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Sunday 6th April 2014 ko 15.00

Oberliga Baden-Wüttemberg

VfR MANNHEIM 2 (Erdogu 3p Kyei 85)

1FC BRUCHSAL 0

Att 550

Entry €11 (Haupttribüne/Main Stand)

Programme FREE

Steak Roll €3.50

It was fitting that I arrived in Mannheim by car, the city is after all where Carl Benz produced the world’s first car powered by the internal combustion engine in 1886. I note that he used his wife, Bertha as the first passenger which shows either confidence in his invention, or his marriage! The running theme on this tour of clubs with neighbours continued with SV Waldhof Mannheim’s Carl-Benz-Stadion dominating the skyline, along with the 212.8 metre Fernmeldeturm Mannheim telecommunication tower complete with observation deck. But if you head down the driveway to the right of the Chinese restaurant a cornucopia of delights awaits you.

Waldhof play in the fourth-tier 4th tier Regionalliga Süd, but spent seven seasons competing in the top-flight 1 Bundesliga before being relegated at the end of the 1989–90 season, and the 27,000 capacity stadium reflects that lost status. That’s not to say that VfR Mannheim haven’t got an illustrious history of their own. Formed from a 3-club merger in 1896 to compete with Waldhof the club’s finest hour came in 1949 when they won the national championship, beating Borussia Dortmund 3-2 in the final. That win meant they were the very first recipients of the Meisterschale, a magnificent sterling silver plate, rather dismissively referred to as “die Salatschüssel” or “Salad Bowl.”

Before the Meisterschale the championship trophy was the Viktoria Meisterschaftstrophäe but that was lost during World War II eventually being found, post-reunification, would you believe in a pile of coal! It meant that there was no trophy for the first post-war winners the previous year 1. FC Nuremberg, but when VfR won the next year, there was no replica for the club to keep once the real trophy was passed to the next winners. The tragedy is that VfR haven’t come close to winning it again since.

The intervening years haven’t been kind to them either. They’re fought off attempts to merge them with Waldhof, but were placed in Regionalliga Süd, when the Bundesliga was created in 1963 but were relegated 10 years later. Financial problems lead them being placed in the Verbandesliga Nordbaden 2003, but they won that at the first attempt, to put them in their current league, which due to another relegation and subsequent promotion, they remain today. They are one of those clubs that seem to be on the wrong end of any expansion.

The Rhein-Neckar Stadion is perfect for the club’s needs, with its 8,000 capacity, and the football tourist will love the place. Whether its the curve of the roof of the stand, with the Fernmeldeturm in the background, the food sizzling in the stalls, or the flowers growing in the soft moss-filled terraces there’s something to make the groundhopper smile. I strolled over to the club-shop to pick up a badge and a teamsheet, and what happened next I’ll take to the grave.

The gentleman running the shop realised I wasn’t local and after asking where I am from, let a club official know they had visitors, and our party of 4 were invited into the VIP area at half-time for a beer. It was wonderful to meet the club’s directors; they struggle to keep the side going, it costs an eye-watering €450,000 a year to run a team in the 5th division, and they are fundraising hard to have their replica Meisterschale made on the 65th anniversary of their triumph. It speaks volumes for the way football in general is run these days that the DFB cannot or will not find the funds to help VfR, they deserve nothing less. It was a wonderful finale to our 5 game tour and a wonderful surprise.

The game was a real relegation six-pointer with VfR second-bottom (two are automatically relegated) and Bruchsal in the 2nd of 4 relegation play-off spots above them. VfR made the perfect start when Jan Kahle’s challenge on Kaan Erdogu was judged illegal. It seems that if you were on the Main Stand side you thought that referee Cenk Tekinarslan’s decision was a poor one, and on the terrace side, a very good one, but that’s football! Erdogu showed great coolness to chip home the penalty Panenka-style but the early goal didn’t lead to either club taking control of the game. In fact it wasn’t until some sustained Bruchsal pressure after the hour mark that VfR introduced top goalscorer Hans Kyei. He won them the game, as Bruchsal over-committed going forward and Erdogu’s cross from the left allowed Kyei to stroke home at the back post.

You couldn’t help but be pleased for our friendly hosts, the result lifted them out of the automatic relegation places, and I wish them all the best for the rest of the season. When you visit them please give them a cheer from me!!