Midnight at Signal Iduna Park. The club management are among the first well-wishers to congratulate one of the greatest Borussen of all time: Wolfgang Paul, who is celebrating his 80th birthday – surrounded by his family. And it's not only his closest relatives, but his closest friends too. And they are Borussen.
From a sporting perspective, Wolfgang Paul became a BVB club legend as the captain of the European Cup Winners' Cup heroes of Glasgow in 1966. But beyond that, the "Stopper" was and still is a real role model on a personal level. Modest, down to earth. A loyal soul. An honest being. A really fine person. The Chairman of the Council of Seniors turns 80 on 25 January 2020. The Black & Yellow family cordially congratulates him and raises their glasses to one of the greatest Borussen. Rather than "Happy birthday", dear Wolfgang, how about a line from our club song; one that sounds like you wrote it yourself. "But one thing, one thing shall always remain – Borussia Dortmund will never, ever wane!"
It's Saturday 7 December at 13:30 CET. There are only two hours to go until kick-off in Borussia Dortmund's Bundesliga match against Fortuna Düsseldorf. The members of the Council of Seniors are meeting in the West Stand, level 3. Theo Redder is already there, Sigi Held is just arriving. And we meet Wolfgang Paul. Today he is accompanied by his daughter Andel, because his wife Almuth has caught a cold and wants to conserve her energy.
We opted for an ambitious opener to our conversation. A very optimistic one, some would say; a downright naive one, others might think. "Which question", Wolfgang, "in relation to Borussia Dortmund have you still never been asked?"
Silence. Contemplation. "I can't think of any that come to mind," said Wolfgang Paul finally.
Okay. We change tack. "Is there an anecdote from your life as a Black & Yellow that you've never told anyone before – because now would be exactly the right time?!"
Silence. Contemplation . . .
No matter, it was worth a try. But when you're 80 years old. When you've lived your life according to the motto "Once a Borusse, always a Borusse!" for almost 59 years. When you've been a Black & Yellow legend since 5 May 1966 – so for 53 years, eight months and 20 days exactly. When it feels as though you've sat down for 1,909 interviews in that time and answered every conceivable question – most of them over and over again – there are eventually no questions left. At that point you probably need to accept the fact that you've probably said all there is to say about your footballing life. But that doesn't mean it will ever lose its impact. On a scale between 0 (not impressive at all) to 10 (very impressive), Wolfgang Paul's life would an 11 at the very least.
None of that was foreseeable when young Wolfgang, the son of Karl and Therese Paul, was born at the Elisabeth-Klinik in Bigge on 25 January 1940. It wasn't foreseeable when the nipper took the first steps on his footballing journey at TuS Bigge 06. And it wasn't foreseeable when he joined VfL Schwerte as a 17-year-old after his apprenticeship. Schwerte was chosen because his uncle Hans had a business there as a watchmaker and had offered his nephew work.
But then it all happened rather quickly. With Wolfgang Paul in the side, VfL marched from the Bezirksliga to the Verbandsliga – then the third-highest tier – between 1957 and 1959. The only leagues above that were the Second Division, which contained the likes of Dortmunder SC 95 as well as big names like Fortuna Düsseldorf, Schwarz-Weiß Essen, Bayer Leverkusen and Wuppertaler SV. One tier higher was the Oberliga, containing BVB, who had finished as German champions in 1956 and 1957. From Schwerte, it was just over the hill. A stone's throw away.
No wonder, then, that Paul's talent soon caught the eye. Ottmar Rhein, a football-mad major in the sports academy at the Unnaer Hellweg military base and later a member of the Borussia Dortmund match committee, gave the decisive recommendation. "You're looking for a centre-half. Take a look at Paul," he advised BVB forward Herbert Sandmann. "Yes, he plays as an inside forward in Schwerte, but he can play centre-half too!" That prompted legendary coach Max Merkel to bring him Dortmund – where he mostly arrived at training on his Heinkel motor scooter – in 1961. His first contract had to be signed by his father. Wolfgang was not yet 21 and so was still technically a minor.
His conversion to centre-half – the central link between defence and midfield, and a position that would probably correspond to a deep-lying No. 6 in today's terms – worked a treat. Wolfgang Paul, who at 1.86m had an imposing presence and was just as strong at slide-tackling as he was at aerial challenges, quickly won himself a starting berth. And within two years of departing the Schützenhof in Schwerte, he was celebrating the German title with BVB.
1963 was a defining year for Wolfgang Paul off the pitch too. At a dance event held at the Schwerter Turnerschaft tennis club in May, he met the love of his life. Klaus Bäcker, who later became the sports editor for Dortmund-based Ruhr Nachrichten, introduced him to Almuth Stellpflug, the daughter of the club president Erich Stellpflug and an outstanding tennis player. Later that evening, she confessed to Wolfgang Paul that she "had always wanted to see a BVB match" – and boldly asked the young footballer whether he could "get hold of a ticket" for her. A week later, Almuth was sitting in the stands at Stadion Rote Erde. Next to her was Wolfgang Paul who – perfect timing – was injured.
We should say at this point that her father Erich Stellpflug was a headmaster. A Latin teacher. A strict man with clear ideas – one of which was that his daughter would settle down with an academic. His son-in-law was supposed to be a doctor. Not a footballer. But love doesn't work that way...
To cut a long story short: by the time Wolfgang Paul and Almuth Stellpflug married on 24 June 1967, Erich Stellpflug had not only befriended his son-in-law; he was probably Wolfgang Paul's biggest fan too. In addition to his exceptional footballing abilities, what ultimately won his father-in-law over was his personal qualities: the seriousness, the tenacity and the professional ambition of Wolfgang Paul. On top of his training and match commitments, he attended evening school and was training as a watchmaker and a goldsmith. Well-equipped for the rough and physical on the pitch, he was also a man for the fine and delicate in the workshop. "I think," said Paul, "my determination and my hard work impressed him."
The same could not be said for his coach Hermann Eppenhoff, however, who confronted Paul with a question that he didn't entirely comprehend. "What do you really want: to play football or repair watches?" – "Both, coach," responded Paul. "To play football and to repair watches!" It was the wrong answer. Eppenhoff relegated him to the stands for the following matches. But eventually the coach reinstated him. There was no way around the "Stopper".
The championship of 1963 and the DFB Cup triumph of 1965 were followed by a season that turned Borussen into heroes: the European title-winning campaign of 1965/66. Wolfgang Paul had taken over the captain's armband from Aki Schmidt, and he was the commander in chief on the pitch as the Black & Yellows knocked out Maltese minnows Floriana FC (5-1 away and 8-0 at home) in the opening round of the European Cup Winners' Cup. Next up was Bulgarian army club CSKA Sofia, who were beaten 3-0 (H) and 4-2 (A) in the second round, before the Black & Yellows faced their first big test – Atlético Madrid – in the quarter final. The Spaniards were eliminated with a 1-1 draw away and 1-0 victory at home.
In the semi-finals came a meeting with West Ham United. The tradition-steeped club from the East End of London had won the competition the previous year and had the likes of Geoff Hurst, Martin Peters and Bobby Moore – three players who would go on to win the World Cup title with the England national team a few weeks later. In the final against West Germany, Hurst scored the famous Wembley goal past BVB shot-stopper Hans Tilkowski. And even though the Hammers weren't doing well in the league in 1965/66, they went into the BVB matches as heavy favourites.
The contemporary British media widely reported that West Ham had produced their "best performance in many months" in the first leg. But it was Borussia Dortmund who emerged triumphant. Lothar Emmerich scored goals in the 80th and 82nd minutes to turn a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 victory, while Wolfgang Paul ran the show in front of a sell-out 38,000 crowd at Upton Park. Paul was not the only one who felt it had been "probably the best performance of my life". Geoff Hurst said: "For me, Wolfgang Paul was the best Dortmund player. He plays unbelievably hard but never unfair!" A statement that is borne out by the fact that the "Stopper" was never sent off throughout his long career.
Ron Greenwood, the Hammers manager, would ideally have liked to keep Borussia's midfield metronome in England. He signalled his interest in Paul to the BVB board and submitted an offer. But it would not be until many months later that the player found out. The club officials had kept West Ham's interest secret, probably out of fear that Paul might be tempted to accept the offer from London. Their fears were not justified, however. Wolfgang Paul has often been asked whether he would've made the move over the years. His answer has always been the same. "Under no circumstances. Never! My motto is "Once a Borusse, always a Borusse!" It's a way of life. I have always felt this close connection to BVB and nowadays I feel it even more intensely than I did back in my playing career."
What inspired the "Stopper" in the match away to West Ham United was the indescribable atmosphere. "I never had a problem with nerves. Ultimately, it never bothered me whether I was playing at the Schützenhof in Schwerte, at Stadion Rote Erde or Hampden Park in Glasgow. But when we took to the field at Upton Park on 5 April 1966, even I was weak at the knees." The closeness of the dedicated football stadium. The compact atmosphere. The proximity to the fans. "We could understand every word that was called out from the stands." Such an intense football experience was new to us," recalled Paul. "It could intimidate you." In his case though, it motivated and inspired. Ninety minutes later, history had been made as a German team won in the homeland of football for the first time.
The Black & Yellows won the return leg against West Ham at Stadion Rote Erde 3-1 and subsequently beat heavy favourites FC Liverpool 2-1 in the final at Hampden Park in Glasgow thanks to Stan Libuda's extra-time curler. It was yet another superhuman display from Wolfgang Paul. "The pitch was boggy, soaked by rainwater. As the match wore on, it became a real mud bath." It was torturous for the players. "Some of us had cramp but everyone grinned and bore it." It was one of the qualities that set this team apart. They were a close-knit group with a coach who repeatedly talked them up in the days before the biggest match in the 55-and-a-half-year history of the club. Eventually, they believed him. "It may be, lads," "Fischken" Multhaup would say to them, "that we would lose nine out of 10 matches against Liverpool. But we won't lose tonight."
They did win, and returned home as the heroes of Glasgow and the first German club to claim a European title. They were crowned Team of the Year and were awarded the Silver Laurel Leaf, the most prestigious award for athletes.
Today, 53 years and almost nine months later, Wolfgang Paul is still a hero. He is, of course, still a Borusse. An honorary member, a wearer of the club's Golden Badge of Honour, chairman of the Council of Seniors. But above all he is a husband, a father to two children and a grandpa to four grandchildren. Since closing the jewellery store in Olsberg in May 2018, after 87 years in operation, he has been enjoying his free time with his loved ones.
It is with them that he will see in his 80th birthday. With wife Almuth, to whom he has now been married for 53 years. With his daughters Andel and Carde, with his sons-in-law and his grandchildren Ruby, Phil, Eike and Jasper, all of whose hearts – of course – beat for Borussia. BVB have a home game against 1. FC Cologne the night before the big day. A must-see. From the stadium they will head to their hotel together, where the family will all gather when the clock strikes midnight to toast him. Wolfgang Paul will "get a round in" for the Council of Seniors. But he doesn't want a fuss made about his landmark birthday. Perhaps in 10 years' time. Then it would be his 090th birthday. That would be quite something.
The best present that Wolfgang Paul can imagine getting for his birthday would be a victory over Cologne. So Marco Reus & Co. know what they need to do when they walk down the narrow players' tunnel to the pitch at Signal Iduna Park on 24 January. And for whom they are doing it. For one of the greatest-ever Borussen.
Thank you, Wolfgang Paul!
We wish you all the best and many more eventful years with your BVB.
237 appearances in Black & Yellow
Wolfgang Paul played for Borussia Dortmund between 1961 and 1970. In those nine years, he made 237 appearances (148 in the Bundesliga, 50 in the Oberliga West, 16 in the DFB Cup, 11 in the European Cup Winners' Cup, seven in the Final Round of the German Championship, four in the Fairs Cup (the forerunner of the UEFA Cup/Europa League) and one in the European Cup) and scored eight goals. He helped BVB become German champions in 1963, DFB Cup winners in 1965 and European Cup Winners' Cup winners in 1966. Later that same year, he was part of the German national team that reached the World Cup final in England.
"In the 10 years during which Wolfgang Paul played for Borussia Dortmund, he defined an era. He became the first German footballer in history to hold aloft a European trophy. He always led the way as a captain and wore the black and yellow shirt with dignity. His aura on the pitch commanded the respect of his opponents, and his aura as a wonderful personality off the pitch has shaped BVB until today. Dear Wolfgang, dear "Stopper", you represent a generation of players for whom Borussia Dortmund have always been a matter of the heart. You are the very core of our club."
Dr. Reinhard Rauball on Wolfgang Paul
"Borussia Dortmund could not have wished for a better role model and captain than Wolfgang Paul, who as a player stood out for his commitment, determination and his fighting spirit. Even after hanging up his boots as a player, he has helped to shape the future of BVB as the Chairman of the Council of Seniors. He ensured that our tradition would be upheld while we continue to develop at the same time. Dear Wolfgang, your opinion and your advice are important to us. With your down-to-earth nature and your Westphalian humour, you've become an integral part of our club, which only gained its charisma thanks to individuals like yourself."
Hans-Joachim Watzke on Wolfgang Paul