Eintracht Frankfurt: German club travel to West Ham in bid to end long wait for European glory

Eintracht Frankfurt celebrate in front of their fans at the Nou Camp
Eintracht Frankfurt are potentially two games away from a 62-year wait to make the European Cup/Champions League – their last appearance was in the 1960 final

“Never has West Ham experienced an atmosphere like the one that awaits them against Eintracht Frankfurt on Thursday. It would be impossible for a stadium to be louder than the Waldstadion,” explains Kicker journalist Julian Franzke.

The passion of Eintracht Frankfurt fans has been a calling card in their Europa League journey. They filled the stands at the Camp Nou as their side secured the sensational victory over Barcelona in the quarter-finals – a around 30,000 supporters traveled to Spainexternal link for that game – then crowded in London when Eintracht beat the Hammers 2-1 in the semi-final first leg last week.

To understand this phenomenon, it is important to know the soul of Eintracht. Much like West Ham, they are a club with deep roots and massive support that have been robbed of success for decades. Their best years go back a long way and young fans have grown up hearing about their World Cup-winning legends.

West Ham have never won the Premiership title. Eintracht’s only triumph came in 1959, before the creation of the Bundesliga. Living stars like 85-year-old Hungarian striker Istvan Sztani are always welcome at the stadium.

West Ham are proud of their heroes from 1966 – Bobby Moore, Sir Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters. For Eintracht, it’s Jurgen Grabowski and Bernd Holzenbein, the stars of the 1974 World Cup. Holzenbein even won the crucial penalty in the final as West Germany beat the Netherlands.

Grabowski, widely regarded as Eintracht’s greatest ever player, died two months ago. Bernd Nickel, another 70s legend, nicknamed Dr Hammer for his ferocious shots and famous for scoring with four flags at the Waldstadion, died in October. The Europa League route is therefore dedicated to their memory.

This exceptional golden generation did not win the league title, however, only winning the German Cup three times and the UEFA Cup in 1980.

Eintracht came closest to winning the Bundesliga in 1992, when the hugely entertaining side coached by Dragoslav Stepanovic had to beat relegated Hansa Rostock on the final day, but lost 2-1 in controversial and dramatic circumstances. .

“Even now, many fans have nightmares when they think of the 1992 disaster,” says Franzke. “A lot of people think that winning this title would have given Eintracht a much better future. We could have played the Champions League in its inaugural season.”

Instead of becoming a major force, Eintracht were first relegated in 1996, with national team goalkeeper Andreas Kopke in their squad.

It could have been a very important blow, as the example of Kaiserslautern, which is now in the third division, shows. Eintracht returned, but were again relegated in 2001 and 2011.

Sound decisions have been crucial in managing the crisis, and fans know the current setup at the top of the club is trustworthy. “President Peter Fischer and vice-president Axel Hellmann have been lifelong Eintracht fans,” adds Franzke. “The fans appreciate them and respect them. They know the club is in good hands.”

When Frankfurt won the German Cup in 2018, beating Bayern in the final, Fischer and Hellmann personally brought the trophy to all fan clubs in the state of Hesse.

“All the fans could have touched this cup,” said Christopher Michel, journalist at Sport1. “Eintracht is different because the whole state supports it. There are many different professional clubs in North Rhine-Westphalia or Bavaria, but in Hesse it doesn’t matter if you come from the north, from the east , south or west. Everyone is rooting for Eintracht.”

“That cup triumph in 2018 was absolutely huge for the club, because we’ve been waiting for it for 30 years,” says Franzke. “After all these disappointments, you know how to appreciate sunny days.”

That’s why this Europa League campaign is so special too.

“These matches are celebrated with so much passion, because we have suffered too much in the past,” added Franzke. “The fans believe that this may be the last trip to Europe for a long time. As a Frankfurt fan, you always expect the worst.”

Eintracht Frankfurt celebrate victory over Barcelona
Eintracht Frankfurt received an allocation of 5,000 tickets for their match at Barcelona in the Europa League quarter-finals, but an estimated six times that number of fans traveled for the match.

But there’s also room for optimism, as these are the new glory days, featuring new heroes.

Under Austrian coach Oliver Glasner, who opted out of Wolfsburg last summer despite entering the Champions League, Eintracht are playing fast in transition and using their wings a lot.

Throughout history they have adored players with flair, especially Jay-Jay Okocha, who started his European adventure in Frankfurt and scored one of the greatest goals in Bundesliga history, se mocking Oliver Kahn in 1993.

The new generation of players are artists too, especially Filip Kostic – one of the world’s most effective left-backs and dead-ball specialist, recently linked with many Premier League clubs, including West Ham themselves . The Serb scored twice and provided an assist in the famous Barcelona win.

Colombian star Rafael Santos Borre is an extremely mobile centre-forward, while young Denmark midfielder Jesper Lindstrom is a very promising prospect.

“Young people experience what our parents did in the 1950s and us in the 1970s – moments of success. We are used to losing but now we like to win,” says veteran fan and museum employee Axel Hoffmann. ‘Eintracht.

Now Eintracht are two games away from winning the Europa League and securing their place in the Champions League.

They were the first German club to appear in the European Cup final, losing 7-3 to magical Real Madrid in 1960. Incredibly, it was their last game in the continent’s great club competition, as the dream of returning was so cruelly shattered. in 1992.

Sixty-two years later, they have a chance to be back, and such thoughts fill every Eintracht fan with joy and excitement. It’s no surprise that the Waldstadion crowd made a deafening noise on Thursday.

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