SV Darmstadt 98

Deserved Bundesliga return would gild the Lilies

A fan’s guide – the club from early doors to today

Even if SV Darmstadt 98 don’t survive another season in the Bundesliga, their story has been one of communal triumph over commercial predominance.

This is not the story of a remote village team, a Hoffenheim or a Sassuolo, which elbows its way past long-established top-flight clubs on the wane. Darmstadt is a former royal capital of 150,000 people close to Germany’s busiest airport and where football clubs were established in the late 1890s.

In fact, the ’98’ in the club name refers to 1898, when a certain Professor Ensgraber formed FK Olympia so that his five sons and their friends could engaged in communal sports activity. This team merged with SC Darmstadt in 1919, moved into a new municipal ground in 1921 and then… did nothing for decades.

The Böllenfalltor ground, down in Bessungen in Darmstadt’s leafy southern outskirts, witnessed the odd season of top-division regional football but, with the club out of favour in the Nazi era, not for long. Post-war recovery was slow. Darmstadt lay in ruins and GIs used what was left of the Böllenfalltor for baseball games.

Playing in a renovated stadium from 1952 onwards, Darmstadt occasionally made it to the top regional division – the extensive Oberliga Süd as opposed to the parochial Bezirksliga Main-Hessen – but had to wait until the 1970s for any real progress.

A memorable 7-0 triumph over Nuremberg in 1973 saw Darmstadt crowned South German champions at a packed Böllenfalltor. Coach Udo Klug then moved to local rivals Kickers Offenbach, Lothar Buchmann took over and in 1978, Darmstadt had just enough to reach the Bundesliga for the first time.

Many of Buchmann’s players were still semi-pro, taking on Europe’s best every Saturday. The brightest prospect, South Korean Cha Bum-kun, only played one game for The Lilies before being called home for military service. He returned to Hesse to become a star at Eintracht Frankfurt.

In nearby Darmstadt, a debt-ridden descent down the divisions then followed. In came Darmstadt-born Bruno Labbadia, who had left Böllenfalltor to score goals for Bayern Munich, before starting his coaching career here in 2003 and taking his old club to the higher reaches of the third tier. Overspending, however, saw debts climb to over €1 million.

Bizarrely, Darmstadt were then both condemned and redeemed by Bayern Munich, whose second team relegated them in 2007 but whose stars played a benefit match a year later to save the club.

With supporters’ donations, Darmstadt avoided insolvency and, under coach Dirk Schuster, began to win matches again. Third-tier status also reinstated the popular derby with Offenbach and decent crowds.

In a lovely twist of fate, on the final day of the 2012-13 campaign, Darmstadt faced Schuster’s old team, Stuttgarter Kickers, each needing to win to stay up. The 1-1 draw favoured Stuttgart but SV 98 avoided the drop as local rivals Offenbach were later refused a league licence.

Just as well, because 2013-14 proved to be historic. First beating Mönchengladbach on penalties in the cup, Schuster’s Darmstadt went on to finish third in the league, Dominik ‘Dodo’ Stroh-Engel breaking goalscoring records for a third-flight campaign. All in vain, it seemed, when Darmstadt lost the home leg of the promotion play-off to Bielefeld 3-1. 

In the return, Dodo Stroh-Engel opening the scoring before a 3-3 aggregate scoreline sent the game into extra-time. Then, in the 122nd minute, veteran Brazilian Elton da Costa popped up to settle the tie and send Darmstadt into the Zweite.

That split second kick-started the Darmstadt phenomenon. Almost as improbably, with the lowest budget and smallest squad in the league, Schuster’s side won immediate promotion from the Zweite Bundesliga to Germany’s top flight, a second-half free-kick by Tobias Kempe beating St Pauli and pipping Karlsruhe by a single point.

There were emotional scenes as club captain Aytaç Sulu, a stalwart in Darmstadt’s mean defence, led the communal singing at the Böllenfalltor. This was the scene depicted on the cover of the commemorative book, ‘Das Wunder von Darmstadt’, published as the Bundesliga campaign began in earnest. From near insolvency to the world’s most watched league, Darmstadt had their own miracle to tell.

Again favourites for the drop, Schuster’s team stayed up, inspiring performances and headed goals from Sulu vital. It was ex-Hertha forward Sandro Wagner, however, whose late goal against his old club at the Olympiastadion sealed Darmstadt’s survival in the last ten minutes of the season.

Sadly, Dirk Schuster didn’t survive a rocky start to 2016-17, Darmstadt having sold Wagner to Hoffenheim. Caretaker manager Ramon Berndroth has to reverse a terrible autumn campaign if The Lilies are going to pull off another miracle.

Stadium Guide

The field of dreams – and the stands around it

Even after two summers’ worth of adding modernising features before unexpected Bundesliga campaigns, it still doesn’t get more old-school than Darmstadt’s home of nearly a century, the Böllenfalltor.

To be referred to in 2016-17 as the Jonathan-Heimes-Stadion am Böllenfalltor in 2016-17 and the Merck-stadion am Böllenfalltor in 2017-18, the ground dates back to 1921. You half expect the crowd to be twirling rattles and chucking trilbies in the air when plucky Darmstadt score.

After further slight expansion in the autumn of 2016, capacity is now nearly 17,000, which includes an extra 3,700 standing places in the home end, the Südkurve. This, mark you, is open terracing, scattered with crash barriers. Most seats are in the main stand, created in 1975.

The down side to all this, of course, is availability. The Gästesektor, set between the Nordkurve and the sideline Gegengerade opposite the main stand, holds 400, with a few hundred extra seats added for 2016-17.

getting there

Going to the stadium – tips and timings

The ground is 3km south of the city centre, slightly too far to walk. Take tram 2 from the main station, Hauptbahnhof via central Luisenplatz, where the 9 also passes on its way to Steinberg/Stadion (direction Böllenfalltor), each at 15min intervals, journey time 15mins/10mins. Note that the 2 doesn’t run on Sundays – hop on a tram 3 or 5 to Luisenplatz.

A taxi from the station costs around €15.

Away fans cannot access the Gästeblock from the tram stop, which sits alongside the main entrance to the stadium. The club advises changing on to the regional VIAS- Odenwaldbahn line, part of the RMV regional network, at Darmstadt main station. The Darmstadt TU-Lichtwiese stop is 13min away –more frequent Bus K also does the same route. From Lichtwiese, head for the university then along Böllenfalltorweg to the away entrance a 10-15min walk away.

getting in

Buying tickets – when, where, how and how much

Given the limited capacity, tickets are at a premium – though not every Bundesliga game sold out in the first part of 2016-17. Of the near 17,000 capacity, 11,500 are taken up by season-ticket holders.

In principle, there are match-day sales but not for the main stand.

Distribution usually takes place 2-4 weeks before each home game. Members get first dibs, with an open sale taking place 1-2 days after tickets become available, usually both in person and online. For internet sales, you have to first create your own account.

Personal sales are from the blue Ticket & Fanartikelshop (Tue, Wed & Fri noon-6pm, Thur noon-8pm, match days 2hrs before kick-off) by the main entrance, and at these outlets in the city centre: Lotterie SKL Feisel at Luisenplatz 4; Fritz Tickets & More at Grafenstraße 31; and LOTTO Hessen, Elisabethenstraße 33.

For all other information, email or call +49 6151 666 682.

You pay €35 for a seat in the main stand (F-Block) and Nordtribune behind one goal, €18 to stand opposite the main stand in the Gegengerade. The home Südkurve is sold out. Reduced admission for seniors and children is €2 cheaper. It’s €15 for away fans to stand, €24 to sit in an uncovered seat.

Note that there’s a €1 fee for advance sales, a €2 fee for advance sales online.

what to buy

Shirts, kits, merchandise and gifts

The Ticket & Fanartikelshop (Tue, Wed & Fri noon-6pm, Thur noon-8pm, match days 2hrs before kick-off, shop only for 45mins after final whistle) by the main entrance has a modest selection of Lily-logo’d gear, including SV98 footballs, the coffee-table book ‘Das Wunder von Darmstadt’ and assorted pennants and badges.

Where to Drink

Pre-match beers for fans and casual visitors

The main destination is behind the home Südkurve, the Lilienschänke Sports Bar (Mon-Fri 5pm-11pm, Sat-Sun noon-11pm, home games from 11am). It’s a homely pub/eaterie, with vast burgers and steaks accompanied by local Pfungstädter beer. On match days, when it’s packed, they serve beer and sausages from outdoor stations closer to the home end.

Alongside, the other venue is the Ristorante Amato, as Italian as its name suggests, in place since 1972, long before Darmstadt’s rise to nationwide fame. It’s pretty much business as usual here – the convivial terrace just gets a little more active on match days.