Photo by Russell James Smith (russelljsmith; Flickr CC)
So it creeps ever closer. With their win at the weekend against Osnabrück, Hertha BSC is all but mathematically sure of a return to the Bundesliga next year. The last two home games against 1860 Munich and Augsburg will each have well over 75,000 packed into the Olympiastadion for the victory parties. Records for the 2. Bundesliga, and more people in two games than FC Union would attract in over eight matches. Not bad, eh?
But I think that's why I want them to lose, for the wheels to come off and for the plane to crash into the mountain. Hertha have simply been too good for the second division this season. A slight wobble before Christmas was just that, a wobble. While Maikel Aerts has, at times, been caught fumbling around in the box like a priest in a Benny Hill sketch, his team have consistently surpassed everything the league has thrown at them. Apart from "against Union", he adds with a smirk, Hertha have been tenacious and ruthless. They have been both gritty and pretty. They have won overwhelmingly and at times sketchily. They are worthy champions.
But they need to be careful. Nobody likes a winner. Even their own fans have turned out in greater numbers than almost ever before to see them in the second division. Under the undoubtedly effective (which is a nice way of saying ugly) football of Lucien Favre, Hertha was within two weeks of winning the championship – the big round, ugly, trophy – but the crowds were never sustained on a level like this season's.
Had Andrey Voronin not been trying for the Prince Andrew idiot of the year award and got himself suspended at the crunch point of the season, then his goals could have created history. But no-one at Hertha loved Voronin the way they loved his flighty strike partner Marco Pantelic. A beautiful loser if ever there was one. The pathos has to come hand in hand with the pay check, or it's not enough.
I am genuinely impressed with the numbers going through those famous great stone gates though. Wolfsburg, champions of Germany two years ago, may well be coming down to the second division next year, under a man considered to be one of the finest managers in the game, Felix Magath (even if he could start a fight in an empty room whilst demanding more running from the light fittings), but their fans won't be along for the ride like Hertha's have been. Their ground will be as empty as a pledge of loyalty from Diego.
But Wolfsburg has got all the funds of Volkswagen at their disposal. They have won the league in living memory, and think they are more deserving of success than Hertha. It is nonsense, but failure over a prolonged period prepares you for the success when it does come. It will make it taste all the better.
Look at the Arsenal fans whinging about coming second again in England. Some would consider that a success, second, but not when you've won two doubles in living memory. At my childhood home there remains a ticket on the wall from the 1972 league cup final, the only time Stoke City ever won anything. It hangs there as a memorial to my fathers' refusal to believe that it would never happen again.
Some people are just suckers, I guess. Stoke's side has been pilloried far worse than Favre's Hertha ever were, but he has stuck in there. Through relegations and hooliganism – and then when success finally came it was with a brand of football derided by everyone – he kept looking at that ticket and waited for their turn again. That Stoke have made it to the FA Cup final and been ignored entirely on the way there makes it all the sweeter somehow.
So to Hertha I wish you nothing but good luck in the Bundesliga. Just be careful not to get too used to that warm fuzzy winning feeling. It's a dangerous game.