KEIR RADNEDGE COMMENTARY+ —- One of football’s most respected ‘old boys’ celebrates a centenary this week. Kicker, the German bi-weekly, first saw the light of publishing day on July 14, 1920.
Not many sports publications can boast a link all the way back to those dawning days before the advent of the World Cup let alone the European Cup or Champions League.
Or, for that matter, of the Bundesliga.
Kicker ‘owns’ a particular personality. Any fans who want to know about WAGs and supermodel girlfriends should go to Bild-Zeitung; if it’s speculation and suspicion around FIFA and Gianni Infantino then Suddeutsche Zeitung.
For Kicker the entirety of its focus is the game itself. Match reporting, statistic support, in-depth interviews. Motor racing or tennis might occasionally sneak into the end of ‘the book’. But no more than that. This is Kicker. This is serious. This is football.
The oldest specialist it is not. Italian sports daily Gazzetta dello Sport made its debut in April 1896 and Spain’s El Mundo Deportivo in February 1906. French sports paper L’Equipe traces its heritage from L’Auto-Velo, set up in 1900.
However Kicker holds a particular place in not only sports publishing but domestic football history because its founder, Walther Bensemann, is popularly revered as “the man who brought football to Germany.”**
This is as simplistic as the tale of Charles Miller and Brazil. But Bensemann, like Miller, was an enthusiastic and persuasive pioneer who certainly deserves elevated status.
Bensemann, as the team pictures on the front page of Kicker’s first issue proved, was a player in the 1890s “glory time” of pioneering Karlsruhe Kickers.
He had been educated at an English school in Montreux before travels and studies took him to England where he considered making his home. In Birkenhead of all places. But war erupted while he was back in Germany on holiday and a return to England proved impossible.
Here was the lifetime twist which led to Bensemann’s creation of Kicker in 1920 in Konstanz. Two years later he set up office in Stuttgart ahead of brief moves to Ludwigshafen and then, in 1925, to Nurnberg.
Kicker steadily developed a solid reputation but the coming to power in 1933 of Hitler’s Nazis proved personally devastating. Bensemann, son of a Jewish banker, fled back across the Swiss border to Montreux where he died a year later. His editorial successors, such had been the turn of events, merely noted his death in one short paragraph.
Competitive football in Germany survived right through until 1943 and Kicker along with it. Briefly it merged with its rival, Fussball, under the editorship, now, of Friedebert Becker.
In 1948 Becker founded a publication named Sport-Magazin amid the post-war reconstruction of the German media industry. Three years later he was able to revive Kicker and ultimately the two rivals merged and Kicker thus returned to its current home of Nurnberg in 1968 under current owner Olympia-Verlag.
Later Kicker became a founding member of European Sports Media, an association of European sports titles which oversees the European Golden Boot.
German it may be but its outlook is firmly and, seriously, internationalist. Bensemann, no doubt, would have approved.
Alles Gute zum Geburtstag!
** Bensemann is named as ‘Walter’ on his birth certificate but later preferred his personalised spelling of ‘Walther’.
++ Keir Radnedge has been Kicker’s London-based English football correspondent since 2003.