Founded in 1900, the club first used the oval ball as it started out playing rugby but by 1901 they were playing football, losing heavily when challenged by the Munich team, Bayern. A long rivalry had begun. Over the next decade or so things improved dramatically and, in May 1914, a 1-1 home draw with Tottenham Hotspur demonstrated that 1.FCN was becoming a force to be reckoned with, even becoming know as simply Der Club (The Club).  However, the outbreak of war only a few weeks later temporarily stalled the rise.

Following the war, 1.FCN became German Champions in 1920, 1921, 1924, 1925 and 1927 and were clearly the best German team of the era. Further titles followed in 1936, 1948 and 1961. It was after the last championship in 1968 that things went horribly wrong. The next season, hugely questionable management decisions ) saw Nürnberg relegated from the top flight.

Nine German championships, six of which came before the Second World War, and the record of being the most successful team in the old Oberliga, until 1987 Der Club were more decorated than its illustrious Bavarian neighbours Bayern Munich. Throughout the 20s Nürnberg were the dominant force winning five championships, adding another in 1936 with a win in the German cup in 1935. A second cup win in 1939 saw an end to the dominance as war cast its dark shadow over Europe.

Leaner times followed the seventh championship in 1948 as football became more sophisticated and the number of quality teams increased. However, the Franconians still remained a ‘big’ club and regained the German title in 1961 followed by a third cup victory in 1962. When the Bundesliga came into existence in 1963 Der Club had already narrowly lost to Athletico Madrid in the semi-final of that year’s Cup Winner’s Cup.

Apart from one final championship in 1968 it was the start of the Bundesliga that saw the crumbling of the last remnants of the Nürnberg stranglehold on German football. As they finished mid-table, another era ended as the legend, Max Morlock, retired after amassing some 900 appearances and 294 goals. That same season also provided a first glimpse of what the ‘modern’ game of football would hold as 1.FCN made the first of a long line of dismissals of their coach.

In the 1967-8 season the completion of the double over Bayern Munich with a 2-0 away victory also saw Der Club crowned as Champions for the ninth and, thus far, final time. From here on it was all down hill as the relative yawning mediocrity (by their own high standards) of the 50s and mid-60s, gave way to a deep, almost coma-like sleep without warning.

For the 1968-69 season, a state-of-the-art training ground was built. Coach Max Merkl allowed ten of his championship winning side to leave to enable him to create a team to challenge for the European Cup. It all went rather horribly wrong.

Success eluded Merkl’s team who failed to gel as well as his previous charges. Finishing bottom and therefore becoming the first (and to date only) champions of the Bundesliga to be relegated the following season, on the pitch failure lead to off the pitch debts as the fall in status caused financial hardship.

Recriminations still ring among the Nürnberg faithful as to what went wrong. Many fans blame Merkl and at least one player has claimed that goalkeeper Jürgen Rynio was bribed in a crucial game.

The debts caused partly by building new facilities certainly did not help in the aftermath. It would be another nine years before Nürnberg regained Bundesliga status. However, several ‘yo-yo’ seasons followed until the mid-80s when it seemed that the good old days would return.

Read Chapter 2 – Glory to Mediocrity


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