18 August ~ It was roughly two decades ago that the Crash Kid came to prominence in east Hamburg. For at least ten years, this schoolboy struck fear into the city’s car owners. He took, drove away, collided and repented – only to repeat the cycle at the first available opportunity. At round about the same time, a similar phenomenon was plaguing the western part of the city. This time, the car crashes weren’t being caused by a juvenile delinquent, but by the city’s leading football club.
HSV, the Bundesliga’s grand seigneur (they're the only team never to have been relegated from the top flight, an achievement marked by an irritating stopwatch that’s just struck 47 years in the corner of the ground) have not only won nothing since 1987 but also, in that time, shown an unerring inability to behave in a manner befitting a 123-year-old.
It’s not only in the harbour that fish rot from the head down, with the boardroom having far too often been the scene of the sort of shabbiness usually reserved for motorway service station car parks after dusk. An associate’s shenanigans even led to erstwhile chairman “Our Uwe” Seeler having his name dragged through the dirt (and also plastered onto a banner at a local derby, where St Pauli fans gleefully displayed the message “Your Uwe steals” to several million television viewers).
The coaches have been just as unpalatable, with most of them appearing to have been commissioned to just keep an eye on things until Ottmar Hitzfeld needed a new job. Managerial lowlights have included Frank Pagelsdorf, who regularly burst into tears during post-match interviews; Klaus Toppmöller, whose flaccid perm, nicotine-addled purr and world-weary demeanour gave him the air of a Reeperbahn bawd; Benno Möhlmann, the pioneer of the half-time pep-talk that consists of kicking the right-back in the shins; and Egon Coordes, who, although refraining from physical assaults, treated his players with the contempt usually reserved for bears dancing on hotplates rather than professional athletes.
As for the players, a few have been good for longer than one season (Tony Yeboah, Sergej Barbarez, Karsten Bäron) but most of the big names who have come have been crocks, has-beens or merely interested in using Hamburg as a stopover for Munich, Manchester or Madrid. And the rest were just unspeakable, the sort that nobody’s ever heard of even after they’ve been and gone. Niclas Kindvall, for example, was only referred to in sentences whose primary subject were his more successful father, Ove, whilst Martin Zafirov remains famous only for being suspended for longer than the 45 minutes he ever turned out for the club. In the late 1990s, performances were so bad that the main sponsor told the club to keep the money, but insisted on their name being removed from the shirts.
An entire generation of trophyless HSV fans has turned 21 and, like the Crash Kid (now the Crash Man, but still in trouble with the law), the club’s proclivity for senselessness remains unabated. This year, fans spent the early close-season fans looking forward to a worthy successor to Ernst Happel, the inspiration behind the club’s successes of the 1980s. What they’ve got is Armin Veh, touted as the number one candidate, but only in the same way as the sole magazine in the lavatory is what you elect to read once you’ve dropped your trousers and sat down. The general manager, Bastian Reinhardt, got the job on the basis of a long and distinguished three-month internship in the marketing department.
Meanwhile, the team, although liberally sprinkled with internationals, is simply an accident that’s already happened. The backbone – goalkeeper Frank Rost, Zé Roberto and Ruud van Nistelrooy – have a combined age of 107 and barely five knees between them. The central defence consists of one injury victim (Heiko Westermann) and, in Joris Mathijsen and third-choice David Rozehnal, two players who exude the calmness of men suffering a panic attack in a hall of mirrors. In midfield, Piotr Trochowski, continues to reproduce his international form at club level. And if last year’s anything to go by, centre-forward Paulo Guerrero will have a storming first three months, go to Peru for Christmas, develop a fear of flying and then stay there.
All of which can only be good for the Bundesliga. Jens Lehmann has retired, Günter Netzer is no longer on TV and Uli Hoeness won’t be doing as many interviews as he used to. In short, there’s nobody to make you laugh out loud any more. The only thing that offers a remote possibility of comic potential is the HSV cage aux folles rattling along like an old charabanc into ninth place. Knowing them, they’ll probably get the Crash Man in to drive it. Matt Nation