Holstein Kiel: The last dark horse in the race to win the DFB Pokal

Fourth tier side Holstein Kiel have raised many eyebrows by defeating 2. Bundesliga sides Energie Cottbus and MSV Duisburg in the first two rounds of the DFB pokal. In tonight’s match the team from the handball mad city Kiel are taking on Bundesliga cellar dwellers Mainz.

Kiel isn’t what you’d consider a football mad city. Germany’s northern most part of the country is handball territory through and through. THW Kiel and SG Flensburg Handewitt both came from Schleswig-Holstein, and they do get most of the attention of the locals. THW Kiel have won the German handball championship 16 times, and their giant 10.250 indoors handball temple, called Sparkassen Arena, is almost always sold out. Holstein Kiel play second fiddle to the team that is considered to be amongst Europe’s finest handball sides. These days Holstein manages to attract around 3.000 people when they play at home. However, there was a time when Holstein Kiel were a lot more prominently featured in German football.

The main stand of the Holstein Stadion in 1912, the year Holstein Kiel won the German championship.

Kiel’s golden age

And even if Kiel is considered to be a bit of a nobody in the current landscape of German football, the team boasts a surprising amount of pedigree if one takes a look at the history books. Kiel was amongst the best teams in the country from the beginning of last century until the early 30’s. Kiel’s biggest success came in 1912, when the team managed to win the German championship for the first and only time, just two years after finishing second in the German championship. Back then the team was called FV Holstein Kiel, but in 1917 the team merged with the smaller club KFV von 1900, becoming KSV Holstein, but commonly known as Holstein Kiel. The new team chose to play their home matches in the Holstein-Stadion, which was built in 1911.

Kieler player Schmidt arrives just moments before Hamburg’s Posipal. This historic match between the two sides ended 3-3.

Back in their heyday Holstein managed to attract an even bigger audience than THW Kiel. The record attendance in the Holstein Stadion came in 1951, when the HSV visited Kiel. Hamburg had then become the all dominant Northern-German team, and the Holstein Stadion was packed with 30.000 spectators. Even though Hamburg were strong favorites for the match, Kiel managed to snatch a 3-3 draw after the HSV had taken a 3-1 lead.

The team continued to do well for some time and came in second in 1930. However, things started to deteriorate for “The Storcks” in the second part of the 20th century.

Fighting in the lower tiers

The team continued to play at the highest level until the Bundesliga was founded, and Kiel was placed in the second tier, back then called Regionalliga Nord. The team stayed in the second tier until 1974, once actually getting close to promotion to the Bundesliga, but a loss to Borussia Mönchengladbach in the 1965 promotion play offs saw Kiel stay in the second tier. In 1974, the 2. Bundesliga was formed, and the teams from the different Regionalligas were fighting for a place in the newly formed second tier. Kiel only managed to finish in 19th, meaning they wouldn’t be part of the 2. Bundesliga (back then the 2. Bundesliga was divided into two divisions, one for the south of the country and one for the north). However, “The Storks” quickly returned to the second tier and came close to promotion twice, but they failed to do so in the 1977 and 1978 play offs.

The team was once more relegated when the 2. Bundesliga was turned into a nationwide league. From 1981 until 1994 the team played in the third tier of German football, the Oberliga. In 1994 the DFB reformed the third tier system of German football, and the newly founded Regionalliga was divided into three sectors. Holstein Kiel managed to stay in that league, because of the team’s 7th place finish in the 94 season. Holstein have played in the third tier of German football for most of the time since then, only dropping to the fourth tier 4 times. Holstein managed to get into the 3. Liga one year after the three Regionalligas were turned into one nation wide league, however the first and only 3. Liga season ended poorly for Holstein, and the team was relegated to the 4th tier in 2010.

Most German football fans remember Andreas Köpke for his incredible saves for the German national team. Very few know that he got his start at Holstein Kiel.

Contributions to German football along the way

Not a single coach coming from Schleswig-Holstein has managed to win the Bundesliga title. One explanation for that is the popularity of handball in that part of Germany of course. However, there have been a few notable figures in German football coming from the North. Holstein Kiel have actually fostered a number of very notable German footballers.

Some of the stars from the club’s early history at beginning of the 20th century are only known names for hard-core Holstein fans and incredibly nerdy German football fans. Danish international Sophus Nielsen played for the team for in 1911, so did 9 times German international Ernst Möller. In recent history some of the footballers making their way through Holstein’s youth system made it big. Most notably Andreas Köpke, who was Holstein third choice keeper in the 79/80 season, before he became the club’s second choice goalkeeper in 80/81. Köpke played a total of 6 2. Bundesliga matches for the club. After his time in Kiel, Köpke went on to become one of the best keepers at an international level, and won the Euros as Germany’s first choice goalkeeper in 1996.

Players like Torben Hoffmann and Fransico Copado came also through Holstein’s youth system and turned out to be very decent Bundesliga and 2.  Bundesliga players. Sidney Sam is also a Holstein Kiel product who moved to the Hamburg youth team in 2004. St. Pauli player Fin Bartels played a total of 50 times for the first team, scoring 5 goals.

The cup seems to be Mainz’s last chance to make a big splash on the German football scene this season, considering Thomas Tuchel side’s average display in the Bundesliga.

The upcoming match.

Kiel have already pulled two upsets against Energie Cottbus and MSV Duisburg. Now the team face a Bundesliga team for the first time since August 30th 2003. Back then Kiel lost to Bayer Leverkusen 1-3 in front of 9.415 spectators. Mainz have recently been in decent form, only loosing 2 of their last 8 matches in the Bundesliga. The cup is Mainz’s chance to aim for some glory this season, given the team’s poor position in the Bundesliga table. Mainz are favorites to win this match for sure, the decreptency in quality between Germany’s first and fourth tier is massive.

All Holstein Kiel have going for them on paper is their home ground advantage. However, Kiel have pulled off a few upsets in the recent past, Hertha Berlin fans don’t remember their team’s trip to Kiel to fondly. Back in 2002 ”The Old Lady” lost 3-0 in a penalty shoot out against Holstein, after the score had been tied 1-1 after 120 minutes. Holstein Kiel are the last underdog in the cup, so they’ll have plenty of support from the stands and many people all around Germany will be rooting for them to pull off this upset.

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Niklas Wildhagen

Niklas is a 33-year-old football writer and podcaster who has been following the Bundesliga and German football since the early 90s. You can follow him on Twitter, @normusings, and listen to his opinions on @TalkingFussball.

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  1. DFB Pokal Wednesday: Holstein Kiel Upset Mainz; Gladbach, Stuttgart and Hertha Berlin Advance | Bundesliga Fanatic

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