Sometimes a city might not be blessed with a good sports team. Sometimes, and this has come to be a rare sight in Germany, a city stands without a team in any professional football league. While this has become rarer and rarer, there are still quite a few cities with either a team that isn’t good enough for the stature of that city or that stands without a team altogether. GGFN writer Axel Falk will distinguish a few cities where football hasn’t evolved as far as in other, while aiming to investigate and understand what makes a football team grow and flourish.
There are numerous cities that haven’t got a good enough football team, but why is that? What is defined as a big city? There are many big cities in Germany if we compare them to cities in Sweden for example. Linköping is the fifth biggest in Sweden at 150,000 population, while it would have only been down in 40th, had it been German. Many consider a big German city to either be over 200,000, or to be a city with at least 150,000 inhabitants, but that has achieved fame in some way or another. A city that is either grand by itself or by its reputation.
Plans have been made to form a team in Heidelberg, but those plans were abandoned quite quickly after SV Sandhausen didn’t want to cooperate with Dietmar Hopp. The team that would have been formed would have been Hopp’s new hope in football as he tried to integrate and merge Hoffenheim with Sandhausen and a few smaller clubs in the vicinity to a bigger club. Heidelberg is not really one of the bigger German cities. But with 160,000 and a grand reputation, it’s a city that in many ways craves a good enough football team for itself. Sure, there are two sides in the Bundesliga’s in the near vicinity of the city and Hoffenheim has become Heidelberg’s team as many of the players live in Heidelberg. However, many in the city aren’t too fond of Hopp’s team and resort to their own side in the Kreisliga, the amateur leagues.
Sport in the area is a big thing. St. Ilgen has Sandhausen, Sinsheim has TSG Hoffenheim and the handball team Rhein Neckar Löwen is one of the best handball teams in the world. This forms a strange equation, why doesn’t the city of Heidelberg have a good enough football team? Why hasn’t it ever had a team to speak of? It’s an odd one, for sure. One would think that some students sometime would have formed a team that would’ve become the pride of the city, but it seems like the city has found its own things to be proud of. Possibly, a team doesn’t exist in Heidelberg because the interest for one isn’t big enough. Maybe, many in this academic city is about cultural enjoyment, instead of sports.
This is an obvious one in many regards. While Berlin does have two teams in the two Bundesliga’s, Hertha BSC and 1. FC Union Berlin, neither truly makes the city proud in a way that the city itself deserves. Berlin is one of the biggest cities in Europe, one of the biggest multicultural metropoles in the world. It’s a place for everyone and anyone, rich and poor, of all genders and all sexualities, all identities and all ethnicities. Berlin has in many ways become what it was during La Belle Epoque and it’s on its steady way back towards the magnificent piece of art it once was. However, the sport is sorely missing.
London has many, Madrid has two, Rome has two, even Paris has one now. Berlin has become the only capital in one of the five biggest leagues to not have a team competing at the top of the table in the domestic league. This is mainly courtesy of turbulence. Berlin has never been an easy city to field a team in, neither have the teams made it easy for themselves.
Hertha Berlin, the first of the bunch, have had their fair share of scandals during the 60s and 70s and while these were often rather harmless, they did tarnish the reputation of the club. The turbulent stature of the city during the 60s, 70s and 80s have made it hard for any real sustained professional football team to survive. We had Berliner FC Dynamo, an offspring of GDR’s Stasi, but they barely survived the fall of the wall in 1989. BFC have otherwise been the most successful club in Germany, mainly due to their close relationship with Stasi. Stasi’s Director Erich Mielke even created the team BFC Dynamo in the sixties and the team was an overnight success, winning a dozen of Oberliga titles before the fall of the wall. But due to their close relationship with Stasi, they did fall quite heavily when the wall fell. Instead, another team from the eastern parts of Berlin has emerged as an alternative to the more and more commercial Hertha Berlin.
Union Berlin is seen as one of the coolest clubs in Germany. They were founded in a divided society, by fans who needed a place to voice their anti-establishment opinions. Union Berlin has always been BFC’s main Berlin rivals and this rivalry must be a bigger Berlin rivalry than the one between Hertha and Union. As a matter of a fact, Hertha Berlin and Union have only faced off four times since Union were formed, which is quite remarkable. Not one of the meetings has been heated. They’ve been calm, while Union’s meetings with BFC Dynamo have not been in any way.
Union have never played Bundesliga football and Hertha Berlin have been like a yo-yo, bouncing up and down through the different divisions. There have been a few others. Tennis Borussia Berlin were close to reaching the Bundesliga in the 60s, but were edged out by Tasmania Berlin, now more known as the worst team ever to play in Bundesliga. Tasmania finished their maiden, and only, season on a record low 10 points and managed to concede over 100 goals, which is also a Bundesliga record. They also recorded the lowest ever attendance for a Bundesliga home game as they played against Borussia Mönchengladbach. 600 people watched that game.
Sv Babelsberg 03 is another interesting and barely successful and mention worthy club. It stems from the suburbs of Babelsberg, in the outskirts of Berlin, just a short train ride away from historic town Potsdam. The town of Babelsberg really is nothing special, it’s nothing compared to Berlin or Potsdam, but the football team has become the pride of the area. While Potsdam has a very successful women’s team, Turbine Potsdam, the city has never had a good enough men’s team. Babelsberg is the best they’ve got and they’re in the Regionalliga Nordost, together with teams like Berliner FC Dynamo and Wacker Nordhausen.
Babelsberg have recently been given time in the limelight because of their actions against anti-Semitism in football, an action that many German and foreign clubs have heavily endorsed. This is a great action that has become more and more tangibly needed in the world of football. To take a clear step away from racism is the step towards eradicating the racist and fascist fan groups of different parts of Germany. Kudos to Babelsberg, their work deserves huge amounts of credit.
Essen is one of the biggest cities in Germany and lies in the heart of the Ruhr area, one of the most heavily populated and most football crazed areas in Europe. Therefore, it’s odd to see them without a team in one of the three professional leagues. Rot-Weiss Essen, by far biggest club, can’t be seen as anything else than financially mismanaged and are now plying their trade in Regionalliga.
The mismanagement of Essen is just one example. It has happened to many in recent years. For example, VfL Aalen, Alemannia Aachen, Rot-Weiss Erfurt and 1860 Munich have all suffered horribly under bad management and some of these now find themselves either in real fiscal danger or at the bottom of the semi-professional pile of mediocre has-beens. If Rot-Weiss Essen don’t watch out, Essen might be one of a few grand cities without a team in the top four, or even five, leagues in Germany.
Furthermore, Essen has become the minnows of the area. Most of us would understand the extreme conditions of trying to compete for spectators and sponsors with the nearby teams. Fans can certainly imagine most companies and possible sponsors opting for one of Duisburg, Dortmund, Schalke, Bielefeld, Münster, Köln, Fortuna Düsseldorf, Fortuna Köln, even SC Paderborn or VfL Osnabrück instead of Rot-Weiss Essen. Their area is packed with competent football teams, teams more than capable of luring players, coaches and sponsors away from smaller clubs who want to rise through the ranks. The Ruhr area is the dream for already successful teams, but a nightmare for teams in the Regionalliga and further down. Therefore, we should not expect Rot-Weiss Essen’s current financial situation to change any time soon.
Kiel has never really had a team to speak about when it comes to football. Holstein have been in 3. Liga for quite long and have only now been promoted to the 2. Bundesliga. With Kiel being a handball crazed city, it’s not really a surprise to see Holstein Kiel further down the pecking order regarding sport in Kiel. It seems like Holstein have never really been prioritised by the population of Kiel and has hence never grown as a club. This is a case of the club not being able to really connect with the citizens, which has caused it to stagnate and fall into handball-induced oblivion.
There are quite few examples where clubs have become obsolete in their own cities, where another sport has taken over or where a new team as arrived to steel the glory. Kiel is one of those cities, where another sport just dominates. Handball is a big thing in northern Germany and football often is secondary and while we might consider this to be odd in a country like Germany, it does happen. Albeit, Kiel have earned themselves some hard-earned attention of late, they’re still not even close to being prioritised by the vast masses of Kiel sport fanatics.
The connection between a team and a city is interesting. What makes a football team a product of the city and vice versa. How do we decide what team is the city’s team? What makes a city love its team and when does a team become representative for its city? These are very interesting questions that are fairly difficult to answer and is something we hope to do in the future.
By Axel Falk.