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Hamburger SV – The dinosaur is in danger

It would take the likes of FC Bayern and Borussia Moenchengladbach a couple of years to arrive on the scene in the country's first national league.

Hamburger SV, albeit they started with an unnoticeable mid table finish, were there from the word go. And they have not looked back since.

Three Bundesliga titles, two DFB Pokals, and three European trophies later, and HSV are one of the most established ‘Traditionsklubs’ in German football.

In 1983, three years after the departure of one of their most iconic stars in Kevin Keegan, the club lived out its greatest moment, as a rather less glamorous individual named Felix Magath fired a glorious left footed strike past a hapless Dino Zoff, and HSV were crowned Champions of Europe.

For the Champions League generation, however, it is Hamburg's more unique, domestic achievements which sets them apart from other Bundesliga clubs. Since 1963, the club has never been relegated, playing in every single Bundesliga season to date.

Grand old club

Their unrivalled longevity in the top flight has earned them the nickname “Dino”, a constant reminder – particularly to the noisy neighbours from the red light district – of the status of this grand old club. It is status, however, which is now severely under threat.

Since Frank Arnesen's arrival last summer, Hamburg have had one of the most turbulent of their 49 Bundesliga seasons.

A youth focused revolution from the new sporting director saw the departure of ageing celebrities such as Ruud van Nistelrooy and Frank Rost, and their replacement with, if we're brutally honest, the best part of Chelsea's youth academy.

Michael Mancienne, Jeffrey Bruma and Gökhan Töre were all signed up, with Josh McEachran also linked to the German club.

Far from reinvigorating the team, though, the influx of inexperience saw Hamburg plummet to rock bottom, with one point from their first six games.

The increasingly red faced Michael Oenning was replaced in the coach's office by ex-Bayern player Thorsten Fink, a man whose managerial legacy at FC Basel has already wounded the pride of Manchester United this season. 

Surge up the table

A turn around in fortunes and a surge up the table under the new manager saw questions of a meteoric relegation for ‘the dinosaur’ dissipate somewhat, and the impressive form of young players such as Gökhan Töre saw even Arnesen's harshest critics wondering if they might not just give him a second chance.

A rollercoaster season, however, is not so named merely by journalistic licence. The Finkian rebirth of HSV has hit the rocks for the first time, and with only one draw in the last six league fixtures, their recent record is an exact copy of their early season woes. It is a wobble, moreover, which sees them just one point above the automatic relegation places.

Things are so desperate, in fact, that even Michael Mancienne has managed to grab himself a couple of starts for the first time since November.

With Mladen Petric in some of the worst from of his Hamburg career, and his strike partner Pablo Guerrero currently sitting out an eight match ban for his horror tackle on Stuttgart keeper Sven Ulreich, HSV's predicament looks increasingly alarming.

Fink’s insistent assertions that “we must take the situation as it is,”, moreover, are unlikely to inspire even the most optimistic of HSV fans.

Much loved underdog

Were Hamburg to go down the significance could well extend beyond the club itself and into the city as a whole. Cult rivals St Pauli – traditionally the much loved underdog of the city – are fighting once again for promotion into the Bundesliga, a potential shift in power which, until this year, had been utterly unthinkable.

It is a possibility which has sparked a new ferocity to the rivalry, as local disc jockey “Horst” has found out in recent weeks.

The St Pauli fan's comedy rewording of the HSV official song, in which he mocks the club's imminent relegation, has caused a local media frenzy, as fans from the blue half of the city reacted with a somewhat stereotypical lack of humour.

Horst even received death threats from HSV supporters, convincing Radio Hamburg to offer him bodyguards while at work.

With at least four other teams also in danger of the drop, Hamburg are arguably not yet in crisis.

And, If only to see the rivalry carried out on the football pitch rather than the message boards, the romantics among us – even those who are more inclined to sympathise with St. Pauli - must hope that it remains that way.

Next season sees the Bundesliga celebrate its 50th anniversary. It would be a sad twist of fate if the league's most experienced competitor were unable to join in the party.

By Kit Holden


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