Category Archives: RB Leipzig

Where Shot Putters Tread – Impressions of the German Cup First Round

You can learn much about the sporting development of a country from its lower professional sporting leagues. Germany, by comparison to the UK, seems to have a larger proportion of relatively small municipal athletics grounds. At least it looks that way. My observations are hardly scientific given that Germany is a much bigger place than Britain.
Of the thirty two Pokal fixtures, last weekend, I counted eleven grounds that had or used to have running tracks but the point I’m slowly reversing into is that in the UK, lower league clubs tend to own their own Football specific stadiums. Whereas, when I look through the pictures of lower league club’s stadia, I see a significant number of athletics tracks. In fact when I read the very splendid European Football Weekends blog I am drawn to the pictures of half empty track and field facilities taken from a small stand as, somewhere in the distance, some football players are struggling for attention amidst the ordinance reserved for spikes rather than studs. I assume that many of that these facilities are publicly owned and as a consequence, multi-purpose.
In the UK, there is a tradition for clubs to own your own football specific ground. It is seen as an important part of a club’s identity and essential to securing the club’s security and stability. In Germany, they seem to have taken a different approach, preferring to lease from the local council.
At this point we could go off into a discussion about the role of property within western societies and the respective cultural traditions that lie therein but I suspect you may find that a little dry. You could also point to many lower league clubs in Germany that do not play where shot putters normally tread and a number of UK clubs that do. In fact, I’ll start with Rotherham, Croydon FC and in a few years, West Ham United.. I’m also conscious that athletics is not confined to the lower leagues as Hertha and up until recently, Bayern and Stuttgart also played with one.
However, since I’ve been following German football for what must be seven or eight years, I’ve always looked forward to Pokal first round days where the big clubs of the First Bundesliga are compelled to travel to the homes of 3-Liga and Regionalliga football clubs a week before the start of the League season to face a packed house of partisan locals and a highly motivated opposition anxious to prove that they’ve still got it. In these moments that oft used axiom that athletics stadiums lack atmosphere seems hollow.
As an Englishman, it is almost impossible not to impose the traditional values of the English FA Cup Third Round on the DFB Pokal Round One. However, as a non German resident I must be careful not to presume that the competition is held in the same esteem in these early stages.
Even so, few will argue that getting knocked out by Regionalliga opposition is ideal preparation for a new season in the German top flight. But that is precisely what happened to Wolfsburg on Friday whose company picnic with RB Leipzig ended badly at the hands of Leipzig striker Daniel Frahn’s hat trick. Despite the obvious gulf between the two clubs it had a strange look about it. The Leipzig club are only passing through the divisions on their way to the top thanks to the support of the Red Bull corporation. They play in a modern stadium built for the 2006 World Cup and had the look of a team that had a purpose. The Regionalliga season is yet to get underway but you feel that RB Liepzig will be among the favorites to be promoted to the Third Division at the end of the campaign.
There was also, perhaps an absence of romance even about Second Bundesliga, Dynamo Dresden’s astonishing comeback against Bayer Leverkusen. Dresden have also moved to a swanky new stadium. The club clearly envisage the day when home wins against First Division clubs are the norm rather than the exception. None of which should take anything away from the players achievement.
But for the authentic cup upset experience you need to travel to the Voith Arena in Heidenhem where the Third division side beat the mighty Werder Bremen 3-1. Heidenheim’s, stadium used to hold athletics until it was recently converted to a soccer specific stadium. Perhaps, despite my earlier musings, there is a sense that if you want to get on in football, you need to ditch the Discus.
The other big upset of the weekend was at Unterhaching of the 3-Liga. An 87th minute penalty meant that Freiburg will be concentrating on the League this season. 3-2 was the final score at the Generali Sportpark. At the time of writing there is only one more match to go and that his on Monday evening where Bayern will be hoping that they don’t join Leverkusen, Freiburg, Bremen and Wolfsburg in the Slain Giants 2011 Club. The Bavarians travel north to newly promoted Second Bundesliga club Eintracht Braunschweig who, mercifully for bluff old traditionalists like me, play at an athleitcs stadium.

Company Picnic At The Pokal

Who doesn’t love a big, shiny, golden cup? After all, before the winnings from competitions such as the Champions League went from being paid in plug nickels to enough money to fully fund most Third World countries, the big prize was just a cup.
Okay, there might have been some ribbons too. The point is that, at the end of cup competitions, there is a tangible object–often a great lump of a trophy that’s been places you wish you could go–awarded to the triumphant side. One of the best cups out there to win, aesthetically speaking, is the DFB Pokal Cup. Just look at that lovely piece of silverware–it’s a solid and divinely-wrought piece of metal from which Vikings should be drinking mead.

Wouldn’t you want your club’s captain to be hoisting something similar to the German Cup at the end of a title-winning campaign in 1.Bundesliga over a bloody hubcap? The best thing you can do with that is dine on salad–Bundesliga winners deserve a cup that can hold a liver-wilting amount of beer rather than an over-sized appetizer plate.

But that cup instead goes to the winner of Germany’s domestic competition, and the opening round begins this weekend. The draw set up some interesting matches to begin, from a plucky club Terry’s featured elsewhere hosting Bavarian behemoths Bayern to a few that see 2.Bundesliga sides squaring off in perhaps more competitive affairs. One of the most intriguing fixtures, however, might pique those curious in the Battle for the Mead Cup for what the two clubs embody rather than which side will emerge victorious. When RB Leipzig host VfL Wolfsburg on Friday evening, it sees two clubs take to the pitch in a contrast of the company club from yesteryear with one of the modern footballing age.

Die Wölfe, of course, is the post-World War II incarnation of the football club associated with the Volkswagen auto works factory in Wolfsburg. With the pre-war works team BSG Volkswagenwerk Stadt des KdF-Wagen having been disbanded, VfL was granted license to operate by the British occupation forces after so that town residents–Volkswagen employees– could get a bit of exercise after having spent the week building VW Beetles. Playing in the shadows of Volkswagen’s office buildings and near barracks that once housed foreign prisoners forced to work for the company during the war, VfL nearly went extinct as well when all but one of its players left to play for 1.FC Wolfsburg, a club still in operation today in the Northeast German Football Association (NOFV). While today we consider them a 1.Bundesliga regular–their current spell in the top flight beginning in the late 1990s–and having even stolen a Hubcap off Bayern Munich in 2009, for a long period of their existence Wolves were mainly a regional team supported by the town’s employer in a scheme devised to let the employees blow off a little steam.

The story of RB Leipzig–that’s SSV Markranstädt in old German–probably is well-known to those that have been foolish enough to have read down this far. If not, then, a quick refresher: fizzy energy drink company Red Bull made the fifth division German side its fourth football acquisition in 2009 after having purchased franchises in Salzburg, New York, and Sao Paolo. With Bundesliga having that pesky ownership rule that insists outside investors can retain no more than a 49% interest, the company only purchased a minority stake of the former East German club and was allowed to rebrand the club as “RB” rather than Red Bull Markranstädt to smudge up said rule. As for the Leipzig part, shortly after the organization bought SSV’s playing license it moved the club from the cozy Stadion am Bad with a capacity of 5,500 a few miles away to play in Leipzig’s 45,000 capacity Zentralstadion, a bit of a “white elephant” that had been left over from the 2006 World Cup.
Red Bull’s goal is to have RB Leipzig competing in the 1.Bundesliga within the next eight years, which is the primary reason behind the move to what is now Red Bull Arena under a name that could easily be construed as being shorthand for “Rhapsodic Bohemian Leipzig,” or something like that.

As an odd parallel, SSV’s pre-fizzy drink history shows that, as Wolfsburg was being supported by an automaker in the west, rebranded RB Leipzig had spent portions of its own existence funded by manufacturing companies in the east. While the town of Markranstädt is known principally for brewing tasty beer, it also has been a home to automotive and machine factories. Company sponsorship of the club during the Cold War years was reflected in its name, from being known at various times as BSG Motor or BSG Turbine. Likely those sponsorships reflected the need for a local side to be able to survive financially during the difficulties of post-war German division and a company’s desire to keep said club in operation for the sake of domestic tranquility. A prime contrast between its previous company associations and the current RB Leipzig formula, then, lies in ambition.

Surely the East German motor works company or those machine builders did not lend their financial support in hopes of turning a fifth or sixth division club into a future 1.Bundesliga powerhouse. Nor did they have a philosophy of incorporating a Markranstädt side into part of their global marketing strategy. That has, it seems, been what has become of the club. It appears to turn the origins of company sponsorship, like that of VfL Wolfsburg, on its head; rather than being an recreational outlet for locals tired from the rigors of a business day, it has instead made the club part of the business itself, detaching the team from its Markranstädt roots and plopping it down the road and labeling it with enough red bulls to potentially break all the china in the Bundesliga’s shop.

Why say that? Red Bull’s purchase of the club and stated aim to fund it through to the top flight presented another potential ally to Martin Kind’s attempts at seeing out alterations to Bundesliga’s 50 + 1 rule. The Hannover 96 president recently presented a new proposal to be decided by the Court of Arbitration for Sport that would expand the previous statute allowing commercially-owned clubs Bayer Leverkusen and Wolfsburg to retain their majority owners to other clubs that have also received uninterrupted support from a similar group for a lengthy period of time. Uli Hesse provided a fantastic summation of the current proposal here in Part I and Part II. Should this be approved, it would set up quite nicely for RB Leipzig, as Red Bull would then be able to continue funding the club up the league tables with a move to full ownership once that period of time has been reached without having to legally challenge for the right to do so.

So, while this DFB Pokal Cup clash between Wolfsburg and RB Leipzig is a first for two clubs that owe their current existence to commercial endeavors, it might not be the last. The future of Bundesliga might see a bit more of this, as traveling supporters hop in their Passats and sip Red Bull on the way to a match at Red Bull Arena. Perhaps we might see RB Leipzig lift the Mead Cup someday, guzzling from it the latest sugar-free concoction designed to give you wings. And while this meeting represents a bit of a new relationship betwixt company and club versus the old, one thing remains a constant. Should Red Bull achieve its goal of having RB Leipzig promoted to 1.Bundesliga some day, it will still likely have to steal that Hubcap away from Bayern Munich much like Wolfsburg did a couple years ago.