Saarland is a German city-state sat on the Saar River and its tributary valleys, a mineral-rich landscape that was at the heart of the Industrial Revolution in Germany. At the turn of the 20th Century, it was the third-biggest area of coal, iron, and steel production in the country.
Located on the French border, the region was controlled by the League of Nations in the aftermath of World War I, jointly occupied by the UK and France. In January 1935 â€“ after 15-years of occupation â€“ a referendum on the regionâ€™s status was held, with almost 91% of voters choosing for Saarland to return to Germany.
But the political stability wasnâ€™t to last, and through the intervention of Hitler and Germanyâ€™s defeat in World War II, Saarland once again found itself under occupation. In July 1945, US forces left Saarland, leaving the French to establish an occupational administration, and the following year, a further 109 provinces were added to what had become known as the Saar Protectorate, and customs controls were introduced between the Saar and allied occupied Germany.
During the 1950s, Cold War pressures led to the Paris Agreements in which France offered to establish an independent Saarland. The French proposal was put to a referendum in October 1955, and was rejected, with nearly 68% of voters saying no. This result was interpreted as a desire for Saarland to join the Federal Republic of Germany, and the following year, the Saar Treaty set out the road for Saarland to become part of West Germany which it did on 1st January 1957.
This post-war upheaval in the Saar region was to give rise to one of international footballâ€™s strangest and little heard of stories.
Following the post-war partition, Saarland was isolated from both West and East Germany, leaving football in the region in limbo. As a result, on 25th July 1948, the SaarlÃ¤ndischer FuÃŸballbund (SFB) was founded. For three seasons, Saarlandâ€™s clubs played in the regional league apart from 1. FC SaarbrÃ¼cken â€“ who back then were a big club â€“ who were competing â€“ by invite â€“ in the French Ligue 2. They won the title in their first season but were denied promotion when French clubs voted against them becoming members of the French Football Federation, and as a result, they departed the French league while president of the federation Jules Rimet resigned in protest.
1. FC SaarbrÃ¼cken had no interest in joining the Saar regional league, and so they launched a tournament â€“ Internationaler Saarlandpokel â€“ which clubs joined by invite. The competition is seen as a predecessor to the European Cup, and in 1955 when the European Cup was launched, 1. FC SaarbrÃ¼cken represented Saarland. They faced Italian giants AC Milan in the first round, winning 4-3 in the San Siro in the first leg. However, AC Milan won 4-1 in the second leg, and 1. FC SaarbrÃ¼cken were eliminated.
In July 1949, the members of the SFB rejected a proposal to join the French Football Federation, and so the following year, they applied to become part of FIFA. Incredibly, the SFB was accepted, becoming a member three months before the German Football Association (DFB) was readmitted, and two years ahead of the admittance of the East German association. As a comparison, it would roughly be the equivalent of Tyne and Wear becoming a member of FIFA.
Given their relative success, it is perhaps no surprise that the majority of the Saarland â€˜nationalâ€™ team was made up of players from 1. FC SaarbrÃ¼cken. Their first international fixture saw them host Switzerlandâ€™s B team on 22nd November 1950, the hosts winning the game 5-3.
Saarland only played nineteen games, ten of which saw them face B teams. However, they did compete in the 1954 World Cup Qualifiers, which saw them drawn in Group 1 alongside Norway, and most tantalisingly West Germany.
Their first qualifier saw them face Norway in Oslo. It was an eventful match which saw them come back from 2-0 down to win 3-2, a remarkable result particularly given that they were forced to make an early substitution due to an injury, and defender Theodor Puff was forced to continue playing with a broken fibula.
The groupâ€™s second fixture saw Norway host West Germany, the game finishing in a 1-1 draw leaving Saarland top of the group. The next game saw Saarland visit West Germany, the Germans winning comfortably 3-0 to move above Saarland.
Saarland hosted Norway in their third game, and it finished in a goalless draw, putting them level on points with West Germany. West Germany beat Norway 5-1 in their next fixture, meaning that Saarland would definitely finish at least second in the group, and could â€“ with a comfortable win over the West Germans â€“ top the group and reach the World Cup finals in Switzerland, where they lifted the trophy.
It was a long shot at best, and so it proved as West Germany ran out 3-1 winners. Saarlandâ€™s World Cup dream was over, but their campaign was hardly a disaster. However, it was to be their one and only shot at World Cup qualification.
Ahead of the 1954 tournament, they hosted world champions Uruguay in a friendly, which the defending champions won 7-1, which was to be Saarlandâ€™s heaviest defeat.
Once the 1955 referendum result was confirmed and it became clear that Saarland would be becoming part of the Federal Republic of Germany, the writing was on the wall for the SFB and the Saarland team, and on 6th June 1956, they played their final game, a friendly with the Netherlands in Amsterdam which they lost 3-2. Following Saarlandâ€™s absorption into the Federal Republic of Germany at the beginning of 1957, the SFB became part of the DFB and ended its separate membership of FIFA.
Saarland may only have had a brief footballing history, but those involved went on to have a big influence on German football. Coach Helmut SchÃ¶n went on to coach the successful West German team of the 1960s and 1970s, winning the World Cup in 1974 and the European Championship in 1972. SchÃ¶n was awarded one of the first FIFA Orders of Merit. And Hermann Neuberger â€“ a Saarlander â€“ helped to form the Bundesliga in 1962 and served as president of the DFB from 1975 until 1992 when he passed away.
Saarlandâ€™s FIFA membership wasnâ€™t merged into that of West Germany, and so their international record still stands as a matter of historic fact.
The Saarland story was short and sweet, and intrinsically tied to the political upheaval following World War II, and as such is an important part of modern European history.
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