Forgotten Teams: Tasmania Berlin

As Arminia Bielefeld played out their tenth consecutive league defeat in the 1999/2000 season, their fans, in a rare flash of Germanic irony, struck up a particularly damning chant: “Tasmania Bielefeld”, they bellowed at their hapless team. For the players, it was a painful reminder of the significance which the defeat bore. With their catastrophic run, the Bielefeld class of 2000, which would be relegated a few months later, had done the unthinkable. They had equalled one of the infamous records set by SC Tasmania 1900 Berlin.

Since that fateful season in 1965/66, Tasmania Berlin have become the Bundesliga’s byword for dreadful football. Over the course of one, thoroughly embarrassing season in the newly formed German top flight, Tasmania set record after regrettable record; most goals conceded, fewest goals scored, most defeats, most consecutive defeats (an accolade now shared with Bielefeld) – the list is endless. The club never returned to the Bundesliga, and would, less than a decade after their unfortunate year in the limelight, be reformed under a new name after financial meltdown. Their legend, however, lives on, as one of the most unsuccessful top flight teams ever to be seen in European football an decades.

A Political Anomaly

To understand the bizarre story of Tasmania Berlin, we must first take a look at the history of football in Berlin in the mid 20th century. With the Bundesliga’s inaugural season arriving barely two years after the construction of the Berlin Wall, the political significance of the former capital’s relatively mediocre football clubs took on a central – and indeed polemical – role in the allocation of places in the national league.

When Hertha BSC were granted one of the coveted sixteen places in the first ever Bundesliga table, it certainly wasn’t a reward for their recent form – Tasmania had dominated the Berlin Oberliga in the preceding years – and nor was it a tribute to the national success of Berlin football; the city hadn’t produced a German Champion since 1931. It was political niceties alone which allowed Hertha their place in the sun.

After a mere two seasons, however, their political karma caught up with them. Even the Cold War could not save Hertha when the discovery illegal wage payments which exceeded the salary cap saw them thrown out of the league. The fact that the practice was commonplace in the Bundesliga was, perhaps, an injustice to Hertha, but they at least recovered. The club that took their place would, in the course of the season that followed, have its reputation comprehensively ripped to shreds. Step forward, Tasmania Berlin.

Farce and Disaster

SC Tasmania 1900 Berlin were founded on the 2nd June 1900 as Rixdorfer TuFC Tasmania1900 , after the district of Berlin which they represented. In the following decades, they would undergo several name changes, as the Berlin district of Rixdorf changed its name to Neukoelln, and the club followed suit, before eventually settling on SC Tasmania 1900 Berlin in the post war era. Though name changes were hardly a rarity among German clubs in this era, the constant alterations were a fine precedent for the chaos which would see Tasmania rise to – and fall very quickly from – prominence in 1965.

At the time of their entry into the Bundesliga, Tasmania were neither one of the top sixteen teams in the country, nor indeed the strongest outfit that West Berlin had to offer. Hertha’s enforced relegation had caused havoc with regard to the politics of Berlin’s participation in the Bundesliga. The next best team from the city, Tennis Borussia Berlin, had narrowly missed out on promotion through the play offs, and the side just behind them, Spandauer SV,  decided, somewhat fatefully, against accepting such a circumstantial promotion. Tasmania, who were the next in line in terms of the table, were given their chance. It was a farcical promotion, facilitated by a farcical relegation, which would lead, in turn, to a farcical season.

The club’s unprecedented promotion allowed them to pull off three transfer coups. Alongside Horst Szymaniak and Herbert Finken, former Hertha keeper Heinz Rohloff arrived in Neukoelln. “After about seven or eight games, it was clear we weren’t going to avoid relegation”, Rohloff would later say.

In the course of the season, Tasmania broke more unwanted records than they won games. A grand total of 2 victories and 28 defeats, a final goal difference of -93, and, under the old system of two points for a win, a meagre 8  points. As mentioned above, they still hold the record for consecutive home losses, longest winless streak, along with suffering the heaviest defeat in Bundesliga history (9-0 away to Meidericher SV). Their one achievement which has since been eclipsed was the record set for the longest amount of time without scoring a single goal; even Tasmania’s phenomenal 831 minutes does not compare to the 1034 minute record held by 1. FC Koeln.

One of the slightly less striking accolades is held by the team’s so called star, Wolf Ingo Usbeck. Usbeck, whose season tally of four goals made him the most feared player in Tasmania’s formidable line up, was nicknamed “Ringo”, after another, rather more famous misfit, whose name bore tenuous similarities. While Ringo Starr was breaking boundaries with Sergeant Pepper, however, Usbeck was burning his name into the history books as one of the worst supplied strikers in football history. Not that his talent was particularly wasted at Tasmania; he would move to 1. FC Nuernberg the following year, where he failed to score in nine appearances.

As for the goalkeeper, the aforementioned Heinz Rohloff shared his duties – and indeed, his pain –  with Klaus Basikow, who presided over the defeat to Meiderich. Rohloff, however, had the painful task of picking the ball out of the net after Tasmania had conceded their hundredth goal on the 30th April. The unfortunate goalkeeper later admitted that Tasmania’s cause was not helped by their own resignation: “We became highly unprofessional, and began to think “let’s just have a drink, that’ll make the whole thing a bit easier to bear. Before training, we’d have a couple of glasses of port, which Szymaniak had brought from Italy, and then after training we’d do the same.”

Rohloff can hardly be blamed for turning to drink. Many of the club’s supporters, who had gone into the season with such high hopes, may well have done something similar. Most of them, however, simply gave up following their team: from having beaten Karslruhe in front of 81,000 fans on the first day of the season, Tasmania played their final game of 1965/66 in front of a mere 1500 loyal masochists.

A New Beginning

Tasmania’s colossal inferiority in the Bundesliga was not completely explicable by the fact that they weren’t the best Berlin team around. While clearly not up to the standard Germany’s national league, their form in the Berliner Regionalliga following their relegation in 1967 remained competitive, and  only three years after the nightmare of 66, they came close to a return to the Bundesliga, reaching the promotion play offs in three consecutive seasons.

The success, however, was short lived and expensive. The cost of maintaining the club at such a competitive level after its reputation had been so severely tarnished eventually caught up with those in charge, and in 1973, SC Tasmania 1900 Berlin went bankrupt. Though an immediate sister club was founded under the leadership of the youth and reserve teams, SV Tasmania 73 Neukoelln were nowhere near the standard of their ancestors. The club spent the next two and a half decades yo-yoing between various levels of Berlin’s regional football leagues. While the club graced the highest tier of Berlin football  – the Berlin Verbandsliga, or Berlin-Liga – in both the late nineties and as recently as 2007, they have been largely unable to build a lasting legacy.

Only the chaotic tradition of constantly changing names has endured. In 2000, the Gropiusstadt locality of Neukoelln entered into a sponsorship deal with its local club, and Tasmania became SV Tasmania 73 Gropiusstadt. From 2011, however, the club emblem has carried the name SV Tasmania Berlin, an indication, perhaps that the former club has now adopted a new cult status, and that there is history still to be rewritten.

For now though, the new generation of Berlin Tasmanians must make do with the excitement of Landesliga-Berlin Staffel 1, a branch of German football’s seventh tier. Attendances average around 100, despite the 4,500 capacity Sportpark Neukoelln, at which the club still plays its home games. It is a regrettable truth that, despite – or, indeed, as a result of –  the disastrous performances, the 1966 season remains the most notable point of Tasmania’s history. One horrendous season in the Bundesliga was enough to cement them into the imagination of every German football fan. And even if only a handful of the 81,000 who watched the victory over Karlsruhe have managed to remain loyal over fifty years later, the legacy of the club will take a long time to disappear. Whenever a team is having a disappointing year, they may take some solace from the knowledge that they are, at least, not as bad as SC Tasmania 1900 Berlin. Not even Arminia Bielefeld can make that claim.

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Kit Holden is a freelance sports writer, specialising in German football. Alongside his contributions to the Bundesliga Fanatic, he provides regular Bundesliga coverage for The Independent Online, Total Football Magazine, Talking Baws and others. He is based in Cambridge, where he allegedly does an undergraduate degree in French and German.

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