x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Eintracht Braunschweig prove romance isn't dead in Bundesliga

"Every game is a highlight" after the club's absence of 28 years from the German football's top flight.

Braunschweig's Simeon Jackson, left, and Bremen's Clemens Fritz tussle for the ball. Peter Steffen / AFP
Braunschweig's Simeon Jackson, left, and Bremen's Clemens Fritz tussle for the ball. Peter Steffen / AFP

Romance often ends in heartbreak in football, but Eintracht Braunschweig are not letting one defeat spoil the joy of returning to the German Bundesliga after 28 years in the wilderness.

A third-division side only four seasons ago, Braunschweig dominated the second half against Werder Bremen on Saturday, but a moment of inexperience allowed the visitors to score the winning goal with under 10 minutes remaining.

Yet the fans stayed long after the final whistle, singing, chanting, jumping up and down in appreciation of the effort made by their side, buoyed with the joy of being back in Germany's top flight.

Also known as Brunswick, the small northern city east of Hannover has a population of around a quarter of a million people.

Saturday's loss was a bittersweet moment for supporters at the sold-out, 23,000-seat Eintracht Stadium, where a large banner proclaimed "Something was missing for 28 years" before kick off.

"For many players and for me, it was the first game in the Bundesliga," Braunschweig coach Torsten Lieberknecht said. "The loss hurts, but this day has shown that we want to meet this incredible challenge, and that we can meet it, too."

Braunschweig, promoted as runner-up in the second division last season, had not played in the Bundesliga since June 8, 1985, losing then – like Saturday – 1-0 at home, albeit to champions Bayern Munich at the time.

Braunschweig have made several important contributions to German football since being founded as Football and Cricket Club Eintracht Braunschweig in 1895.

They are one of the founding members of the German Football Federation, in 1900, went on to win the North German Football Championship twice (1908 and 1913), and the succeeding championships on several occasions, culminating with the club being asked to take part in the newly formed Bundesliga in 1963.

Braunschweig won the Bundesliga in 1967, their only national title to date, but became caught up in a game manipulation scandal in 1971, when several players accepted third-party payments to improve their performances – prohibited under league rules.

The club, based in the city of Wolfenbuettel, is best known, however, as the first to introduce jersey sponsorship to the league in 1973, when Braunschweig sported the Jaegermeister logo. The shirts became famous in Germany, though it did not prevent relegation on the last day of the season – their first from the Bundesliga.

Braunschweig were relegated again in 1980, re-promoted again the following season, but arguably their darkest period came after the third relegation in 1985, when the years were spent between second-division and third-tier football.

Braunschweig were facing the prospect of fourth-tier football in 2008, but Lieberknecht was appointed with three games remaining and he helped the side clinch 10th place with the last game, enough for a place in the newly formed nationwide third-division the following season. The affable coach is widely credited with Braunschweig's resurgence in the years since, winning the third division to gain second-division promotion in 2011 and then securing Bundesliga promotion last season.

"After 28 years, back in the Bundesliga every game is a highlight. Every opponent is a challenge," Lieberknecht, 40, told Kicker magazine earlier this month.

Braunschweig's overall budget reportedly is €37 million (Dh 180.6m) – the amount Bayern Munich paid for Mario Goetze over the summer.

Lieberknecht knows his side are the firm favourites to be relegated at the end of the season.

"Braunschweig try to contribute more to the romantic part, but we have something in our chests and we want to surprise," he said.

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