BERLIN — The clock is ticking on Hamburger SV’s days in the Bundesliga.
Situated high in the stadium, the clock counts the years, days, hours, minutes and seconds that Hamburg has been playing in the league – a proud declaration from the only founding member never relegated since the Bundesliga started in 1963.
In recent years, however, it seems as though the clock should be ticking down. Hamburg has been flirting with relegation and only escaped through playoffs in 2014 and 2015. Last season, the team beat Wolfsburg to only avoid another playoff on the final day.
But this season is the club’s worst yet with only four wins in 24 games. Fifteen ended in defeat. It’s not that other competitions have been draining resources – Hamburg’s season started with a German Cup exit against Osnabrueck, despite the third-division club playing almost the whole game with 10 players.
Last weekend’s loss to old rival Werder Bremen in the northern derby left Hamburg second-to-last in an automatic relegation place, seven points adrift of Mainz in the playoff place with 10 games remaining.
Hamburg has not won in 11 games since a home victory over Hoffenheim in November, and the appointment of former player Bernd Hollerbach as coach has failed to have the desired effect. Hollerbach, who took over from the fired Markus Gisdol, has only two points from his five games in charge.
“The team and I have long not given up yet,” Hollerbach said. “I know that many have already written us off. I’m not going to make that mistake.”
Hollerbach’s appointment was a gamble. The 48-year-old coach was in charge of hometown club Wuerzburger Kickers last year when it was relegated from the second division. He had taken over in 2014 and led it from the fourth tier to the second division in two years.
Adding to the familiar sense of turmoil at Hamburg was the recent election of Bernd Hoffmann as president. Hoffman, who got 585 votes to incumbent Jens Meier’s 560, had to hear calls of “Hoffmann out” from club members after his successful bid.
Hoffmann signaled drastic changes ahead.
“It cannot carry on as before,” Hoffman said after his vote. “We urgently need a turnaround. We’re no longer as competitive as clubs like Schalke and Moenchengladbach. That cannot be the standard in Hamburg.”
It could get worse before it gets better for the club, however. The team next faces relegation-rival Mainz at home on Saturday, before a trip to Bayern Munich, where it hasn’t won since a 2-1 victory in April 2007.
Bayern trounced Hamburg 8-0 on its last visit to Munich and has defeated the northern side by an aggregate score of 57-1 in the league since Hamburg’s last victory in 2009.
Hollerbach is banking on a win over Mainz before the dreaded trip to Munich.
“We’re facing a very, very important game and want to throw everything into this week again,” Hollerbach said.
The cold weather has made training difficult this week, but the players were put through a double session on Tuesday, while the team will stay at a local hotel from Thursday “to have some peace and to have the team together in a tight group,” Hollerbach said.
Tensions are high in the city. Masked supporters set off fireworks and flares over the field in Bremen last weekend, forcing the referee to twice halt the game, and other fans – or possibly the same – displayed a banner at Hamburg’s previous game saying: “We will hunt you out of the city before the clock switches off.”
Hamburg has announced extra security measures for Mainz’s visit.
While Hamburg is on a downward trend, last-place Cologne has been showing signs of life, beating Leipzig away last weekend to move level on points. Cologne next faces relegation rivals Stuttgart and Bremen.
All have been winning games of late, while Hamburg has not.
This story has been corrected to show that the Hamburg coach is 48 years old, not 24.