When RB Leipzig play the first of their Champions League group stage games in September they will be the first team from the former East Germany to play in European competition for 26 years. The last team to play prior was Rot-Weiß Erfurt who lost 1:5 on aggregate in the second round of the 1991/1992 UEFA Cup to the eventual winners, an Ajax Amsterdam team coached by Louis Van Gaal and featuring a young Dennis Bergkamp (who scored in every round of the competition except the final that year). It was the final year for separate East and West German representation and another East German side, Hallescher FC, also played in the Cup that year but went out in the first round to Torpedo Moscow.
Interestingly, while Ajax traveled to Erfurt’s Steigerwaldstadion, Erfurt did not get to travel to Amsterdam. As a penalty for the ‘Staafincident’ of 27 September 1989 (a metal rod was thrown by a spectator which hit Austria Wien keeper Franz Wohlfahrt in the back) Ajax were initially banned from European competition for two years. However, the punishment was reduced on appeal to one year along with their next three matches in European competition being played at least 200 klm from Amsterdam. Consequently, on November 6th of 1991, Erfurt played their most recent European game at the Rheinstadion in Dusseldorf.
The Steigerwaldstadion in Erfurt that we see today is very different from the one where Ajax played. In the last couple of years it has been undergoing significant renovations and the east stand is very new, having only opened last year. Unlike many of the other grounds in Germany it is a multifunction arena, with a international quality running track around the football pitch and various conference rooms and facilities under the stands, because it is largely owned by the city. The official opening is due to happen later this week (on August 6th) with a match against Borussia Dortmund. Back on January 22nd the original game against Dortmund was canceled because fog prevented their aircraft from landing, and a previously scheduled opening match against Mainz 05 was canceled for ‘technical reasons’.
It is only a short 1.6 klm (1 mile) walk south from the Hauptbahnhof to the stadium which takes about 20 minutes, alternatively you can take the tram on line 1 toward Thüringenhalle, which stops outside the stadium. It would seat close to 20 000 people when all the stands are open however the western stand, which is the oldest part of the ground, is currently closed for most games. When the new stands were built they discovered that the old stand did not meet the fire code, so it is only opened for special occasions (like the upcoming game against Dortmund, or the local rivalry against Jena) when fire marshals will be present.
Speaking of that local rivalry, Erfurt have not had a good start to the season. Matchdays 1 and 2 brought a draw and a loss. However, when the 3 Liga table was read out at the beginning of the game the fact that Erfurt was in 18th place received a huge cheer, because Jena were in 20th, having started the season with two losses. On the whole the crowd was in good spirits before the game, the Erfurt fans did a great job of singing along to ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, and the visitors end was particularly full, which was a huge effort from Rostock supporters given that it was a Tuesday night and the two cities are approximately 500 klm (310 miles) apart.
The game began very cagily, with both sides lining up in very traditional 4-4-2 formations and largely trying to spread the ball from side to side and make use of their speed on the wings. It was noticeable that Erfurt were using the occasional long ball in the center to make use of the height of Beiber (who is 196 cm, or 6 foot 5), however the knock downs he did manage to achieve were negated by Rostock sitting Bischoff and Henning very deep and sweeping up the ball before Kammlott could get on to it. The other noticeable thing was that the ground seemed to be very slippery; a number of players had trouble staying on their feet.
For the first 20 minutes not a lot happened. Erfurt won a couple of corners, but were unable to do anything with them. A shot from deep by Wannenwetsch bounced awkwardly for Klewin in the Erfurt goal and he had to do well to stop the rebound from being turned in by Ziemer. At the other end Bieber managed to knock the ball down for Biankadi, but he could not keep his shot down and it sailed into the crowd. Gradually, while Erfurt had looked the stronger side, Rostock started to take some control of the center of the pitch. A free kick on 26 minutes taken by Bischoff from about 25 meters out, level with the left hand edge of the penalty box, was lifted over to the far right hand corner of the goal. Rostock defender Hüsing managed to get around and head the ball down where it snuck past Klewin and into the back of the net.
For much of the rest of the first half, Rostock managed to stifle any and all Erfurt attacks. Having said that, there was not a lot happening at the other end of the pitch either. Both defenses were working very hard and it was difficult for either side to penetrate. Fortunately, the Erfurt fans in the Sudcurve had a variety of chants based on well-known English language songs (even though the chants were in German) that provided entertainment. As well as some of the old standards, such as ‘My Darling Clementine’, I also got to hear versions of ‘Country Road’ by John Denver, ‘Super Trooper’ by ABBA, and, most remarkably, ‘Only You’ by Yazoo.
The second half began much as the first had ended, both teams playing very tight defensively and struggling to make an impact going forward. At different times players for each had good headed chances; Kammlott for Erfurt on 49 minutes, Benyamina (who had come on as a substitute) for Rostock on 77 minutes, but neither really directed them well. The Erfurt fans became increasingly frustrated at the lack of communication between their players, with passes frequently going astray, and players losing control of the ball, as they tried to press to get back in the match.
While the quality of the football in the 3 Liga is generally quite solid, every now and then some truly bizarre things happen. While I have seen some terrible attempts at throw-ins during my time I had never seen a player throw the ball down and between their own legs, until tonight, when Rostock’s Nadeau managed to do exactly that. Almost as crazy, in extra time as Erfurt were making one last push to score from a corner, Klewin also came from his own goal up into the Rostock penalty box. Of course, the ball was cleared to Bouziane for Rostock near the half way line and he headed for goal with only one Erfurt defender anywhere near him. Even from the other end of the pitch you could hear the Rostock fans screaming at him to shoot. However he ran with the ball down into the box before attempting to finish and somehow Erfurt were able to first smother and then clear.
Rot-Weiß Erfurt are the only side to have played in every season of the 3. Liga since its inception in 2008-2009. On this showing, the only way they are likely to break the streak this year is for them to be relegated. At the end of the game they were sitting in last place on the table because, even worse than Erfurt losing, Jena had won 0:2 away to Hallescher FC. The 7269 fans who were present might have been frustrated at the lack of goals, but the very sizable contingent from Rostock would not have been upset with the result. This win put their team up into third, although there are a number of Matchday 3 games taking place tomorrow. However, if any of them were catching the train back to Rostock tonight they might have experienced some frustration. When I got back to Erfurt Hauptbahnhof it had been evacuated while the bomb squad investigated a suspicious package and it took a while before it was declared safe to get to the trains.