Fusioned to Death: The story of Duisburger SV

This article examines the fate of a long-term club that basically just disappeared. It's story is not necessarily unique, as this is repeated throughout German soccer history.

What happen when a club disappears? The players, the fans, the grounds? Are they lost forever? Who will lament their loss?

This question seems to crop up on a frequent basis in German soccer, as clubs are often merged (Fusion) with rivals or absorbed into other clubs. A team you might have supported all your life was suddenly no longer around.

For American fans, franchises moving are an infrequent, but not unusual occurence. In most cases, the fans are upset, but eventually a new club arises to gain the allegiance, and the old club is forgotten. However, from the beginning, American sports franchises are business entities, i.e. it's all about winning and making a profit. If you don't, you're gone. That's part of our "win-at-all-costs" philosophy, and despite protestations to the contrary, there is no room for "participation is what counts" or "lovable losers" in professional sports. (Notable exceptions are of course the Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox)

In German soccer, however, the identity of the club is much closer wrapped up with the fans and the city, or even district, where they ply their trade. Often, the very players come from the neighborhood. (Obviously, this latter trait disappears as the club becomes more successful). Fans are often members of the club, and might even compete themselves at the lower echelons. The prospect of a fan actually playing for his club at a lower level, sharing the uniform and identity with the pro club is unheard of in American pro sports.

And yet, as clubs struggle to survive and prosper, merger, the so-called "fusion", with other often rival local clubs, has become common place among German soccer clubs throughout the years, much to the chagrin of many.

In this context, the following recounts the story of a once well-established and successful sports club, Duisburger SV

If you were to mention Duisburger SV to the average German soccer fan, he would most likely politely correct you, along the lines of "Oh yeah, the Zebras, you mean MSV". If you were then persist with "No, no, I mean Duisburger SV, you know, DSV, The Red-Blues...", he would probably mutter something like "Du spinnst." It wouldn't be at all suprising if you were to even get the same response from a Duisburg resident. Yet if you had asked the same question some 40 years ago, everybody would have known what you were talking about.

The origins of DSV can be traced back to 1848, when the Duisburger Turnverein was founded to promote gymnastics. Soccer started to make appearances in the club in the 1890s. About the same time, it was cropping up in other regions of Germany. However, many of these other clubs played rugby or some variation of soccer. The Duisburgers were among the first to play with the strict English Football Association rules. By 1900, the footballers tired of association with the gymnasts and branched out ot form their own independant club, Duisburger Spielverein. The club quickly established itself as one of the stronger teams in Germany, winning several Western championships. This success continued throughout the 1920s, and DSV produced at least 5 full fledged German internationals in these early years.

Hard times hit the club when the Nazis seized power in 1933. DSV had a large number of Jewish members, and this obviously didn't sit too well with the new powers. As a result, the club was decimated as Jewish members were forced out, and many talented players left for the relative "safety" of rival clubs. DSV bravely continued on, but obviously was no longer a regional power. The club was soon passed by other Duisburg teams and remained mired in second class throughout most of the period. The exception was in 1943. By this time, Germany was losing the war, and most soccer clubs had a hard time even fielding a squad. DSV and TuS Duisburg therefore formed a temporary union and won the local league, and participated in the collapsing German championship rounds. Nevertheless, the history of the club during these dark years is quite honorable, since they never really knuckled under to Nazi terror and kept at least some of their dignity intact. Certainly a large influence was the longtime president Gottfried Hinze, who as a player had traveled to England way back in 1896.

After WWII, the club was restarted and soon began working it's way back into shape. By the end of the 1940s, they had qualified for the old Oberliga West, which was then the highest regional league. Most of the 1950s were spent in this division, with the highest finish being 2nd in 1956-57. During this period, DSV drew large crowds in the Oberliga; for local derbies against MSV, attendance of 30-35,000 were common. The club was within one win of reaching the finals of the German championship in 1957. Although the club remained in the Oberliga, they were never able to scale those heights again.

Disaster struck with the introduction of the Bundesliga in 1963-64. DSV had just been relegated out of the Oberliga, and eventually the DFB decided that only clubs that were in the Oberliga could petition to join the new super league. Meanwhile, mounting debts, declining attendance and mediocre field results were crushing the club. In a desperate move, DSV and local rival TuS Duisburg agreed to merge and form a new club, Eintracht Duisburg. The hope was that with combined resources, a return to top flight soccer could be accomplished. Despite the rosy promises, there was considerable opposition from the members. The first attempt was defeated and apparently insults and fist fights ended the meeting. However, eventually both club memberships approved the deal and the new club started.

What was the result? Even further disaster. The new club remained mediocre in the then 2nd division Regionalliga West, but by 1966/67 finished dead last. Although the bounced back the next season, they turned into an elevator team and dropped immediately again. The last siting was in the mid 70s, when they made a 3rd division appearance before disappearing into the local leagues, never to be seen again...

Well, actually to confuse the matter, apparently some ex-DSV members got control of another local club, the Duisburger Sport Club 1900, and then renamed it to Duisburger Spielverein 1900 around 1969. However, despite the name, this is not the same club. It's sort of like the multiple editions of the baseball Washington Senators or more recently the NFL Cleveland Browns.

Certainly, the story of DSV is not unusual in German soccer, as many old famous clubs got merged or simply disappeared. The story of DSV is perhaps a little more tragic in that if the DFB hadn't decided to only admit current Oberliga clubs into the Bundesliga, based on the proposed 10 year formula, DSV would most likely have been Duisburg's entry into the Bundesliga.

In some sense, the story of DSV is also a result of the increased commercialization and professionalization of soccer. Certainly this trend has it's detractors, as the Bundesliga has definitely impacted negatively smaller clubs. (Of course, the Bundesliga is also the pillar upon which German soccer has risen to super power status.) Soccer used to be much more about club and neighborhood loyalties. You supported the team from the neighborhood in which you grew up. The whole fan culture and experience was built upon these relationships. For Americans, used to big time sports, this is a foreign concept. (For example, there are currently exactly two professional football teams in northern California, serving a population of some 15 million.) However, this is certainly a crucial part of the soccer experience, at least in Europe. Although there has been opposition to the increasing elitist trend, it's march seems inevitable. If you want to compete, you have to get big and powerful. Where does this leave the smaller clubs? Basically scrambling to survive. For some, it means ever increasing mountains of debt in a desperate attempt to reach the top flight. For others, it means just carrying on with smaller fish to fry. For DSV, and many others, it meant a merger and oblivion.

For more detailed information on the history of the Duisburger Spielverein, learn German and then surf over to a superb DSV commerative site home.nexgo.de/duisburgersv

(c) Abseits Guide to Germany