Chaos follows Hamburg’s dramatic escape from relegation

Goalposts were dismantled and the pitch torn up during the celebrations on Saturday

Hamburg’s Lewis Holtby stands on the dugout as he celebrates with the fans after they beat Wolfsburg to stay up. Photo: Clemens Bilan/EPA

Hamburg’s Lewis Holtby stands on the dugout as he celebrates with the fans after they beat Wolfsburg to stay up. Photo: Clemens Bilan/EPA

 

“No, HSV haven’t won the championship,” said the voiceover on ZDF’s Das Aktuelle Sportstudio as they rolled footage of jubilant Hamburg SV supporters streaming on to the Volksparkstadion pitch. “They’ve stayed up.” There may be widespread incredulity around Germany as to just what constitutes success for the 1983 European Cup winners these days, but very few among the 57,000 sell-out crowd on Saturday cared about that.

It had been the latest improbable moment in what has become an improbable role that HSV play in the Bundesliga. The little-used Luca Waldschmidt had come on as substitute in the 86th minute, with the home side still searching for the winning goal that would allow them to avoid a third relegation play-off in four seasons and propel visitors Wolfsburg into it in their stead; 112 seconds later and Waldschmidt – or “Lucky Luca”, as Hamburger Morgenpost has already dubbed him – applied a perfect headed finish to Filip Kostic’s inviting delivery, and Hamburg were in dreamland.

Waldschmidt, having scored a first Bundesliga goal a day after turning 21, didn’t seem to know what to do, pulling out a token attempt at Antoine Griezmann’s Hotline Bling routine before settling for being submerged under a mountain of team-mates and staff. There was still time for Hamburg to nearly lose their hard-won freedom, with Christian Mathenia making a crucial, sprawling save from Wolfsburg substitute Max Arnold in stoppage time. The 25-year-old goalkeeper had already made outstanding stops from Mario Gómez and Jakub Blaszczykowski in the first half.

Luca Waldschmidt celebrates scoring the winner. Photo: Fabian Bimmer/Reuters
Luca Waldschmidt celebrates scoring the winner. Photo: Fabian Bimmer/Reuters

The final whistle went, and it was chaos. With thousands piling on and overrun stewards vainly attempting to make sense of it all, a pair of them apprehended injured striker Pierre-Michel Lasogga, who scored the last-gasp equaliser at Schalke last week but whom the fluorescent-jacketed helpers didn’t recognise, with one grabbing him from the front and the other pulling his arm behind his back. A photograph in Sunday’s Mopo captured Lasogga vainly trying to identify himself, jabbing an index finger from his free hand into his own chest. The same fate befell injured midfielder Aaron Hunt and the club’s press officer Till Müller, before the trio were released amid incredulous chuckles.

On the field, the party had continued, below the famous clock celebrating Der Dino’s unbroken status as the Bundesliga’s only ever-present, which ticked into its 270th day beyond 53 years as full-time arrived. The effervescent Lewis Holtby, clad in nothing more than the club’s equally renowned red shorts, led the chants from atop the dugout.

Later, fans were photographed on local trains making their way home with goalposts including, in one case, a group of young men shuffling down the platform at a local train station with a crossbar in tow. By Saturday night, local police had recovered it, but both posts were still at large.

A police officer holds the crossbar after it was recovered on Saturday night. Photo: Federal Police Hamburg handout
A police officer holds the crossbar after it was recovered on Saturday night. Photo: Federal Police Hamburg handout

Those fans had played a huge role all day, starting from the moment when the team coach was greeted by thousands lining the route into the Volkspark – a scene reminiscent of Werder Bremen’s reception as they arrived on the final day of last season, which ended with loanee Papy Djilobodji scrambling home a late goal to beat and leapfrog opponents Eintracht Frankfurt, who ultimately survived the play-off.

Amid the mania in Hamburg, though, it was left to coach Markus Gisdol – who was in the thick of the celebrations himself, both at the final whistle and on the top of the dugout, post-beer shower – to try and bring a bit of perspective to the situation. “We have to draw sensible conclusions from this,” said the former Hoffenheim coach. “I can’t stand it again,” he almost pleaded.

Clearly, big improvement is imperative. As the minutes ticked on and it got harder to see where the breakthrough would come from, it was hard not to bring to mind the statistic that Hamburg created less chances than any other Bundesliga team this season. Cold analysis must recognise that it wasn’t just Luca who was lucky. Mathenia was a key figure, not just on Saturday but going back to the goalless draw with rivals Mainz earlier in the month, for example, which would have been a defeat if not for the goalkeeper’s repeated interventions.

With that said, they at least appear to have the right man (or perhaps men) in charge now. Gisdol inherited a shambles in September, with his predecessor Bruno Labbadia cut out of pre-transfer market discussions by the board and then left to carry the can when major failings in the squad were left unaddressed. A new chairman (Heribert Bruchhagen) and sporting director (Jens Todt) were appointed halfway through this campaign, and they have a big summer ahead to avoid the repetition of past mistakes.

Hamburg fans celebrate on the pitch after the game. Photo: Fabian Bimmer/Reuters
Hamburg fans celebrate on the pitch after the game. Photo: Fabian Bimmer/Reuters

For a few days, though, Hamburg deserve the right to bask in this exploit. “We were dead after the 10th matchday,” he recalled, with HSV tallying just two points and four goals at that juncture. Defender Mërgim Mavraj claimed to Sky that, in the circumstances, dodging the drop should be “the highlight of our careers”. Bruchhagen, interviewed on ZDF afterwards and grasping vainly for a plausible explanation, finally and breathlessly settled for “spirit”.

That quality is exactly what Wolfsburg – who seemed more organised and together for much of the afternoon before letting it slip at crucial moments – will have to summon over the next week, with the first leg of the relegation/promotion play-off against Eintracht Braunschweig on Thursday. In what Bild has already dubbed the A39 derby, with a 35km stretch of the road separating the clubs in what is the smallest-ever distance between play-off participants, Andries Jonker’s team will have to add focus to their superior quality, especially with Riechedly Bazoer, Sebastian Jung and Blaszczykowski almost certainly out for the first leg at least. A €90m annual wage bill would hurt in Bundesliga 2, especially with planned cuts by parent company Volkswagen on the agenda.

For Hamburg, and Gisdol, a welcome extra week off awaits. Afterwards, they must hit the drawing board hard if they are to build towards something really worth celebrating.

(Guardian service)

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