Monday January 17, 2022

Eckel, last member of Germany's 1954 WC-winning squad, dies

Published : 04 Dec 2021, 01:39

  By Sebastian Stiekel and Ulrike John, dpa

Horst Eckel, 1954 World Champion and DFB Sepp Herberger Foundation Ambassador, speaks to prisoners during a visit to the Zweibruecken Prison. File Photo: picture alliance / dpa.

Horst Eckel, the last surviving member of West Germany's 1954 World Cup-winning squad, has died at the age of 89.

This was confirmed by the German Football Federation (DFB) on Friday.

"Rest in peace, Horst Eckel. The DFB is mourning a wonderful person and a World Cup winner from 1954. Our thoughts are with his family and friends," it said.

The right winger from Kaiserslautern was the youngest member of captain Fritz Walter's team, which came back to win the final 3-2 against big favourites Hungary in what became known as the "Miracle of Bern".

"Unfortunately, I was never able to see the soccer player Horst Eckel play live, but Horst Eckel as a person was a role model for me in every respect," said Germany coach Hansi Flick.

"His warm-heartedness was infectious, his social commitment extraordinary. I personally, and all of German football, will miss him very much. The news of his death makes me very sad."

Eckel was nicknamed "The Greyhound" because of his pace.

Together with Fritz and Ottmar Walter as well as Werner Liebrich and Werner Kohlmeyer, he formed the Kaiserslautern block in the national team and played a total of 32 international matches.

"At the final whistle, we knew we were world champions. But we didn't realize what that meant to the people back home until we stepped on German soil again. It was a great reception," Eckel once recalled.

Nine years after the end of World War II, the victory helped signal the nation's political and economic awakening.

Hundreds of thousands lined the streets as the world champions returned home in triumph.

When all the 1954 world champions were still alive, Eckel was sometimes overshadowed by big names Helmut Rahn, Toni Turek and above all Walter. After the death of Hans Schaefer on November 7, 2017, however, only the down-to-earth and reserved Eckel remained to represent the team at every opportunity.

The twice German champion (1951 and 1953) changed clubs only once: from Kaiserslautern to SV Roechling Voelklingen in Saarland in 1960.

Kaiserslautern will wear an all black kit in Saturday's home match with Viktoria Cologne in his memory.

"The news of the death of Horst Eckel has hit us hard. The whole club is deeply saddened. With Horst a Kaiserslautern legend has left us," said the club's sport chief Thomas Hengen.

After his time as a player, the trained toolmaker studied art and sports and worked as a secondary school teacher from 1973.

Being called a "hero of Bern" had always bothered him.

"I remained a completely normal person," he said.