The forgotten legends of football: Ottmar Walter

Author : Ayush Chattoraj

Ottmar Walter

“You and I are flesh and blood. I’m always going to be there for you, even if it’s only as an obstacle for you to overcome. That’s what big brothers are for.”

-Itachi Uchiha from ‘Naruto’

Sibling rivalry one of the most basic struggles most of us face in our lives. Starting all the way back with Cain and Abel, and coming down all the way to modern day Japanese Manga, the brighter of the two siblings always turns the contributions of the ‘lesser’ sibling to nought.

Fritz Walter is a household name in Germany. He was the one who had led a very mediocre West German team against the Mighty Magyars, and defeated them in what was heralded as ‘The Miracle of Berne’. He was named as Germany’s ‘Golden Player’, and the stadium of Kaiserslautern, his home city, was renamed after him. However, there was another Walter of the same blood, who was just as gifted as his own brother, and it was perhaps due to luck, opportunities and fate that the Walter whom we all know today is Fritz, and not Ottmar.

Ottmar, along with his brothers Fritz and Ludwig, were all born and brought up in the South-Western German city of Kaiserslautern. Playing football for 1.FC Kaiserslautern came naturally to all three of them, since their parents were working at the club restaurant. And when Ottmar displayed exactly how easy he could be on the ball, just like his brother, and how hard much harder he could kick it, he was handed a permanent spot on the team list.

Ottmar played a single season for Kaiserslautern as a Central Attacking Midfielder. His pace, ability to beat defenders and his keen eye for goal made him a far deadlier goal scorer that his elder brother. In their very first season, Fritz found the back of the net an incredible 39 times, but he was outdone by Ottmar, who scored 41 times, a figure which is astronomical for a forward in this era, let alone a midfielder in the 1940s. Now will anyone have the audacity to say that Ottmar was any less than his brother?

In the following year, the world as Ottmar knew it completely changed. Germany no longer had the upper hand in the Second World War, and both Fritz and Ottmar were forced to leave football, and join the German armed forces instead.

Ottmar had joined the German Navy, and he was finally allowed to return to playing football almost two years after they lost the war. Not only that, Ottmar had also been injured grievously in the war, and had three pieces of bomb shrapnel embedded in his knees. The fact that he was famed for his shot power despite such a medical history shows the incredible grit and determination Ottmar had towards the game. Try comparing that with the microscopic wounds that makes Neymar call for a flurry of cards and substitutions and you’ll get my point.

After the war was over, Ottmar and Fritz both played for 1.FC Kaiserslautern, and both ran circles around the oppositions defence, scoring goals for fun. Fritz had a mammoth 380 career goals in 411 appearances, or 0.92 goals per game, but Ottmar, who played fewer games in his career due to multiple injuries, had scored 336 goals in 321 games, a mind boggling average of 1.04 goals per game. Modern day goal scoring giants such as Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are not even close to having an average of 1! A true genius in all regards, Ottmar.

Despite all his contributions to his club, the reason why Ottmar became a celebrity in Germany was because of his exploits while playing for the national squad.

Ottmar Walter

Ottmar Walter

While playing for the national squad, Ottmar scored like a beast, and he played a pivotal role in West Germany’s successful campaign in the 1954 World Cup.

The World Cup was more than just a competition for West Germany. It was a chance to achieve retribution after the humiliation in the Second World War. They were competing with a team many considered amateurs since they had little or no experience in international football. Also, this was a huge platform for all of them, since none of them had contested in the 1950 World Cup, where FIFA had barred all the German nations from playing.

Ottmar had scored 4 times in the 1954 World Cup, one more than his elder brother. He was also one the major reasons why Max Morlock, Germany’s top scorer in the campaign, was so effective; when Ottmar attacked, the entire team could charge forward alongside. He had also played a role in Helmut Rahn’s equalizing goal in the finals, where he stood in the goalkeeper’s way, preventing him from reaching the shot. This obstruction of play had gone unnoticed by the referee, and although it was a historic blunder of epic proportions on the referee’s part, it also shows the level of commitment Ottmar had towards his game.

The ‘Miracle of Berne’ was one of the major catapults for Germany after their depressing slump in the Post-War era. Hence, if Germany wishes to thank someone for not just its fearsome football team, but also its economic prosperity, they would find that someone in Ottmar, for he was a true hero who should be honoured exactly as much as his stature would demand.

Ottmar continued playing prolifically for both club and country till the age of 32, after which he was forced into retirement due to his injuries. One wonders how many more goals he could have scored had his career lasted just 3 or 4 years longer. If Ottmar had not been unlucky enough to get injured many times over in his knees, then maybe the stadium in Kaiserslautern would have been named in his honour, and not his brother’s.

After the war, Ottmar ran a small garage, which he lost due to a misreading of the fine print in the contract. On the other end of the spectrum, Fritz had enough financial backing to support the Hungarian football team, which was left bereft of patrons due to the Hungarian revolution, and was having stadiums renamed after him. Ottmar had very nearly committed suicide during this phase of his life, and he was saved from bankruptcy by the city of Kaiserslautern, who offered him a job as an employee of the city.

Fritz passed away peacefully in his sleep in the year 2002, and Germany honoured his dying wishes by hosting a World Cup game in his home town of Kaiserslautern in in the year 2006, even going to the extent of having a minute of silence in his honour. They named him as their ‘Golden Player’ for the years 1953-2003, but tucked away Ottmar in one corner of their brain.

Ottmar passed away this very year due to Alzheimer’s, on the 16th of June, and no one came to know. And that, dear readers, is the real tragedy in the life of the legend who has been lost to the pages of history; one who was destined for greatness, but one who could not scale the wall that his elder brother was. Not due to a lack of talent or hard work, but due to an overwhelming number of obstacles, challenges and sheer bad luck.