The last world champion from 1954 died at the age of 89. Eckel was German champion twice with Kaiserslautern. He leaves behind his wife and two daughters.
Big celebration for the 90th birthday was planned
The icon of 1. FC Kaiserslautern, the one with his four club mates Fritz Walter, Ottmar Walter, Werner Kohlmeyer and Werner Liebrich formed the FCK block of the German World Cup team, was the youngest player in the coach’s team Sepp Herberger. Eckel leaves behind his wife Hannelore and their two daughters Susanne and Dagmar.
Originally, a big celebration for the 90th birthday was planned for February of the coming year – with everything that has rank and name in football. It shouldn’t have failed because of the jubilee, who had recovered well from a fall during Christmas 2020, the hospital stay and rehab as well as a hip operation in October.
“That he can hold out for at least ten years”
“Although it is already bothering him that the signs of age can no longer be denied, he last said that he could hold out for at least ten years”, Dagmar Eckel had recently told the sports information service. Just last week Eckel was inducted into the Hall of Fame of the German Football Museum in Dortmund.
Between 1952 and 1958 Eckel played a total of 32 times for the selection of the German Football Association (DFB). The outrunner, born in Vogelbach near Kaiserslautern, was nicknamed “Greyhound” because of his slim stature and his running strength. Eckel won two German championships with the Red Devils (1951 and 1953).
But the greatest fame brought Eckel the “miracle of Bern”. The 3: 2 after 0: 2 deficit on July 4, 1954 in the World Cup final against the unbeatable Hungarians is the greatest myth of German football. Historians see the day as the actual founding date of the Federal Republic of Germany.
“I miss my comrades”
Most recently Eckel, whom the crash of the FCK in the 3. League badly hit, after the death of Hans Schäfer in November 2017 publicly thought back to the triumph. “Now I’m the last of the team, and I miss my comrades,” said Eckel at the time: “The images of each individual pass before my eyes and also the memories of exuberant times, laughter and joy. Our camaraderie and football will become us to connect with each other forever. “
One month before Schäfer’s death, Eckel had received his own foundation under the umbrella of the Sepp Herberger Foundation of the DFB. The purpose of the foundation is education, upbringing and sport. Eckel had been an ambassador for the Sepp Herberger Foundation since 1997. The Horst Eckel Prize was awarded for the first time in April 2018. It goes to associations that support members in need.
The price matched the always modest Eckel. “I don’t like hearing the word hero very much. I have remained a completely normal person,” said Eckel, who saw precisely that as one of his greatest achievements: “It takes something to stay the way you were – always with them Feet on the ground. “
Eckel comes from a working-class family
Eckel, who is immortalized in a bronze monument on the Betzenberg together with the other FCK world champions, always looked back with great gratitude. “When I come somewhere, it always means that the world champion is coming,” he always liked to say: “People remember that, they haven’t forgotten that. And that still makes me a little proud.”
A legend of 1. FC Kaiserslautern: Horst Eckel here visiting the stadium in February 2020. (Source: Fotostand / imago images)
Such a career was unthinkable 80 years ago when Eckel cycled up the Betzenberg and slipped through a hole in the stadium fence to watch his FCK idols play. “My family wasn’t well off,” said the son of a signalman at the railroad and a housewife looking back.
At the age of 17 Eckel, whose older brother Hans died in the war, then became a player in the Red Devils himself. At that time there was 320 marks a month for that. In addition, there was 300 marks that Eckel earned as a toolmaker for the sewing machine manufacturer Pfaff. Overall, the club icon, which was awarded the Federal Cross of Merit in 2004, appeared 213 times for the Palatinate and scored 64 goals.
After his active career, however, Eckel initially wanted to keep his family afloat. Above all, his wife was plagued by existential worries when Eckel trained as a secondary school teacher for sports and crafts and no money came in during this time. That’s why Eckel knew only too well to whom he owed most of the most: “Hannelore always kept my back free. I couldn’t have found a better woman.”