 1980 UEFA Cup Final – and the involvement of two Bundesliga sides at the sharp end told a story about the distinctive nature of that tournament in the late 70s and early 80s. Two teams from one country reaching the Final was itself not especially unusual – England and Spain had provided both finalists in past UEFA and Fairs Cup Finals – but the broader dominance of clubs from West Germany was prominent to an extent not seen in any European tournament before or since.
While the West German champions of this era couldn’t quite match the English in the European Cup, the sheer strength in depth of the Bundesliga did lend itself to a virtual monopoly over the UEFA Cup. Three of the four semi-final places in the 1978-79 tournament were taken by German clubs with Borussia Mönchengladbach going on to win it for the second time in just four seasons.
The West German stranglehold on the competition grew tighter still in the 1979-80 tournament. The holders progressed comfortably to the Quarter-Finals as did all four of the other Bundesliga entrants – Bayern Munich, Eintracht Frankfurt, Kaiserslautern and Stuttgart. It was an unprecedented feat to have five participants from one country in the last eight of the UEFA Cup, particularly as no nation had even fielded five entrants in the competition before – West Germany were given a fifth place only because Albania did not take up its allocation.
The Quarter-Final draw had to feature at least one all-German tie and it was Kaiserslautern who were first to exit the competition after two legs against Bayern Munich. The other Bundesliga sides all advanced meaning West Germany’s three semi-finalists the previous season had become four this time round. It was also the first instance of a tournament in which a country’s participants were eliminated only by their compatriots.
Mönchengladbach eased past Stuttgart with most of the drama coming in the other tie between Eintracht Frankfurt and an on-form Bayern Munich side strolling to another Bundesliga title. The Bavarians seemed well placed after a 2-0 victory in their home leg, but their opponents had been something of a bogey team of late and Frankfurt’s second leg comeback reprised the spirit they had shown when winning home and away against Bayern in the same tournament two seasons earlier. A goal three minutes from time levelled the aggregate and Frankfurt roared to a thumping 5-1 victory in extra-time.
Eintracht were understandably cast as the Final underdogs. For the past 15 years Frankfurt had been a team habitually residing in the top-half of the Bundesliga without ever being much of a title threat. Recent European campaigns had been modest and what European reputation the club had dated way back to that famous European Cup Final appearance against Real Madrid in 1960. In sharp contrast, Borussia Mönchengladbach were the most hardened of European campaigners about to appear in their fourth UEFA Cup Final and fifth European Final in all since 1973.
Mönchengladbach could no longer claim to be the barnstorming, all-conquering team of old though. For years they successfully swam against the tide by consistently developing brilliant youngsters or signing talented unknowns to replace stars poached by richer clubs, but it had become harder and harder to maintain their lofty standards. The current team had the prodigious talent of a young Lothar Matthäus in midfield but had lost a lot of its character following the recent retirals of Vogts, Wimmer and Wittkamp. Their brilliant Danish star Allan Simonsen had left for Barcelona and even the club’s legendary coach, Udo Lattek, had decamped to Dortmund.
A team in decline they might have been, but Mönchengladbach still looked stronger on paper than Frankfurt’s curious mix of grizzled veterans and quirky foreign talent. Jürgen Grabowski and Bernd Hölzenbein were both much-capped, former West German internationals and remained very influential for Frankfurt in the twilight of their careers. Another international was Karl-Heinz Körbel who paired in central defence with the Austrian Bruno Pezzey – the ‘Tirol Tower’ – cannily signed just before he came to international prominence with his fine performances at the 1978 World Cup. His highly robust style brought two red cards and lengthy Bundesliga bans that season, yet his European performances and goals from defence had been the motor behind Frankfurt’s UEFA Cup run. A left-field signing that had paid dividends was the South Korean winger Bum-Kun Cha, perhaps the Bundesliga’s most unusual import at the time, but a vital player for Frankfurt and the club’s top scorer.
With Mönchengladbach finishing in seventh place and Frankfurt two positions lower, the domestic form of both teams had been modest with free-scoring attacks undermined by porous defences. The Bundesliga games between the pair set the tone with high scoring wins for the home teams: 4-1 in Mönchengladbach and 5-2 in Frankfurt.
Mönchengladbach hosted the first leg of the Final and sought to exploit the poor away form of visitors who had lost four of their five European matches away from their Waldstadion home. Borussia’s coach Jupp Heynckes was given a major boost by the absence of Frankfurt’s captain and chief midfield schemer, Grabowski, still not recovered from an injury suffered in a League meeting between the teams several months earlier.
Mönchengladbach dominated the early exchanges but were caught out by a Frankfurt goal scored against the run of play: keeper Wolfgang Kneib nowhere to be seen as Karger headed in a Bernd Nickel corner from almost on the goal-line. The home side equalised just on half-time when Christian Kulik controlled a punch out from Eintracht’s keeper, knocked it wide of one defender and brilliantly volleyed it home from the edge of the box. Hölzenbein dived in to header Frankfurt back in front, Matthäus equalised with the type of powerful drive that would become his trademark and with just a couple of minutes remaining, Mönchengladbach made it 3-2 on the night with a great header into the bottom corner by the veteran Kulik again.
A fortnight later Mönchengladbach set out to defend their narrow advantage and leading the resistance was defender Norbert Ringels who insisted on playing despite having stitches on his tongue after painfully biting it in a League game the previous weekend.
Frankfurt dominated possession but created little and by the second-half the visitors had started threatening on the counter-attack: Frankfurt’s keeper Jürgen Pahl saving brilliantly twice in succession from Kulik and the rebound from Lienen. With just over 10 minutes remaining, Frankfurt threw on the unknown 19-year-old youth international forward Freddy Schaub as a last throw of the dice. Four minutes after his entrance, Schaub picked up a loose ball at the edge of the box, squeezed past two tackles and scored from close range.
The injured captain Grabowski’s last act as a player was lifting the UEFA Cup for Eintracht Frankfurt, bringing down the curtain both on his own fine career and an outstanding era for West German football in that tournament. Compare the record then and since: three wins in just five years between 1975 and 1980 and just three more in the intervening 33 years. The modern-day Europa League will never have the same cachet as the UEFA Cup in its heyday, but perhaps the Champions League example set by Munich and Dortmund might inspire the rest of the Bundesliga towards a renaissance in Europe’s second competition.
Visit UEFA Cup 1979/80 On Film to see action from the UEFA Cup campaigns of both Frankfurt and Mönchengladbach, including the Final itself.