Toothless and declawed: the sad demise of TSV 1860 München

Fifty years ago, the city of Munich had two big teams. Today, while one continues to grow almost exponentially as a world footballing superpower, the other faces an uncertain fate in the fourth tier. This is the story of TSV 1860 München, one of despair and decline.

Back in the early 1990s during my travels through Eastern Europe, I got to see many things. Historic castles in the Czech Republic; graffiti-covered communist monuments in Sofia; then there was Budapest zoo, where I saw its rather sad lion. Not the proud creature one often sees in picture books, but a mangy, decrepit creature that had clearly seen better days. Moping rather than prowling, thinking about the lionesses he had never met and dreaming about the savanna hunts never experienced.

When reading all of the recent stories about the demise of TSV 1860 München, I was reminded of that lion in Budapest. Toothless and useless. A picture of terminal decline, with a sad and lonely death lurking beyond the next corner.

Grubby tenants

As an FC Bayern fan, it is hard not to chuckle. TSV 1860 – or “1859+1”, as many of us prefer to call them – had been on the downward slide for a long while. It is a club that continues to bang on about its rapidly receding history, crowing loudly about their partisan fan base. A fan base that in recent times has made the news more for their misbehaviour than anything else.

When Die Löwen were beaten by SSV Jahn Regensburg in the relegation playoff and and consigned to the 3. Liga, there were many belly laughs in the red side of Munich. When the news then broke about 1860’s much-criticised investor Hasan Abdullah Ismaik not stumping up the money to secure the club’s place in the third tier, the biggest thing that did the rounds was talk of finally getting red seats installed at the Allianz Arena.

As for the dull and much-hated grey seats, 1860’s supporters had started on the removal work for free. Humiliated at home by their sharper Bavarian rivals from Regensburg, it had all kicked off in the stands.

For many Bayern fans, the jokes are still being spun out and passed around. Toothless lions. Red seats. The fact that we are finally rid of these grubby tenants we no longer have to indulge. But the fact is that behind all of the laughter there is a sad story. From a footballing point of view, 1860s demise is a loss to the city of Munich.

Early history

Despite its name, 1860’s football arm was only founded in 1899 – a year before FC Bayern were founded. The first meeting in 1902 was won 3:0 by Bayern, and the rivalry slowly begun to build between the two teams. It was not the biggest derby in Bavaria though, with SpVgg Fürth and 1. FC Nürnberg claiming that mantle.

By the early 1930s, both Munich teams had started to make an impact on the national stage. In 1931, 1860 were the first team from the Bavarian capital to reach the final of the German Championship, where they would lose to Hertha BSC. The following year, FC Bayern went one better, beating Eintracht Frankfurt 2:0 to claim the famous “Viktoria” trophy.

With stars such as Ludwig Goldbrunner, Conrad “Conny” Heidkamp and Sigmund Haringer, Bayern were on the up. Darker times were lurking around the corner however, and the ascent of National Socialist regime saw this brief success come to an end. Bayern’s Jewish chairman Kurt Landauer was forced into exile, and 1860 was quickly co-opted by the authorities as “their” Munich club.

While Bayern slowly dropped out of the reckoning, 1860 went on to win the Tschammerpokal – later the DFB-Pokal – in 1942.

Both sides were not particularly successful during the immediate postwar years in the reformed Oberliga Süd, but the rivalry developed significantly with the creation of the professional Bundesliga in 1963. The league decided to take only one club from Munich, a decision that sowed the first seeds of acrimony between the two teams. They chose 1860.

Changing fortunes

The 1960s would be the high watermark in the history of TSV 1860. Having won the DFB-Pokal in 1963/64, they went on to reach the final of the European Cup Winners’ Cup the following season. Bayern meanwhile had made their way up into the top flight, but had not yet added to their one German Championship and a first DFB-Pokal claimed in 1956-57.

When 1860 became the first team from Munich to win the Bundesliga in 1965-66, nobody could have foreseen that it would be their last major trophy. From that point on, it was all Bayern.

In 1966-67, Bayern would win their first European trophy, succeeding where their city rivals had narrowly failed. Die Roten claimed the Cup Winners’ Cup with a 1:0 extra-time victory over Scottish club Glasgow Rangers, and never really looked back. A first Bundesliga title was claimed the following season, marking the beginning of an inexorable rise.

1860, meanwhile, would have to get used to looking backwards. Relegation followed in 1970, and while the Lions were struggling in the second tier, Bayern had started to collect trophies like Panini album stickers. More Bundesliga titles were added, and in the mid-1970s Die Roten went on to win the European Cup three seasons in a row.

It started with a slap

Details remain hazy, but it was one moment of madness during an otherwise irrelevant youth encounter that altered the course of footballing history in Munich. A certain Franz Beckenbauer was a native of the suburb of Giesing, which was very much 1860 country. He was an 1860 fan, and was all set to join the club.

During the match between 1860 and SC 1906 München, there was an altercation. Voices were raised, and the young Beckenbauer was on the receiving end of a slap from one of the 1860 players. So the story goes, he decided there and then that 1860 was not the club for him. Instead, he crossed to the red side and joined FC Bayern.

One cannot say that history may have been inverted had “the slap” not taken place, and it would be ridiculous to suggest that the decision made by one young teenager could have resulted in the diverging fortunes of two football clubs. But we are all aware of the history. Beckenbauer was not only a star at Bayern, but the star.

Having gone on to become a major force in the Nationalmannschaft as well, Beckenbauer was largely responsible for the arrival of coach Udo Lattek at the Säbenerstraße. Lattek, in turn, was able to lure players like Paul Breitner and Uli Hoeneß to Bayern. Both of these players would have otherwise been set to join 1860. Thus the core of the great Bayern team was created, with more talents following in their footsteps.

The die had been cast. Bayern would never look back, while 1860 would start on a road where every forward step was met with trepidation.

Financial failings, false hopes

Following their relegation in 1970, Die Löwen returned to the top flight seven years later – only to go straight back down again. They bounced back immediately, but would only last two seasons before going down again. In 1982, things would get even worse when they were denied a 2. Bundesliga licence.

For nine seasons languishing in the third tier Bayernliga, Munich derbies against FC Bayern were distant dreams. The closest they would ever get were the contests in front of paltry crowds against FC Bayern’s amateur team, with yet more wounds being inflicted.

The glory days of the 1960s were fading into the distance, and there was little for younger fans of Die Löwen to cling onto. Even the system conspired against them. Having won the Bayernliga title in 1990, 1860 were thrown into the complicated promotion/relegation and playoff mire following German reunification, and were immediately sent back down again.

This latest failure could have been broken 1860’s spirit, but instead it triggered a revival. An immediate return to the rejigged 2. Bundesliga was followed the following season with promotion to the 1. Bundesliga, culminating in what was one of the club’s most successful periods in the modern era.

Under owner Karl-Heinz Wildmoser and coach Werner Lorant, the bad management and poor decision-making seemed to be a thing of the past. 1860 not only consolidated their place in the top flight, but were competing with the best again. In 1999/2000, they finished in fourth place, their highest finish in more than three decades.

A München marriage made in hell

At the turn of the millennium, plans were already underway to build a new stadium in Munich to replace the ageing Olympiastadion. The futuristic Allianz Arena was planned in 2001, with both Munich teams sharing the ground. With 1860 seemingly established in the top flight, everything looked rosy.

When the stadium was opened four years later, things had taken a turn for the worse. The dream of Bundesliga derbies with a noisy ground packed with fans from both sides of Munich never materialised. 1860 slipped back down to the 2. Bundesliga in 2003-04, their last league derby match to date being a 1:0 defeat on 25th April 2004.

1860’s relegation and resulting financial problems led to Bayern buying out their neighbours’ share in the stadium for eleven million Euro, with Die Löwen effectively becoming tenants. Both Wildmoser and his son Karl-Heinz Jr. were charged with corruption in connection with construction contracts. Wildmoser Sr. was forced to step down as owner in 2004, and in Wildmoser Jr. was charged with further offences.

It was one more of the many sad twists that would see the once-great Munich team slink further into oblivion.

No way back

1860 were unable to make their way back into the top flight, though it was not for want of trying. Dogged by financial worries, the club constantly flirted with oblivion. Having failed to make any sort of impact in the 2. Bundesliga, the fans then had to endure the humiliation of seeing their club bailed out by their city rivals. Inevitably, the club turned to foreign investors.

In 2011, Jordanian investor Hasan Abdullah Ismaik injected 18 million Euro into the Munich club, staving off the creditors. More investment was promised, along with the blueprint to take the team back into the top flight. It was a plan that could have worked out with the right level of due diligence and patience. In the end, it was just one more example of the now toothless lion trying to bite off more than it could chew.

As far as the football was concerned, not much had changed. A dangerous flirt with relegation in 2014/15 saw Die Löwen retain their place in the 2. Bundesliga with a fortunate playoff victory over Holstein Kiel. Another nondescript season in 2015-16 saw them finish just in fifteenth place.

Ismaik continued to make promises. The projected solution was not any sort of consolidation plan, but throwing money at new players without any genuine strategy. 1860 had the third-most expensive squad in the division behind VfB Stuttgart and Hannover 96 – both of which would return to the top flight after being relegated the season before.

The collapse

For all of the money and expensive appointments, the club remained in a mess. Former Liverpool CEO Ian Ayre was brought in, but found himself punching smoke. Not even Portuguese coach Vítor Pereira, a title winner his homeland with FC Porto and in Greece with Olympiakos, could turn things around. Rather than competing for promotion, 1860 were in the relegation playoffs again.

The leg of the playoff against SSV Jahn in Regensburg should have seen the 3. Liga side walk away with a comfortable win. But somehow, 1860 had managed to eke out a 1:1 draw and survive the final ten minutes with ten men. It looked as if they were set to escape the noose again, and were slight favourites ahead of the return leg at the Allianz Arena.

Unlike against Kiel the year before though, Regensburg were not going to go down easily. As 1860 failed to fire again, the visitors scored twice before half-time. Die Löwen were unable to bite back, and as the end become inevitable the attention quickly turned to the irate supporters in the stands.

Seats were torn out and thrown onto the pitch, and hundreds of riot police lined up at the edge of the stands. As order was restored, the game was delayed for fifteen minutes. As these scenes were beamed across Germany, the red half of Munich were probably muttering “good riddance”.

The wounded lions were certainly going down with a fight. The problem was that it had not taken place on the pitch playing football.

The lion weeps tonight

1860 were back in the 3. Liga, but even that did not last for long. Faced with a five million Euro bill to rescue the club, Ismaik felt that he was unable to commit any more. The deadline would run out, and with it 1860’s professional status.

There is little reason for the club to continue playing home games at the Allianz, and they look set to return to their former ground at the Grünwalderstraße. Meanwhile, FC Bayern fans can look forward to finally sitting in red seats rather than those dull grey ones.

In a way, the move away from the Allianz may work out well for 1860. It offers an opportunity for a fresh start and an opportunity to rebuild. A clean slate where 1860 are no longer in thrall to their big red neighbour landlord. Where Bayern no longer has to tolerate the presence of its loud and grubby tenant.

The bickering is still going on, with Ismaik continuing in his attack on the DFB and the 50+1 rule. How far he will take things, it is hard to say. Meanwhile, stories have been circulating about other investors getting involved. The Quandts, one of Germany’s richest families and the major shareholders in BMW, are reportedly interested.

This is still all pie in the sky, however. The hopes of a return to past glories for TSV 1860 remain further away than ever.

A Bayern fan’s perspective

In the wake of TSV 1860’s demise, I am sure that every Bayern fan has shared a funny image on Facebook or retweeted a meme. But this is really surface fluff. Yes, we all enjoy laughing at 1859+1. But ultimately, if they are to be put under the cosh, I would rather that it is Bayern doing the coshing in front of 75,000 people. Not some village pub team in the middle of the Bavarian countryside.

The truth is that a strong TSV 1860 is not just a good thing for local football in Munich, but for the sport as a whole. It is a sad day when we see a proud Traditionsverein like 1860 dumped into the dark recesses of the amateur leagues. Meanwhile, business concerns masquerading as football teams are buying their way to the top.

It is all well and good laughing at Die Löwen languishing in the fourth tier. But beyond the cheap laughs, does it really bring us any great pleasure? Would we not rather see Die Roten give their rivals a hiding in a top flight match? Surely this would be far more of a story than watching them suffer yet another financial meltdown.

What next?

Putting our partisan pettiness to one side, as a Bayern fan I want the Munich derby to be a talking point. To see the city come alive, the streets filled with both red and sky blue. To see a match like the last competitive meeting between the two teams, an incident-packed DFB-Pokal encounter in 2008 that went the distance. Unfortunately, it does not look like this day is coming any time soon.

Next season, TSV 1860 München fans can look forward to a number of short day trips. Journeys to the likes of SV Schalding-Heining, TSV Buchbach and VfR Garching. Then there is another team they will get to meet: FC Bayern München II.

So it looks like we will get to see that Munich derby after all.