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  • Jacob Sweetman: Who’s that lion down there?


Jacob Sweetman: Who’s that lion down there?

Poor old 1860 München – the Lions. Their famous blue and white-striped kit getting a bit ragged at the elbows and with holes in the back, having to go cap in hand to the big house to ask Master for a handout. Or maybe a bit more time to pay the rent.

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Photo by Stewart Damonsing (Wikimedia CC)

It was almost Dickensian. Poor old 1860 München – the Lions. Their famous blue and white-striped kit getting a bit ragged at the elbows and with holes in the back, having to go cap in hand up to the big house to ask Master for a handout. Well, not even really a handout, couldn’t he just give them a bit more time to pay the rent? Please, mister?

Master, as all of German football knows, is a benevolent old chap, he wouldn’t see them out on the streets. No, not Uli Hoeneß of Bayern München. He even let them off some of the catering bill.

See, 1860 had been hit with a two-point deduction in October for not fulfilling their licensing obligations to the league. They demand solvency and would have penalised the club further had they not stumped up just over €5.5 million. The rent was due at the Allianz Arena (as well as the catering bills) that they share so begrudgingly with Bayern and the wolves were at the door.

In five years the crowds at 1860 have dropped from an average of 41,000 in 2005-06 to just a shade over 19,000 this season. I was at the Allianz Arena at the end of last year, and it has to be said that, although it looks spectacular on big European nights for Bayern – no running track, the stands cascading down almost onto the pitch, steep and filled with people- but when there’s only a third of the seats filled, then, well, is there another word for underwhelming, but massively?

Massively underwhelming, that’ll do. Getting off a coach after a 10-hour ride only to alight at an enormous multi-story car park covered in bin liners (that you can only buy beer in with a special card that is purchased with notes only elsewhere) was not what I expected from this bespoke football stadium, apparently one of the most spectacular in Europe. The bin liners do light up at night to enhance the effect, but this was a blindingly sunny afternoon. It didn’t work for me.

That the fans don’t want to be there is a matter of record, but at the moment they don’t seem to have much choice. The old Grünewald Stadium is decrepit and only used by the reserves. As the song that was chopped out of The Wizard of Oz goes, “It’s Shit To Be a Lion”. And it all could have been so different, maybe if a 13-year-old Franz Beckenbauer hadn’t upped sticks and gone to the smaller club across the city, Bayern.

Surely they get used to it. That season in 2005-06, 1860 had started the season well and were strong contenders for promotion until Nemanja Vucicevic failed a doping test, got banned for six months and the club had to replay the match they had just won against Wacker Burghausen. Naturally they lost the replayed fixture, the wheels fell off completely and they finished the season in 13th, 24 points off the top of the second division. That season, naturally, was their first at the Allianz Arena. Just to pop another splinter in their paw, Bayern won the Bundesliga. Again.

The points deduction 1860 already have this year shouldn’t make too much difference to them. They are happy to be in mid-table mediocrity after culling the squad, and things could be worse. Think about poor Türkiyemspor, who were fined three points earlier this season, therefore sit at the very bottom of the Regionalliga Nord, looking up with a mere two points from their five draws this year. Or even worse, the catastrophe that is Dundee being hit with a 25 (count ’em) point penalty for going into administration. They’d be two points off the top of the Scottish second division, but they are (also) having to wait for some crumbs to fall down to them as they sit forlornly at the bottom of the table.

So spare a thought for those less well off than your clubs this winter, and remember it could always be worse, you could be a lion.