The guiding spirit of the title-winning Borussia sides of 1956 and 1957, a magnificent playmaker, scorer of all-important goals and part of the legendary ”three Alfredos” attacking trio alongside Alfred Kelbassa and Alfred Niepieklo: Alfred ”Adi” Preißler was born in Duisburg on 9 April 1921. He was the first Black & Yellow to lift the championship trophy. As he did so, he promised he would repeat the feat one year later – and he kept his word! He was an unbelievably likeable guy and a true leader on the pitch who commanded the respect of his teammates.
The footballing home of this incredible player was Borussia Dortmund. After breaking through at Duisburg 1900 from 1936 to 1939, played for WSG Minden (1939-1945) and Husen 19/SuS Kaiserau (1945-1946) before arriving for his first four-year spell at Borsigplatz in 1946.
Germany lay in ruins after the Second World War, with the coal and steel-producing Ruhr region particularly hard hit. It was in Dortmund-Husen, at a ”second or maybe even third-division club” that the BVB scouts uncovered the Duisburg native who had made his way to Dortmund after being released as a prisoner of war. ”I played there for maybe four or five weeks, and before long it seemed like the whole city was talking about me: ‘That guy there, he can really score goals, he’s a class footballer’ – stuff like that. Soon enough, the guys from Borussia came knocking at my door,” explained Preißler in an interview for the November 1996 edition of the former BVB monthly magazine ”Borussia live.”
The first few years after the war were hard. “There was hardly anything to eat in the cities. We often played in the Paderborn region or in Münsterland. We’d get there one or two hours before the game and immediately devour seven or eight pies. And after the game, there was no money; instead you would get half a hundredweight of potatoes, a piece of bacon or other food. Most of the time, as a sign of gratitude, we’d take our foot off the gas when the score was 7-0 or 8-0.”
Preißler, bolstered by these games in the countryside, was the top scorer in the Oberliga West on two occasions (1948/49 and 1949/50). He had his first chance to lift the Championship trophy in 1949, but his Borussia side were defeated 3-2 in the final by VfR Mannheim after an intense 120 minutes in Stuttgart.
After a financially lucrative two-year spell at Preußen Münster, where he again finished as a runner-up in the German Championship (losing 2-1 to 1. FC Kaiserslautern in the final), he returned to BVB, where he would remain until the end of his career in 1959. During this second spell at the club, the man with the ”high forehead” scored 175 goals in 294 Oberliga matches, 19 goals in 28 knock-out matches and eight goals in ten European matches. The captain of the title-winning sides of 1956 and 1957 expressed his love for BVB with the following words: ”The most beautiful colours in the world are black and yellow.” And as for his footballing philosophy: ”All theory of life is grey- what matters is out on the pitch!” Wisdom for eternity!
”Adi wasn’t just a technically brilliant player who scored a lot of goals for us; he was also the boss of the fantastic team we had back then,’’ says Willi Burgsmüller, three-time German Championship winner and right-back for the 56/57 team. He and Helmut Kapitulski are the last two surviving members of this back-to-back title-winning squad. Kapitulski, who played on the left wing, speaks highly of his captain to this day: ”Adi was a nice guy. He was in charge out on the pitch. He was our leader and our goalscorer.”
Let’s start from the beginning! On 9 April 1921, father Alfred (a trained bricklayer who died in the Second World War) and mother Klara celebrated the birth of the young Alfred. Growing up in Duisburg, Alfred learned the trade of mechanic and technician. Five months after his 18th birthday, the Nazi regime started the Second World War, which would cause untold suffering for Adi and millions of others. Any hopes of a footballing career seemed to be over; the young army recruit was sent off to join the Russian campaign. Thank God he survived. Shortly after his return, he married a young woman from Dortmund, Ruth, who soon gave birth to daughter Monika.
As a “late-comer”, so to speak, the 25-year-old footballing talent helped BVB to a 3-2 victory over Schalke 04 in the 1947 Westphalian Championship final held at the Westphalia Herne stadium – the ”Schloss Strünkede.” The Royal Blues’ local dominance was over; from now on, the Black & Yellows ruled the Ruhr. But Adi Preißler’s greatest era was still to come.
In the 1952/52 season, Borussia won their sixth of eight West German Championships, meaning they qualified for the final stage of the German Championship. BVB found themselves in a group alongside Berlin-based club Union 06, perennial Oberliga North winners Hamburger SV and the representatives of southern Germany, VfB Stuttgart, who had won the title three years previously. After five victories, Dortmund found themselves one game away from the final: all they had to do was avoid defeat to VfB in Stuttgart’s Neckarstadion on 7 June 1953. The home side, who had won four of their group games – losing the other one 2-1 in Dortmund – ended up winning 2-1 on the day. As both sides were level with 10:2 points (wins counted for two points back then), it all came down to goal difference ratio. The Swabians’ goal ratio of 16:6 narrowly edged out Dortmund’s 17:7 by a miniscule 0.23 goals. According to today’s criteria – number of goals scored – it would have been BVB who progressed to the final.
”Adi Preißler wasn’t just the successful captain of our title-winning sides in the 1950s; he also embodied the spirit of Borussia Dortmund in a way few others have done.” Dr. Reinhard Rauball
Adi and his Black & Yellow teammates would have to wait for another go at the big one. However, the 1955/56 and 1956/57 would belong to them. As winners of the Oberliga West, the side now coached by Helmut Schneider reached the final stages once more and, after finishing first in a group containing, Stuttgart, Viktoria Berlin and Hamburger SV, they had their date with destiny: the final in Berlin against Karlsruher SC on 24 June 1956. BVB’s superior brand of football and goals from the three Alfredos (Niepieklo, Preißler und Kelbassa) and ”Sully” Peters were enough to secure a 4-2 win and the club’s first ever German Championship title. A rejoicing Adi exclaimed: ”We’ll win it again next year!”
It generally isn’t wise to make declarations like this. But that was just the nature of a man who was said to be able to read the game like few others. In the end, each player received 1000 German Marks for the title win. Quite a contrast to the night before the final, when a cinema cashier had denied certain players from buying mints because he didn’t think they had the means to pay.
In the 1956/57 season, German football experienced something special. After claiming their sixth Oberliga title, the Black & Yellows swept through their final-stage group, beating Offenbacher Kickers (2-1), 1. FC Kaiserslautern (3-2) and Hertha BSC (2-1) before claiming glory in the final in Hannover on 23 June 1957 with a 4-1 win over Hamburger SV. The goals were scored by Niepieklo and Kelbassa, who both grabbed braces.
Adi had kept his word.
Away from the pitch, Adi had also found personal happiness. He met the love of his life in Ingrid, a Dortmund native and a passionate BVB fan. Two sons, Al and Kai (short for Alfred and Michael), completed the family. The arrival of grandchildren (Miriam, Philipp, Sina and Nele) brought further joy to the retired footballing maestro.
Back to football
In the meantime, the majority of players were coming toward the end of their careers. The time had come for a changing of the guard. The captain of this magnificent team drew the curtain on his playing career in 1959. It may come as a surprise to hear that a player of Preißler’s calibre only won two caps for his country. However, there were two reasons behind this. On the one hand, the Second World War claimed the midfield general’s peak footballing years; on the other, Germany coach Sepp Herberger picked no-one but Fritz Walter in the playmaker role throughout the 1950s. Adi later put his great knowledge of the game to use as a coach. The clubs he managed included Rot-Weiß Oberhausen, with whom he achieved promotion to the Bundesliga in 1969. He also guided Borussia Neunkirchen to the south-west Championship title in 1972, although he fell short of achieving promotion with the Saarland club.
”Black & Yellow are the most beautiful colours in the world. This legendary sentence says everything about the brilliant footballer and person that was Adi Preißler.” Hans-Joachim Watzke
After a few more successful coaching stints in the local region and the end of his work as a full-time P.E teacher in Moers, Adi Preißler returned to BVB once more. In 1992, at the age of 71, he joined many of his old teammates on the club’s council of elders. Just like in his playing days, Adi’s words carried weight. He was a keen advocate for an offensive style of play at the club. ”I was an attacking midfielder, so I played just behind our centre-forward. We had two attacking midfielders, who were the team’s playmakers, so to speak. Then we had three forwards ahead of us: the centre-forward and two wide-forwards on either side. That’s maybe the biggest difference between then and now. Football used to be a lot more offensive, which I think meant fans got to see far more exciting games which were full of attacking intent. Nowadays a lot of teams are happy to play with just two forwards. The mentality is all about not conceding anything at the back. That’s how the systems have evolved. But at the end of the day, it’s far more interesting when there are a lot of goals.” His words may date back 25 years, but they still ring true to this day.
24 June is a date that sticks in the memory of all Borussia fans.
24 June, 1989. A hot summer’s day in Berlin. In a few hours’ time, Borussia Dortmund and the highly-favoured Werder Bremen will go head-to-head in the Olympiastadion to decide the winner of the DFB Cup. Legions of Black & Yellow fans have crossed the border between East and West Germany and made their way to the still divided city to watch the big game.
In the ”Hotel Hamburg”, where the club’s heroes of the past – the title winners from 1957 and 1963, the 1965 DFB Cup winners, the 1966 Cup Winners’ Cup champions – are staying, there is excitement in the air. The Black & Yellow veterans are still processing last night’s reception, where not a dry eye was left in the house. Borussia have invited them here, the men who made the club famous. Tradition is celebrated in Dortmund. BVB knows how to honour its heroes.
24 June – does that ring a bell? Of course! 33 years previously, on 24 June 1956, Adi Preißler and his teammates won the club’s first-ever national title in Berlin. Now, after 23 years without a trophy, the Black & Yellow club have another shot at glory.
I bump into Adi Preißler in the lobby. “Boy, this is a sign of fate,” he says with a mischievous smile – and goes one better: “Michael (meaning club captain Michael Zorc) will bring home the trophy. The lads are in good shape, everyone puts in the hard yards for the team – just like we did back then.” Back then, the men who had to “pull the coals out of the fire” in both senses of the term, had to come back from a 1-0 deficit against Karlsruher SC. “But then we really turned it around,” says the former midfield lynchpin as he reflects on the 4-2 win. The day’s match ends up being a mirror image of the one 33 years ago. The Black & Yellows come back from 1-0 down to win 4-1 and send the city of Dortmund into a frenzy.
”Adi was a true fighter. He was one of the best German players of his era and a great role model for all of us!” Wolfgang Paul
On the subject of frenzy. There is a big party after the cup final win. Adi is at the heart of it, just like everyone else. The day after, it’s time to return home. Theo Redder recalls: ”We had travelled there by train and we had a return journey booked. When we got to the station, I had to nip off to the toilet. I asked Adi to look after my suitcase. When I came back, it was nowhere to be seen. Adi had been so busy talking to each and every person about football that he’d forgotten to keep an eye on my suitcase. Fortunately I managed to find it again. Well, that was Adi.”
Adi could certainly tell a story…
After the death of his beloved Ingrid, Adi moved to a retirement home in Duisburg. Fellow residents were always keen to hear their famous neighbour tell stories from the glory days. The crowd of listeners were always rewarded with fascinating footballing insights from a man who always had his heart in the right place.
Today, BVB’s training ground bears witness to the appreciation for the man who, along with Max Michallek, achieved cult status during the club’s golden era in the 1950s. The magnificent facility is located on “Adi Preißler Allee”. Michael Zorc explains: “There is so much respect and regard for our former champion. It was only right that the access road to our training centre was named after him.”
Alfred Preißler, one of the greatest Black & Yellows of all time, died on 15 July 2003 at the age of 82.
Author: Fritz Lünschermann
Photos: Archiv Fritz Lünschermann, imago images