A special reunion after 39 years
After a 39-year absence Pep Blanchard and Ingolf Wiegert will meet again in 2016, this time in the GETEC Arena in Magdeburg for a long-awaited rematch featuring two clubs with some of the longest history and tradition in international handball club competitions.
In the quarter-final of the 1976/77 Men’s Cup Winners’ Cup, BM Granollers and SC Magdeburg fought it out over two games in January and February 1977 - the first and only time to date they have played but on Saturday (27 February) both prepare for battle again in the EHF Cup Group Phase.
Granollers have been part of international club handball competition since 1958, Magdeburg since 1975 - a grand total of 99 years experience between the teams.
In January 1977, Blanchard was just 18-years-old, playing in the second team of Granollers, while a 19-year-old Wiegert was in Magdeburg’s first-team squad.
Although it was nearly 40 years ago, both Blanchard and Wiegert remember those two matches as if they were yesterday and both men are also united by the fact that their whole handball career has seen them play and work for just those clubs only.
For many decades, up to the present day, Blanchard has been the Director of BM Fraikin Granollers and Wiegert, after playing for the club, became Magdeburg’s coach. Then his son Bennet first became a Magdeburg player, winning the EHF Champions League in 2002, and since December 2015 stepped into his father’s footsteps for a second time, becoming coach of the German side.
The first leg in that 1976/77 duel was played in Magdeburg, and Granollers arrived in the former East Germany as the defending champions of the competition.
“It was our first-ever match in the former GDR,” said Blanchard. “We were destroyed by Magdeburg,” he continued – and the newspapers at the time agreed with his sentiments.
‘Granollers Chopped to Pieces’ was the headline of the Spanish sports newspaper El Mundo Deportivo after Magdeburg’s sensational 36:18 win on home ground.
Blanchard, who is also an encyclopaedia of Granollers club statistics, remembers the result well. “This was the third biggest defeat in our long European Cup history,” he said. “In 1958, in our second-ever European Cup match, we were beaten by 20 goals by Helsingør in Denmark and in 1968 we lost by 20 goals at Belgrade.”
One reason for the brilliant Magdeburg performance was goalkeeper Wieland Schmidt. He was 23 at the time and had already won the silver medal with the GDR team at the 1974 IHF Men’s World Championship.
“I was only the third goalkeeper, my 'real' career started in that 1976/77 season,” said a humble Schmidt who played for Magdeburg from 1974 until 1989 and, in an unbelievable record, never lost any home match in all competitions at the former SCM fortress, the Hermann-Gieseler-Arena.
“After winning the first leg in this spectacular way we had an easy-going and quite relaxed trip to Granollers,” continued Schmidt. “It was my first-ever journey to Spain, and we all will never forget this experience - we even had a small sightseeing programme in Barcelona and went to a cabaret show after the game.”
Blanchard was in the stands for the rematch and was truly impressed by Magdeburg. “It was impossible for us to beat them,” he said after the East German side ran out 31:22 winners in Spain, whose newspapers were a little easier on the home side with the headline in the Mundo Deportivo newspaper reading; ‘Magdeburg Again Superior, Granollers with Decent Reply.'
“The away match was something very special,” said Ingolf Wiegert. “It was an unforgettable and priceless experience for us young players in our first-ever international season.” What an international season it was for those players – the German side went on to make the final after beating Partizan Bjelovar in the semi-finals by an aggregate one-goal difference.
In the final they then came up against MAI Moscow featuring the legendary former Soviet Union and Russian player and coach Vladimir Maximov, who won Olympic Gold in both roles.
“We gave them a really tough fight, but unfortunately we could not win”, said Wiegert about the one-match final played in Zaporozhye, which ended in an 18:17 defeat for the Germans.
“It was my first season as the number one for Magdeburg,” added Schmidt. “It was a season to remember for all my life, as we had not only been European Cup finalists, but later on became GDR champions and then cup winners."
One year later, Schmidt was awarded best goalkeeper of the World Championship in Denmark, when GDR took the bronze medal, followed by the biggest match of his life in 1980, when his late save in the final against the huge favourites of home side Soviet Union secured the Olympic gold medal in Moscow.
With Ingolf Wiegert and SC Magdeburg he won the Champions Cup (forerunner of the VELUX EHF Champions League) twice in 1978 and 1981.
On Saturday, when Magdeburg and Granollers clash again, Schmidt unfortunately cannot attend the match as his current role as goalkeeping coach and assistant coach of record German champions HC Leipzig will see him at the all-German Women’s EHF Cup Quarter-Final against Metzingen.
Wiegert will cross his fingers for his old club and his son Bennet in the arena. “From our family point of view it is something special that he is the coach now, but thanks to his knowledge and experience he deserved to have this position,” he said.
Pep Blanchard does not only hope for a better result than in 1977, but even aims to win this crucial Group A encounter. “We lost our home match against Bucuresti,” he said. “But now we have to win away to remain in the race for the quarter-final in this close group.
“This match is too long ago to talk about revenge,” said Blanchard about the 36:18 defeat in 1977. “We just want to keep our hopes alive [of progressing].”
Ingolf Wiegert also expects a close and tough match for his side, who have won both of their group matches so far.
Magdeburg won the Men’s EHF Cup in 1999, 2001 and 2007 - and this season hope to make it to their first-ever EHF Cup Finals round in the new playing system.
On Sunday 6 March, the return match of this clash of tradition will be staged in Granollers, Spain.
Ingolf Wiegert originally had planned to join the Magdeburg team to watch the game - but family affairs stop him now.
“My mother is celebrating her 82nd birthday,” he explained. “Bennet is away too, so the family takes care of his two little daughters.”
Despite this, he will keep updated on the match at home and with it, be reminded of his unforgettable start to his international career, of which, his Olympic gold medal sits as the highlight.
TEXT: Bjorn Pazen/amc