Who doesn’t know the scene? Uwe Seeler in 1966 after losing the World Cup final against England in Wembley: he leaves the pitch with his head hanging down and his steps heavy. And still a hero. As a sportsman, as it is in the book. Now life has closed its last chapter. “Us Uwe” died at the age of 85. He was popular with friends and opponents alike.
Those who could, practiced scoring a goal with the back of their head, like Uwe Seeler did in the 1970 World Cup in Mexico in a 2-2 draw against England. It wasn’t over for the German team after that – the game of the century against Italy followed. But by then, Seeler was definitely, forever, a legend.
The man from Hamburg played his last World Cup when he was over 30, brought back by national coach Helmut Schön after his retirement in 1968 – and he was the discovery. He was named one of the most valuable players after the tournament. Once again. Yes, the Hamburgers and their Uwe. “Us Uwe,” they called out, in North German. Your Uwe. Well, not everyone, not the Paulians, they shouted “You Uwe”.
And Seeler was special, everyone could see that, even in St. Pauli. A decent guy, down to earth, straight forward, honest. Only sent off once; after being fouled. Seeler was definitely a crook too, and not always nice, a fellow player from back then said so. But who is that, right?
Come what may, rain or wind, when Uwe could, he played. And hit. And hit. From all positions. And when he couldn’t – after tearing his Achilles tendon in the mid-’60s – he worked harder than hard to be able to again six months later. The stadium was his home and everyone could see from it how far you can go with work and will.
Throughout his career, Uwe Seeler was with Hamburger Sport-Verein, the club with the diamond. Whereby: He played one game in the Irish league, six years after his final retirement in 1972, for Cork Celtic, to a certain extent by mistake; it is said to have been at the request of Adidas. At that time, Seeler was already working for the sporting goods manufacturer and drove up to 70,000 kilometers a year across the country in his car. He also scored twice for Cork. Once, of course, with an overhead kick.
“There are undoubtedly far better players in terms of play,” said Sepp Herberger, his first national coach, who used him when he was a boy, “but nobody has the talent like Uwe Seeler to achieve so much effect in a confined space against the strongest guard.” Alone 404 goals in 476 games for his HSV, that was unprecedented in his time. After that it was only Gerd Müller who made such an impact.
In its heyday, football was not lawn chess. “Round things have to go in squares,” said Tschik Cajkovski – who played for 1. FC Köln and whom he later made champions as a coach – and that was it. Right into the corner, that was what Seeler was responsible for, “the fat one”, almost 1.70 meters tall, stocky and with early thinning hair. One of the best center forwards in the world, the best in Europe. Uwe Seeler, the foot of the nation – by the way, you can see it today in bronze in front of the Volksparkstadion, weighing four tons, a huge thing, in his honour.
Seeler was popular at home and beyond, footballer of the year, after Fritz Walter the second honorary captain of the national team, honorary citizen. Honorary captain anyway. And the first athlete to be awarded the Federal Cross of Merit.
You could also identify with him: a forwarding agent by trade, part-time field work in the port, his father “Old Erwin” a docker and also a well-known footballer, like his younger brother Dieter, all at HSV.
The shouts of “Uwe, Uwe” rang out in all stadiums in Germany. The hamburger was so popular. “Uwe fitted right into his time. Uwe has toiled, managed, plowed. What the people in Germany did, he showed on the soccer field,” said reporter legend Rudi Michel.
And then 1961: Seeler is lured by Inter Milan. 1.2 million Deutschmarks are offered, an astronomical sum. Today it would probably be 120 million euros. Or at least almost. The fans are in an uproar. His longtime friend Adi Dassler offers him the Adidas agency for northern Germany so that he stays. Hamburg is worried. Seeler, who has never decided anything without his wife Ilka, with whom he was closely connected for more than 60 years, decides – to stay. Hamburg cheers.
Uwe Seeler played 72 international matches, which was a record at the time, and scored 43 goals. This is the highest goal quota of all German players with more than 70 international matches. Appeared in four World Cups, he scored in each, like Pelé, Miroslav Klose and Cristiano Ronaldo. Seeler was the first player with more than 20 World Cup games. His record of 21 games was only surpassed in 1998 by Lothar Matthäus. And he would have more than 150 caps today. He wasn’t doing so well lately, after falling down stairs and breaking ribs and cuts. But he never complained. On his 85th, Uwe Seeler said that he was happy and content. “My life was wonderful.” And then this wonderful sentence: “The most beautiful thing in the world is to be normal.” Was he, “Us Uwe”, and idol, icon, sportsman.