The Hamburger Strasse Stadion held around 38,000 spectators in 1967. The home of Eintracht Braunschweig’s capacity is considerably less these days but it’s a wonderful thing that over four decades later the old ground is still playing host to this club with a modest but not unsuccessful history. For it was in 1967 that this club, located in Lower Saxony, won their first and last Bundesliga title.
The trophy was lifted on the final day of the season after the home side put FC Nurnberg to the sword by four goals to one. It was a proud day for one Jurgen Moll who scored the fourth in the final minutes of the game. The 27-year-old was born in the city and spent his entire career at Die Lowen. That career, as well his young life, would come to a tragic end the following year when he perished in a car accident.
Much like the previous season’s Bundesliga winners, 1860 Munich, the Braunschweig team were not exactly packed with internationals. The fledgling league was only formed in 1963 with many of its traditional power houses still in formation. Also, like 1860, the club were to go into decline in the decades that followed. Their last appearance in the 1. Bundesliga was in 1985. For the most part they were mainstays of the 2. Bundesliga but spent much of the Noughties yo-yoing between the Second Division an the Regionalliga. In 2008, Braunschweig were awarded a place in the inaugural season of the third national division, the 3-Liga - a division they celebrated promotion from two weekends ago, some 20 points clear of third placed Offenbach.
The key to their success was a magnificent unbeaten run which saw them drop only six points. So far, only seventeen goals have found their way past Goalkeeper Marjan Petkovic. Thirty-two of their seventy goals have been scored by the strike partnership of Dominick Kumbela and captain Dennis Kruppke. Twenty-one-year-old winger, Karim Bellarbi, made two appearances for the German Under-20 side, scoring one goal, and has supported the front line strikers with seven goals this season - the most recent being the solitary strike at Unterhaching that gave them the three points they needed to seal their promotion.
The coach is 37-year-old Torsten Lieberknecht. As a player, Lieberknecht enjoyed a relatively modest career which began at FC Kaiserslautern. However, he soon dropped a division to Mainz where he spent seven seasons in the Carnival Club’s midfield. There was time for a quick stop at Saarbrucken before playing the final four seasons of his playing career at Braunschweig. From there he made the transition to coaching, starting at the Under-19 team before taking control of the first team in May 2008 after replacing Benno Mohlmann. Nearly three years later he is due to celebrate his first major honour by returning Braunschweig to where their size and history suggests they belong.
Of all the Bundesliga winners since the competition's inception, only Eintracht Braunschweig and 1860 Munich are currently playing outside the top flight (although Wolfsburg, Borussia Monchengladbach and Kaiserslautern may alter that statistic at the end of this season). It may be a stretch to think they can become a 1. Bundesliga regular as they were for so many years, much less repeat their title success. Apart from anything else, their thunder has been stolen somewhat by Hannover and latterly Wolfsburg. However, they surely possess the support to sustain a prolonged period in the 2. Bundesliga. We are about to find out.