As Germany’s third most populous state, one would imagine that Baden-Württemberg would produce a larger number of successful football clubs over the years but aside from VfB Stuttgart not many have risen to prominence and even less have remained on the radar of most German football supporters. One of Baden-Württemberg’s forgotten teams is Waldhof Mannheim, a club over a 100 years old and with a fairly rich history before the war but lost in the postwar shuffle of league reconstruction and corporate crossover. Now languishing in the fourth tier of German football after bouncing between leagues for several decades, Mannheim are a football club trapped in Amber, trying to both live up to and remake history.
Formed in 1907, although not exclusively as a football organization, SV Waldhof Mannheim spent most of its playing time before the First World War in the second division of the Westkreis Liga (the highest tier of football in the country’s southwestern region at the time). Football in Germany back then was localized and each region and state had its own league and championship. Suffice to say, things were a little less simple than they are now. After the war, Manheim played in the Kreisliga Odenwald (Baden’s highest tier of football) and enjoyed a fair amount of success in the process. They won the league in 1920 and 1921 but failed to qualify for the South German Championship because their competitor at the time was the all-powerful Nürnberg, Germany’s most dominant football club in the 1920’s. Despite not transferring their success to the national level, they continued to perform well in their own state and region, winning the league again in 1924 and then five more times between 1928 and 1933 in what then became known as the Bezkirsliga Rhein-Saar (a combination of states in the south western region of Germany).
Then came Nazi rule and football was restructured state by state into sixteen different leagues, Mannheim participating in the Gauliga Baden. But by then they had gotten used to the reshuffling of leagues and competitions and remained successful at the state level, winning five championships between 1934 and 1942. Again though, they failed to translate their local success to the national level, coming closest in 1940 when they reached the semi finals of the national championship, again beaten out by the country’s dominant side, this time Schalke. Their fourth place finish that year was the peak of their still young career as a club.
Football was again reorganized after the Second World War. This time, it was divided into five regional leagues and would remain that way until the foundation of the Bundesliga in 1963. Mannheim participated in the Oberliga Süd (covering the three states of Bavaria, Baden-Württemberg and Hessen). They finished runners up in 1947 but with stronger competition, Mannheim failed to replicate their local success and earned mid-table results for much of their stay in the league. They were even outperformed by another Mannheim based club, VfR Mannheim, along with ten other clubs in the league’s 18 year existence. Eventually Mannheim’s poor performances saw them relegated into the second tier of the Oberliga Süd in 1954 and spent their remaining years bouncing up and down between the two flights.
So when a nationwide league was finally created in 1963, Waldhof Mannheim were not there to take part. That unification applied only to the first division though, the second tier remaining regionalized. SVW, as they were referred to in short, therefore spent the next two decades in the Regionalliga Süd (Southern Regional league, later renamed 2. Bundesliga Süd) trying to get to the country’s top tier but to no avail. Consistency was a big problem for the club, never being able to follow up when they did have a good season. They finished 3rd in 1966 only to place 11th the following year and were even relegated to the third tier in 1970 where they spent two years before climbing back up.
Those turbulent years also came with some new ideas in the form of a corporate sponsorship, which was a controversial compromise for the club to make. In 1972 German snack maker Chio invested 190,000 DM and as a result the club even changed its name to SV Chio Waldhof 07 but that only lasted until 1978. It was a sign of the times. Football was changing and the business side of things became more and more prominent. What happened on the pitch was no longer enough to sustain a club and Waldhof Mannheim either had to move with the times or get swept up in the tide. Fortunately for them they managed to stay in the second division for the next decade. They languished in mid-table but finally found some consistency which would ultimately be rewarded with promotion to the Bundesliga.
Mannheim in the Bundesliga
When the second division was finally unified in 1981 it put SVW in prime position. Their time had finally come. They had finished 6th the previous season, their best finish in nearly two decades and had a respectable showing in the 2. Bundesliga’s inaugural year, again finishing in 6th but in a more competitive league featuring strong clubs from the north like Schalke and Hertha Berlin. The 1982/83 season was when everything came together for SVW. Players like Fritz Walter, Paul Linz and Hans Hein all hit the top form as SVW powered their way through the league, scoring an impressive 83 goals in 38 matches and playing several games in which they outscored their opponents by a sizable margins like their 8-0 win over Lütringhausen. So after eleven consecutive season in the second division, Mannheim finally made the leap to Germany’s highest tier in 1983 and actually managed to stay there for the remainder of the decade, which to this day remains the club’s best spell.
SVW started their first Bundesliga season well with a 2-0 win against Werder Bremen at home but plateaued for the rest of the season and with too many draws under their belt (11, the second most in the league that year), they finished in 11th. It was a respectable showing which most Waldhof supporters expected and for the most part celebrated. And there was plenty to be happy about. 9 of Klaus Schlappner’s 20 players were from the youth team and in their first season they averaged more fans than their rivals Kaiserslatuern. And things would get even better.
Their second season would be their best ever as a Bundesliga club. Against all odds, SVW finished 6th and missed out on a UEFA Cup spot by just goal difference. Schlappner built a solid team unit that mixed experience with youthful exuberance. In goal he had the strong Uwe Zimmermann, Günter Sebert was the rock and leader in defense, Alfred Schön pulled the strings in midfield and up top was one of the league’s most dangerous goal scorers, Fritz Walter. With those players SVW had one of the strongest spines in the league. Added to that were burgeoning young talents like Jürgen Kohler, Maurizio Gaudino and later Christian Wörns, all of which eventually went on to play for the German National Team. That year, SVW went on a 13 match unbeaten run and even beat eventual champions Bayern in Munich.
The next season proved almost as successful. SVW only finished 8th but they made it to the DFB Pokal semi finals where they went out the eventual winners Bayern Munich. In a way they defied their own inconsistent legacy and were finally doing well at a national level. Alas, no great rise is without a tragic fall and SVW would soon feel the travails of a Bundesliga club. With sudden expectations Mannheim began to falter. The next three season were difficult ones for the club. Kohler, Walter and Gaudino inevitably departed from the club to bigger clubs while influential players like Sebert and Karl-Heinz Bührer were entering the twilight of their careers. SVW kept scoring goals but were conceding in buckets. Then the departure of their key players was starting to take a toll on the team and in 1989 their adventure in the top flight finally came to an end. Former player Günter Sebert started brightly as new SVW coach in that final season. They recorded impressive wins against Bayern Munich and a big 4-0 win against rivals Kaiserslautern but long term injuries to key players led to a 17 match winless streak and their inevitable relegation.
Where are they now?
Following their relegation Mannheim spent another seven years in the 2. Bundesliga. They nearly made it back into the top flight in 1992 and 1993 but just barely missed out. In that time period they also moved into their new stadium, the Carl-Benz Stadion, which they hoped would secure a return to the first division and help out their financial situation. Instead, continuing backroom problems and constant coaching changes only worsened their situation and in 1997 they were relegated to the third tier. They returned to the second division in 1999 under coach Uwe Rapolder and in 2001 they nearly returned to the top flight but missed out on the last day. Rapolder was eventually released after a bad start the following season and continuing financial problems made it difficult to maintain stability and in 2003 they were again relegated to the third division.
Because of their financial problems they failed ensure license for the third league and had to play in the fourth tier (Oberliga Baden-Würtenberg) where they played until 2010. In that time they brought in several experienced players to help them back up but to no avail. In 2007 they celebrated their 100th anniversary under rather unfortunate circumstances. Things only grew worse and in 2010 the DFB refused to grant them a license for the fourth tier under growing financial distress and were subsequently made to play in the fifth division. Some hope returned in the 2010/11 season though as SVW finished first and secured a return to the fourth division. On the last matchday of the season some 18,000 supporters packed the Carl-Benz Stadion, which remains an attendance record in an Oberliga match. Hard times fell on Mannheim but their supporters have very much stuck with them.
Notable Players and Managers
Mannheim have not produced an array of star players in their history, only 6 German internationals in fact. But the ones they have produced have been extremely important in the context of German football. The two most prominent of which are Germany National Team coach Sepp Herberger and defender Jürgen Kohler. The latter went on to win the World Cup with Germany in 1990 and had a great club career with Dortmund and Juventus. The former, Herberger, remains perhaps the most influential manager in German football history and is the godfather of Germany’s footballing success. He was responsible for putting together the great side that beat Hungary against all odds in the 1954 World Cup and thus paved the way for football to grow in postwar Germany.
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