Ups and downs
Which club do these people represent? Henning Bürger. Geri Cipi. Mehmet Dragusha. Jurica Pulijiz. Andree Wiedener.
Tough? Maybe. But it's not a trick question. Each man has played at least ten games this season, and Wiedener is even a minor legend in his own right.
Not because he's got 180 Bundesliga matches under his belt, but because Mario Basler once called him an 'anti-footballer' when they were team-mates!
Back then, Wiedener was plying his trade at Werder Bremen but since 2001 he's been sweating and tackling for Eintracht Frankfurt. And even though his old Bremen side is defying mighty Bayern Munich right now, it's the anti-footballer Wiedener who's playing for the true team of the hour and who can lay claim to a much greater achievement than leading the league by nine points.
On Saturday, Frankfurt easily defeated a Schalke side that had been unbeaten in ten games. It was enough to make me want to get a new job and do something worthwhile for a change, because Frankfurt had been my best bet to get at least one of the 18 predictions I made in July right. (If you can't be bothered to look up the archive, I had put them in last place with a comment comprising only one word: 'Hopeless'.)
Yet they are now two points clear of the releagtion zone, level on points with 1860 Munich. And that's where the story begins, as those two clubs share tales of woe and wonder.
Both have a history of shady dealings and irregularities that goes back to at least 1967. That year, the head of 1860's football division vanished after only five months at the post - with a suitcase full of money.
Frankfurt, meanwhile, announced a deficit of £330,000. What would constitute spare change today, was a nigh impossible sum back then, because professional football was only four years old in Germany and operating under both a maximum-wage and maximum-transfer system (a player wasn't allowed to earn more than £400 per month and couldn't cost more than £16,000).
Put differently, it must have taken some imagination to lose so much money, yet only two years later, Frankfurt had almost doubled their debts to £600,000 and 1860 were a staggering £800,000 in the red.
Both clubs never really recovered financially, but the effect of this on their football was quite different. 1860 were relegated in 1970 and would only briefly return to the top flight over the next twelve years.
Frankfurt won the Cup in 1974, 1975 and 1981, plus the 1980 UEFA Cup. Then came the watershed season of 1981-82. 1860 did well in the 2nd Bundesliga: they finished fourth, and their star striker, a certain Rudi Völler, was the league's top scorer with 37 goals.
|“||How the mighty are fallen - literally. During his first night in prison, 1860 president Wildmoser fell off the bed because it was too narrow for his Bavarian bulk. ”|
Yet the debts had become so crippling that the German FA revoked 1860's license for professional football and demoted the club to the third division.
Frankfurt, meanwhile, were as broke as 1860 (£1.5m in the red), but they saved their hide because they played in the top flight and competed in the Cup-Winners' Cup, which theoretically gave them some income.
Of course there were also those who said that Eintracht were spared because the German FA's headquarters happened to be in Frankfurt, whereas you could easily make an example of 1860, because there was this other Munich club still flying the flag for Bavaria.
Proud 1860 would spend twelve of the next thirteen seasons in amateur football, regularly drawing five-figure crowds against teams you've never heard of but not going anywhere. Until Karl-Heinz Wildmoser became the new president in May 1992. A month later, he signed a new coach by the name of Werner Lorant, and only two years later 1860 were back in the Bundesliga.
Frankfurt, meanwhile, were also pointing towards 1992 as the year everything changed. In the same month that Wildmoser took over at 1860, a Frankfurt side led by Andreas Möller threw away the championship on the last day of the season.
From then on, it was downhill. In 1996, Eintracht were relegated from the Bundesliga, and less than half a year later, the inland revenue authorities searched the club's offices suspecting tax evasion in connection with certain transfers.
Players like Tony Yeboah and Mölller would spend many hours in courtrooms over the coming years. And so the past decade has seen Frankfurt yo-yoing between the top two leagues, indulging in intrigues, and having a penchant for ruinous deals.
1860, on the other hand, were establishing themselves in the Bundesliga and dreaming of bigger things. In 2000, they would have reached the Champions League if they hadn't had the misfortune of drawing a fantastic Leeds team in the qualifiers. But at least they joined hands (and coffers) with Bayern to plan a state-of-the-art ground, scheduled to open in April 2005.
For a while, the current season fitted this order of things. In early November, 1860 were in eighth place, nine points ahead of a struggling Frankfurt side that was beginning to show signs of disintegration.
Coach Willi Reimann was benching an unfit Andreas Möller, who'd come out of retirement to help his old club even though Reimann had been vehemently opposed to the idea, and the fans were getting so restless that midfielder Ervin Skela announced: 'Leave the coach alone. What can he do? Given our lousy starting position, it was obvious we'd be fighting for survival.'
And yet here we are four months later, and Frankfurt have lost only one game since December (due to a last-minute goal) and have caught up with 1860, where things have gone haywire.
A week ago, Wildmoser and his son were taken into custody for presumed corruption and embezzlement, as the company now building the new arena had paid 2.8m Euros in bribe money in order to be given inside information in connection with the invitation of tenders.
How the mighty are fallen - literally. During his first night in prison, Wildmoser fell off the bed because it was too narrow for his Bavarian bulk and had to be helped up by a Russian and a Pole sharing the cell with him.
Two days later, he was out on bail, as his son made a confession that may or may not clear his old man, yet on Monday Wildmoser was forced to step down as 1860's president. Which reminds me that another of my July predictions said 1860 would go down. One out of 18 may have to do.