Celebrating 50 years of women’s football in Germany
Women’s football was recognised in DFB’s statutes on 31 October 1970
Germany contested their first official international match on 26 November 1982
Since then, Germany have won two FIFA Women’s World Cups
Imagine that the commentator for the final of the FIFA Women’s World Cup™ 2019 between USA and the Netherlands had uttered the words: "Cover, cover – not the table, but the player, that’s right. Free from all those trivial worries about housekeeping, husbands and children!” The outcry – both on and off social media – would be immense, the storm of controversy inevitable.
While it is difficult to imagine anyone making such comments in 2020, it is exactly what players from Germany’s unofficial women’s national team had to listen to on the Aktuelle Sportstudio television programme some 50 years ago on 28 March 1970. It was an age when men did not take women’s football seriously. It had even been banned since 1955 based on a unanimous decision by the German Football Association (DFB).
Just 15 years later, on 31 October 1970, women’s football was officially recognised in the DFB’s statutes. This marked an important milestone in this history of the beautiful game in Germany, as the DFB’s Vice President of Equality, Women’s and Girls’ Football, Hannelore Ratzeburg, recalled.
"I’m a child of the 1950s, when women’s opportunities were still comparatively limited," Ratzeburg explained on the DFB website. "Football didn’t play any role in our family at that point. The DFB repealed its ban on women’s football in 1970, and at that point I had a friend who played for a club and we talked about it at the Christmas party. I was curious and a little fired up by the 1968 student movement and the spirit of rebellion, so I said I’d like to give it a go," she said.
"I then managed to get several other women involved. I remember that most of them arrived at the hall for training in gymnastics slippers. I only wanted to meet at the hall so that nobody could watch us to start with. We didn’t really know how we were going to do anything. My parents threw up their hands in despair. But I stuck with it."
Lots of men only came along to see the players swap shirts after the match – how stupid!
1970 – 2020. Five decades in which Germany has blossomed into one of the strongest nations in women’s football and won countless trophies on the international stage, whether at club level or with the national team. Five decades in which many big names have paved the way and created a profile for the women’s game – names such as Ratzeburg, Gero Bisanz (the first coach of the women’s national team), Tina Theune, Renate Lingor (member of the women’s football Hall of Fame since 2019) and Barbel Wohlleben (the first woman to win Goal of the Month in 1974), to name just a few.
Then, of course, there is Silvia Neid, who won eight European Championships, both of Germany’s Women’s World Cup titles and the country’s first-ever gold medal at the Women's Olympic Football Tournament as a player, assistant coach and head coach.
"Our first international match in 1982 was a milestone for me, of course," Neid told dfb.de. "Gero Bisanz did a fantastic job there. Before he could do anything, he had to work out where he was going to find players, as there wasn’t a Women’s Bundesliga at that point. There were two training sessions, one in the north of the country and one in the south, each with 30 players. Sixteen of them made it through that process to play in the first international. There was a crowd of 5,000 in Koblenz, but we soon realised that some of them had only come along to make fun of us, which annoyed us. But of course this match was an important starting point, as was playing the Women’s DFB Cup final before the men’s final in Berlin. I managed to get Goal of the Month there in 1988."
Neid and her success with the national team have been instrumental in massively raising the profile of women’s football in Germany and giving it the platform it enjoys today. "Success was and remains the bottom line," she explained. "Without success we wouldn’t have had the media interest, and without the media interest we wouldn’t have had the inflow into the clubs. It was also tremendously important for us as a national team, as we could then say: ‘We still need an assistant coach or a physiotherapist.’ The conditions just kept improving after that."
It is now up to the new generation to continue along this path – to shape the sport, motivate and inspire others and thus enable Neid’s wish to come true. "The everlasting battle for recognition has to end somewhere," she said. "We are playing at the highest international level and we should be proud of that. We have women with an incredible amount of expertise who should be more involved with the sport. Perhaps a woman could even end up in charge of the DFB one day."
31 October 1970: Women’s football is officially recognised in the DFB’s statutes
8 September 1974: TuS Wörrstadt win the first German championship
2 May 1981: Bergisch Gladbach win the inaugural Women’s DFB Cup
26 November 1982: The now-official women’s national team play their first international in Koblenz. The result was a 5-1 win over Switzerland, with Silvia Neid scoring two of the goals
2 July 1989: Germany win the European Championship for the first time with a 4-1 victory over Norway
23 May 2002: 1. FFC Frankfurt win the inaugural UEFA Women's Cup (later renamed UEFA Women’s Champions League)
12 October 2003: Germany win the Women’s World Cup
30 September 2007: They successfully defend their World Cup title
19 August 2016: Germany add Olympic gold to their trophy cabinet
2020: More than 1.1 million women and girls across Germany are members of a football club. Almost 10,000 teams compete in leagues across the country
I don’t think it’s fair to women’s or men’s football to compare the two, and it’s not something I do either. Women’s football stands alone and is a fantastic sport. The game has become so much faster and more dynamic, so much more athletic and compet...