The Luxury of Top Flight Football
Our Eintracht fan club EFC Schobberobber has a petit UK base consisting of Hal, Toddy and myself. Both Hal’s and Toddy’s English teams have been relegated this season, Charlton Athletic (Hal’s club) even for the second time in three years, and Middlesbrough FC (Toddy’s team) are leaving top flight football behind them after 11 years in the Premiere League. At least with Eintracht Frankfurt they support a German team that’s still in a position to meet the best of the Bundesliga, even though that might be little consolation for their main teams suffering that badly. So my commiseration to our friends here and good luck in getting things sorted in getting back on track.
I have asked both Toddy and Hal to describe their feelings after the big blow of their teams, as we at Eintracht know the sorrow and desperation far too well that comes along with a relegation. Here is what they had to say.
Hal / Charlton Athletic FC supporter:
“Relegation is most painful when it goes to the wire, when the team is galvanised against the odds and fight to the last kick, only to be relegated following a cruel last minute deflection.
Charlton's second relegation in three years was not like this. We were a side which lost most of their games. Whether we underperformed is difficult to say as most of the players were new, or rather on loan, so we have no reference point. We hoped it would come together, but it never did (until the last game of the season when we beat Norwich 4-2). This summer 10 of our players will be out of contract, the club is in debt so player purchases will be funded only by season ticket sales. If we assume there will be 10,000 season tickets sold at an average of £400 that is 4,000,000 from which we need to service our debt, pay club overheads and buy a new team. So the prospect of another relegation seems more likely than a swift return to the second tier.
But relegation and promotion are a big part of the reason we love football. Since the premier league was founded in 92, there have been more than 40 teams competing in it. Think of all that joy and agony. Only 6 of the teams in the current premier league have been established in the top division for a long time, ie safe from relegation, but then look at Newcastle - anything can happen. And in that 6, I include Chelsea, who are only in that position as long as Abramovich sticks around - they were quite a yoyo club beforehand. Even Manchester United have massive debts - it might only take a failure to qualify to the money spinning champions league one year for the whole operation to begin to unravel.
So we look forward to a future full of surprises, whilst we pretend relegation is not that bad after all.”
Richard Todd / Middlesbrough FC supporter:
“What makes the good times so good? – Well the bad times to be honest.
Watching Boro this year has been one long wait on death row – anxiously looking at escape routes, until gradually you’re hoping on other teams doing you a favour. And then by the final day of the season you realise that you would need a string of results which are about as improbable as Maradonna admitting that it wasn’t really the hand of god, but his own.
So then it happens and it’s then that you realise that all the long hours trying to convinde yourself that you don’t care were wasted. And it’s then that you walk around for three or four days in a daze and you remember the words of the great Bill Shankly:
‘Football is not a matter of life and death – it’s far more important.’ “
So there I was, two of my best mates in England suffering the massive disappointment of relegation, and suddenly I was not so unhappy about our last season in Frankfurt anymore. It also gave me a bit of a backflash when remembering the pain and the disbelief when Eintracht got relegated before. Seeing my friends and their direct involvement in that pain I realised that the level of dissatisfaction of parts of the Frankfurt fans with the performances, the results and the situation in general of Eintracht is somehow unrealistic and blinded.
Support like in the Middle Age with Modern Touches
It’s been discussed a lot, the gap in between the Frankfurt supporters, the complete opposing attitudes towards team and manager Funkel within the Eintracht environment, the disagreements on whether the best results in 15 years are good enough, or whether we should aim for more and pursuit higher goals.
Whenever I visited the home ground for games in the season just gone, I felt a hostile atmosphere, a massive dissatisfaction and some strange outbursts of some of the fans. Here are a few examples: booing Eintracht players when they were brought on within a substitution as they were not the player favoured by parts of the crowds (the Brazil talent Caio), shouts for that player Caio on the bench after five or ten minutes of play time, fights between the own fans (!), booing the team and shouting ‘Funkel out!’ when winning 4-1 against a direct competitor (Borussia Moenchengladbach), hacking the Eintracht website alongside a message confessing that it was done and will be repeated in order to get the manager sacked, buttons stating ‘Funkel out!’ being worn on the expensive clothing of the prawn sandwich VIP fans in their business boxes, and dissing the own players for not hitting the target or having some bad luck.
I felt like in the Coliseum in Rome when back in the days the crowd forced the happenings on the field by raising their thumbs or the opposite. It felt like being in the middle age when people were hunted down and the public had a strange sense of finger pointing. It felt to me like mobbing, and like propaganda: singular individuals being more important to these ‘fans’ than Eintracht as whole. And it also made me very sad and still does, as I never felt so distant to those fans behaving like they did, but them still being fans of Eintracht which usually makes them my friends straight away. It is the first time ever that I feel this disunion towards parts of the fan groups, and the excitement about the club was swapped with something like half-hearted feelings and resignation as I did not want to join the polemic and hateful ‘supporters’.
Thank You, Friedhelm Funkel!
It’s time to move on though. Funkel (picture above: the press conference when he was introduced 5 years ago) has resigned, and he showed great character and professionalism in doing so, and in the way he explained it in a press conference together with chairman Heribert Bruchhagen. No bad word about those fans, no bad word towards the press (to the opposite – he even thanked them), he claimed the time at Eintracht was the best in his career. During his reign of five years (a record contract with just one other manager in the club history staying at Eintracht that long) we were promoted, we consolidated ourselves in the league, we went to the German Cup final, we then reached the UEFA Cup and had some great experiences there. The team was always following the manager’s commands and also in their comments and interviews they worshipped the good and solid work Funkel was doing. It’s just that very peculiar part of the fan base that did not want to cooperate any longer.
But for all these great experiences (Who does not remember the 6-0 cup home win against Schalke, the games v Brondby Copenhagen, US Palermo, Newcastle or Istanbul (picture below), the home win against Bayern Munich with Christoph Preuss’ goal of the year and and and and..) I’d like to thank Friedhelm Funkel, for his honest work and for his dedication to his job at Eintracht. There’s no doubt that with his experience, and his successes he will find a new club very soon – all the best to him!
Fans Reuinted – Let’s Stick Together
We need some serious thinking and communication at Eintracht to get a sense of togetherness back within the Frankfurt fan base. This gaping disagreement over the recent seasons, over the manager and over certain players needs to be overcome somehow. We need to become that well respected unit of fans again, that demonstrated ‘EINTRACHT’. For christ’s sake, the word MEANS concord, harmony, unity!
I have hopes, that when the dust has settled, and the excitement of the new season kicks in, and the ball is on the pitch and the games are upon us, that all this controversy, the dispute, the hate, the total confrontation will fade away. It is also possible that we assign a new manager who will struggle again, and the atmosphere might go bad and ugly and hostile again, but let’s think positive.
And let’s do our best to support the team, and all that it’s about:
Eintracht and Frankfurt – Eintracht Frankfurt!