BERLIN (NWN) – Horst Eckel, the last surviving member of West Germany’s 1954 World Cup winning team, has died. He was 89 years old.
The German Football Federation said Eckel died on Friday. It did not specify the cause of death.
Eckel was one of only two West German players to play in every match as the team completed the “Wonder of Bern” by defeating pre-tournament favorites Hungary 3–2 in the final.
Team captain Fritz Walter was second. Walter was a mentor to Eckel’s Kaiserslautern teammate and the then 22-year-old midfielder, the youngest in the West German team. The World Cup victory signaled the country’s return to the international football stage after World War II. German teams were not able to enter the 1950 tournament.
“As a team player he was excellent,” former Kaiserslautern player and coach Otto Rehgel said at Eckel’s 85th birthday celebration in 2017.
Eckel made his first appearance for West Germany in November 1952 after being seen by national team coach Sepp Herberger playing for Kaiserslautern in a friendly against Schalke. Ackel scored two goals and was recommended by Walter, who benefited from his teammate’s relentless running to the right.
“He can run like a Greyhound,” Walter told Herberger.
The name stuck and Ackel became known as the “Greyhound” due to his slender stature and willingness to run, a trait that helped Kaiserslautern win two league titles in the early 1950s. He usually played in right back or right-sided midfield, but could also play a more central role.
Eckel played 32 games for West Germany, including a crossing moment in the 1954 World Cup final. The German football federation paid tribute to Eckel on Friday, marking Hungarian playwright Nandor Hidegkuti “out of the game”.
“Herberger told each of us exactly what we needed to do, what the team needed to do, and then they said, ‘Go out there, play your game, and win,'” Eckel recalled 60 years later.
The team was welcomed back on its return from Switzerland. It was the country’s first World Cup title.
“It was only when we got back to Germany on the train and saw the excitement in more cities along the way that we knew we were truly world champions,” Eckel said.
World Cup success didn’t change much for the 22-year-old Akel. He earned 320 German points ($76 at the time) per month from Kaiserslautern and needed a second job to survive.
Bristol City reportedly offered Eckel 20 times his earnings at Kaiserslautern, but there was no question of him leaving the club.
“I know today no one will understand why I didn’t move. But I didn’t play football for money. I just wanted to be a good player, that was all,” Ackel told Kicker magazine in 2017. “I would have even paid money to play for Kaiserslautern.”
Eckel was always a fan of Kaiserslautern. As a young man, he used to cycle 30 kilometers (19 mi) to watch the team play. 11 According to Freunde magazine, he saw through a hole in the fence because he didn’t have money for tickets.
Akel was already playing for hometown club SC Vogelbach when he was 15 years old, winning attention with his goals as a forward. He signed with Kaiserslautern at the age of 17, joining his idol Walter, who quickly took young Ackel under his wing.
followed by league titles in 1951 and 1954. Eckel made 214 league appearances for Kaiserslautern between 1949–60 before leaving for SV Röchling Vöcklingen.
Ackel remained humble and grounded during and after his football career. His friendly demeanor made him the darling of teammates, rivals and fans.
“He always emphasized the solidarity in the team, this humanity and the importance of friendship,” said former Kaiserslautern forward Miroslav Klose.
Eckel was always happy to talk specifically about the 1954 World Cup, but especially for those who weren’t around to experience it at the time.
“Today when young people come up to me, and school kids come up to me, and say, ‘You know, I’m like that.’ It’s a wonderful thing,” Eckel said on his 85th birthday. “It makes me a little proud.”
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