Cult Heroes: Helmut Rahn

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Every German football fan can recite Herbert Zimmerman’s commentary of Germany’s winning goal in the 1954 World Cup final in Berne:

“… Kopfball (header) abgewehrt (defended) aus dem Hintergrund müsste Rahn schießen (from the back Rahn’s got to shoot) Rahn schießt! (Rahn shoots)Tooooor! Tooooor! Tooooor! Tooooor! …(Goal!)“

This is probably one of the most important moments in German football history – treasured even more than Mario Götze’s goal in the 2012 World Cup final. It’s the German equivalent of Kenneth Wolstenholme’s “They think it’s all over – it is now”. The boot that struck the ball into the left-hand corner of the goal is proudly exhibited at the German football museum in Dortmund. The player who scored that goal was called Helmut Rahn.

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He was born in in 1929 in the mining and steel city of Essen. As the son of a miner growing up in the middle of Germany’s industrial heartland, he was probably faced with two career choices – collier or striker, mine or football ground. Rahn went for the second choice and began his career with local side SV Altenessen where he played from 1938 to 1945. The terrible conditions and food shortages in post-war Essen forced Rahn to leave home in 1945 to join SC Oelde 1919, 60 miles to the east in rural East Westfalia. Playing here meant he could send to his family vital food produce that was in short supply in the city. In 1950 he was finally able to return home. He spent a year playing for Sportfreunde Katernberg, but his career really took off when he moved to Rot-Weiss Essen in 1951. He stayed with RWE until 1958, helping them to win the cup in 1953 and the championship in 1955. These remain RWE’s greatest achievements.

Too much fame, too many adoring fans and too many beers nearly brought Rahn’s career to a premature end. In 1957, driving while drunk, he crashed his car into a ditch and then attacked the attending police officer. Many people started to write Rahn off – but not the national manager Sepp Herberger who took his wayward star in hand, brought him back to reality and recalled him to the 1958 world cup squad. Rahn repaid Herberger’s loyalty with some superb performances and ten goals. Alongside a new Brazilian player called Pele, he was named joint second best goal scorer in the tournament.

In 1959 Rahn moved to 1. FC Köln for a year before another move to Dutch side Enschede.

He spent the last two years of his playing career with another Ruhrgebiet club – MSV Duisburg. He arrived in time for the first season of the newly created Bundesliga and was a key member of the squad which defied the odds to achieve a second-place finish.

Rahn finally retired from football in 1965. He remained in Essen for the rest of his life, running a car dealership with his brother. He died in 2003, just before his 74th birthday. One year later, to mark the anniversary of the “Miracle of Bern”, the Rot-Weiss Essen erected a life-size statue of the Rahn on the approach to Stadion Essen – a suitable tribute to the player everyone called “Der Boss”.

Rahn’s Achievements


Rot-Weiss Essen

German Cup:  1953

German Championship:1955


World Cup: 1954


World Cup all-star team: 1954

World Cup silver boot: 1958

Ballon-d’Or  Runner-up: 1958

Going to watch Rot-Weiss Essen

 The city of Essen is in the middle of the Ruhrgebiet, which was once Germany’s industrial heartland. Rot-Weiss Essen (or RWE) is the classic Ruhrgebiet football club and its history is inextricably linked to that of the region.

Founded next door to a mine, the club had a ready supply of fans wanting a distraction from their tough daily lives, and a steady stream of young men who saw football as the only alternative to a life down the pit or in the steelworks.  As a result, RWE flourished in the first half of the 20th century.

The club’s fall since the 1960s mirrors the decline of traditional heavy industries in the Ruhr region and the accompanying economic, social and cultural changes.

In recent years the club has faced huge financial problems, and has languished in the shadow of bigger neighbours like Schalke 04 and Borussia Dortmund. The 1953 Cup Winners and 1955 Champions now play their football in the fourth tier Regionalliga West and relegation is a constant worry.

But like many across the region, RWE fans remain loyal to their club.  They are proud of their heritage and doggedly determined to achieve a better future.  They cheer on their club in a brand new stadium built in partnership with the city.

Their motto is :

RWE war wer – RWE ist wer – RWE bleibt wer!

(RWE was something special – RWE is something special – RWE will always be something special)

And the club can still count on international support. In 2005 the great Brazilian footballer Pele was made an honorary member of the club. He said “It’s an honour for me to belong to a club in which ‘the boss’ (Helmut Rahn) played.”

Stadion Essen is one of the nicest venues to watch a game of football. It’s brand new and has a capacity of 20,650, including 9,040 standing places. The ground is very compact and comfortable.  Wherever you sit or stand, you have a clear view and are close to the action on the pitch. Prices for food and drink are very reasonable – you will get a beer and a Bratwurst for under 5 euros.

Standing tickets cost 9 euros and seats up to 25 euros. You can buy them on the day or order ahead with the online ticket shop. The site is in German but working your way through it is relatively simple. It will cost you an extra 6.90 euros to have them sent to your home address.

The simplest way to get there is by train – the S2 between Dortmund and Duisburg.  You get out at Essen-Bergeborbeck and it’s then a short walk to the ground.  There are also plenty of buses and a tram (SB16) from Essen station.

Our huge thanks to John Alder for his Bundesliga Cult Hero. Follow him on twitter and find his excellent German football books on Amazon.

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