It’s not just about Elversberg. It’s all about it too Saarland. “The Saarland,” says Nils-Ole Book, “has always been crazy about football.” The sports director of SV Elversberg knows that, although he comes from Münsterland and was still a child when Saarland last played in the Bundesliga. As a former professional soccer player with LR Ahlen, MSV Duisburg and SV Wehen Wiesbaden, the 36-year-old can assess euphoria quite well and is now experiencing it particularly intensively as a manager in Elversberg.
After almost 17 years, in which no Saarland team was represented in the first or second Bundesliga, the third division continued their season at the weekend with leaders SV Elversberg and second place 1. FC Saarbrücken. Elversberg is eight points ahead and is number one in the state. The former greats, FC 08 Homburg (regional league) and Borussia Neunkirchen (sixth league), are knocked off. Little Elversberg, one of two districts of the 13,000-inhabitant town of Spiesen-Elversberg, is preparing to save the honor of the formerly proud football location.
When the Bundesliga was founded in 1963, Saarland was still a relevant part. Saarbrücken as a founding member, then Neunkirchen and later Homburg represented it. But Saarbrücken was relegated from the top division for the last time in 1993 and from the second division for the last time in 2006. Since then, the two top divisions have been Saarland-free. This could change soon.
Elversberg will have to deal with the three closest pursuers in the next few matchdays
“Our success means a lot to the city and the region,” says Book. In the winter break a year ago, Elversberg was still in fourth place in the Regionalliga Südwest, in the summer they celebrated promotion and now the club, having started the season as a promoted team with the aim of staying in the class, is even the leader of the table.
Important players are the goalscorer Luca Schnellbacher (once A-Jugend Eintracht Frankfurt), winger Jannik Rochelt (from 2019 to 2021 at FC Bayern II), defender Robin Fellhauer (previously SC Freiburg II) – or midfielder Thore Jacobsen (previously Werder Bremen II ). For many alumni from the second representation of a Bundesliga club, Elversberg turns out to be an idyllic alternative route to higher floors.
The long winter break caused by the World Cup did not suit them. Now they have to get back into shape. In addition, they immediately have to deal with the three closest pursuers on the next four match days: on Saturday away with the third Wehen Wiesbaden, a week later at home with the fourth FC Ingolstadt and two weeks later away with the second Saarbrücken.
“I hope that the boys will get back on track quickly,” says coach Horst Steffen. He is the father of success. The 53-year-old from Krefeld came to Elversberg via the coaching stations Borussia Mönchengladbach (A-Jugend), Stuttgarter Kickers, Preußen Münster and Chemnitzer FC. The last two engagements only lasted a few months, but he is now in his fifth year in Elversberg. It fits. Sport director Book says: “Our success is characterized by continuous work, a calm atmosphere and great team spirit.” In the town 15 kilometers northeast of the capital Saarbrücken, you can work largely undisturbed, with the significant financial support of the Saarbrücken-based company Ursapharm from former soccer player Frank Holzer. The 69-year-old is chairman of the supervisory board at SV Elversberg. His son Dominik, 40, is the president.
With the quality of football in Elversberg, the number of spectators is also growing
The fact that Elversberg scored more points in his second third division season (after 2013/2014) with 41 points in the first 17 match days than any team in this league before is also due to the fact that coach Steffen was able to continuously develop a team. Having narrowly failed to get promoted to the third division on several occasions has now almost turned out to be an advantage. As only the fourth club after RB Leipzig (2014), Würzburger Kickers (2016) and Jahn Regensburg (2017), Elversberg could rush straight through the third division.
“We want to continue the performance of the Hinserie as seamlessly as possible,” says Schnellbacher, the top third-division goalscorer with nine goals. “But I know that it can quickly go the other way if you don’t win for three games – we definitely want to avoid that.” The coach Steffen also knows about the many dangers that are still lurking in the remaining 21 games. “It’s important that we have a consistently high intensity in our game,” he says. “The lads should know that I’m looking very closely, remain critical and never rest; everyone should continue to improve.”
Meanwhile, the number of spectators is growing with the quality of football in Elversberg. On average, there are 4,800 per home game, which is less than the 9,000 who regularly go to Saarbrücken – but a success for Elversberg, which has long been overshadowed by traditional clubs. “I didn’t do a representative survey,” sporting director Book jokes, “but I have the feeling that pride is relatively high in our small town.” Because even when it comes to representing Saarland in the top two divisions again: First and foremost, of course, it’s about Elversberg.