The third division in Germany is the place of drama. At least on the final day of this season. Theoretically, Magdeburg still had chances to win promotion via the diversion of play-off. However, it was a last-minute goal that burst the bubble. After coming so close again, fans and friends of FC Magdeburg will re-discover a familiar feeling. That of missing out. It is a feeling experienced too often since 1990.
History of Missing Out
This time though it was different. Different as there was no urgency to reach third place in order to qualify for a new league as has happened in 1994 and a few times after that. In almost all cases Magdeburg wasted their chances to qualify directly. Each time it was a re-structuring of the league structure that caused the pain for blue-and-whites from the river Elbe. Each time it took them a couple of years to get themselves ready in order to push for promotion.
After wasting chances in 1991 and 1994, promotion to level 3 of the German footballing pyramids was reached in 1997. Four years later, they had to do it again as there was another re-adjustment of the league structure. Once there, financial problems beleaguered them constantly from 2000 until 2004. The fans collected money in the city’s market place in the summer of 2001. It saved the club from entering administration. However, this was not a turn around but only had a slowing down effect. The financial problems led to administration in 2002. Somewhat miraculously the club pushed for promotion to Bundesliga 2 in 2006-2007 only to lose out on goal difference. The crucial goal was conceded a few minutes before the final whistle, which felt like robbery as the finish line was already in sight.
A positive Trajectory
What has followed in the past ten years beggars belief. Finishing bottom and not going down, the club were lucky in 2012. The reason? Yet another league re-vamp. From then on the trajectory went upwards and finally after 25 years of trying and failing, after 25 years of dusting off after each set-back the Club had reached the promised land in 2015: professional football in the third division in Germany. The traumas of the past were overcome and all the negativity that has surrounded the club was suppressed in this moment of joy. There was an open top bus parading the squad through the city after they had beaten Kickers Offenbach in two dramatic matches. There was also a high risk. It was a huge effort, financially and emotionally that could have easily gone the other way. It did not and the FC Magdeburg were ready for professional football.
Who would have thought that after the first season ‘The Greatest of the World’ would finish fourth? No one, but everyone would have taken this had they been asked in July 2015 at the beginning of the season.
This season was different. For once, the good finish last year nurtured some quiet hopes. Until January these hopes were well fed, indeed. Sitting in second place meant a direct promotion spot to Bundesliga 2. After that there were too many unnecessary draws. Moreover, in almost all matches Magdeburg had taken the lead only to concede within minutes. It suggested that there was a certain degree of nervousness among the squad despite re-assurances that this was not the case. Indeed, the coach, Jens Härtel did not speak of promotion until March. By that time they were still in second place but the gap was closing as other teams kept winning whereas Magdeburg kept drawing games. In early April came the logical moment: a home defeat against Jahn Regensburg. The Bavarians leapfrogged Magdeburg who now had to chase third place. Alas, it wasn’t to be. The matches were no longer breathtaking occasions as they were in autumn. There was no swagger about Magdeburg any more. Teams with a game plan and the guts took the game to them and it demanded a lot of effort to secure a point in these games. Rostock, Chemnitz, Halle were no easy games. Instead the players seemed to be insecure. It is a little surprising that they did not slide down further in the table but repeated the feat of finishing fourth again. It means direct qualification for the DFB-Cup next season and automatically attaches the tag of favourite to their name. It is to be seen how the club can handle this new situation come July/August when the circus stars anew.
For now Magdeburg will have a familiar feeling.