Going Fürth where no team has gone before

For the first time in their history, Bavarian side SpVgg Greuther Fürth are finally in the top flight. But while Die Kleeblätter – “the cloverleaves” – are making their first appearance in the 1. Bundesliga, the football team from city of Fürth is no stranger to national success.

While the current incarnation of the club was only founded in 1996, the history of football in the city located just seven kilomotres from the centre of nearby Nürnberg is a rich one. Founded back in 1903 as a breakaway of the gymnastics club Turnverein 1860 Fürth, SpVgg would quickly become one of the largest clubs in Germany – forging what would be one of the first great rivalries with 1. FC Nürnberg.

Less than eleven years after their foundation Fürth would win their first national title, achieved under English coach William “Billy” Townley – a man who had become famous more than two decades earlier when he became the first man to score a hat-trick in the FA Cup Final for Blackburn Rovers against Sheffield Wednesday, then called The Wednesday.

The rivalry – better known as the Frankenderby or Franconian Derby – between Die Kleeblätter and Nürnberg was a fierce one, and arguably as big as that between FC Bayern and 1860 München or the great Ruhrgebeit derby between FC Schalke 04 and Borussia Dortmund. While Der Club were the dominant side for much of the 1920s and 1930s, their neighbours were not too far behind, claiming further national titles in 1926 and 1929.

The two clubs were so significant in German football that they also dominated the national side as well; much has been said about the great Bayern/Borussia Mönchengladbach Nationalmannschaft of the 1970s or the burgeoning FC Bayern/Borussia Dortmund bloc today, but the first and only time the German national side would be completely composed of players from two sides was in April 1924 – when a team consisting of players from both Fürth (six) and Nürnberg (five) lined up against the Netherlands in Amsterdam. The winning goal would be scored by Fürth’s Karl Auer.

The 1930s would see a reorganisation of the German leagues, and SpVgg Fürth slowly slipped out of the top flight. For much of the postwar era they would be languishing in the lower tiers of the Bavarian regional league, sinking as low as the Landesliga Bayern-Mitte in the late 1980s – until a merger with nearby Regionalliga-Süd rivals TSV Vestenbergsgreuth in 1996 kickstarted a dramatic change in fortune for the club.

TSV Vestenbergsgrueth would of course be known to many for other more dramatic footballing reasons. The year before the merger, the amateur club had pulled off one of biggest shocks in German football when they beat FC Bayern 1-0 in the first round of the DFB-Pokal; by the time of the merger and the creation of SpVgg Greuther Fürth, everybody had heard of the team from the little town located north-west of Nürnberg.

Taking its place in the Regionalliga-Süd, the newly-formed club would in what was a staggering coincidence be joined by 1. FCN – who had been relegated from the 2. Bundesliga the previous season. In what was a stunning 1996/97 season for both Bavarian clubs, Der Club bounced straight back into the 2. Bundesliga, with Fürth joining them after a fantastic second-place finish that saw them beaten only four times in their thirty-four games. The two Frankenderby matches had seen home wins for each side, with Fürth winning their home fixture 3-1 and 1. FCN by the single goal.

The 1997/98 season would see Der Club follow their Regionalliga-Süd championship followed by promotion to the top flight, with Greuther finishing in a creditable ninth place. The two matches had seen both sides claim 1-0 wins away from home, but over the course of the season Nürnberg would be good enough to secure third place and with a return to the 1. Bundesliga. The rivalry would resume periodically as 1. FCN struggled to secure a permanent place in the top flight; between 1999/2000 and 2009/09 1. FCN would spend four seasons in the 2. Bundesliga, with matches between the two rivals always being close: in the eight league matches played during this period both sides would win one game each, the other six all ending up in draws.

After a number of near misses, the 2011/12 season would finally see the city of Fürth have a team back in the top flight, as Die Kleeblätter romped to the second division title to claim a place in the modern 1. Bundesliga for the first time. The reward for Mike Büskens’ side would be immediate: an opening home fixture against FC Bayern at the Trolli Arena – the 18,500-seater ground first known as the Sportplatz am Ronhofer Weg gegenüber dem Zentral-Friedhof – literally, “Sports ground on Ronhof Lane opposite the central cemetery” – before being known as the Playmobil-Stadion, probably one of the funniest stadium names in German if not European football.

Over the coming weeks I will be covering Greuther Fürth’s 1. Bundesliga campaign in my own Kleeblätter-Kurier, from team news and match reports through through any interesting anecdotes and stories. Watch this space.

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London-based but with his heart firmly in Fröttmaning, Rick Joshua's love of German football goes back more than thirty years and has witnessed everything from the pain of Spain '82 and the glory of Italia '90 to the sheer desolation of Euro 2000. This has all been encapsulated in the encyclopaedic Schwarz und Weiß website and blog, which at some three hundred or so pages is still not complete. Should you wish to disturb him, you can get in touch with Rick on Twitter @fussballchef. This carries a double meaning, as he can prepare a mean Obazda too.

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