Of Robert Schlienz & Willy Tröger
A pair of one-armed strikers either side of the German post-WWII divide
In a recent podcast episode we had Dean Lockyer on to talk about the World Cup 1930. Among the many anecdotes covered, one of the most striking was the story of Hector Castro. Aged 13 the Uruguayan had lost his right forearm in an accident — a mishap with an electric band saw. Subsequently nicknamed El Divino Manco (fig. “the one-armed god”) Castro went on to become a prolific striker. Not only did he help Nacional win three Uruguayan Championships, scoring 149 goals in 231 matches for the Whites, he also played a pivotal part in the National Team.
Uruguay was the dominant international side during the 1920s, British isolationism notwithstanding. La Celeste won the football competition at both the 1924 and 1928 Summer Olympics as well as the first ever World Cup. Castro featured in the Amsterdam Games of ’28, scoring against Germany in the Quarter-finals.
Coincidentally, Germany’s consolation goal during that 1:4 defeat was scored by Richard Hofmann. König Richard would himself lose an ear in a car accident only two years later. Undeterred by the head bandage he would subsequently sport, Hofmann nevertheless managed to rack up an impressive 24 goals in 25 international matches.
Meanwhile, during the World Cup 1930, Hector Castro provided the lone goal of Uruguay’s opener against Peru. He then helped put Argentina to the sword in the final, netting the decisive 4:2 to seal a home-side triumph. Known for his womanising and gambling Castro was a colourful character. What’s more, on field he is said to have used his disability to his advantage, giving opponents a good whack with his forearm when contesting headers.
After Dean had relayed the story of Castro on the podcast, I stumbled over a pair of similar careers; namely those of Robert Schlienz and Willy Tröger. Both plied their trade in post-WWII Germany, on either side of the divide. And both were missing at least a part of one arm. While Tröger’s disability was indeed inflicted during the war, Schlienz fell into the Castro/Hofmann camp.
Stuttgart’s Robert Schlienz
Not that Schlienz had made it out of the war unscathed. Born February 3rd 1924 in Zuffenhausen Schlienz quickly rose to prominence with local side FV Zuffenhausen. In 1942 Schlienz & Co bested the likes of VfB Stuttgart to win the regional Under 19 Championship. Once of age, though, Schlienz was ordered to the Eastern Front. There a bullet shattered his jaw leaving him scarred for life. Against all odds Schlienz returned to the football pitch.
42 goals in 30 matches, scored in the first post WWII season for VfB Stuttgart, are a testament to Schlienz’ talent. Thanks in no small part to his goal scoring prowess Stuttgart won the inaugural Oberliga Süd season.
On August 14th 1948 a car accident changed Schlienz’ life irrevocably. With his left arm dangling out of the window Schlienz lost control over his vehicle. Hitting a ditch the car was overturned. His left arm was amputated. Schlienz, for a second time, went on to defy all forecasts of his career being finished.
Praised by Di Stefano
For more than a decade Schlienz would be not only a mainstay at Stuttgart, but captain the side. Twice during those years VfB won both the German Championship and Cup. Accounting for his disability manager Georg Wurzer moved Schlienz away from the tussle of the opponents box into the second row of attack. Schlienz still managed to find the back of the net. 143 goals in 391 Oberliga matches earned him a call up by Germany’s manager Sepp Herberger. Aged 31 Schlienz got the first of three caps.
More than goals and trophies it is the adulation for Schlienz that paint a fuller picture. Wurzer stressed a successful VfB side without his captain was impossible. Team-mate Lothar Weise noted how Schlienz was the kindest soul off the pitch; on it, though, he would give his side a bollocking should they not perform to his expectation. After an exhibition match between VfB and the Spanish national team the great Alfredo Di Stefano would proclaim what he had seen from Schlienz during the contest he had figured to be unthinkable. Today VfB’s youth stadium is named after Robert Schlienz.
Aue’s Willy Tröger
The Willy-Tröger-Stadion is located a cool 533 kilometres away. Buried deep within East Germany, in Pirnau-Copitz to be precise, it pays homage to one of the most prolific strikes to have donned the GDR colours.
Born October 2nd 1928 Tröger was all of 16 years old when a grenade tore off his right hand in World War II. His older brother Siegfried had put him onto football previously. And Willy had shown ample talent — as a goalkeeper. Luckily he wasn’t too shaby with the ball at his feet either.
Tröger dominated the pitches of the newly founded GDR-Oberliga. Playing for BSG Wismut Aue* from 1950 through 1962 Tröger scored 140 goals in 278 competitive matches. Thrice Aue were crowned East-German champions, in 1956, 1957, and 1959. In 1954/55 they won the FDGB Pokal. That same season 22 goals see Tröger become the top-scorer of the Oberliga campaign.
*It’s not quite BSG Wismut Aue during those years but that’s a story for another day…
While club football had picked up fairly quickly in the East, assembling a national team proved more bothersome. Whereas West Germany played their first post WWII international match in November 1950 (against Switzerland, naturally) the GDR had to wait until September 1952. It would be three years until they recorded their first win: a 3:2 victory over Romania. Willy Tröger provided a brace on the day.
In total Tröger earned 15 caps, a low number by today’s standards. Yet only by the late ’50s did the GDR side gather a bit of momentum. There just weren’t many more opportunities for Tröger to add to his tally. He did make the most of his time on the pitch, though, scoring ten international goals.
Even some grainy footage survived: