Wednesday, 23 September 2020

Der Pokal Hat Seine Eigenen Gesetze: Stories from the DFB-Pokal

The great thing about the DFB-Pokal is that all teams enter at the same point. No mammoth qualifying runs for the minnows just to get a glimpse of a semi big name side when you can draw a top flight team right from the word go! Of course, with only sixty four teams entering what is Germany's premier cup competition places for amateur or semi-professional sides are limited. But for those who are allocated a place a dream tie against a big name professional side is a real possibility, especially as the draw is seeded. At the beginning of the year, I wrote a feature about the fascinating Coupe de France and, perhaps a little slow off the mark, having followed with interest the opening round of cup fixtures in Germany just the other weekend I thought I'd take a look at another interesting domestic cup competition where as the saying goes, Der Pokal hat seine eigenen Gesetze (the cup has its own rules).

I've actually written about the DFB-Pokal before, or should I say in particular the 1983 competition and the exciting run of underdogs Fortuna Köln who made it all the way to the final where they faced big time neighbours 1. FC Köln in an all-Cologne final. The DFB-Pokal is definitely worth revisiting, however, as like the FA Cup in England in and the Coupe de France in well er France, Germany's knockout competition also has many other intriguing stories to tell. It may not quite have the same tradition of FA Cup or the sheer number entrants that the Coupe de France has but it is still, nonetheless, a pretty special animal with an exciting history.

This season’s DFB-Pokal got underway the weekend before last with the sixty four entrants comprising of last seasons Bundesliga and 2. Bundesliga sides, the top four teams from last season’s 3.Liga, and other selected teams including mostly the winners of Germany’s Verbandspokal the various regional cup competitions which are usually open to teams from the third tier and below. As well as the draws being seeded the lower-ranked teams in each tie are given home advantage as they vie for a place in the cup final played at Berlin's Olympiastadion each year. In this year's first round the most entertaining tie was newly promoted 2. Bundesliga side Eintracht Braunschweig's 5-4 win over Bundesliga team Hertha BSC whilst the biggest shock of the round came when fourth tier Regionalliga West club Rot-Weiss Essen defeated newly promoted Bundesliga side Arminia Bielefeld 1-0.

Teams from the Regionalliga and below, who are in many cases semi-professional or even amateur, defeating a top flight side as Essen did is nothing new. For many of these clubs just being in the competition is a big deal as many rarely get to enter. So when they do enter they have to savour the moment and this has brought over the years some shocks that even the FA Cup and Coupe de France, both famed for their upsets, would struggle to produce. 

In the 1990s FC Bayern München, the country's most successful side of all-time, twice lost to amateur sides in the Pokal. On 4 August 1990, Just over 8,000 spectators crammed into FV Weinheim's Sepp-Herberger Stadion to see the minnows from the Baden-Württemberg region face the might of FC Bayern and, hoping for an upset, they weren't to be disappointed. The home side took the lead from the penalty spot on 26 minutes after a rash challenge saw Bayern down to ten men but even the most optimistic of supporters would not have expected them to hold on for the win. Hold on the did though and Weinheim were through to the next round where they would sadly lose to Rot-Weiss Essen whilst four years later there was an even bigger shock in store for the Bavarian giants of Bayern.

On 14 August 1994, TSV Vestenbergsgreuth were the opposition when Bayern suffered another humiliating defeat against amateur opposition in what goalscorer Roland Stein called "the perfect day". The team from a village with a population of at the time just 350 were live on primetime terrestrial television channel ZDF with almost 7.5m people watching and they would soon be the talk of the nation. Lothar Matthäus, Oliver Kahn, Thomas Helmer, the Brazilian world champion Jorginho and the striker Jean-Pierre Papin, these were just some of the star names in the Bayern line-up. Managed by Franz Beckenbauer they were a formidable side but in this cup tie they were well and truly shown up. 

"And there is the goal. There is the goal" was the cry the commentator on ZDF when on 43 minutes Wolfgang Hüttner found Stein who headed home to put the hosts into dreamland. 1-0 up at the break, Vestenbergsgreuth still had to survive the second-half and at times they were clinging on for dear life in the match that had been moved Nuremberg to allow more spectators in. They did hold on, however, although late stoppage time drama where Bayern hit the post nearly saw an equaliser. Hearts in mouths. Vestenbergsgreuth and Stein had their moment in the sun but after defeating FC Homburg in the next round lost to VfL Wolfsburg on penalties and such is the glamour of amateur football that Stein nowadays works as an elevator fitter.

There have been numerous other upsets in the pokal down the years. When Hamburger SV lost 2-1 at amateur side VfB Eppingen in 1974 it was called Die Mutter aller Pokalsensationen (the mother of all cup sensations). With amateur and semi professionals clubs having only been allowed to enter the competition for the first time that season it was easily the biggest shock in the history of the competition up to that point. A little over four years later another amateur side called TuS Langerwehe beat Hertha BSC 2-1. In those days the lower ranked sides were not given home advantage, that rule came into force a few years later, and Langerwehe drew 0-0 (aet) away at Hertha with that 2-1 win actually coming in a replay, something that is no longer used with all ties now settled on the day. Hamburg were on the wrong end of a shock again in 1984-85 some ten years after that 'mother of all cup sensations' when they lost 2-0 to SC Geislingen of the Amateur-Oberliga Baden-Württemberg. Fastforward to 2000-01 and 1. FC Magdeburg versus FC Bayern is also worth a mention as the former East German side who won the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup in 1974 were playing fourth tier football when they defeated Bayern on penalties. Also of interest is Berliner AK 07 setting a new scoring record for a fourth tier side against a Bundesliga club when they defeated 1899 Hoffenheim 4-0 in the opening round of 2012-13. There are too many other upsets to mention them all but before we finish we must look at 1. FC Saarbrücken's run to the semi finals last season and then the curious tale of Hertha BSC Amateure which is a story definitely worth telling.

Four years after then third tier side Energie Cottbus lost to VfB Stuttgart in the final another third tier side in unfancied 1. FC Union Berlin defeated two Bundesliga sides en route to the final in 2001. 1. FC Union lost to FC Schalke 04 in the final, but arguably more remarkable was fourth tier Saarbrücken's run to the semis last season. Round two saw Saarbrücken defeat Bundesliga club FC Köln 3-2 in what was a pulsating match with Köln coming back to draw level from 2-0 down before Saarbrücken hit back with a 90th minute winner. Fortuna Düsseldorf, another top flight side, were defeated on penalties in the quarter finals before the dream ended at the semi final stage where diluted home advantage thanks to a post-COVID lockdown behind closed doors match did not help as they lost 3-0 to Bayer Leverkusen. En route to that semi final loss, Saarbrücken had also defeated two second tier sides along the way.

Another fascinating tale from the Pokal, perhaps the most captivating of all, comes from the 1992-93 season and involves Hertha BSC Amateure, who are nowadays known as Hertha BSC II, the reserve side of Hertha BSC. Rule changes in the 2000s mean reserve sides can no longer enter the pokal but once upon a time lower league reserve sides of top flight clubs were a regular feature in the pokal. Whilst Hertha BSC were knocked out just before the quarter finals their reserve side managed to progress all the way to the final something the first team have yet to manage. Second tier Lokomotive Leipzig, then known as VfB Leipzig were defeated in a seven goal thriller before Hertha Amateure beat second tier Hannover 96 who only a year earlier had become the first side outside the top flight to win the cup. Victory over Hannover set up a quarter final tie with Bundesliga outfit 1. FC Nürnberg. 

1-0 up after a first-half goal, Hertha BSC Amateure saw their visitors from Nuremberg draw level in the 89th minute but responded by immediately going up the other end and retaking the lead to win 2-1. Things were now getting serious and Hertha Amateure's part-time coach Jochem Ziegert quit his day job as a tax officer to concentrate on Hertha with the big semi final looming. Second tier side Chemitzer FC would be the opposition. The star of this Hertha Amateure side was a young  Carsten Ramelow who would later go on to play for the German national team at the 2002 World Cup and it was he who opened the scoring after just five minutes. Hertha Amateure were soon 2-0 up and leading 2-1 at the break ended up winning the match by that same scoreline to reach the final. It was an excellent performance that impressed many including Kicker magazine who wrote: "The success of the amateurs was well deserved against the higher-class guests who appeared without ideas." For the final there was a sell-out crowd at Berlin's Olympiastadion most of whom were supporting local side Hertha but, unfortunately, the fairytale ended and they lost 1-0 to Bundesliga side Bayer Leverkusen.

Above are some of the intriguing stories the DFB-Pokal brings to life each season. The unique structure of the competition means only a handful of clubs that might be considered 'minnows' get to enter each year. But the ones that do well they have a decent chance of drawing one of the big guns in their very first match and with David v Goliath ties extremely common and David always getting home advantage a famous cup upset is, as we've seen, never far away. As they say in Germany, the cup has its own rules.

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