In the previous posts of this series the focus was on the history of FC Magdeburg during the 1970s and early 1990s. Arguably, between 1976 and 1989 almost 13 years have passed without major crises. The 90s however, saw the club tumbling from crisis to crisis. This decade began with a huge breakup in East German football and it concluded almost likewise. Once more false promises were the cause, paired with megalomania and it brought the club to the brink of extinction.
High and Low
Shortly after finally gaining promotion to the promised land of the third division in 1997, Magdeburg were once more beset by problems. There were always problems of the same nature: money. The decline of the city meant sponsors, potent sponsors were a rare species. The heavy industry that once was the pride of the city and fed up to a 100000 inhabitants underwent a painful period of transition during which up to 30000 people lost their jobs. Many left Magdeburg, only a few stayed.The image of the city further suffered severe blows as neo Nazi organizations were responsible for negative headlines. Headlines that are still haunting Magdeburg today. Despite the financial troubles however, Magdeburg did well in the Regionalliga, finishing 12th in their first season and a very good 3rd place the next year.
The third year was therefore overburdened with hopes and expectations and duly the club failed to meet them as once more the league structure was re-built. A 10th place meant Magdeburg were again ‘relegated’ into the 4th division for the 2000/01 season.
The club was keen to stabilize their financial bed rock and appeared to have found a partner in Michael Kölmel’s Sportwelt Marketing Agency. This company bought 74.9% of Magdeburg’s marketing rights; in return Magdeburg received a windfall of money that was re-invested into players. This new money was meant to buy success immediately.
Magdeburg were not alone. In total Sportwelt held contracts with 15 German football clubs, among them Borussia Mönchengladbach and Union Berlin. However, the idea was a good one yet it was almost impossible to make a profit.
However, the hook in this matter was the almost simultaneous engagement of Rüdiger Lamm, a dubious football manager and agent previously working for Bielefeld. There he left with a bad reputation. In Magdeburg however, he was made to feel welcome by club president Eckhardt Meyer, a local pub and hotel owner. Lamm promised to buy excellent players to secure promotion to the 2. Bundesliga. In their wildest and wettest dreams Meyer and Lamm saw Magdeburg play Champions League.
The problem: the contract with Lamm should have been sanctioned by Sportwelt. Of course they would not approve. Magdeburg tried to row back but Lamm insisted on the validity of his contract and more importantly on his salary: DM1,5 per year. Sportwelt refused to pay Lamm’s salary and stopped any further payments to Magdeburg. This brought the club into a severe crisis and only a concerted action of the fans and local businesses saved the club from going out of business.
Former players Martin Hoffmann and Wolfgang ‘Paule’ Seguin stood in the city centre with a replica copy of the Cup Winners’ Cup to collect money. People appeared in their thousands to give money; a sign how important the club was to the fans. For 2 days it was not clear whether the club would continue to exist. It was close to the abyss. Finally, a local bank jumped in and put in a guarantee for €2m and thus ensured the club continued to exist.
Adding fuel to the fire, Magdeburg were once more ‘relegated’ due to another failed qualification for a newly established third division. Once more Magdeburg were condemned to play lower league teams that were unheard of previously. The team finished top of their division but promotion saw a play-off with the winner of another division. The opponent: BFC Dynamo.
One of the fiercest rivalries in East German football was revived. At the end Magdeburg were successful, drawing the first leg and hammering an overwhelmed Dynamo side 5-1. It was once more a false dawn. Magdeburg finished 12th, thus were safe from relegation but equally had no say in promotion. However, within 2 years, Magdeburg were relegated for irregularities off the pitch. Another rescue action like the year before failed to materialize. Another relegation followed.
In the wake the squad had to be re-built from scratch, delaying any hope for promotion into an unknown future. It took almost 4 years to recover. Despite the sporting malaise, talk about a new stadium never ceased; in fact the project intensified due to the World Cup 2006. The tournament seemed to release streams of money for such projects. It was hoped that a new stadium would once more raise the profile of the club and thus enable a better future. In the early 2000s Magdeburg clearly were not up to date.