Mon 24 Apr, 2006 12:30 am
Full report in the Independent
IHT: Adidas versus Puma: Origins of a rivalry between brothers
](English) homepage town of Herzogenaurach[/b]
Puma vs Adidas: Return of the battle of the boots
The World Cup will see the rekindling of a feud between two of the world's leading sportswear brands. Brothers Rudi and Adi Dassler, the founders of Puma and Adidas, fell out six decades ago. Their home town still bears the scars today
By Ruth Elkins
Published: 24 April 2006
"What, exactly, are you looking for?" asks the nervy middle-aged woman at Herzogenaurach's tourist information office. She is really very nervy. Probably because she knows that what most who come to this north Bavarian town are looking for is a fight. But not any old fight.
There is only one feud in Herzogenaurach worthy of mention and it's between Adidas and Puma. Founded in the town by two warring brothers, the international sportswear giants have been based here since the 1940s, and their age-old rivalry is legendary.
And, with less than two months to go until the World Cup in Germany, the battle is unparalleled in its intensity. To kit out the winning World Cup team is the ultimate prize for any sports manufacturer. Companies spend billions each year sponsoring the top stars and the most popular teams at football tournaments all over the world in an attempt to raise their brand's profile.
Some believe the firm that wins the sponsorship battle on home turf will be crowned the outright winner in Herzogenaurach's decade-long sports shoe war. Others say, whatever happens, it will just make the one-upmanship worse. Adidas is kitting out six teams. Puma, long regarded as the underdog in the fraternal war, is quietly claiming that it has already won, since it has 12 teams on side.
"Some of the stories you hear are just mind-blowing," says Filip Trulsson, marketing manager of team sports at Puma. The Swedish-born 33-year-old has a Scandinavian sanguinity about him, and a detachment from local politics that has probably prevented him from going mad during the eight years he has spent working in this conservative countryside town. "Puma people not marrying Adidas people, Adidas and Puma gangs in the schools, pubs loyal to one firm refusing to serve workers from the other, it's all gone on here," he said, shaking his head. "But there are a lot more international people here nowadays. I think the locals take it all far more seriously than the foreigners do."
Herzogenaurach has been described as "the town of bent necks," as no local would start a conversation with another without first looking down to check which firm's shoes they were wearing. The town managed to spawn two local rival football teams with pitches not more than 100 metres from each other - RSV is sponsored by Adidas, FC Herzogenaurach by Puma.
Then Mr Trulsson remembers something else. "Wait until you see the graves," he says. "Man, those brothers must have really hated each other." On the edge of town, in Herzogenaurach's small sunny cemetery, the graves of Adolf and Rudolf Dassler could not be further apart from one another. Even in death, it seems, they couldn't bear to be together.
Born into a family of cobblers, Adolf and Rudolf Dassler were not always at odds. In the 1920s, Adi and Rudi, as they were more commonly known, worked happily side by side at the Gebrüder Dassler Schuhfabrik (Dassler Brothers Shoe Factory).
Adolf developed some studs, business boomed under the Nazis and by the 1936 Olympics Jesse Owens was running in Dassler spikes. But by the fall of the Third Reich the fraternal relationship was in tatters. "We will probably never know the real reason why Adi and Rudi fell out," sighs Ernst Dittrich, the head of Herzogenaurach's town archive. "It was like a marriage that goes terribly, terribly sour."
Elderly residents in this 13th century town still gossip that the brothers split because Adi slept with Rudi's wife, that the two wives hated each other, that Rudi fathered Adi's son and that Rudi - the less successful entrepreneur of the pair - had his hands in the petty-cash box.
The most likely snapping point came from a thoughtless comment made one night in 1943 as the two brothers and their wives slept in the family air raid shelter. "There come those pig dogs again!" raved Adi as his brother clambered down the steps. From that moment, no one could convince Rudi that Adi had been talking about the RAF bombers, not about him.
Rudi's bitterness increased as he was shipped off to an American prisoner of war camp and Adi carried on running the family business without him. In 1948 Rudi returned and set up his own factory on the other side of the river, now Puma, taking loyal staff with him.
Plan to read this in the morning. Adidas saved my feet once...