Sunday, 15 September 2019

Overshadowed by Red Bull: The Other Two Leipzig Clubs, a History Largely Forgotten and a Present Mostly Unnoticed

The old main stand at 1. FC Lokomotive Leipzig's Bruno-Plache Stadion home is a relic from a bygone era and whilst the terracing around the ground is no doubt functional it too would not look out of place in a black and white photograph. Similar sentiments could easily be aired if you visited cross town rivals BSG Chemie Leipzig at their Alfred-Kunze-Sportpark home. However, this is of course not the Leipzig your average modern day football fan has come to know. But whilst Bundesliga high flyers RasenBallsport Leipzig are a fairly new addition to German football, currently playing in the lower echelons of German football Lokomtoive and Chemie can trace their roots back to the days of the Berlin wall and the communist state in the East.

Currently overshadowed by their new city neighbours, since reunification both Lok and Chemie have struggled facing bankruptcy and reformation with a sole Bundesliga season between them. But once upon a time, both clubs were big name successful sides often competing against the greatest names in not just East Germany but across Europe. In 1987 Lok themselves even appeared in a European final. However, theirs is a history largely forgotten and a present mostly unnoticed.

The RasenBallsport Leipzig story is one by now well known. The Red Bull Empire looking to invest in German football bought a fifth tier side based just outside Leipzig in 2009, renamed and completely rebranded them, moved them into the city's main stadium rebuilt for the 2006 World Cup and took them to the top flight Bundesliga. With football struggling in the city and a fantastic arena going largely unused Red Bull tapped into the city's potential and now have a team regularly playing in front of 40,000 spectators. The club's full name of RasenBallsport Leipzig, often shortened to RB Leipzig (RB for Red Bull), came about because of rules stating German clubs can not change their name for sponsorship reasons meaning Red Bull Leipzig was out of the question. RasenBallsport translates as 'Lawn Ball Sports'.

The Red Bull club, however, is hated by many football supporters across the country who dislike the way they have bought success and the fact that they are run by a large corporation and have very little in the way of fan membership, something very uncommon in German football.

Just as English football did not start in 1992 with the formation of the Premier League, football in Leipzig did not start with Red Bull in 2009. 'Lok' can trace their roots back to VfB Leipzig, a club formed in 1893 but were dissolved after the war. In the early years of German football, VfB were one of the country's top sides and were, in fact, the country's first ever football champions in 1903. The club was reformed as SG Probstheida and after several dissolutions and mergers forced upon them by the East German state became 1. FC Lokomotive Leipzig in 1966. Chemie were also able to trace their history back to several previous clubs whilst various similar mergers ended with BSG Chemie Leipzig being formed in 1950, and although the club were dissolved by the state a few years later they reformed in 1963. Along with Lok, Chemie continued in that latest guise until the wall came down without any further meddling as both clubs became prominent forces in East German football.

The story of football in Leipzig during the early years after the war with varying teams, name changes, mergers, and clubs being dissolved, is a little confusing and in truth maybe not quite as simple as I have made out. I wouldn't want to go into too much detail, however, and bore the reader, but it's worth noting that one derby match between two Leipzig sides in 1956 saw over 100,000 spectators turn up to watch at the old Zentralstadion, still today the highest ever attendance for a match in the whole of Germany.

With clubs in East Germany generally run by the state, Lok were overseen by the state owned railways company. The club never won the top tier DDR-Oberliga but were three times runners up and four times won the East German Cup. Lok regularly competed in European competitions and in 1973-74 reached the semi finals of the UEFA Cup losing 4-1 on aggregate to Tottenham Hotspur whilst in 1986-87 they went one better...

In 1986-87 Lok made it to the final of the UEFA Cup Winner's Cup. Having struggled to a 3-1 aggregate victory over Glentoran of Northern Ireland in round one, Austria's Rapid Wien were then defeated 3-2 on aggregate with a 2-1 home win after extra time in the second leg. A 2-0 aggregate victory over Swiss side Sion in the Quarter Finals set up a semi final tie with Bordeaux from France.

It was a tale of two 1-0's for Bordeaux and Lok, the first leg in France saw a 1-0 win for visitors Lok who then lost the second leg at home by the same scoreline to force extra-time and penalties. That semi final second leg was played at Leipzig's Zentralstadion, a venue much larger than Lok's usual home. The stadium since replaced by the World Cup venue where RB Leipzig currently play was rocking with almost 75,000 in attendance as the city turned out in force to support Lok's quest for European glory. A third minute goal put the visitors ahead and a further 87 minutes of regular time followed by 30 minutes of extra-time saw no further goals and so the 1-1 aggregate scoreline. The dreaded penalty shoot out would have to be used to determine who would make the final. Both teams took seven penalties and both missed their second, Lok scored all of their other six whilst Bordeaux 6-5 down saw their seventh penalty saved by goalkeeper Rene Müller. Lokomotive Leipzig were heading for the final where they would face Ajax of Amsterdam. The scenes inside the stadium were jubilant and the noise was deafening. The city of Leipzig had a team in a European final.
Played at the Olympic Stadium in Athens, the 1987 Cup Winner's Cup final was won by a single goal scored by Marco Van Basten for Ajax after just twenty minutes. Managed by Dutch legend Johan Cryuff the Ajax squad also featured Frank Rijkaard and a young Dennis Bergkamp but despite losing the match Lok gave a good account of themselves.

On the other side of town, Chemie Leipzig, ran by the local chemical plant, were twice DDR Oberliga champions winning the title in 1951 and 1964 whilst in 1966 they also won the East German Cup. Although a top flight regular in the 1970s and 1980s the club failed to win any further trophies. Chemie did appear in the European Cup in 1964-65 which is something Lok never managed but they lost in the first round and unlike their crosstown neighbours were never really regulars in European competition. However, whilst Lok were generally seen as the more dominant force of the two as the decades went on, they could not compete with the success of Dynamo Dresden and later Dynamo Berlin or indeed Chemie's success in those early years.

It is claimed that some people disliked Lok because of their ties to the communist regime whilst Chemie were by some seen as the club of the people. In truth, however, under the East German regime both teams were equally popular domestically, and Lok on occasion drew massive crowds at the main Zentralstadion for big European nights.

Then came reunification... A country split in two once again became one. In 1990 before the final season of football in East Germany Chemie merged with a club just south of Leipzig called SV Chemie Böhlen and this newly merged club went under the name FC Sachsen Leipzig. The final season of before reunification (1990-91) was massive with league positions helping decide the make up of East German football post unification. Finishing seventh and twelfth respectively neither Lok or the new name Sachsen secured an automatic position in either the Bundesliga or 2. Bundesliga in the new unified Germany. Both clubs had to participate in an end of season play-off group to see which division they play in the following season, 2. Bundesliga or the regional leagues.

The play-off group consisted of four sides and home and away fixtures against each with Lok winning both derbies. The first match saw Sachsen lose 1-0 at home whilst the second fixture saw Lok conjure up a 4-0 demolition to spark wild scenes in the Bruno-Plache Stadion. Lok then clinched qualification to the 2. Bundesliga in their last play-off match with another commanding win, this time over cup finalists Eisenhüttenstadt. Sachsen, on the other hand, missed out and would be playing regional league football the following season.
For reunification Lok decided they fancied a name change themselves and became VfB Leipzig, a name which conjured up memories of the pre war glory years. Glory briefly appeared on the horizon when in 1993 a third placed finish saw the team promoted to the top-flight Bundesliga but the club, however, finished last the following season and were promptly relegated back down to the second tier. A steady drop down the divisions followed and by 1998 Lok were in the fourth tier. By 2004 they were bankrupted and went out of existence. In 2001 Sachsen had also succumbed to bankruptcy having spent all their life post reunification in the third tier. The club survived but after a second bankruptcy in 2009 managed two more years before folding.

1. FC Lokomotive Leipzig were formed as successors to the bankrupted VfB and currently play in the fourth tier Regionalliga Nordost. As for Sachsen, when they went out of existence two successors were formed. The first  SG Sachsen Leipzig went bankrupt in 2014 and were replaced by another side called LFV Sachsen Leipzig who currently play in the ninth tier of German football, whilst the second club fan led BSG Chemie Leipzig, recently promoted to the fourth tier, are generally seen as the true successors to the previous club.

Since reunification, there have been struggles not just on the pitch but also off it. After reunification, many top East German players were offered lucrative contracts in the west and without the money to compete East German clubs struggled, but in Leipzig, there has also been other problems. Leipzig is a football mad city yet until Red Bull came along attendances for many years had been terrible, going to watch football in Leipzig had become unfashionable. But why?

Throughout the 1990s, 2000s, and into the current decade, games involving Lok and/or Sachsen/Chemie were often marred by violence. The derbies between the two may be what some might call a 'tasty affair', but the violence for derbies and other games has caused many fans to stay away. Some locals have even described fans of the two sides as being 'childish' with banning orders for the worst offenders when it comes to violence being commonplace. In recent times Lok have been known to have a strong right wing support, in some cases far right, whilst currently, Chemie fans tend to be more left wing. This has driven many fans away feeling they do not identify themselves with the messages fans of each club are sending out. 

In the last few years, however, things have begun to calm down and attendances at both clubs are slowly beginning to rise, albeit Lok's average of 3051 last season and Chemie's 2795 are well below what both clubs achieved in the 1970s and 1980s and pale in comparison to the 38380 average gate at RB Leipzig last time around.
Still, after years of post reunification financial trouble and bankruptcy, in their current guises, both clubs are beginning to find their feet. Lok who are trying to shake off their extremist far right tag finished sixth in the Regionalliga Nordost last season and find themselves joint top eight games into the new campaign with promotion to the third tier a stated ambition. Chemie meanwhile currently sit eleventh in the same division after last season finishing top of the fifth tier NOFV-Oberliga Süd.

Neither club is RB Leipzig and neither want to be. Whist RB is a corporate machine for the masses ran by the Red Bull Empire, Lok and Chemie are both community orientated clubs that have far more fan influence in terms of how they are run. Recapturing the top flight glory days from behind the wall seems a fantasy, but steady improvement is the aim of the game with both clubs having every intention of sticking around. Leipzig doesn't have to be all about Red Bull, in this city there is definitely room for all three clubs and they all can hopefully prosper in their own way.

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