If you are used to looking at the names of football clubs in English then the letters associated with the names of German sides can be somewhat confusing. FC (as in 1. FC Magdeburg, FC Würzburger Kickers, Chemnitzer FC and Hallescher FC) is clearly ‘football club’, and SC (Karlsruher SC and SC Paderborn) is ‘sporting club’. However, SG (as in SG Sonnenhof Großaspach) stands for ‘Sportgemeinschaft’ or ‘community sports’. The ‘V’ in many names stands for ‘Verein’ meaning ‘association’; so SV Wehen Wiesbaden and SV Meppen are ‘sports association’, FSV Zwickau is ‘football sports association’, VfL Osnabrück is ‘Verein für Leibesübungen’ meaning ‘association for physical education’ and VfR Aalen is ‘Verein für Rasenspiele’ which translates to ‘association for lawn sports’. Perhaps the strangest one in the 3.Liga is not an acronym like the others at all. SpVgg (as in SpVgg Unterhaching) is a contraction of the word ‘Spielvereinigung’ or ‘playing association’.
Consequently, SpVgg Unterhaching is not just a club for football. Indeed, even though they played in the Bundesliga for two seasons between 1999 and 2001, other sports representing the association have been even more successful. Their badge famously includes a bob sleigh, and their bobsledding team featured Christoph Langen, who competed at three Winter Olympics between 1992 and 2002, winning two gold and two bronze medals, as well as 8 golds at the World Championships. Susi Erdmann was in the women’s division, between 1993 and 1997, and achieved a silver medal, 2 World Cup titles, and a World Championship in the luge while with Unterhaching. She is one of only two people to ever win a Winter Olympics medal in both bobsleigh and luge. As well, the volleyball division of Unterhaching (TSV Unterhaching) spent six years playing in the Bundesliga for that sport.
While Unterhaching is, today, a suburb of Munich it is thought that the settlement of what is now Unterhaching is even older than that of its near neighbor. That is not true of the football club, with both TSV 1860 Munich and Bayern Munich being older than SpVgg Unterhaching, which was formed on January 1, 1925 breaking away from TSV Hachinger Valley. The ground where the volleyballclub now stands on Jahnstraße was given to them in 1929. However, in 1992 when the club was experiencing one of its most successful periods a new stadium was built, to conform to DFB standards, 1.5 kilometers further north. The Alpenbauer Sportpark (sponsorship changed the name from the original Sportpark Unterhaching back in 2013) has a capacity of just over 15 000. If you take Unterhaching as part of the city of Munich then it is, of course, the club representing the biggest city in the 3.Liga at close to 1.5 million people. However the suburb itself only has 24 000 residents, putting it closer to the bottom (above only Lotte and Großaspach) as far as catchment area from which to draw spectators.
Although formed relatively late SpVgg Unterhaching had considerable early success. Indeed, during a time at the beginning of the 1930s they went for a period of 13 months without a single defeat. During this era they rose through two leagues in quick succession. Sadly, not long after the coming of the Nazi era, their success as the club was shut down because of the ‘political unreliability’ of some members. They were given new leadership and reorganized but struggled for the next 60 years to manage any consistent level of success. That all changed in 1994 when they appointed Lorenz-Günther Köstner as coach and he took them into the Bundesliga 2. From there, a few years later, they were promoted to the Bundesliga alongside local rivals FC Bayern Munich and TSV 1860 Munich.
If you would like to know more about their time in the Bundesliga there is another article about SpVgg Unterhaching called One Hit Wonders: SpVgg Unterhaching Invades (Briefly) from the Suburbs by Travis Timmons which tells the story of their impact upon two title races, as well as lots of detail about the suburb of Munich from which they hail. After those two seasons they never quite regained that glory. Recently SpVgg Unterhaching have spent the previous two seasons in the Regionalliga Bayern after being relegated in 2014/15. They were promoted this season after defeating SV Elversberg (the champions of the Regionalliga Südwest) in the playoff; 3:0 at home, then 2:2 at Elversberg. Given that they had won the Regionalliga Bayern by 25 points with a goal difference of +72, it seemed only reasonable that they should have been promoted.
In the third league a number of teams see themselves as places which focus on player development. In this respect Unterhaching are similar, however they are also clearly involved with coaching development also. Back between 2004 and 2005 one of the youth team coaches here was Ralph Hasenhüttl. In March 2007 he became caretaker coach, then assistant coach under Werner Lorant, before becoming head coach proper in October 2007. He was eventually sacked in 2010 with a record of 40 wins, 20 draws, and 28 losses but is now the head coach at RB Leipzig. In season 2011-2012 the coach was Heiko Herrlich (13 wins, 8 draws, 19 losses) who is now the head coach at Bayer Leverkeusen. Following Herrlich was Manuel Baum (1 win, 1 draw, 6 losses) who is now the head coach at FC Augsburg. Perhaps we should be looking out for former German national team player Christian Ziege (11 wins, 9 draws, 19 losses) who managed Unterhaching during 2014-2015 before moving on to Spain but who is currently out of work.
I was fortunate in that my friends Kai and Sarah also live in the suburbs of Munich, not far from Unterhaching as the crow flies, so they were able to drop me in the centre of the suburb. However, if you are traveling from Munich city center take the S-Bahn line 3 towards Holzkirchen or Deisenhofen to the station Fasanenpark. From there a signposted, asphalted footpath leads to the stadium. The walk takes about 15 minutes. Having done the route in reverse at the end of the game before heading into the city I can testify that it is very convenient. However, if you go to the S Bahn station Unterhaching you will find yourself not far from the old stadium, where the volleyball center now stands on the edge of some fields that separate Unterhaching from Taufkirchen (the next suburb south). You will also find St Korbinian’s church that was built back in 1310 and is still in use. Not far from there I came across a group of Münster supporters gathering at a local beer garden. The staff at SpVgg Unterhaching told me that they were expecting approximately 500 visiting supporters (however I do not think that they all made it to the game) and the Münster fans were in good spirits chatting happily about their derby victory over VfL Osnabrück on the previous matchday.
SpVgg Unterhaching also had good reason to feel positive as they, like SV Meppen, have been more than holding their own since promotion. Indeed, as Matchday 12 began they were sitting happily in 5th, having won their previous 3 games, with 6 wins, 1 draw, and 4 losses. A win would see them maintain the pace with (if not narrow the gap on) the four teams above them. A loss would only see them drop as far as 6th, and that only if Hansa Rostock were able to beat fellow promoted team Carl Zeiss Jena. It was a beautiful sunny day as I walked through the housing estates to the stadium and, as seems to be the case in the 3.Liga, consequently the fan numbers were down (the final figure was 3715). Having said that, there were 75000 people at the Allianz Arena on the other side of Munich watching FC Bayern beat Freiburg 5:0 so it might just be that people wanted to see the bigger club. It is not often that the ultras for the visiting team outnumber those of the home side, but that was certainly the case today with only about 20 people chanting and bouncing up and down in the Südkurve. However, around the rest of the ground it was noticeable that there were lots and lots of groups of children and families.
When the game kicked off it was very clear that SpVgg Unterhaching were going to try to make use of the flanks. When they had the ball in attack it was not unusual to see their full backs and wingers actually standing on the sidelines and they made the best start. It was a little surprising, after having watched Preußen Münster attack from the start only two weeks ago, to see them with only one real centre forward while Rizzi and Wiebe played as defensive midfielders just in front of their backline. They were obviously concerned about Unterhaching’s speed and wanted to crowd the back to better deal with the balls coming in from wide. The first real chance came in the 8th minute when a cross into the box was spilled by Münster’s goalkeeper Körber just in front of Hain (the leading goal scorer so far this season in the 3.Liga) but he was unable to capitalize. Steinherr and Porath for Unterhaching were giving Tritz and Menig a difficult time down either side of the pitch but the final ball just wasn’t quite there. On 20 minutes Hain managed to get a good header on to a cross but Körber tipped it just over the bar.
The remainder of the first half seemed to follow the same sort of pattern. There was lots of attacking work down each side by SpVgg Unterhaching with their players doing a good job of swapping sides, overlapping and generally causing trouble for the Preußen Münster defence. On the other hand Münster seemed satisfied to disrupt the Unterhaching attacks as much as possible while trying to make quick breaks through Rinderknecht and Hoffmann, but these were few and far between. Körber made a good save with his feet in the 32nd minute from Steinherr but otherwise there were a lot of niggly fouls being given away by both sides through pushes and trips. Right at the end of the first half a corner for Unterhaching saw Hain end up prostrate on the ground and the medics were summoned with some urgency, but he recovered to finish the half as Rühle drew the first yellow card for yet another trip.
Half time continued the positive family vibe that was seen in the crowd throughout most of the ground. Announcements were made about birthdays for people of all ages and miniature footballs were tossed into the crowd, with those who caught them being brought down to the field to claim prizes from a local sponsor. It was very noticeable that when an adult caught a ball they almost always passed it to a child standing nearby. The child mascots who had accompanied the teams out at the beginning of the game were also seated near where I was in the stand and they were having group photos taken down near the edge of the field and generally having a great experience. This is clearly a different level of intensity in the crowd here compared to some of the other games I have been to this season. Perhaps that is the impact of being a suburban team rather than one representing a town or city. Maybe it is being the smaller team in a city with two larger ones. Possibly it was just my immediate comparison with the derby game two weeks earlier, certainly the ground size was pretty close to their average so far this season.
The second half began much in the manner of the first with SpVgg Unterhaching doing most of the attacking while Preußen Münster attempted to keep them at bay. Possibly the Münster fan who lit a green flare in the visiting supporters area was trying to spark a bit of life into his team. It seemed like it might have worked when Rühle went down under pressure in the Unterhaching box and there were enormous appeals for a penalty. My perspective (being seated not far away) was that it was closer to a dive but it added to Rühle’s frustration (coming alongside the yellow card at the end of the first half) and he made his feelings very clear to the linesman on the right hand side. However Unterhaching were still dominating the game and it was not a surprise when they scored in the 66th minute. A long deep ball from Winkler saw Hain bearing down on goal and Körber did well to punch it clear near the edge of the box, however it feel to Bigalke and he cleverly chipped it over the retreating goalkeeper into the back of the net.
Once again, this seemed to spur Münster on and four minutes later, after some messy play in the Unterhaching area, Rinderkneckt lifted the ball just over the bar. The Münster fans began singing a song to the tune of ‘Go West’ by the Pet Shop Boys and when Steinkötter came on to replace Rinderknecht, not long after, he nearly pressured Müller in the Unterhaching goal into a mistake however the ball was quickly cleared. Unterhaching were still dominating possession and creating the most chances, particularly through Steinherr and Bigalke but finally it seemed like Münster were being positive. As their fans switched to a song based on John Denver’s ‘Country Roads’ Steinkotter attempted a bicycle kick that did not quite come off. Then, in the final minute, a cross from the right saw Al-Hazaimeh (who had replaced Menig) direct a header over the bar when he had almost no defenders close to him. As the whistle blew it was clear that SpVgg Unterhaching were good value for the win even if it was only by the solitary goal while, despite their late endeavors, Preußen Münster had not really forced Müller into making any sort of save.
Certainly the Münster supporters that I spoke to while we were waiting at Fasanenpark station were disappointed in how little attacking initiative their side had shown throughout the game. One man, who was there with his 10-year-old son, was questioning whether it had been worth flying down that morning when the train journey home meant that they were not going to arrive back in Münster until 2am. In contrast the Unterhaching fans went away feeling very positive. They are still in 5th but now only one point behind SV Wehen Wiesbaden who lost at home to SV Meppen (who are now four points behind Unterhaching in 6th). From my perspective it was another good day in the 3.Liga where I can sit close to the action, participate with the fans from both sides, cause consternation from people about why an Australian is watching football in Unterhaching, and generally enjoy myself. I made it into town in time to watch Kimmich back heel Bayern’s fifth into the Freiburg goal on the television in the FC Bayern club shop, but I am not sure I would have enjoyed that game any more than the one I had been watching.
All photos courtesy of Wayne Symes.