Germany – Crisis in the East

If you want to travel to see a Bundesliga game next season, a map of the old West Germany will do. Paul Joyce reports on a playing and financial crisis in the East

Hansa Rostock’s relegation from the Bundesliga means that, for the first time since reunification, the former East Germany will not be represented in the top flight next season. Two clubs from what had been the DDR entered the Bundesliga in 1991-92, with six others joining the national second division, 2. Bundesliga, and the east receiving its own regional third division. For 2005-06, however, the east will only have four clubs in the second division (Rostock, Erzgebirge Aue, Dynamo Dresden and Energie Cottbus) and at most three teams in the restructured third tier.

As Karl-Heinz Moldenhauer, president of the North-East German Football Association, has identified, the primary cause of his region’s malaise is financial: “The economic potential here is simply absent and the major sponsors are all based in the west.” Although €1.25 trillion (£860 billion) has so far been spent on rebuilding the ex-communist territories, unemployment there still hovers around 20 per cent. Clubs have been powerless to prevent the steady exodus westwards of such talents as Andreas Thom, Ulf Kirsten, Jens Jeremies and Michael Ballack. A recent court decision that training compensation fees in non-amateur football are in breach of the German constitution may only facilitate the further plundering of the east’s fertile football academies.

Yet countless clubs have contributed to their own downfall through financial mismanagement. Dynamo Dresden were banished from the Bundesliga to the third division in 1995 with debts the equivalent of €8 million. Other sides were similarly profligate, resulting in insolvency for such former giants as Dynamo Berlin and Lokomotive Leipzig (WSC 214).

The fact that Hansa Rostock, who did not win the DDR title until its final year, 1991, represented the east in the Bundesliga for a decade proves that financial prudence can pay dividends. And Hansa’s demise is more attributable to managerial than socio-economic miscalculations – unsuccessful coach Juri Schlünz was sacked too late, top scorer Martin Max was not replaced soon enough and the squad, as new boss Jörg Berger quipped with heavy understatement, “did not only consist of fighters”. By the time Jari Litmanen had joined ineffectual ex-Aston Villa striker Marcus Allbäck, Rostock’s abysmal home form had already sunk the side from the Baltic coast. Berger said that it would have been easier to save the Titanic.

Some are aggrieved that western teams such as Borussia Dortmund have accrued large debts without the German Football Association (DFB) revoking their playing licence. By contrast, Rot-Weiss Erfurt had three points deducted when striker Senad Tiganj failed a drugs test after showing his six-year-old asthmatic son how to use his new inhaler. Erfurt, who were relegated from the second division, urgently require €1.3m for next year’s semi-professional licence.

Though well intentioned, debates on ways of “saving” football in the east have appeared misjudged and even patronising. Franz Beckenbauer’s proposal to expand the top flight to 20 teams didn’t even convince his own club, Bayern Munich. Calls for the DFB to provide financial help for ailing eastern clubs were dismissed by Rostock’s Rainer Jarohs: “What right do we have to receive extra money when Mainz can’t?” Fifteen years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Jarohs continued, he now considered his club to be a north German one anyway.

More practical solutions abound that may be raised at the special “eastern summit” announced recently by DFB president Theo Zwanziger. A more equal distribution of promotion places to the national third divisions is a matter of urgency: only one of the eight spots is currently allocated to the former GDR and West Berlin. Removing the Bundesliga clubs’ reserve teams from the pyramid would likewise help.

A co-ordinated approach is also required to the lingering problem of hooliganism in the east – Energie Cottbus trainer Petrik Sander was hospitalised in April as a result of a flare fired by one of his side’s fans. Bundesliga regulars only two seasons ago, Cottbus survived this year in the second division only on goal difference and currently have debts of €4.5m.

Are there any crumbs of comfort? Well, one major title does reside in the east: last month 1.FFC Turbine Potsdam comfortably won the UEFA Women’s Cup, 5‑1 on aggregate against Sweden’s Djurgårdens/Älvsjö, to follow up last year’s domestic double.

From WSC 221 July 2005. What was happening this month