Jon Hartley seeks out the history of the end of season Bundesliga showdown, the promotion/relegation play-off.
The end of season play-off is a strange beast in the Bundesliga, not least because the terminology is a little strange to English speaking eyes and ears. The term used for two leg tie between the third from bottom in the first division, and the third from top of the second is ‘Relegation’. There was delight and joy for Hertha Berlin at the Olympic Stadium at being in the Relegation…not something that fans of other leagues would necessarily be in raptures about.
Putting the terminology to one side, the play-off has been a fixture of German football, on and off, for decades. Before the creation the national second division, the play-off used to promote the second placed side from either the Northern or Southern sections of the second tier. With the advent of the national second division in 1981, the current concept used to promote and relegate teams was born.
There have been some almighty matches in during this time as well. The first two seasons of this format were all about the teams linked with Bayer – Leverkusen and Uerdingen. Leverkusen survived the drop in 1982, while a year later, Uerdingen sent Schalke to their first stint in the 2.Bundesliga. Uerdingen won 4-2 on aggregate and that victory heralded a eight season stay in the top flight.
In the past, the rules demanded a third game if the matter couldn’t be settled in two matches. This was the case in 1986. It was deadlocked at 3-3, between 2nd division Fortuna Köln and 1st division Borussia Dortmund after the first two games. The decider was held at the Rheinstadion in Düsseldorf and was still close at the break in their deciding game. Dortmund were edging it by a goal to nil…the second half was however a little more convincing. BVB scored seven second half goals, including two from current Sporting Director Michael Zorc.
In 1988, not only did it go to extra time, but for the only time in play-off history, to penalties as well. Darmstadt and Waldorf Mannheim aren’t that far apart in terms of geography, in-fact only around 50 kilometres divides the two cities, so it was probably a pretty lively Hessen and Baden-Württenberg cross border skirmish. There was certainly tension due to the Darmstadt coach Klaus Schlappner. He had returned to Darmstadt after a 7-year stay at opponents Mannheim. It was an exciting three games between these two sides as it finished 4-4 on aggregate after the first two games, and 0-0 after 120-minutes in the third. It all came down to the penalty shoot out where Mannheim saved their place in the 1.Bundesliga by 5-4.
Having failed to take Darmstadt up, Schlappen turned his attention to Saarbrücken. He tried to get promotion in back-to-back seasons via the play-off but missed out on both occasions. Some other teams really don’t have any luck either in the play-off. St. Pauli have been in twice and have been beaten twice.
Unfortunately, the history of the Relegation was cut short after the 1991 play-off as the DFL opted for an automatic ‘three up, three down’ system. Thankfully there was a re-introduction of the play-off in the 2008/09 season. Twice since it’s comeback, Nuremberg have appeared in the Relegation and have been successful both times, once to get into the top flight and the other to stay there. Last season it was Borussia Mönchengladbach who secured their Bundesliga survival over two legs against Bochum.
This year will see two new teams fighting it out to be in the 1.Bundesliga, Hertha Berlin and Fortuna Düsseldorf. Neither have form in this particular competition, so this could be an interesting battle between the two. History favours the first division club, as in nine of the 13 play-off battles have gone the way of the top division club. Can Fortuna overcome this, get back to the Bundesliga for the first time in 15-years, and beat former manager Otto Rehhagel in the process? It’s all to be revealed in the Relegation.