Sporting derbies arise for a number of reasons. Sometimes it can be between two teams in the same city, such as Manchester’s City and United. Alternatively, they could be between the two biggest teams in a country, as with Barcelona and Real Madrid. They can also involved two towns that are in close proximity to one another, as with the Revierderby between Schalke 04 and Borussia Dortmund. They might even be between, in Germany, two teams in the same state.
In the 3. Liga there are a variety of football derby games. As has been previously documented in these reports, there is a rivalry between 1. FC Magdeburg and FC Hallescher over who is the best team in Saxony-Anhalt. Similarly, there is also a rivalry between Chemnitzer FC and FSV Zwickau in Saxony. VfL Osnabrück have rivalries with SV Meppen and Preußen Münster who are relatively near neighbors. Given that Lotte is only 12 klm away from Osnabrück, it might be assumed that there is a local rivalry with Sportfreunde Lotte as well. SC Paderborn also see themselves as having a rivalry with Osnabrück. In the state of Thuringia, the derby game is between Rot-Weiß Erfurt and Carl-Zeiss Jena. The two biggest cities in the state are just under 50 klm [31 miles] apart.
When I went to my first game of German football, just a few days after I had moved here, I was surprised to see that the person in front of me was wearing a t-shirt which, on the back, featured a person in a Carl-Zeiss Jena shirt urinating on a Rot-Weiß Erfurt jersey. They were not playing each other on that day –at the time they were in different leagues. However, the rivalry was clearly felt. It has been six years since they were last in the 3. Liga together. Back in 2011/12 each won their home game. In the eight games total that they played in the 3. Liga between 2008 and 2012, Erfurt won five, Jena won two and one match was drawn. However, both these teams also compete in the Thüringische Landespokal (Thuringia Cup), frequently playing in the final against one another. The last two of these meetings were in 2013/14 and 2015/16 have both been won by Jena. In all, prior to today, these two teams have played each other 100 times since World War II.
I had not originally intended to attend this match, given that I was in Erfurt back on Matchday 3 when Rot-Weiß Erfurt were defeated by Hansa Rostock. However, a group of people from my workplace had organized to go as a group in excitement at the derby game atmosphere. At the same time, a number of other people expressed concern, speculating that there would be violence and we could be putting ourselves at risk. However, the heavy police presence in Weimar (halfway between the two cities) and then once we arrived in Erfurt, was reassuring. A force of approximately 2000 police, as well as barbed wire, bars in front of the sales booths, closed roads, and closed toilets in the guest area, showed that security was being taken seriously. This was also demonstrated by the voluntary closure of two section of the ground, restricting what could have been a crowd of nearly 20 000, down to 12 499.
The two teams started the day in difficult positions. FSV Zwickau’s 0-2 victory away at SC Preußen Münster the previous evening meant that, when the game began, Erfurt were sitting at the bottom of the 3.Liga. Zwickau’s better goal difference also meant that Jena were only a few places above them in 16th. Even apart from the local pride involved in this derby, both teams desperately needed a win to stay competitive in the league.
Before the game, the atmosphere was just as we had hoped it might be. The 1700 travelling fans were a mass of, what seemed to be, identical blue shirts completely filling their allotted section of the Nordtribune. However, the bulk of spectators were clearly there to support the home side, with the Red and White of Erfurt completely filling the rest of the open parts of the stadium. Even with stands only selling alcohol free beer, singing, chanting, drumming and bouncing were a huge part of the pre-match warm up and continued throughout the rest of the game. Erfurt’s ultras had warmed up by gathering in the Domplatz earlier in the day to prepare for the afternoons game.
Sadly, when the match got under way, the quality of the football did not match the level of the support. The pressure was clearly on the players not only to win but, more importantly, not to lose. After two and a half minutes a sharp tackle led to some pushing and shoving and it seemed that the tension that the police were doing their best to quell among the spectators might instead erupt among the players. Things calmed down somewhat, but the opening term was filled with misplayed passes, hard tackles, high pressing and both goalkeepers finding it difficult to direct their kicking. Erfurt seemed to be playing a game of long balls and quick breaks whereas Jena seemed to settle faster and played a more attractive passing football, which appeared to suggest that they were the better team. However the only save made during the half was from Merveille Biankadi of Erfurt, who was using his speed to cause problems for the Jena defense.
At halftime, rather than some of the usual music and commentary that spectators are often presented with, we were given the entertainment of the draw for the round of 16 in the Thüringische Landespokal. From the perspective of marketing the Cup in the region it probably makes sense as the two largest teams in the state were both present along with a large number of their fans. However, perhaps the draw itself did not quite go as the organizers might have hoped. As it progressed and neither teams name was drawn it looked more and more as if Erfurt and Jena could find themselves playing against one another a further time sooner, rather than later, this season. Sure enough, at the beginning of October they will meet again, this time at the Ernst-Abbe-Sportfeld in Jena.
The second half began much in the manner that the first half had ended. Erfurt’s coach Stefan Krämer, however, had shown his intentions by replacing the more defensively minded Berkay Dabanli with the striker Elias Huth. As had happened at the beginning of the first half, a large number of flares were set off in the Sudkurve (despite announcements over the loudspeakers pleading with the fans not to use pyrotechnics) and then, a few minutes later, accompanied by signs saying ‘Direct Action Gets Satisfaction’ a number of what seemed to be Jena banners were burned by the Erfurt ultras. It was difficult to tell if the signs were related to the burning, or the styles of Erfurt’s play, which was still dominated by long balls being thumped forward that did not look likely to change when, on the hour, Krämer brought on the almost 2 metre tall striker Christopher Bieber to replace Samir Benamar.
At the other end, another terrible clearance from Philipp Klewin in Erfurt’s goal saw Timmy Thiele almost put the first goal away for Jena, but he hesitated a fraction too long and his shot was blocked. A minute later Thiele just missed getting the shot in from a Manfred Starke cross. However, the Jena defence were still looking concerned by the long ball, with Jan Löhmannsröben being yellow carded for rugby tackling an Erfurt forward who had slipped past him and was heading toward the goal. On 67 minutes there were howls for a penalty for handball from the Erfurt fans when another long through ball was hooked back from the goal line into the face of a sliding Jena defender before going out for a corner. The howls quickly turned to cheers of delight when the resulting corner was lifted by Christoph Menz onto the head of Bieber who buried his first goal of the season in the top left corner. 1:0 to Erfurt.
The next twenty minutes were frantic as Jena pushed forward to try to get an equalizer. Within three minutes Klewin had already been forced to make two good saves and two other shots went just over and just wide respectively. Even the advertising at the ground seemed to get caught up in the madness, with the electronic boards around the pitch shorting out on 76 minutes and being unable to be brought back on. Not long after Jena’s loan signing from FC Augsburg, Julian Günther-Schmidt, lifted a ball over Klewin only to see it come back off the crossbar and Starke could only head the follow-up back across the face of the goal. Erfurt were defending frantically and Biankadi was given a yellow card for kicking the ball away late but all of Jena’s pressure came to naught as the full-time whistle blew.
A single goal win for Erfurt lifts them out of the relegation spots to 16th and they effectively swapped places with Jena who are now at the foot of the table. A number of my colleagues, a few of whom had not been to a competitive football game before, commented on how much they had enjoyed the game with the atmosphere (if not the quality of the football) being the main talking point. Our trip back into town was forced into a detour as roads were blocked to continue to maintain the distance between the opposing spectators and it was noticeable how many police were headed back to the Hauptbahnhof as well. No doubt there will be a similar number of police present in just under a month when the next Thuringian derby takes place in Jena.
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