We Berliner footy fans should be thanking our lucky stars. As a highly successful 3. Liga season for SV Babelsberg 03 was coming to a close last May (for a team on not-even-a-shoestring promotion budget, 13th place out of 20 was quite remarkable), it seemed increasingly likely that money, that crudest of commodities, would be responsible for undoing all of their good work over the previous year.
Their 3. Liga compatriots Rot Weiss Ahlen had already been booted out of the division because of their insolvency, and it was looking increasingly likely, despite large-scale fan fundraising, that Babelsberg would be joining them out the cash-lined trapdoor.
But with a last-minute rescue job that MacGyver would have been proud of, a bank guarantee of €700,000 was enough to secure a 3. Liga licence for the year. Next job: find some players to replace the 13 let go over the summer.
One of the new signings was Benjamin Kauffmann. On the basis of his performance in Babelsberg’s outstanding 3-0 victory over FC Rot-Weiß Erfurt, he must be one of the most irritating players in the world to play against.
One moment he’s winning the ball deep in his own half and thrusting relentlessly forward. Then he’s hustling and harrying the opposition defence into all sorts of mistakes and simple indiscipline through the sheer frustration of rarely having a moment to think when on the ball – a footballing Labrador anxious to be involved in every move. Then, he’s catching Markus Müller’s knock-down on the turn, volleying it perfectly, unstoppably, past the Erfurt keeper to open the scoring.
It was his second goal in his two games for the club since his arrival from Ingolstadt – he is already on the fast-track to becoming a fan favourite.
The entire Babelsberg frontline was a fluid unit, especially as the withdrawal of Dominik Stroh-Engel just before half-time required the ball to stay more on the ground due to the absence of a large target man.
Nicolas Hebisch, whose insouciant nutmeg in the first half coming in from the left wing created a great chance that Julian Prochnow whacked over, Anton Makarenko and the adventurous Kauffmann kept the Erfut defence by guessing by often switching positions – 3. Liga total football.
Their teamwork was emblematic of the Babelsberg team spirit on the whole – this is a squad that clearly enjoys playing together, and charismatic manager Dietmar Demuth must surely take the plaudits for that.
Opposition boss Stefan Emmerling recognised 03’s superior effort: “Today, Babelsberg simply invested more [in the game] .”
Despite the one-sided score line, Erfurt was more than a match for the home team for the first 70 minutes, and it was the evenness of the game that had them pushing forward for an equaliser as the clock ticked down.
This attacking intent left only Thomas Ströhl in defence as Hebisch chased down a long clearance, and the clumsiness of his tackle left referee Daniel Siebert with no choice but to haul out the red card. The resultant free kick was lashed home by Christian Grossert via a small but significant deflection from the Erfurt wall.
Substitute Mickaël Nelson scored the final goal, his first for the club, arriving in the box from the right wing to calmly finish an excellent passing move. The final whistle that followed soon after was the only disappointment of a fantastic game of football, even if it did mean Babelsberg are top of the table.
It’s unlikely that they will be anywhere near there come the end of the season, but no matter. There’s something about the Karl-Liebknecht-Stadion that just makes football somehow more enjoyable, whether it is the proximity to the pitch, the down-to-earth joviality on the terraces, the dedicated choreography of the 03 Ultras, or, like today, an excellent performance both from the team and from individuals.
Season tickets are still selling on a three-for-two special offer, and there are much worse things you could do with a few euros than invest them in Babelsberg 03.