The volcano is active - sport


The history of VfL Gummersbach could have ended three years and three months ago: relegation to the second division, four million euros in debt, the whole beautiful history is hardly worth anything anymore. "The word insolvency haunted the city," remembers managing director Christoph Schindler, 39. But they didn't want to give up 158 years of club history and 82 years of handball history lightly in the district town in Oberbergisches Land, east of Cologne.

So shareholders and sponsors paid off three quarters of the debt, and expenses were radically reduced. For the purpose of a fresh start, Gummersbach stepped down to the second division with his head held high. Icelandic novice coach Gudjon Valur Sigurdsson was hired there in 2020 - a hit! After many years of misery and three seasons in league two, Gummersbach celebrated promotion back to the Bundesliga last May - and the celebrated return there on Thursday evening in their home arena (they had won 30:26 at TBV Lemgo at the start of the season).

When Gummersbach's first Bundesliga home game since May 2019 against champion SC Magdeburg was unfortunately lost 28:30, 3410 spectators cheered their team in the arena on Heiner-Brand-Platz with standing ovations. The youngest squad in the Bundesliga, painstakingly put together with one of the smallest budgets, had defied the Champions League club so passionately that their coach Bennet Wiegert said sympathetically afterwards: "I'm almost sorry for Gummersbach, VfL played fantastically and would have deserved more - sorry!"

For years, fear of relegation paralyzed the club, says the current managing director

They're used to pity in the city of 50,000 people. The VfL, between 1966 and 1991 twelve-time champion, five-time cup and ten-time European Cup winner, is still in second place in the all-time Bundesliga table, but has not made headlines in sporting terms for a long time. For years, too much money flowed into mediocre squads. "In Gummersbach, people were always terrified of being relegated to the second division," is how Managing Director Schindler explains the fate of his predecessors. He slipped seamlessly into management after retiring in 2017, at a time when everything seemed to be coming to an end. Two years later, the relegation to league two was actually on record.

At the lowest point, the decision was made to boldly give the ailing club the slogan "Home of Handball" and to advertise for sponsors and fans in the region with more transparency and new humility. That had an effect: VfL recently sold 1,700 season tickets, a record for the second division. The crash turned out to be an opportunity to regain strength. "We realized that VfL Gummersbach is more than the league in which it plays," says Schindler. But they don't resist the fact that they're back in the Bundesliga.

No volcano has erupted in the Oberbergisches Land for at least 25 million years - for eruptions they have had the Icelandic import Sigurdsson for two years. There is no need to ask the 43-year-old whether he is more of a volcano or an iceberg. The coach doesn't care. From the manager Schindler one learns about this once world's best left winger that he is from handball "obsessed". Studio expert Stefan Kretzschmar said on Thursday evening on Sky broadcaster: "If his players work even remotely as hard as Goggi used to be as a player, then we don't have to worry about VfL Gummersbach."

VfL Gummersbach: iceberg or volcano?  In any case, VfL coach Gudjon Valur Sigurdsson knows a lot about his business.

Iceberg or volcano? In any case, VfL coach Gudjon Valur Sigurdsson knows a lot about his business.

(Photo: Jürgen Augst/Eibner/Imago)

With the new backcourt shooter Dominik Mappes, who came from the second division club Hüttenberg, the coach seems to have had a special effect: Mappes leads the Bundesliga hit list after two matchdays with 22 goals. And Sigurdsson has already extended his contract until 2025.

For Sigurdsson, the position in Gummersbach was the gateway to coaching, offering both opportunities and risks. Such a tumbling traditional club quickly pulls it down even lower. But the Icelander quickly drew the team to his side. He's always the first to train after he's run ten kilometers or worked up a sweat in the weight room. "That encourages the players to want to work at least as hard as their coach, who is 20 years their senior," says manager Schindler, then smiles. The small weaknesses of the trainer, Diet Coke and sweets, are sometimes benevolently acknowledged.

There is no need to come to Sigurdsson with the question of possession either. "I don't feel obsessed. Handball is just what I want to do and what I'm good at," he says. He knows the local branch very well since he played in Germany for a total of 15 years for TuSEM Essen, Gummersbach, THW Kiel and the Mannheimer Rhein-Neckar-Löwen.

With Gummersbach, all he has planned for this season is to stay up in the league. "But basically you work hard every day to create something unrealistic," he pours his philosophy into an aphorism that would be worthy of being on a postcard. After an unfortunate defeat like against Magdeburg, although worthy of all honor, he is "pissed off" and "angry" about too many individual mistakes.

Schindler, the managing director, says: "Goggi is really never satisfied." It is precisely this perfectionism that they like at the new VfL.



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