Saturday 13 February 2021

The Full Story of How Tasmania Berlin Became the Worst Team In Bundesliga History

It all started off so perfectly, a 2-0 win in front of just over 80,000 spectators, but it only went downhill from there. When SC Tasmania 1900 Berlin joined the Bundesliga for the very first time they became record breakers for all the wrong reasons. Despite the perfect start, Tasmania ended the season as the worst Bundesliga side of all-time and 55 years on they still hold that title.

When in 1965, West Berlin's only Bundesliga side, Hertha BSC, had their license revoked and were forcibly relegated for breaking the league's player salary rules, the DFB (German football association), for political reasons, were uncomfortable about the idea of not having a Bundesliga team in the city. Of course, the city of Berlin was at that time divided by the Berlin Wall but not only was West Berlin separated from the East of the city, situated in the middle of East Germany, it was also separated from the rest of the country of West Germany for which it was part of. Already isolated from the rest of the nation, without a top flight football club it might have felt even more isolated. To resolve this issue SC Tasmania 1900 Berlin from the then second tier Regionalliga Berlin were given Hertha's place in the top flight. 

"It was a political decision that Tasmania came to the Bundesliga," noted Heinz Rohloff, the club's reserve goalkeeper who would play a significant number of games during the season when their first choice stopper was injured. Rohloff's comments emphasise the aforementioned nature of his team's promotion but although the powers that be deciding to keep Berlin represented in the Bundesliga was not a surprise, choosing Tasmania to fill that role was by many seen as exactly that.

Although Tennis Borussia Berlin and Spandauer SV had finished above Tasmania the season before, Tennis Borussia, who had lost in the Regionalliga the play-offs, were considered by the authorities to be the weaker of the three whilst Spandauer declared they were not interested in joining the Bundesliga. Because of this, it was Tasmania who unexpectedly got the gig.

Tasmania, who's name is believed to derive from the fact that one of its founders had been planning to move to Australia, were added to the Bundesliga just two weeks before the start of the season. With Tasmania's players having no idea that their side would be promoted to the Bundesliga at such a late stage many were on holiday when the decision was announced as the Regionalliga, in which they expected to play, did not start its season quite so early. Defender and captain Hans-Günter Becker, for example, claims he was lying on a beach when his friend came running over to tell him news having heard it on the radio station RTL whilst first choice goalkeeper Klaus Basikow says he was on a camping holiday in Lake Garda when he heard the news. 

Barely a month before Tasmania's Bundesliga campaign got underway saw a film called Repulsion win an award at the 15th Berlin International Film Festival. The film tells the story of Carol who left alone in her apartment, when her sister who she shares it with goes on holiday, suffers a number of nightmarish experiences. Although nothing to do with football or indeed Tasmania, the film is worth noting as it does share striking parallels with Tasmania's season which one would argue was itself a very long series of nightmares. Having said that, despite the horrors that would follow their season did get off to the perfect start.

The season opened with 81,524 turning up at West Berlin's Olympiastadion to see the city's new Bundesliga side in action and they were not to be disappointed as their side gave little indication of the terrors to come in the season ahead. That evening there were joyous scenes across the city as the hosts ran out 2-0 winners against Karlsruher SC. Karlsruher had finished second bottom of a then 16 team Bundesliga the previous season but with the league now increased to 18 teams and Hertha who finished a place above them being forcibly relegated the club had kept their top flight status.

All Tasmania's home fixtures were played at the Olympiastadion that season as their usual home was not fit for Bundesliga football, it would be the same for fellow minnows Blau-Weiß 1890 Berlin in their lone Bundesliga campaign some twenty years later.

It was always going to tough for Tasmania in the Bundesliga. For a start, many of the players were not even fully professional. Not only that but the team did not have proper training facilities and more often than not there was no money for overnight stays on away trips. Bearing all this in mind it was, I suppose, unsurprising that, unfortunately, after their opening day win six straight defeats followed. During this run they three times conceded five and once conceded seven. The first of those defeats was a 5-0 loss at Borussia Mönchengladbach and so big was the gulf in class that Basikow would later say that it was after this game that reality set in and they realised they "didn't really stand a chance" of surviving in the Bundesliga. Basikow actually watched that match from the sidelines though thanks to an injury in the warm up.

Those six straight losses were followed by a 0-0 draw away at 1. FC Kaiserslautern before a further ten defeats in a row. Their 3-0 defeat to Meidericher SV (nowadays known as Duisburg) on matchday 10 was followed by losses of 6-0, 5-0, 5-0, and 4-0 with Tasmania scoring only twice in those ten games of which the last was a 3-0 defeat against Karlsruher, the side they had beaten at home in their opening match. 

A 0-0 draw at home to Borussia Mönchengladbach on matchday 19 was followed by yet more defeats as the club managed only two draws, both 1-1, in their next thirteen league games, a run that included, a 9-0 defeat at home to Meidericher, before, at last, another win! A 2-1 home win over already relegated themselves Borussia Neunkirchen was the penultimate match of the season and it was followed by a 4-0 defeat away at FC Schalke 04.

Tasmania finished the season with just eight points after a paltry two wins, four draws, and a massive 28 defeats. This was a record that left captain Becker regretting his side having joined the Bundesliga and he would soon say: "We should have turned down this offer from the DFB." You can kind of see his point especially when you look at the league table in more detail. Tasmania finished 14 points behind their nearest rivals and 17 points from safety. This came in an era of two points for a win, remember, so would have seen much greater margins if three points were awarded. Under the current points system second bottom Borussia Neunkirchen would have finished some 21 points above them. which equates to seven wins. Also supporting Becker's argument is the list of records the club broke that season...

For Tasmania, it was, in fact, a record breaking season for many reasons. The club's victory in their penultimate match brought to an end a Bundesliga record 31 game winless run. Winning just two games all season was another Bundesliga record, as was their record of scoring just 15 goals during the whole campaign, which was less than half what the league's top goalscorer Lothar Emmerich (31) had managed, whilst the 108 goals conceded that was another record too. It seemed as if Tasmania had broken just about every unwanted record going and made it nigh on impossible for them to be beaten hence why they all still stand today (although winless streak only just as we shall see). The 827 paying spectators who turned up for the draw at home Gladbach was also lowest ever attendance for a Bundesliga match and the only time in the league's history there had been a sub 1,000 crowd for a match. Those two records also still stand and the 827 figure was a far cry of 80,000 plus who had attended the club's opening home game, in fact, it was almost 100 times lower. 

These days the club find themselves in the lower echelons of German football with 827 probably considered a half decent attendance. Their very modest ground is situated barely five minutes from the iconic former Berlin Tempelhof Airport which closed in 2008. The place is now known as Tempelhofer Feld and used a recreational space it is, including the surrounding land, the largest inner city open space in the world.

On the field, Tasmania ended seven straight seasons in the sixth tier Berlin-Liga with promotion to the fifth tier NOFV-Oberliga Nord a couple of seasons back - the Bundesliga is on a different planet to this. In 1973 SC Tasmania 1900 Berlin went bankrupt and were reformed as SV Tasmania Berlin with the current club seen as as a continuation of the former Bundesliga side. In their current incarnation, their most successful period started in 1981 when a promotion saw ten straight seasons in the third tier but even that probably seems a world away now.

Just last month Schalke, Tasmania's final opponent in the Bundesliga, on a horrific run of form themselves, came within 90 minutes of equalling Tasmania's 31 game winless record but after 30 Bundesliga matches without a win managed to put four without reply past TSG 1899 Hoffenheim meaning Tasmania still holds the record. However, whilst some would be embarrassed by this record, Tasmania seemingly see it as almost a badge of honour, if only because it has put them on the map. Without that infamous season cementing them in the record books, no one would have heard of Tasmania. It kinda makes them a lot more famous than other teams of their ilk.

Club owner Almir Numic grew up a supporter of Schalke's arch-rivals Borussia Dortmund so in some ways would have been happy to see them break the record but from a Tasmania point of view he wanted the club to keep hold of this infamous record, recently saying: "This story is simply part of our identity." Numic also pointed out how the record benefits his club: "It is true that our only Bundesliga season was five and a half decades ago, but we are always a topic nationwide. We don't really have to do anything for this advertising, which makes us more interesting for sponsors."

Many of Tasmania's supporters were also keen to keep hold of the record too and when Schalke visited the Olympiastadion to face Hertha Berlin at the beginning of January several of them turned up outside the stadium with a banner that read "Save the record for Tas".

In fact, even Becker would eventually admit that Tasmania's infamous Bundesliga campaign was "a unique, unforgettable and despite everything a great time."

Tasmania Berlin remain the worst team in Bundesliga history and it seems they would not have it any other way!