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SV Darmstadt 98 Why should you play Darmstadt? Because they are the team who nobody expected to be in the Bundesliga. No money, no infrastructure, no talent - just a lot of old tradition and the willpower to fight. Everybody predicts them to finish last. Can you beat the expectations and turn the club into a success story? Quick note for readers: A lot of the basic information is based on the FM16 thread I wrote last year and which you can find here, if you are interested. Obviously some things don't change. But some do. To help everbody who did read last year's thread, I coloured all the relevant new additions in blue. Enjoy! The story Darmstadt is the club nobody expected in the Bundesliga. In fact, nobody expected them to be in the 2. Bundesliga (Second Division) two years ago. When the former manager Dirk Schuster took office in 2012, he stated in a press conference: "It would be a pity if a club like Darmstadt were relegated." He meant: Down to the Fourth Division. "Darmstadt is a club that belongs to the 3. Liga", Schuster said. That was meant to be encouraging. Turned out: He was wrong. Three years later, the "Lilies" are part of the highest German tier. The last four years have been more than a fairy tale for the SV Darmstadt 98. They have been something like a dream. A miracle. No, a double … a triple miracle. Words fail to describe what happened to this club, who actually was supposed to be relegated to Fourth Division in 2013. It was all set. Decided. The SVD was doomed. Then, suddenly, their fiercest, long traditional rivals (!) Kickers Offenbach were refused the 3. Liga license due to going into administration and were relegated to the Regionalliga instead. Maybe it should have been clear on that very day that we start to witness something that, being made into a movie, would be laughed at as "way too unrealistic". In 2014, Darmstadt gained the entry into the promotion-relegation play offs for 2. Bundesliga. They faced Arminia Bielefeld, a club that not so long ago had played in the highest tier and were seen to be favorites by a very large margin. The first leg in Darmstadt shattered even the tiniest of hopes: Bielefeld won 3:1 in Darmstadt. End of story. Or was it? It's the 19th of May 2014. Second leg in Bielefeld. The "Lilies" are on fire. They score once. They score twice. After 51 minutes, the score reads Bielefeld-Darmstadt 0:2, in favor for Darmstadt. A lot of fans smile, but nobody really keeps his hopes up. Indeed, two minutes later, Bielefeld strikes back: 1:2. Then comes the 79th minute. A shot from 33 yards. Into the corner of the net. Goal. 1:3. Extra time. Suddenly, Darmstadt seems to be the better team. Suddenly, everything seems possible despite the horrible defeat on home soil. 110th minute: Goal for Bielefeld. 3:2. Over and out. It seems. The 122nd minute. Additional time. The last seconds are counting down. Darmstadt strikes. Goal. 4:2. The incredible thing has happened: Darmstadt gains promotion to the 2. Bundesliga. They start the adventure "2. Bundesliga" by being marked as the total underdogs. Everybody knows: Darmstadt will go down after one year. They don't have the class. They don't have the players. In fact, the team largely consists of players who have failed at other clubs. A bunch of losers. They outdid themselves in that one special night at the "Miracle of Bielefeld", but they are certainly not good enough to duplicate that for a whole, long season of 34 matches in the Second Division. Their style of play seems like an anachronism: It's based on rock solid defense, hard fight, teamwork, endurance and the determination to go beyond your limits despite all the odds being against you. They win a few matches. All the pundit nod their heads and smile: "Yes, yes, that's the usual initial luck of the underdog. It will pass." 34 match days later, Darmstadt gains direct promotion to the Bundesliga. Without the help of any patron. The SV Darmstadt 98 is not funded by a big company, by a sheikh or by any big investor. Their finances are in order, the club is debt free, but that's because their wages are small, and they have not more than a dozen professional staff people on their payroll. A dozen! The rest is done by voluntary workers (roughly 120 people). And all the pundits nod their heads in approval, murmuring: "That's a wonderful story. It's really nice to have Darmstadt in the Bundesliga. But, honestly, they will of course go down immediately. They don't belong there. Look at their shabby stadium. Look at this bunch of players who did not make it anywhere else. Not only will they go down, we all know that they will finish last - by far." This was last year's story when I opened this thread and dared FM16 managers to keep Darmstadt in the Bundesliga. Very probably, it seemed, in spite of reality, which would see the SVD finally give in. Quite a few users took the challenge and struggled. The Darmstadt team was, of course, weak. As mentioned before, a lot players were actually Third Division material. Darmstadt hired a few experienced new ones, who all shared one story: Having failed at other clubs. Being labelled as "untalented" and "talents who wasted their career" or "difficult players". So how did the story continue? Bundesliga 2015/16 – The miracle goes on and on… Well, to make it short: Darmstadt stayed up. They did the impossible – once again. FM17 managers can, once more, try their hands at the most impossible task: Keep the SV Darmstadt 98 where it does not belong (at least according to almost all pundits): German 1. Bundesliga. Darmstadt proved to be a very inconvenient and bothersome opponent: In most matches, they were fighting nail and tooth. In a way, the SVD refused to play the game everybody else was playing. The typical quick, high pressing game of Bundesliga teams. Darmstadt was immune to pressing, because they did not keep the ball. Once acquired, they just gave it away, with wide and long kicks, aiming at the oppositions's third. Sometimes successful – mostly not. But they were quick and decisive on the counters, deadly on set pieces, and highly structured in defense. They gained their points mostly on their opponent's soil, when the home team felt under the pressure of delivering: "If we don't win against this outsider – against whom shall we win?" Big teams ran into Darmstadt's traps, into their iron hard defense, and became quickly frustrated and desperate when they failed to dominate the minnows. The Lilies achieved a draw at Schalke, a win at Leverkusen, a draw at Dortmund. Let's be frank: Darmstadt was marveled at as a story – they were much less liked by most fans as opponents. Fans of other clubs blamed the SVD of playing rough and nasty, wasting time, and so on. Not all of these complaints were justified, they often stemmed from the deep frustration of not having beaten the Lilies. But yes, Darmstadt's play was not attractive (unless you are a fan of very defensive formations). Yet, they got enough points. More than enough, in fact. They ended up in 14th place, five points away from direct relegation and secured their survival in the 1. Bundesliga one week before the final match day with a 2:1 win away (of course!) at Berlin, who had been one of the success stories, but equally failed to dominate Darmstadt. So, dear reader: The task is up to you. Ensure a third year of Darmstadt Bundesliga football! You know about your chances and predictions of course, right? "The second year is always the hardest." And: "Yes, yes, they got lucky once. Especially because two big clubs like Stuttgart and Hannover fell apart and didn't know how to cope with relegation battle. It won't happen again." Oh, and of course: Almost all the "losers turned winners" players have moved on. They grabbed the opportunity of being showcased and found themselves better paid jobs. The best striker has left the SVD, as almost the complete defensive line. And "wonder coach" Dirk Schuster, manager of the year. Darmstadt is doomed. They are almost uniquely predicted to finish last. Can you prove the pundits wrong – once again? The history Given the introduction, one might think that Darmstadt 98 does not have a long history in professional club football. In fact, they do. Just rarely at the highest tier. For decades between the 50s and the 90s, SV Darmstadt was the club associated with the "2. Bundesliga". They gained promotion to Bundesliga twice. Both times proved to be a very short adventure. When they first played First Division in 1978/79, most of the players did not even have professional contracts. A lot were, literally, amateur players with other fulltime jobs, playing in a professional football league. Needless to say they finished last. They did have one iconic player at the team though, which was Bum-Kun Cha, a South Korean player who would later rise to international stardom as a top goal scorer for Frankfurt and Leverkusen, and take part for the South Korean national team at the 1986 World Cup. The second excursion into the top flight tier proved little better: Darmstadt finished 17th in the 1981/82 season. This would be their last visit to the Bundesliga for a very, very long time. The deep fall came in the late 90s. Darmstadt became a victim of financial mismanagement, slipping to the third and fourth divisions. Dark years followed. Although Darmstadt seemed to reconstruct themselves in 2004 under former player and then trainer Bruno Labbadia (who you might stumble across in your FM17 save as a manager, he just go fired from his last station at Hamburger SV), they struggled again, being dragged down once more by mismanagement, internal quarrels and too high expectations. The healing process started slowly, but since around that time, a few years back, the Board follows a very strict path of financial rationality and reasonability. Indeed, for the last years, Darmstadt stayed without any debts. Crest and Colors The nickname of Darmstadt is "Lilies", because of the fleur-de-lys they spot in their crest. Their colors are blue, the Darmstadt supporters have "borrowed" the shout of the French national team "Allez les Bleus!" to encourage their players. Darmstadt also plays in White and sometimes had an Orange jersey in the past as Away Kit. The 2016/17 home kit is, well, let's say... something that needs getting used to. They remind one more of a swimming suit than a football kit. It's a rather weird combination of very strangely angled stripes. The designer explained that those stripes in fact are bent at 18° degrees and 98° degrees – which, put together, is the founding year of the club, 1898. I guess you need a designer's brain to put something like that on a football shirt. Nickname: The Lilies Year Founded: 1898 President: Rüdiger Fritsch (FM17: "feels he will never leave the club of his own volition") Current Manager (IRL): Norbert Meier Club Captain: Aytac Sulu Media Prediction: 18th (of 18) Fierce Rivals: Offenbacher Kickers (local and long standing rivalry) Other Rivals: Waldhof Mannheim (local), Hessen Kassel (local), Eintracht Frankfurt (local) Legends: none The stadium "Jonathan-Heimes-Stadion am Böllenfalltor" Capacity: 17,000 (only 4000 seated) Built: 1921 When SV Darmstadt got promoted to the 2. Bundesliga, nobody knew if the stadion would actually get the proper license - or if Darmstadt would have to play their home matches elsewhere (this, by the way, underlines again how unexpected the promotion to the Second Divison was). The club got the license in the end - but only after they made some adjustments: Darmstadt 98 had to replace the old wooden benches and turn them into proper seats. Yes, that's right: Two years ago, two of the stadion's sections had wooden benches, 300 in total. They were distmantled and sold to the fans. That being said, there never have been many stands with seats anyway. The "Böllenfalltor" spots only 4000 seats on the main terrace. The rest of the 17,000 places are stands. Without any roof. In fact, the stands are basically built right into the hill that forms the stadium ground. Not all terraces are in use, some are closed due to safety reasons, and even on those which are used, you can spot weeds and plants growing. (Fans are regularily called to help clearing out the weeds in the summer break). This is a stadium which has the appearence of hosting a Fourth Division team. The Darmstadt fans are very proud of this. The city has already decided to rebuilt and reconstruct the stadium (a plan that will not be set into motion before 2017), and several influencial fan groups and supporters have very vigorously opposed any plan that would include "too many seats". Stands are, for them, a symbol of "old school", traditional, romantic football. One of the most popular plans from the fan's side centers on the idea that every terrace should have seats and standing rooms at the same time to preserve the "special atmosphere". A year ago, the Pharma giant Merck, who has its headquarters in Darmstadt, bought the name rights of the stadium - for a sponsorhip fee of € 300,000 per year. Buying the name rights has become pretty common in Germany, there are only very few stadiums left with their original names. Fortunately, Merck was smart enough to keep the old name on board and just add their company name on top. Hence the construction of "Merck-Stadion am Böllenfalltor". Böllen is the local dialect for aspen trees. These grow around the stadium. And yes, € 300,000 is, well, let's say, a bargain. Bayern Munich earns € 6 million per year, clubs like FC Köln or Hannover still get € 2 million out of it. Then again - SV Darmstadt is not a Bundesliga team... was never supposed to become a Bundesliga team. So why, do you ask, did I label the stadium "Jonathan-Heimes-Stadion"? Well, that's another of those incredible Darmstadt stories: Merck decided, in the Summer 2016, to waive their name rights and name the stadium for at least one year after a most special Darmstadt supporter, Jonathan Heimes, who died, at the age of 26, of cancer. His story is, in fact, closely connected to the recent rise of the club. You remember that "miracle of Bielefeld" I told you about in the first chapter? The evening before the match, manager Dirk Schuster introduced his players to the Story of Jonathan "Johnny" Heimes, who, being a very successful tennis talent, was diagnosed cancer at a very early age, and decided to see the fight against the disease like any sport's match: Fight until the end! Nothing is lost until the final whistle blows or the final point is lost. Johnny fought. Bravely. He defeated the cancer now once, but twice – it always came back a few months later. Johnny started a foundation collecting money for children with cancer. And he became some kind of mascot for the team, who chanted, at the Bundesliga promotion party: "Without Johnny, we'd not be here!" Jonathan Heimes fight against cancer became a symbol for Darmstadt: Never give up fighting. Nothing is lost – yet. I don't need to tell you that his death in 2016 deeply touched the players, the fans, the club. The fact that Merck decided to name the stadium "Jonathan-Heimes-Stadion" was broadly covered by media worldwide. This, indeed, is a very unique story. And you can be proud as a manager to manage in a stadium named after such an admirable person. (I am sorry if I sound a bit lofty here, but I am really impressed by all this, I admit.) In the game, your facilities are adequate to average. Which, yes, reflects the current situation in Darmstadt. They just improved their training facilities, but that means that they now finally do not have to do their runs on concrete floor or use another training ground somewhere in the city, if the main one is, for whatever reason, not ready for use. To sum it up: Darmstadt was completely caught unaware by their sudden rise to 2. Bundesliga and 1. Bundesliga. Their facilities are adequate for a Third Division team.