Remember Kaiserslautern 1998

With newly promoted TSG 1899 Hoffenheim enjoying a wonderful start to the Bundesliga season and sitting pretty in 2nd place, takes the chance to look back to the 1997-98 season when 1.FC Kaiserslautern actually won the league title in their first season following promotion.

The Red Devils made history back in 1998 when they became the first and only German side in history to win the Bundesliga in their first season following promotion.   

The pre-season saw 1.FCK pull off quite a transfer coup by re-signing Swiss midfield schemer Ciriaco Sforza from Inter Milan, while they also made important signings in Marian Hristov and Andreas Buck.  They also signed a certain Michael Ballack, but the youngster from Chemnitz was to play only a supporting role in the season’s triumph.  

The team coached by Otto Rehhagel had the toughest possible of opening fixtures when they had to travel to the Olympiastadion in Munich to take on the previous season’s champions Bayern.  They came away with a surprise 1-0 win thanks to an 80th minute goal from Danish defender Michael Schjönberg after 80 minutes.  

To make that victory all the more sweet, Kaiserslautern trainer Rehhagel had been fired as Bayern trainer back in 1996 so he was able to gain a little personal revenge over the Bavarians.  

Kaiserslautern won two of their next three matches to sit atop of the Bundesliga with just four games played, but few gave them much chance of finishing there come the end of the season, but that is exactly what they did.   

In fact Kaiserslautern were not to be toppled from the number one slot for the entire season holding the top spot from week 4 until the final match of the season, when they pipped Bayern to the title by two points.  They even did the double over pre-season favourites Bayern with a 2-0 win at the ‘Betzenberg’.  The title was clinched with a game to spare with a 4-0 win over Wolfsburg.  

Their record read 34 games played, 19 wins, 11 draws and just 4 defeats.  Rehhagel had a fairly settled squad with some experienced and talented individuals to come in to cover. 

In goal they had Andreas Reinke, and the normal back four constituted Miroslav Kadlec, Harry Koch, Axel Roos and Dane Michael Schjönberg.  Veteran Andy Brehme provided excellent cover.   Sforza ran the midfield ably assisted by Andreas Buck, Martin Wagner and Brazilian Ratinho.  Ballack made 16 appearances while Marian Hristov also had a big role to play.  

The attack was ‘marshalled’ superbly by Olaf Marschall who bagged 21 goals in 24 appearances.  Jürgen Rische chipped in with 11 goals with Pavel Kuka and Marco Reich acting as back up.    

Sadly however their stunning success wasn’t the start of a long period of joy for the team from the Pfalz.  Consecutive fifth place finishes saw them qualify for the Uefa Cup, and the romance with Rehhagel soon turned sour and heavy internal conflicts and a massive smear campaign against him caused him to leave in 2000.

The club soon found itself in serious trouble. The construction of a new stadium, incompetent management and financial madness resulted in heavy debt.  In 2002, Kaiserslautern found themselves on the brink of bankruptcy and were forced to sell the debt-ridden Fritz-Walter-Stadion.  

They were relegated in the 2005-06 season and the rot has set in ever since with the club fighting against relegation to the third division rather than challenging for promotion to the Bundesliga.  In fact they were only saved from relegation from the second division after a last day win over already promoted Köln.  

The fairytale at Kaiserslautern turned into a nightmare.  Hoffenheim will be hoping and praying for a rather happier ending even if it does mean they fail to match the Red Devils achievement of winning the Bundesliga straight after promotion.

Mathew Burt