“Irre”: SpVgg Bayreuth meets Hamburger SV in the DFB Cup – Sport

After almost an hour, in the course of the conversation, Wolfgang Gruber had already said so much that he hardly had time to take a sip, so after almost an hour Gruber remembers this wall. It’s been ten years now, any Sunday, any village sports field in the area around Bamberg, any away game of SpVgg Bayreuth, and Gruber, the managing director, looked over a wall at the edge of the field and saw – nothing.

Gruber, 53, doesn’t mean that at all disrespectfully when he says that the game association played “at the end of the world” back then. But the sixth league, sometimes only a hundred spectators and now and then such bumpy grass fields that a well-groomed football game was hardly to be thought of, that was really the end of the world in a certain way. In any case, it wasn’t what Bayreuth sees itself in, but Gruber also says: “We don’t want to miss this time because it enabled us to find our way.”

It was a warm summer day in Bayreuth, but now, this evening, it’s cooling down a bit. Gruber, wearing large glasses, a dark blue polo shirt, white trousers, is sitting in his office and is talking about SpVgg Bayreuth and the ups and downs that he has been through. Gruber is someone who knows how to express himself. Sure, he’s a surgeon, he’s a city councilman. But when he talks about the path that lies behind the game association, he sometimes becomes casual and suddenly formulates sentences like: “It’s just crazy how much attention there is suddenly.”

Back then, when the team drove from village to village in the state league, hardly anyone was interested in the club. “We were insignificant at first,” says Gruber. “I flew rescue helicopters here and actually thought that I knew all the villages.” Short break. “But it wasn’t like that.” As a sixth division team, Bayreuth came to the most remote places – and today, as a third division team, the game association is suddenly dealing with clubs like Dynamo Dresden and TSV 1860 Munich. And this Saturday, when the first round of the DFB Cup is played, that’s coming Hamburger SV to the Hans Walter Wild Stadium.

“The first 10,000 cards were gone in 36 minutes,” says Gruber in his office, almost sounding like a child who can hardly believe how big the present under the Christmas tree is. SpVgg made it into the first round last year, but only 5,000 people were allowed against Bielefeld.

A huge painting hangs on the wall behind Gruber, just as colorful as the time his club looks back on. When he joined in 2009, the club had just filed for bankruptcy. “Nobody wanted to take over the presidency,” he says, “and then you need two things: conviction – and a certain hubris.”

There were several low points. “We were often faced with the question: are we going to continue here at all?”

Gruber had both, but then had to realize what it really means when a path is rocky. The club has not always been popular in the past 15 years, says Gruber: “And for good reason, because the game association has burned a lot of goodwill.” There have been several low points over the years, and Gruber has experienced them all: “We were often faced with the question: are we going to continue here at all?”

It was just four years ago that the club once again had doubts about the big picture. At that time, Bayreuth hired Josef Albersinger as a coach in order to take the path from the regional league to professional football with him. That was the idea, that was the plan. And after the first seven games, the team found itself in last place with zero points and 1:15 goals. “Everything was on the brink,” reveals Gruber. At that time he was concerned about how badly the club was doing, today he speaks in a firm and calm voice about that time. Gruber knows that everything went well in the end. That the plan worked in a roundabout way, that the game association is now someone again.

SpVgg Bayreuth: Reason to be amazed: Wolfgang Gruber with management colleague Michael Born.

Reason to marvel: Wolfgang Gruber with management colleague Michael Born.

(Photo: Peter Kolb/Imago)

However, Gruber also knows that the third division is an adventure for the club. Bayreuth will be underdogs in most games; and the fact that coach Timo Rost left the club after the promotion to Aue and took two players with him in Ivan Knezevic and Tim Danhof doesn’t make things any easier. In the conversation, too, it becomes clear that Rost’s farewell to Gruber has done something. He has a very good impression of Thomas Kleine, says Bayreuth’s managing director. The new coach is more sober and objective, less emotional than Rost was, and that’s good for the team. But then Gruber takes a look at this photo. Gruber and Rost in the hour of success, arm in arm, mouth wide open, screaming with happiness.

When Gruber looks at the picture, you realize that it means something to him. He’s achieved a lot with Rost. In 2019, the two announced the third division as their goal. They wanted to give themselves three years to lead the club back into national football, where Bayreuth last played in 1989/90. And in that time, they’ve managed to do it.

“In the beginning we were smiled at,” says Gruber, “I understand that too.”

“In the beginning we were smiled at,” says Gruber, “I understand that too, because it was courageous to say that we want to make a climber out of a relegation candidate.” During this time, things rained down on Gruber and the other people in charge, but they endured it all together. “We live in an age of commentary, and we know that commentary is getting bolder and stronger.” But he, Gruber, believed in what he said publicly. And today he’s sitting in his office shouting: “It’s going through the roof – like a rocket.”

Gruber is now talking about that May day a few weeks ago, when more than four thousand people in yellow came out onto the Bayreuth Stadtparkett to celebrate the team and the championship. It was a particularly moving day for Gruber. He knows how it is on the village sports fields in the state league, he was there at all the moments when Bayreuth asked itself the question of meaning. And now, in the summer of 22, HSV is coming. “You can play against Bayern or Dortmund, the hut is full and you’re out,” says Gruber, “or you play against a great team from the second division, the hut is full…”

Gruber breaks off his sentence. Nobody should have the impression that he is now declaring war on the big HSV. Of course, Gruber admits that he’s feeling a little hopeful, but first and foremost he’s a realist. That’s why he basically has no expectations, he just feels anticipation. Anticipation for HSV, anticipation for all the people who will come to the stadium – and anticipation for a big day on which Wolfgang Gruber might even think about the Wall again.

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