On Saturday afternoon, Borussia Dortmund will host Bundesliga side SV Darmstadt. We interviewed Darmstadt-blogger Matthias Kneifl, who runs the Kickschuh Blog, about what to expect of his favourite team.
Hello Matthias, Borussia Dortmund host SV Darmstadt this weekend. You write about the Lilien for the Kickschuh-Blog and wrote the book “111 reasons to love SV Darmstadt 98”. First off, how did you fall in love with the club and what makes them special to you?
To be honest, my first club was Borussia Dortmund. I still even possess a Sousa-shirt with the no. 19. However, since I grew up in the south of Germany I had a rather distant relationship to Dortmund. Then I went to Darmstadt for my studies and began to visit the home games of the local third-tier club. Even back then, around 2000, the Lilien were already old-fashioned and not really successful.
It’s weird, yet, after I left Darmstadt for a job, my ties to the club became closer. All the more as the Lilien ran the risk of getting insolvent in 2008. This united the fans, and the club began to play a bigger part in the city-life again.
So for me the Lilien and their fans share a common destiny. And oddly enough the team started winning – Something completely unknown to me. I even had to buy a season-ticket, in order to visit the home matches. To be at the stadium is always a bit like coming home again and to meet good friends.
Darmstadt’s stadium was renamed “Jonathan-Heimes-Stadion am Böllenfalltor” this season, which has a special reason. Can you tell us a bit more about that?
Well, sadly Jonathan Heimes, called Johnny, passed away in March due to cancer. He was only 26 years old.
He was a local lad who was a successful tennis player at youth levels. He played together with Andrea Petkovic at TEC Darmstadt, a club that has its courts just behind the south stand of Böllenfalltor.
Cancer was diagnosed for the first time when he was 14. He overcame the disease, yet it returned again and again. He always stayed confident and was a role model to others with his fighting spirit.
He produced some wristlets with his slogan one would translate like “You have to fight. Nothing’s lost yet”. As Darmstadt 98 battled with Arminia Bielefeld for the last spot in the 2. Bundesliga in 2014, they lost their home match 1:3. Before the return match in Bielefeld, Johnny gave the wristlets to the team, the players wore it and won 4:2 after extra time. An unforgettable thriller. Since that day the players wore his wristlets.
Even today our captain Aytac Sulu wears it. After the promotion to the Bundesliga Sulu said to the fans at a big party that the club wouldn’t have been promoted for the second time, if Johnny hadn’t been there as an inspiration.
Now to the sporting side of things. SV Darmstadt had a busy summer and a change on the coaching position. How happy are you with the transfer period?
Well, in the beginning I was really dissatisfied. We lost many players and the club looked like they had no plan how to get new ones. Yet, in the end they managed to get 14 players, many at the last moment. Most of them are experienced players. I think we have more quality in the squad compared to the last campaign. Though the team still needs time to gel.
They still don’t know each other very well, there are many foreign players who don’t speak German, they still have to internalise that they have to fight first. However, the most important man is our new manager Norbert Meier. A very experienced manager, yet not a very fancy one. The footsteps of his predecessor Dirk Schuster are gigantic. That’s why we fans still need to come to terms with him. Time will tell if we can celebrate another miracle at the end of the season.
Darmstadt lost 2-0 against 1. FC Köln, but won the Derby 1-0 against Eintracht Frankfurt last week. What, if any, changes did Norbert Meier make compared to the previous campaign and how do you expect Darmstadt to set up in the Westfalenstadion?
He once said, that he wants to focus a bit more on ball possession and passing. In the past Darmstadt avoided to play risky. Their play looked more like kick and rush. In Köln, however, the players tried to play more with the ball and lost.
Against Frankfurt they played like last year and won. I think it will take its time to adapt a new way of playing. In Dortmund they will definitely focus on their defence. Their main aim will be to avoid a goal. They might count on counterattacks and set-pieces like in last year’s 2-2 draw at the Westfalenstadion. Not very promising, I know. Though, it might be the only possibility to snatch a point.
Lastly, where do you expect Darmstadt to finish this season?
If everything works fine Darmstadt might finish 15th. Yet the Bundesliga is even stronger than last year with promoted Leipzig being no relegation battlers. So 16th place sounds more likely.