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The Memories Of Albert Sing

Germany played their first international match 100 years ago. Their opponents were Switzerland, just as they were for Germany’s 800th game. Albert Sing, 91, has seen many of those games, so FIFA magazine went along to meet the German who has settled in Switzerland.
If there is such a thing as a “friendly international”, then it is certainly Germany v. Switzerland, as proven by some facts and figures from the teams’ most recent encounter in Basle on 26 March to mark Germany’s centenary. The match, which finished 4-0 to Germany, was the 50lh meeting between the teams. It was also Germany’s 800th international fixture. Switzerland are by some distance Germany’s most frequent opponent, their 50 games giving them a healthy advantage over the likes of the Netherlands (37) and Austria (35).
The two neighbours first met on a football pitch in Basle on 5 April 1908. A match in Zurich on 27 June 1920 heralded a return to the international arena after World War I, a feat that was repeated in Stuttgart after World War II on 22 November 1950.
The Germans also won their first FIFA World Cup™ title in Berne’s Wankdorf Stadium in 1954, to the surprise of many. Hungary’s Magical Magyars were the odds-on favourites, but the Germans’ victory had huge social and political significance back home. “The team’s triumph sent shockwaves throughout the entire country. People started to believe in themselves again. The players received an audience with the Pope in 1955 and movers and shakers from the worlds of politics and business told us how important our win was,” said captain Fritz Walter, who died in 2002, about an event that many believe was the catalyst for the West German economic miracle.
Someone who has seen the lion’s share of Germany’s matches over the past 100 years is Albert Sing, a man who celebrated his 91st birthday on 7 April. Who better, then, to talk to about the relationship between the two countries? Sing, who won nine international caps as a player, moved to SpVgg Ceresio Schaffhausen in 1949 before forging a hugely successful career as the manager of various Swiss clubs. In 1954, Sepp Herberger made him a member of his backroom staff for the 1954 FIFA World Cup™ and Sing went on to play a key role in various areas, making a significant contribution to West Germany’s sensational triumph.
Today, the former left winger lives in Cureglia, a small village in Ticino, the Italian-speaking canton of Switzerland, and although he is now a pensioner who needs a walking stick to get around, he is still full of life with a twinkle in his eye. As he sits in the homely apartment that he and his wife Hilde call home, Sing proudly shows FIFA magazine some souvenirs from his career such as a letter personally signed by former West Germany manager Herberger to confirm that Sing would be his “attache” at the World Cup in 1954. He then recounts some tales from days gone by. “I was fascinated by football from a very early age and I used to have a kickabout with my friends every single day,” he says, while admitting that it was far from easy because football had not yet taken root in Germany and was still roundly dismissed as “a silly game”. Many people were still hooked on gymnastics, including Sing’s father, who was a champion and a keen advocate of the indoor sport. His son clearly remembers the “daily ridicule” he was subjected to because of his love for the beautiful game.
Times were hard for Albert, one of seven children who each had only one pair of shoes. Did he also play football in them? “Of course. Every day, for hours on end,” he laughs, explaining that it was strictly forbidden to do so.
Sing took his first steps in international football when he made his debut for Germany on 20 October 1940 in a 7-3 victory over Bulgaria. But he had to wait 18 months for the highlight of his playing career, which came in Budapest on 3 May 1942. At half-time, Germany were trailing 3-1 to a rampant Hungarian team and “it could easily have been 5-1 or even 8-1,” according to the late Fritz Walter. In the second half, after Paul Janes had reduced the arrears to 3-2, the Germans turned the game on its head and strikes from Friedrich Dorfel and Walter gave them the lead. Then, in the 90lh minute, with Germany leading 4-3, Sing intercepted a pass in his own penalty area and immediately strode out of defence. “I can still hear Herberger on the touch line shouting ‘Stay back, Albert!’,” says Sing. “But I kept running and played four one-twos with Fritz before scoring.” The game, which was also Germany’s 500th international, finished 5-3 to the away team.
Herberger never forgot about Sing, not even after he had moved to Switzerland.
Herberger’s early decision to invite Sing to be part of his 1954 FIFA World Cup™ staff turned out to be a wise move. Indeed, it was Sing who decided to reserve the now-famous Hotel Belvedere on Lake Thun where the legendary “spirit of Spiez” was born. A few months before the tournament, Sing, who was by now the manager of Berne club Young Boys, had the honour of opening the new Wankdorf Stadium with a match against Hungary. After being deprived of five players who had been called up by Switzerland, Sing – who was by now 37 — decided to play himself to get a first-hand look at the team that West Germany would eventually go on to meet in the World Cup final. “The match allowed me to study Hungary’s many strengths and very few weaknesses,” he admits.
Hungary romped to a 9-0 win but it was a meaningless victory when compared to the knowledge that Sing had gained and would later pass on to Herberger. Sing was most impressed by the Magical Magyars’ incredible harmony as well as by their natural understanding of each other’s game, not to mention their impeccable behaviour. “Scarcely had the last few morsels of food at the post-match banquet been eaten when Ferenc Puskas and Nandor Hidegkuti swiped the white cloths from the table to recreate parts of the game,” recalls Sing. “They were looking for perfection and they wanted to analyse mistakes to make sure they didn’t happen again. And that was after winning 9-0!”
Sing’s “insider knowledge” certainly helped Herberger, who initially shared a Spiez hotel room with his “attache” as well as the benefit of his experience as a manager. Sing was in charge of Young Boys from 1951 to 1966 and he led the club to four successive league titles between 1956 and 1959 – a remarkable feat that to this day has never been matched in Swiss football. The German was also the perfect candidate to keep tabs on possible future opponents at the 1954 FIFA World Cup™ by taking in matches such as Switzerland v. Austria (5-7) and Hungary v. Brazil (4-2).
The excellent relationships that Sing had forged in his adopted homeland also helped West Germany to stun the football world. Before the final in Berne, for example, it was Sing who ensured that the Germans, who like so many footballers were a superstitious bunch, were given their preferred dressing room number 2. Sing’s good name, and 20 francs of “pocket money”, were no doubt decisive influences on stadium manager Walter Bronimann’s decision.
Sing watched the final from a vantage point directly behind the team bench, and now, looking back, he has no doubt that scoring two early goals (Puskas in the 6th minute and Zoltan Czibor in the 8th was far from ideal for Hungary. “They had already beaten us 8-3 in the group stage,” he explains. “Herberger hadn’t played his strongest team in that game, but it all added up to a little bit of arrogance.”
Goals from Max Morlock in the tenth minute and Helmut Rahn in the sixteenth levelled the game at 2-2. “It was relatively quiet in our dressing room at half-time,” recalls Sing. “Remember, this was a World Cup final. Everything was on the line. That is why the older players, like Fritz Walter for example, thought ‘we can beat the Magical Magyars today!’.”
And so they did. After Rahn had given the Germans the lead in the 84th minute, there was still enough time for Puskas to score again, although English referee Bill Ling disallowed the goal for offside. Yet still the game was not over and German goalkeeper Toni Turek incredibly saved an “unstoppable” close-range effort from Czibor, prompting radio commentator Herbert Zimmermann to dub him a “football god “. And then, finally, it was all over. West Germany had sensationally won the World Cup.
Sing went on to manage 1860 Munich and VfB Stuttgart in the German Bundesliga as well as various clubs in Switzerland before retiring in 1980 after a spell at FC Zurich.
Today, the 91-year-old still watches as much football as he can on television. He no longer goes to matches himself though, describing it as “too tiring”. He is naturally looking forward to this summer’s European Championship in Austria and Switzerland, even though he will not be drawn on who he thinks will win. Even before the recent match between Germany and Switzerland, Sing merely said: “I still think like a manager so I am not shouting for anybody. May the best team win.”