Fear and loathing in Hamburg

Back in August 1994 FC Bayern München would travel up the road to Nürnberg, where they would take on minnows TSV Vestenbergsgreuth in the opening round of the DFB-Pokal. On that historic day – one of horror for all Bayern fans – the then fifth division side – a collection of part-timers – would pull off one of the biggest shocks in the history of German football. I won’t need to tell the story again – you can read it here.

On that curious evening, after rubbing my eyes at the shock, I would be somehow tied to TSV Vestenbergsgreuth. Indeed, if Stockholm Syndrome could be applied to football teams, this would be it. I would from that point on take more than just a passing interest in the little team from Franconia, and when they merged with nearby rivals SpVgg Fürth to form SpVgg Greuther Fürth in 1996, the men in green and white hoops and with a badge that looked a little bit like Panathinaikos would effectively become my “second” team.

Given Fürth’s long-running rivalry with neighbours and FC Bayern’s arch-foes 1. FC Nürnberg, it would be the perfect match.

The team known as Die Kleeblätter (the “Cloverleaves”) would reach the heights of the 1. Bundesliga in 2012, but after a catastrophic debut season where they would fail register a single win at home they would find themselves back in the 2. Bundesliga. After such a massive collapse nobody would have given Frank Kramer’s men a hope of an immediate return to the top flight, but for much of the season they would occupy at least one of the top two spots. With the final straight approaching, they would look set for am immediate return – and a doubly sweet moment with 1. FCN heading the other way.

HSV sind Absteiger!

The quest for automatic promotion would go badly awry with the end in sight, however. A 2-0 defeat at home to – of all teams – TSV 1860 München would allow unfashionable SC Paderborn 07 to slip past Fürth into second place behind champions 1. FC Köln, and despite a fleetingly hopeful few minutes on the final day of the season Kramer’s side would be left in third spot – the promotion/relegation play-off position.

They would already know their opponents: the once great Hamburger SV, a team that just thirty years earlier had been European champions.

For me as a follower of German football and Greuther Fürth, this would be the perfect match-up. My second team, the unheralded Kleeblätter, against a team that for me will always be FC Bayern’s “original” big rival. Yes, they would be succeeded by the likes of Werder Bremen, Bayer Leverkusen, Schalke 04 and currently Borussia Dortmund, but HSV would always be the great rival I would grow to both fear and loathe.

While the loathing still remains to this day, there is far less of the fear.

HSV would have some great players: Felix Magath, Manny Kaltz, Horst Hrubesch… And some you just loved to hate, like their big-headed, motormouthed goalkeeper Uli Stein. Back in 1982 when they would win the Bundesliga title, they would even have the former Bayern great Franz Beckenbauer in their squad. Not only had they stolen Bayern’s Meisterschale, they would have the temerity to steal Der Kaiser too.

In recent years HSV have become a shadow of their former selves. Trophyless since their DFB-Pokal victory in 1987 (unless one chooses to count the Liga-Pokal win in 2003), the team once graced by such greats as Uwe Seeler and Kevin Keegan have spent the best of the last three decades chasing distant dreams. One of the richest clubs in Germany, their recent record has been one of abject failure, a record made even worse by the success of northern rivals Werder Bremen – a team that has always managed to punch well above its weight.

Hamburg’s 9-2 defeat at home to FC Bayern in 2013 would be a nadir for a proud club that remains the only one never to have been out of the top division, but this week that could very well change. Should Greuther Fürth manage to finish on top after the two play-off meetings, the little Bavarian side would give themselves another shot at top-flight football, and comdemn HSV to an unknown life in the 2. Bundesliga.

For me, a Fürth victory will be the perfect finish to the domestic season. A league and cup double for FC Bayern, Fürth back in the the 1. Bundesliga, and both 1. FCN and HSV taking the drop. I suppose there is one consolation for all you Hamburg fans out there – you will at least get to feel the excitement and unique buzz of the city derby against FC St. Pauli…

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