Sixty years on, sportswear's bitterest rivals make peace

GERMAN sportswear giants Adidas and Puma buried the hatchet for 90 minutes yesterday, playing a friendly football game to symbolise the end of more than six decades of business rivalry.

The game in Herzogenaurach, Bavaria, was not about the score, but the fact that it was played at all between mixed teams of employees of these two titans of the sporting goods' world was remarkable.

The companies were founded in the town by two brothers. When they fell out during the Second World War, so did everyone who lived and worked for them. Puma people did not date Adidas people, let alone marry them.

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Residents became known as "Bent Necks" – because they always looked down at someone's feet to see which trainers they wore before deciding whether to speak to them.

Children formed Puma or Adidas gangs. A Puma employee dared not break the social apartheid and drink in an Adidas pub for fear of insults or a beating. Suspicion and rivalry, well-nourished hatreds and prejudices were manufactured in tandem with the shoes, shirts and miscellaneous sporting goods of the rival companies.

It started when shoe-firm owners Adolf and Rudolf Dassler – both Nazi party members – began their feud in the war, after successfully running the Dassler Brothers' shoe firm for years.

"We will probably never know the real reason why Adi and Rudi fell out," said Ernst Dittrich, the head of Herzogenaurach's town archive.

"It was like a marriage that goes terribly, terribly sour."

Elderly residents claim the brothers split because Adi slept with Rudi's wife, that their wives loathed each other, that Rudi fathered Adi's son and that Rudi – the less successful of the pair – had his hands in the till.

Then there was the comment Adi made, apparently directed at the Allied bombers flying overhead in 1943.

"There come those pig dogs again!" raved Adi as his brother clambered down the steps. From that moment, Rudi was certain Adi had been talking about him, not the RAF.

In 1948, after long years of bitterness in a prisoner of war camp, Rudi decided to break with Adolf and set up a rival sporting shoe business he called Puma. Adolf settled for Adidas – Adi being short for Adolf, and das for Dassler.

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Since then, rivalry has been too small a word to describe the animosity between the two firms as they squandered huge amounts of money in court fights.

In 1958 Puma took out an injunction to prevent Adi marketing Adidas stock as "the best sports shoes in the world". Every year since there has been a legal squabble of some sort.

But that's history now – it is alleged. Employees of both companies shook hands and then stepped out to play a football game yesterday in support of the Peace One Day organisation which has chosen 21 September as an annual non-violence day.

The two teams, "Black" and "White" contained players from both companies – and the score was an honourable 7-5.

But despite the final score and friendly handshakes, those who know the townspeople say it will take more than one game of football to end one of Europe's more unusual feuds.