At the time of writing this article, the 2006 World Cup is in full swing in Germany, so it seems appropriate to explore the history of two German footballing legends.
No, not Franz Beckenbauer and Ewe Seeler, but Adi (Adolf) and Rudolf Dassler. Who? I hear you cry. Well maybe Adidas (made from the name ADi DASsler) and Puma two of the world's foremost sporting marques - are more familiar?
It seems odd that a picturesque German town, Herzogenaurach, with its timbered buildings dating back to the 15th century, could spawn two of the most innovative and successful sportswear companies in the world. That the founders of the two companies were brothers makes it an even more unbelievable story.
Adi and Rudolf were the sons of Christoph Dassler who was a cobbler. In 1920 aged only 20, Adi, who originally trained as a baker, invented the world's first athletic shoes with spikes for track and field events. At this stage, Adi and Rudolf were working together and began making football boots with nailed on studs in 1925. By the end of the 1920's they were gaining a worldwide reputation for excellence, and in 1936 prior to the Olympics in Germany, Adi Dassler drove from Bavaria to the Olympic village where looked for, and found Jesse Owens. Dassler unpacked a suitcase filled with running spikes and persuaded him to try them. Owens did, and went on to win four gold medals wearing the Dassler Brothers shoes.
Following their initial success, a personal feud began with the brothers caused Rudolf to leave the company in 1947. The reason for the major falling out of the brothers is not clear. But during an Allied bomb attack on Herzogenaurach in 1943, Adi and his wife climbed into a bomb shelter that Rudolf and his family were already in.
“The dirty b******s are back again," Adi said, apparently referring to the Allied war planes. Rudolf was convinced his brother meant him and his family. The damage was never repaired.After his departure, Rudolf founded the company that would later become Puma and Adi changed his company name to Adidas. This is where the story begins to blur, with both companies claiming that they invented football boots with screw-in studs in 1954. Indeed, equipped with Adidas football boots the Germans won the 1954 World Cup
“This years world Cup more teams are wearing Puma football kits than Adidas”
From then onwards, both companies battled for market share of an industry now estimated at £17 Billion per annum. At the 1970 World Cup finals, the legendary Pele stopped the referee from blowing the opening whistle at the start of a match as he needed to tie his shoelaces; he knelt down giving millions of television viewers a close-up of his Puma football boots. The Brazilian was allegedly paid $120,000 to wear the boots and raise Puma's profile. Puma claimed a major coop at this year's World Cup with more teams wearing Puma football kits than Adidas. Adidas however, produced the controversial new ball and the host nation Germany, were kitted out in Adidas.
Sadly, Adi and Rudolf took their grudge to their graves and are buried as far apart as physically possible in the graveyard in Herzogenaurach. Both companies, no longer family-run, continue to grow from strength to strength, with Adidas the owners of other famous sporting marques, such as Maxfli, TaylorMade, Rockport and Reebok. Whilst in the UK, Puma trainers are the preferred brand for street savvy teenagers.
So what were the British doing whilst the Germans were leading the world with sporting innovations and sales? During the 1970's a UK brand called Gola were stealing market share and struck a deal with the England team to wear their boots. A few days before an England match, the squad were presented with their new boots. They all complained to a man that they were uncomfortable, heavy, stiff and inferior to their normal choices. The day before the match, Gola purchased dozens of pairs of Adidas boots, cut off the famous 3 stripes logo and sewed on the Gola logo!
This story was told to me in good faith by an ex-Gola Executive.