Seeler followed in his father's footsteps as a player for Hamburger SV, making his first team debut in 1954 in a DFB-Pokal match, aged just under 18, scoring four goals (8–2 vs. Holstein Kiel). In later years, despite tempting offers from Italian and Spanish clubs, he remained loyal to Hamburg, working on a second career as a merchant besides playing football.
Seeler was a gifted, powerful, and prolific striker who, among other things, was most of all renowned for his leadership, consistency, overhead kicks, and aerial ability. He scored 137 times in 239 Bundesliga games, 43 times in 72 international games for the German national team, and 21 times in 29 European club tournament games. He was captain of both his club team and the national team for many years. He and his club won the German championship in 1960 and the DFB-Pokal in 1963. He was top scorer of the first Bundesliga season in 1963–64 and German Footballer of the Year in 1960, 1964 and 1970. During the 1960–61 season, Seeler, alongside his brother Dieter, helped to lead Hamburger SV to the semi-finals of the European Cup, where they narrowly missed out on the final against Benfica, losing out to Barcelona in a play-off match. During the 1967–68 season, Seeler also helped Hamburg to reach the final of the European Cup Winners' Cup, finishing the competition as top scorer, only to lose out to AC Milan.
In 1978, he and his former teammate Franz-Josef Hönig played for Cork Celtic F.C. in a one-off sponsored event. Seeler had ended his active playing career in 1972. However, this match turned out to be an official League of Ireland one and Uwe scored twice. Thus, his overall record of goals scored in league and championship matches adds up to 446 (HSV 444, Cork Celtic 2). His 404 goals in German Oberliga and Bundesliga league games is a record that stands as today, his 406 goals in league games overall making him the second-best German goalscorer behind Gerd Müller.
Seeler participated in the same four FIFA World Cups as Pelé did: 1958, 1962, 1966, and 1970. Of those West German World Cup teams, only the 1966 side reached the final, where they controversially lost to host nation England 4–2 in extra time. In 1958, the German team finished the tournament in fourth place, and in 1970, the German team finished in third place after being eliminated by European rivals Italy in the semi-finals, following a closely fought 4–3 extra-time loss; the match is colloquially known as the "Game of the Century".
Although Seeler never won a World Cup (his involvement as a player in the tournament started four years after West Germany won their first World Cup (1954) and ended four years before they won their second (1974)), he had a prolific career in the tournament; he was the first player ever to appear in 20 World Cup matches (he retired with 21 matches played, tied for third all-time); the first ever to score in four World Cups (beating Pelé by only a few minutes), and the first player to score at least two goals in each of four World Cups (matched in 2014 by his compatriot Miroslav Klose). He also ranks third in all-time minutes played in World Cups, with 1980, behind Paolo Maldini and Lothar Matthäus. In total, he scored 9 goals across the four World Cups in which he played, as well as 3 goals in World Cup Qualifying matches; he scored 43 times in 72 international appearances between 1954 and 1970.
He had a two-and-a-half-year tenure as president of Hamburger SV, which began in 1995, and ended in resignation due to a financial scandal, for which he took responsibility. Seeler, however, was not himself implicated in the irregularities.
Seeler was a tremendously popular player due to his fairness and modesty and is still widely called Uns Uwe (West Low German: Our Uwe) in Hamburg and the surrounding area. The DFB (German FA) made him the second honorary captain of the German national team in 1972 (the first being Fritz Walter). In 2003, he became honorary citizen of his hometown Hamburg, the first time the honor was bestowed on a sportsman. That year he also published his memoirs Danke, Fußball (Thank you, football), released as an English version in 2009. 2005 saw the unveiling of a giant monument in front of the HSV stadium depicting his right foot.
Seeler has appeared in a cameo role in the popular 1972 Heinz Erhardt comedy Willi wird das Kind schon schaukeln ("Willi will get it right somehow"), playing himself. In this film, a manager called Jungborn (Erhardt) is managing a football club. In the end, his club makes a spectacular signing: Seeler himself. Everybody in the club is jubilant, but Jungborn is puzzled and asks "who the devil is that guy?".
Seeler has been immortalized in a famous picture, voted as Photo of the Century by the German kicker football sport magazine. It shows him seemingly devastated by the 1966 World Cup Finals loss, walking off the pitch hunched over.
However, there is controversy concerning the exact date the picture was taken. According to one source, the photo was taken after the final whistle, because the band played "God Save the Queen" to greet Queen Elizabeth, who was going to give the trophy to the English squad; thus Seeler was really heartbroken. Other sources claim that in fact it was the halftime band sent on the pitch for entertainment. Either way, this picture of Seeler ranks among the most famous in German football history.
*Before the Bundesliga, the national champion was determined in a series of knock-out games after the domestic league endedHamburger SV
German football championship: 1959–60
FIFA World Cup: 1966 (Runners-up), 1970 (Third-Place)
Ballon d'Or – Third place: 1960
Footballer of the Year in Germany: 1960, 1964, 1970
FIFA XI (Reserve): 1963
Bundesliga Top Scorer: 1964
FIFA World Cup All-Star Team: 1966
Becker, Robert: Uwe Seeler und seine goldenen Tore. Copress, München 1991, ISBN 3-7679-0363-6
Seeler, Uwe: Danke, Fußball! – Mein Leben. Rowohlt-Verlag, Reinbek 2003, ISBN 978-3-498-06375-7 (auch als Hörbuch auf 1 CD, Hörbuch Hamburg, Hamburg 2003, ISBN 3-89903-133-4)