The explosion of noise, jubilation and relief from perhaps one of Germany’s largest one-club city could be heard throughout the Bundesrepublik. SG Dynamo Dresden had, by the skin of their teeth, done it. They’d stayed up. Players danced and celebrated in front of a jubilant K block terrace, bearing t-shirts reiterating the club’s pledge to keep their head above water for two seasons before really “giving it a go” in 2013/14.
In truth, Dynamo’s second season after promotion from the third tier ought to have been much more comfortable than it turned out to be. They wandered almost blindly into the relegation mire and were arguably only saved from the ignominy of direct relegation due to the hopelessness of Regensburg and Sandhausen. Away form was an issue and the points that Dynamo had picked up on their travels the season before, leading to a comfortable 9th-place finish, were sorely missed.
So it came to a two-legged tie against perennial playoff participants VfL Osnabrück. Since the playoffs between Germany’s top-three tiers were reintroduced in 2009, the club from the Friedensstadt have been involved on three out of five occasions, both as a 2. Bundesliga club trying to avoid the drop and as a 3. Liga side striving for promotion, contriving to lose every single time. Indeed, Osnabrück were Dynamo’s opponents two years ago when the Dresden club achieved an unlikely promotion back to the second tier after an outstanding end-of-season run-in.
The first leg, on a balmy Friday night at Osnabrück’s chocolate-box Stadion an der Bremer Brücke, went the way of the home side. Both sides looked on equal footing, with Dynamo desperately searching for that oh-so-important away goal. Shortly before half-time, with the match finely poised, Osnabrück attacking fulcrum Gaetano Manno slipped a cross-cum-shot in at Dynamo keeper Benni Kirsten’s near post. Kirsten, son of Dynamo legend Ulf, could certainly have done better, despite the fact that he was unsighted. However, the ‘keeper atoned for his error by saving a vital second-half penalty from Timo Staffelt, awarded after a handball from Dynamo captain Bregerie. Incredibly, it was Kirsten’s 5th penalty save of the season, including two in one match in a vital home win over Paderborn as the regular season drew to a close. Despite the efforts of Idir Ouali and the rather blunt Pavel Fort, Dynamo failed to find the net. Nevertheless, overturning a one-goal deficit was considered doable, but a two-goal defeat away from home without troubling the scoresheet would have been disastrous.
Every Dynamo fan knew what was at stake in the return leg. Relegation to the unpopular German third tier would not simply have had sporting implications, it may have also threatened SG Dynamo Dresden’s very existence. The club had only survived their 2009/10 promotion season after a €2 million cash injection from city authorities, a favour they may think twice about granting again in the future.
The primeval roar that greeted the players onto the pitch was merely a taste of things to come. Fans often refer themselves rather self-assuredly as the “twelfth man”, but in Dresden’s case this is often true – especially on a night like this. The Osnabrück players were visibly affected by the raucous atmosphere and attempted to play it safe, rarely venturing forward in the first half with much intent. On the half-hour mark, just as there appeared to be a tiny glint of nervousness in the Dynamo support, Cristian Fiel picked up the ball on the right after good work from Ouali and proceeded to lash the ball into the top right-hand corner with vengeance. It was a goal of tremendous quality that left ‘keeper Riemann rooted to the spot. What’s more, it was a microcosm of the situation the Osnabrück players found themselves in – almost completely powerless to stop this highly motivated Dresden side, buoyed on by 30,000 frenzied fans.
The second half provided much of the same, although a noticeably less-frantic Dynamo pushed and probed and waited for their opportunity to tip the tie in their favour. The away goals rule meant that even the slightest mistake could have left Dynamo needing two more to win, but any Osnabrück attack was defended resolutely. Perhaps their only clear opportunity came shortly before Dynamo’s first goal, when Kirsten appeared to bring down Zoller in the box. Referee Gagelmann waved play on and Dynamo had just about enough time to remove their hearts from their mouths before Fiel’s spectacular opener.
As in the first leg, Gaetano Manno was a constant threat for the guests with tricky footwork and clever runs. However, on many occasions support was sorely lacking from his teammates. It seemed only a matter of time before Osnabrück’s frail defence crumbled, and sure enough on 71 minutes substitute Tobias Kempe breaking through on the right and crossing. Eventually the ball fell to Idir Ouali, almost an ever-present in the Dynamo side this term, who made no mistake from 6 yards to edge Dresden in front on aggregate. Despite a few customary scares late on, Osnabrück failed to make a breakthrough and Dresden were left to celebrate survival in front of a sold-out Rudolf-Harbig-Stadion.
The bright orange light of the flares pierced the night air and the week- or even month-long tension that had built was released like the cork on a champagne bottle. An attempted pitch invasion and a few isolated bangers were almost immediately prohibited by players, officials and, yes, fellow Dynamo fans and all were left to UFFTA the night away safe in the knowledge that 2. Bundesliga football would be returning to the Florence of the Elbe next season.
Nu Dynamo, nächste Saison aber risch!
On the face of it, these are dark days for Hansa Rostock. The Ostsee club went down 5-4 to Union Berlin in an incredible match on a scorching day in Köpenick yesterday and were duly relegated from the 2. Bundesliga, just 10 months after their successful return. It could, and perhaps should, have been the Hanseaten who were celebrating at the end of the match; but that’s the story of Hansa’s season. Their recent run of form has come far too late and their relegation shouldn’t be put down to recent losses at rivals in Berlin or at the Millerntor, rather the inability to beat the likes of Ingolstadt or FSV Frankfurt at home.
The truth is, things could get a hell of a lot worse before they get better. FC Hansa Rostock are dangling over the precipice of financial ruin and help can only be found from one source: the city itself. Hansa require an injection of around €750,000 simply to continue operating as a solvent entity. On top of that, they also need €4.5m of debt to Rostock city council to be written off. The city parliament is due to debate and decide on the financial measures on 9th May; if the decision doesn’t go their way, managing director Bernd Hoffman says that Hansa’s only option is to go before the district court and lose their licence for the 3. Liga, meaning direct relegation to the fourth-tier Regionalliga Nordost.
The €4.5m debt is around half of the club’s total and stems from missed tax payments between 1999 and 2001, a time when Bundesliga football was played at the Ostseestadion. The city parliament’s finance commission has already recommended that any bailout plan be rejected; leaving Hansa facing fourth-tier football and even insolvency. The federal state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern has categorically refused to provide any assistance, adding that the city authorities were welcome to step in if they deem it appropriate. Hoffman didn’t exactly give any grounds for hope by bluntly saying that there was “no plan B”.
The active fan scene at Hansa is, of course, in full swing with protests and campaigns for the city bailout. They believe that the football club is a vital part of the city and should be treated as such. Protests are planned on 6th May at the stadium and on 9th May in front of the city hall. It remains to be seen whether the authorities will be willing to spend taxpayers money on cleaning up the mistakes of previous directors; but it doesn’t look good.
Further reading (German):