Founded in 1898, SV Darmstadt 98 is one old club. It has weathered the turbulent history of the German lower leagues and comes to us now, polished and new, in the top flight. Its journey to the Bundesliga has been anything but smooth; a road littered with false hopes, promotion, relegation, a few trophies, and insolvency, has made them perennial survivors, the club that would not stay down.
For the better part of the club's history it has floated in the ever changing fourth and third tiers of German football. Whether it was the Kreisliga Odenwald from 1919-1923, Berzirksliga Main-Hessen from 1928-1933, or the Nazi's Gauliga-Hessen from 1933 to the end of the war, Darmastadt was a perennial lower-league squad. Even when against all odds, it reached the Bundesliga in the 78/79 and the 81/82 seasons, it never stayed there for more then a season, and would always settle back down in the Regionalliga Sud, back then, the third tier but now the fourth in German football.
It wouldn't be until the 2010/11 season that the club would stop fluctuating between the Regionalliga Sud and the Hessenliga (currently the fifth tier). Working its way back from the worst financial situation of the club's history, entering insolvency in 2008, they won promotion to 3. liga for the 11/12 season. And they actually managed to stay up, even if it was by the shearest of luck.
"We'll get up again...and we will be back!" Read the club's press release when they were relegated from 3. liga during the 12/13 season, but fate would have the final say that year.
A little known club called Kickers Offenbach, filed for insolvency and were denied a spot to compete in 3. liga for the 13/14 season. Who did their spot go to you ask? Well it went to the last team relegated that season, 18th placed SV Darmstadt.
Since that fateful meeting with Lady Luck, the two have never left each other's side.
Fast forward to the end of the 13/14 season, and Darmstadt find themselves in the midst of a playoff, but not a relegation playoff, no, they were playing for Promotion! After finishing third in the 3. liga, and going down 1-3 in their first playoff leg against Arminia Bielefeld, the team came back on the return leg and won in overtime after they went up 3-1, in one of the craziest playoff games 3. liga has ever seen. They ripped promotion to 2. Bundesliga out of Arminia Bielefeld's hands, and if the story stopped there, I wouldn't be writing this story at all.
Fast forward again to the end of the 14/15 season and lone-behold, its SV Darmstadt 98 playing for promotion to the Bundesliga! This time its against St. Pauli and the game is scoreless in the 71st minute, that is, until midfielder Tobias Kempe stepped up to take a 28 yard free-kick and sunk it in the bottom left corner. Darmstadt were through to the Bundesliga, 1-0, after a 33 year absence.
It would be dismissive to chalk Darmstadt's sudden rise to Lady Luck alone, the real credit should go to their manager of four years, since the Regionalliga Sud days, Dirk Schuster.
Schuster was a decent player in his day, he was the only one with Bundesliga experience when his team were promoted, and he succeeded in making Darmstadt a tactically versatile team capable attacking and parking the bus. Something that proved to be incredibly important when earning promotion out of the the world's strongest second division.
FANS AND CULTURE-
SV Darmstadt play their football at the Merck-Stadion am Böllenfalltor in the city of Darmstadt. The Bollenfalltor was renovated when the team gained promotion to the 2. Bundesliga and can hold 17,000 fans safely, making it one of the smaller stadions in the Bundesliga.
When Darmstadt entered the top flight, they resurrected a long deceased derby, the Hessenderby between the only other top flight side from the Hessen region, Eintracht Frankfurt. The long awaited match up got a little heated when ultras from Frankfurt burned Darmstadt banners.
But that incident is the exception to the rule, Darmstadt games are wonderfully mannered, and the club's fans are as well, just happy to be in the Bundesliga a long, long wait.
- Darmstadt are one of the only clubs ever to go from the 4th tier all the way to the top tier in less than six years.
- The club's nickname is Die Lilien due to their crest.