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Editor's note: first published in the July 2012 SD Galway match programme, then published again on Ireland's Waterford United FC website in 2013. Published here with the kind permission of the club.

Bundesarchiv Bild 183 R0522 177 Erich MielkeBundesarchiv Bild 183 R0522 177 -  Erich Mielke - convicted murderer and secret police official in the service of the Soviet Union and Minister of State Security in East Germany, in office 11 December 1957 – 18 November 1989

Back in 1966, Waterford entered European competition for the first time against Vorwarts of East Berlin. Just five years later, their opponents upped sticks mysteriously and left Berlin for the footballing hinterland of Frankfurt (Oder). The story behind this move involves the vindictive hand of one of the most dangerous men of the 20th Century.

East Germany was the most oppressive and paranoid of the European communist regimes and as Minister of State Security and head of the Stasi secret police, Erich Mielke was the most feared man in the country. He fled Germany in 1931 having shot two anti-communist police officers dead and spent a decade in Russia working for the KGB. He developed a reputation for ruthlessness when he was sent to the Spanish Civil War – not to fight the fascists, but to execute any communists who were seen as threats to Stalin. After the second world war, the Russians installed loyal communists like Mielke in positions of power in East Germany. He controlled and interfered in the lives of every East German citizen as the unchallenged head of the secret police from 1957 until 1989. Mielke’s urging was one of the main driving forces behind the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961 – effectively making seventeen million East Germans prisoners of the state. Known as ‘The Master of Fear’, he was vindictive, merciless… and an obsessive football fan.

As in the other Eastern European leagues, the names of many of the East German clubs revealed their links with the secret police (Dynamo), the army (Vorwarts or ASK) or industry (Lokomotiv, Energie, etc). Mielke was the founding president of SV Dynamo (later rebranded as Dynamo Berlin) and viewed football as an important factor in legitimising the communist system, famously proclaiming “Football success will highlight even more clearly the superiority of our socialist order”. In his opinion, a strong capital city needed a strong football team – his team. He built the club as a counterattraction to Hertha of West Berlin who many Easterners secretly supported. In the post-war period, Dynamo Dresden (also sponsored by the Stasi) were the most successful team in East Germany. Mielke couldn’t stand Berlin playing second fiddle to Dresden so in 1954, he ordered their entire first team to relocate to the capital and play for his club. However, it was the rival ArmeeSportKlub Vorwarts who won the league in 1958, becoming the first Berlin team to do so.

Screen Shot 2015 09 28 at 00.06.15Cover of the Vorwarts v Waterford Euro Cup programme

The success of Vorwarts infuriated Mielke. Their six Oberliga titles between ’58 and ’69 made them the most successful and attractive club in the nation, but also created a powerful enemy in the honorary chairman of their city rivals. Vorwarts had been founded as an army team in Leipzig in 1951, but moved to Berlin just two years later. They became an emblem of communist pride so their first leg European Cup loss to Drumcondra in 1965 was treated as a serious embarrassment (Vorwarts won the tie, but lost to Manchester United in the next round). Given the significance placed upon football and the consequences for anyone who disappointed the authorities, the Vorwarts players certainly wouldn’t have lacked motivation when they faced Waterford in the same competition a year later. A 12-1 aggregate victory over the Blues followed. The success of Vorwarts was too much for Mielke to bear and it is widely believed that he was behind their sudden removal from Berlin in 1971. The shock decision to move the country’s top team from the capital to the remote area of Frankfurt (Oder) on the Polish border made no sense other than to placate the Stasi boss. If you can’t beat your rival, eliminate them. I’m sure Alex Ferguson wishes he could do the same!

While no file revealing Mielke’s role in the removal of Vorwarts has yet been discovered, it absolutely fitted his style as the case of Lutz Eigendorf shows. He was an international midfielder with Dynamo Berlin and was Mielke’s pride and joy until he defected to West Germany in 1979. Four years later, he was killed in a suspicious car crash. After the fall of communism, files were released which showed that Mielke had plotted several assassination attempts on Eigendorf, had sent over fifty spies to follow him and had even ordered a ‘Romeo agent’ to marry the footballer’s ex-wife for information-gathering purposes.

The best example of Erich Mielke’s interference in football was when Dynamo Dresden, who had regained their status as a top club having fallen down the divisions after their players’ enforced relocation, won the league in 1979. Mielke stormed into their dressing-room in a rage promising Dynamo Berlin would win the league the following year. Berlin won the next ten consecutive Oberliga titles featuring players like Thomas Doll and Andreas Thom, but were despised by the East German public because of blatant match-fixing.

When the Berlin Wall came down, Mielke was public enemy number one. In a televised address to parliament, he pleaded “I love all people” to jeers from the politicians. His trial for the executions of dozens who had tried to escape over the Wall was abandoned and, instead, he spent just two years in prison for the murder of the police officers back in 1931. He died in 2000 aged 92. Dynamo Berlin fell down the divisons as did Vorwarts. Similarly to other former Soviet Bloc countries, the army club became associated with hooligans and neo-Nazis. In 1991, Vorwarts were renamed FC Viktoria Frankfurt/Oder and are currently languishing in the sixth tier of German football.

It would be interesting to see how the current Blues would do against Viktoria. Neither Mielke nor the fall of communism could kill them off completely and, just like Waterford, they can still cherish their six league titles.

by Shane Murphy

2000px Emblema Stasi.svg

 Screen Shot 2016 01 21 at 18.29.31 copy

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