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