Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Aufstieg for Eintracht!

There's plenty to frustrate Americans when it comes to the game of soccer, or football as the rest of the world knows it.  One of the main things that blows my mind is the mutual acceptance of the "tie" throughout the season, for which teams earn 1 point.  Equally anti-climatic is the lack of a playoffs system or even a championship match.  Instead, most leagues (including the German Bundesliga) have a season-long point system in which all teams play each other at least twice (home and away) and earn 3 points for a win, 1 point for a tie, and 0 points for a loss.  At the end of the season in May, whichever team has more points is the champion for that season.  Simple enough.

I do appreciate that this system rewards teams that are consistently good all year, rather than a team that scrapes by into the playoffs and then gets hot to take the title.  Besides that, the one thing that I really like about the German Bundesliga (and other football leagues in Europe) is the system of relegation.  The system only exists because there are multiple divisions of play (similar to college American football), of which only the first three are important to anyone.  They way it works is simple:  the top two teams of the 2nd division are automatically promoted to the 1st division at the end of the season, while the bottom two teams from the 1st division are automatically demoted ("relegated") to the 2nd division.  This also takes place between the 2nd and 3rd divisions and it ensures a slightly different looking league each year.  It also gives teams at the top and bottom of both divisions a huge incentive to play hard through the end of the year.  But there's one more thing.........

......The team that finishes 3rd from the bottom of the 1st division and 3rd from the top of the 2nd division play each other in a two-game series at the end of the season with the winner earning the last spot in the first division.  This year saw major drama as the 3rd place 2nd division team - Fortuna Dusseldorf - defeated the 3rd from bottom 1st division Hertha Berlin, which is a rarity in this country.

However this blog focuses on our home team Eintracht Frankfurt who dropped down to 2nd division last year after losing the last 5 games of the season.  It was so lowsy that the die-hard Frankfurt fans rushed the field and attacked the Eintracht players at the last home game.  This year they loaded their roster and finished 2nd in the 2nd division to move back up to their rightful spot in the 1st division.  Here they call it an "Aufstieg".  We were fortunate to get to go to the last home game for Eintracht this year against TSV Munich 1860.  Eintracht had already advanced at that point and they ended up losing 0-2, but the celebration afterwards.........and taunting of the opponents' fans...........along with the presence of hundreds of riot police made this game a memorable experience.

Commerzbank Arena (formerly Waldstadion, or "forest stadium" since you have to walk through half a kilometer of wooded trails from the train station).  In the nicer months the roof retracts some sort of canvas covering to let in the sunshine and the breeze.  It's one of the nicer stadiums in Germany, built for the World Cup in 2006.

They had some nice color coordination happening in the stands - black and white trashbags to put on in your section.  I thought that putting on plastic on a quite warm day was a bad idea, so I stuck with the jersey.  It kinda seemed like cutting weight for wrestling or something.

The "Ultras" are basically a hardcore fanclub - nearly like a gang in some cities.

TSV 1860 Munich fans setting off a flare/smoke bomb after a second goal.  Notice that they completely cage the opposing fans into a section to avoid any mixing.  You'll see why after the game...

Although they wear UGA colors, we still support the good guys in red and black - Eintracht Frankfurt!

Game-day face.

So Frankfurt loses 0-2, but since they are moving up to the 1st division and this is the last home game, the Ultras and other Frankfurt supporters bust through security and rush the field

Eintracht players that had hoped to have a nice celebration with their families on the field - like our "Friend" in the green jersey - had to cut the celebration a bit early....

...due to the hoodlums wearing bandanas and balaklavas running with flares towards the Munich fans

As you might imagine with most sporting events in Europe the riot police then come on to the scene...

...and beat down a few hoodlums with their clubs.

Then it was back to the celebration for at least an hour after the match.......that Frankfurt lost.

All I can say is that I've never seen anything like this in any sport in the U.S.  It's an unbelievable cultural experience that I recommend to anyone.  I'll put up with a few ties and no championship game for this kind of day at the park!  Congratulations Eintracht Frankfurt - especially #29.

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