“If the reunification of Germany had never happened, I would have a family, kids, a house and a coaching position” – Jörg Stübner
These are strong words from a once strong football player. Jörg Stübner was, according to his former coaches and teammates, one of the most impressive talents in the German Democratic Republic (GDR). However after a promising start to his career during the mid 1980s with SG Dynamo Dresden, he failed to adjust to his “new life” in a unified Germany.
Born in 1965 in Freiberg, East Germany, Stübner began playing football at BSG Motor Halle at an early age, but his destiny was in Dresden where he moved in 1979. Saxony was to be Stübner’s home for almost his entire career and it was there where he earned the nickname “Staubsauger” (The Vacuum Cleaner) because of his impressive skills as a defensive midfielder.
At the age of 17 Stübner made his debut for Dynamo’s first team and just three years later bought himself a Lada, an affirmation of status in the former GDR. Stübner, an extremely gifted midfielder with excellent technique and passing skills, was part of a Dresden team packed with talented footballers such as Matthias Sammer, Ulf Kirsten, Hans-Jürgen “Dixie” Dörner, and Bernd Jakubowski, who, under Klaus Sammer (Matthias’ father) and Eduard Geyer had enormous success domestically and continentally.
Stübner played an important role on both memorable UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup Quarterfinals’ matches against FC Bayer 05 Uerdingen in 1986, of which SG Dynamo Dresden ended up being surprisingly eliminated, regardless of a two goal advantage from the first leg match at Rudolf Harbig Stadion. The away match at Krefeld began as a fairytale and ended as an utter nightmare with Dresden succumbing to a 7-3 loss (8-6 on aggregate) in what probably was the most fascinating comeback of all European competitions.
At 23 Stübner continued to be an influential player, especially when SG Dynamo Dresden reached the UEFA Cup semi-finals in 1989. Dynamo were beaten 2-1 on aggregate by VfB Stuttgart but along the way defeated powerful teams such as AS Roma.
Stübner also gained 50 caps for the East German National Team, having participated in the team’s last competitive international match against Enzo Scifo’s Belgium in 1990, which the GDR won 2-0. With reunification on the horizon, the National Team produce a brilliant performance to earn an unexpected and fully deserved win in Anderlecht.
Stübner, who was part of Geyer’s starting line-up for that match, ended up being substituted in the middle of the first-half because of injury, but until then, he performed brilliantly, marking Belgium star Enzo Scifo.
However the high point of his international career had taken place five years earlier, when East Germany outclassed France 2-0 in front of 78000 enthusiastic fans in Leipzig. Stübner had an near flawless match, marking French legend Michel Platini out of the game.
“The worst moment was when I cleared out my locker at the stadium. All the memories came up once again” – Jörg Stübner
Despite some glamorous days in the 1980s things started to deteriorate for Stübner after the reunification of Germany. He failed to adapt to the reality of a new unified Germany, while his former teammates moved to some major Bundesliga outfits, Stübner remained at Dresden, but things would never be the same for him.
In 1993 Stübner finally departed the club, having clashed frequently with head coach Helmut Schulte, and beset with issues relating to alcoholism and injury struggles. It was an emotional exit for Jörg who had devoted so much of his career Dynamo, and the midfielder was lost for words when he found the contract termination letter in his mailbox.
Later in 93, Stübner joined his former head coach Eduard Geyer at Sachsen Leipzig, but he played only a handful of matches for the club and moved again the following season. This time to represent an even more modest outfit called FC Neubrandenburg 04. Meanwhile, his life was in a rut and Stübner was admitted to hospital after collapsing in the middle of the street, allegedly due to prescription drugs abuse.
After that episode, Stübner escaped the public eye for some time and only reappeared in 2003 for Ulf Kirsten’s testimonial match that took place at Dynamo’s Rudolf-Harbig-Stadion, a venue that he once called home. The gifted midfielder was well received by Dynamo’s enthusiastic supporters and even claimed a goal.
A year later Stübner gave an an interview to a famous German news outlet, admitting to his flaws and the wrong decisions he made throughout his life, underlining, however, that he had only harmed himself and that he hadn’t caused any suffering to anyone else. With a soft, albeit sluggish voice, the former midfielder confessed to be living on welfare, receiving around €360 per month. Stübner also acknowledged that he used to have a problem with drugs and alcohol.
In order to escape the problems he was dealing with back home, Stübner flew to the Canary Islands to work as a fitness trainer. He knew the island well after a trip there with Dynamo in 1987, but things didn’t work out for him once again and rumours started to surface that he had returned to Dresden and was living the same erratic lifestyle. Stübner is said to be a shy person and that may be the reason why it took him so long to seek professional help.
In 2010, however, a WDR crew (a German television channel) tracked him down and Jörg confirmed that he had finally sought help. That he was enrolled in a Hartz IV plan (a social support programme created by the German government) and that he was finally taking care of himself, going on morning runs and spending his afternoons at the library, reading and surfing the web looking for a job.
By the time of his 50th birthday in 2015, SG Dynamo Dresden’s current Sporting Director and Stübner’s former teammate, Ralf Minge, tried to congratulate him at his house, but no one answered the door, regardless of Minge’s persistency. Dynamo’s strongman had a special gift for him, a club’s shirt with his name and the number 50 on, but there was no one on the other side of the door to welcome such thoughtful present.
A few days later, nevertheless, Stübner, became aware of Minge’s gesture and, not wanting to address him directly, asked someone else to thank Dynamo’s Sporting Director on his behalf.
Former coaches and colleagues still claim that Stübner was the most gifted player in the GDR, whose legacy was scuppered by his inability to adapt to life after reunification. The old Stübner was as good as Ulf Kirsten or Matthias Sammer, but he ceased to exist around 1990. Football fans, nevertheless, especially Dynamo supporters, have not forgotten one of the most gifted footballers produced by the East German football factory.