November 8, 2012 by mapperleystag1
Once viewed as one of the strongest teams in Germany and the old Eastern bloc, Lokomotive Leipzig’s cataclysmic fall from grace has been more painful and arduous than any other former DDR sides, who generally have also struggled to adjust to the new political, economic and social arena created since German reunification in 1990.
From the 1960s to the 1980s, 1. FC Lokomotive Leipzig were a regular feature in European football, competing firstly in the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup and later in the UEFA Cup and UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup. Whilst never winning any of these tournaments, Leipzig came closest in 1987, losing in the final of the Cup Winners’ Cup to Johan Cruyff’s Ajax, with Marco van Basten scoring the only goal of the game. Throughout this period, they enjoyed competitive ties with a range of British sides, playing against Leeds United, Hibernian, Hearts, Swansea City and Arsenal. Indeed in the 1973-74 season, Leipzig disposed of Wolverhampton Wanderers and Ipswich Town on their way to the semi-finals of the UEFA Cup, before being beaten by Tottenham Hotspur. Consequently, Leipzig was renowned as being a difficult place for opposing sides to visit, with the combination of a hostile, partisan crowd and unfamiliar surroundings in a communist environment that equated to an intimidating atmosphere and experience for teams from Western Europe. Moreover, their fierce rivalry with fellow Saxony side, Dynamo Dresden, was known across Europe, especially for its violence and hooliganism on the terraces. Domestically, the two both won the East German Cup numerous times, especially in the 1980s, which only intensified the rivalry. Because of these experiences and successes, their on and off-field collapse in the post-communist era is all the more alarming.
Initially, Leipzig appeared to adapt reasonably well to the transition and restructuring of German football following reunification. They wasted little time reclaiming their pre-communist title of VfB Leipzig, which was a respected and illustrious name within early twentieth century German football, the club having been German champions four times from 1904-1913, winning the German Cup in 1936 and Central German champions numerous times before and after World War One. At first, the change in name seemed to improve the fortunes on the pitch, with Leipzig finishing third in the 2. Bundesliga in 1993, gaining promotion to the Bundesliga, the top tier of German football. However, their one and only season in the top flight was a disaster, with a rock-bottom finish ensuring a hasty return to the second division. Over the next decade their demise was rapid: by 2004 VfB Leipzig were bankrupted, their results annulled and the club disbanded, having struggled on the pitch and financially since 2001 in the Oberliga Nordost/Süd, the fourth tier of German football. Later that year, the club was reformed by a group of fans who reverted back to the title of 1. FC Lokomotive Leipzig. However, as they were technically a new club, Leipzig began the 2004-2005 season in the district league Kreisklasse 2, Step 11 in the German football pyramid, five divisions below the Sachsenliga, the top division in the state of Saxony.
The dissolution of VfB Leipzig in 2004 can be understood as the end to a sorry chapter in the history of such a proud club. Along with many other of the notable DDR sides, such as Berliner FC Dynamo and the aforementioned Dynamo Dresden, Leipzig failed to meet the demands of a rapidly evolving political climate in Germany, and the world. It is somewhat ironic that Leipzig, scene of the Monday demonstrations in September 1989, a series of peaceful protests against the DDR government and its leader, Erich Honecker, which were instrumental in the fall of the Berlin Wall in November of that year and subsequent end of the authoritarian regime, would see its leading football team decline to such a great extent on and off the pitch from this moment onwards. Although there has been a resurgence in recent years, with Leipzig returning to the fourth tier with impressive crowds at that level, not to mention the boost that they received in being the only old East German city chosen as a venue for the 2006 World Cup, as well as being selected as the German candidate to host the 2012 Summer Olympics, there is still a long way to go before Leipzig sees a revival of its glory days, at least on the field.