05. NOVEMBER 2021 "DIRT ON HIS SHOES" - UWE SEELER TURNS 85
Today, Uwe Seeler of Hamburg celebrates his 85th birthday. Reinhold Beckmann, a well-known TV star, soccer commentator, musician, and author, dedicated a touching TV tribute to Uwe. "Uwe Seeler - One of us" can be viewed in the NDR media center. Those who contributed to the interviews for the film praised Uwe Seeler, the former center forward. The wise politician Wolfgang Schäuble searches for words and then says: "He is in our country" - Schäuble thinks again - "he is one of the greatest."
We see "Uns Uwe" (a nickname he was given; meaning ‘Our Uwe’ to honor that he always was a man of the people) with his wife Ilka in the church where they were married. Seeler is still a bit frail after a recent accident. His wife - bright, fit, cheeky, and charming - does not let go of Uwe's hand and pays attention to his every step.
They stop in front of the altar.
He: "This is where it was, yes, this is where it was."
She: "Exactly on this spot. How long ago that was."
She was just 20 years old. At 15, she chose the soccer player Uwe Seeler. There were prettier fellows than him at Hamburger SV, but she wanted Uwe.
When she was 20, he proposed. "What do you mean, you want to marry me?" she asked. "Do you know what you're getting yourself into?"
Yes, he said, he was sure of it.
"I can't even boil water."
It didn't matter.
She accepted the proposal, and it turned out to be a big wedding because Uwe Seeler was a soccer hero in Hamburg, even in those days.
"It was a great time," he says now.
She squeezes his hand. "Yes, I don't regret anything. Remember? It was pouring rain."
"It was?" he asks. "I don't even remember."
They look at each other and are, once again, two young people in love.
Oh boy, "Uns Uwe" is turning 85.
German champion and cup winner with HSV. World Cup runner-up, third and fourth place as well. Three times "Soccer Player of the Year. First top scorer in the Bundesliga in 1963/64 with 30 goals. Seventy-two goals for the national team, 137 goals in the Bundesliga.
And what goals they were! He shot goals lying on his back, out of the chaos, off his bald head, and the back of his head.
He scored the decisive goal against Sweden, which allowed the national team to go to England for the World Cup.
Ilka gets serious: "Darling, that was perhaps your most important goal. Without that goal, you wouldn't have been runner-up in the 1966 World Cup."
Yet, in 1965, no one would have expected Uwe Seeler to play soccer seriously again. In February, he was cruelly tackled by two opponents in Frankfurt's Waldstadion. After he outmaneuvered the second player, there was a clash, and he fell to the ground. Everyone knew: Uwe was not an actor; something terrible had happened.
The Achilles tendon was torn and could not be repaired. That was the end of a soccer player's career in those days.
Seeler underwent surgery.
"One day after the surgery operation, Adi Dassler called me and said, 'Uwe, don't worry, we'll sort it out. I'll think of something for you.' Then Adi talked to the doctor, and he figured out what my new shoes would have to be like."
Seeler was soon back on his feet. "I'm generally not a patient person, but I didn't rush things back then."
A few weeks after the surgery operation, Seeler visited the Dasslers in Herzogenaurach. Adi had come up with a shoe that the athlete could lace up at the heel and thus relieve any pressure on the tendon.
"I immediately felt comfortable in it. I put the shoe on and played again after half a year of healing. It was a miracle. The shoe was so good that it went on to help many athletes with the same injury, not just soccer players. I wore my pair until they fell apart. It was always that way with Adi's shoes. I didn't take them off until the toes peeked out the front."
Handwritten note from Adi on the "Uwe" shoe model
Adi, Uwe Seeler recounts, was a fatherly friend to him. "We met in Herzogenaurach in 1953. After that, I don't even know how often I was with the Dasslers. First, we worked..."
They went to the meadow, and Uwe worked out in new shoes. The boss asked how it fit the athlete - and where the shoe "pinched." Seeler reported. "Sometimes, we just drank coffee and discussed in privacy. Those meetings were all about 'secret' new ideas. And the 'spies' were everywhere..."
Uwe Seeler admired Dassler's tirelessness. "He was never satisfied. Once, he gave me brand new shoes before training, and after an hour and a half, we were done. I'm used to cleaning my dirty shoes myself, so I did and brought them back to Adi. He looked at me in disbelief, 'Are you crazy? I need dirt on my shoes because I need to weigh them. That's the only way I can set the cleats so that as little dirt as possible sticks to them. Now put them on again and run across the meadow for half an hour.'"
And after work?
"After work, we had fun. The Dasslers were insanely nice, it was always fun, the wine never ran out - and the dumplings from Vroni were a dream!"
In the early 1960s, the bosses of Inter Milan were interested in Germany's best center forward.
They offered him millions.
He chose to stay in Hamburg.
"Why?" asks Reinhold Beckmann in the film.
Seeler and his wife sit on a bench in their garden. They hold hands; Ilka grins, "So, darling, first you tell your story, then comes my version."
"Yes, well, I had a good contract as a representative of adidas. I drove my car 60,000 to 80,000 kilometers a year, visiting customers in northern Germany. I enjoyed doing that. HSV gave me time off twice a week to train. And Sepp Herberger and Adi probably got together and made sure I didn't move to Italy."
"In Hanau, where I learned to play, the "Uwe Seeler" soccer shoes were all the rage. Blue sole, from adidas, wonderful shoes. I was so proud to wear them."– Rudi Völler, center-forward legend, world champion, team manager of the national team, head of sports at Bayer Leverkusen
Now it's Ilka's turn:
"I guess that's all true. And there's another reason."
Which one, Beckmann wants to know.
"They talked to Uwe and only to Uwe. They didn't even think about talking to me. That was a mistake. So, we knew who our friends were. So, you stayed in Hamburg, darling. We didn't talk about it anymore, and we never regretted it. Right?"
"Now," says Uwe Seeler, "now we're fine. If only I could throw that darn walking stick back in the corner and be healthy again."
"Oh, sweetheart, things will never be the same again. But we have each other, friends, and happy memories."
"Yes," says Uwe Seeler, "but still: it's good like this. Growing older is not for cowards, but we see the good and take it gladly. I played to win and to make people happy. I always wanted to stay normal. So far, most of life has gone well, but I would like a few more years."
All the best, "Uns Uwe"! All the best!