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  • Shades - The short life and tragic death of Erich Schaedler

    The short life and tragic death of Erich Schaedler

    By Colin Leslie
    Black & White Publishing £17.99

    Erich Schaedler, popular with every fan of every team he played for, every team mate he played alongside and those who were fortunate enough to be friends and acquaintances. If ever a player deserved to be immortalised in print then it is Erich Peter Schaedler and author Colin Leslie has done the former Turnbull’s Tornado proud.

    The book wonderfully constructs the upbringing in Peebles of Erich who showed early in life that he could become a top sportsman with his athleticism and his devotion to keeping himself supremely fit. It maps his short life through the words of family, team mates, opponents and friends and leaves the reader feeling immense sadness that Erich’s life ended in such a tragic way at Christmas 1985. To his immense credit, Colin Leslie decided early on that he was not going to devote chapters of his book to dealing with the many and often wild theories as to why Erich took his life and that is surely the way he should be remembered – for the wonderful memories he left behind for thousands of people. Dwelling on speculation would not help his family and it is only very late in the book that the circumstances of Erich’s death are looked at in any sort of detail.

    Erich’s father, also Erich Peter Schaedler was a navy man on a German torpedo boat in WWII and was captured when he was injured off the French coast. Brought to Scotland as a POW, the elder Schaedler was held at Douglas Water along with 300 or so other prisoners. As the years went by, security at the camp eased as the inmates were no threat and indeed had integrated well with the local community. At the end of hostilities, Schaedler stayed on in Scotland and married a local lass rather than return to the City of his birth, which we know nowadays as Monchengladbach where he had once turned out for the local football club.

    The Schaedler’s had a son John and a couple of years later Erich arrived they settled into life in Cardrona where Erich senior got a job as a gardener. Cardrona was surrounded by beautiful countryside and the Schaedler boys spent endless hours playing in the hills and forests there. Soon they moved to Peebles where John and Erich were teased a little about their surname but it was water off a duck’s back and before long, Erich was in the school football team and that continued right through to Secondary school where local amateur side Tweeddale Rovers and East of Scotland league side Peebles Rovers had him playing whenever he was available to either. Amazingly, it was at centre forward that Shades began his career and he became a left back only through chance when asked to deputise there for an injured team mate. He took to it and never looked back really.

    A move to crack Edinburgh outfit Melbourne Rovers brought Shades under the radar of a number of senior clubs and just as he had done at both Tweeddale and Peebles Rovers he was immediately liked by all in the dressing room, with his liking for practical jokes and feats of what must have seemed like superhuman strength. Throughout his whole career Erich worked harder and longer than any other footballer to keep his body in tip-top condition and after a successful, trophy winning stint at Melbourne Rovers, former Hibs man Willie MacFarlane had the full back training twice a week at the club he managed, Stirling Albion.

    It is fair to say that Shades was as fit as a butcher’s dog but was a bit rough around the edges when it came to the tactical side of football. MacFarlane soon started removing those edges, spending hours with Erich working on positional sense and awareness of what was around him on the field of play. Erich loved it and demonstrated again that he was willing to learn and to work hard in measuring up as a professional. It didn’t change him overnight but it wouldn’t be too long before one of Scotland’s top coaches took Shades under his wing.

    In Edinburgh, things were not going well at Easter Road and when a disillusioned Bob Shankley left his post, Willie MacFarlane agreed to take the hot seat at the club he once served so well as a player. Soon after, MacFarlane returned to Annfield, to secure the services of young left back Erich Schaedler. Of course Stirling had been a part time outfit but Erich was now a full time professional footballer and nobody from his old club begrudged him the opportunity. It’s not clear what Hibs paid for his services but in time a figure of £7,000 was ventured as the answer to that question and though nobody knew it at the time it would be money very well spent.

    Just 19 years old, Erich had arrived in top flight football in Scotland but you wouldn’t know it because he was never one to be the big I am and always got on well with all of his team mates. Trusting by nature, Erich revealed in a press interview that as a kid he had been a Rangers supporter! Nowadays, such an admission by a Hibs player might spark lengthy debate on fan messageboards but back then, Shades soon put things right in the press by saying “I supported them as a kid only because they were successful. Once I’d signed up at Easter Road there was only ever going to be one team for me and that’s Hibs.”

    Excited at getting Schaedler on board, MacFarlane had been telling the Hibs players that he’s signed a cracker but when Erich arrived, Pat Stanton and the others could only see a raw but supremely fit young laddie. Later, Pat would say he’d never worked beside a player so willing to listen, learn and improve his game and Erich did just that in the months and years ahead.

    The first look many Hibs fans had at Shades was when he came off the bench in an Easter Road friendly against Polish outfit Gornik and what an impression he made by launching into a tackle and mistakenly crashing into team mate Peter Cormack who had to be carried off on a stretcher! Quite a debut I’m sure you’ll agree and who knows what the Gornik players must have thought.

    Safe to say Erich was soon forgiven both by Cormack and the Hibs support, as he began his long and illustrious career, in the green and white of Hibernian. In his book, Colin Leslie takes us through those eventful years which witnessed Eddie Turnbull arriving at the club and making Erich a key member of his famous Tornadoes side. Throughout that whole period, countless team mates and fans grew to love their left back who was a thrilling player to watch. Those who played alongside him admired a true professional while those who watched him knew Erich would never give less than 100% even in games where a loss was on the cards. He fought to the end and didn’t know any other way to play.

    Of course Erich didn’t just win domestic honours; he also won a place in the Scotland squad and earned a cap in a friendly against West Germany just prior to the 1974 World Cup. Scotland had qualified and Erich made the 22 man squad along with Hibs team mate John Blackley while notable names such as Kenny Burns, Archie Gemmill, Derek Johnstone, Lou Macari, Graeme Souness and Colin Stein were dropped from the original squad of 40 players. That sums up just how highly Shades was thought of by Scotland manager Willie Ormond.

    At Hibs, Eddie Turnbull was striving to build a team capable of winning the league and soon the Tornadoes were broken up with many of that wonderful team being moved on. Erich was told he was being swopped for Bobby Hutchison, a striker from Dundee and although he took the news manfully, he was hurting that Hibs no longer wanted him.

    After a happy and successful time with Dundee, where unsurprisingly he soon won the everlasting affection of the fans, Hibs brought him back to Easter Road. Bertie Auld was now the manager and whenever he knew Erich was available he didn’t hesitate. The Hibs support was ecstatic and soon Erich would be ‘making his mark’ again when he clattered Manchester United superstar Bryan Robson in an Easter Road friendly. Clearly friendlies were no such thing as far as Erich was concerned. Sadly Erich’s second stint came nowhere near matching his first. Certainly he gave everything he had but the team in general was poor and soon Erich was moved on again when he was sold to Dumbarton. His career at Boghead was devoid of any real success although he did succeed at one thing in winning the hearts of the Dumbarton support, something he did easily wherever he played.

    Dumbarton was Erich’s last port of call and although he offered his services free of charge to work with the youngsters at Easter Road his request was refused and that clearly hurt him deeply.

    If you ever watched Erich play or even if your only ‘memory’ of him was that blistering run and tackle in the lead up to goal number seven at Tynecastle, I guarantee you will love this book. Suicide is a difficult subject but I feel Colin Leslie has dealt with it sympathetically while celebrating the wonderful, if tragically short life, of Erich Schaedler.

    About the Author

    Colin Leslie began his journey into professional journalism as co-founder and Editor of the fantastic fanzine Hibs Monthly which morphed into Mass Hibsteria in later years. With his lifelong friend Stevie Burns and a fantastic ‘team’ of writers, Colin entertained all readers of the fanzine over many years but the time came in his and Stevie’s lives that the time to continue producing such quality just wasn’t available to them any more. They asked via an issue if anyone would be willing to take it over and I was only too happy to do so with the valuable assistance of Sean Allan. The writing team stayed intact and we enjoyed the role for a good few years before the internet basically killed the fanzine off. It continued for a while in website format but sadly is no longer around.

    It was obvious to me from an early date that Colin had a real talent for writing and so it came as no surprise to me when he became a sports writer at The Scotsman. Since then he has graduated to Sports Editor and was heavily involved in the writing of Budgie – An autobiography of that very colourful character John Burridge. I loved that book and I loved this latest one about Shades and I heartily recommend them both as being well worth the money.
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