Helmut RahnGermany

(West Germany)


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Born: Friday 16 August 1929, Essen, Germany
Died: Thursday 14 August 2003, Essen, Germany (aged 73)
Position: Winger


Winger Helmut Rahn was one of the heroes of the 'Miracle of Bern', West Germany's shock victory over Hungary in the 1954 World Cup final. Spending much of his club career with hometown side Rot-Weiss Essen, he was a charismatic figure who often found himself in conflict with the game's authorities and had to overcome significant off-field problems. He is nevertheless remembered as one of the most popular players in the history of German football.


Rahn was born in Essen on 16 August 1929, into a mining family. At the age of just nine, he joined junior side SV Altenessen where he would remain for eight years, albeit broken by several years as an evacuee in Czechoslovakia during the Second World War. On his return to Essen, he worked in a variety of jobs including as a chauffeur and a mechanic before moving into senior football in 1946 with SC Oelde. It was there that he developed his reputation as a strong, fearsome winger with an incredibly powerful right-foot shot.


In 1950 Rahn moved to Oberliga West side Sportfreunde Katernberg, before joining the leading club in his home city, Rot-Weiss Essen, twelve months later. His impact was immediate, with 20 goals in 29 games leading Rot-Weiss to an Oberliga title before they fell narrowly short of a place in the national championship final. Early in that season Rahn also received his first call-up to the national team, making his debut against Turkey in Istanbul and getting his first goal a month later on home soil in Essen as Luxembourg were beaten 4-1.


Another trophy followed in 1953 with a 2-1 cup final win over Alemannia Aachen, and Rahn was ever-present as West Germany qualified for the World Cup in Switzerland. His appearance in the finals almost did not happen however, as his popularity with his team-mates was not shared by the game's decision makers. Seen by some as a selfish player who also had a tendency not to take training seriously enough, Rahn was left out of the initial squad of 22 players for the World Cup and went on tour with Rot-Weiss to South America. On that tour he so impressed Uruguayan side Peñarol that they tried to sign him.


Word of his performances reached German coach Sepp Herberger who drafted Rahn into the World Cup squad, a decision which was to prove to be fully justified. Not initially a first choice selection, he missed the opening win over Turkey but was one of the players brought in by Herberger when he made a number of changes for the match against favourites Hungary. Rahn scored in an embarrassing 8-3 defeat, but lost his place for the play-off against Turkey which the Germans won to reach the quarter-finals. Rahn returned for the last eight meeting with Yugoslavia, scoring a vital late goal to clinch a 2-0 win.


After a crushing 6-1 win over Austria took West Germany into the final, the stage was set for a rematch with Hungary. The Germans were massive underdogs and quickly fell 2-0 down but were a different prospect from the group game.  Just moments after the second Hungarian goal, Rahn crossed for Max Morlock to pull a goal back and just seven minutes later he scored the equaliser himself. In the closing stages, the ball fell to Rahn in the Hungarian penalty area. Using his weaker left foot, he struck West Germany into a 3-2 lead. Surviving a late scare when a Hungarian equaliser was disallowed for offside, the Germans had achieved a sensational upset win and Rahn's place in his country's football folklore was assured.


Success continued to come as he helped Rot-Weiss to another Oberliga West title in 1955, which this time they followed by clinching the national title with a 4-3 win over Kaiserslautern. Rahn's off-field lifestyle was however starting to have an effect on his career. Ever since the World Cup success he had been drinking more heavily and in 1957 he was arrested when he crashed his car when driving under the influence of alcohol.


Badly out of condition on his release, his career could have been over but German coach Herberger did not give up on him and oversaw his rehabilitation and return to the national team. His international career resumed with a call-up for the 1958 World Cup in Sweden, where he scored twice in a 3-1 win over Argentina in West Germany's opening match. Further goals followed in the draws with Czechoslovakia and Northern Ireland which sealed a place in the last eight, where Rahn was again on target to clinch a 1-0 win over Yugoslavia.


The semi-final against the host nation proved to be the only match in which Rahn did not score, with West Germany's defence of their title coming to an end when Sweden overturned a 1-0 deficit to win 3-1. He did add another goal in the Third Place Play-Off against France, his sixth goal of the tournament making him one of what remains a very elite group of players to have reached a total of 10 in World Cup finals matches.


At domestic level, Rot-Weiss were unable to mount any further title challenges during Rahn's time at the club, rarely being able to progress above mid-table, and in 1959 he made the decision to leave his home town and moved to Oberliga West rivals 1. FC Köln. Although he stayed for just one season, that season brought the Oberliga title and a run to the national championship final, with Köln falling just short of the title when they lost 3-2 to Hamburger SV.


Rahn's international career came to an end in the spring of 1960, although he did manage to score in his last game, a 2-1 win over Portugal. That summer he left Germany to join SC Enschede in the Netherlands, where he spent three years. He was arrested again for drunk-driving in 1961, this time serving a short prison sentence. Although Rahn's goal total reached double figures in each of his seasons in Enschede, the club never challenged for major trophies and in 1963 he returned to West Germany to play for Meidericher SV (now MSV Duisburg) in the newly-formed Bundesliga.


In the first Bundesliga season, Rahn helped MSV to a second place finish, beaten to the title by his former club 1. FC Köln. Unfortunately, that was to be the last significant season of his career as his continued problems with alcohol and mounting injuries severely restricted his opportunities to play. He eventually retired during the 1965-66 season and once his playing career had come to an end largely withdrew from public life.


Rahn made use of his earlier experiences of working in the car trade by setting up his own car dealership back home in Essen, a business which proved to be very successful. The light-hearted nature which had made him so popular with team-mates during his playing days made him an equally popular figure in the community in Essen. He very rarely spoke about his football career and as his health declined in his early 70s became something of a recluse, dying at home in Essen two days before his 74th birthday. So fondly was his World Cup winning goal remembered, his funeral was covered live on national television.


References (all accessed 5 October 2012):