An endangered species – The lions of 1860 Munich

Munich has always been a divided city. Not so much in the political sense like Berlin — there never was a physical wall or a border. Although one can sometimes see signs, that certain areas are coloured differently than others, the actual lines of separation are more subtle and run right across dinner tables or bedsides. Munich is either red or blue.

Most football fans are familiar with Bayern Munich, the Reds, the club of Beckenbauer, Müller or Matthäus.

And despite Bayern being the world famous Champions League winner, record champion and biggest club in Germany, within the city limits the true Munich football fans regard the other club, 1860 Munich, the Blues or lions, to represent the real, working class Munich more rightfully than the polyglot Allianz Arena owners.

Just one and a half decade ago both teams were still playing in the Olympic Stadium, built for the 1972 Olympic summer games, and competing in the Bundesliga, with Bayern already having an advantage but still “60” winning a derby from time to time.

Nowadays the Reds — thanks to Champions League and corporate shareholders’ money — can afford to compete with Premier League clubs on the overheated players market, whereas the Blues just two years ago lost their license for professional football and had to start again in fourth division.

They mainly recruited their staff from within their youth squad despite having the first wealthy Arab investor in German football supporting them. How could it come to this and where did the ways of the two rival clubs part? A question like this can’t be answered in a text like this, but we will take the challenge and go looking for some hints.

A guest article by Thomas Reichart


The early days at Grünwalder Stadion

There was a time when 1860, a founding member of the Bundesliga (contrary to the red rivals), was the club to beat in Germany.

In 1966 they won their first and last national championship title with a legendary squad consisting of, for example, roaming goalkeeper Petar “Radi” Radenkovic, and striker Timo Konietzka, under the not less famous Austrian coach Max Merkel.

And just a year prior the club played in the final of the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup in Wembley, which was lost to West Ham United.

The club then shared a stadium with Bayern Munich, the almost mythological playground of the “Städtisches Stadion an der Grünwalder Straße”, which was originally built by 1860 but has been owned by the city of Munich since 1937.

Grünwalder Stadion
Panorama of the Grünwalder Stadion (Foto: Ampfinger/Wikimedia cc-by-sa3.0)

Bayern had a bit of a slow start in the sixties and didn’t make the cut for the newly founded Bundesliga, but with the appearance of the “Kaiser” Franz Beckenbauer on the pitch things started to gain momentum for the Reds.

Legend has it, that Beckenbauer, who grew up in Giesing — the borough where both teams have their training grounds, but is regarded as 1860s mainland — refused to join the Blues as a teenager because he was slapped in the face by an 1860 player and signed with Bayern instead.

A similar story can be told about “Bomber” Gerd Müller, who signed with Bayern because the president of the Reds appeared with a contract at his parents’ home an hour earlier than the president of the Blues.

It turned out to be a costly “Watschn” (Bavarian for face-slap) and a decisive delay. The Bayern Munich team with the elegant Beckenbauer, ever-scoring Müller, entertaining goalie Sepp Maier and the young talent Uli Hoeneß to name just a few, went on to win countless national titles and three consecutive European champion titles in the mid-seventies, thus laying the foundation to their continuing success. The Blues, on the other hand, turned into a yo-yo-team for years to come.


The first fall and the resurrection

Coming back to the more recent history: When a club is relegated from professional football back into amateur sports, this must seem like the biggest catastrophe imaginable for any normal team and its supporters. But 1860, Munich’s self-proclaimed “big love”, is not a normal club.

There is a fraction of fans who were secretly almost looking forward to starting afresh in division four, and this hope is tightly knit to the history of the club.

Back in the early nineties after troublesome years between the leagues one and three, the club achieved something, that has never been done before in German football, climbing from the “Bayernliga”, then third-highest, straight back to the Bundesliga under the ever grumpy, chain-smoking manager Werner Lorant and the over-confident president Karl-Heinz Wildmoser, a former local boxing champion.

Why should history not repeat itself, this nostalgic group of “Löwen”-fans ask themselves. After all, it has been done before and ironically a similar coup was landed by Jahn Regensburg, the team that sent 1860 down into the abyss in May 2017. They got promoted twice in a row back from Regionalliga into second division.


The Wildmoser era and the Allianz Arena trap

By the time of 1860s return to the Bundesliga in the 1990s, Bayern Munich had went on to become record title holder and the wealthiest club in Germany under manager Uli Hoeneß, who had to quit his career as a player early, due to a knee injury.

By then both teams had moved from the Grünwalder Stadion to the Olympic stadium, which was also council property. But Bayern always wanted to own a football-only stadium, without a running track that separated the fans from the pitch.

The Hoeneß-club therefore pushed plans to build a new ground that properly represented the status of the club and should finally see that goal come true. The Allianz Arena, designed by Swiss Star-architects Herzog & de Meuron, would eventually have the honour of opening the World Cup 2006.

Allianz Arena Blau
Despite being coloured in blue on matchdays, the 1860 fans disliked the shared ground. (Foto: Noebu/Wikimedia cc-by-sa3.0)

However, Bayern Munich did not own the stadium alone, as Hoeneß managed to get 1860 president Wildmoser on board to co-invest in the stadium, which turned out to be punching way above 1860’s weight.

Of course, lions-fans never wanted to share an arena with the despised opponents and moving in with the rivals foreseeably turned out to be a liability to the club’s books and self-respect. Only a few years later 1860 was forced to sell its share of the joint arena-company to Bayern and had ever since then been a tenant in a hostile environment.

It is just a side-note that the construction itself was overshadowed by scandals and corruption, only affecting the Wildmoser/1860 side of the co-construction project, namely the son of the president, who went to jail for inside trades.


Ismaik and a glimpse of hope

After being relegated to second division once again in 2004, rental contracts forced 1860 to stay in the Allianz Arena, a UEFA stadium of the highest category, which was massively oversized for a second division club.

Countless skeletons of the Wildmoser era were found in the lockers of 1860, almost leading to financial meltdown of the club, but when Hassan Ismaik, one of the youngest Arab billionaires, showed up on the scene in 2011, things seemed to brighten up for the “Lions”.

He promised to make 1860 strong again and lead them back to old glory (insert your favourite Trump/Brexit/AfD analogy here). Some fans remained sceptical and with Ismaik contemplating building a new stadium including a cage with real lions, nobody could say they weren’t warned.

The Jordanian never seemed to grasp the idea behind the very German rule of “50+1”, which basically says that the club has to have the final word in every decision, even if he does not own a majority of the shares.

We leave the details of this pathetic power-struggle to the lawyers and will just focus on the essence: a deeply divided club, depending on the money injections from an erratic sheikh, whose football expertise seemed questionable at best.

Ismaik did not make them change their colours or their name like some owners of British clubs, but in a country where football is still regarded as a cultural event that should be available to everyone, not a commodity that should only be acquired by a wealthy few, Ismaik never found an unbiased battleground.

Times are changing though. The decision to not show the Champions League in German Free-TV from 2018 on, the abstruse suggestion of the Adidas boss to play the German cup final in Shanghai and the legal war that Ismaik is waging against the 50+1 rule are all unsettling premonitions that German football might take a similar route to the Premier League.

Maybe Hassan Ismaik showed up just a few years too early to succeed…



Of course, 1860 did not regain its old glory on the pitch, despite changing managers, players and directors on a frequent basis under Ismaik’s reign, which made good headlines for the tabloids, but unsurprisingly never had any positive influence on their placements in the ranking.

Every year the Blues started into the season with the goal of finally being promoted to Bundesliga again and every year they disappointed their fatalistic fans, who almost inevitably found their club at the middle or lower end of the table.

After jumping the bullet of relegation to third division in 2015, when a last minute home-win made “Sechzig” stay in league two, they finally ran out of luck in 2017.

Jahn Regensburg, a Bavarian team that itself was found in amateur leagues just a year and a half prior, proved to be the straw that broke the lion’s back.

Years of incompetence on an economic and football level, hubris and a total failure of strategic leadership culminated in not only being relegated from second Bundesliga, but also in not even getting a license for third division and consequently the direct descent into the realms of amateur sport.

Again we’ll refrain from reporting about all the dirty games and legal details going on behind the scenes – what was remarkable about all the chaos was the outcome that 1860 came back to where it all started: Grünwalder Stadion.

After getting released from the Allianz Arena contract, they moved back to their hallowed home ground, where an employee still puts up the new score with a long stick just like in the golden days.


Brave new world?

Our short and far from comprehensive history of 1860, which has been painted in rather broad brush strokes above, comes to a screeching halt here.

In recent years 1860 has always presented itself as the underdog with a knack for making the wrong decision at the wrong time, trusting its fate to dubious people, but also with the ability to work hard and get back on their feet.

After the devastating events of the 2017 season, the atmosphere early in the following year was somewhere between relieved and optimistic, it breathed an air of enthusiasm unseen at 1860 for years. This optimism turned into full-blown euphoria when they managed to actually win the title in the Regionalliga Bayern (fourth division) and went on to dispose of Saarbrücken in the relegation matches.

The instant promotion back to the 3rd Liga, and therefore professional football, was an amazing achievement given the fact that behind the scenes the almost proverbial power struggles went on, leaving manager Daniel Bierofka short of cash to invest into the squad.

Two years after the catastrophe it seems like 1860 has found its sweet spot in league three and the Grünwalder Stadion.

The story of the two so very different neighbours might give some hints on where German football is headed.

One the one side there is Bayern paying two figure million sums for teenagers, in order to stay on a level with the Spanish and English giants of the Champions league, and on the other side of the fence there is 1860, who after relegation played within the confines of the Munich Metro system against teams consisting of bricklayers and bus drivers.

Maybe the emotional story of the Lions can prove to be an eye-opener, not only for the 1860 fan-base, but for all football lovers, turning the focus back on the real essence of our beloved sport: 22 players on the pitch, one ball, two goals.

The hullaballoo of Helene Fischer half-time shows, Instagram boot pictures admired by millions of kids, and the inconvenience of Sky subscriptions were never intended by the inventors nor are they necessary for the enjoyment of the world’s most popular game.

In the end Franz Beckenbauer’s philosophical words could lead the way: “Geht’s raus und spielt’s Fußball!” (“Go out and play football!”).

A guest article by Thomas Reichart

Cavanis Friseur
Unter diesem Account veröffentlichen wir Texte von Gastautoren oder Gruppenprojekte, an denen mehrere Autoren beteiligt waren. Mehr zu den einzelnen Autoren findet ihr in ihren jeweiligen Texten.

Cavanis Friseur Newsletter

Keine Texte & Podcasts mehr verpassen!

Leave a reply

Bitte geben Sie Ihren Kommentar ein!
Bitte geben Sie hier Ihren Namen ein