Take, for example, Franz Beckenbauer, Alfredo di Stefano, Diego Maradona or Pele: your first off-the-top-of-your-head association would probably be with one particular club, in this instance Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, Napoli and Santos.
For those in the know, the same applies to Uwe Seeler. Mention the former world-class striker, and north German giants Hamburg instantly spring to mind, as Seeler was, is and remains inextricably linked to the Bundesliga founder members.
An unforgettable career
Seeler was born in Hamburg on 5 November 1936 into a well-known sporting family: his father Erwin was one of the port city's most popular contemporary footballers. Young Uwe joined HSV, as Hamburg's biggest club are commonly known, at the age of ten and made his first-team debut in 1953 while still only 16.
“It came as a total surprise,” Seeler told FIFA.com with a smile on his face. “We played Gottingen at the Rothenbaum stadium, and the man I was up against was twice as big and heavy as I was. But I actually played well, and even won a couple of aerial challenges.”
Over time, the player lovingly nicknamed Uns Uwe (Our Uwe) acquired iconic status at the club, and his fame spread far beyond the city limits.
I never cared whether it was pretty or not. For me, the finest thing was the ball just making it over the line.
Seeler earned his first cap for Germany under coaching legend Sepp Herberger in 1954, just a few months after the 'Miracle of Berne' when the Germans recorded the first major triumph of their history at the FIFA World Cup™ in Switzerland. From then on, Seeler’s career really took off.
Diminutive even by the standards of the day at just 1.68m tall, he scored 43 goals in 72 appearances for his country and earned a reputation as one of their best centre-forwards of all time. There was to be no trophy for the German national team during his era, but Seeler still finished with the impressive record of coming runner-up, third and fourth at the World Cup.
Just two years after he stepped down from the national team, the Germans won the European Championship, before claiming their second world triumph on home soil in 1974. Unusually, Seeler was still recognised with the title of honorary captain of the German national team.
A scorer of great goals
For his beloved club, the striker played a starring role as HSV won the North German championship nine times in a row, going on to win the pre-Bundesliga German championship in 1960. He was named the inaugural German Player of the Year that season, an award he would win twice more.
The prolific goalscorer competed at four World Cups, on a par with the likes of Pele, Maradona, Ronaldo and Oliver Kahn. He earned a German Cup winner’s medal in 1963, and went on to become the first-ever top scorer in the newly-launched Bundesliga the following season.
“I scored many great and often important goals in the course of my career," he told FIFA.com. “Scissor kicks, diving headers, and even some with the back of my head. But I never cared whether it was pretty or not. For me, the finest thing was the ball just making it over the line.
"A very important goal for me personally came in Sweden in 1965," he continued. "It was a game we had to win in order to qualify for the World Cup in England. I'd just recovered from a complicated Achilles tendon operation and I didn't know if it would all hold together. The fact I scored in such an important match was vital for my confidence, because I knew I'd be able to continue as an international."
Seeler's self-assessment is spot on, as he was hailed less for his skill than for his fighting spirit and work rate. As he mentioned, one of his most memorable goals was scored with the back of his head against England in the 1970 World Cup quarter-finals.
“Yes, that goal," he smiled. “I don't think it's something you can train. It was more like making a virtue out of necessity. The ball was going over my head and I was also running backwards, something which isn't easy in and of itself. The ball hitting me on the back of the head and then going in isn't something you do without a bit of luck."
The man now aged 76 was always an exemplary character on and off the field, collecting many civic honours to go with his footballing achievements. He holds the Silver Laurel Leaf, the highest sports award in Germany; a Bambi media award; he was the first athlete ever to be awarded the Federal Cross of Merit; and he is a freeman of the City of Hamburg.
Nowadays, the father of three has withdrawn from the public glare and lives – where else – in Hamburg. Decades after hanging up his boots, he remains one of the proud port city’s best-loved characters. And just as the locals will never forget Uns Uwe, he has remained steadfastly true to his only footballing love: “I'm Hamburg born and bred, and the HSV emblem is on my heart. I'm a passionate fan. Hamburg is my club," he declared.
Did You Know?
Seeler was Hamburg president from 1995 to 1998. However, when he was offered the title of honorary president in 2013, he surprisingly declined. "I don’t see any value in that at the moment. I obviously have my reasons, but I’m not prepared to discuss them,” he commented.
A huge bronze sculpture of Seeler’s right foot was unveiled in 2005. The 5.15 by 3.5 metre monument in front of the HSV stadium cost €250,000 and weighs approximately four tonnes.
Seeler was a one-club man and spent his entire career with Hamburg, but his career stats show a solitary match for another club. On behalf of a sporting goods manufacturer, Seeler appeared for Cork Celtic in an Irish top flight encounter in 1978, although Uns Uwe has always maintained he was unaware the match was an official League of Ireland championship fixture. He scored both goals for Cork in a 6-2 defeat to Shamrock Rovers.
Seeler’s autobiography Danke, Fussball! Mein Leben (Thanks Football! My Life), a compendium of anecdotes form his playing days and glimpses into his private life, appeared in 2003.
Sporting ability is in the Seeler family genes. Uwe’s father Erwin Seeler, a docker, was one of Hamburg’s best-loved footballers from the 1920s through to the 1940s. His grandson Levin Oztunali is regarded as one of the most talented youngsters in German youth football.