One of Sunday’s interesting DFB Pokal first round matches features FV Illertissen, amateur champions of Bavaria, hosting Eintracht Frankfurt, a club that bounced back from demotion two seasons ago to a surprising Europa League finish last season. In their Bundesliga return, Armin Veh’s Eagles finished only four points short of the Bundesliga’s last Champions League berth. Illertissen, a club founded in 1921, were amateur champions of the inaugural season of the 4th division Regionalliga Bayern, finishing in third place behind the reserve teams of Bayern Munich and 1860 Munich.
Though both FVI and Eintracht enjoyed quite successful seasons last year, the differences between the two clubs are stark. Illertissen, a Bavarian town of 16,000 in the Neu-Ulm district, has only one trophy to its credit, a 1963 Württemberg Cup,(although located in Bavaria, FVI have traditionally competed in Baden- Württemberg until last season),whereas Frankfurt is the continent’s financial center and boasts a population of over 700,000′ with over 2.3 million souls residing in the greater urban area. Eintracht have won one Bundesliga title, one 2. Bundesliga title and four DFB Pokal tournaments, as well as the 1980 UEFA Cup, along with numerous regional trophies. Sunday’s contest, therefore, is another in the long line of David-Goliath Cup matchups. Last summer, six Bundesliga clubs lost in the Pokal’s first round to lower-division competition, and Illertissen will have the advantage of having already played five competitive matches.
David, however, will not have the home field advantage. For safety reasons, with a bigger than normal crowd expected given the attractiveness and anticipated support of a top-tier opponent, Illertissen will not play the match at their Vöhlinstadion home, but instead play at the SGL Arena, the home of FC Augsburg. This is a common situation for the amateur clubs hosting top division clubs in the Pokal, but it does deprive the fourth-division side of the advantage of familiarity with its own home field and some of the home-town pride associated with their achievement in making the roster of 64 Pokal tournament clubs.
Augsburg’s home stadium is an hour drive east from Illertissen. With a Sunday evening (18:30 in Germany) television-inspired kickoff, and a 3.5 hour drive from Frankfurt, ticket sales have not been brisk among Eintracht supporters. According to a July 31 Augsburger Allgemeine article , Frankfurt fans have only purchased 2,300 advance tickets for the match, while FVI fans have thus far purchased 1,400 seats, despite free bus service from Illertissen and a low price of 27 euros for seats and 15 euros for standing tickets. Although small-budget FVI will receive a windfall of 125,000 euros for being involved in the Pokal, by the time the SGL Arena rental fee of approximately 70,000 euros is paid and other ensuing expenses are subtracted, one FVI source stated that “if we come out with a few thousand euro profit, we can be satisfied.”
But if there is a sense of disappointment among FVI officials on the financials of the club’s involvement in the Pokal and the loss of home field advantage, the club’s players are thrilled to be playing in a “big-league” environment against a team that will be competing in Europe this year. Earlier this week, the Fanatic spoke with friend Fabian Kling, 26, a German FVI defender/midfielder who played college ball in the United States and became a professional in 2012, playing for the NASL’s San Antonio Scorpions, before returning home to German football.
Fanatic: On Sunday, FV Illiterssen will host Bundesliga side Eintracht Frankfurt in the first round of the DFB Pokal? How excited are you personally?
Fabian: Personally I am getting more and more excited the closer the game gets. It is not so much excitement about being in the DFB Pokal, but more playing against a Europa-league participant, in front of a good crowd in a very nice stadium. So the whole situation gets me more and more excited as the game gets closer.
Fanatic: What is the atmosphere around the club with the other FVI players and personnel? How has been the approach of FVI Coach Holger Bachthaler to the Pokal match?
Fabian: The atmosphere of the team and players in general is very good. People are getting more aware of the fact that we are playing in such a game the closer Sunday gets. The approach of the coach and the players is rather normal, similar to any other game of the season, although in this game we are the big time underdog. So there shouldn’t really be much pressure on us at all. That is also what has happened up to this week….. everyone, from coaches to players, has been focusing on the Regionalliga Bayern matches — after all it is our main goal to be successful there. The DFB Pokal is just a really nice extra…
Fanatic: How has the community responded to the big match with Frankfurt?
Fabian: To be honest we do not see or hear a lot about their response. Of course here and there after one of our home games people came up and asked if we as players are ready and excited to play against a first league team and how we think we will do. Besides those few moments though there has not been a lot that we as players were able to experience. However I would say that the community is excited besides the fact that we could not make the game a home game and have to play further away. There are a lot of people who will still come and support us players and the club.
Fanatic: The match will be played at FC Augsburg’s SGL Arena, one of the most modern stadia in Germany. Being from Augsburg, does that add extra emotion to the match for you personally?
Fabian: Yeah I am excited to play in the stadium itself, but just because it is a modern stadium. I have been to the SFL Arena a few times with my friend, who is a fan of FC Augsburg, and so I am excited to actually get to step and play on the field. However it does not add any extra emotion to the match by being from Augsburg. It is as amazing of a feeling as playing in front of thousands of fans in San Antonio or in Illertissen. And besides, when stepping on the field and the whistle blows all emotions will be dismissed, and all that counts are the next 90 minutes.
Fanatic: Last season FVI were Bavarian amateur champions. Thus far in the 2013/2014 season, FVI are 2-2-1 in the Regionalliga, in fourth place with nine points while Bayern Munich’s reserve side currently lead the league with 12 points. Do you think that, having won the amateur championship, that other clubs in the league have extra focus this season when they play FVI?
Fabian: I certainly think that clubs have extra focus on us. Players and coaches from opposing teams tells us so too. It is like the reserve team of 1860 München who were the league champions last year — when you’re a champion everyone wants to beat you. Last year we were already seeing that when the second half of the season was going on, but overall because it was the first year of the league and Illertissen was not known by the other teams at all, and we were able to become champions. This year it is obviously tougher to repeat the success from last year as you already mentioned with our record at 2-2-1. This is all part of the game, though, and certainly makes things interesting and more challenging for a player.
Fanatic: You have played with championship teams in college, as Fort Lewis College were twice NCAA Division II champions while you played there. You were on the 2012 San Antonio Scorpions’ NASL regular season champions, and then were with FVI last season as they won Bavaria’s amateur championship. What are the features of championship clubs that are common despite the level of play?
Fabian: Despite the differing levels of play, all of those teams had a very good chemistry, and everybody knew what was on the line, giving it 100% every day. Also all teams had key players that could decide games on their own, real difference makers. And last, but not least, you need a bit of luck. In those years/seasons we won games that a lot of times you do not win, but with hard work over the whole season you deserve it. All things were and always are part of such championship teams, just like it is/was for FC Bayern Munich or FC Barcelona.
(Fabian’s younger brother, Lukas, is a FV Illertissen midfielder. Below is a listing of the FVI players and staff pictured in the header, courtesy of the club’s Hermann Schiller)
Back row (from left to right)
Lukas Kling, Dominic Robinson, Sezai Zehiroglu, Fabian Kling, Uli Klar, Thorsten Rinke, Michael Passer, Manuel Strahler, Christoph Amann, Vitalij Lux, Andreas Hindelang, Marc Hämmerle, Eduard Thommy
Trainer Holger Bachthaler, Co-Trainer Herbert Sailer, Betreuer Karl Wirtmann, Betreuer Hans Baur, Betreuer Wilfried Hämmerle, Spielleiter Hermann Schiller, Mannschaftsarzt Dr. Christoph Buck, Masseurin Andreja Schinel, Finanzchef Matthias Endler, Vizepräsident Ludwig Kränzle, Präsident Toni Endler, Torwarttrainer Michael Kasper, Torwarttrainer Jürgen Baur
Philip Roller, Stephan Böck, Florian Peruzzi, Marco Hahn, Kim Anders, Ardian Morina, Benjamin Huber, Simon Zweifel, Tobias Heikenwälder, Sebastian Schaller
Absent. Patrick Rösch