Sunday 28 July 2019

Fortuna Favours the Brave! The Story of Cologne's Cup Final

Some were sat on the rooftops of overlooking houses trying to catch a glimpse whilst thousands more crammed onto the terraces below, and that day they would watch something truly sensational. West German Second Division (2. Bundesliga) side SC Fortuna Köln had one sole top flight Bundesliga campaign to their name whilst visitors Borussia Dortmund (BVB) were three times German champions. It was April 1983 when BVB visited Fortuna for a DFB-Pokal (German Cup) semi final, they were hammered 5-0. For Fortuna, a final against big name crosstown opposition would be in store. 

After that stunning semi final victory fans of Fortuna had to wait until two days later to find out who their opponents in the final would be, and when Bundesliga giants and city neighbours 1. FC Köln beat VfB Stuttgart it set up the incredible prospect of an all Köln (Cologne) cup final. This would be and still is, the only time two teams from the same city have met in a DFB-Pokalfinale.

Fortuna Köln were essentially minnows in West German football and the club who in 1973-74 spent to date their only season in the top flight had not made their second tier debut until 1967. In 1983 they were managed by Martin Luppen, the man who had overseen their promotion to the Bundesliga ten years earlier had returned to the club in 1980. Drawing far bigger crowds, City rivals FC Köln who were at the time managed by the late great Dutch coach Rinus Michels, had themselves come from humble beginnings, but quickly rose to become founder members of the Bundesliga and had twice won the league title. The previous season they had finished runners up for the third time and would go on to finish fifth that year. In the domestic cup, when they met Fortuna in that 1983 final it was their eighth DFB-Pokalfinale with themselves having won the competition three times previously. Fortuna Köln, however, had never appeared in the final before.

Fortuna started their cup run by defeating fellow 2. Bundesliga side SC Freiburg 2-0 at home in round one, Fortuna then faced third tier SSV Ulm away from home. A 0-0 draw after extra time saw a 3-0 replay win at home before a trip to Bundesliga side Eintracht Braunschweig in the next round. 

In the league, Braunschweig were struggling at the wrong end of the table but against a team from the division below they were expected to book their place in the quarter finals. Fortuna, however, had other ideas. Dieter Schatzschneider who had joined a year earlier from Hannover 96 where he'd scored 131 goals in 160 matches twice found the net in the first half to give the visitors a 2-0 lead. Braunschweig pulled one back midway through the second half but Fortua held on for a very impressive victory and one that would set up a quarter final clash with another Bundesliga side - Borussia Mönchengladbach.

Fortuna travelled about 35 miles north west to Gladbach's Bökelbergstadion to face their near neighbours who just six years earlier had been runners up in the European Cup final and were managed by the legendary Jupp Heynckes. Fortuna were expected to lose comfortably and when they went 2-0 down after 47 minutes it seemed they were facing the impossible. In an incredible turn of fortune, however, goals from Gerd Zimmermann and Bernd Grabosch saw the sides level after 73 minutes in what was an unbelievable comeback for the unfancied second tier side. Extra-time came and went without a winner and so it was back to Cologne for a replay.

When Gladbach came to town roughly 14,000 spectators squeezed into Fortuna's modest Südstadion home, a venue three sides uncovered and complete with an athletics track. Fortuna more than held their own in the first half and when on the stroke of half-time a free kick from Florian Hinterberger was fired into the box from the right Schatzschneider was there to head home. From 2-0 down in the first match Fortuna were now winning in the replay.  

Schatzschneider would go on to become the 2.Bundesliga's all-time record goalscorer with 154 second tier goals to his name and that afternoon was to win the match for Fortuna by scoring a second. First, however, West German international Lothar Matthäus drew the visitors level from the penalty spot. Matthäus would go on to help West Germany win the World Cup seven years later but could not stop Gladbach suffering a shock defeat to Fortuna that day. A penalty was also how Fortuna retook the lead, with Schatzschneider firing past Ulrich Sude in the Gladbach goal after Hinterberger had been brought down. 2-1 Fortuna and they were in the semis.

Defeating Gladbach was a famous scalp for Fortuna, but it would soon be overshadowed by an even more stunning result when BVB made the hour long journey south to Cologne for what would turn out to be a very memorable semi-final clash for Fortuna. With a potential final against city neighbours FC Köln instore for Fortuna if they pulled off another shock the home side were bound to be 'up for the cup' as they say, and so it would transpire. As for the other Cologne side, in their cup run, they had beaten Bayer Uerdingen by three goals to one in the first round and then defeated Bayer 04 Leverkusen, a club where Fortuna's Hinterberger later made his name, by the same scoreline in round two. FC Köln then defeated Stuttgarter Kickers 5-1 at home in round three before putting five without reply past FC Schalke 04 in the quarter finals. VfB Stuttgart the more illustrious city neighbours of FC Köln's third round opponents were to visit them in the semi finals. Before that, however, it was Fortuna who would take centre stage.

Fortuna chairman Jean Löring had over years pumped a lot of money in the club and no doubt to help bring days like this. Löring resisted calls to move to the semi final to a bigger venue and once again the terraces at the Südstadion were packed as the semi final kicked off. Twelve Deutsche Mark's (about £3) had been the cost of the cheapest ticket for the match whilst some were being resold at far in excess of face value. With the game a complete sell out thousands were unable to gain entry and it seemed that every possible vantage point overlooking the diminutive stadium was occupied.

The 5,000 visiting supporters amongst the 14200 full house saw their side behind after just six minutes thanks to that man Schatzschneider. A hero in previous rounds, Schatzschneider slotted home into the bottom left hand corner from a crowded box to make it 1-0. Those inside the stadium could scarcely believe it, could another shock be on the cards? 

Well, 1-0 soon became 2-0 and maybe the unexpected really was going happen. Fortuna broke forward on 20 minutes, they were ruthless on the counter attack, and it was Dieter Lemke who fired a low drive into the net from just outside the six yard box. Thirteen minutes later and 2-0 became 3-0, this was Roy of the Rovers stuff from Fortuna. Jürgen Baier picked up the ball and took several touches forward before smashing it home from just outside the box, cue wild scenes. The fans were going berserk in the stands.

3-0 was the half-time score but things quietened down a little in the second half and it wasn't until 86 minutes that we saw goal number four. Erich Sauk fired the ball into the box and Schatzschneider was there to hit it home on the volley. Two goals against Braunschweig, two against Gladbach, and now two against BVB. Schatzschneider was in dreamland, Fortuna Köln were in dreamland, and more importantly, they were heading to the cup final. There was also time for a fifth when Hermann-Josef Werres slotted home from close range after a low through ball free-kick right at the death. And that was it, 5-0 against one of the Bundesliga's biggest names. Fans streamed onto the pitch at full-time, they couldn't believe it. Incredible stuff. Dortmund, meanwhile, responded to the humiliation by promptly firing coach Karlheinz Feldkamp.

As for FC Köln, they secured their final place with a 3-2 victory over Stuttgart after extra time. An all Cologne final that no one could have dreamt of was suddenly a reality.

After the semi finals in early April, both winners had to wait until June 11 for their big cup final clash. A disappointing end to Fortuna's league campaign saw them miss out on what would have been a remarkable promotion, but maybe their minds were elsewhere? In the weeks leading up to the final, there was talk of little else. Throughout the beer halls of Cologne, it seemed that enthusiastic punters discussed nothing but the upcoming match as they drank their local Kölsch beer. The excitement was at fever pitch. 

The DFB-pokalfinale is currently in its 35th year of being played at Berlin's Olympiastadion, but at the time of the 83 final, they were using various venues around the country to host the showpiece event. Naturally, it was decided that years final would be played in Cologne, specifically the Müngersdorfer Stadion where FC Köln played their home games. The ground was full to capacity on cup final day with over 60,000 in attendance, and although technically giving Fortuna's opponents home advantage it was the only suitable venue in the city.

The final kicked off to a cacophony of klaxons and early on it was Fortuna who looked the better side. If their opponents thought this would be a walk in the park they were sadly mistaken. Fortuna's semi final drubbing of BVB certainly wasn't looking like a fluke based on this showing. Plus, despite FC Köln having home advantage on paper, in reality, huge numbers of the 60,000 sell out crowd seemed to be supporting the underdog, something coach Michels had predicted beforehand. It seemed in Cologne they had a soft spot for the little guy. 

Midway through the first half, Fortuna broke forward and it looked as if yet more dreams might come true. However, when Schatzschneider eventually drove a shot from a difficult angle West Germany's no.1 keeper Harald Schumacher had no trouble parrying the ball away and after the subsequent melee in the box, it was cleared to safety. It was only a few minutes later when a long drive from Fortuna's Hans-Jürgen Gede hit the woodwork, FC Köln were starting to get worried. Having said that, even though time and time again Fortuna broke forward, FC Köln generally defended well, forcing Fortuna to try long range efforts like Gede's. Arguably FC Köln's best chance of the first period came from a corner, but as the header from captain Gerhard Strack that followed seemed to drift down and wide Paul Steiner could not quite get a foot onto the end of it. There were other chances for FC Köln just before the interval but Stephan Engels fired his shot wide whilst shortly afterwards a Strack header from a corner was easily stopped by Bernd Helmschrot in the Fortuna goal.

The game stood goalless at the break. There had been more promising football from FC Köln as the first half began to draw towards a close but it was Fortuna who overall had looked the better side. What would occur in the second half? The city of Cologne waited with bated breath.

Schatzschneider scuffed a shot over the bar early into the second half whilst not long afterwards Baier hit the side netting. There were chances at both ends though with Herbert Neumann driving the ball wide for FC Köln. An overhead kick from Schatzschneider also flew wide, but the breakthrough came at the other end midway through the second period. A Neumann through ball saw Klaus Allofs fire the ball across goal and when Helmschrot tried to push the ball clear Pierre Littbarski was there to break Fortuna hearts. 68 minutes on the clock and Littbarski had slotted the ball home to give FC Köln the lead. Relief for FC Köln supporters but if anything the celebrations were a little subdued. Many had hoped to see the city's second team complete a remarkable cup run with a famous victory but instead they had fallen behind. Allofs fired high and wide from a free-kick shortly afterwards as FC Köln looked to kill off the game with a second. A late Hinterberger shot forced Schumacher to push the ball wide and sadly it wasn't to be for Fortuna. FC Köln were the cup winners, Fortuna Köln's heroics had finally ended in defeat at the final hurdle.

A few days after the match the two finalists were afforded a reception at the town hall. For the victors only light applause, for the gallant losers loud cheers. The little club from the Zollstock suburb of the city with its limited fanbase had suddenly captured the hearts of a whole metropolis. Those who would normally support Fortuna's bigger neighbours had seemingly fallen in love with their lesser cousins.

Despite Fortuna's heroics, FC Köln were, however, still the number one team in the city, and when the following season got underway normal service was resumed. This new found love for Fortuna didn't last long as FC Köln continued to draw larger crowds than their neighbours, often six or seven times higher, sometimes more. Two years after that 1983 final FC Köln would find themselves runners up in UEFA Cup, and towards the end of the decade they would twice more finish runners up in the Bundesliga. In recent years FC Köln have spent the odd season in the 2. Bundesliga but Fortuna's position in the second tier is no more. Finally relegated in 2000, they've spent the years since moving between the third, fourth, and fifth tiers of German football, whilst last seasons relegation back to the fourth tier Relgionalliga West saw Cologne's third team FC Viktoria Köln head in the other direction to replace them in the 3. Liga. That famous cup run seems all but a distant memory now!

Sunday 14 July 2019

Switzerland's Most Succesful Club Gearing Up For LIfe Outside The Top Flight For The First Time In Almost Seven Decades

They have a record 27 Swiss league titles to their name, and last season was their 68th straight in the top tier of Swiss football, but when the new Super League campaign starts later this month Grasshopper Club Zürich will be missing. For the first time in almost seven decades, Grasshoppers will be plying their trade outside the top flight.

Since winning their last league title in 2003, Grasshoppers have been beset by financial mismanagement, alleged fraud, constant changes in the boardroom, and the instability of thirteen different managers in sixteen years, not to mention the demolition of their historic Hardturm stadium which has left them homeless and groundsharing with city rivals FC Zurich. The above combined with a decline TV revenue and sponsorship income across Swiss football which has arguably seen Grasshoppers hit harder than most, has also helped bring about an eventual relegation that's seen the club crash out of the top division and face life in the second tier Challenge League for the first time since 1951.

That aforementioned stadium issue came about when plans to build a 30,700-seat stadium on the site of their old Hardturm home had to be shelved. Originally planned to be built in the time for Euro 2008, the project was delayed and then later scrapped in 2009 when the main backers Credit Suisse pulled out citing the banking crisis. By this point, the Hardturm had already been knocked down and what was meant to be a temporary stay at the home of their arch rivals suddenly looked like it would become a more long term affair.

In 2018 a referendum saw locals vote in favour of a new planned stadium for Grasshoppers, but at the minute they are still playing their matches at FC Zurich's Stadion Letzigrund. Before last seasons relegation, their league form at Letzigrund had been rather mixed, several second placed finishes have been combined with stints lower down the table, finishing as low as third bottom 2011-12 and second bottom just above the relegation spot the season before last. There was, however, a Swiss Cup triumph in 2013 when they beat FC Basel on penalties in the final.

For all the recent troubles, it wasn't till last season that Grasshoppers actually hit rock bottom. Summing up their plight, local daily newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung recently described the club as being 'terminally ill', and after events earlier this year that phrase does not seem too far off being accurate. 2018-19 saw Grasshoppers in a 36 game season end up with just five victories to their name and finishing some twelve points behind second bottom Neuchâtel Xamax. But that was only half the story... 

On 16 March Grasshoppers' match away at Sion was abandoned after 56 minutes when visiting fans started throwing fireworks onto the pitch. The home side who were 2-0 up at the time were awarded a 3-0 victory. Things got even worse when the club saw a second match of theirs abandoned less than two months later. The game away at FC Luzern on 12 May saw visiting Grasshopper supporters threaten to invade the pitch and reportedly demand the team's players hand over their shirts stating they were not fit to wear them, or as the Daily Mail claimed, told them: 'Hand over your shirts and socks and crawl back to the dressing room like dogs'. With attempts to calm supporters down unsuccessful, the players unbelievably did eventually hand their shirts over. The bottom of the league club were 4-0 down when the match was stopped. The result if allowed to stand would relegate Grasshoppers but whilst a disciplinary panel took its time in awarding Luzern the 4-0 win, relegation was in the meantime officially confirmed anyway when four days later Grasshoppers lost 6-1 to champions Young Boys. A sorry end for one of Switzerland's grandest names. 

For a club that had not won a league game since last November, it had for quite a while felt like a case when not if, but that did not make the inevitable any easier when it finally happened as the reaction from supporters showed. But now the dust has settled and the club is moving on, preparing for life outside a top flight they had graced for so long. In less than a weeks time Grasshoppers kick off a new league campaign when they entertain FC Baden in the opening round of second tier Challenge League fixtures and will be hoping for a return to the top flight with help of several familiar names. Coach Uli Forte returned to the club last season, whilst former club captain Veroljub Salatic re signed for the club last month, shortly followed by fellow ex Grasshoppers player Nassim Ben Khalifa. Forte who says he wants an 'immediate resurgence' had previously been in charge when the club won the cup in 2013 and he returned as to replace Tomislav Stipic who was fired after just six games in charge having taken over from Thorsten Fink who left in March. 33-year-old midfielder Salatic meanwhile had played under Forte when the club won the Swiss Cup six years ago, whilst 27-year-old attacker Khalifa was also part of that cup winning side.

"Grasshopper Zurich is an institution and belongs in the Swiss Super League," said Forte after relegation was confirmed, and a name as big as Grasshoppers were always going to favourites for the second tier title, something that would mean an immediate return to the Super League. But whether or not the crisis hit club returns at the first attempt remains to be seen, after all this is alien territory for a club who had been in the top tier as long as Grasshoppers had.

Monday 8 July 2019

Odense BK and the Miracle in Madrid

It was a tale that even Hans Christian Andersen himself could not have dreamt up. Michael Schjønberg hit the ball across the box where Jesper Hjorth left it for Morten Bisgaard to slot home, leaving Real Madrid absolutely stunned. In second half injury time Danish minnows Odense Boldklub (OB) had scored a goal that was to send the Spaniards crashing out of the UEFA Cup. One of Europe's most famous clubs had fallen foul to one of the great upsets of European club football history.

They called it 'Miraklet i Madrid', the Miracle in Madrid, 6 December 1994, a team who had never been past the first round of a European competition before from a country whose clubs had had little in the way of European success over the years came back from a home first leg deficit to knock out the most successful club in European football history.

OB at that time were one of the more successful teams in Danish football, league champions in 1977, they won two more league titles in the 1980s and had finished as high as second only two seasons previously. Domestic club football in Denmark, however, had been completely amateur until 1978 and only in recent years had it became fully professional. Real Madrid, on the other hand, were six times European Cup winners and had twice won the UEFA Cup itself, whilst playing in what was one of the strongest domestic competitions in Europe they had been league champions five times in the previous ten seasons and would go on to win the league crown again that campaign. Real Madrid's squad included big names stars such as centre back Fernando Hierro, Luis Enrique who would later join arch rivals FC Barcelona, Dane Michael Laudrup, signed from arch rivals FC Barcelona, a young Raúl who would go on to score 71 Champions League goals over the course of his career, and Chilean star Iván Zamorano. Almost all of OB's players, however, were completely unknown outside of Denmark. It truly was a mismatch of enormous proportions, and if you needed more proof of the gulf between the two teams well they had actually met in the first round of the same competition in 1990 and Real Madrid prevailed 10-1 on aggregate!

OB would meet Real Madrid in the third round of the 1994-95 UEFA Cup but their campaign started in the preliminary round where they eased past Estonian side Flora Tallinn 6-0 on aggregate, whilst a 6-1 aggregate victory over Northern Ireland's Belfast based Linfield in the first round followed. Real Madrid entered in round one and Sporting Clube de Portugal were defeated thanks to the away goals rule after a 2-2 aggregate scoreline. In the second round, Real Madrid dispatched of Dynamo Moscow 6-2 over the two legs to set up a tie with either German side 1. FC Kaiserslautern or of course Odense BK in round three.

Nevermind Real Madrid, beating Kaiserslautern would in itself be a tall order for OB. Kaiserslautern had finished second in the German Bundesliga the previous season, just one point behind champions FC Bayern München, and their squad included players such as Stefan Kuntz who would go on to play a key role in the Germany side that was to win the European Championships two years later, and an ageing Andreas Brehme who had been part of Germany's 1990 World Cup winning side.

In the first leg away in Germany OB more than held their own and with the match poised at 0-0 heading into the final 20 minutes took a shock lead. A thunderbolt long range strike from Carsten Hemmingsen, brother of club captain Michael, found the net from comfortably more than 30 yards out. Cue crazy celebrations from the men in blue and white. OB's lead only lasted two minutes, however, as a Ciriaco Sforza corner flew past everyone and into the net. A 1-1 final score meant it could be a fascinating second leg in Denmark's third largest city. OB's away goal gave them the advantage going into the second leg, and despite all the excitement promised the game actually finished goalless. Nonetheless, it was a massive result for OB, they had knocked out one of the bigger names in the competition and set up a dream last sixteen tie with the mighty Real Madrid.

The first leg of that last sixteen tie took place in front of a bumper crowd at OB's Odense Stadion and was a five goal thriller. A swerving effort from outside the box saw Michael Schjønberg give OB the lead on the stroke of half time and the locals couldn't believe it, little OB were 1-0 up against one of the biggest clubs world football. 22 minutes into the second half, however, Real Madrid found themselves level when a ball across the box saw Iván Zamorano slot home. José Amavisca fired the visitors in front two minutes later but OB were level eleven minutes from time when a thunderbolt strike from Hjorth found the back of the net. 2-2, unbelievable. That, however, was not the end of it though. Real Madrid's Danish international Laudrup along with his brother Brian was one of the country's star players, and far too good for the substandard Danish Superliga had made a name for himself abroad, most recently in Madrid. That night he was to hand the visitors victory. His low drive from just outside the box in the 90th minute settled the match and left OB with a mammoth task ahead in the second leg.

OB were only one goal down after the first leg but with Real Madrid having three away goals to their name OB would need to win the second leg by two clear goals if they wanted to progress to the quarter finals, a seemingly impossible task.

OB were inspired that night, and none more so than local lad goalkeeper Lars Høgh. Høgh's heroic performance prevented what would have a Real Madrid rampage as time and time again he made important saves to stop a truly dominant home side further their advantage from the first leg. Laudrup had a chance saved at close range, Alfonso saw a drive blocked, then Emilio Butragueño forced Høgh to make a brilliant save, Laudrup had another effort saved in the second-half, and Høgh was also on hand to save from a free-kick. For Høgh it really was the game of his life.

All those saves were all fine and well but OB actually needed goals if they wanted to progress, they'd hit the crossbar in the first half but finally got the breakthrough on 71 minutes. Hjorth played the ball through to Ulrik Pedersen who raced into the box and slotted home. A real sense of nervousness suddenly swept through the Bernabéu, the home side were still ahead in the tie but only just. 

Whilst Real Madrid continued to create chances they failed to find an equaliser, and it was in injury time that the inconceivable happened. Bisgaard had first entered the pitch thanks to a substitution less than ten minutes earlier and when he put the visitors 2-0 up right at the death it was one of those classic European away goal scenes where you could almost hear a pin drop. Of the 58 goals Morten Bisgaard scored across a career that included 101 appearances for Derby County, none was more dramatic than the stoppage time goal in Madrid. The OB players went wild pilling on top of each other, others were going crazy in the away team dugout, and those commentating on the match for Denmark's TV2 were getting more than a little excited, but almost all the rest of the stadium was in complete silence, they could not believe what they had just seen.

A small club from Denmark whom many Real Madrid supporters might not have even heard of before the pair were drawn together had dumped them out of the UEFA Cup in the most dramatic of fashion. Yes, the white half of Madrid would be crowned Spanish league champions at the end of the season, but it would always be the campaign in which they lost to little Odense Boldklub.

OB would ultimately suffer a 1-0 aggregate loss to Italian side Parma in the next round, which still stands as their most successful European campaign to date. 

Having made his senior debut for his hometown side in 1977, one club man Lars Høgh would in total make 817 appearances for OB in a career that spanned over twenty years, and now runs coaching courses in Denmark. Ulrik Pedersen retired from football in 2011 having played for several clubs in Denmark and now works as an environmental consultant. Randers born midfielder Bisgaard returned to OB in 2007 before retiring two years later, he'd originally left the club in 1998 and had spells with Udinese, FC København, and of course Derby. He now works as a TV commentator back home in Denmark.  

Almost 25 years on and OB's achievement seems just as incredible as ever, whilst in the current Champions League era where the continent's biggest clubs seemingly get richer and richer year by and year, and even more dominant season after season, it is a shock of which we may struggle to ever see the like of again. That night in Madrid, it really was the stuff of miracles. 

A version of this was publish on Pundit Freed and can be viewed here

Saturday 6 July 2019

Kevin Keegan: The Hamburg Years

"The mongrel who made it to Crufts" was how Kevin Keegan once described his two European Footballer of the Year awards in 1978 and 79, but although Keegan did not consider himself to have the same natural ability as some of the names who had won the coveted prize previously, he was as the seventies ended and a new decade began, possibly the biggest footballing name on the planet. Already a star in his own right, when England captain Keegan moved to West Germany in 1977 he took his career to the next level. After an inconspicuous start, Keegan soon set the Bundesliga alight and followed around the country by his band adoring supporters he became not just a superstar on the field but also a big time celebrity off it. 

Fresh from winning the European Cup with Liverpool, Kevin Keegan was on the move. Keegan had insisted on having a £500,000 release clause in his contract and as the 1976-77 season got underway talk was it would be his last with the Reds. Rumour had it he wanted to move to the continent, Juventus were apparently interested, Barcelona and Real Madrid too, there was also keen interest from West Germany with the likes of Bayern München and Borussia Mönchengladbach supposedly keen on signing the number one forward in England. But as Keegan entered the pitch when the 1977-78 season got underway he was actually wearing the colours of Hamburger SV (HSV).

HSV had the previous season won the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup, but entrepreneur Dr Peter Krohn who was running the Hitachi electronics backed club had ideas that were much grander and wanted the Hamburg based club to become in the number one team in West Germany. Popular coach Kuno Klotzer was out the door and Rudi Gutendorf was brought in to replace him, whilst along with Gutendorf, Keegan was also brought into the club. He was signed for a British record transfer fee and was reportedly the highest paid player in Germany.

Aside from the usual struggles when moving abroad, such as learning the language and local customs, Keegan also had other more difficult problems at his new club. Although things would get better and eventually he'd be a massive hit in Germany, to begin with, life was tough for Keegan. The HSV squad did not initially take to Keegan, and Gutendorf would later claim that a large group of players advised him they did not want to play with “this Englishman”. Keegan's performances to begin with meanwhile were at best average.

In Keegan's first league game for HSV, they suffered a 5-2 home defeat against MSV Duisburg at the clubs Volksparkstadion ground, whilst Keegan scored his first goal for his new club in a 3-1 win at home to 1. FC Kaiserslautern at the end of August. An overall fairly poor start to the season saw the club got rid of manager Gutendorf in October and replaced him with ex player Ozcan Arkoc, a Turkish former goalkeeper, and for Keegan especially things only got worse when in November HSV faced Liverpool in the European Super Cup.

In those days the Super Cup was a two legged affair and after a 1-1 draw in Hamburg, HSV were hammered 6-0 away at Anfield. Terry McDermott scored a hat-trick and the Kop chanted ‘We all agree - Dalglish is better than Keegan’ and ‘You should have stayed at Anfield’. It had at best been a tough start for Keegan at his new club, in fact, he would later describe the first six months as a "nightmare".

Come the winter break Keegan had only scored four league goals, and in a winter friendly, he punched an opponent, something that resulted in not just a sending off but also a 9 game suspension. By the end of the season, the club had finished tenth and Keegan had scored 12 goals in 33 league and cup appearances. Keegan's first season in West Germany had not been one of his greatest but it was certainly not a disaster either as the players slowly began to see him as an asset and changed their negative attitude towards him. In his second campaign, things would only get better, much better.

New General manager Gunter Netzer appointed Branko Zebec as head coach for the 1978-79 season. Zebec installed a strict training regime that Keegan claims was the toughest he’d ever experienced in his career. In the opening match of the 1978-79 season, HSV beat Borussia Mönchengladbach 3-0 at home. Mönchengladbach had been Bundesliga champions 3 of the previous 4 seasons, only missing out on goal difference in the last campaign, and in the previous meeting between the two sides, HSV had lost 6-2 making their win all the more impressive. HSV found themselves just one point behind leaders Kaiserslautern going into the winter break and although Keegan's first goal of the campaign did not come until Round 12 when he scored in a 5-0 demolition of Borussia Dortmund, he scored twice against Schalke 04 in mid November and a hat-trick against Armenia Bielefeld in December.

Whilst the team were beginning to come to together and perform well on the pitch, there was also individual success for Keegan when at the end of December he was voted European Footballer of the Year, winning the coveted Ballon d'Or trophy. The previous season he'd finished second behind Allan Simonsen. The players and the fans were certainly now behind the new European Footballer of the Year, though to be fair most supporters had been from day one and had soon nicknamed him 'Mighty Mouse' after a famous cartoon character from that era. Keegan was loved by the clubs supporters and mobbed wherever he went, and when in one interview discussing life in Germany said he missed his favourite British breakfast cereals that he could not find in Germany, he was inundated with packages from fans that included boxes of his favoured cereals and lists of local suppliers. Whilst fans helped Keegan feel most welcome, Keegan himself was also trying hard to integrate into the local community and was becoming more and more fluent in the German language, something he had been working hard to master.

HSV failed to win any of their first three games after the winter break but then beat Hertha BSC 3-1 with Keegan scoring twice, and this was the first match of a thirteen match unbeaten run. In April Keegan was on the scoresheet again as league leaders Kaiserslautern were beaten 3-1, this left HSV third in the table with a game in hand. HSV soon found themselves up to second when league leaders Kaiserslautern started to drop points and fell to third.

Keegan scored goal number 10 of the season against Eintracht Braunschweig and number 11 came when HSV beat Duisburg. Defending champions 1. FC Köln now languishing in 9th position were next up and a stunning display from Keegan and the team saw Keegan score twice and HSV win 6-0. That win put HSV top of the table. Several matches later and HSV were two points clear with just two to play. Keegan had scored twice against Schalke on a day that their two nearest challengers both dropped points, he then scored against Eintracht Frankfurt to make it six goals in his last four games.

HSV travelled to relegation threatened Armenia Bielefeld in their penultimate match and the 0-0 draw played out might on another day have seen the title race go to the wire, but defeats for rivals Kaiserslautern and Stuttgart saw HSV crowned champions for the first time in 19 years. Keegan had scored seventeen goals across the course of the season, that difficult start to life in Germany the previous season seemed a world away, and the European Footballer of the Year had proved why he was exactly that!

As mentioned, Keegan as a footballer was loved by his supporters in Germany, but he was also as big an icon off the pitch as he was a star on it. After being named European Footballer of the Year Keegan soon found himself appearing on tv chat shows, starring tv commercials on road safety, putting his name to brands of football boots, and even releasing a hit pop single. When that title winning season was over he turned his hand to the music business and that summer released a single called “Head Over Heels in Love”, written by Chris Norman and Peter Spencer it reached Number 31 over in the UK charts and as high as number 10 in Germany. 

After winning the Bundesliga Keegan's initial two year contract with HSV was up but he agreed to sign on for another year, there had been offers to move elsewhere but for now Keegan was staying put for in Germany. Before Keegan's second season in Germany got underway he had spent the summer back in England working as a pundit giving his opinions on the World Cup in Argentina from ITV's London TV studio. Working alongside Nottingham Forest manager Brian Clough, Keegan claims he was asked if he fancied playing for Clough's newly crowned English champions but turned down the offer feeling their personalities would clash if the pair worked together. 

An excellent start to the 1979/80 season saw HSV top the table after four games and their good form continued throughout the first half of their Bundesliga campaign as they went into the winter break in second place with Keegan for the second successive year being voted European Footballer of the Year. Last season's Bundesliga triumph also meant European Cup football for Keegan and HSV with Icelandic champions Valur defeated in the first round before a tie with Soviet side Dinamo Tbilisi. 

Dinamo Tbilisi faced HSV having just beaten Keegan's former club Liverpool in round one and in the first leg in Hamburg Keegan scored HSV's second as they came from behind to win 3-1, he also scored in Tbilisi as HSV progressed 6-3 on aggregate. In the next round HSV faced Yugoslavian side Hajduk Split and a 1-0 win at home came ahead of a second leg in Yugoslavia that saw HSV leading 2-1 before Hajduk scored twice late on to make it a nervy ending for the visitors who in the end held on to qualify for the next round thanks to the away goal rule. Next HSV would face Real Madrid in the semi finals.

An excellent run of form saw HSV back top of the table before the semi final clash, although fourteen goals and three wins in the run up to the first leg of the Real Madrid tie saw Keegan only score once. The first leg of the semi final took place at Santiago Bernabéu Stadium in Madrid and Carlos Santillana scored twice to give Real a crucial 2-0 lead to take to West Germany. HSV were really up against it now. HSV found themselves 2-0 up after 17 minutes in their semi final second leg but Real Madrid soon scored a vital away goal before HSV scored two more to take a 4-1 lead into the break. In the second half HSV held Real Madrid at bay and scored a fifth in the 90th minute, they had reached the European Cup final. A stunning turnaround after the first leg.

In the European Cup final, Keegan would face Forest and Clough who were aiming for a second successive European Cup final triumph. Back in the Bundesliga, there had been a 6-0  win for HSV over 1860 München where Felix Magath bagged a hat-trick and Keegan was also on the scoresheet. In the race for the title, however, FC Bayern were also firing on all cylinders and put seven past Werder Bremen. HSV won their next two but then out of the blue lost 3-1 at Bayer Leverkusen in their final match before heading off to play in the European Cup final.

That defeat against Leverkusen had handed FC Bayern advantage in the title race, and it was a title Bayern would go on to win a few games later when the league campaign ended and Keegan departed. As with Liverpool, at HSV Keegan also had a £500,000 release clause in his contract and in February of 1980 announced his intention leave when the season was over. 'Welcome home Kevin!' would be the headline in World Soccer magazine with his destination Southampton, but first, there was the matter of Nottingham Forest and another trip to the Bernabéu, the venue for the 1980 European Cup final.

For Keegan, the 25th European Cup final sadly did not end in glory. HSV's attack came up against a disciplined Forest side, and it was Brain Clough's men who came out on top. For all Keegan's running, he was on the losing team as Forest ran out winners by one goal to nil.

With his German sojourn over, Keegan left Hamburg an even bigger superstar than the one who arrived from Liverpool three years earlier. Keegan would go on to have footballing success elsewhere as both a player and a manager, but never would he quite have the celebrity status that he did when he was European Footballer of the Year two seasons running at HSV, a period when he was as big a superstar off the pitch as he was on it. Many years later David Beckham became a global celebrity superstar in Madrid and then Los Angeles, but Kevin Keegan was ahead of his time in that respect. For a brief period, it almost felt like Kevin Keegan ruled the world!

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