Korosh Mosavi takes a look into a tough subject.
Gelsenkirchen. A small town at the edge of the Ruhr Area, deep in the west in Germany, with a population of meanwhile 260k. What used to be a primarily working class town, is now home to a wide range of middle class families. Embedded in the Coal mining belt of the region, the town and with it its inhabitants went through severe changes after the mining industry had reduced or discontinued activities. Literally nothing in this town is what it used to be. Nothing, except one thing.
Pride of this unglamourous town is its Football Club Schalke 04, from which numerous talents have found their way into world football. Not only talents that the club may have identified elsewhere and brought to Gelsenkirchen to develop, but kids of the town. Born and grown up in the neighbourhood. The Football romanticists will agree, this question wasn’t unimportant in the long gone past. Yes, big teams or football teams in general have always had the one or the other player, who came from far and moved on at some point but if those who mainly played were the lads from the hood and they played good and were even successful, it was like it couldn’t get much better than that.
Maybe it’s the grade of identification with the club that the ‘Schalker’, as the Schalke Fans are called, feel, that motivates their children to do their utmost best, if they were accepted at the Academy. Undoubtedly, competent coaching and managing staff is inevitable to teach and develop, but that is something that other academies have as well and yet do not produce as many players, never mind if one of their own or not. Manuel Neuer, Mesut Özil or Benjamin Höwedes are outstanding players but for the Schalker, they only stand in the long tradition of a Player of their own. Fritz Sczepan, Ernst Kuzorra, Norbert Nigbur, Olaf Thon just to name a few. The impact and influence the Schalker have on their academy is only one thing, beside many, that the Schalker are proud of.
It can generally be said that at Schalke, the definition of a Members club is practised and lived. A much organised fanbase which in numbers does not exceed that of Bayern Munich but in the literal proximity and nearness of a lot of the supporters to the club. Unlike Munich, Gelsenkirchen is not a very expensive place to live in. The Schalker literally live next door to the club and they surely can turn up in numbers whenever necessary, not only at games. You can experience that with every single public training of the first team, crowded by a couple of hundred members, as well as very often at the training pitch of one of the youth teams which are also visited by bigger numbers of fans. If not that, the fans would be organising Members Events for different occasions, involving members of all ages.
It is hard to point at when it began but it is meanwhile well-known that the Schalker won’t hold back if at a point in time a – maybe for the time being – irreversible judgement on a manager is made. Whenever that point in time was, this has now developed itself in a pattern repeated in Gelsenkirchen, like a loop the fans force the club into with fierce and nasty revolts for change which then often comes sooner than later. The short sighted imminent emotional pull about circumstances have had managers haunted out and wished back again.
There is merely a Club Board in German Football that is so influenced and chased by the fans as the Schalke Board are. With all the voices the fans have in the different bodies and panels of the club, they generate all the pressure they can to chase their Board to a next decision which the Board hastily fulfils just for the sake of peace at the club. This circumstance has brought up the weirdest of decisions in Gelsenkirchen. From the highly talented coaches like Rangnick, Slomka or Keller, to hilarious choices like Fred Rutten or Eddy Achterberg up to the fancy engagements of Felix Magath and Di Matteo. In fact this force at the Club, the Fans, are mainly responsible for the 20 managers/manager teams at helm in the last 16 years. For the records, the last manager to have stayed longer than 3 years, was Huub Stevens who signed in 96 and was fired in 2002 and won with them the UEFA Cup in 1997. Most of the managers after that barely made the year mark.
It’s difficult to say if Hoeness and Rummenigge would have done a better job than any of the Boards that Schalke has had in the past. The Bayern Board holds an annual AGM and books a smaller place than fans turn up to, as happened at their last AGM and don’t give critics a lot of room and even if, like in the AGM 2007, some fan clubs had complained too enthusiastically about prices and atmosphere, Hoeness ranted back at them “Who do you think you are?” If that happened at Schalke, it would most probably have been the very last words of a President.
Looking at the wealth in depth at Schalke’s Academy, the footballing competence which undoubtedly exists and the monetary resources that a big fan base/TV creates, questions must be raised as to why achievements, as far as silverware is concerned, have been so few. But the questions are not asked because the fan base knows the answer. It’s hard to blame a Board that has often been left in despair whom to sign as not always someone was there and then available, as the Fans wished a change. Looking at the Club landscape, not only in Germany but also in Europe, it is difficult to put in words what to say to the Schalker. Fans of other clubs are happy if they were just recognised by their clubs, never mind listened to and then so precisely and in timely manner.
The Fans know of their power but are merely able to contain it or in any way organise it and a free flow of emotions hits the board whenever there is an upset. The fans underestimate themselves and still after all these years blood thirstily make use of it to get someone in or out of their club and God knows it has – to say the least – not always been helpful for the cause.
Valuable players leave, concepts are thrown apart. Rounds and rounds of stalemate are accepted and seemingly now part of the scheme Schalke. Imagine the players would have stayed, development periods held out, managers given a fair chance to create, but all is acceptable as long as things happen when the Fans decide so.
It is most likely as Brecht told us in The Insufficiency of Human Struggling:
….Sure, run after good fortune, but don’t run too hard! ’Cause everyone runs after fortune, while fortune runs ’round behind them meanwhile….