Those of you who are interested in cars, and particularly high performance engines, might have come across the name AMG. Hans Werner Aufrecht and Erhard Melcher founded the company in 1967 to design and test racing engines, particularly for Mercedes-Benz cars, as both men had previously been engineers for that company. In 1993 their success in this market led them to sign a contract of cooperation with Mercedes to commonly develop vehicles. Nowadays Daimler AG owns the whole group, after Aufrecht sold his remaining shares back in 2005, and AMG is a subsidiary called Mercedes-AMG GmbH. Thinking about the original name though, the ‘A’ is for Aufrecht and the ‘M’ is for Melcher but you might be confused about where the ‘G’ comes in. In fact, it represents Großaspach, the town where Hans Werner Aufrecht was born.
Großaspach is about 31 km [19 ¼ miles] northeast of Stuttgart, the largest town in the community of Aspach (which also includes Kleinaspach, Rietenau and Allmersbach am Weinberg). It is a predominantly rural farming and wine-growing community first mentioned historically in the middle of the 10th century. As you might expect of such a community, particularly with a city the size of Stuttgart not that far away, there are not a lot of inhabitants in Aspach. Altogether, the population of the community is just over 8000 people, which makes it the smallest town to be represented in the 3.Liga by their football team, SG Sonnenhof Großaspach.
There has been a football team in Großaspach since at least March 1, 1936, when a football department was created as part of the gymnastics club (which was formed in 1920). For most of their history they have been known as SpVgg Großaspach, a relatively minor team in the lower reaches of the German football pyramid. In some ways more interesting is the existence of the word ‘Sonnenhof’ (or ‘sun yard’) in the modern football club’s name. This goes back to a man called Uli Ferber who was a junior chef at the Hotel Sonnenhof in nearby Kleinaspach. He started a work football team, FC Sonnenhof Kleinaspach, who similarly spent most of their (much shorter) history in the 7th tier of German football. In the early 1990s a plan was developed to merge all of the local teams to form an FC Aspach, but TSV Bad Rietenau and the SpVgg Kleinaspach / Allmersbach opted out. Consequently, August 25th 1994 saw the formation of SG Sonnenhof Großaspach blending just the two pre-existing sides, with Uli Ferber as their first chairman.
The next twenty years was one of continual improvement and a consequent rise through the leagues of German football. After seven years of finishing no lower than 4th, in 2001/02 they finished first in the Landesliga Württemberg. It took them only three years to do the same in the Verbandsliga Württemberg and four to become champions of the Oberliga Baden-Württemberg. Five years in the Regionalliga’s (first in the Süd, then in the Südwest) was all it took for them to achieve promotion to the 3.Liga, where they first appeared in 2014/15, finishing in 15th in their debut season.
The last part of that rise featured a man called Rüdiger Rehm. He finished his playing career at Großaspach, playing 111 games for the club (and scoring 19 goals) between 2008-2012, during which time he was also the assistant coach. After retiring as a player he became the Head Coach (although he had to step aside at one point while obtaining the proper qualifications). He stayed with the club until 2016 when he was lured away to Arminia Bielefeld. However, that did not last long (10 games, no wins) before his contract was terminated. On February 13, 2017 he was appointed Head Coach at Wehen Wiesbaden, who were the opponents in todays match.
Because of its rural aspect the home of SG Sonnenhof Großaspach is very much rural. The Sportpark Fautenhau (as it was originally called) has been the home of the team since the merger, sitting approximately in the middle of the triangle featuring Großaspach, Kleinaspach and Rietenau at its points. Surrounding it is a small forest and lots of fields so that during the match you can see tractors driving along the ridges behind the ground. As the team has progressed through the leagues it has had to be modernized and expanded till it became the stadium you see today. Twelve investors, including the singer Andrea Berg (who was born in Kleinaspach), funded the most recent expansion. Today the Mechatronik Arena (as it is known) can hold 10001 people (amazing for a community that only has 8000 inhabitants) has covered grandstands on three sides and a Canadian style log cabin on the forth with a much smaller stand for press and VIPs in front of it.
Getting to the stadium (unless you have a car) is a little more complex than some of the other grounds I have attended this season because of the nature of the area. If you are coming by public transport the easiest route is to catch a train to Backnang (a town of approximately 35 000) on the edge of the Stuttgart local train area. From the train station the number 367 bus travels out through Großaspach and Kleinaspach on an hourly basis on the weekends and the Großaspach Hohrot stop is the closest one to the stadium (although if you stay on you can travel out and see the Hotel Sonnenhof in Kleinaspach which is the last stop on the route). From there it is just few hundred meters along a nice path between the fields to reach the arena.
Aside from Hans Werner Aufrecht, the other notable person associated with Großaspach is a man called Johann Conrad Weiser Sr., a soldier, baker, and farmer who was the founder of a settlement in New York State known as Weiser’s Dorf, which is nowadays known as Middleburg. This is not the only American connection because SG Sonnenhof Großaspach also features two American players in their current squad. Mario Rodriguez originally played his youth football with Los Angeles Galaxy and the IMG Academy before moving to Germany with 1. FC Kaiserslautern back in 2013 and represented America at U-17, U-20 and U-23 levels. Joe Gyau is the son of former US international Philip Gyau and the grandson of Ghanaian football player Joseph “Nana” Gyau. He also represented his country in U-17, U-20 and U-23 and moved to Germany to play for TSG 1899 Hoffenheim and then Borussia Dortmund. Back in 2014 he even made two appearances for the full national side under Jurgen Klinsman (in friendlies against the Czech Republic and Ecuador). And retired goalkeeper David Yelldell, the German-American Stuttgart native who was MSV Duisburg’s starter in goal against Schalke in the Pokal Final in 2011, is currently SG’s goalkeeping coach. The 36 year-old earned one USMNT cap that year.
Back on Matchday 10 I attended the reverse of this fixture in Wiesbaden that had featured only five visiting fans in the away section of the Brita-Arena. It was interesting to see today that there was still not a large contingent on the terraces at the southern end of the ground where the home fans were. They still might have outnumbered the Wiesbaden fans in the terrace at the opposite end but the absence of a drummer or chanting meant that most of the match was dominated by the noise from the visitors. The club had 864 members at the beginning of this season and the crowd today was given as 1300 (about 1000 fewer than they have been averaging so far). The pre-match ritual was notable for a donkey (I am guessing a mascot similar to Hennes, the goat at 1. FC Köln) being led around the arena.
As the game began it was clear that both teams were playing a conservative 4-4-2 (no more of the disastrous 3-4-3 that had cost SG Sonnenhof Großaspach so dearly the last time I had seen these teams) and the home side began much the stronger. Röttger and Fountas were chasing everything in attack and putting the SV Wehen Wiesbaden defense under enormous pressure. Gyau was working hard down the left flank and it was clear that his pace was also causing consternation. The only surprising thing about the first goal was that it came from the right hand side, when strong work by Schiek and a beautifully weighted pass from Großaspach captain Hägale freed Fountas down the right and a great cross into the center fell at the feet of Röttger who calmly tucked it away just ahead of the advancing Kolke in the Wiesbaden goal with only13 minutes gone.
Much of the rest of the first half was dominated by SG Sonnenhof Großaspach, who looked busy and solid in defense, but struggled to make anything of their dominance of possession. In particular recent signing from FC Bayern München II, Sebastian Bösel, was working hard in midfield, looking scary but solid in a facemask and tackling everything that came his way, but just could not seem to get his distribution right. Still, it was absolutely against the run of play when SV Wehen Wiesbaden were able to conjure an equalizer. A rather soft free kick was awarded about 20 yards out on the Wiesbaden attacking left. Rather than cross to the crowd in the box Kuhn instead hit a good shot toward the top left corner of the goal. Broll did a great job to keep the ball out but it fell at the feet of Pezzoni for Wiesbaden who was able to tuck it away. 1:1 at halftime but the home support were feeling positive because their side had been the stronger.
The second half began much the way the first had ended, with Großaspach applying lots of pressure and Wiesbaden looking to counter. If anything it looked like the home team was most likely to score. On 55 minutes it seemed certain that they would when Schiek got free down the right and sent a cross which was a fraction too high for Röttger but traveled to Gehring who hit a great volley straight toward the goal only for Kolke to fling himself to his right to keep the ball out. Not much later it was Wiesbaden’s turn, a cross-field pass from Pezzoni on the half way line released Andrist deep on the left. His cross found Blacha (who had come on for Reddemann at halftime) at the top of the box but the shot was blocked by Schiek with his back and the follow up from Pezzoni was stopped by a lunging Fehr. In the 70th minute it was the home side again as Gyau got away from his marker on Großaspach’s left and made a great run toward the box. His chipped shot/mishit cross looked certain to drop into the top right of the goal but once again Kolke to keep it out.
Players on both sides were beginning to look very tired and the coaches were making changes. Rehm took off Brandstetter for Diawusie, while Hildmann first replaced Binakaj with Baku, and then the hardworking Röttger came off for Sané. The long anticipated goal came in the 80th minute when Andrist finally escaped the attentions of Schiek and a deep cross from Kuhn on the right hand side found him at the corner of the six-yard box. He hit a strong low header that Broll got down to but it squeezed under his hand and into the goal. A few minutes later and further disaster for Großaspach. They had pushed their midfield and attackers up deep with a long kick from Broll. The defensive header went back over the half way and fell, unchallenged at the feet of Müller. As the Großaspach defenders stepped forward to shut him down he was able to split a pass between them to Andrist who ran around Broll on the edge of the box and slotted it home from the right.
So the game finished with a 3:1 win away for Wiesbaden that could have been so very different. The win keeps them in touch with the leaders, just one point behind Karlsruher SC in the third place playoff position. SG Sonnenhof Großaspach, in contrast, find themselves as one of five teams on 33 points but in 16th place on goal difference while Preußen Münster are on the same points but in 12th. Despite the loss, and the poor run of form which has seen seven losses and two draws in their last nine games, the crowd seemed to come away in good spirits. At least their team had played good attacking football and you get the impression that some of them are still just pleased to be watching a team from a town of their size in the 3.Liga. Certainly they were astounded when, traveling on the bus back to town, they found that they had a visitor from Australia come to watch the football in their part of the world.