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Adidas-Puma feud to play out at World Cup

Written by: Staff

FRANKFURT, June 5: Argentina versus Ivory Coast will not be a must-see World Cup game for most Germans but in the small town of Herzogenaurach a decades-old feud will be played out on the pitch when they meet on Saturday in Hamburg.

Argentina are sponsored by Adidas while Ivory Coast are backed by Puma and the town is home to both global sportswear makers -- bitter rivals founded by two brothers who fell out almost 60 years ago and never made up.

Located deep in the Bavarian province and without a train station or motorway exit, Herzogenaurach, population 24,000, is know as the 'town of downward glances', where the shoes you wear are a statement of which side you belong to.

For decades, life in the town has been defined by the two sportswear brands, making some places no go areas for people with the ''wrong'' shoes.

''There were always the ones who supported Adidas and others favouring Puma,'' said Hans Lang, mayor of the town.

An Adidas employee put it more brutally: ''You would be fired immediately if you showed up in Puma shoes''.

So strict is the line that locals claim even marriages between Adidas and Puma families were rare until the 1970s.

Until the 1980s, children usually chose to join the firm where their father already worked, separating the city into Adidas and Puma families who visited their own pubs or played for their clubs.

Lothar Matthaeus, Germany's 1990 World Cup-winning captain, started his career at the town's ''Puma'' club, FC Herzogenaurach, because his father was a janitor at Puma's headquarters.

He even remained loyal to the company when he got his first professional contract at Borussia Moenchengladbach, one of Puma's advertising partners.

Adolf and Rudolf Dassler, who died in the 1970s, started making sporting shoes in their mothers's laundry room in the 1920s.

Their ''Gebrueder Dassler Schuhfabrik'', founded in 1924, supplied athletes at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin but was closed after the brothers fell out in 1948.

They founded their own firms -- Adi setting up Adidas while Rudolf founded Puma -- and their headquarters are still separated by just a few km. Before Adidas moved to a former barracks on the outskirts, Puma was only a stone's throw away across the river Aurach in the town centre.

No conclusive reason has been found to solve the mystery of the row between the brothers although theories involving wives or politics have been expounded in several books.

The most recent publication, 'Three Stripes versus Puma' by Barbara Smit, suggests tensions were exacerbated by the Second World War, highlighted by an incident when Adolf and his wife climbed into a bomb shelter that Rudolf and his family were already in during an Allied air attack in 1943.

''The dirty bastards are back again,'' Adolf said, apparently referring to the planes, but Rudolf thought he meant him and his family.

The two companies have quite different cultures.

Adidas, trying to cultivate its image as market leader for soccer gear, sponsors former world champions such as Argentina, Germany and France.

Puma, which has made inroads into the world of sports lifestyle fashion and aims to come across as a cooler brand, sponsors five African nations.

Puma, with its leaping cat logo, has 12 World Cup teams under contract and has replaced its larger foe Adidas as the top sponsor at the second-biggest sporting event after the Olympics, which kicks off on June 9 in Berlin.

Only six teams at the month-long tournament will play in Adidas's three-stripes kit because many of its advertising partners, like European champions Greece, failed to qualify.

Competition in the global sporting goods industry is fierce and every match won and lost during the event could affect sales of replica jerseys.

In Herzogenaurach tensions will be running especially high, although they have eased in recent years.

Adidas chief executive Herbert Hainer has even congratulated his Puma counterpart Johen Zeitz for his company's recent success with sports lifestyle fashion.

Remarkably, in a move unthinkable even a decade ago, Adidas has even hired a grandchild of Puma founder Rudolf Dassler as its top legal adviser.

''This stirred some excitement in town but it was also a sign that things have relaxed in daily life,'' said 65-year-old mayor Lang, who has always lived in the town. ''People have mixed up.''


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