The Original ‘Geisterspiel’

The Geisterspiel between Alemannia Aachen and 1.FC Nurnberg in January 2004

German football emerges from the Covid-19 lockdown this weekend with matchday 26 taking place under very strict conditions. The ‘Geisterspiel’ (the match behind closed doors) will provide a very different Bundesliga experience, so let us delve into the archives for the first-ever Geisterspiel in the German professional game for a taste of what’s to come.

We must travel back to January 26th, 2004 for the first time a top match in Germany was played without any fans in attendance. It wasn’t the Bundesliga, but in Bundesliga II that the curious encounter between Alemannia Aachen and 1.FC Nürnberg took place.

Back on November 24th, 2003 Aachen were hosting der Klub at their Alten Tivoli Stadium. When referee Mike Pickel showed Aachen forward Erik Meijer and second yellow card in the 72nd minute all hell broke loose amongst the home fans. Various objects were thrown from the stands in protest, but a metal ball(!) unfortunately struck Nürnberg trainer Wolfgang Wolf on the head.

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Clearly hurt, he was escorted by staff to the dressing room, but he was unable to return as he was suffering from blurred vision and concussion. After a ten-minute break, play resumed with Aachen going on to win the match 1-0.

Cue a post-mast protest from the Bavarians who claimed that the match should be voided as they were forced to play without their trainer for the final phase of the game. The DFB agreed and demanded that the game be replayed- but behind closed doors.

Fast forward to the end of January 2004 and before the rest of the league returned from the Winterpause, the game took place. There were four goals in the opening 23 minutes (two apiece), but then Aachen substitute Bachirou Salou popped up in the 79th minute to win it (for a second time) for the home side.

Looking back on that strange occasion with an eery atmosphere both trainer Wolf and Nürnberg striker Marek Mintal have clear memories.

“We had done extra training in an empty stadium because we knew that the game would be decided in the head (mentally). It was clear to me that Aachen were carried by their fans at home and that now they perhaps had a disadvantage” Wolf recently explained in an interview.

“For me as trainer it was a particular challenge:  I had to stress upon my side that there would be no impulse from the fans- either positive or negative. You need to have a high level of self-motivation.”

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Nürnberg goal scorer Marek Mintal added: “The Tivoli always had a great atmosphere and I loved playing there- then you come to the stadium and it’s empty except for a few cleaners. That was a strange atmosphere, it was more like a test game and you could hear every word.”

The only Bundesliga ‘Geisterspiel’ to date was the Rheinderby between Borussia Mönchengladbach and 1.FC Köln on May 11th this year, which took place just before the lockdown affected global sport.

This weekend brings the much-awaited return of the German top-flight, but prepare yourselves for a much different matchday experience.

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