I’ve been to Mainz once. Unfortunately it was only a day trip on a school exchange, rather than to see die Nullfünfer (the O-Fives) at the Stadion am Bruchweg. Still, it’s quite a nice place that’s apparently twinned with a lot of cool places: sunny Valencia, Azerbaijani capital Baku, Longchamp (sadly not the racecourse), Zagreb and even Watford. It’s also one of Germany’s three major carnival cities, and home to 1. FSV Mainz 05 – der Karnevalsverein.
Mainzers are enjoying their club’s finest ever season. Allow me to digress a little. After a bunch of name changes and mergers in its formative years, followed by a little something called the Third Reich, the club finally started to settle down. Boy did they settle down. After World War II, they were one of only three sides to play in every Oberliga Südwest season until the introduction of the Bundesliga in 1963. Despite this, they finished in the top 6 on only 3 occasions and no higher than 4th (1947).
When the Bundesliga was introduced, Mainz were placed in the Regionalliga Südwest (part of the 2nd tier) and again were ever presents (including one title in ‘73) until another league overhaul in 1974, when they became part of the new 2.Bundesliga Süd. Still following?
Despite all this apparent stability, in 1976 Mainz withdrew from the 2.Bundesliga Süd after a string of financial problems meant that they were not given a licence for the following season. Having dropped a tier, Mainz became the last ever champions of the now defunct Amateurliga Südwest in 1978 and were admitted to the reformed Oberliga Südwest. They stayed put until 1988 when they won the title for the second time (their first came in 1981) and were promoted to a unified 2.Bundesliga. Alas, they were relegated immediately but returned the following season with another Oberliga title. In 1997, under the guidance of the unorthodox Wolfgang Frank (who became one of the first coaches to use a flat back-four in Germany), Mainz came desperately close to reaching the Bundesliga, finishing 4th after losing an all-time classic promotion decider at Wolfsburg, 5-4.
Anyway, back to their finest ever season. Coach Thomas Tuchel is the man in charge of a side which incredibly won their first seven games…
- Stuttgart (H) W 2-0
- Wolfsburg (A) W 3-4
- Kaiserslautern (H) W 2-1
- Werder Bremen (A) W 0-2
- Köln (H) W 2-0
- Bayern Munich (A) W 1-2
- Hoffenheim (H) W 4-2
… after which Tuchel stated he wasn’t interested in records, saying ‘for me it is not even an issue.’ Mainz joined a special couple in Bayern Munich (1995/6) and Kaiserslautern (2001/2) in achieving the full 21 points from seven games. Think what you like but on both previous occasions, Borussia Dortmund went onto claim the Bundesliga title. Spooky.
Disappointingly, the stand-alone record was not meant to be. Die Nullfünfer lost their eighth game at home to Hamburg (0-1) – not that it bothered Tuchel too much save for the lack of three points. It wasn’t long before Mainz got back to winning ways, however, upsetting Leverkusen at the BayArena in week 9. This win set up a week 10 top-two clash at the Bruchweg against Borussia Dortmund, who are of course led by former Mainzer, Jürgen Klopp.
Mainz haven’t particularly had many famous players – Mohamed Zidan, Andriy Voronin and Manuel Friedrich are perhaps as high profile as it gets. Nor do they have a whole host of club legends, but Jürgen Klopp can without question count himself among them.
Klopp played 325 2nd tier games (as both a striker and a defender) for the Carnival Club and scored 52 goals. Having finished his playing career at the Bruchweg, he became first-team coach and led them 238 times between 2001 and 2008.
Having tasted the bitter disappointment of missing out on promotion as a player with Mainz in 1997, Klopp was to experience the same feeling twice more as a coach before (and once again in his final season before resignation) finally leading Null-Fünf to the Bundesliga in 2004.
In 2002, they became the best ever 2.Bundesliga non-promoted team, finishing 4th with 64 points.
A year on, Klopp’s side were the subject of one of the most dramatic 15 minute periods in German football history. After 33 games, Eintracht Frankfurt and Mainz were locked on 59 points and separated only by a single goal (EF +23, M05 +22).
After 78 minutes of the 34th game, Mainz were cruising towards a first ever Bundesliga season. Frankfurt were being held 3-3 by SSV Reutlingen and Mainz were storming to an away win at Eintracht Braunschweig, leading 0-4 courtesy of four Benjamin Auer goals. As it stood, Mainz were two points and three goals clear.
Then things began to turn. Abdoul Thiam pulled a seemingly innocuous consolation goal back for relegated Braunschweig in the 79th minute. No worries though, Frankfurt still needed three. That was until the first of which came in the 83rd minute through Bakary Diakité. Then, as time ticked down to the 90th minute (during which time Reutlingen were reduced to 10 men), Diakité doubled his tally to make the score 5-3.
Meanwhile, the whistle had blown at Braunschweig and Klopp had marched onto the pitch calming the celebrations as points and goal difference were now level (with Mainz still promoted on goals scored). I think he knew what was coming. In the 93rd minute, Frankfurt legend Alexander Schur rose at the back post to head home, promoting the Eagles and breaking Mainz hearts again.
Klopp merely turned from the pitch, applauded the travelling fans and walked down the tunnel. He congratulated Eintracht Frankfurt and said they’d come back stronger. In contrast, club President Harald Strutz, suited and booted, sat on the turf in tears. As he pushed the camera away, he looked a broken man.
Jürgen was right. The following season, Mainz again went into the final game in 4th place. This time Alemannia Aachen stood in their way with a one-point advantage. Mainz put Eintracht Trier to the sword (3-0) and relegation threatened Karlsruhe ensured there would be no further Mainz misery as they stunned Aachen. Klopp had finally done it. Mainz would be playing nationwide top tier football for the first time, and the Narrhallamarsch (a famous German carnival tune) could finally be sung from the rooftops in Rhineland-Palatinate.
Their first ever Bundesliga season proved to be a successful one. Not only did they avoid relegation comfortably, they also qualified for the following season’s UEFA Cup via the fair play route. That didn’t last long though as they were dumped out in the first round by eventual winners, Sevilla.
In their third Bundesliga season (2006/7), Mainz were relegated and soon found themselves back to their trusty 4th spot in the 2nd tier – a finish that led to Jürgen Klopp’s resignation and brought an end to his 18 year association with 1. FSV Mainz 05.
Klopp’s replacement was Jørn Andersen – a Norwegian who had spent the majority of his career in Germany’s upper echelons. Andersen led Mainz back to the top flight, clinching promotion with a 4-0 win over RW Oberhausen, but less than 3 months later, was sacked. General Manager Christian Heidel and President Strutz cited irrevocable differences of opinion in future strategy.
So before the season had even started, Mainz were managerless and seemingly relegation fodder. Heidel plumped for under-19 coach Thomas Tuchel – presumably as he was a cost-efficient appointment. Then again, I’m sure many people assumed the same about Jürgen Klopp, so perhaps I should trust Strutz and co. before being so cynical. Anyway, Tuchel’s prior experience consisted of spells in charge of Stuttgart and Augsburg’s youth sides before joining Mainz’s set-up in 2008.
Whatever type of selection Tuchel was, he was the right one. He led his side to a fabulous 9th place finish in spite of all the ‘experts’ who wrote die Nullfünfer off before the season had even began. This season has been even more magical for TT, and he and his current crop could permanently etch their names into their fan’s hearts should they cling onto 5th and claim the final Europa League spot.
After their extraordinary early run, 05 were brought back down to earth by Dortmund who outclassed them, overtook them and haven’t looked back. Since then, Mainz’s form has been patchy, but their fans were still able to celebrate Christmas in second place with 33 points – a quite stunning return for such an unfancied side.
Their stuttering form has caught up with them, but is still good enough for them to retain realistic ambitions of playing European football next season with only 5 games to go. If you had told me at the beginning of the season that the week 29 clash between Hannover and Mainz would be a European six-pointer I would’ve laughed my head off. As it was, a Ya Konan penalty and a Pinto ping were enough to give 96 all three. Fortunately for Mainz, Nürnberg could only manage a draw against a Jekyll and Hyde Bayern Munich, giving Tuchel’s side a two point advantage over the Bavarian side.
Whilst Mainz’s side is not without its wily old veteran – in Macedonian international defender Nikolče Noveski, Austria’s Andreas Ivanschitz, popular Colombian Elkin Soto (bought from Barcelona, okay, not the Barcelona, Ecuador’s version) and Slovakia’s experienced Radoslav Zabavník, they have international experience across the board – Tuchel has managed to introduce youth to fabulous success.
On-loan full-back Christian Fuchs, who already has 30 caps for Austria, has evidently grown since his relegation with Bochum last season, whilst Niko Bungert, Tunisia international striker Sami Allagui and Eugen Polanski (all 24) have impressed and played a significant role.
Tuchel has managed to mix youth and experience, producing a team full of workmanlike endeavour and creative flair. They also possess, if only for five more games, two of Germany’s most exciting prospects – André Schürrle (who has already agreed to join Bayer Leverkusen for around €8m, and Lewis Holtby (who is expected to return to his parent-club Schalke in the summer).
Both 20 year olds have delighted Mainzers all season with creative, forward-thinking play that has seen Schürrle find the back of the net on 12 occasions and provide four assists. Although Holtby has played less football having been rested on occasion, he’s managed to bag three goals himself and have a direct hand in six other goals, despite not being at his exhilarating best.
On the 17th November 2010, they both made their full international debut against Sweden. Holtby started the game, having declared he felt compelled to repay the DFB rather than play for England, and played 77 minutes before being replaced by Schürrle. In coming on simultaneously with Mario Götze that night, Schürrle became the joint-first player born in a reunified Germany to represent the national side. (Lewis Holtby would’ve achieved this accolade but was born two days before the reunification was ratified on the 20th September 1990)
There’s no question that Mainz have been one of the Bundesliga’s feel good stories of the 2010/11 season. Just last week I wrote how 1860 Munich closed their Sechzgerstadion with a disappointing relegation campaign. There’ll be no such problems for der Karnevalsverein who will play their last ever game at the Stadion am Bruchweg, where they have played since 1928, on the 14th May against St. Pauli before moving to their brand-spanking new, 33 500 capacity Coface Arena in time for next season. They’ll be hoping they can open it with Europa League football, and whilst they may not be able to fill it every week, there is no question they needed to move. They currently have the lowest average attendance in the Bundesliga – at 20 142 – despite already having sold out on ten occasions this season, surpassing last year’s total of nine. Next season will be an exciting one for Mainz. They will need to replace both Holtby and Schürrle – something that’ll be far easier should they hold on to 5th and qualify for the Europa League.