There are certain things that you hang on to for the rest of your life, simply because of the sentimental value to these possessions which signify who you were at a particular period during your life. My first Panini sticker album was one of those items, I think to myself while sitting in the bar right next to the Lohmühle looking straight at VfB Lübeck memorabilia signed by André Golke. ‘He was amongst the guys who had been glued into my album back in 1994 when he was playing for Nürnberg’, I think to myself, before a question by my mate, who has come along for the ride to the Regionalliga Nord game between VfB Lübeck and VfB Oldenburg, snaps me out of my mind’s journey back to my childhood.
“Oh yes, Lück Pils is a local beer,” I tell Terry, who had inquired about the lovely pilsner we are drinking. The original brewery had gone bust in 1988, but since 2011 a little company from the Schleswig-Holstein region has taken it upon itself to revive the old beer by purchasing the rights to the name and hiring the former brewmaster of the old company. Maybe it’s a sign of the good old times coming back? The town of Lübeck presents itself in glorious fashion if one takes a stroll through the old city centre, as there is a bit of Hanseatic swagger and might to it. However, today’s city has struggled with unemployment (currently 8% of the city’s population are without a job, Germany as a whole has an unemployment rate of 6.7%) and economically speaking, this isn’t a hub for the creation of massive amounts of wealth.
Fittingly the team have gone into receivership twice in the not too distant past, the last time around during the 2012/13 season, Lübeck were pretty much playing for nothing much at all during their Regionalliga Nord campaign, because their financial troubles would see the team getting relegated to the Schleswig-Holstein Liga anyways. Back then the newly appointed coach Denny Skwierczynski told 11 Freunde that all the team were playing for was pride and to please their fanbase enough to stay with them a division below the Regionalliga. After only one season in the fifth tier VfB are back in the fourth tier, trying to establish themselves at this level once again. Ahead of the match against Oldenburg coach Skwierczynski had found clear words about the club’s future prospects when he was questioned about the past, telling 4-Liga.com:
Of course, we are proud of the periods of time with a glorious sporting past, especially those four years in the Bundesliga 2. However, we don’t get anything for free for it these days, and in light of that we sometimes do have trouble explaining our current situation to some of the football fans in our city. But, considering it all, we are on a good way after having fallen on some difficult times.
Who could really blame those fans for wanting the old days to return, I thought to myself, whilst embarking on another bottle of lovely Lück Pils. The first season in the Bundesliga 2 included 3-0 wins over Mainz and Bochum, and a 3-1 victory against Waldhof Mannheim. The aforementioned André Golke and defender Thomas Möller were bossing the team, and at the end of the campaign the team finished in a decent 13th position, just behind VfL Wolfsburg, but ahead of Hannover 96 who were relegated from the Bundesliga 2 this season. The next season ended in chaos and relegation; however, VfB Lübeck fought their way back into the second tier in 2002. Under the young and enigmatic coach Dieter Hecking, yes Mr. Eyebrows himself, and with strikers Jens Scharping, Dennis Kruppke and Daniel Bärwolf a formidable trio in attack, the team once again managed to gather 44 points (like in the first ever season in Bundesliga 2), ending up in 11th spot. The VfB even defeated the newly relegated FC St. Pauli by the incredible scoreline of 6-0 in front of their fans at the Lohmühle on match day three of that season. Back then the ground was sold out and 17,869 were watching the match. In the 2003/04 the team were once again playing some fine football, but unfortunately their great form in the DFB Pokal which saw the club reaching the semi-finals, impacted the team’s league form in the end and Lübeck were once again relegated.
“Shall we make our way to the ground”, Terry inquires, once again getting me away from the flashbacks of the club’s past and into the future and to more pressing issues. And it’s tonight’s match that is important after all. The form of VfB Lübeck has been a bit topsy-turvy at the start of the season, though three losses and two wins from the first five matches are certainly a somewhat decent start for a newly promoted side. The atmosphere around the ground seems to be easy-going, despite the somewhat troubled start into this season. The fanshop under the main stand has a decent amount of visitors when we pop in to purchase some lower league merchandise. After we got out of the tiny and somewhat claustrophobic place we can’t believe our luck, “less than 100€ for all of it”, I exclaim (clearly still being used to the prices I had to pay for the merchandise at the fanshop in Bremen on the same day).
Our good luck continues, as we find out that two tickets to the standing terrace and two match day programs cost a grand total of 13€. “I hope the match is crap”, Terry jokes, “otherwise I’d feel like I have robbed the club”. The chit-chat on the way to the gate is about the team’s poor performance against Eintracht Norderstedt. “He really looked poor”, somebody exclaims loudly about the keeper’s (Jonas Toboll) performance in the 3-0 loss.”It’s gonna be tense today, we really need a win to avoid getting into the relegation dogfight,” his mate replies.
The Lohmühle shows itself to be a lovely, open ground from the inside with a set of great floodlights. Furthermore, the football romantic in me revels at the sight of the manual scoring board operated by hand. We just about have enough time to get another round of Lück and then the game kicks off. Lübeck’s opponents Oldenburg are currently further down the table, so both these teams desperately need a win and it shows! The first half of the match turns out to be a tense midfield battle as Lübeck creates a of couple of good chances, with Stefan Richter hitting the crossbar after 36 minutes. Most notable about these 45 minutes, however, is the fan protest by the Lübeck ultras, who keep quiet for the first ten minutes of the match to show their dismay against stadium bans.
However, we are getting our money’s worth in the second half. Oldenburg have decided to make this a game, and suddenly their counter attacking football seems to start working. In the 70th minute the team musters up its best attack, a crisp and free-flowing move down the left flank, and in the end former Eintracht Braunschweig and Hallescher FC striker Pierre Merkel puts it into the back of the net from a short distance.
Both the fans and the team show an immediate response to going 1-0 behind though. Three minutes after Merkel’s goal Lübeck captain Moritz Marheineke falls to the ground in the box after a duel with the French midfielder Mohamed Aidara. The fans around us were pretty certain that this had to be a penalty, however, it looked rather questionable from afar. The ref seemed to share the fans opinion and pointed to the spot, and Stefan Richter sends the ball straight into the back of the net.
After the goal Lübeck are once again in charge of the match, but it takes them 14 minutes to create a chance worth mentioning. What a chance it is though. After Oldenburg had failed to clear their lines the ball fell to right back Lukas Knechtel who hammered the ball home with a thumping strike. Relief – the final whistle catapulted VfB into a save position in the middle of the pack – and match that certainly didn’t lack drama towards the end.
Roughly 1600 fans had made it to the Lohmühle on that night, but “how many would come to a match in the 3. Liga”, I think to myself while the team were making their round to high five everyone who had made their way down close enough to the pitch to be in touching distance of the team. Atmosphere, oh yes, there is a great vibe going around the stadium when the team are creating attacks, trying to accomplish what coach Skwierczynski tells them to do during the week and before the match.
“We want to enthuse our fans by playing attacking football”, the coach had told 4-liga.com ahead of the game. It’s probably one of the most used and clichéd phrases in the world of football, but it certainly was true at times during the match against Oldenburg. If one has been to a match in fourth tier of German football, it doesn’t strike one as strange that Sport1 has picked up the rights to this division. For the first time in German football history the Regionalliga has an official broadcaster. Things are looking up for the league, and for Lübeck’s sake things seem to be going into the right direction, based on this match. Skwierczynski might not like it, but somehow it is hard to imagine that the VfB are going to stay in the fourth division for too long.
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