”Der Club”: Between championships and relegations

1. FC Nürnberg played their 1000th match in the Bundesliga on Saturday. The Franconians are only the 13th team in the league’s history to reach this benchmark. Let’s dive into the crazy roller-coaster that is Nürnberg’s history.

Saturday’s match between Nürnberg and Hertha Berlin was by no means a classic. A relegation dog fight, decided by a sleepy Hertha defense gave the home team a vital win, but the game itself lacked the big highlights. And even though memorable moments were few and far between, ”Der Club” entering the pitch was certainly a highlight in itself. 1. FC Nürnberg are only the 13th team to have played 1000 or more matches in the Bundesliga as mentioned above.

During those 1000 matches, or 90.000 minutes of football in Germany’s highest tier, Nürnberg won the title once, got relegated a total of 7 times, the team scored 1307 goals, but conceded 1588 goals in the process. Out of those 1000 matches, Nürnberg won 319 times, drew 251 and lost 430.

Statistics will only get you so far in realizing how big of an achievement 1000 matches in the Bundesliga are. Only after diving into the club’s history can one truly see how important a team like Nürnberg have been to German football.

Early glory days

Founded as a rugby team in 1900, Nürnberg chose to play by the rules of the English football association from 1901 due to a lack of players (30 players were required to form a rugby team). The first match against arch rival Bayern Munich was played on November 6th, 1901, and Nürnberg suffered a terrible 6-0 defeat.

Fritz Servas coming from Berlin to Nürnberg lifted the club to new heights.

However, the new arrival Fritz Servas, who had moved from Berlin to Bavaria, managed to teach the team that passing and controlling the ball were more important parts of the game than simply kicking the ball. Under his leadership ”Der Club” started to install a regular training regime that soon yielded results. The team won the newly founded District league of Northern Bavaria (Berzirksliga Nordbayern) five times in a row between the 05/06 season until the 09/10.

Nürnberg player Hans Pelzner, who played his first game for ”Der Club” just before the First World War, and who after his career stayed with the club in several important functions, said in 1922 that Servas was very important for the development of the football culture at Nürnberg:

”As long as the Nürnberg boys could play football, they displayed something unique. They started off with a bunch of different characters. 21 years ago the prophet arrived, Servas from Viktoria Berlin. He taught Nürnberg how the ball should be treated, the ability to play with your feet, and he formed a tight unit of a team that worked together.”

In 1922, when Pelzner uttered those words, Nürnberg had already become German champions twice. First in the 1919/20 season and then in the 1920/21 season. The best period in the club’s history were the 20s. The team won the German championship a total of 5 times in that decade, and were the dominant team, not only in the South of Germany, but the entire country.

Nürnberg taking on Fürth in the championship final in 1920.

The players who made the Nürnberg side of the 20s special were goalkeeper legend Heiner Stuhlfauth, undoubtedly the best keeper in Germany at the time, the left winger Péter Szabó, centre forward Alfréd Schaffer, Hans Kalb and Lutipold Popp, just to name a few. The Hungarian Szabó and Schaffer were recruited by ”Der Club” after a friendly against MTK Budapest in 1918. After the friendly had been played, both players decided to stay in Nürnberg.

At times half of the national team consisted of Nürnberg players in the 20s. Walther Bensemann, founder of kicker, moved his magazine to Nürnberg partly because of the culture surrounding Germany’s most successful football team at the time.

The front page of the magazine "Fussball Woche" after Nürnberg had lost the championship final against FC Schalke 04 in 1934.

The 30s saw Nürnberg remaining the best team in Southern Germany, but the team’s dominance on the national level was over. The team won the Tschammer cup, named after the man who was put in charge of sports in the Third Reich, twice and the German championship once. On the national level the 30s were, however, dominated by Schalke 04.

After the second world war German football was divided into 5 regional leagues which would see the best teams from the divisions square off for the German championship in a knock out round at the end. Nürnberg was part of the Oberliga Süd. The team was successful in the new league system, and managed to collect the most points of all teams during the league’s existence. Nürnberg won two more championships, 47/48 and 60/61, before the Bundesliga was founded. The team won also the DFB pokal in 1962.

First Bundesliga championship and relegation

Renowned for their high football standards, Nürnberg entered the newly formed Bundesliga with high hopes in the 63/64 season. Being amongst one of the founding members, the club wanted to prove itself amongst the German elite from the get go. However, things didn’t work out well in the start. After a 5-0 defeat against Kaiserslautern, coach Herbert Widmayer had to leave the club, despite having coached the team to a DFB pokal win and the title win in ’61. Even German World Champion, and honorary captain Max Morlock thought that the firing of the coach was unjust:

”After three years of success, you don’t send away a man.”

However, after some frantic transfer activities in the following years, the team still didn’t manage to get close to winning the German championship. Some of the transfers, namely Franz Brungs, Zvezdan Cebinac and August Starek, paid off in the end, and the team won its first championship in 67/68.

Coach Max Merkel celebrates the championship with Franz Brungs on the left hand side and Georg Volkert on the right hand side. Many of the players who were vital in the securing the championship for "Der Club" in 1968 were let go. Brungs was amongst the players who left the club.

Coach Max Merkel wanted his team to be competitive in the following season, especially since the team was going to play in Europe. Not fewer than 10 players had to leave the club, and were replaced by others. In the championship winning season only 15 players had been on the pitch, and breaking up this team unity had catastrophic consequences for ”Der Club”: The team was relegated finishing 17th only one year after winning the championship. This is the first and only time in German football history that a reigning championship has been relegated.

Years in the cold and turning into an elevator team

After the relegation Nürnberg played 9 years in Germany’s second tier before the team managed to get promoted to the Bundesliga once again in 1978. The got relegated once more in the following season, but this time it only took ”Der Club” one year to come up again into the Bundesliga. Another relegation followed in the 83/84 season, which was followed by a promotion.

The years between the 84/85 and 88/89 represented a nice change for the team. Finally the players and coach were allowed to work in a calm enviroment. This yielded results in the 87/88 season, when the team qualified for the UEFA cup. However, the peace and quiet didn’t last for too long and the team was soon again entangled in the relegation battle. The team was relegated from the Bundesliga for the fourth time in the 93/94 season.

Since then the club has been relegated three more times. The team was promoted for the last time in the 08/09 season. Dieter Hecking came in and rescued the team from relegation in 2009. The team has been on a rollercoaster ride ever since its first championship in the 67/68 season.

Nürnberg's bumpy ride between the divisions is summed up in this graph.

Future outlook

However, it has to be said that the days of crazy over confidence are over. Dieter Hecking and the board at the club seem to have a very realistic outlook on things. Before this season Hecking was upfront about the team facing a tough fight in the relegation battle. This new-found realistic approach to the daily business of running the club should give the fans some confidence that brighter days might be ahead in the not too distant future. But, for now staying in the Bundesliga is the most important order of business.

By the way, the next team to reach the 1000 matches played in the Bundesliga benchmark are Nürnberg’s opponents from this Saturday. Hertha have currently played 996 games in the Bundesliga, and the team will play its 1000th match on February 18th, at home in the Olympiastadion against reigning German champions Borussia Dortmund. Maybe The Old Lady’s 1000th match in the Bundesliga might include a little bit more excitement than Nürnberg’s anniversary match.

Here are the top 24 throughout Bundesliga history.

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Niklas Wildhagen

Niklas is a 32-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.

5 Comments

  1. Very nice piece! Thanks! The Hanover v. Nurnberg game just ended with FCN losing by 1 goal. Sadly, FCN just looked like they couldn’t find anyone to put that round thing in the back of the net. Actually, the game was not very good at all. Too much aimless kicking.

  2. Yes, in fact, working on something as we speak that we hope to bring you soon on East German football!

  3. Wow, thanks.

    Haven’t published a book, and I’ll probably never will publish one. However, I can promise you that we’ll keep those historic articles coming, since many of our writers really love the history of the Bundesliga and German football!

  4. Excellent piece! I love these historic articles.
    please keep on publishing them.

    Seriously when can we expect your first book? Or is there one already?

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