Stal­wart DAVE PAGE re­flects on a Ger­man wa­ter… strug­gling to keep their head above

Late Tackle Football Magazine - - CONTENTS - @page_­dave

Ham­burg fight to pre­serve sta­tus

ONE of foot­ball’s great lit­tle quirks is the clock that sits proudly in Ham­burger SV’s Volkspark­sta­dion, for­ever count­ing the time that this gi­ant of Ger­man foot­ball has re­mained in the na­tion’s top di­vi­sion with­out be­ing rel­e­gated.

Since the Bun­desliga’s in­au­gu­ral sea­son in 1963, they are the only team never to have dropped out, a proud tra­di­tion that has spawned their nick­name, ‘The Di­nosaur’.

Orig­i­nally a ref­er­ence to their longevity, this la­bel be­comes more and more ironic with ev­ery sea­son, as a team that once stood as a stan­dard bearer for Euro­pean foot­ball con­tin­ues to strug­gle with keep­ing their heads above rel­e­ga­tion wa­ters in this day and age.

Back in May, they once again beat the drop in dra­matic fash­ion. Young sub­sti­tute Luca Wald­schmit’s 88th-minute goal was enough to se­cure a 2-1 win over Wolfs­burg, in a game where they’d fallen be­hind.

Wald­schmidt’s piv­otal header con­firmed 14th place for Die Rotho­sen, as they are also some­times known, while con­demn­ing their op­po­nents on the day to the dreaded rel­e­ga­tion play-off (Wolfs­burg sur­vived).

Ham­burg them­selves know all about the rigours of that two-legged end of sea­son af­fair all too well. They walked the tightrope for con­sec­u­tive years in 2014 and 2015 and some­how came out on the other end un­scathed.

On the first oc­ca­sion, against Greuther Furth, they were saved by the away goals rule, prompt­ing club lead­er­ship to pro­claim that HSV would never find them­selves in such a per­ilous po­si­tion again.

But, lo and be­hold, this is ex­actly what hap­pened just 12 months later. This time they re­ally pushed things to the edge, need­ing a stun­ning last minute free-kick from Marcelo Diaz to force ex­tra-time.

Soon after, Ni­co­lai Muller bagged an­other for Ham­burg and their Bun­desliga sta­tus was pre­served, at the ex­pense of Karl­sruhe.

The 2015/16 sea­son of­fered their sup­port­ers some respite from such heart-stop­ping encounters with a tenth-placed fin­ish, but for the sea­son just passed ‘Der Dino’ were back to be­ing a laugh­ing stock for most of the na­tion.

Par­tic­u­lar low points in­clude: not win­ning a league game un­til De­cem­ber, go­ing seven matches in a row with­out scor­ing, be­ing beaten at home by bot­tom of the league Darm­stadt (who hadn’t picked up a sin­gle away point prior to that) and los­ing 8-0 at Bay­ern.

The ju­bi­la­tion after the full-time whis­tle of that fi­nal day win against Wolfs­burg was ev­i­dent, but it will mean lit­tle if they can’t learn from their mis­takes.

Stop­ping the rot for good is surely bet­ter than these last-ditch fixes. Pre­ven­tion is bet­ter than cure, after all.

Many peo­ple are won­der­ing how much longer this can go on for. How can a team clearly so in­ept con­tin­u­ally es­cape their fate?

The last few years are amongst the worst in the club’s his­tory, but there doesn’t ap­pear to be an easy or quick so­lu­tion here. Since reach­ing the semi-fi­nals of the UEFA Cup and Europa League in 2009 and 2010 re­spec­tively, the de­cline has been alarm­ing and the at­mos­phere at the club near toxic at times. These fans are well aware that they sup­port a mas­sive club that was once used to chal­leng­ing at the top end of the ta­ble, and aren’t afraid to make this known.

There’s no ques­tion­ing their loy­alty – the Volkspark­sta­dion had the league’s fourth high­est at­ten­dance av­er­age for 2016/17 – but the tense at­mos­phere that pre­vails can’t be easy for young play­ers to deal with.

If a com­par­i­son to an English club was re­quired, it would prob­a­bly be apt to liken Ham-

burg to the dys­func­tional state of af­fairs at New­cas­tle and Aston Villa in re­cent times.

The im­pres­sion seems to be of a club that is ter­ri­fied of en­ter­ing Bun­desliga 2 and the new sur­round­ings that would mean.

But rel­e­ga­tion is not al­ways as bad as it seems. It might well mean an op­por­tu­nity to re­build, clear out some dead­wood (of which Ham­burg have had plenty for years) and get that win­ning feel­ing back.

Stuttgart pro­vide a re­cent ex­am­ple of this. They flirted with the drop for mul­ti­ple sea­sons be­fore fi­nally fall­ing out of the league last May, but they won the sec­ond tier ti­tle at the first at­tempt and re­turn to the Bun­desliga a re­ju­ve­nated club, bet­ter off for their year away.

In­deed, Han­nover bounced straight back last term too, as did Freiburg the sea­son be­fore, so go­ing down is far from a death knell. What­ever hap­pens next, surely some­thing has to give ei­ther way. Whether that means a re­turn to the good old days or ‘The Di­nosaur’ fi­nally dy­ing next sea­son, or the one after, or the one after, re­mains to be seen. But it is clear what is more likely at the cur­rent time. The clock ticks on for now, but don’t be sur­prised to see it ren­dered re­dun­dant soon.

Vi­tal goal: Marcelo Diaz cel­e­brates his late free-kick

is Su­per-sub: Ham­burg’s Luca Wald­schmit against Wolfs­burg mobbed after his late winnner

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