Football teams in Germany are not like the franchise style system one sees in sporting teams in the United States, where an American football team like the Rams can move from Cleveland to Los Angeles to St Louis, and then back to Los Angeles again. With the exception of the GDR years in the East, where the government would move teams for political purposes (as I mentioned in my Matchday 5 report on Chemnitz) most German teams pride themselves on being connected to their locality. It is one of the reasons behind the 50+1 rule, which tries to make sure there is a connection between teams and their communities.
One of the few exceptions to this standard, in the 3.Liga, is SV Wehen Wiesbaden. Up until 2007, when they were promoted to the Bundesliga 2, they were based in Taunusstein, a town of 29 000 people in Hesse. However, Taunusstein does not have good public transport connections (as I discovered when trying to get there when preparing for this piece), the Wehener stadium where they played did not meet the requirements of the DFB (German Football League), and it is only a small place. During their promotion season in 2006/7, SV Wehen 1926 – Taunusstein averaged only 1062 fans per game. So, in order to satisfy league requirements, make access easier for travelling fans, and appeal to a larger market, it was decided to relocate the team just 17 klm [10.5 miles] away to the city of Wiesbaden.
Wiesbaden is significantly larger, having close to 290 000 inhabitants, which puts it in the top 25 cities by population in Germany. It is bigger than the cities that host FC Schalke 04, Borussia Mönchengladbach, 1899 Hoffenheim, SC Freiburg, Bayer Leverkusen 04, VFL Wolfsburg and nearby 1. FC Mainz 05 in the Bundesliga. Add to that Lucius D. Clay Kaserne (which used to be called the Wiesbaden Army Airfield) which is the headquarters of the United States Army Europe and has approximately 19 000 US citizens spread throughout the local area and you have a significant area from which to draw support.
The airbase is also interesting because of the people who therefore have connections with Wiesbaden. Former tennis player John McEnroe was born there. Actress Reece Witherspoon used to live there and Mickey Rourke still does. Elvis Presley met his wife Prisilla, whose parents were based there, when he was stationed in Germany. Because Wiesbaden has historical roots back to the Neolithic period and has been a spa town since Roman times (the name actually means ‘meadow spa’) other notable people including; Richard Wagner, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Johannes Brahms, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and race driver Nico Rosberg, have also been associated with Wiesbaden.
When I arrived at the main train station, it was a lovely day and I had a couple of hours until the game started, so I took a walk through the city. Much of the old town is for pedestrians only and it is a really easy walk with lots of shopping and some interesting old buildings to look at. It is also the weekend of the City Festival and Harvest Festival, so everywhere I went there were market stalls, live music from performers on specially erected stages, and families out enjoying the fine weather and fun atmosphere. The one thing that I didn’t notice was fans of either football team among the crowds.
Brita-Arena is only a short walk (about 5 minutes depending on your level of fitness) from the Wiesbaden main train station. Alternatively, if you don’t want to walk up the slight hill, there are a number of buses (number 28 stopped beside me as I walked past the bus stop outside the stadium). When I arrived, about an hour before the game, there was a bus painted in the club colors parked at the front with a group of supporters standing around. There was a lot of material for the upcoming DFB Pokal match against FC Schalke 04 on October 24th. Everyone was really friendly and helpful, they even game me a free copy of the club monthly magazine, and I was able to find my seat near the center of the ground, just next to the television cameras.
Both teams were coming in to the game in good form; SV Wehen Wiesbaden is sitting in 4th on the table and SG Sonnenhof Großaspach just behind them on 5th, so I was expecting a good crowd. However, I was somewhat surprised that there were very few people, as yet, in a ground that can hold around 13,000. Even the Nordkurve, where the ultras are located, was fairly sparsely populated in contrast to the other matches I have been to this season where all of the committed fans are in well before the game, to set up banners, practice songs and drumbeats, and watch the teams warm up. At the other end the stadium there was no one, not a single Großaspach fan to be seen. Even when the warm ups had finished and they played the club song it was a struggle to hear the supporters above the loudspeakers.
Großaspach were missing Kai Gehring, who was suspended after picking up his 5th yellow card in Tuesday night’s game against Karlsruher SC, so maybe his steadiness was a loss. However, current Wiesbaden Head Coach Rüdiger Rehm was previously at Großaspach and perhaps that had something to do with the fact that this was an occasion where the tactics adopted, rather than the quality of the players, made an obvious difference to the outcome of the game. Großaspach lined up in a 3-4-3, while Wiesbaden played a 4-4-2, with Müller and Andrist operating as attacking midfielders to try and exploit the space wide in the Großaspach defense.
Some of the features that would come to dominate the match were clear from the opening minutes: both teams began with some good passing play demonstrating the skills that have put them both near the top of the table. Wiesbaden’s Schäffler threw himself to the ground under a challenge from Leist after 4 minutes and won a free kick out on the right side which was sent across to the opposite corner before being put behind for a goal kick. Then, in the 8th minute Andrich launched a ball deep to the right, finding Andrist who sent a perfectly weighted cross into the middle for Wiesbaden’s captain, Blacha, to finish. 1:0 to Wiesbaden and the five Großaspach fans who had finally appeared in the visitor’s area looked somewhat dejected.
Großaspach tried to make use of Gyau and Baku down their wings but they were being shut down by Kuhn and Nothnagel for Wiesbaden. Meanwhile the tactic of sending balls from the centre out deep to the corners was paying dividends for the home team and they won a few free kicks and corners without result, however it looked like it would only be a matter of time before they got another goal. On 25 minutes a ball deep and wide to Andrist on the left (he and Müller had switched sides) resulted in a corner. With all their players forward Nothnagel received the ball out to the right of the centre circle, he sent it deep to the left of the box where Müller was able to head it back across the face and Andrist was there to head it home.
It felt like only seconds later Wiesbaden were at it again. This time a deep ball to Müller on the right, was pulled back for Kuhn who crossed it to the far post where Andrist put away a difficult header to grab his second before jumping over the advertising hoardings. The group of 8 fans who had only just arrived and sat down a short time before the second goal couldn’t believe their luck. Neither could Wiesbaden. Every time they sent a ball deep to either side it pulled away one of the three man defense which opened up space for them to exploit. On 30 minutes it happened once more, after a run through the center Schäffler sent a pass out very wide to Müller on the right who ran into the box. He tried to cross it again, but this time it bounced off Großaspach’s Bösel and fell straight back to Müller who put it away.
4:0 after only 30 minutes and the Großaspach players were looking very frustrated. Broll in goal had had no real chance for any of the four goals, but he was shouting at his defense. The formation they had been put in was being exploited, and even when they did get the ball and go on the attack things were not going their way. First Gyau put a shot wide of the left side of the post after managing to make himself some space at the top of the area, then in the 41st minute he won a challenge and broke free on goal only to be called back when the Wiesbaden player went down and the referee decided that a foul must have been committed. Just before half time, when another Wiesbaden played went down in a tackle and was given a free kick it was noticeable that Özdemir was very outspoken about what he felt was happening. When the song ‘Wild Boys’ by Duran Duran was played at half time it was difficult to know which to which team it might best refer.
As the second half began it was noticeable that Großaspach had switched back to a 4 – 4 – 2 and their backline immediately looked more solid. Despite this, they were down by a 5th goal within a couple of minutes. Breitkreuz for Wiesbaden managed a Cruyf turn in the box and fired at the goal but it was put behind. From the corner the ball cleared all the heads to bounce and hit Schäffler in the chest. It sat up nicely for him and he volleyed it home.
From this point on the game began to be more scrappy. First Kuhn was given a yellow card for Wiesbaden after bringing down Vitzthum while trying to preserve the clean sheet. Then, in the 52nd minute, another foul was given to Wiesbaden about 30 meters from goal. The ball rolled to Özdemir who kicked it away and he was given a yellow card. The sun had been shining quite brightly and it was noticeable that the players were getting tired unless they were in the shaded area on the western side of the ground. For a few attacks Wiesbaden could only muster two players coming through at the four or five in defense.
On about the 70th minute it was announced that the crowd was 1560, which was still bigger than it looked, especially with only the five Großaspach supporters in the southern stand. Admittedly, Großaspach is a village of only just over 8000 people, the smallest in the 3.Liga, but they were able to attract a crowd of 5084 to their game against Karlsruhe on Tuesday night and their average crowd is 2826. In contrast Wiesbaden have attracted an average crowd of only 2076 across their first five games, with the largest crowd being 2753 in their opening game against FC Carl Zeiss Jena. Possibly the festivals affected the size of the crowd today but they missed out on some excellent attacking football from the home team. Andrist, Schäffler and Diawusie (who came on for Müller on 63 minutes) kept attacking right to the end, and the team got a win where they dominated an opposition who have had a strong start to the season.
Ultimately, the numbers seem to argue that SV Wehen Wiesbaden, after 10 years, have still not really won the hearts of their adopted home town. This is despite the fact that, since their move, they have seemed to play good football and even hold a record in Germany for the fastest goal (by Benjamin Siegert 8 seconds after the whistle in a game against Greuther Fürth). Perhaps the football loving public prefer the Bundeslida, where Eintracht Frankfurt and 1. FC Mainz 05 are both a local train ride away or, maybe, the entrenched attitudes to teams belonging their localities has adversely impacted the ability of this team to attract support.
Brita-Arena is a fun place to watch football, as a spectator you are very close to the game and I can imagine that a big crowd would create a really exciting atmosphere. It did strike me as odd that the seats are the color of the sponsoring company, rather than the team itself. FC Schalke 04’s appearance here in a few weeks for the DFB Pokal will be interesting to watch, I wonder if I can get a ticket (and the time off from work to make it down here for a 6:30pm kickoff).
You can watch highlights of the SV Wehen Wisbaden vs. SG Sonnehof match here.
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