LIBERATING FOOTBALL TRAVEL

TSG 1899 Hoffenheim

Hopp’s Hoffenheim show tenacity in the top flight

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

Europe’s smallest major-league club, in terms of population of the community they represent, TSG 1899 Hoffenheim enjoyed a debut campaign in the Champions League in 2018-19. A high-scoring aggregate defeat to Liverpool barred the way in 2017 but led to an appearance in the Europa League group stage. Hoffenheim now have a dozen-plus seasons behind them in the Bundesliga.

Few would have expected Hoffenheim to stay up for even one term, after one solitary year in the Zweite and decades of amateur football beforehand.

Behind this phenomenon is billionaire Dietmar Hopp, who played for the club as a boy. Hopp has sunk his software fortune into TSG 1899 and two stadiums, the latest being the Rhein-Neckar-Arena.

1899 is when gymnastics-focused Turnverein Hoffenheim were formed. The first local football club, Fußballverein Hoffenheim, arrived 1920. The two merged after the war. The amateur football club played in the eighth-flight Baden-Württemberg League, rising three levels to the Verbandsliga Nordbaden.

Then came Hopp. Under Hansi Flick, later assistant national coach to Joachim Löw, Hoffenheim achieved promotion from the fourth, then respectable placings in the third flight. Under another key coach, Ralf Rangnick, Hoffenheim not only gained promotion to the second, they jumped straight into the Bundesliga at the first attempt.

The goals had come from later Newcastle star Demba Ba and Bosnian Vedad Ibišević. As Hopp built a new stadium in record time, Ibisevic tore through Bundesliga defences and, incredibly, by December Hoffenheim were league leaders. But once installed at the Rhein-Neckar, ironically Hoffenheim fell away, hindered by injury to Ibišević.

Mid-table finishes then followed as coaches came and went. Not even experienced ex-Bremen keeper Tim Wiese and international defender Andreas Beck could prevent the slide of 2012-13. With relegation a near certainty, two late penalties from inspirational Bosnian midfielder Sejad Salihović against Dortmund in the last game gave the lifeline of a play-off.

Before a full house at the Rhein-Neckar, Hoffenheim’s Brazilian midfielder Roberto Firmino hit two early goals and Kaiserslautern were rattled. In the away leg, David Abraham gave Hoffenheim a crucial half-time lead and the tie was settled. Hopp’s Hoffenheim were back in the Bundesliga ring.

In 2014-15, Hoffenheim continued to hold reasonably steady in the top half of the table, Kevin Volland’s bright forward play also earning him a first German cap. Hoffenheim eventually finished just two points from a place in the Europa League, though Firmino had caught the attention of Liverpool. His departure led to a dip, before Julian Nagelsmann arrived as coach in 2016.

Forwards Andrej Kramarić from Croatia and Hungarian Euro 2016 hero Ádám Szalai hit the goals that allowed Hoffenheim to claim a European berth in 2017, a 1-0 win over Bayern the stand-out result. Old boy Firmino then hit the last of four Liverpool goals at Anfield to deny his former employers a place in the group stage, and Hoffenheim had to make do with an underwhelming debut in the Europa League.

In the Bundesliga, Hoffenheim continued to impress, beating Bayern (again!) 2-0 thanks to goals from Mark Uth, and enjoying an unbeaten spell from late February to early May. Nagelsmann’s men then snatched an automatic Champions League group-stage spot thanks to a winner-takes-all head-to-head with Dortmund on the last day of the season, Kramarić and Szalai among the goals in a 3-1 victory.

Stadium Guide

The field of dreams – and the story behind it

Opened halfway through the Hoffenheim’s first season in the Bundesliga, the Rhein-Neckar-Arena took 20 months to build, Sinsheim preferred to Heidelberg for reasons of space and access.

Until then, the club had been playing at a 7,000-capacity ground also financed by (and named after) patron Dietmar Hopp. Standing atop a hill above the hamlet of Hoffenheim, the Dietmar-Hopp-Stadion was built for the club’s centenary in 1999, and inaugurated with a visit by Bayern Munich. Even for Hopp, this was ambitious. Average crowds, even two seasons later and two flights above, were barely 2,000.

But Hopp had been among fewer onlookers when this amateur outfit were running out at the Sportplatz im Rot, in nearby St.Leon-Rot – and been there when Hoffenheim lost a 3-2 Bezirksliga play-off to FC Stebbach in 1989. That was the day he decided to revive his beloved Hoffenheim, stadium and all.

For the one season Hoffenheim were in the Zweite, in 2007-08, crowds averaged 6,000 – but typically Hopp was already planning bigger. While the club were playing out their first Bundesliga autumn in the Carl-Benz-Stadion in Mannheim (ironically also once called the Rhein-Neckar-Arena), Hopp’s workers labouring tirelessly to get a new venue ready for the January restart.

On a swathe of land south of Sinsheim, outside the adjoining village of Steinsfurt, the Rhein-Neckar-Arena, was constructed at a cost of €100 million.

From the approach road, after the bridge and underpass, you come to the main West Stand for business seats, with its ticket office, achtzehn99-FANSHOP and signature revolving kicking-footballer statue outside. Further round is the home end, with its Bitburger Kurve centrepieced by two standing sectors, S1 and S2. Away fans are allocated four sectors, G1-G2, H1-H2, in the corner of the opposite end and the facing stand, comprised of the SAP and MVV Tribüne.

getting here

Going to the stadium – tips and timings

The stadium is a 15-minute walk from Sinsheim/Arena S-Bahn stop (on the S5 line from Heidelberg 35mins away, via Hoffenheim). Down from the platform, to your right is a path leading to the main road of In der Au. Bear right, carry on past the Hotel Sinsheim, over the stream and the Autohof Kolb 24hr garage restaurant. Turn left into Dietmar-Hoff-Straße and the stadium is ahead of you, via a motorway bridge and underpass. Match tickets are valid for the S-Bahn.

If you can’t face the walk, alight from the S5 at Sinsheim Hbf where shuttle buses are provided over the road from the station.

getting in

Buying tickets – when, where, how and how much

The main outlet is in the achtzehn99-FANSHOP (Mon-Fri 10am-6pm, Sat 10am-2pm, 3.5hrs before kick-off), with another on match days at the ticket windows diagonally opposite. Online tickets are also available.

Availability is often limited to the quality seats in the SAP/MVV Tribüne (sectors I-N) or in sectors B-F in the reutex tribüne behind the goal by the away sector. The main West Stand is almost entirely comprised of business seats. In the home end, corner sectors O-Q and U, if available, should provide a reasonable view. Dearer sectors R and T are alongside the sold-out standing ones S1/S2. Block V is for families.

Prices fall into three categories according to the quality of opposition, from €12-€17 for standing, €20-€35 for reasonable seats and €36-€55 for the best sideline view. Away fans pay €12-20 (standing) and €17-35 (seated).

what to buy

Shirts, kits, merchandise and gifts

The achtzehn99-FANSHOP (Mon-Fri 10am-6pm, Sat 10am-2pm, 3.5hrs before kick-off, 1hr after final whistle) is in the main West Stand facing the car park. It contains goodies such as the Zippo handwarmer and the Hoffenheim elk hat, for those winter afternoons, plus bottle openers, corkscrews, gas igniters, shaving cream, roll-on deodorant… 

Online, you can also buy autographed, match-worn shirts via Sport Auktion.

Stadium tours

Explore the ground inside and out

Stadium tours (€5) are offered hourly on away-day Saturdays (10.30am-1.30pm), tickets sold at the fan shop. The meeting point is the football statue outside the West Stand. Contact arenatour@achtzehn99.de for details.

Where to Drink

Pre-match beers for fans and casual visitors

From the Museum/Arena stop in Sinsheim, just the other side of the Technical Museum, the Jack Bar Ambiente allows you to warm up for an evening game a few games of pool and pinball over a Welde No.1 beer or eponymous JD – it’s evening-only, from 6pm. 

Right by the museum, you’ll find the Zum Elfmeter! Imbiß on main road In der Au, where many fans gather to scoff Wurst and sink Hefeweize beer in the shadow of Concorde. It’s an outdoor spot but umbrellas are put up on rainier days.

Further along In der Au past the Hotel Sinsheim, the Autohof Kolb is a 24hr service station with an upscale motorway restaurant and lounge bar offering hulking great garlic steaks and schnitzel (the ‘Truckers-Pfanne’ at €13.90) and Heidelberger beer. There are also showers and washing machines if so needed.

At the stadium, payment is by achtzehn99-Card. Bitburger is the beer of choice, sold at the Bitburger Treff in the home end.