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1860 Munich: The rise and fall of Bundesliga´s former champions

SoccerNews in Bundesliga 27 Aug 2020

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As Bayern Munich celebrate a sixth European Cup/Champions League crown and a treble for the second time in eight seasons, it’s easy to forget about their city neighbours.

A founding Bundesliga member, 1860 Munich were regulars in Germany’s top flight up until 2003-04. They even shared Allianz Arena with Bayern.

Now, 1860 – the first Munich side to win the Bundesliga in 1966 and 1965 European Cup Winners’ Cup runners-up – find themselves in the third division, having dropped as low as the fourth tier due to on- and off-field issues.

Initially relegated to 3. Liga following a play-off against Jahn Regensburg in 2017, 1860 were demoted to the Regionalliga Bayern after Jordanian investor Hasan Ismaik failed to pay the required licence fee. Even former Liverpool CEO Ian Ayre quit after only eight weeks at the club amid chaos.

Before 1860’s drastic fall, they spent 10 consecutive seasons in the Bundesliga from 1994. The highlight for Die Lowen was their fourth-placed finish in 1999-00, earning them a spot in the Champions League qualifiers.

Paul Agostino played a key role in 1860’s successful campaign 20 years ago and the club great told Stats Perform News: “Top-flight football was normal for 1860. We were regularly mixing it with the big boys. We had a very good squad, with big-name players.

“Now 1860, being in the second division for a while, dropping all the way down to the fourth tier and now in the third division for a couple of years, it’s very strange. It doesn’t suit the fanbase because at the moment, the best thing about the club would be their fans. They are absolutely top-flight quality, big numbers, passionate fans. One of the best, loyal supporters you’ll find in Germany.”

After finishing ninth in 1998-99, things clicked for 1860 the following season. Led by Werner Lorant at Olympic Stadium, the club beat champions Bayern home and away as they earned a place in the top four, ahead of the likes of Hertha Berlin, Wolfsburg, Stuttgart, Werder Bremen and 11th-placed Borussia Dortmund.

1860’s Martin Max topped the Bundesliga’s goalscoring charts with 19 goals, while former Australia international Agostino contributed eight of his own, before the team lost 3-1 on aggregate to Leeds United in the third round of Champions League qualifying. They also faced a star-studded Parma side, boasting Gianluigi Buffon, Fabio Cannavaro, Lilian Thuram, in the UEFA Cup in 2000, but it soon went downhill.

“We’d actually thought we’d keep going further up. That was the pinnacle of 1860, where the club, president and old coach, once we’d qualified, they wanted to make Champions League qualifying the norm,” the 45-year-old Agostino said, while revealing former sponsor Lowenbrau would deliver slabs of beers at the training ground after every win.

“They didn’t want to just stay there, they want to really cement their place and be a top-six Bundesliga side. They made some investments but it just didn’t work out the following season and it spiralled downhill. Everyone thought we’d continue on our rise but in the end, it went the opposite way.

“Unfortunately, purchasing Allianz Stadium with Bayern, there was a big financial burden there, which caused a lot of strain on the club. The club had to play second division and still had these high running costs. They weren’t prepared for that. There were some calculation mistakes there. They were going big guns and it didn’t pay off. Quick rise and a quick fall I guess.”

Agostino arrived from Bristol City in 1997 and while he went on to become an 1860 favourite – equal ninth on the club’s all-time list for goals scored with 54 having departed in 2007 – the initial transition from English to German football was far from easy.

“I had to really adjust and step up, because the fitness level was outrageous and the training sessions were unbelievable,” he said. “I remember after the first few weeks and telling my family I’d never seen anything like it. That initial phase was tough. To prove my worth, at the start, my first few games I was booed by the crowd. I remember one game, it might’ve been against [Arminia] Bielefeld in 1997-98 – I was on the bench and a player got sent off. The coach looked to the bench and I just thought, ‘don’t look at me because I’m not a left winger’. And he did, he looked at me and told me to get ready for the left wing. I thought, ‘oh no’, first game at the Olympic Stadium and he’s put me on the left wing. I couldn’t get past the player, even if I had a jet rocket tied to my back. I had a terrible game, a shocking game. I gave my best. We were a man down, which made it worse. When the whistle blew, I remember walking down the tunnel and the 1860 fans were just giving it to me, telling me to go back where I came from. I remember hearing all that and thinking, ‘I’ll win you over, I’ll prove it’.

“Month by month, in that first season, I did. Another away game, where I came on again and managed to score. The tide turned. It became better and better, and I became one of the boys, locals. I just loved it. I loved the way we treated each other. I always had time to give to the fans. Whenever a little kid wanted a shirt, I always gave them my shirt off my back. Even we sat down and had a beer. There were a lot of fan clubs around Munich and sometimes for a Christmas party, players would be allocated to visit a fan club. One time, I just sat there with them, and instead of getting around some questions, I just ended up having four, five beers with them. It was great fun. Things don’t work that ways these days, but we didn’t have training the next day. That gets around and how I became one of them. I still have that respect probably today. I don’t get stopped in the street but I get that look, they know. They look at you and I think they’re 1860 supporters.”

“I was probably playing some of my best football,” Agostino added on the 1999-00 season. “It was, even for me, also some other clubs interested in me. But at the same time, I didn’t want to go anywhere. I was of the same opinion that 1860 were going to have some good times.

“No one saw it coming. All the more disappointing it was. Sometimes, football is disappointing and you don’t know why it happened. Like, how come it clicked to finish fourth but not when the team slipped down the ladder? It’s hard to stop the downward trend.”

Agostino experienced the Munich derby first-hand before 1860’s demise – the city rivals have not met since 2008. While Bayern have dominated, 1860 enjoyed some big moments of their own, especially in 1999-00.

“Breathtaking, exhilarating, nerve-draining,” the Australian recalled the derby. “No doubt, the biggest game of the season at the Olympic Stadium. Certainly, to be involved in the game and not getting thrashed, especially the games we won. We were pumped a few times, but that season in 1999-00 we deserved to beat them twice [1-0 and 2-1]. That was a great feeling.

“I remember at half-time, coming into the dressing room, one derby I had to throw up because it was just so nerve-racking. Eat a couple of bananas to settle the stomach and off you go again. Obviously, the feeling afterwards to beat Munich twice, we were the kings of the city. We celebrated hard, too. We made sure to take advantage of it. If we were going to beat Munich, then we would let the whole city know. We played hard and enjoyed it, let’s put it that way.”

Then, the groundshare happened amid backlash from 1860 fans. 1860 had called Allianz Arena home since its opening in 2004-05 ahead of the 2006 World Cup, alongside Bayern.

Having previously held an equal share in the stadium, 1860 sold their half to Bayern in 2006 but they continued to host matches at the ground as a tenant. However, the lights stopped illuminating blue at Allianz Arena in 2017 after Bayern cancelled the contract of their beleaguered rivals.

1860 now play at the 15,000-capacity Grunwalder Stadion, which was the previously the club’s home until 1995.

“From a players’ perspective, I loved playing at the Allianz Arena,” Agostino said. “We had our own section on the left-hand side. Our own changing rooms, luxury showers, swimming pool and spa. Bayern were on the other side. We saw it as our own stadium. The seats weren’t painted red, it was a neutral colour.

“In order for the stadium to be built in the first place, the city of Bavaria, they stipulated the new stadium had to be 50-50 ownership. We felt at home there. In the first few seasons, we filled it up fine. I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was just a few years later where the crowds started to dwindle and that’s when it became a problem financially. Catering costs and things like that. Things started to get out of hand. It’s like playing in a big cloud. When we played our home games, it lit up sky blue. It was just awesome.”

Fast-forward to 2020-21 and 1860 are preparing for another season in 3. Liga. Having flirted with promotion last term, Michael Kollner’s men eventually finished eighth. So, how far off are 1860 from moving up to the second tier?

“Third division in Germany is a very even league, where anyone can beat anyone,” Agostino said. “With a bit of form and a decent squad, it’s certainly within the club to get back up. Purely on their fanbase, it would push any team to go for promotion. It’s certainly within their strengths to be in the running.

“But saying that, you have to take their jigsaw puzzle apart a bit and go back to where these problems started. Back then, they were saved by the Jordanian investor. For some reason, there doesn’t seem to be a 100 per cent unity within the club. It can sometimes reflect performance. The day 1860 are 100 per cent working with each other from the investor, all the way down to the kitman or physio, that’s the day they’ll be back in the running again and able to hit their straps to be where they should be. But I’m not convinced, without knowing all the details, the club indoors everything is running smoothly, the way 1860 should be running. They need to have a happy investor, they need to have everyone agreeing with each other, and I don’t have that feeling. Someone is having a go at someone all the time, and that’s what is holding them back.

“They have the fans. Even in the third division, their squad budget should be enough to have them up there. Really, it’s going to be a case of can we get everyone on the same wavelength. Because it’s too big of a club, a traditional club, it’s culture. An amazing club with fantastic support.”

“There’s obviously some sort of turmoil or misunderstandings,” he continued. “But like I said, they would get back to strengths very quickly if everyone is on the same side. It’s simple but seems to be complicated. Maybe someone has agendas. I don’t know but don’t need to know but the facts are there.”

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