Monday, October 14, 2013

It is hard to tell was football in the North better, but attendance was higher and the battle for promotion was much more competitive. So was the fierce race for avoiding relegation. There was no club like pathetic FK Pirmasens with 6 points, yet, there was clear outsider: ETB Schwarz-Weiss (Essen) ended last with 19 points. Thirteen points behind the 19th team, that is. Ten clubs fought for survival – 3 points divided the 10th from the 19th placed. Tennis Borussia, just relegated from the Bundesliga, finished 10th with 36 points, but better goal difference than another not only recent member of Bundesliga, but also participant in the UEFA Cup – Wuppertaler SV. Smaller fry followed, VfL Osnabruck clinching the last safe spot - 16th – thanks to better goal difference. SC Herford also had 33 points, but finished bellow Osnabruck – and was relegated. The newcomers from the regional leagues 1.FC Bocholt and OSC Bremerhaven took 18th and 19th places also with equal points, 32. So much for the unlucky bottom – SC Herford, 1.FC Bocholt, OSC Bremerhaven, and ETB Schwarz-Weiss were relegated. Five clubs lived without any concerns – far away from danger, but also without bigger aims. Hannover 96, FC Bayer 05 Uerdingen, and SV Bayer 04 Leverkusen were the more interesting names in this group – Hannover, because the club should have been contender. The Aspirins – mostly because their later fame; so far the clubs had no big ambitions. And above this group four clubs tried to win promotion: the first and the forth finished divided by 3 points. SC Fortuna (Koln) ended 4th with 48 points. SC Preussen (Munster) finished 3rd with 49 and a point above them was Rot-Weiss (Essen), freshly relegated from the Bundesliga. The race was won by DSC Arminia (Bielefeld) also by a point. Arminia had the best defense in the league, but Rot-Weiss the best attack.

Arminia went down in 1971-72, largely due to the great bribing scandal – they were stripped from their all points as a punishment for attempting bribery, but this did not really change anything, for they were last anyway. Since then Arminia was not able to master any strength , quite contrary to their name – the club is named after ancient local chief, Arminius, who defeated Roman legions many centuries ago. Military spirit possessed them at last in 1977-78 and they won the league.

Yet, it was not very promising victory – without strong players, Arminia did not look like a team surviving in the Bundesliga. The signs were clear that the club was joining the ranks of the 'unsettled clubs' existing in almost every country – too strong for second division and too weak for the first, eternally moving up and down. Arminia is doing exactly that up to now, but 1977-78 was good year for them. They may have been even a bit lucky, but nevertheless winners.

There was still one promotional spot left and the second placed of each second division contested it in a two-legged play-off. Rot-Weiss (Essen) against 1. FC Nurnberg. To a point, these two appeared better suited for top flight football than the directly promoted winners – they had more interesting players and also Bundesliga was familiar league.

Rot-Weiss was relegated in 1976-77 and obviously itching to return to first league football. Like Nurnberg, Rot-Weiss had their glory days back in the 1950s, but was steadily fading after that. Yet, they had some potential – the Hungarian defector Jozsef Horvath was a flop, but two other players were much brighter. Both were strikers, none was known yet. Frank Mill, born 1958, was very young talent already playing since 1976. He was still too young for anything big, but years later he was a member of the 1990 German World Cup winning team. The other was slowly getting attention – Horst Hrubesch, already 26 years old and playing for Rot-Weiss since 1975. He was the team captain and more – Hrubesch scored 41 goals in 1977-78 – exactly half of the Rot-Weiss total. This was the record number of goals scored by a player in the Second Bundesliga so far – with time, it became all-time record. It was never bettered and judging by the numbers in the last 15 years, it is unlikely it will be ever beaten.

The first match was played in Nurnberg in front of 42 000-strong crowd. Thanks to 79th minute goal by Hans Walitza, the hosts clinched victory. A week later, June 9, Nurnberg went to Essen hoping to preserve tiny lead. 32 500 spectators attended this time, but both matches were attended by unseemly for second division teams numbers – well, the stakes were high. Once again Nurnberg was the better team – Slobodan Petrovic opened the result in the 29th minute. Rot-Weiss equalized in the beginning of the second half, thanks to Peter Ehmke, in the 49th minute. Ten minutes later Hans Walitza scored again for Nurnberg. In the very next minute, 59th, Hrubesch finally scored – from a penalty. The match ended 2-2 and Nurnberg won promotion.

Nurnberg and Rot-Weiss coming out, led by their captains Slobodan Petrovic (Nurnberg, dark kit) and Horst Hrubesch on the left (Rot-Weiss, in white).

Amusing photo – Hrubesch and Petrovic shaking hands before the match starts. How strange... this is the world-famous Hrubesch, trying to win promotion against a team captained by fairly obscure Yugoslavian. And the obscure Yugoslavian wins at the end...

Hans Walitza puts pressure on Rot-Weiss. He scored two goals in the play-off. Which perhaps was the whole difference between winning and losing: Nurnberg stars scored, but Hrubesch did not. Most likely Hurnberg's defense was able to neutralize him, but after scoring 41 goals during the season he failed in the most important matches – a single goal from a penalty and a mere equalizer. Not good enough – Nurnberg's stars delivered when mattered most.

No wonder they were the happy winners – Petrovic, Walitza and Nurnberg's President delirious after the play-off.

1. FC Nurnberg won promotion and returned to the Bundesliga. By names, may be they were the best club among the promoted – Hans Walitza was not a big star, but he was quite a famous player with clearly top-divison qualities. The imports – Slobodan Petrovic and Miodrag Zivaljevic – were not famous, but still vastly experienced and reliable. Norbert Eder was up and coming promising youngster. Manfred Muller was also reliable goalkeeper, classy enough for first, not second, division football. As a whole, Nurnberg had more strong players than any other second division team and perhaps had the best chance of surviving in the grueling Bundesliga. Of course, it was a dream fulfilled – the club returning to their rightful place after a few years of exile.

Spirits were high in Nurnberg, the city celebrated their heroes Walitza and Petrovic. Victory was not the right time for contemplation, but... Nurnberg was not to rise again to the glory of the 1950s. The team was not much compared to the best in the Bundesliga. Survival was to be the prime and only concern. But Nurnberg went up – Rot-Weiss and Horst Hrubesch remained in the second division. And may be the decline was over... poor Nurnberg suffered greatly: from champions in 1968 to relegation in 1969. Revival was beginning... at least the fans hoped that to be the case.