After 1. FC Union Berlin’s triumph in the national cup final of the GDR, the Köpenick club had achieved qualification for the 1968/69 European Cup Winners Cup. In July 1968, the Berliners were drawn alongside Yugoslavian side FK Bor with the first match scheduled to be played in Germany on September 18 and the return leg on October 2.
Werner Schwenzfeier, the Union coach of the time, said: “There is no reason at all to underestimate this opponent, because whoever advances to the final in Yugoslavia must be able to play good football. And the name doesn’t mean much. And we know that any sensation is possible, especially in the cup, and why should it be any different in the European Cup.”
However, on the night of 20 to 21 August 1968, the Soviet military, with the help of allies Bulgaria, Poland and Hungary, marched into Czechoslovakia to defeat Czech efforts at democracy. The Prague Spring came to an end on 21 August 1968. Even until this day, the extent of East Germany’s participation in the military operation has not been clearly clarified.
A week later, on August 30 1968, a four-member UEFA Emergency Committee examined the potential impact of the events on their European competitions. The European governing body found that some national associations themselves did not allow their clubs to compete against teams from the five Eastern bloc nations.
Concerns were expressed among UEFA members as to whether the safety of the matches in question could be guaranteed. 1. FC Union Berlin gained exclusive UEFA minutes from the emergency meeting, which showed that “the opinions of the majority of national associations questioned made it clear that demonstrations and riots could be expected.”
Scottish club Celtic first contacted UEFA and stated that the club wanted to organise a boycott over the five nations in question and they would not play given the current situation. Later, Celtic told the European governing body in a telegram that “no Western European club could be expected to play against from the countries concerned in the current situation.”
UEFA’s committee decided to draw the rounds again with the formation of an East and West group to ensure the competition went ahead. This controlled draw procedure has been used in the past when clubs from hostile countries could meet — this remains the case to this day. 1. FC Union Berlin’s new opponent was Dynamo Moscow, while Celtic’s match with Ferencvaros was now changed to a clash against French side AS St. Etienne.
The Football Federation of East Germany, as well as other Eastern bloc nations, regarded the new outcome as political discrimination and not conforming with the regulations. Those in question insisted that the original draw be reinstated. In their reports, the East German media made no reference to the political events, did not explain the contents of the UEFA meetings and interpreted the decision and the composition of the UEFA Emergency Committee as unlawful.
It was furthermore suggested that Western European nations had been able to play matches against weaker opposition with the second draw procedure.
On September 9, UEFA’s Executive Committee confirmed that the new draw was not politically motivated and was legal. The East German Football Federation withdraw their European cup representatives from both the European Cup Winners’ Cup and the European Cup, alongside the four other associations.