We Went There: 3.Liga Matchday 18 — Karlsruher SC 0-0 VfR Aalen

The story of the German Football League (DFB) is that it was formed back in 1903 with 86 clubs (although some other figures have been given). Many of the original 86 no longer survive. Some of them still compete in very low leagues on the German pyramid. One team was based in Strasbourg (which was German then but now in France) and two of them in Prague in the Czech Republic, but some of them are the antecedents of clubs that are still around today. Two of those clubs with historic roots happen to be in the 3.Liga. One of them, SC Erfurt 1895, is the predecessor of the modern day Röt-Weiß Erfurt. The other, Phönix 1894 Karlsruhe, is the club that today we know as Karlsruher SC.

As well as being one of the founding clubs of the DFB, Karlsruher SC was (as mentioned in a previous report) also one of the founding clubs when the Bundesliga was set up in 1963. This was not a surprise; Karlsruhe had won the DFB Pokal in both 1955 and1956 and finished runners up in 1960 (as well as having won the German Championship back in 1909 when they were still known as Phönix) so they had both history and recent pedigree on their side. In the 54 seasons of the Bundesliga’s existence Karlsruher SC have spent 24 of them in the Bundesliga, although the highest they have ever finished is 6th. They have won the Bundesliga 2 (or its equivalent) four times and, prior to their relegation at the end of last season, both previous times they were relegated to Liga.3 (or its equivalent) they finished as champions.

The city of Karlsruhe also has an interesting history. It is only 15 klm from the French border and, so legend says, it was founded in 1715 when the Margrave Charles III woke from a dream about founding a new city after hunting there, hence the name Karlsruhe (Charles’ rest). The Lead Tower of his palace is at the center of the radial street pattern that makes the city famous (and Karlsruher SCs stadium is in the park which surrounds the palace to the north east.). Thomas Jefferson visited here when he was the American envoy to France and passed on a sketch of the town to Pierre Charles L’Enfant who was in the process of designing Washington D.C. at that time. Nowadays the city is the home of both the Federal Constitutional Court and the Federal Court of Justice, the two highest courts in Germany.

Both the flag and the coat of arms of the city feature red and gold. This is linked to the dynastic coat of arms of Margrave Charles III which also feature these colors prominently. After his death he was buried in a vault under the wooden framed Lutheran Concord Church to the south of his palace. However, by the beginning of the 19th century the city was beginning to expand and the church was too small so it was knocked down but a pyramid (initially wooden but since 1825 made of red sandstone) was built over the vault in what became the central market place and it has been a feature of the town ever since. It is currently hidden from sight while work continues on a subway for the city (due to be finished next year) but the Christmas ‘tree’ in the Christmas market at the northern end of the market square is in the shape of a pyramid as a reminder.

Why am I mentioning all of this? Back in 1998 as part of a plan to increase the profile of the club, a marketing initiative called ‘KSC 2000’ was launched in which, among other things, their simple logo (the letters ’KSC’ in white on a circular blue background) was given a new font and placed over a red and yellow pyramid. It was a disaster in a number of ways; with the fans hating it, the club almost going bankrupt and, by finishing 16th in the Bundesliga, the team being relegated to the Bundesliga 2 after 11 consecutive years in the top league. In 2004 the old logo was restored and, a couple of years later Karlsruher SC were promoted back to the Bundesliga once more however (more to do with the city colors than that marketing disaster) it is still possible to see scarves and other merchandise featuring the red and gold alongside the more familiar blue and white.

Prior to that marketing disaster, the 1990’s had been quite a successful time for Karlsruher SC and their most famous game comes from that period of their history. Having finished 6th in the Bundesliga in 1992/93 they qualified for the UEFA Cup. In the first round, they defeated PSV Eindhoven 2:1 on aggregate, but in the first leg of the second round (back then each round, including the final, was played home and away for each team) they found themselves down 3:1 to Valencia. At home their fans were to witness the Wunder vom Wildpark where they completely demolished the opposition 7:0. They went on to defeat both Girondins Bordeaux and Boavista Porto to make it to the semi-final before going down to Austria Salzburg on away goals (Internazionale won 2–0 on aggregate in the final). Their win in the 1996 Intertoto Cup (3:2 over Standard Liege) is seen as less significant, perhaps because they had finished as runners up the year before (losing 2:4 to Girondins Bordeaux), but more likely because the Intertoto Cup has been perceived as having little value.

Part of the reason for that success was their ability to produce quality youngsters who went on to have successful careers both for their club and often also their country. In the space of a couple of years the club brought through Michael Sternkopf, Mehmet Scholl, Jens Nowotny and, perhaps most notably, former national goalkeeper Oliver Kahn. They also brought in to develop other youngsters including Thorsten Fink and Michael Tarnat. These players were at the heart of Karlsruher’s most successful period in their history during which they qualified for Europe three times in five years. Yet, just as happens today, it is hard for the smaller clubs to hang on to good players and it will come as no surprise that Bayern Munich was the destination for five of the six aforementioned (Nowotny went to Bayer Leverkeusen). Karlsruher SC still maintains an academy at their Wildparkstadion home base.

Speaking of the stadium, given their history it will be no surprise to read that it is the largest in the 3 Liga, capable of holding just under 30 000 spectators (a little in front of Hansa Rostock and 1. FC Magdeburg). The light towers are visible from the center of the town and it looms impressively on a hill through the trees as one approaches it through the forest Unusually for this league, the home end is all seating (although uncovered) while the terraced standing area where the ultras are based is in the grandstand on the northern side of the ground. The mascot is also derived from the forest setting, Willi Wildpark is meant to represent a wild boar and wears the number 94 to represent the year in which the original Phönix club was founded.

This match is a Baden-Würtemmberg derby in that both teams come from the same German state but does not have the same significance of some of the games in Liga.3 partly because they have spent very little of their history in the same league and partly because they are on opposite sides of the state (they are not even part of the same Verbandspokal area). Indeed, Karlsruher have much more of a rivalry with VfB Stuttgart, 1. FC Kaiserslautern and SV Waldhof Mannheim. Coming into todays match Karlsruher SC were on a high having beaten the league leaders SC Paderborn 07 away on the previous Matchday and not had a goal scored against them in the past four games. Consequently, Trainer Alois Schwartz sent the same side out that had started the previous 4 matches. By contrast, VfR Aalen had won three of their previous four games (including the last Matchday I attended) but all three of those wins had come at home.

As the game began, it was clear that both teams wanted to build slowly, but then attack with speed. After dispossessing an VfR Aalen player only seconds after kick off, a series of quick passes sent Karlsruher SC into attack down the right until Camoglu lifted his shot high over the bar. Just a couple of minutes, later Aalen tried break down the left through Vasiliadis until Bader grabbed him around the waist to hold him back and received the first yellow card (much to the fury of the home fans). A minute later a long ball forward for Aalen saw Gordon jump into the back of Bär but, from the resulting free kick Schnellbacher was only able to put the ball into the hands of keeper Uphoff. The early part of the game was very much end-to-end with only the wet pitch being dug up easily, making the ball difficult to control at times, stopping the football being even more entertaining.

In the ninth minute, the first clear chances came for Karlsruher SC. A corner came in high from the right to fall at the feet of Fink, his shot was blocked by Rehfeldt’s legs. The rebound came to Föhrenbach, but keeper Bernhardt made a great reaction save only to knock the ball straight to Mehlem but his attempted finish slammed into the crossbar and bounced away to safety for Aalen. This pattern of desperate defending, quality goalkeeping, and less than clinical finishing was to become the story of the match. A corner from the left, only a minute or so later, was hooked back to Föhrenbach unmarked in the 6 yard box but, by the time he had steadied himself to shoot, Preißinger had managed to throw his body in the way.

Much of the rest of the first half was the same. There were lots of attempts at quick breaks by both sides (VfR Aalen had certainly not come to play a solely defensive game, even though Karlsruher SC had not lost at home all season) getting the ball around the box but just not being able to find the final pass or keep the shots on target. At one point it looked as if only some sort of defensive mistake was going to lead to a goal. Uphoff played a short goal kick out to Gordon on the right side of the box but Gordon misplayed the ball back to him and only a desperate lunge from Uphoff was able to get to the ball before Schnellbacher could steal it away in front of an open goal. Not long after, Karlsruher lost the ball again and VfR Aalen were able to transfer it to Preißinger deep on the left, but Schnellbacher headed the cross just wide of the left upright.

Early in the second half, a couple of things began to be noticable. Firstly, at least among the fans sitting near me, there seems to be some frustration with the performance of Anton Fink. Fink has played previously for both of todays teams, as well as SpVgg Unterhaching and, most recently, Chemnitz FC for whom he played 197 games before re-signing with Karlsruher SC at the beginning of this season. He is the all time leading goalscorer in the 3 Liga, with 118 goals from 258 games, but fans seem to be a little frustrated with the return of only 5 goals this season. Every misplaced pass or missed opportunity resulted in cat calls or frustrated expletives in a way that other players mistakes didn’t. Secondly, the game had slowed down so much that fans were seemingly more interested in what was happening in Chemnitz (1. FC Magdeberg ended up winning away 2:3) and Wiesbaden (where the home team beat Paderborn SC 4:1). Although the home team was only in 7th, their recent good form clearly has spectators looking closely at the teams above them.

To be fair, there were not many opportunities to be excited in the second half as the defending of both sides threatened to completely stifle their attacking play. A free kick from the center of the field by Wanitzek for Karlsruher SC found the head of Gordon in the box, but Bernhardt got down to his right near the post to cover. A break down the left by Schleusener saw him get his legs taken out just outside the corner of the penalty box by Rehfeldt for Aalen, which resulted in another yellow card. The resulting free kick was curled by Wanitzek just wide to the right of the goal. Both teams made substitutions to try and change the game, as it looked more and more likely that the game was going to be goalless. However, as the last few minutes ticked down it was clear that VfR Aalen were going to be happy with the draw away to a team in good form.

As far as 0:0 draws go (and there were three in the 3.Liga this weekend) this was quite entertaining. There was some good football by both teams who both just struggled to make the most of goal scoring opportunities. Certainly the 10 093 fans in attendance got to watch two sides both trying to play positive football, but who are both very sound and committed defensively. Karlsruher SC will probably not go up as Champions in this, their third time in the 3 Liga, but they will play some good football that will be worth going to watch. Even if it is not another Wunder vom Wildpark, their stadium is still a good place to watch football.

To see highlights of the match, view the video at ARD.

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Wayne Symes

Born and raised in Australia, Wayne developed a love of football at an early age and an interest in German football not long after. He is an international schoolteacher of English literature and Theory of Knowledge with a love of history and has taught in England, Qatar, China and now Germany (and attended local and international football matches in all of those countries). Wayne loves to travel and explore new places and cultures. His other interests include baseball, cooking, music and movies.

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