1860: The blue side of Munich

Despite its relative infancy, the Munich’s Allianz Arena has hosted some important and dramatic games – the opening match of the 2006 World Cup and Chelsea’s extraordinary smash and grab in the 2012 Champion’s League Final chiefly among them. However, almost exactly ten years to the day since its opening, the sleek arena – which resembles what a rubber dingy might look like if it were designed and manufactured by Audi – witnessed a match that was not only tense until the very end, but extremely significant for the city of Munich.

But whilst Pep Guardiola’s Bayern were mulling over a season that juxtaposed domestic success with European frustrations, it was the turn of neighbouring 1860 Munich to take centre stage. Known as the lions, 1860 were minutes, if not seconds, away from dropping into the third tier of German football, home to reserve teams and one step away from semi-professional competition. Having finished third-from-bottom in the 2nd division, they were sent into the dreaded relegation playoff against the third-placed team from the 3rd division, Holstein Kehl. After a tense goalless draw in Kiel, a 91st minute goal in front of around 57,000 fans in Munich kept die Löwen in the 2nd division. And to the city’s blue and white half, it would have felt just as important as anything their local rivals had achieved in recent years. For despite the size of the club and its impressive and passionate fan base, this was not the first time they had peered into the abyss of the German footballing landscape.

Despite their name, 1860 München were originally formed in 1848 and, as is the case with the majority of German clubs, started life as a gymnastics club – Münchener Turnverein. However, as the club was founded in the middle of the 1848 revolutions, the existence was not recognized and the club was banned by the Bavarian monarchy in 1849 due to it being an ‘institute of moral contamination’ (according to the club’s homepage).

The club reformed two years later, added a choir club to its ranks in 1856, and was officially reformed in 1860 after merging with other local associations. The name 1860 came into being in 1898 and the first football arm of the club was founded in 1899, with the first match taking place in 1902 – over 50 years after the initial establishment. The lion, the clubs now totemic symbol, was added to the crest in 1911.

In the 1920’s 1860 began to establish themselves among the country’s top clubs and by 1926 they had a 40,000 capacity stadium. Nevertheless, Germany did not see its own nationwide league – the Bundesliga – until as late as 1963, meaning the football pyramid was fragmented, governed regionally across seven areas who mostly played their championships in the form of cup competitions.

The emergence of National Socialism and the Nazi party put pay to the existing system and extinguished any hopes of establishing professional football in Germany. Instead, the Gauliga was introduced, whereby the country was split into 16 regions under the Nazi’s Gleichschaltung measures of obtaining totalitarian control, and teams from Poland, Luxembourg and parts of France also took part.

It was in these troubled times that the club had their first taste of success, winning the Gauliga Bayern in 1941 and 1943, and the Tschammerpokal – now known as the German Cup – in 1942, defeating FC Schalke, who themselves were among the top teams in the country at that time.

The end of The Second World War and the fall of the Nazi regime led to the disbandment of the Gauliga system and the introduction of the Oberliga. In this new system, Germany was split into six regions – South, South-West, Berlin, North, West, and East Germany. 1860 Munich, along with Bayern Munich competed in the southern competition, the Oberliga Süd.

In the early 1950s 1860 suffered mixed fortunes. The club yo-yoed between the first and second division in the southern league, including an incredible period from 1954 to 1957. Having been relegated to the second division in 1953, 1860 won promotion in the 1954/55 season, winning the league in the process. Incidentally, they traded places with city rivals Bayern Munich, who, having finished bottom of the first division, were relegated. Fortune then favoured the red side of the city as 1860 finished bottom in 1955/56 and were relegated while Bayern made an instant comeback. Again, the two teams swapped leagues, but in the 1956/57 season Die Löwen once again won the second division to join their neighbours in the top flight – and from then on, the tide turned in their favour. The club quickly established itself in the upper echelons of the table, culminating in them being crowned champions in 1963.

In the meantime, as the country went about rebuilding itself and picking up the pieces left by a generation of war, plans to establish the first Bundesliga, which had first been mooted 30 years previous, had progressed.

At last, the country’s best teams would be able to compete against one another – well, almost. Of course, the Germany of this time was still a land divided and although the regional league structure was to be dissolved in its current form in favour of a more holistic framework, East Germany maintained its separate footballing architecture on the other side of the Iron Curtain.

Finally, in 1963, over a hundred years since the club was founded around a table in the Munich drinking hole Buttleschen Brauerei zum Bayerischen Löwen and in the year of their title success, 1860 Munich were one of the founding members of the Bundesliga, Germany’s first nationwide competition. And as if that wasn’t enough, they would leave Bayern Munich watching enviously from the confines of the regional leagues.

In order to make the establishment of the new league structure manageable, The German Football Association, the DFB, had limited the new league to 16 teams – and had come up with a set of requirements, both sporting and otherwise. Naturally, many teams wanted to be a part of the new system as it brought with it obvious footballing and financial benefits, and almost 50 clubs applied for admittance.

Amidst pushes for an 18 or 20-team league and not a little controversy (DFB board member Hermann Neuberger’s local team 1. FC Saarbrücken were chosen despite their being two or three clubs better placed in the league), 16 teams were chosen from the five regional leagues – as mentioned, the East retained its own structure. 1860 Munich’s Oberliga Süd title win secured them a place in the promised land of the Bundesliga, but the footballing authorities passed over Bayern, not wanting two teams from the same city. At this point, 1860 were officially the biggest team in Munich.

They quickly proved they were worth their inclusion by finishing in the top half of the table – drawing an average crowd of around 34,000 in the process – and winning the German Cup, thus qualifying for the now (sadly) defunct UEFA Cup Winners Cup. And despite losing the final against West Ham, at Wembley, reaching the latter stages of European competition represented great progress for the club. In fact, this final defeat remains the pinnacle of their European achievements. Domestically they had also improved and finished fourth.

Undeterred by the disappointment of Wembley, Die Löwen roared back into life in the Bundesliga for the 1965/66, where they were now joined by arch-rivals Bayern. In fact, the opening day of games saw the Munich rivals face off in a hotly-anticipated local derby, in which 1860 won 1-0. Although it was only the first game of the season, and Bayern’s very first in the Bundesliga, the result was incredibly significant. Of course, a local derby means a lot to both sides – and Bayern would have undoubtedly felt somewhat aggrieved to have been left festering in the regional leagues as their city counterparts were winning the cup and chasing glory in Europe. More interesting perhaps, though, is to look at the match in the context of the whole season. 1860 went on to win their first and only Bundesliga title to crown in what was turning into a golden period for the club, but had Bayern won the opening-day clash, the two points gained by them (in the two points for a win system) and lost by 1860 would have been enough to swing the championship their way. As it was, Bayern’s maiden Bundesliga title and the genesis of their domestic dominance would have to wait a few seasons more.

In the meantime 1860 continued to perform and narrowly fell short of defending their title in 1966, finishing second, two points adrift of Eintracht Braunschweig. The balance of power, though, was slowly shifting towards Bayern – for whom a certain Gerd Müller had come into the frame. The two Munich clubs were heading in different directions in the table, culminating in Bayern winning their first Bundesliga title in the 1968-69 season, and 1860 being relegated back to the Regionalliga the season after.

Whilst Bayern collected three titles in a row in the early 1970s, 1860 languished in the second-tier, all the while Munich’s footballing hierarchy was taking the form accepted today. Unfortunately for the blue side of Munich, sporting subservience was just the tip of the iceberg. After occasional glimmers of hope in the form of two, albeit brief, stays in the Bundesliga, it was the numbers off the pitch that carried the greatest consequences. After finishing in 4th in the second division and thus narrowly missing out on promotion, the club was living dangerously beyond its means. Large crowds and big-name players such as Rudi Völler belied the club’s financial health. Delays in players’ wages being paid and the Finanzamt – the Inland Revenue – demanding gate receipts were just some of the consequences. By the end of the season 1860 Munich, Bundesliga champions a little over 15 years previous, had their license revoked and were banished to the Bayernliga for the 1982/83 season, which, at that point, represented the third – and amateur – tier of German football.

Although the club took desperate measures to fight this action, it was too little too late – and unsurprisingly, 1860 was thrown into turmoil. Over a dozen players, including Rudi Völler, left the club and even more were drafted in. In the young history of the Bundesliga until that point, 1860 had proved to be something of a yo-yo club, infuriating for the fans, many of whom would have witnessed their side’s the early promise of cup glory, European football and a title win slide into inconsistency and relegation coupled with Bayern slowly casting their own dominant shadow over the footballing landscape in Munich. And if being sent to the exile of lower league football was not galling enough for the 1860 faithful, the humiliation of not only competing against, but finishing behind the Bayern Munich amateur side would have been a bitter pill to swallow.

Getting out of the Bayernliga was by no means straightforward. Despite finishing top in their second season, in 1983/84, promotion was not guaranteed. Instead, the club entered the protracted – and since streamlined – promotion playoffs. Although the format and number of teams involved changed regularly, the competition tacked onto the end of the 1983/1984 season meant that 1860 were pitted against the winners of the amateur leagues of Baden-Württemberg, Hessen and Südwest in a four-team league, whereby everyone plays each other home and away. This meant six extra, high-pressure, games and proved for a while to be an impassable barrier for die Löwen. In 1984 they finished bottom. Two years later they were back in the playoffs, again finishing bottom. It wasn’t until 1991, and after nine seasons in the footballing hinterland, that 1860 managed to claw their way back the second division.

After such a draining struggle, the club’s immediate relegation back to the Bayernliga may have had many fan questioning whether there wasn’t a second-cousin or somebody in their family with a tie to Bayern, giving them an excuse to casually switch allegiances whilst nobody was looking. Thankfully for the mental health of their fans, 1860 bounced straight back the next season and set a course for the Bundesliga, reaching it with now uncharacteristic forthrightness in 1994. Again bucking tradition, the club spent ten consecutive seasons in the top flight, often finishing comfortably in mid-table, and even storming to fourth place in the 1999/2000, qualifying for the Champion’s League in the process. Although a remarkable achievement, and near unfathomable as they struggled in the basement only a decade earlier, fans may have more enjoyed first league double over Bayern Munich – who, in the same season, wrapped up their 15th league title. Although 1860 were back throwing punches amongst the big boys, the best they could do to their cross-town rivals was a bloody nose. Sure, it may sting for a bit, but nothing was broken. The dominance had long since been established.

Despite the heady days around the turn of the millennium, 1860 were unable to sustain their lofty league position and slowly slid towards relegation, returning to the second division in 2004, where they have remained to this day – albeit by the skin of their teeth.

1860 Munich blossomed under the reformation of the German football landscape, consistently overshadowing their neighbours, Bayern. And although Bayern are now firmly established as the top club in Germany – having just tied up their 24th Bundesliga title – it was 1860 who first took the trophy back to Munich. Nevertheless, despite narrowly avoiding the trapdoor to the third tier, 1860 have felt the chill of being in Bayern’s shadow since the 1970s. Whilst they have been put through the wringer – watching their club struggle on and off the pitch – the fans have been forced to watch their cross-town rivals develop into one Europe’s elite clubs. However, although they may not currently be the noisiest of neighbours, 1860 Munich can point to their own achievements and steadfast following as tangible evidence that Munich is very much a two-club city.


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