The Reichsliga (Empire League) was a proposed nation-wide German association football league, first suggested in 1932 by Felix Linnemann, president of the German Football Association, the DFB, at the time. The proposed Reichsliga was, in many ways, a forerunner of the Bundesliga, which was finally established as a national league in 1963.
Football in Germany after the First World War was very regionalised, leading to the top clubs in the German Reich playing in weak local competitions with clubs well below their own strength. Those clubs would then only truly be challenged during the German finals round. Linnemann wished to achieve a concentration of those clubs by forming a Reichsliga, like it existed in other countries, in which those clubs could play together. This however was vetoed by the powerful regional associations in 1932.
The discussion about the Reichsliga went hand in hand with the question of professionalism in Germany, with the DFB being a strong advocate for keeping the game amateur in the country. In October 1932 however, the federation made a sudden, unexpected turnaround and legalised professionalism. Before steps could be taken, in January 1933, the Nazis came to power and paid football was moved off the DFB agenda again.
From 1933, instead of the Reichsliga, the Nazis introduced 16 regional Gauligas. In 1938 however, the Reichsliga was once more contemplated after the freshly unified German-Austrian team, playing with high expectations at the 1938 FIFA World Cup was a complete disappointment, being knocked out in the first round. The embarrassment to Germany and its Nazi government caused the latter to approve plans for the consolidation of German football. The Reichsliga or, as an alternative, the reduction of the number of Gauligas from 16 to five was envisioned. The events of the Second World War however put a stop to all these plans and by the time the regime fell in 1945 the number of Gauligas had increased greatly in response to travel difficulties caused by the war and Nazi expansionism.
After 1945, the Oberliga's were gradually formed in Allied-occupied Germany, first in the South and Berlin, later in the West and North, too, which had suffered greater damage to its infrastructure through strategic bombing during the war and was consequently slower to rebuild. Travel between occupation zones was difficult and the new leagues followed in their boundaries the limits of the Allied zones, putting a nation-wide league out of question. In any case, such a league would not have been able to be called the Reichsliga anymore, as the German Reich had ceased to exist.
- The Bundesliga: a true success story Official Bundesliga website, accessed: 5 July 2011
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- 30 Jahre Bundesliga, p. 9
- 30 Jahre Bundesliga (German) 30th anniversary special, publisher: kicker Sportmagazin, published: 1993
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- DFB — Deutscher Fußball Bund (German Football Association)