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Kaiserslautern and Mannheim...possibly the biggest rivalry in German football

Today saw the latest instalment of the 1.FC Kaiserslautern v Waldhof Mannheim rivalry at FCK’s Betzenberg, one of the deepest and most bitter rivalries in the country. From the authorities point of view there is the small mercy this season that there were no fans in attendance at the most eagerly awaited fixture for both sets of supporters. Last season was the first league meeting of the two sides for almost 30 years and the anxiety over crowd trouble overshadowed the build up to the game. In the end both matches last season passed off without incident, but the animosity between the fans is palpable.

Many years ago the relationship between the two clubs was cordial. However in 1983 Waldhof were promoted to the Bundesliga for the first time and had to relocate to Ludwigshafen because their home stadium was deemed unfit for the top division by the DFB. Crucially Ludwigshafen is on the left bank of the Rhine, whereas Mannheim is on the right. The then club leadership at FCK were extremely displeased at what they saw as an attempt by Waldhof to encroach upon Kaiserslautern territory. Regional divisions between ancient geographical entities in Germany may seem a bit arcane, but can sometimes be very this move by a team from the Kurpfalz (Mannheim) into the Pfalz (hitherto Kaiserslautern land) set off an inter-club feud which shows no signs of diminishing.

To add insult to injury Waldhof moved into the Südweststadion, which had once staged FCK games. Kaiserslautern‘s president urged the club fans to attend Mannheim home games in red to underline the fact that the team in blue and black were trespassing on Kaiserslautern turf. On top of all the controversy over the stadium the summer of 1983 saw Mannheim player Fritz Walter (coincidentally the same name as FCK and possibly the whole of Germany’s greatest football hero) decide to switch to Kaiserslautern...only to change his mind and sign a new contract with Mannheim.

Mannheim remained in the top division for seven eventful seasons with the games between the two sides only adding to the nascent enmity. Often at the heart of these was Kaiserslautern goalkeeping legend Gerry Ehrmann, who conceded two of the four penalties (of which he managed to save two) awarded to Mannheim in one game in 1987 and who was punched a couple of years later by Waldhof striker Attila Birlik, a move which immediately ended his participation in the game, but elevated him to club legend status among Mannheim fans.

With honours even entering today’s game (seven wins each and six draws), there was the opportunity for one of the two to claim series bragging rights. Neither side had registered a victory in the first three games of the season thus far, so a win was important for both irrespective of their mutual dislike. The away side went ahead in the first half and were clearly on top. However, just as they did on Monday night when they raised their game and rescued a point at Wiesbaden, Kaiserslautern looked much stronger in the second half and got a well deserved equaliser through Marlon Ritter in the 77th minute. So neither side has bragging rights and the anticipation can start building towards the clash at Mannheim later in the season.

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