During the Cold War it was a thinly disguised secret that communist bloc nations were involved in doping to enhance athletic performance. East Germany was among the worst offenders. Their state sponsored program was successful in helping the hardline communist nation win many international championships and Olympic gold medals. Today East Germany is remembered for little more than rampant cheating in sports. What is less well known is that West Germany also had a state sponsored doping program. Its most important sporting victory was most likely assisted by performance enhancing drugs. The drugs used were not illegal at the time, but are now banned. Because of this, great controversy swirls around West Germany’s upset victory over Hungary in the 1954 World Cup final.
Getting Their Fix – Assuming The Offensive
To have any chance at all against a Hungarian team that was likely the strongest in football history, the West Germans needed every advantage they could get. This was why prior to the game doctors may have injected the West German players with Pervitin, a powerful type of methamphetamine that boosts stamina and energy level. This was a crucial aid in a tight game, played in deplorable weather conditions, that was deadlocked late into the second half. Reports of the methamphetamine injections were later denied, but 35 million doses had been manufactured for use by German soldiers during World War II, thus there were large quantities still available in Germany. Officials did admit that West German players had indeed been given injections, but of vitamin concoctions. A damning report, Doping in Germany From 1950 To Today, which was commissioned by the German Olympic Committee in 2008, told of systemic support by West German officials for the use of performance enhancing substances in national athletics. Though the report did not specifically refer to the 1954 World Cup team, the implication was clear. A person who worked on that study later stated that the 1954 World Cup team had received regular injections of Pervitin in the run up to the tournament, as well as during it. Players had sometimes shared the same needle and syringe for these injections.
In the months following the match several German players became seriously ill, contracting jaundice or black fever with two eventually dying from cirrhosis of the liver. The price of victory for some unlucky players may have been their lives. Such controversies would arise after the final, but as the second half opened with the game tied at 2-2, both teams focused on probing for an opening that could lead to the decisive goal. The Hungarians again assumed the offensive. Star striker Ferenc Puskas was a shadow of his pre-injury self, unable to convert opportunities into goals like he had so often in the past. Nevertheless he was still extremely dangerous. This became apparent in the opening minutes of the half when Puskas came close to scoring with two shots on goal expertly saved by Toni Turek. A few minutes later, Golden Head Sandor Kocsis hit the bar with a header. Such close calls kept the partisan German crowd on edge, over half the crowd of 64,000 in Berne that day were estimated to be rabid West German supporters.
Tiebreaker – The Ultimate Goal
The second half turned into a continuation of the last two-thirds of the first half with neither side able to score. It was not so much a defensive stalemate, as it was a series of missed opportunities. The match had a strange schizophrenic quality to it. In the first 16 minutes four goals had been scored, then for over an hour the match was scoreless, this was followed by a frantic finish with two goals in two minutes, but only one of them would be allowed. Though the Hungarians had come close to scoring several times in the second half, it was the West Germans who finally broke through. In the 84th minute, Hans Schaefer on the left wing sent a cross that just barely eluded Hungarian defender Mihaly Lantos. The ball reached Helmut Rahn, who advanced with it, seemed to pause momentarily, then used his weaker left foot to put a shot past Hungarian goalie Gyula Grosics into the left corner of the goal. The Germans had finally taken the lead. All they needed to do now was hold Hungary scoreless for a few more minutes. This turned out to be rather difficult as the Hungarian offense unleashed a frantically attack.
Desperation suddenly elevated Puskas’ play. In the 86th minute he broke free to receive a precision through pass from Mihaly Toth, entering a gap, he was able beat Turek. His shot found the goal. For a precious few moments it looked like the game was tied once again, but the flag of Welsh linesman Mervyn Griffiths was raised calling an offside penalty on Puskas. To this day the call is still debated. Replays seem to show Puskas onside. Many still believe – and not just Hungarians – that the goal should have counted. To this day, the offside on Puskas is one of the most controversial calls in World Cup history. No one will ever know if the Hungarians would have been able to win the game in extra time. Hungary had one last golden opportunity in the waning seconds of the match when Zoltan Czibor broke free and sent a shot toward the corner of the goal, but Turek was there just in time to knock the ball away.
More Than A Game – West Germany Rising
When the final whistle blew West Germany were the 1954 World Cup champions. It was the nation’s first major post-war international success and called the Miracle of Berne (Das Wunder von Berne). A country that had nearly ceased to exist less than a decade earlier, that was still occupied in some parts by foreign armies, were now world champions of the most popular global sport. An improbable victory had been won against incredible odds. The West Germans had defeated a Hungarian team that had not lost in four years, a team that exactly two weeks earlier had beaten them by five goals and led them by two goals eight minutes into the final. Was a victory ever this improbable? The West Germans may have been helped to victory by a powerful stimulant, but it was not illegal at the time. They may have been the recipient of an official’s error, but that is debatable. Nothing could take away from the emotional thrill and restoration of national confidence that the West German football team’s victory gave to the German people. For the Hungarian team as well as the nation losing the 1954 World Cup would be too much to overcome. The recriminations were about to begin.