OPINION | What the relegation of 1. FC Kaiserslautern may mean for the future of German football

As one of the role models of German club football, 1. FC Kaiserslautern have obligation to perform, to show the public that they’ve still got it. They need to show the way, otherwise we’ll all be lost in the oblivious wastelands of commercialism. But what happens when that role model, the idol of German club football, the one club being a materialisation and an incarnation of all the traditional values of German football looks to falter. What happens when the role model is dead? What happens when the angel has fallen?

Kaiserslautern is one of the biggest clubs in German club football, one of the most prominent performers and one of the biggest translations of German values into reality. They are the most supported club in Rhineland-Palatine by a land mile and even though the city consists of barely 90,000 inhabitants, they continuously fill their massively popular Fritz-Walter-Stadion, ‘Betze’. This might not seem odd to you, but to me that’s massive. In my own city, Linköping (150,000 inhabitants) we aren’t even able to fill our hockey stadium SAAB Arena which holds 8500, even though our team is one of the best in Sweden. For years, the small city of Kaiserslautern managed to fill a stadium of 45,000 on a weekly basis, which is remarkable.

Kaiserslautern must therefore be seen as the perfect German football club. It’s so devoid of any commercial influences, so genuine and precise. It’s the incarnation of German football values, the Olympic flame of tradition in a more and more commercial footballing world. While their flame has been faltering for a few years, they’re still here, still fighting their future, still in their little time bubble and even though this season might prove to be the last for various reasons, their traditional bubble is still there, spreading hope to all traditional fans in Germany and there are many and they do really need it.

However, Kaiserslautern seem to falter. Their flame might soon be out. Their fiery passion won’t be as famous when they’re plying their trade in the third division and against teams on the up, the probable relegation candidates might find themselves a place in the 3. Liga for some time.

While it’s certainly not where the great club belongs, it’s arguably where it deserves to be. After years of passionate fighting the now, trying desperately to keep both feet in the past, the reality has caught up with them. Nowadays, with the hungry likes of Hoffenheim and RB Leipzig coming through, being a traditional club is not enough. Some ambition is needed as well as some ammunition.

Kaiserslautern have got ambition, many are sure of it. It’s as ambitious as always, always craving the stars, as is any sports club. However, the ammunition has slowly run out. They’re the Sundance Kid of German football.

Now, we’re all a big fan of tradition, but you can’t help but feel that tradition is what has caused this difficult situation. The desperate need for tradition in German football as of now is a real problem in many ways. When clubs like Leipzig and Hoffenheim come through, they’re hated enough to stir things up on an institutional level. Clubs and fans now feel a desperate need for self-justification, for they do not want to end up like RB or ‘Hoffe’.

The self-justification consists of clubs basically reassuring themselves and their fans of their tradition and their long and prosperous history. There’s nothing wrong with that, but this sadly causes a Liverpool-syndrome that’s difficult to cure yourself from. You become so fixated with your own history, so dependent on it, that you completely forget about reality. You focus solely on history and forget that football is about results.

Tradition is good, but not if it takes focus away from the actual reality of the sport. It’s a case of tradition becoming a too big of a part, taking away focus and will from the competitive nature of the sport.

The feeling is that clubs truly can misbehave on a national stage and then say “Yes, but we are at least traditional,” and we’re all okay with it. Hamburg is an exceptional example. They’ve been mismanaged for years, but still we look at them with some admiration.

That clock breathes tradition, but it’s become a ghost, a phantom that follows anywhere HSV goes. It’s a brilliant, albeit sad case of tradition taking over. Another exceptional example is 1860 Munich. Misbehaving like that, but we still miss them. They were at least traditional. Couldn’t it have been Hoffenheim that got relegated multiple times in a week, even though they reached the Champions League and are genuinely good for the German side of the sport.

This is what has happened to Kaiserslautern. We say that we love their tradition, but we then wonder where it all went wrong. Kaiserslautern are the weeping angels of German football, but they’re haunted by their own role. It’s ironic in some way. It’s a hysteria regarding tradition while this is deemed to be the main reason we have to watch German football falter on the international stage.

Now, what would a relegation mean for Rote Teufel, the angels of German football? How would the world look, would the angel fall and become a demon? Would we have to flee, or would it trigger an figurative war between commercialism and traditionalism? Kaiserslautern getting relegated would both be the best and worst that could happen for the future of German football.

We might see an actual uprising among commercial teams, perhaps some changes to the 50+1 rule and perhaps even some much-needed money to save some football clubs in the second, third and fourth tier of German football. Accepting the funds needed to save these clubs could be a direct effect of the Olympic fire of tradition going out. However, if you love tradition as much as most German football fans do, it would be the beginning to the end, a feeling of the end of the world slowly commencing.

If Kaiserslautern got relegated and became a demon and the 50+1 rule was changed, would this be the end for German football as we know it? Would we wake up one morning to an alternate universe where the laws of physics are devised by a mad man? The 50+1 ruling would certainly stir things up. For some fans, it might be the end of the world, for some just another rainy morning.

Relegation for Kaiserslautern would change things. They are genuinely the angel, the incarnation of the values that German fans cherish. Germans love FCK, it’s a club that is very easy to love and extremely difficult to hate. It’s economically available for most, albeit not physically available for all (the stairs to ‘Betze’ are rather heavy), it has a long and proud history of titles and fame. It’s also the biggest club in Rhineland-Palatine which has made it even prouder. As the archangel of German football, a drop to 3. Liga would be devastating for both the club and German football.

Or would it? Maybe it’d be a blessing in disguise. Maybe it will prove to be a sign, something signalling that things aren’t quite right. Maybe it will stir things up enough and German football might once again dance in European stadiums. Who knows what the future will bring? Who can say what will happen when we start discussing the 50+1 rule. Maybe it will be the end of the world as we know it. Maybe it will be the dawn of a brave new world.

By Axel Falk.


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