Mathias Kowoll bemoans the decision of 1860 Munich to cosy up to their more powerful neighbours
Rangers and Celtic have teamed up. They are now planning a shared ground with a capacity of 80,000 next to the municipal sewage plant. Profits from any games played there will be shared equally. In order to persuade the public to support the plan, the last Old Firm derby is promoted as one big demonstration for the common cause. Both sets of fans put on a show, hair dyed green and blue – often both colours on the same head – and the two chairmen can frequently be seen hugging each other.
Well, not quite. Read Munich instead of Glasgow, change the team names and colours accordingly, and you’ve got it – including the sewage. It’s not quite the same thing of course. There is no religious bigotry in the Munich derby (we’re all good Pope-abiding Catholics over here). But the Munich rivalry is indeed one of a very special kind, and has always been.
As in many other German cities, Munich’s gymnastics clubs experienced a strange phenomenon at the end of the 19th century: more and more young men abandoned their traditional pommel horses and went outside to kick a round leather ball about. In 1900, one of those groups, based in the middle-class district of Schwabing, set up FC Bayern Munich. A year earlier, a football section had been established within the 1860 gymnastics and sports club.
It wasn’t until after the First World War that football started to appeal to the masses in Germany, with attendances shooting up from a few hundred to many thousands. 1860, situated in working-class Giesing, built one of the most modern German grounds during this boom period, the Grünwalder Stadium, which they rented out to the other Munich clubs, including Bayern.
Until the early 1960s, neither team managed to leave a lasting impression on German football. The turning point was 1965-66, the season of 1860’s first and only German title, but also of Bayern’s first year in the Bundesliga (they came third). Whereas Bayern had stability behind the scenes and kept faith with their young team, 1860 sacked their title-winning manager a mere six months after their greatest triumph. With the club drifting down through the divisions a few years later, derbies became a rarity, and Bayern fans began to adopt an attitude still prevalent today, one of condescension towards the poor relations.
In the early Eighties, 1860 were relegated to the humiliating depths of the Bavarian League (then one of the regional third divisions). As several attempts to secure promotion with expensive has-beens or exciting young talent missed the mark, the gap between the trophy-collecting Reds and the repeatedly failing Blues turned into an abyss. Bayern’s business management succeeded in turning them into Germany’s “national” club. The Olympic Stadium, where Bayern had moved in 1972, would be sold out for their home games – to a large extent with glory-hunters from all over the country, but that mattered little to them. Yet for 1860’s loyal fans, it mattered a lot. It gave them a sense of moral superiority throughout the wilderness years. For many, the real Munich team still played at the Grünwalder Strasse.
In 1994, 1860 finally returned to the Bundesliga and their new president, Karl-Heinz Wildmoser, brought modern management to the club. At first his plans were to modernise the old ground and stay there. But then he changed his mind and set his heart on a move to the Olympic Stadium, where, Wildmoser argued, “we might lose 3,000 spectators, but might gain 30,000”. And it seemed to work. The average attendance reached an all-time high in 1997 at almost 35,000. However, from that time on, no matter how well or badly 1860 have fared in the Bundesliga, the figures have steadily declined, and are now around 23,000.
To understand this, one has to understand German football support in general. There aren’t many real local rivalries. If one club in a city is more successful over a certain period of time, the less successful club will eventually disappear. The exception, Hamburg, works because the smaller club, St Pauli, has a special image, distinct from their bigger neighbour, one in which their relatively small ground plays a key role. Yet the 1860 board weathered the storm of numerous fan protests and continued its groundsharing policy.
Enter Mr Charles Dempsey, whose controversial vote on the bids to host the 2006 World Cup indirectly granted Bayern their longstanding wish to build a new stadium. Without the World Cup, Munich’s mayor would never have given financial support to the plan. Even with the 2006 decision going Germany’s way, he had to be persuaded by the chairman of the 2006 Organising Committee, one Franz Beckenbauer – also Bayern’s president. A local referendum in October 2001 confirmed that there will be a new stadium.
All this apparently has very little to do with 1860, but Wildmoser still cherishes the vision of Munich becoming another Milan, with two clubs of equal stature playing in the same stadium. That can work where both clubs enjoy similar success and potential, but not where one club has won 17 titles and the other only one, where one club has six European trophies and the other none, where the first club’s average crowd of 49,000 is more than twice that of its rival and where the former club has an annual turnover of DM370 million (£86 million) and the latter DM70 million.
The new ground will be a big improvement on the Olympic Stadium. But it will not give Munich 1860 back its uniqueness, the one quality that makes a club worth supporting. On the contrary, if sources can be believed, the Munich authorities are secretly planning to demolish the old Grünwalder Stadium, thus rendering obsolete all plans to modernise or rebuild it – and the supporters’ hopes of returning there.
Bayern fans are currently on a high, enjoying success both on and off the pitch. Fans of 1860 tell a different story, and not even the signing of Davor Suker can cheer them up. Everybody is talking only of the new Bayern Stadium. As the operating company of the new ground will divide the profits equally between the two clubs, 1860 are likely to survive financially in the Bundesliga. However if the last derby with its “We’re all Munich” propaganda is anything to go by, the same might not be true for the city’s football rivalry.
From WSC 179 January 2002. What was happening this month