An Old-School Klassiker: The Greuther Fürth-Nürnberg Frankenderby

Bayern versus Dortmund. Bayern versus 1860. HSV v Werder. Dortmund versus Schalke. Some more recent, some more traditional, but classic encounters all the same. However there is a Klassiker that is arguably more steeped in history and tradition than any of these.

FC Bayern München against Borussia Dortmund is a recent “classic encounter”, with the label only being applied in the last decade after Dortmund’s two successive Bundesliga titles in 2011 and 2012 and with it their claim to challenge Bayern for the mantle of the greatest team in Germany. The Munich derby is also steeped in tradition, but at the very top-level this only really started in the late 1950s with FC Bayern’s ascendance – and with the corresponding decline of TSV 1860, it hasn’t really amount to much since in competitive terms.

Meanwhile, the first meaningful meeting between Hamburger SV and Werder Bremen in what is now dubbed the Nordderby took place in the mid-1920s but again only really took off when both sides challenged for the Meisterschale in the 1980s, while what is perhaps the most famous German football rivalry, the Revierderby between Dortmund and Schalke 04 also began in the 1920s – though for many years Dortmund were a good distance behind a Schalke team that broke all records in the 1930s.

nurnbergEven more established than any of these rivalries, however, is one that can be found today in the 2. Bundesliga. A rivalry that has seen the most matches played between any two German teams, a record that stretches back to the first fixture 1922. The Franconian Derby – or Frankenderby – between SpVgg Greuther Fürth and 1. FC Nürnberg.

Then known as SpVgg Fürth, the team known as Die Kleeblätter (“The Cloverleaves”) had won their first German league title in 1914 under English coach William Townley, and by the late 1920s were one of the best teams in Germany. Nuremberg were not far behind, winning their first championship in 1920. An extra edge to the rivalry followed in 1922, when citizens of the city of Fürth voted against a merger with their larger and somewhat shinier neighbour.

While today we look at Munich or the Ruhrpott as Germany’s footballing heart, in the 1920s there was no argument that all of the quality was located in Franconia. Between them, SpVgg and the team popularly known as Der Club – simply, “The Club” – were the two most successful German teams of the 1920s, winning seven of the ten championships in that decade.

Today both teams – with SpVgg now known as SpVgg Greuther Fürth after their merger with TSV Vestenbergsgreuth in the 1990s – can be found in the second tier. After years spent yoyoing between the 1. and 2. Bundesliga, 1.FCN appear to have found their place as a mid-table 2. Bundesliga club, and after their brief and unsuccessful single season in the top flight and a heartbreaking promotion/relegation playoff defeat against HSV in 2014, Die Kleeblätter have also found their niche.

Neither side had started off fantastically well in this season’s campaign, and before kickoff Nürnberg were sitting in tenth place with seven points from their five games – with Fürth back in thirteenth spot, two points behind. Things were set up perfectly for the early afternoon meeting at Fürth’s compact stadium Am Laubenweg in the second week of September 2015 – the 259th Frankenderby.

After a quiet opening few minutes, it was the visitors who opened the scoring. With just seven minutes on the clock, Austrian Guido Burgstaller’s shot took a slight deflection – leaving Fürth ‘keeper Sebastian Mielitz with no chance as the ball looped over him. With the visitors looking to defend their advantage, the capacity crowd of 17,200 looked to rouse the hosts. Slovenian winger Goran Šukalo shot wide, and Norwegian striker Veton Berisha had an effort turned around the post by 1. FCN ‘keeper Thorsten Kirschbaum.

The visitors had one decent spell that saw former Kleeblatt Niklas Füllkrug hit the side netting, but as half-time approached it was the men in green who were looking the more dangerous of the two combatants. Tom Weilandt forced Kirschbaum into a good save and Andreas Hofmann shot over the target from fifteen yards, but the scoreboard remained the same. For all of their dominance, it looked as though Stefan Ruthenbeck’s side would go into the break a goal down.

Then it came. Five minutes before half-time, Albanian international Jurgen Gjasula’s free-kick was nodded on by centre-back Benedikt Röcker, and the sharp Berisha did the rest with a diving header from close range. Nobody in the ground could deny that the equaliser was well deserved.

The home side picked up where they had left off at the start of the second half, and they continued to create chances. Berisha had another shot turned onto the post by Kirschbaum and went close again not long afterwards, and it was a matter of when rather than if Fürth would take the lead. Two minutes short of the hour mark, the home crowd roared with delight as the home side broke out of defence. Gjasula found Weilandt, whose right-footed effort found its mark.

Up to that point Nürnberg had offered next to nothing in the way of a threat, but managed to find a second wind after falling behind. Kevin Möhwald fizzed a free-kick just over the bar as Der Club looked to claw themselves back into the contest, and Mielitz did brilliantly to keep out a free-kick from former Germany Under-20 international Danny Blum.

There was an inevitability about Nürnberg’s equaliser, which came with just five minutes left. With Mielitz left completely helpless, Austrian youngster Alessandro Schöpf’s left-footed shot cannoned off the inside of the post. Having been outplayed for most of the game, it looked as though the visitors had done enough to secure a point – but rather than sit back they decided to go for all three.

Game-winner Freis
Game-winner Freis

Deep into injury time and with the ball inside the Fürth half, the nerves must have been jangling for the home crowd. Then, Burgstaller was well challenged by Röcker, who found substitute Domi Kumbela. The Congolese international played a lovely long ball for fellow sub Sebastian Freis, who charged forward into the opposition box before beating Kirschbaum from the tightest of angles to put Die Kleeblätter in front for the third time.

There was no time for Nürnberg to mount a third comeback, and the final whistle blew to signal the end of a pulsating match, a classic topsy-turvy encounter that more than lived up its historic pre-match billing. The result saw the Cloverleaves climb up above their rivals into eighth place, with their rivals dropping back down into thirteenth.

Here’s to match number 260 next year!

SpVgg Greuther Fürth 3:2 (0:1) 1. FC Nürnberg
Berisha 39., Weilandt 58., Freis 90.+2. / Burgstaller 7., Schöpf 85.

Fürth: Mielitz – Schröck, Caligiuri, Röcker, Gießelmann – Hofmann, Šukalo – Stiepermann (73. Freis), Gjasula (91. Zulj), Weilandt (78. Kumbela) – Berisha

Nürnberg: Kirschbaum – Brecko, Hovland, Margreitter, Sepsi (65. Blum) – Polak (77. Behrens), Möhwald – Kerk (54. Leibold), Schöpf, Burgstaller – Füllkrug

Yellow Cards: Mielitz, Gießelmann, Šukalo / Brecko, Sepsi, Möhwald
Referee: Felix Zwayer (Berlin)
Attendance: 17,200

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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.