It was all set: The champagne in the fridge, the venue for the after match party. The sun was doing her best on this early May weekend. The veterans from Rotterdam 1974 played the warm-up game for the men’s team. Albeit, all this turned out to be premature.
The ground, the old Ernst-Grube-Stadion, was decently filled with around 5000 awaiting the club to beat VfB Lichterfelde in their last home game of the season.
Restructuring the Pyramide
The 1993/94 season was another decisive season. The then third tier, the Oberliga Nord/Ost, was to be dissolved among a huge restructuring of the amateur football level. The new construct to qualify for in this season was the Regionalliga, a semi-professional league below the divisions 1 and 2. Of course Magdeburg were among those teams seen as favourites to qualify; simply their name suggested they belonged at least into the third tier.
Before the rewards were collected however, there were some matches to be played. A decent start to the season saw Magdeburg take maximum points from the first 4 games. Unfortunately, this hope soon faded. In October Magdeburg managed no win just 2 draws and 1 defeat; the worst came in early November when Union Berlin put 9 (N-I-N-E!!!) goals behind Frank Pietruska without a reply.
Still on Course
The kickers from the Elbe were still on course to qualify in early spring but it was their away form that would cost them dearly at the end. Defeats at Stendal (3:2) Dessau (3:2) Zehlendorf (1:0) Cottbus (3:0) paired with home defeats and draws made the affair a very tight one indeed and suggested that the players were losing the grip on their qualification campaign. The biggest set back however, came with the last home game of the season against unfancied Lichterfelde.
Lichterfelde have a bit of history of their own. Their were a house hold name in the football system of Berlin dating back as far as 1892. The forerunner of VfB Lichterfelde were LSU Lichterfelder Spiel-Union and Brandenburg 92. Several ups and downs
as well as some fusions saw VfB Lichterfelde emerge in 1978 after LSU and other clubs from the Berlin borough continued their descend into nether regions of Berlin football. The VfB meanwhile established itself soon as a force to be reckoned with and it was no co-incidence that the club should finish second in 1995 and 1996 before finally slipping down again. They have since agreed to fusion with BFC Viktoria 1889 and play under the name FC Viktoria Berlin 1889 in the Oberliga Nord/Ost and ironically are playing in the same league as Magdeburg again.
Desaster Strikes – Twice
On May 8, 1994 Magdeburg needed a win to secure qualification ahead of Hertha Zehlendorf, a draw would put more pressure on the last day of the season, therefore securing 6th place at home was the aim. After missing out on direct qualification for the second division, this failure was to be corrected in the second attempt and the 3rd division was of course only seen as a stopover on the way to Bundesliga 2.
It was one of those days. Magdeburg made the game for most of the 90 minutes. Yet, it was their wastefulness that gave Lichterfelde hope and inevitably, 2 goals. To add insult to injury, the home team were awarded 2 penalties – 2 chances presented on a silver plate to Axel Domine – were wasted. And the fate was sealed: Magdeburg were condemned to 4th division football for the time being. Lichterfelde spoiled the party in no way any one could have foreseen by sitting deep and letting Magdeburg come. And they came and pressed but found no way through. 1-2 it remained and almost immediately it was clear throughout the ground that this was it, that the team had blown a huge chance. It turned out to be their last of the season as the final game of the season saw Magdeburg winning again but so did Hertha Zehlendorf and secured automatic qualification on goal difference as both Magdeburg and the Berlin club were level on points.
Worse to Come
If this was bad, worse was to come the following season. By winning 5-2 on the last day of the season, away at Preußen Berlin, Magdeburg just avoided relegation. Being in the 4th division is bad but was deserved with this team, dropping down another level would have meant the end for a once proud club. The mistakes on the pitch where a team completely out of their depth could not play consistently were equalled by incompetence by the club’s officials. The mix of local talent and people bouhgt at inflated prices or of dubious talent was very honourable but simply was not working. As a result, the gate figures averaged 444 during the season.
A change in off pitch personell seemed to work well as with Hans-Dieter Schmidt a well-travelled man took over the manager’s position and later became head coach of the team. Teamed up with Eckhard Meyer, a local pub landlord, Schmidt built a squad around Frank Lieberam, a local boy from Halberstadt, who played for Dynamo Dresden, VfL Wolfsburg and had a stint in Japan before he received a call from home.
New Rival, New Life
With the promotion of Fortuna Magdeburg in 1996 FC Magdeburg for the first time had a local rival to face on the pitch. It was this the team that looked sharp on the pitch and managed to stay unbeaten from January until May 1997 to secure promotion to the third division. It was a header by Marcel Maltritz that secured promotion to league 3 on the last day of the season. Maltritz later was transferred to Wolfsburg and Hamburg before he found his home at VfL Bochum where he was club captain from 2007 until 2010.
The tears shed in 1994 over another failure of the team were washed away by plenty tears of joy in 1997. Once settled in the third division, Magdeburg fared well and had never anything to do with relegation. They improved the following season 98/99 with a third place finish behind Chemnitz and VfB Leipzig. The millennium saw new challenges lying ahead of them. It could have been all so well, had not their ambitions become too big.
This is the third part in a series of seven articles looking at the history of FC Magdeburg’s history since 1974, the year of their biggest success, the Cup Winners’ Cup victory against AC Milan in Rotterdam. Follow the links to parts one and two.