Hans Schäfer obituary

Hans Schäfer obituary

  • 7 month ago

The footballer Hans Schäfer, who has died aged 90, played for West Germany in three World Cups – in 1954, 1958 and 1962 – earning a winner’s medal in the first of them and captaining the side to the semi-finals and then the quarter-finals in the next two.

Regarded as one of his country’s greatest wingers, Schäfer was also a significant goalscorer, particularly admired for his long shots. His four goals in the finals in Switzerland were a key factor in West Germany’s 1954 World Cup triumph, which was sealed with a victory against much-fancied Hungary in what was one of the best matches in World Cup history.

Schäfer, playing at outside-left in the final, showed the true winger’s gifts of pace and control during that encounter. Though he did not score in the match, he was instrumental in setting up the winning goal. With five minutes left and the score at 2-2, Hungary’s commanding right-half, József Bozsik, made a rare mistake, misplacing a pass. Schäfer was on to it like lightning, and then found his captain, Fritz Walter, who crossed. When the ball was pushed out, it reached the muscular right-winger Helmut Rahn, who promptly drove it back into the goal to make it 3-2.

Born in the Zollstock district of Cologne, Schäfer was a one-club man with his home team, FC Köln, for whom he appeared in 394 league games between 1948 and 1965, scoring 254 goals. He made a lively international debut in 1952, scoring twice in a 5-1 home defeat of Switzerland. The previous incumbent at outside-left, Bernhard Termath, then resumed his place for a couple of matches, but in March 1953 Schäfer was back again on the left-wing. The result was a goalless draw against Austria, but Schäfer would now keep his place for a long time to come.

In 1954 he was in incisive form. In the World Cup finals he played every game except the second, when the Germans somewhat cynically put out a weakened team that lost 8-3 to Hungary in Basel, which seemed to suggest they had no real answer to the Hungarians. In a couple of easy victories against Turkey, Schäfer scored three times, and he got another goal in the 6-1 rout of Austria in the semi-final.

Hans Schäfer in Cologne in 1962, holding aloft the German championship shield, which his FC Köln side won that year.

After winning the World Cup, he was one of several West Germany players who dropped out of football for some time – victims of a mysterious, never fully explained, virus that struck the team. He finally returned to action in March 1955 and by the end of 1956 had switched to inside-left, with Heinz Vollmar on the left-wing. Thereafter he played most of his international football in that position, including in the 1958 World Cup finals in Sweden.

There, against the hosts in the semi-final, he scored perhaps his most memorable goal, a spectacular volley from long range that was remarkable for its power, direction and technique. It gave West Germany the lead, but the contest was brutal, and after Erich Juskowiak was sent off for West Germany in the second half the match was lost 3-1.

Following that tournament, Schäfer played just one international in 1959. He did not play at all in 1960 or 1961, but in 1962, the World Cup finals year, he reappeared in Hamburg, scoring a goal in a 3-0 win over Uruguay at inside-left. He would stay there, as captain, for all West Germany’s games in the World Cup finals in Chile, ending with a 1-0 defeat by Yugoslavia in the quarter-finals in Santiago; his last match for his country. In all he played 39 times for West Germany, scoring 15 goals and captaining the side on 16 occasions.

Schäfer declared, after the 1962 World Cup, that he would not have agreed to return to international football after a protracted absence had he known how defensive the tactics of the West Germany manager, Sepp Herberger, would be.

Voted German footballer of the year in 1963, Schäfer continued to play for FC Köln – whom he captained to the 1961-62 and 1963-64 German league titles – until he retired, aged 37, in 1965. He was assistant manager at FC Köln from 1966-69, and maintained close relations with the club in subsequent years, while successfully running a garage business.

He is survived by his wife, Isis, and by two daughters, Regine and Steffi.

• Hans Schäfer, footballer, born 16 October 1927; died 7 November 2017