How do you protest against a decision by a football league in a way that doesn’t eventually punish your team? This remains an issue in Germany where more and more games are being scheduled for Monday nights. The first round of the 3.Liga season for 2019/2020 concluded with a game between FC Carl Zeiss Jena and FC Ingolstadt 04 at 7pm on Monday (July 22). Given that around 300 klm separates the two cities this makes it very difficult for anyone working regular hours to travel to the away game. That about 150 spectators made the journey is impressive (perhaps many of them were on holidays). The final crowd figure was 8399, which is higher than last seasons average at Jena of 5806, but lower than their final home game of 2018/2019 when they beat 1860 München 4-0 in front of 10600 people to ensure their survival in the division. Given that the first and last games of the season are usually the best attended, one wonders if the Monday night timing was responsible for a drop in attendance.
As happened back in the Bundesliga 2017/2018 season, when the first Monday night match was played between Eintracht Frankfurt and RB Leipzig on February 19th, there were three forms of protest. Chants against the ‘Football Mafia DFB’ were made by both the home ultras and away fans. Banners were unveiled excoriating the decision. Finally, tennis balls were thrown onto the pitch on three separate occasions, all within the first five minutes of the game, resulting in stoppages while the balls were cleared away. These are meant to be disruptive without being destructive. Other than staying away from the game completely there are not many other options open to the fans. If they were to boycott the games it would be they and the clubs that would suffer, as they don’t get to watch their team and the clubs do not get the benefit of ticket sales etc. Given that the justification for Monday night games is television, it is doubtful that having fewer fans at the game would impact anyone else. Nevertheless, FC Carl Zeiss Jena will almost certainly be fined by the DFB.
Difficult Recent Seasons
Just three seasons ago three divisions separated these teams with Ingolstadt in the Bundesliga and Jena inhabiting the Regionalliga Nordost. Clearly their experience of the last few seasons has been very different, with FC Carl Zeiss Jena gaining a promotion then trying to establish themselves in the 3.Liga (even if only by the skin of their teeth last season) while FC Ingolstadt 04 have suffered two relegations in the last three years. Despite that Ingolstadt is still a considerably bigger team. Even now the Ingolstadt squad has the third highest market value in the 3.Liga at €8.19 million ($9.15 million US), behind only FC Bayern München U23s and KFC Uerdingen 05. In contrast, Jena’s squad is 16th at €4.24 million ($4.74 million US) with only the other three recently promoted teams and SG Sonnenhof Großaspach having squads valued less.
Speaking of squads, one of the interesting things about following football in the lower leagues is the turnover of players from season to season. Jena’s starting eleven featured only three players (Coppens, Eckardt and Kübler) who started the final game of last season only two months ago. Coincidentally, Ingolstadt also had three players (Paulsen, Gaus and Kutschke) carried over from the 4:2 defeat at Heidenheim which ended their time in the Bundesliga 2. One of the new players for Ingolstadt this season, however, is Maximilian Wolfram, who scored two and set up another of the four goals for Jena against 1860 back in May. He was given a very positive welcome, having been voted Jena’s player of the season for the previous campaign and being presented with the trophy before the game.
As with most seasons, even with the negativity around the Monday night fixture, there was a tangible sense of expectation in the air before the start. Surely both teams could not perform as badly as they did last season? Perhaps these new players would be better than the old ones? There had already been some interesting results during the other games on Matchday One, as Hansa Rostock drew 3:3 with newly promoted Viktoria Köln, newly relegated MSV Duisburg beat SG Sonnenhof Großaspach 4:1, and FC Würzburger Kickers beat FC Bayern München U23s 3:1 on the Saturday. On the Sunday the final recently relegated side, 1.FC Magdeburg, lost 2:4 at home to Eintracht Braunschweig. There had been 30 goals in nine matches and only Hallescher FC and SV Meppen had failed to score. There is always hope that this year will be different, will be the one when everything clicks and ends in glory.
The Ernst-Abbe Sportfield looked pristine for kick-off on this glorious summer evening. Even this late in the day it was still 27 degrees Celsius (81 degrees Fahrenheit) as the referee blew his whistle. Perhaps it was this heat, or perhaps it was because of the disruptions of the three tennis ball related stoppages in the first 5 minutes, but it took a long time before this game started to find a rhythm. FC Carl Zeiss Jena were playing a 4-3-3 (although frequently Käuper would drop from defensive midfield back into the center of defense, while Kircher and Fassnacht moved up their respective wings to make it more of a 3-4-3) while FC Ingolstadt played a more traditional 4-4-2. Jena were trying to build up patiently from the back, passing between their backline and Coppens in the goal while the halves and forwards tried to look for space. Indeed, by the end of the game Jena would have had 66% of possession and completed 658 passes to Ingolstadt’s 331, however a large percentage of these passes would have been between the defenders.
Both sides were also trying to play a high defensive line, which meant that for much of the match all 20 outfield players would have been contained within about 20 meters of the pitch, mostly around the middle of the ground. At times it honestly looked like the moment before the snap in an American football game, except there were players from each team on both sides of the ball. It was almost 19 minutes before the first corner and almost 24 minutes before the first real shot at goal (Ingolstadt sending the ball well wide on the eastern side of the ground).
In contrast to Jena, Ingolstadt were looking to make use of the height of Stefan Kutschke (194cm or 6 ft 4 ½ in) lobbing the ball toward him and hoping he would knock it down to the players around him. However, Jena’s Marian Sarr (newly signed from VfR Aalen who were relegated to the Regionalla last campaign) was doing an excellent job reading the through balls and snuffing out threatening moves. Both sides struggled to find the pass to start a strong attacking move. At half time it was still 0-0 and the goalkeepers had had little to do except pass the ball around with their feet.
As the second half began it seemed that the pattern of the first half was likely to continue across the first ten minutes. Then, in the 54th minutes a good knockdown from Kutschke resulted in a corner for Ingolstadt. Trying to apply some pressure they sent most of the team up and when the ball fell for Jena they finally had some space. Kircher sent the ball to Donkor who charged up the field. As he neared Ingolstadt’s penalty box he veered left and the Jena crowd thought the move had been for nothing. However, he passed to Eckardt coming in from left midfield and he finished strongly across the goal into the other corner past Buntic in the Ingolstadt goal. Suddenly the optimism among the fans was back. From their first real attack of the game Jena had a goal.
However, it wasn’t to last. From the subsequent kickoff Ingolstadt worked their way down the right hand side of the ground (by this time in the shade) and won a free-kick near the edge of the penalty area only a couple of meters from the goal line for a trip on Beister. Rather than lob the ball toward the head of Kutschke to see if he good get above everyone and head it in, which was what most people seemed to be expecting him to do, former Jena hero Max Wolfram hit a hard low ball straight at the crowd of players in front of the goal. It cannoned off the hip of Sarr, past Coppens, and into the Jena goal. 1-1 with both teams fortunate to have scored at all. Twelve minutes later it got even worse for Jena and for Sarr. Another free kick, this time by Donker, was lofted in from Ingolstadt’s right to the middle of the area. Sarr jumped alongside Kutschke but both were under the ball. As another Jena defender attempted to head it away he only succeeded in putting it into the back of Sarr’s head and once again it cannoned into the goal. Sarr collapsed face down on the ground while the Ingolstadt players ran off to celebrate their luck.
Although both sides pushed for another goal over the remaining eighteen minutes (plus the four added on for stoppages) neither ever really looked like scoring again. As the final whistle blew FC Ingolstadt were able to celebrate a 2:1 victory without any of their players getting on the score sheet, while Marian Sarr became the first player in the history of the 3.Liga to score two own goals in one game. It was particularly cruel because he had been one of the best players on the ground and could have done very little to prevent either goal. After the game neither his teammates nor his coach could do anything except praise him. FC Ingolstadt coach Jeff Saibene acknowledged in his post match interview that his team would have been happy to draw. Both sides are going to have to improve their creativity and cutting edge across the rest of the season.