By George Simms
Last Friday (23rd July), Germany’s 2. Bundesliga became one of the first European leagues to kick-off the 2021-22 season. As Raphael Honigstein wrote, this season may well live up to the oft-repeated tagline of ‘best Bundesliga 2 season ever’.
Potentially Europe’s most dramatic league, even on a quiet day, the 2. Bundesliga recently added German club giants Schalke, Werder Bremen and Dynamo Dresden to its ranks. It already boasted Fortuna Düsseldorf, St. Pauli, Hannover, Nuremberg and Hamburg.
Between those eight teams, their main Twitter pages have a combined 3.04m followers. Schalke and Hamburg’s Twitter followings are only topped by international giants Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund in German football.
They’re also all incredibly successful clubs. The 18 2. Bundesliga sides have 43 German Championships between them, 16 more than the 17 Bundesliga sides which don’t hail from the red side of Munich.
Last season saw an eleven-goal game, as Paderborn beat the usually defensively-sound Erzgebirge Aue 8-3. It saw eventual league winners VfL Bochum beat fellow title hopefuls Fortuna Düsseldorf 5-0 in Bochum and 3-0 in their own backyard.
It saw favourites Hamburg fail to win a title that they could virtually touch in February, in an act of such potent bottlery that even the greatest of Spurs fans would’ve felt sympathetic.
At the end of the season, there’s definitely an argument to suggest that Bochum’s biggest strength compared to the rest of the field was not having games cancelled by Covid-19. In this hedonistic world of footballing chaos, consistent teams are so few and far between that it might be all it takes to actually win the damned thing.
So, let’s introduce the starring cast. Up first is Hamburger SV, Germany’s very-own cross between Arsenal and Spurs. Having suffered their first-ever relegation from the German top tier in 2017-18, the Northern giants have laboured to consecutive fourth-placed finishes in the 2. Bundesliga, despite being the biggest club, with the biggest budget, by some distance.
Off the pitch, things haven’t looked much better for Hamburg ahead of this season. Their new Adidas away kits for the season arrived, looking fresh, emblazoned with their iconic Emirates sponsor.
This would’ve been excellent news, had they not lost their contract with Emirates at the end of last season because they couldn’t get out of the 2. Bundesliga. They now must play all their games until the end of August in their home kit – no-one else in the league plays in the world’s most generic shade of blue, right?
This brings us onto the blue half of the Revierderby. Borussia Dortmund’s biggest rivals Schalke 04 are still freshly stinging from a relegation campaign which saw them narrowly avoid the lowest points total in Bundesliga history. Mired in financial troubles, they’re still led by their fourth different manager from last season, Dimitrios Grammozis; a relatively talented, albeit woefully underqualified, coach.
Upon joining the league, Schalke immediately poached Hamburg’s star striker, and 2. Bundesliga all-time top scorer, Simon Terodde, on a free. Terodde then scored seven minutes into the season-opener last Friday against, you guessed it, Hamburg.
This was a game that Hamburg were nearly late to because their bus broke down. They then came from behind, despite missing a penalty, to win 3-1 and remind Schalke that just because they’d dropped down a division, they still didn’t know how to organise a defence. Classic 2. Bundesliga.
However, the stars of the opening weekend were St. Pauli. The only team I can think of which plays their home games in mud-brown, this ‘Kult’ club are famed for their vocal left-wing politics.
You can buy shirts from the club site which sport slogans like ‘No Human is Illegal’, ‘No Room for Racism’ and ‘No Place for Homophobia, Fascism, Sexism, Racism’. Whilst the last one could do with being a bit snappier, you get the gist. This is a club with a refreshingly loud, independent voice in an ever-more corporate footballing world.
They have just as strong an identity on the pitch. In their 3-0 win over last season’s third-placed side Holstein Kiel, they set out a signal of real intent. Second from bottom last Christmas, Pauli went on an incredible unbeaten run, finding themselves as high as seventh, and very much in the promotion conversation, with two games of the season remaining.
They started this season as they finished the last, with Kosovan left-back Leart Paqarada announcing his candidacy for Goal of the Season early on with a long run from defence and screamer from thirty yards (seriously, check it out). Striker Daniel Kofi-Kyereh then had a scorpion kick volley disallowed for offside as Pauli went on to win 3-0.
This is a league that thrives on utter chaos. On the 22nd Matchday of last season, four teams sat level at the top of the table. It wasn’t decided until the second half of the last game of the season. With new blood and massive fanbases added into this season’s edition, if you’re feeling like VAR and money may have ruined the Premier League permanently, you should catch a 2. Bundesliga game. You’ll be hooked. Auf Wiedersehen.
Image: txmx 2 via Creative Commons