Munich now truly is red: today, Bayern Munich’s longtime city rival, 1860 München, gazed into the abyss, and the abyss gazed back: the once proud Lions fell headlong into the oblivion of the 3rd Liga amid a cacophony of jeers and violence, culminating in an eerie silence and emptiness that seemed to reflect the devastation that has shaken the soul of one of the Bundesliga’s oldest Traditionsvereine (“traditional clubs”).
There was a time not too long ago when 1860 reached fourth place in the Bundesliga and the playoff for the Champions League (2000). In the 1999/00 season, they won both their derbies against mighty Bayern Munich. Now they will contend against the likes of FC Magdeburg, FSV Zwickau, VfL Osnabrück, and even Werder Bremen II.
German soccer in 2016/17 has been defined to a great extent by the rise of RB Leipzig, once a fifth-league team. Leipzig played in the 3rd Liga just one season (2013/14), before moving to the 2nd Liga (2014/15). After its first 1st-Bundesliga campaign, they now will play in the Champions League in 2017/18.
1860 München tells the other side of that story. In 2011, Jordanian billionaire Hasan Ismaik bought 60 percent of 1860 - an investment of 18 million euros - and holds 49 percent of the club’s voting rights. 1860 is his club, property of a second-league Dietrich Mateschitz. But little has improved since Ismaik began bankrolling the Lions.
It’s a German proverb that “money doesn't score goals” (Geld schießt keine Tore - a bon mot of the legendary Otto Rehhagel). No club has proved that better this year than 1860. They started the season with the second largest budget behind Stuttgart, just ahead of Hannover, both of which were relegated to the 2nd Liga last year, and both of which earned promotion to the 1st Bundesliga this year. 1860 made big signings, even giving a contract former Bayern star Ivica Olic. None of it mattered.
Early in the season, Ismaik opined that 1860 would return to the 1st Bundesliga and ultimately play in the Champions League. The sad reality was a mediocre start and slide toward relegation. Coach Kosta Runjaic was fired in November. Longtime 1860 stalwart Daniel Bierofka steered the ship until Vitor Pereira was brought in at the end of the Hinrunde, when director of sport Thomas Eichin was also fired.
Pereira started well, finished worse. As the season neared the end, 1860 still flirted with the event horizon of relegation. A strange standoff with the press then distracted from the dismal product on the field. The club earned a reprimand from the German Press Association for impeding the unbiased reporting of 1860's many failings. Battles on and off the pitch persisted until 1860 dragged itself into the relegation playoff against SSV Jahn Regensburg.
The first game - away in Regensburg - ended in a 1:1 draw. But the despair was overwhelming. CEO Ian Ayre resigned the morning of the second leg, citing internal disputes with shareholders. Ayre, the former CEO of Liverpool, had served all of eight weeks, having been brought in by the club to insulate it from destruction with his EPL know-how.
The second leg, home in Munich at the Allianz Arena, was the desolate spectacle of a failed club. 1860 fell behind 0:2. As relegation loomed at the 80 minute mark, the Lions’ fans went berserk. They had gazed into the abyss, and the abyss told them strange truths. "Never again 2nd League!" came the sardonic rallying cry from the stands. "Shit on the Sheik, shit on his money!" came another.
The fans who like to call themselves the "real Münchner" rained debris down on the pitch. The jumbotron advised them - and their failing team - in Bavarian, "Reisst eich zam!" - "Pull yourselves together!" Instead, they pulled their seats loose and hurled them at the goal of Regensburg's keeper Philipp Pentke. Not even the protestations of 1860 co-coach Bierofka could still the fury of the mob.
The game was interrupted for fifteen minutes - and then incredibly played to its ignominious end. A pile of seats could be seen next to Regensburg's net as the game concluded. 1,000 policemen in riot gear kept a tense peace.
The aftermath for 1860 is devastating. It is not just the first team that has been relegated today, but five teams: 1860’s highly successful U21 team - which has produced several Bundesliga stars - as well as the U19, U17, and U16 teams. The outcome is especially bitter for the U21 team, which finished second in the Regionalliga, but now faces automatic relegation on account of the demotion of the first team. Only one 1860 team may play in the 3rd Liga at a time.
Heads have already rolled: club president Peter Cassalette resigned the evening after the debacle. Coach Vitor Pereira is expected to resign imminently. The role of majority shareholder Hasan Ismaik is uncertain. He declared on Facebook before the final game that he would not leave 1860 in the lurch, but his next moves are anything but clear. Ismaik had declared that changes on every level of the club were needed.
And the team? Just six of 1860’s players have a contract valid for the 3rd Liga. The rest are gone, free agents. 1860 must rebuild from the ground up. Perhaps a year of purgatory in the 3rd Liga will do them well; perhaps Ismaik will attempt to buoy the team with a wiser investment. Perhaps 1860 will never recover. In the meantime, as 1860 return to the 3rd Liga for the first time since the 1990s, there is no denying now that Munich is red.