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Guest Post – U-boats and underachievement

By Stephen Coutts

Chief Bosun enters the torpedo room, which has been dressed up as a red light room
the crew falls silent
Chief Bosun: Bad news, men.
Ario: What’s wrong?
Chief Bosun: [pause] Schalke lost the game. 5-0. No more chance of making the semi-finals.
Ario: [throws a can at the bulkhead] I can’t believe this shit!

– on board U-96, 1941. Das Boot, 1981

Even during the celluloid version of World War II Schalke 04 were getting their fans’ hopes up then dashing them with something stupid despite being so near yet so far from glory – the demise of U-96 is spookily juxtaposed with the club in recent times.


Fast forward 70-odd years and the return of the 2013-14 Bundesliga after the winter break sees Schalke sitting in fourth place on 34 points – 19 off pacesetters Bayern Munich. Even a cumbersome 3-0 win over the the ailing dinosaur of Hamburg wasn’t convincing on their return, although the ground out victory over Wolfsburg was particularly pleasing. Even a hardcore S04 fan will have to admit the title is over for another season, and to be brutally honest, the only way Pep Guardiola’s side can be displaced is if the team bus is hijacked and the squad spirited away until the awards are handed out.

But the optimist will suggest that a second, third or fourth spot is not within the grasp of the Gelsenkirchen side – consistency is the key.

A few seasons ago Schalke narrowly avoided being dragged into a relegation dogfight, four points was all that separated them and eventual play-offees Borussia Mönchengladbach, this was coupled with a fantastic Champions League run and a DFB Pokal demolition of dreadful Duisburg. Some will say that was the price for success, but it was an S04 side built on an oxymoron: it was one of the best entertaining worst XI’s in recent memory. Superlatively phenomenal on the big stage and bordering on dire when they needed to knuckle down and grind out the results.

From memory, there hasn’t been the correct balance of players and managerial staff in a Schalke side since the mid-Nineties, although Jens Keller is halfway to succeeding – if he can get the time do so. Many a time I’ve experienced the highs, lows and down right frustration of following the Die Königsblauen in their campaigns over the years. But the old motto of Einmal Schalke – Immer Schalke/Once Schalke, Always Schalke still rings true.


One match that still sticks out to this day was during the 2006-07 season, as high-flying Schalke hosted Bayern Munich aka The Big Red Machine at the Veltins-Arena on 5 November – Bonfire Night. It was explosive.

Schalke fielded an impressive side that included Mladen Krstajić, Marcelo Bordon and Kevin Kuranyi, while Bayern’s Galacticos were straight out of a Football Manager 2006 Dream Team. Kahn, Lahm, DeMichelis, Sagnol, Schweinsteiger, van Bommel, Santa Cruz, Pizarro and Roy Makaay. I can’t understand why I missed the whole run-up to the Stimmungsboykott protest, maybe I wasn’t paying attention, but the fans decided to ‘keep quiet’ for 19 minutes and 04 seconds, the date of the club’s creation, and then there was something about Frank Rost’s position between the sticks being challenged by young upstart Manuel Neuer.

I vaguely remember the banners with In Rost vertrauen wir/In Rost we trust and some supporters annoyed about the inclusion of the relatively inexperienced Neuer by the insistence of gaffer Mirko Slomka. And as in all well planned situations, Peter Løvenkrands opened for Schalke in 13 minutes to the sound of a support in turmoil, do we shout? do we stay quiet? and some sagely head nods, then Levan Kobiashvili rocketed one in from distance in 20 minutes – to a raucous home crowd that had ripped out its gag. An unbelievable start.

But in typical Schalke fashion they collapsed. Bayern’s Andreas Ottl halved the deficit right on half-time and the prolific Makaay levelled soon after the break. Afterwards, Rost was punted to Hamburg during the winter shutdown and well, you know what happened to the career of the talented Herr Neuer. It wasn’t all doom-and-gloom for Schalke, as they pushed surprise package Stuttgart all the way but stumbled during the final furlongs and eventually just missed out on the title by a sickening two points. That Schalke v Bayern clash was possibly THE defining moment in their 2006-07 campaign, within touching distance, and it was the closest since 1957-58 when they lifted their seventh and last Die deutsche Meisterschale.


Since then, Schalke have see-sawed and flattered to deceive with many campaigns following the same three acts. Such start. Very wow. Much promise

2006-07 Second (lost by two points)
2007-08 Third
2008-09 Eighth
2009-10 Second (lost by five points)
2010-11 14th
2011-12 Third
2012-13 Fourth
2013-14 TBA

Sure, the latter stages of continental competitions and the glittering silverware of domestic cups takes the edge of another inadequate season, but soon it won’t be enough for the fans. Schalke are like an awful first date, they meet their fans in the pub, whisper sweet promises in their ears, share some drinks and a taxi, laugh at their jokes, then lead them by the hand up the garden path only to slam the door in the fans’ faces. However, with the good start to the second half of the season, it is still a salvageable cause that may reap some surprising rewards.

* Before I receive a flurry of emails/Tweets and Facebook nonsense, apologies if any of the information is incorrect. I am only recalling from memory and I am far too lazy to Google or Wiki and correct myself.

Stimmungsboykott: Schalke v Bayern highlights:

[Stephen Coutts is a footballer and sportswriter based in Glasgow, Scotland. His blog, The Dirty Tackle, is a wonderful supporter of Oceania football and well worth checking out!]

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Enzo Giordani

A grassroots sports photography enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent football club on earth - A.S. Roma.

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