Last Monday in Dresden, 2. Bundesliga side Fortuna Düsseldorf lost 2-1 to their hosts insuring that rivals SpVgg Greuther Fürth would earn promotion to the Bundesliga for the first time in team history. On Friday evening in Frankfurt, Greuther Fürth solidified their place atop the league by coming back from a 1-0 deficit. Bernd Nehrig, who has played in Fürth since 2007, converted a penalty kick in the 75th minute to ultimately earn the point Fürth needed to put them four points ahead of second place Eintracht Frankfurt, who play their 32nd league match on Monday. Whether Fürth end up the season finishing first or second in the 2. Bundesliga table, congratulations are in store for the team nicknamed the Cloverleaves. Top flight football has been a long time in coming for Greuther Fürth, as the Bavarian club have so often in the past looked likely for promotion, only to fall short of top flight football.
A Glorious History
Not that there haven’t been glorious moments in the Cloverleaves history. Greuther Fürth have their origins in the formation of a football club in 1903 from the gymnastics club Turnverein 1860 Fürth. The footballing side claimed their independence from the gymnastics club in 1906, competing under the moniker Spielvereinigung Fürth. The club’s fortunes ascended in 1911 with the hiring of Englishman William Townley as coach of the club In an era when coaching duties were often handled by a player or front-office administrator, the hiring of Townley, who had won the national title with Karlsruher the year before, elevated the club to a national powerhouse.
Spielvereinigung Fürth at that time not only had one of the highest club memberships (3,000 members) in German football but also what was considered to be among the most advanced training facilities. Townley taught his Fürth players the “Scottish” passing game and the club went on to win four Ostkeris-Liga titles between 1912 and 1917. Fürth claimed their first national title in 1914, defeating VfB Leipzig in a 154 minute contest. Townley, who had played for Blackburn Rovers and Manchester City, left Fürth to coach at Bayern Munich, but returned twice to guide the Cloverleaves in 1926-1927 and 1930-1932.
Following the end of the Great War, Fürth again made it to the national championship final in 1920, losing to arch-rival Nürnberg, another outstanding club of that era. The Cloverleaves’ success continued throughout the decade, as they made the national semifinals in 1923 and the national championship in 1926 and 1929, defeating Hertha BSC Berlin in both championship finals. The club won five South German Cups between 1918 and 1927.
In 1933, Third Reich authorities reorganized German football and Fürth found themselves competing in the Bavarian Gauliga, where they won a title in 1935 and were regular Cup competitors. Following the end of World War II, the Cloverleaves won an Oberliga Süd title in 1950 and were a first division side until the formation of the Bundesliga in 1963.
In 1974 the 2. Bundesliga was founded with Fürth as an original member. Fürth competed in 2. Bundesliga until 1983, when they slipped to lower division play. In 1996, Spielvereinigung Fürth merged with TSV Vestenbergsgreuth, a fourth division side founded in 1974, to form Greuther Fürth. The team returned to 2. Bundesliga the following season, finishing second to Nurnberg to gain promotion.
The green and white Cloverleaves of Greuther Büskens have been a very solid 2. Bundesliga club, only once finishing in the bottom half of the table (11th spot in 2009-2010) since the new century began. They have been close to promotion but had never quite had enough to make it to the top tier until this season.
Coach Mike Büskens, 44, was appointed as head coach in Fürth in late December, 2009. He lifted the club from its disappointing 2009/2010 performance to fourth in the table last season. After losing their July 15 opener to visiting Eintracht Frankfurt 3-2, Büskens’ squad reeled off six consecutive wins, allowing only two opposition goals before playing a scoreless draw in Aachen. Fürth didn’t lose for a second time until October 31 when they were upset at home by Eintracht Braunschweig 3-1. A 5-0 spanking of Union Berlin on December 16 saw Fürth head into winter break only two points behind 2. Bundesliga table-toppers Fortuna Düsseldorf. To make the holiday season for Fürth fans even more joyous, Fürth knocked out Der Club in the third round of the DFB Pokal on December 20 before over 48,000 fans in Nurnberg 1-0, protecting a 1-0 lead given by Edgar Prib for 75 minutes to advance to the DFB quarterfinals.
Fürth stumbled out of the gate following winter break, losing to Dynamo Dresden, but quickly redeemed themselves by eliminating Hoffenheim from the DFB Pokal five days later by a 1-0 score. The Cloverleaves jumped all over a surprisingly good Paderborn club, 5-1, in their next league match, then took a step backward in a scoreless draw with FC Ingolstadt before earning four consecutive wins over Bochum, Duisburg, Aachen and 1860 Munich prior to their DFB Pokal match against Bundesliga holders Borusssia Dortmund.
The March 20th encounter with Dortmund at the Trolli Arena almost ended up in glory for Fürth, as they held the high-flying club scoreless for nearly 120 minutes. Unfortunately for the Cloverleaves, they could not find the back of the net either, and just as the referee was about to blow the whistle indicating that the match was going to penalty kicks, a shot from Dortmund’s Ilkay Gundogan hit off the post and bounced off the back of substitute goalkeeper Jasmin Felzic to give Dortmund the win before the stunned Fürth faithful.
Büskens, the longtime Schalke midfielder and assistant, led his team from their DFB Pokal disappointment with a six game undefeated run to the top of the table. With 25 year-old goalkeeper Max Grün providing stability and strikers Olivier Occean and Christopher Nöthe combining for 28 league goals, Fürth pair the 2nd tier’s stingiest defense with an attack second only to that of Eintracht Frankfurt. Only defender Thomas Kleine, midfielder Milorad Pekovic and Occean are on the wrong side of 30 among players seeing significant minutes during the campaign, along with January signing Gerald Asamoah, the former German international whose scored five goals in only 483 minutes of play at Fürth.
Although Fürth will be missing midfielder Stephan Schröck, the German-Filipino who signed in March to join Hoffenheim this summer, and Büskens’ status as coach for next season is unclear at the moment, promotion to the Bundesliga has been a long-awaited and well-deserved reward for fans of the Cloverleaves. An additional bonus for not only SpVgg Greuther Fürth fans but Bundesliga fans in general will be the renewal of the historic rivalry with Nurnberg, which was so intense that riots occurred in derbies between the sister cities. According to Uli Hesse’s fabulous history of German football, “Tor,” Fürth’s Hans Sutor was forced to leave the club in 1920 because he had married a woman from Nurnberg. Now that’s a rivalry.
So three cheers for Greuther Fürth, Coach Büskens, the Fürth players and the club’s fans. It’s a been a long time coming, but Fürth have reached the promised land.
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