Groundhop 1881 – Schwarz Weiss Essen

Nordrhein Westfalen Liga
ETB Schwarz-Weiss Essen v VfB Speldorf
Sunday, 3rd June 2012, 3pm
Stadion Uhlenkrug
Entrance €6 (standing), Programme free
Distance 389 miles, Attendance 788
The ETB, Essener Turnerbund, was founded in 1881 to provide the affluent city suburbs with a range of sporting clubs including basketball, ETB Wohnbau Baskets, and the city’s first football club, ETB Schwarz-Weiss Essen. In 1963, four years after lifting the DFB Pokal ETB Schwarz-Weiss Essen were relegated from the Bundesliga. Their downward slide only halted in the regional Level 5, where they have now resided for the past 34 years.
Christian greeted me from Düsseldorf airport for our short train ride to Essen.  Along with Peter, he runs the Uhltras fan site dedicated to their beloved ETB. Today’s game was a huge deal for them both. Most seasons, teams like ETB “avoid” promotion as the step up from regional football has too many financial implications. This season, league reorganisation meant the play-offs were within their reach. Going into the final game, form team, ETB were vying with three others for the remaining play-off places. The others, above them, were all away to higher placed teams. ETB had to win and pray for a slip up elsewhere…

Over lunch at Dampfe, a local brewery, we were joined by Jakub, a qualified referee and supporter of the rivals, Rot-Weiss Essen. They explained of Essen’s dramatic rebirth as the 2010 European Capital of Culture, and of their pride (despite his Red heritage) that Otto Rehhagel lives here, and that the Blacks’ alumni include Jens Lehmann and Oliver Bierhoff. As the two joked of the rivalry, Jakub was pleased to add that, as referees enter any game for free, he wouldn’t be giving ETB any money today.
A short bus ride later, we arrived at the 9,500 capacity Stadion Uhlenkrug. Like many older German grounds the pitch sits within an athletics track. On the home straight is a covered stand, whilst the perimeter is open fenced terracing, with a small away section on the halfway line.

With poor weather setting in and Christian distracted by updates on the other matches, the first chance fell to captain, Kamil Bednarski narrowly missing the low cross at the far post. Next as a handful of noisy Speldorf fans began to make a nuisance of themselves, Christopher Bartsch swung in a fine cross which just evaded the head of Manuel Schulitz. Then on 17 minutes, ETB were awarded a free kick on the far touchline, about 40 yards out. At the ref’s whistle, Christopher Zeh casually sent over an in-swinging cross. Remarkably the ball evaded everyone and bobbled into the far corner. The home fans celebrated; the away fans lit more fireworks. Home supporters tried in vain to lift the game further with Bonnie Tyler’s back catalogue, but sadly the pace soon turned pedestrian towards the break.
After an interval, celebrating ETB’s academy teams, Mahmoud Najdi was the first to break with any real threat but misplaced his pass when Dirk Heinzmann, their one full professional, was through. Behind me Christian hardly noticed. Clutching his phone and sighing repeatedly, he was staring straight at the action with torment in his eyes. His was a young side and the enormity of the task clearly weighed on them all. When Essener Marcel Jäger’s superb near post save gave most of us renewed optimism but as Speldorf’s Tahar Elidrissi then missed a sitter in the six yard box Christian despairingly countered “I don’t know who is worse!”. It wasn’t a wonderful sight but right before the final whistle a call came across the terrace; Bielefeld had equalised lifting ETB back into the play-offs. Surely ”we” would be alright now? The home players slumped on the pitch, waiting; the rain-soaked supporters stayed rooted to their places. Stillness filled the Uhlenkrug.

Hours seemed to pass before the full time scores sporadically arrived.  MSV Duisburg II 0-3 Bergisch Gladbach 09 (ETB were still alright), then Alemannia Aachen II 2-3 KFC Uerdingen (ditto). All eyes, and ears, were now trained on Bielefeld…
Before I heard the score I heard Christian declare matter-of-factly “Oh well, I can go on hating Bielefeld!”. In injury time VfB Hüls had scored THREE times, winning 5-2 away and ending ETB’s dream.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Initially appearing in this season’s Watford FC matchday programmes, consequently Groundhop 1881 reports will appear late on here. At the end of the journey, a book will be published telling the full story.
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