152 years would seem an unusual anniversary to mark. Yet there is significant reason to think that fans, players and staff alike at TSV 1860 Munich will do just that with an extra degree of joy in May next year. And that is because they still have a cause cèlébre after their Club was saved this week by a Jordanian investor.
Before 34-year-old Hasan Abdullah Ismaik’s €33m investment (€13m up front to stave off the debt, plus a future €20m over the next three years), the Bavarian city’s oft-overlooked second team were teetering on the verge of disappearing entirely. With licences for next season’s Bundesliga hierarchy due to be awarded, payment for the 49 per cent stake allowed Die Löwen to submit their application to take their place in the German second tier just hours before the deadline expired. The plight endured over the course of the past decade has, however, simply been the latest in a long chain of financial issues that have blighted their modern history.
Although not considered amongst the more successful of German sides – especially since the turn of the 21st Century, having been relegated to the 2.Bundesliga in 2004 – 1860 can still boast a Bundesliga title; two German Cups; and an appearance in the now-defunct Cup Winners Cup final in their catalogue. So how exactly did such a spiralled descent towards insolvency transpire?
Hark back to the inaugural Bundesliga season of 1963, and it was 1860 who were chosen, ahead of Bayern and following their Oberliga Süd (I) victory, to represent Munich, with the DFB not admitting more than one team from any given city. That invitation ushered in the most successful era in the Club’s history, yielding a German Cup win in 1964 and Cup Winners Cup final in 1965, all culminating in their sole league triumph in 1966. Despite that trajectory, they were relegated just three years later, taking seven more to return to the top table.
In something of an ominous precursor to their present circumstance, 1982 had the team relegated to the third tier, and back into the amateur ranks, despite the best efforts of three separate Managers. That demotion also plunged 1860 into huge financial difficulties, and led to their being refused a participation licence for the following season. However, as rapidly as they had fallen away, so the Club returned to the public conscience. Under the Presidential guidance of Karl-Heinz Wildmoser (from 1992), stability appeared to be restored, yet a further omen soon presented itself. As the new millennium dawned, so 1860 entered the qualification rounds of the Champions’ League, having achieved a fourth place finish in the previous campaign. There, just one stage removed from the Group Phase, 1860 met Leeds United. The parallels suffered by those two sides since that encounter are stark, and 1860 – like their opponents – were relegated in 2004.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, the stability previously engendered under Wildmoser was already being rapidly eroded. Just two months before relegation was confirmed, Wildmoser – alongside his son, the CEO of the Allianz Arena, and two others – was charged with corruption. That charge related to the awarding of the stadium construction contract some three years earlier, and would see Wildmoser Snr charged with fraud and tax evasion. He stepped away from TSV almost immediately, with the Mayor of Munich – Christian Ude – saying the scandal marked “a terrible blow for 1860 and for the whole soccer scene, and for the reputation of Munich”.
The embarrassment continued, as the team narrowly escaped a second relegation – finishing just a point above the play-off spot. Yet, for their self-effacing fans the worst was still to come. On the 27th of April, 2006 it was confirmed that the Club had sold their share in the new stadium to the giant of Bayern for just €11m. The fact that this came with a certain level of denigration and platitude from the Bayern camp – Karl-Heinz Rummenigge claimed it was “in our own self-interest”; and Franz Beckenbauer sympathised “Munich without 1860 is not something I want to imagine” – merely served to enflame the TSV diehard. 1860 now pay a rent of 10 per cent of gate receipts to Bayern.
Not that the decision sat well with those of Die Röten persuasion either, as their management hierarchy were suitably abused by a large portion of the faithful for bailing out their co-habitants. But Roman Beer, Chairman of 1860’s foremost fans group, best summed up the wider feeling of being torn between two evils: “this is but a question between the plague and cholera!” The more vocal supporters, however, have opined to the city’s Abendzeitung newspaper how it would be better to let the club go into insolvency, and begin again in the regional ranks, rather than be indebted to the Bayern behemoth. A sentiment echoed by former ‘keeper Michael Hoffman, who voiced that “the Club needs an identity, a home and a vision”.
Just a matter of eight months ago, 1860 were docked two points for their financial state, and it looked nigh-on inevitable that the long battle against banishment from the professional ranks would eventually succumb. Then their shining Middle Eastern light emerged. As he signed on the dotted line, the German league’s first ever Arabian investor issued a stated aim of returning to the top flight by 2014. That should be music to the ears of their embattled fanbase, and the likes of Thomas Häßler and Rudi Völler – both former players – have already added their verbal backing to the deal.
Ismaik’s fortune may pale in comparison in modern football, and 1860 may be far from Germany’s most popular Club. But the club who infamously refused to offer a contract to Der Kaiser after a youth cup spat with his then-Club SC Munich in 1959 are woven to the history and fabric of the Bundesliga. The new owner professes to be “a passionate football fan”, and has come good with the rhetoric already, proclaiming 1860 to have greater potential for improvement than almost any other Club in Europe. And in a football world where the gap from players to fans is ever-increasing, the salvation of one of German football’s founding members should be celebrated with all the fervour that the lions of Munich can muster. The Jordanian enthuses that “1860 must be a family again” and, come May 2012, pending Ismaik proving good to his word, there is even the chance that Reiner Maurer – in his third term as Manager – could lead a promotion push. And that, for a Club that has embodied the very spirit of “bouncebackability” would represent success in itself.