Those of us who follow English football know that Sky invented the sport in 1991, and that everything that happened before that was just a drawn-out preamble to Richard Keys, Andy Gray and irritating swooshing sounds pushing their way brashly into our living rooms.
But some of us have vague memories of Liverpool winning things, Everton not being nearly-boys, thrilling European adventures for Nottingham Forest, Aston Villa and Ipswich- and United, Chelsea and City riding waves that dropped them to dark depths and occasional highs with no sugar daddies to soften the bumps in between.
It’s even harder to conceive of German football without a Bundesliga, without Bayern’s dominant megalomania, without Thomas Schaaf (although we should probably start preparing ourselves for that eventuality), without Günter Netzer either stroking the ball regally around the field or looking like an alien slathered in make-up while criticising all and sundry from a TV studio. But there was football before the Bundesliga, and, just like England pre-Premiership, the balance of power was entirely different.
To be expected, of course, from a regionalised league system that only pitted the best against the best in the latter stages of the season. Back in the 1920s, Bayern weren’t the best team in the country. They weren’t even the best in Bavaria – not even close. That title was wrested back and forth between Nürnberg and Greuther Fürth, who won all but two of the national championships that decade. Fürth are also the only team to be German champions for five whole years (even if there weren’t any games involved due to the First World War), and almost all of their greatest successes came when being coached by the Englishman, William Townley.
As if that all doesn’t sound suspiciously like a parallel dimension, Hertha BSC were also quite good back then, albeit in a Hertha sort of way. They lost four finals on the trot, two of them against Fürth (knocking them out on the way to the final in the other two) before bouncing back to win the following couple. An interesting rivalry could have been in the offing, had that short period of success not been the start of a steady decline for both teams.
These days, things are a little different for Hertha and Fürth. The Bavarians have never participated in the top flight despite second-tier solidity over the last decade, and rely on Nürnberg’s reliable implosions for the occasional derby. Second division reliability came after a 1996 merger with neighbours TSV Vestenbergsgreuth, and they have finished fifth in seven of the last 10 seasons, seemingly unable to make the push into the promotion places.
Hertha, well, we know all about them. Their stay in the second division will be a short one, as teams like Fürth are dismissed with monotonous regularity. Adrian Ramos and Peter Niemeyer were the scorers on Monday night, both goals’ headers, both simple, effective and direct. This Hertha team is beginning to resemble a rampaging automaton of a points-gathering monster, leaving the sportsdesk with not much to do other than repeat the adjectives ‘businesslike’, ‘impressive’, ‘solid’, and trying not to rave too much about Pierre-Michel Lasogga, who put in another busy, selfless display. Even his post-match analysis concentrated on the team’s defensive solidity rather than his own offensive actions – “In the second half, we only allowed maybe one long-distance shot, but nothing that you could say was really dangerous.” Humility into the mix too? This kid’s going places.
The Old Lady has picked up 26 points out of the last 33 available, and barring a five-game wobble in November last year, has never looked like anything other than a certainty for promotion. Thanks to the perfect symmetry of the fixture list, however, those five teams from the November wobble are coming up after Friday’s visit to Ingolstadt. With the finishing line edging ever closer, it is difficult to imagine that Paderborn, Osnabrück, Duisburg and 1860 Munich will meet a Hertha as complacent as the one of four months ago. Survive those tests and the champagne that’s already on ice will be approaching the perfect temperature.