By 90Min
March 04, 2018

Fritz Walter; a man, who in 1954 captained Germany to a pivotal moment in their post-war history, one who allowed his nation to declare "Wir sind wieder wer!" - "We are somebody again!" - following the atrocities that had enveloped the world a decade prior. 

First renowned as a goal scorer, but one who would go on to become a creative mastermind, the Kaiserslautern-born attacker was exposed to football early in his life; with his parents finding work at 1. FC Kaiserslautern's club tavern. 

However, little did they know that their son - one of five - a talent recognised at the age of eight by his hometown club, would go on to offer a broken-hearted, decimated and plagued country solace through the beautiful game. 

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As Walter progressed through the youth ranks of Die Roten Teufel, interest from superior outfits was plentiful. However, he decided to remain in the Palatinate Forest region - a resolution he maintained throughout his playing career. 

At the age of 17, following promotion through Kaiserslautern's development pathway, the inside forward took to the field for the first time as a senior professional, an arena he would later go on to share with his brother, Ottmar. 

The duo, both of whom led the line for the southwest Germans, were instrumental in the Red Devils' league success in 1951 and 1953 and became an integral part of the "Kaiserslautern bloc" which formed the backbone to the national side. 

However, 11 years prior to achieving success with his hometown outfit, Fritz Walter recorded his first international cap; a 9-3 win over Romania in which he scored a hat-trick. 

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But, two years following, by which time he had accumulated 24 showings for Germany, the footballing sensation, like many, was drafted into Wehrmacht; the unified armed forces of the Nazi regime. 


During his service to the Führer - a tag he would later be accredited himself courtesy of a French magazine in terms of his on-field leadership - the Kaiserslautern hero saw action as part of the paratroop corps on the eastern front - a time in which he was left traumatised after witnessing a fellow soldier's death as he was about to jump. 

However, in 1945, Walter was taken prisoner by the Romanians. Despite the success that lay ahead in his footballing career, the forward later claimed his captivity in Maramures offered his "most important game"; a kick-about with the camp's guards. 

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As the Soviets arrived to transport the captured Germans into Gulag's custody - a forced labour organisation in the Soviet Union where life expectancy was a little over five years - a prison guard, who recognised the international football from the pre-war years, offered him false papers, insisting to the handlers he was not from the country's heartland, but the former British and French-governed Saar Territory. 

Following their political actions, FIFA imposed a ban on Die Mannschaft, despite their participation in several on-field country clashes throughout much of the war years. 

Walter, meanwhile, had returned to Kaiserslautern, and, in 1948, he took part in the first post-combat domestic cup final, losing 2-1 to Nuernberg. But despite his influence on the national game before Wehrmacht's call, when Nationalelf were once again permitted to participate by the sport's governing body, Ottmar was the only sibling called upon. 

However, the following Autumn, "Chef" Sepp Herberger saw fit to rekindle the player's former partnership with his country under the West Germany banner as they saw off Switzerland 3-2; a contest in which both brothers scored. 

Then came the qualification process for the 1954 World Cup, Die Mannschaft's first in eight years. Under Walter's captaincy, his side, one of the three DFB states to participate, cantered through the prelims. However, they arrived in Switzerland - the host domain - highly unfancied, considering the fellow international superpowers on display, such as Hungary; unbeaten in four years and led by barrel-chested "Galloping Major" Ferenc Puskas.

The Magical Magyars lived up to expectations when they and West Germany crossed paths, with Herberger's men succumbing to an 8-3 annihilation in the second round. But with a 7-2 win over Turkey, their place in the quarter-finals was assured. 

Overcoming Yugoslavia was seen as unlikely, however, once again Nationalelf defied the odds, and before dispatching a fine Austrian team 6-1 in the semis to book a place in the final, Walter and his teammates secured a 2-0 win. 

But, after just eight minutes in torrential conditions, Hungary, who had maintained their unbeaten run to earn the right to fight for the Jules Rimet trophy, had a soft two-goal cushion. However, 10 minutes following The Magical Magyars doubling their advantage, the Kaiserslautern ace's duo of assists allowed DFB to return to level terms. 

With a quarter of an hour remaining, again the creative craftsman delivered a challenging cross, one which Hungary failed to clear before Helmut Rahn, scorer of his side's equaliser, rifled his attempt home to allow Germany to be "somebody again".

Two years following the "miracle of Berne", Walter dropped out of the national set-up, but he was persuaded by Herberger to return in an attempt to retain their world champions status during the finals in 1958. 

The bad-tempered semi-final with host nation Sweden, a tie which West Germany lost 3-1, would turn out to be the influential figure's last on the global stage, with injury bringing an end to a glittering career which saw him make 61 appearances, scoring 31 goals, but, most importantly, bring light to a nation shrouded in darkness. 

A year later, the hometown, and now national hero called time on his career with Kaiserslautern, where 306 goals in 379 appearances on the northern tip of the Palatinate Forest earned him the accolade of having the club's stadium named after him on his 65th birthday. 

Walter's ties with his famous times under Herberger did not end in 1958, however, with the retired professional going on to help rehabilitate young offenders as part of his former manager's organisation; the Sepp Herberger Foundation. 

On June 17, 2002, the man who led a country from the ashes, one who provided hope for a broken nation, passed away, but did so without living his final dream; witnessing his beloved Kaiserslautern, the stadium bearing his name, take part in hosting the World Cup. 

But on the fourth anniversary of his death, the Fritz-Walter-Stadion showcased the 2006 tournament's contest of the United States as they took on Italy, before which a minute silence was impeccably observed in remembrance of their former hero. 

The 60 seconds, albeit a small offering, indeed showed that Walter was gone, but the DFB Golden Player of 1954-2003 was certainly not, and never will be, forgotten. 

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