By Mark Bennett
Jürgen Sparwasser, Hans-Jürgen Dörner or more recently Thomas Doll, Matthias Sammer, Ulf Kirsten and Michael Ballack are a selection of players who learned their trade with teams from the former German Democratic Republic. However, such clubs are becoming increasingly rare in the higher divisions in Germany.
FC Hansa Rostock are the only East German side in the top division, and they could be facing relegation in the summer. The club from the shores of the Baltic Sea are struggling for survival but are facing a problem familiar to the situation faced by most old East German clubs - a lack of cash.
During the winter break the last club to win the East German championship brought in former German international Michael Hartmann and former AFC Ajax striker Jari Litmanen to prevent the drop. Coach Jörg Berger managed to lift his side off the foot of the table, but their prospects remain poor.
With fellow East Germans Dynamo Dresden, FC Energie Cottbus and Rot-Weiss Erfurt all fighting for survival in the 2. Bundesliga, the fear is that a decline of football clubs in the East could stop an area that produced the likes of Ballack, Sammer and Kirsten bringing up the next generation of talented players.
Back in the 1974 FIFA World Cup finals, Sparwasser became an East German legend, scoring the winning goal in a 1-0 victory against West Germany. Earlier that summer, the midfield player had also won the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup with 1. FC Magdeburg following a surprise 2-0 win against AC Milan in Rotterdam.
That was to prove something of a high-water mark for East German clubs. Magdeburg have subsequently disappeared from the professional footballing scene, failing to qualify for the top two flights when Germany was reunited in 1991 and heading for the fourth division, Oberliga Nordost.
They spent the first six seasons after reunification in that league before winning promotion to the Regionalliga Nordost in 1997, but they were to be effectively relegated again when a reshuffle of the regionalised amateur divisions sent them back to the fourth flight. Magdeburg have been in financial administration since then.
A similar fate has befallen 1. FC Lokomotive Leipzig. Handed a place in the 2. Bundesliga after reunification, they won promotion to the top division two years later under their new name, VfB Leipzig. However, the 1986/87 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup finalists survived just one season in the top flight.
A subsequent hurtle down the divisions ended with the club declaring bankruptcy at the end of last season. A newly-reformed Lokomotive - with huge crowds and veteran stars like Lothar Matthäus or Heiko Scholz playing the odd game - are now trying to work their way back up the tables starting at the tenth level.
Another veteran, former Bayer 04 Leverkusen and Germany striker Kirsten, gave Dynamo Dresden a helping hand by playing a farewell match in the city and giving his former club much of the proceeds. "
I will always be grateful for what Dresden did for me and it is my way of saying thanks," he said.
However, in the long run, it will take more than hand-outs from former stars to revive East German sides. "We should start thinking of some system to help the clubs," said Sammer, another Dresden alumnus. With Hansa hanging on to their Bundesliga place by a thread, they need to start thinking quick.
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