After two chaotic years, Hertha BSC is back to mediocrity. The club from the capital is one of the last bastions of the legendary “old football”. That sounds good on paper, but it takes a lot of suffering. And then there is also investor Lars Windhorst.
The big days in the empty Olympic Stadium reached their climax on a cold November day in 2015. On November 22nd, on the first day of the game after the terrible attacks in Paris, well under 40,000 spectators watched the place covered by a light blanket of snow, where nothing happened, nothing happened at the match between Hertha BSC and TSG Hoffenheim. Once the ball was swapped. It was red now and no longer white. And stood out splendidly from the lawn. And once Eugen Polanski headed the ball into his own goal. Almost desperate. So that something happens at all. Hertha remained without a goal finish of their own. But won 1-0.
Pal Dardai had just taken over Hertha for the first time and was in the middle of his first full season. He achieved something that no one had thought possible any longer. He brought romance back to football. But nobody noticed. The Hungarian gave Hertha a new identity. Under him, the club from the Westend became the last bastion of the legendary “old football”, which everyone dreamed of, but which no one ever wanted back in public. Dissatisfaction had long since spread among the fans, because everything had gotten worse and worse over the years. And protests were made against it. Against “modern football” and how it presented itself.
The fans’ loss of control
But with all the protests against modern football, it was never against the new stadium experience, but rather with a vague feeling of loss of control. FIFA, Blatter, Infantino, UEFA, DFB and whatever they are called had torn the game out of the hands of the fans and placed it in those who viewed the stadium spectators as an adornment for their product. Adorned. Good for marketing. And sometimes very annoying.
New technical possibilities and a new generation of fans began measuring football. Moneyball! The right look at the right data made everything else unnecessary. The data was available everywhere. Being a fan now also meant drawing the right conclusions from it. The sport game soccer. Not the society game soccer. The internationalization, the competition with other leagues, but also the struggle for attention in an increasingly digital sports world, in times of general availability of all highlights of all football leagues around the world, had also robbed the Bundesliga of the regional.
In Dortmund they dared the balancing act between Borsigplatz and Shanghai, in Munich they left the national league far behind and joined the ranks of the few super clubs. With Leipzig and Hoffenheim, clubs established themselves which overturned the competition due to their financial possibilities and whose owners Dietrich Mateschitz and Dietmar Hopp caused great controversy. The Austrian not only because of his money, but also because of his media projects in his home country, which are fishing on the far-right. The man from Hoffenheim, because the love he wanted to spread didn’t get everywhere as love.
The clubs at the top had escaped the rest and football, at least in the perception of numerous supporters, had also become a test field for the latest escalation strategies of the security authorities. A wild mixture. With only one loser: the keepers of football culture, the fans of “old football”.
Standstill in the Westend
So those were the protests. The spectators still wanted to sit close to the field, feel the players, overwhelm them with their emotions and be quickly supplied with beer and bratwurst at halftime and not have to queue up in the toilets during the break. The fans accepted this part of modern football. The concrete bowls of the 1980s, the ritually revered wedding of “old football”, had had their day. Almost everywhere.
But not even that had made it to the Westend of Berlin. Hertha tried to build a new stadium there, but Berlin threw the remaining pieces of the wall from the gutted city in the way of the club. Just not a new stadium. Just no renting the Olympic Stadium. It continues to this day. The wall, which has long since disappeared from the cityscape, has to go somewhere.
In Dardai’s first term of office, the result-oriented struggle for wear and tear developed its own magic in the cold concrete bowl of the Olympic Stadium. In a short Europa League season in 2017, the desolation intensified again. It was always cold, the football was always unsightly and the stadium was empty. But those who watched the games in the empty lower tier of the east curve opened their hearts. This was soccer. This was a European Cup. This was authentic. Long dark days full of hard work lay between the few holidays, between the few sold-out games. This was old football. No makeup, ruthless, unloved by the masses.
A car on the tartan track
At the same time, the association started a modernization process. The club’s efforts to radiate into the city, the cocky marketing campaigns by the lead agency Jung von Matt / Sports and the former Twitter man Paul Keuter were sometimes exaggerated and sometimes sympathetic. The claim “We Try. We Fail. We Win” will not be forgotten. Also unforgettable is the day when the team got on their knees and showed solidarity with Colin Kaepernick and established “Take A Knee” in Europe – long before things really started in 2020.
In every international break it went to a sports facility in the capital. The Kiez training should bind the young generation to the club and have an impact on the city. Everyone should see Dardai concoct the next draw on the sidelines. Hertha managed, without their wanting to, to break out of the hostage of the new conformism of modern football. They played in an old bowl, the fans in the east curve could not be controlled by the club. They constantly messed with the club management, they clashed with sports director Michael Preetz, who had long since become an inventory.
And the fans sang their songs blown by the wind in the Ostkurve and moped up when Frank Zander was supposed to stop singing his hymn. They didn’t want any change, they didn’t want to be the “Big B” on the Spree, but rather many prefer to sway with the bard. Sometimes an advertising partner’s car drove over the tartan track and once, it was November again in Berlin and the Ultras were at odds with the club’s management, someone jumped over the stands, calling out lonely. Leipzig won 3-0. “I’ve never seen anything like it at home,” said Dardai.
Windhorst brings chaos
Dardai was not a tactical fox, but a native, one who understood the club and one whose Hungarian character was disturbing every now and then. Who talked about men’s football and thus got a little attention and education every now and then in the ever faster turning world of eternal outrage, but who also talked about goulash and red wine, and brought a little summer break belly from his summer vacation back to the capital. That was Hertha.
Then came Lars Windhorst. And with him the money. And with it the chaos that has always surrounded the investor.
The last two years. A fever dream: Ante Covic, Big City Club, Derby bankruptcy, traces of light flying, fall of the wall in the Olympic Stadium, Jürgen Klinsmann, Windhorst yacht in training camp, underwater polo, million transfers, Facebook Live and diaries, Gegenbauer is still there, Windhorst on PK, Alexander Nouri, Covid-19, Bruno Labbadia, Kalou are shooting videos, relegation battle, relegation. Lehmann there. Take a breath. Break.
Carsten Schmidt, Fahnenmeer, Ordnungsamt, visual axes and Herthakneipen, builds in Tegel, derby victory and relegation battle, Bruno away, Pal back, Preetz away, Friedrich Boss, men’s football, relegation battle, Lehmann away, Cunha falls and Lukebakio sleeps, Bobic comes, relegation battle, team -Quarantine, Bremen down and Selke there. Take a breath. Break.
The Prince is back, pays Windhorst now, without Windhorst already broke, only 22 percent on Deadline Day, Bayern slap, Pal wants to go, Bobic brakes, relegation songs again, fans now gone, Schmidt is out, Windhorst broke, victory in Frankfurt, Pal is fine. New stuff. For the Bundesliga entertainment machine.
Hertha is like Berlin
It’s November again in Berlin. The author Klaus Ungerer is sitting on a bench on Arkonaplatz, the birthplace of Hertha, on July 25th, 1892. It’s cold. The capital has not seen the sun for days. The noises of the tram creep from the nearby Bernauer Strasse. A couple of lonely drinkers are sitting on a bench. Berlin center. No glamor. Ungerer, who runs the “Masochists for Hertha” account on Twitter, is going a long way. “Hertha is not about success,” he says: “We haven’t won anything since 1931. Hertha is just like Berlin: actually a village jottwedeh. Built far away from everything, there is no sea and no real river and actually no reason to build a town. Everyone just wants to have their peace and quiet and sip Schulle in their corner bar. They don’t want a car parade. No hysteria. ”
The club, says Ungerer, has been pushed into a strange corner in recent years. “Hertha is not about winning. Winning is also far too exhausting. Hertha is about being there, chilling out, reaching the end of the month,” he says. “This triumphant, excited person only ever comes in from the outside. Just as Napoleon came in from the outside. And Hitler. And the bomb pilots. And the Russians. And the government. Only stress comes from outside.” He looks up, looks sharply and makes a charming attack: “Today it’s sports journalists who come from outside and can’t forgive Hertha for being a wallflower. Hertha fans don’t care.”
Windhorst digested millions without consequences
It’s November in Berlin. Pal Dardai has survived his own threats to resign. Not even Fredi Bobic wanted to throw him out. He steers the club back to midfield after the relegation battles of previous years. Hertha football is again a battle of wear and tear. Even the prince is back. Fans gather in the corner pubs brought by fans through the lockdowns of the pandemic. Some of them even dare to go back to the stadium. Hertha BSC is still one of the unloved clubs in the league. Lars Windhorst is fighting on all fronts against the impending bankruptcy of his company.
Ungerer says: “Hertha cannot be broken. It cannot be broken by any Bundesliga scandal, by no relegation, no license revocation, not even Andreas Ottl broke it. Hertha keeps coming back. Even Windhorst’s 374 million euros will not break them. They are digested, completely without consequences. “
A drafty, old concrete bowl, a sun king as an investor, a sports director with shocking openness, a coach to whom the club means nothing and his position, a team bobbing in the middle of the table, a bunch of fans who fill all of this with their passion. The old football is not dead, it has been reinventing itself in Berlin’s West End for a long time.