The Lion, the Rich, and the Underdogs
April 17, 2021
What’s it like being Blue when it would be so much easier being Red
Giesing was an explosion in white and blue.
Munich’s working-class neighborhood was celebrating 1860 München’s return to professional football after a one-year hiatus in the fourth-tier Regionalliga Bayern. As I headed to the training center to take in the festivities, fans are lined up on the streets banging against the windows of my tram in pure joy. Once I arrive at the training ground I’m greeted by scenes more reminiscent of a punk rock festival. Fans are lying on the training fields and players can be spotted standing next to Tragerl, the 24-packs of beer common in Bavaria.
Just the year prior, those scenes would have been considered impossible and even last winter when I visited the club to research this story things seemed bleak. 1860 were recovering from relegation from Bundesliga 2 and the subsequent fall to the fourth division. This is a story of a club’s resurrection, but 1860 would not be 1860 if things were that simple. Despite the promotion things remain difficult. It has been an eventful year for one of Germany’s biggest clubs as 1860 were relegated first to the third division and then forced to play in the fourth division after failing to obtain a license. That failure led to the club leaving the Allianz Arena and returning “home” to Giesing, which in turn led to a major revival of the club. But this is not your typical revival story.
Those were the words of my father, a lifelong 1860 München fan and probably the number one reason I became a Blue instead of a Bayern supporter. My dad uttered those words every time we saw a lackluster performance in Bundesliga 2. But this time, after another bleak effort during the 2016-17 season, I was pretty sure he meant it. Fast-forward one year and the club’s drop to the Regionalliga, and he still came. He was attracted, like so many, by the club’s return to their home at the Grünwalder Stadion and an unlikely comeback by a club that is often called “Munich’s true love.”
So we headed out to Giesing’s heights, parked the car along the Nockherberg and walked towards the stadium. It’s a cold December night, but the streets are full of people wearing blue and white 1860 merchandise. The four tall floodlights give off a special hue on cold Munich winter evenings. We hurry in to get some Glühwein and find our spots. We’re back inside this stadium for the first time in over 20 years. My dad grew up in Giesing and has experienced all the highs and lows of the club. He was there when they won their only championship in 1966, when legendary keeper Petar Radenković invented the sweeper keeper, when Pele came to visit with Santos, but also through the countless relegation battles. For someone like him it takes a lot to not come back.
“I will never go to an 1860 game again.”
Those were the words of my father,
a lifelong 1860 München fan
But the club had almost lost him, and now that they had him back they almost did it again. Because right after we found our seats the lights went out. Power outage. The Grünwalder Stadion is old and the city has done little to keep it up. Ten minutes later the lights were on, but only briefly. Just after the players came out for the warm-up they flickered and went out for a second time. The sellout crowd of 12,500—a big number for a fourth-division match—carried on singing in the dark. After half an hour, they were interrupted by the voice of 1860 Munich’s longtime announcer, who broke the news over the the public address system that there would be no soccer that evening. The crowd poured from the ancient ground onto the streets of Giesing, south of central Munich, making their way into nearby pubs and spreading an enthusiasm not befitting a cancelled game. My dad seemed carried away by the atmosphere as well, and two weeks later we were back to see 1860 play SV Schalding-Heining from Passau.
1860, composed of young local talent, disposed of the amateur side 4-0, which sold my dad and many others on returning. 1860 fans are hardcore and given the relegation to Bundesliga 2 in 2003, two near-bankruptcies, the involvement of a controversial investor, three successive years of relegation battle, the drop first to Liga 3 and then almost bankruptcy once again—and then the drop to the fourth division that almost led to financial collapse, it’s remarkable that fans show up at all. But instead of disaster, it’s all culminated in a cultural revival of a club that has always been seen as the counterweight the city’s slightly more famous team.
It’s not that surprising that the club would find itself in this situation.
It all started with the decision of President Karl-Heinz Wildmoser to become a partner in the new Allianz Arena in 2001. Built for the 2006 FIFA World Cup, the Arena was one of the most modern facilities on the planet and is a truly great location to watch football. Furthermore, it provided a perfect environment for Bayern München, who for the first time in the club’s history had a true home in Munich. For 1860 though, it was too big and too expensive. And their relegation to the Bundesliga 2 in 2003 meant that the club would play second division football in the Arena.
At first the new stadium seemed to be godsend for 1860. The Blues had the top attendance in the second division that year with an average of 41,720 fans a game. But the club missed promotion in 2005-06 and with every year in the second division, attendance dropped. Soon 1860 was paying for a facility it simply could not afford, overspending in order to get back to the first division.
By 2011 the club was on the verge of bankruptcy. President Dieter Schneider fought to avoid insolvency by trying to bring in external money. But Germany’s 50+1 rule, which means that membership clubs have to be in control of football operations, meant it was difficult to find an investor. At the final hour 1860 presented an unknown backer by the name of Hasan Ismaik. Very little was and is known about the investor from Jordan, who lives in Abu Dhabi and was willing to invest several million euros in order to save the club from insolvency.
To this day, it’s not entirely clear that whether Ismaik was fully aware of the complicated ownership situation in German football. Although the club sold 60% of the KGaA (joint-stock company)—the commercial entity that runs the day-to-day aspects of the professional football team—the membership club (called e.V. or eingetragener Verein in German) remained in control on paper thanks to the 50+1 rule, which states that the membership club has the final say when it comes to club management (even while being completely dependent on the investor’s funds).
Although Ismaik always paid, sometimes at the last minute, to secure the club’s license for the second division, the fact that he was not allowed to run the club furthered tensions. Ismaik also wanted to sign glamorous names and was on the verge of bringing in Sven Goran Eriksson to coach, but the Swede took another job when he realized that his appointment was the basis of a major disagreement between club officials and the investors.
The conflict appeared to end in 2016 when the membership club appointed President Peter Cassalette, who was supportive of Ismaik having greater control. Having just fought off relegation to the third division, the club finally seemed ready to fully embrace Ismaik, who was then given control to appoint coaches and sign players. Ismaik then spent millions on new players, including fan favorite Stefan Aigner, who was playing for Frankfurt in the first division, Filip Stojković, former Bayern striker Ivica Olić as well as Brazilians Ribamar and Victor Andrade.
Furthermore, Ismaik invested in the training facilities and promised a new stadium. He even opened talks with the city for a property in Riem next to the fairgrounds. At first the city was more than willing to grant Ismaik land. But the Jordanian wanted space that was also to include a zoo with lions, the club’s symbol, named after former 1860 stars.
The dream of a new stadium and investments for the team meant that there was soon talk that 1860, like Manchester City, could become the noisy neighbor that might threaten Bayern’s hegemony. Aigner’s return in particular fueled the hope of many fans. The midfielder was in his prime at Frankfurt and is an outspoken 1860 fan who was once a prospect in the club’s youth setup. But Aigner struggled with injuries in the beginning of the season and never fulfilled the high expectations. By the winter the club was once again fighting relegation.
Ismaik reacted by firing sporting director Thomas Eichin and coach Kostas Runjaić before the winter break and hiring former Porto head coach Vitor Pereira. Then the club announced that a big name sporting director would come in in the spring; by April 1860 had signed former Liverpool commercial director Ian Ayre. The signing of both a new head coach and commercial director was supplemented with further splashy foreign transfers—at this point 1860 had paid over €10 million for new players, a stupendous figure for a Bundesliga 2 side.
But the club slipped further down the table and in the end faced relegation after finishing 16th in the Bundesliga 2 standings. In fact, ahead of the second leg against Regensburg things looked catastrophic for the club financially. Ian Ayre resigned before the match, finding the situation impossible to navigate. Following relegation Peter Cassalette also left, which is when it emerged that Hasan Ismaik would not pay for the club to continue in the third division.
In January, a few weeks after the game against Schalding-Heining, I’m back at the Grünwalder Stadion for a winter-break friendly against Chemie Leipzig.
The match was organized by fans from the teams to raise money for both clubs. The club opened up three of the four stands, but in the end all available 5000 tickets were sold for a friendly between two Regionalliga sides on another cold evening. Speaking to fans ahead of the match I was reminded that 1860 is much more than just a football club; it’s a membership multi-sport organization with many different teams. This affects the club’s relationship with its investor, but it also provides a loyal, healthy base for a revival.
President Robert Reisinger, who spoke to me via email, acknowledged the members as the club’s foundation, noting that although the joint-stock company was in trouble, the membership club was very healthy. “We have to differentiate here between the club and the joint-stock company, which organizes the club’s professional football. The club is healthy. The joint-stock company, in the meantime, where we are the minority shareholder, was in a convoluted situation.” Reisinger points out that it was not always easy to get Ismaik’s team on board to undergo the necessary financial restructuring of the company. “In order to avoid damage to the club we were forced to hire a neutral external rehabilitation specialist with the task to run the joint-stock company in the capacity of a managing director. Our co-shareholder challenged our decision [to hire an external person]. In the end we had to hire Markus Fauser using the 50+1 rule. Nobody wanted the insolvency of the joint-stock company—absolutely nobody.” In the end the club and the shareholders were able to agree on a restructuring that guaranteed financial survival until at least 2019.
How bad was the situation? Just a few days after I spoke to Reisinger documents leaked to the German magazine Kicker suggesting that the club had cumulated debt in the region of €20 million within the 2016-17 season. In an attempt to gain more influence, Ismaik threatened to stop payments. His demands, however, were not compliant with the 50+1 rule and the standoff meant the club would not receive a third-division license. As a result 1860 faced the threat of insolvency, which might have led to the joint-stock company being dissolved and the club starting the season in the Regionalliga with minus points, or worse, further down the league pyramid.
According to the documents received by Kicker, the joint-stock company had to pay an additional €600,000 to Fauser and his company in the successful attempt to restructure and fight off insolvency. Despite the implications of the document Reisinger is adamant: “The relationship between the club and the joint-stock company is very good. Every once in a while we have some minor issues with the co-shareholder [Ismaik], but that is a different construction site.”
How could the club fall so hard? Two months after 1860’s relegation to the fourth division I meet Stefan Aigner inside BC Place in Canada, the home stadium of the Vancouver Whitecaps. He had just completed his move to MLS club Real Salt Lake and seemed excited to meet another Munich boy and a chance to do an interview in his native Bavarian dialect. Aigner was one of the big hopes for 1860 fans. His signature was understood to be a gift by Ismaik to 1860 fans. But 1860 fans were not the only hopeful ones. Aigner is an outspoken 1860 supporter himself and returned to the club with the feeling that the investments could lead back to the Bundesliga.
“I had a lots of hopes. I wanted a new challenge. I wanted to come back and get promoted. Secretly that was our goal. We also brought in some key players like Ivica Olić , who had experience playing in the Bundesliga.” But Aigner admits that the politics at the club made it difficult. “We just couldn’t find our form. On a personal level I had a great start, but then had problems with injuries, and just couldn’t find the form that I expected from myself. The rest that went down [at the club] is
Aigner believed that the coaching change did little to repair the situation. The signing of more international players led to division in the dressing room, and Aigner confirmed that although talented, the team was too fragmented to be successful in the relegation battle. Regardless of the relegation Aigner briefly thought about remaining with 1860. “First, I went on holiday. I needed time for my head. The season was tough for me mentally. There was a lot of pressure on me at the beginning of the season. I came back, and huge expectations were surrounding my return to the club, and then you get relegated. That was brutal, very hard. Hence, I went on holiday and tried to relax, which was difficult. My thoughts were ‘now you have been relegated I should try to help the team to get back up.’”
His turning point came when 1860 lost the license to play in the third division. “When the news about the lack of a license came in, the decision was clear for me. I am an 1860 fan. Everyone knows that. But this is my job. I have a family and a kid.” Asked about whether he would ever go back he quickly responded: “No, that is over.” Aigner, however, also admitted that he still followed things at his former club, using Kicker’s app to keep up with the latest developments. Having watched the early goings-on of 1860’s first season in the Regionalliga Bayern, Aigner said: “It is looking good for the club”
By late September, the club was not only first in the standings—a position they defended into the winter break—but the club’s return to the Grünwalder Stadion also sparked a sort of cultural revolution both for the club and the neighborhood of Giesing.
It is perhaps the biggest irony of 1860’s relegation to the fourth division that the club is regaining its identity though its move back to Giesing. Giesing was always a bit of a rougher spot in the city—a typical working-class neighborhood, better not to be visited after nightfall. But soaring housing prices in Munich and Giesing’s location relative to the city center means that gentrification has set in. Giesing has maintained its character, and although the hipsters are moving in, many locals are still deeply rooted in the blue-collar charm that sets the area apart from Munich’s usual glamorous image.
Ahead of the friendly between 1860 and Chemie fans point out the importance of the return to Giesing. One fan tells me that for many 1860 fans, it “is a neighborhood that has to be defended from Bayern.”
It is perhaps the biggest irony of 1860’s relegation to the fourth division that the club is regaining its identity though its move back to Giesing.
Bayern, however, are not as rooted to the city, often leaving the city name out to show that they represent the whole state of Bavaria rather than only the city of Munich. Traditionally, 1860 has been the club that had the majority of its fans in the city, while Bayern has taken pride in being more of an international club. At least that’s the romantic notion that many 1860 fans hold on to. In reality the Blues’ recent decline has meant that Bayern fans dominate the demographics in the city of Munich as well.
Now with the relegation and the return to Giesing, those demographic changes seem to have at least been slowed down. At 1860 games today many of the fans are young and cool, not unlike a North American hipster scene. They mix in well with many of the alternative scenes that have their home in Giesing. As 1860’s press officer Joachim Mentel explains to me, 1860’s stronger profile has also been noted at Bayern. “There is a reason why [Bayern’s President Uli Hoeneß] mentioned 1860 negatively in his speech at the yearly assembly.” (Hoeneß said, “We will no longer think about 1860 as we can’t identify them as a proper club.”)
But what is 1860’s identity and what truly sets them apart from Bayern? Many fans will point out that 1860 is more than just a soccer club. This sentiment is echoed by 1860 president Robert Reisinger: “1860 is a multi-sport club that has different sport sections. The club is more than just a football team. Since our foundation 150 years ago many different athletes wore the shirt of the Munich Lions.” The multi-sport character of does indeed set 1860 apart from Bayern. Although Bayern also has other teams, most prominently in basketball, the bigger club focuses more on professional sports whereas 1860 is rooted in community sports.
Asked about his personal feelings towards the club, Reisinger points out: “For me 1860 has been a fundamental part of my life going back all the way to my youth. The club means friends, family and community.” Reisinger is indeed one of the key players in 1860’s recent revival. After Peter Cassalette hurriedly left the club following relegation, Reisinger worked feverishly to avoid insolvency and put together a framework that would allow the club to compete in the fourth division. “If you are strongly attached to the club like I am than you don’t have to think long. I took over this task, because after the fall [to the fourth division] it was necessary.”
Helping Reisinger in this task was current head coach Daniel Bierofka. Bierofka, like Aigner, is a Lion through and through. His father, Willi Bierofka, played for and coached the club. Bierofka played for 1860 between 2000 and 2002 and again between 2007 and 2014. In between he lifted the German championship with Stuttgart in 2007 and played three times for Germany.
These days he’s a busy man, tasked with scouting, signing players and coaching. During the 2016-17 season he was both the assistant coach and the coach of the reserve team (which finished second in the fourth division). It was up to Bierofka to put together a team in the three weeks between the end of the Bundesliga 2 season and the beginning of the Regionalliga season, something that Bierofka would later describe as “an extreme situation.” The long winter break was used to fill holes in the squad and make adjustments that will hopefully see the club promoted at the end of the season.
Despite a busy schedule, he agreed to a 30-minute conversation at the club’s headquarters on the Grünwalder Straße. But before I got to meet the coach I had to wait in the club’s plush office—which doesn’t really fit with Regionalliga football. Pictures on the walls display the great teams of the past, including the 1966 championship-winning side. After about ten minutes, Bierofka entered the office, asked the PR manager for an espresso, and settle down to talk. Blonde with deep-set light-blue eyes, Bierofka has a strong handshake and speaks with a Bavarian dialect common among 1860 supporters. He is quick to point out his roots: “I grew up with this club. When my dad was the coach here between 1988 and 1990 I saw my first game at the Grünwalder Stadion and after playing for the club nine years you can identify with the club. I also can identify with the club’s values which are deeply rooted in the working class and are the absolute opposite to Bayern München.”
I asked about the biggest difference between Bayern and 1860. “Bayern is the global player, known around the world, and thanks to the Allianz Arena represents modernity, progress, a team of international top stars. We are a more regional club based in Giesing. We speak directly to people, we always have public training sessions, the people are always welcome, our players are all from the region and, in particular, right now, from the city. Another factor is our stadium, which is very old school, almost like an English ground, a true football stadium in the neighborhood, which allows fans to go to pubs, and then watch the game, and then return to the pub, which differentiates us from other clubs where the primary goal is commercial. Of course, one day we will have to focus on commercial aspects as well, but right now it is all about nostalgia.”
Much of the nostalgia comes with the return to the Grünwalder Stadion. For many fans the return was a gift. Others, however, view leaving the Allianz Arena critically, as the club had to agree with Bayern never to return. Although a classic stadium, the Grünwalder in its current form cannot be used above the third division and feasibility studies suggest that modernization is close to impossible due to its residential location.
Reisinger points out that leaving the Allianz Arena was a necessity. “The decision-makers in the joint-stock company made a feasibility study for both the Allianz Arena and the Grünwalder Stadion. The result clearly showed that the club had to leave the Arena..”
This last part is certainly true. This season 1860 have sold out every home game. Both Reisinger and Bierofka feel that the return to the Grünwalder Stadion was key to getting the club back on its feet. “That was one of the reasons why we wanted to return to our old home. Here 1860 can recover emotionally from the crash. All our home games are festivals for the fans and no longer have funeral character. That adds to a positive image, which is the foundation of the business.”
“1860 is a worker’s club. People don’t always want beautiful football. That is not to say they don’t like to watch beautiful football, but first and foremost they want to see their team work hard.”
The return to the Grünwalder kicked off excitement around the club, which was further aided by positive results on the pitch. The team won the first game of the season in Memmingen and then the first home game against Wacker Burghausen. Arik, one of the fans I spoke with on the afternoon of the Chemie Leipzig game tells me, “Those results were key. The victories fired up the positive feeling that the fans had about returning home.”
It also helped that Daniel Bierofka quickly put together a team of both young Bavarian players and veterans like Sascha Mölders, Felix Weber, and Jan Mauersberger, who all played with the club in the second division, along with returnee Timo Gebhardt, an 1860 youth product who played for years in the Bundesliga. Two victories to start off the season and a run that saw the club in first place with a nine-point gap ahead of Bayern II meant that fans have something to celebrate. Bierofka also pointed out that the club “put an emphasis on putting together a squad that is willing to work on the pitch. 1860 is a worker’s club. People don’t always want beautiful football. That is not say that they don’t like to watch beautiful football, but first and foremost they want to see their team work hard.” Bierofka points out that the spine created by the more experienced players was key for the good run in the first half of the season.
Although 1860’s reserve side did well in the Regionalliga last year, the pressure was now different for this young side that had suddenly become the first team of Germany’s fifteenth-biggest club (by fan following) and twentieth-biggest by membership. “We are now the first team of 1860, and in Munich, we have five daily newspapers reporting on the team, which means a lot of pressure. At first, we were protected a bit, but now everyone expects that we win every game by a high margin and the squad has now gotten used to the environment they are competing in,” Bierofka points out.
Daniel Bierofka was always very coy when it came to promotion. “We have made a plan for the next two years, because it is impossible to plan promotion with the way the Regionalliga is set up, usually if you are ahead by seven points [at the halfway point of the season] you could start planning for the third division, but the playoffs are two games against an opponent on the same level than we are on the field and financially like Viktoria Köln, Energie Cottbus, Uerdingen and Saarbrücken, for example.” At the same time a quick promotion was seen among fans as a preservation of the euphoria that surrounded the club.
One of those other big clubs, Saarbrücken, was the opponent in the promotion playoffs at an end of a season in which 1860 dominated the Regionalliga Bayern, winning the league by a nine point gap over Bayern’s reserve side. Going into those playoffs, Saarbrücken was widely considered the favorite. Like 1860 the club are a fallen giant. Significant investment by a local businessman has meant that the club operated well above its means.
But in the most dramatic fashion 1860 managed to achieve (in what will be surely be known as das Wunder von Giesing, the “Miracle of Giesing”) a 3-2 victory on the road. It meant that a draw would be enough in the second leg. 1860, however, faltered in the second leg, going down by two goals. The dream seemed over until the 67th minute, when the Blues were awarded a penalty. Stepping up to the spot was Sascha Mölders. One of the experienced players who remained at the club after relegation, Mölders has the physique of the original Ronaldo just before the end of his career—built like a bull with early signs of a beer belly. He did not fail. 2-1. It was enough for the Lions and they would add a second to complete an unlikely promotion that would lead to an explosion of emotions in and around the stadium.
What does promotion mean in the long-term, however? There is still a shadow on the horizon. For now games at the Grünwalder Stadion are festivals. Before and after games fans pack into the various pubs like the popular alternative bar Riff Raff and the now famous Giesinger Bräu brewery just a few hundred metres down from the stadium on the Giesinger Heights. Heading through Giesing on a matchday is a carnevalesque feeling, almost like an alternative punk rock concert at times, with 1860 fans displaying fan gear that shows its alternative character to the mass produced fan kitsch that can be found in Bayern’s Megastore. For the owners of local establishments, the return of the club is a blessing, which is confirmed when we speak to Markus Herle, one of the managers at Giesinger Bräu, and he tells us that for the brewery the return of the club was the best thing that could have happened to the neighborhood. “Every game is a party and this place is always full afterwards.”
Bierofka echoes this sentiment. “Just go around and ask the business people around the stadium: they are all benefitting. Their business is growing before and after games. People drink a beer here, eat something there, just look at what’s going on ahead of a game. Friday night games with the floodlights provide an atmosphere that one has to experience to understand and should be included to every visit in Munich. The spectators are amazing too throughout the ninety minutes. The togetherness is very strong at the moment.”
There are, however, cautious voices. Franz Hell, better known as der alles Fahrer (“the Everywhere Driver,” as he has gone to every game home and away since the ’60s), sees problems on the horizon should the club not manage promotion. “For now everything is very nice and I enjoy it too. But I have been here before when we played in the [then third division] Bayernliga in the 1980s. At first there was also enthusiasm and every game was sold out. But then as the club got stuck in the lower division the fans stopped going. Instead we played in front of just a few thousand fans at a half-empty Grünwalder Stadion.” That issue seems to be gone with the club now playing in Liga 3, which is a national division containing former giants such as Kaiserslautern, Braunschweig, Cottbus, Rostock, Karlsruhe and Uerdingen.
At the same time, Bierofka brushed away any thoughts that the relegation last year could have been a positive catalyst for this spring’s events that led to a re-identification of the fans with their club. “I would have rather continued coaching the U-21s and have the club play in the second division. Relegation is never positive. We lost a lot of money and the club was almost at its end. Perhaps the interesting thing is that now that we play in the Regionalliga we are getting more attention. … They can see every game is sold out and we could probably sell 15,000 to 18,000 tickets a game if the stadium had the capacity. A lot of people find this positive, because the club is a contrast to all the money floating around in football at the moment. Here the primary interest is football. At some point, however, we will have to go a different way if we don’t want to stagnate.”
Now that promotion is achieved, however, questions remain. Where will the club play should they return to Bundesliga 2 or even the Bundesliga one day? Martin Scherbel, the head of the Freunde des Sechz’ger Stadion’s, a club founded to preserve the historical stadium, tells me over a beer at the Giesinger Bräu: “For us it was always a matter of simply returning to the stadium and then solving all the issues as we go on.” Scherbel points to other clubs, such as the recent example of Darmstadt 98, that have played in the Bundesliga or Bundesliga 2 with special licenses for their stadiums.
Franz Hell does not see a future in the stadium. “The problem is its location within a residential neighborhood, which makes it almost impossible to expand or create a room for television vans, which is required for clubs playing in the two top divisions.” The variety of opinions also shows that not everyone within the fan scene is in agreement on how the club should be run. Indeed the scene has always been split between the pro-investor camp, the anti-investor camp and groups in-between.
Lothar Langer, the head of the Münchner Fanprojekt, a municipal institution that works as a liaison office between the fan clubs of the two teams and the city of Munich, describes 1860 as a sort of political party with various fractions. “There is no real unity within the different fan groups, which can makes it difficult at times to run the club.” Perhaps that comes from the multi-sport character of the club, with the different members following different interest models—that could also explain the constant chaos at the club. It is another contrast to Bayern, which although also a democratic membership club, has had a stable leadership with two authoritarian figures at the top—Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Uli Hoeneß.
Although the pro-Ismaik fans have seen their voices disappear since the club moved back to Giesing, they do still exist. For now they have been silenced by the near insolvency and the wave of nostalgia presently carrying the club. But what will happen if the club fails in its promotion quest, or once promoted cannot find a suitable stadium? Bierofka believes that at “some point we have to offer our sponsors something and a new stadium is therefore without alternative.”
Asked about other clubs in Germany that could serve as a model, Bierofka points to Union Berlin. “Berlin was once down in the fourth division too and then slowly but surely built on its foundation and upgraded the stadium. They are now on the verge of being promoted to the Bundesliga. They never said we have to invest right away, but were patient without giving up their identity. They are also still in their own stadium at the Alte Försterei. I would like the same here—even though it might not be possible in Munich—if we could stay in the stadium and modernize it. That would be brilliant. Perhaps someone will just come and spent money on the stadium. St.Pauli managed it at the Millerntor. Our fans identify with the stadium. You just have to look at the atmosphere when we play at home—we need that.”
The current financial plan will only last until 2019 and can only continue should Ismaik agree to turning debts into bonds. In theory, he could once again bring down the house of cards the club is currently built on and force the club into insolvency. Attempts by other investors to buy the shares from Ismaik have failed, and with the Jordanian unwilling to sell for now, there is uncertainty about the future.
Hence, as I leave Giesing and the festive atmosphere at the brewery following promotion I am enthused—but I also wonder about the long-term future of my club. On a personal level the return to Giesing has brought renewed optimism and a welcome focus on the now. 1860’s hard-earned revival could provide Munich with an important counterweight to Bayern’s glitz and glamour—and a home to football fans looking to be part of a community, not consumers of a product. For them, 1860 might just be the perfect home.
Manuel Veth is on Twitter and has written for Forbes, The Guardian, Newsweek and is Area Manager North America for TransferMarkt
Alexander Wells is an illustrator living in the windy costal town of Brighton, England.