A prophet has no honour in his own club! This is probably the closest way to explain the drama that happened to a lot of active supporters in Hamburg a few months ago. At their AGM in May the members of Hamburger SV had decided to turn their 100 % members owned club into a limited company and to sell shares to investors. Therefore they gave up most of their own democratic rights.
But why had it all come so far? Especially at a club, that had often been referred to as a European role model for fan ownership in professional football. In the past few years leading members of the roof organization HSV Supporters Club were invited to several meetings all over Europe to discuss and present their structures. Founded in 1993 by 34 guys the numbers of supporters had exploded over the years. With 55.000 members it is now by far the biggest fan organization in Germany, having own offices in the stadium and 15 full-time employees working for the club. Everybody respectfully looked up to northern Germany – except the people in Hamburg themselves. They took pretty little notice of this feedback and didn’t seem to be bothered by what many saw as something irrelevant views “that don’t win us any titles”.
To understand this attitude you just need to have a look at the recent history of the club. HSV are easily one of the most successful and best supported clubs in the country. In 127 years the club has always been in the top flight of German football, an achievement that is second to none and led to the club being called the Dinosaur. HSV were crowned German champions seven times, won three German cups, added one European Cup Winners Cup and even one European Cup to their trophy room. But all this happened in the bygone days of yore. Believe it or not, but the “Rothosen” haven’t won a major trophy since 1987 when they beat second division team Stuttgarter Kickers to bring back the German Cup. The last league title even dates back to 1983. For a club of this size and popularity such a record is nothing less than a total disaster. It is the result of a shambolic club policy over the last three decades. Anyway, after 27 years of suffering the demand for any kind of silverware is probably higher than at any other club in Germany. Sadly the board of directors had also turned the club into a financial minnow by the time. Ridiculous transfer fees and wages had been spent on ageing players like Ruud van Nistelrooy, who by then had already passed their zenith. Failing to qualify for Europe four years in a row and getting hammered 1-5 by footballing giants Hoffenheim in the opening home game of the 2013/14 season were the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Things needed to be changed and they needed to be changed quickly as the club dropped down the table and was close to being relegated for the first time ever. Ernst Otto Rieckhoff, former member of the supervisory board and ironically himself jointly responsible for the failures of the past came up with an initiative called “HSV Plus”. This concept blamed the club’s “old fashioned” structures for all the mess and strongly demanded a radical change by turning the club into a limited company. This – and only this – would allow generating “fresh and cheap” capital and ensuring competitiveness. Klaus Michael Kühne, a Swiss based multi billionaire and said to be lifelong HSV fan also favoured HSV Plus and announced his will to invest into the club as soon as the concept had been accepted. Against the background of people’s frustration and desperation it was no surprise the idea fell on fertile ground. The tabloids were more than happy to jump on the bandwaggon and as soon as the avalanche was triggered there was no way anybody could have stopped it.
Of course there were warning voices. Long serving and honorary members of the club advised people not to be short-sighted. Giving up all their rights and selling away the club to an unknown future was widely seen as an irreparable damage amongst those wanting to save their club. But hardly anybody was even willing to listen to their arguments anymore. The yellow press and club officials themselves had created a hysteria that made any serious discussion about the topic impossible. The propaganda was even blaming the fans representatives in the supervisory board for the situation and branded them and the leaders of the Supporters Club as gravediggers. Hard to take for the poor guys who had given everything for their club.
In the end the outcome of this never came as a surprise. More than 12.000 members had turned up for the AGM on the 25th of May 2014. HSV Plus needed a majority of 75 % to come through. They even got 87 %. Modern football had won. The turkeys had voted for thanksgiving.
The 13 % who had stood their ground faced an almost hostile atmosphere. Apart from the result this vote had clearly divided the membership into two completely separated fractions of a different breed. And there was hardly a chance this would ever be fixed. Things just would never be the same again.
Later that night a group of around 20 faithful met in a pub. These men and women had followed their beloved club over land and see for ages. Some of them hadn’t missed a single home game for more than 30 years. Most of them had also been engaged within the HSV supporters club, organizing away trips and football specials, setting up functions or working for the HSV museum on a voluntary basis. All of them were still shellshocked by the events of the day and looking for a way to deal with the situation. It felt like losing a close relative. Taking the result as a fact, getting back to normal and pretending that nothing had happened was never an alternative though. But what to do?
It took a good couple of drinks and mourning and mourning and drinks before someone suddenly came up with it: Why don’t we just make up our own club? With our own rules and values. With our own people. A real football club. Back to the roots! Like FC United of Manchester.
The depressing and negative atmosphere began to change into a more positive mood. Everybody was hooked! After having sobered up the following day a first meeting was announced within a week. And they were all there! Unlike many projects that are born in a late pub night this one seemed to be serious. No one had ever founded a club before though, so a lot of work needed to be done. The following weeks were basically spent on organizing the project, getting information together and asking interested people to join in.
The most important question was the name of the new club. As everybody of the group had a long and personal HSV background it was pretty obvious that this should reflect in the name. It only needed a short discussion before the choice fell on Hamburger Fussball-Club Falke. HFC and FC Falke (=falcon) were two of the three clubs that merged in 1919 to found the famous Hamburger SV. The third club SC Germania was the biggest and oldest of the three and there was no way it could’ve been left out. It just didn’t fit into the new club name as this would’ve created a real tongue twisting monstrosity. The solution was the adoption of Germania’s original club motto: “Dankbar rückwärts – mutig vorwärts”. This could be translated as “Gratefully looking backward -Boldly going forward” and perfectly represents the intention and idea of HFC Falke. Nobody wanted or could deny his roots, but everybody was also happy and ready to move forward and enter this new stage of life. HFC Falke was never intended to be an Anti-HSV-thing. It was and is supposed to be a spiritual home and alternative for those who didn’t want to live up to the recent developments at their once beloved club. HFC Falke is a positive thing and a project that is well worth fighting for!
This fundamental idea of respecting the traditions while creating something new persisted throughout the whole founding process. This is also clearly visible in the club badge. The black and blue design of the coat of arms is a reminiscence of the design of the first kits worn by SC Germania back in the 19th century. A falcon and a banderole with the clubs name had also been elements of Falkes and HFCs original club badges.
In contrast to other clubs or companies HFC Falke have not restricted the private use of their badge. In order to encourage people to produce their own stuff and spread the word HFC Falke have made the original badge available for free download on their official homepage HFC-Falke.de.
Another important thing to be sorted was the statutes of the association. This was a mandatory thing requested by the law and had to contain the purpose of the association. Apart from this the paper also includes some important passages:
- The club kits shall only be designed in the club colours black, white and blue. A change for external interests is not possible.
- There will be no active member recruitment by the club. New members should join by their own interest and motivation only.
- Members can only vote at the assemblies. There will be no postal vote.
- No facilities of the club will ever be named after sponsors.
- The club will never be changed to another form of organization. A sale of shares therefore is prohibited.
The club was finally registered at the local district court on June 19th. This is also the official founding date as it corresponds to the year 1906 when FC Falke once were founded.
The founding assembly took place in July at one of the lecture halls at the University of Hamburg. Almost 400 people turned up and became members of HFC Falke. An overwhelming result regarding the fact that the club had no manager, no team and no ground to present yet. One of the highlights was Stuart Dykes speech about the history and development of FC United of Manchester. It was inspiring to see what you can achieve with heart and passion. Stuart received standing ovations for his fascinating presentation which was then topped by inviting everybody to a FCUM match. So if you were wondering about the 80 pished up Germans at today’s game vs Witton Albion you now know who’s the one to blame.
HFCF will start playing 2015/16 in the Kreisklasse which is the ninth and lowest tier in the football pyramide. The club is actually in talks with Altona based junior club SC Union 03 about sharing their ground. The Rudi-Barth-Stadion is an old traditional ground with loads of uncovered terracing, a social club that offers a great view onto the pitch and it is only a five minute walk away from the next train station. The contract will hopefully be signed by the middle of November. By the time this article is written HFC Falke have also found a manager. Nils Kuntze-Braack, who also made the trip to Manchester today, is an absolute expert in Hamburg junior football and also well connected. The club can be more than happy to get him on board. His task is to find the coaching staff and to select the right players for the first team now.
There’s still a long way to go and a lot of work to be done until next July. But you can already say that it’s absolutely worth the effort. And when the whistle blows for the first kick-off in the history of HFC Falke you can be sure that some tears will be shed.
This time it will be tears of joy!
On behalf of HFC Falke e.V.