German Football has come a long way in two or three decades. Whilst modern European countries, such as Spain and Italy, continuously suffer problems with racism, Germany is progressing at an impressively quick rate. Even though the Bundesliga’s inception only came in 1963, the fractured political nature of Germany’s history made it a hot-bed for fascism and racism in the years following the Second World War.
By 1960, Fortuna Düsseldorf had already toured Ghana for a number of friendlies before signing Charles Gyamfi who was 31 by the time he made his debut in German football. The “Ghanian Beckanbauer” only stayed with Fortuna for a year, but would go on to be a legendary figure in Ghanian football, winning the African Cup of Nations on three occasions as the coach of the national team. It proved to be a valuable experience in Germany for the Accra-born footballer who went on to have success in coaching.
In an interview with popular football culture magazine 11Freunde, the Ghanian talks about making the huge switch from Africa to Germany and laterly even explains that fans of Fortuna were selling out every match in the league because there was such a high-demand to see the first African player in the league.
He said: “When I arrived, I had no friends, and I could not speak the language. I watched people’s lives in Germany. There are traces of war in the city could be seen, but the Germans worked hard to leave behind all this. I made friends quickly but with my colleagues, especially with Erich Juskowiak.”
When asked about how the fans responded to him: “Oh my god. That was incredible.” he says.
But Germany’s development following the Second World War is evident in the difference in attitudes that Gyamfi experienced as a Ghanian international. He was impressed by the enthusiasm of Germans for African imports when he arrived in the country, but nine years earlier, he had some unfortunate experiences in England with the national side.
He continued: “In England and Ireland, we were separated from the whites, we were housed in a camp. In Dusseldorf, it was different, I was a free man, I was like the others. In England after the game came the little guys wanted to shake hands and wiped it available via our skin. They wanted to know if our skin was black from dirt.”
Just a decade into the history of the Bundesliga and the league welcomed its first black footballer in Peru’s Julio Baylon. The right-sided winger was capped 32 times for the Peruvian national team and was part of the Fortuna Köln side that reached the top-flight for the first time in 1973. Baylon would go on to play a further three seasons with the club in the 70s, also spending time at FC Homburg before moving to the United States.
German-born Ghanian international Anthony Baffoe soon followed Baylon was, arguably, the first high-profile player to play in the top-flight with 1.FC Köln and he would go on to play for Stuttgarter Kickers, as well as, making over 150 appearances combined for Fortuna Köln and Fortuna Düsseldorf. The former football has now become a FIFA Ambassador in a whole range of campaigns to fight racism in football.
His international team-mate, Anthony Yeboah, is one of the most recongised black footballers to play in the Bundesliga in the 1990s – but the former Leeds United player encountered a number of racist insults, whilst at Eintracht Frankfurt. The striker signed for 1.FC Saarbrücken in 1988, scoring 26 goals for his new side in the first and second division, and then moving on to the Eagles in 1990 where he would spent a further five years.
Initially, Yeboah encountered a few challenges at the club with fans taunting him and making monkey-noises towards him during matches. He peservered in Germany and during his lengthy spell in Frankfurt, he became a cult hero, scoring 68 goals in 123 matches for Eintracht. The striker’s status at the top goalscorer in the Bundesliga in 1993 and 1994, prompted a mass influx of African footballers, especially Frankfurt, who attracted the likes of midfield magician Jay-Jay Okocha. FC Bayern even broke their racial barrier by signing defender Samuel Kuffour and he would go on to represent the club in a UEFA Champions League final.
The 21st century has seen Germany’s identity change, through the remarkable progress in social integration of ethnic minorities in the country. This is a nation that has recovered from right-wing fascism in the Second World War and becoming a unified country only a few decades ago, whilst still breaking down racial barriers in the process.
Although, problems still exist – as shown by AC Milan star Kevin Prince Boateng’s abuse – the positive attitude towards integrating people of different religions, politics and skin colour in Germany can be the benchmark for others to follow.