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Debut campaign provides Schalke inspiration

Facing Real Madrid CF in the round of 16, FC Schalke 04 made their debut in the competition in 1958, enjoying a campaign which saw the side defying the odds time and again.

Schalke celebrate making the knockout stage
Schalke celebrate making the knockout stage ©Getty Images

FC Schalke 04 are one of Germany's great, tradition-laden clubs, so it seems fitting that they made their European Champion Clubs' Cup debut as long ago as September 1958. Having won their seventh national championship, and defeated Arsenal FC 3-1 in a summer friendly, the Königsblauen approached their debut campaign with cautious optimism.

That soon changed. Drawn against Danish champions Kjøbenhavns Boldklub in the preliminary round, Schalke lost the away leg 3-0. The match was so one-sided that the visitors' best player was goalkeeper Manfred Orzessek. "This may have been our worst-ever performance," he said afterwards, shaking his head. The German club were on the brink of elimination but turned the tie around in the return.

Schalke raced into a 3-0 lead, before striker Erling Andersen pulled two back for the Copenhagen side. Despite being reduced to ten men when centre-half Otto Laszig limped off with a knee injury, the hosts won 5-2 and, in an era before the away goals rule, forced a one-off play-off.

In the Dutch city of Enschede, Schalke won 3-1 to earn a tie against Wolverhampton Wanderers FC in what was effectively the round of 16. The German players were semi-professional, so the meeting with a British club was approached with some trepidation. The two previous West German participants in the competition had been eliminated by British teams: SC Rot-Weiss Essen by Hibernian FC and Borussia Dortmund by Manchester United FC.

The mood was further dampened when the injured Orzessek had to be replaced by 20-year-old Karl Loweg. Once again, Schalke surprised in the away leg – this time in a positive way. They dominated the first half at Molineux – the stadium's floodlit friendlies had helped to inspire the competition – and took a deserved lead through centre-forward Günter Siebert.

Wolves, managed by the great Stan Cullis, threw everything into attack in the second half and, despite a fine performance by substitute keeper Loweg, managed to turn the game around, with midfielder Peter Broadbent scoring twice.

Yet wave after wave of attacks seemed to drain Cullis's team and they were undone by a late equaliser. Schalke skipper Berni Klodt's clever pass set up striker Willi Koslowski who made it 2-2 with only two minutes to go.

During the post-match banquet, Wolves director James Baker said: "From now on, there will be a sell-out crowd in England whenever and wherever Schalke are playing."

In the return leg, Cullis could not field Bill Slater because Birmingham University – where he worked as a lecturer – refused to release him. Günter Karnhof, a man-marking specialist, nullified Broadbent's threat. Heinz Kördell scored Schalke's opener after a lucky ricochet. Siebert made it 2-0, slipping the ball into the net after it had spun out of goalkeeper Malcolm Finlayson's arms.

The 43,000 supporters who filled the Glückauf-Kampfbahn stadium – named after a popular miners' greeting – enjoyed more drama in the second half.

Within three minutes of the restart, Alan Jackson, filling the void left by injured centre-forward Jimmy Murray, scored with a beautiful strike. The English champions were now just one goal away from a play-off. But Loweg denied Wolves again and again, securing Schalke's passage to the quarter-finals against Club Atlético de Madrid.

For the third time in a row, Schalke played the away leg first. On a cold day on a rain-soaked pitch, the Germans were unlucky when the referee failed to play advantage in the fifth minute and disallowed defender Hans Nowak's goal. Attacking midfielder Karl-Heinz Borutta was later sent off for what seemed, to the home fans, an unintentional foul. Atlético won 3-0 and looked to have one foot in the semi-finals.

When Nowak found the target after 25 seconds in the return leg, Schalke fans began to dream of a repeat of the team's first-round heroics. Yet the Rojiblancos' defence withstood every attack and the legendary forward Vavá, who had won the FIFA World Cup the previous summer with Brazil, equalised late on.

Still, the semi-pros from Schalke had done so well on their European Cup debut that nobody could have expected it to take them 42 years to return to the competition.

Champions Matchday is the official magazine of the UEFA Champions League and is available in print or free to download in digital format. You can follow the magazine on Twitter @ChampionsMag.