Bustling banking metropolis Frankfurt is the kind of city where everything has to be taller, faster and bigger. The imposing skyline stretching high into the clouds along the River Main evokes comparisons with the megacities of the USA or Asia. The brash, tightly-packed skyscrapers stand for wealth and power. It is the kind of city where average is not good enough, but its biggest club has often struggled to match that lofty benchmark.
There is no doubt that there is passion and ambition at Eintracht Frankfurt. The club emblem features an eagle by the name of Attila, a powerful and imperious creature. However, metaphorically speaking, the eagle soars less frequently and at a lower altitude than the club’s devoted fans think it should. You could plausibly argue that the pulsating home city, with its aura of wealth and success, time and again throws Eintracht’s perennial underachievement into ever sharper and more painful focus, with a whiff of frustrated greatness to boot.
Hesse's biggest club boasts a long and proud tradition of aesthetically pleasing football. However, beauty and elegance are no guarantee of success. The lively but temperamental goings-on at the club long ago earned it a reputation as a ‘moody diva’. Now, after many highs and lows, the diva seems content to progress in small but realistic steps. FIFA.com turns the spotlight on Eintracht Frankfurt.
Birth of an institution
Around the turn of the 19th century, the young men of Frankfurt joined in the new fashion for the imported English game of football and gathered in a popular city park to play the game. Right from the start, there was a distinct regularity to these gatherings, from which two clubs emerged, Victoria and Kickers. They merged in 1911 to form Frankfurt FC (FFV), whose first star was Fritz Becker, scorer of two goals in Germany's maiden international match, a 5-3 defeat to Switzerland in 1908.
After a variety of separations and mergers, a club emerged in 1926 by the name of Sportgemeinde (sporting community) Eintracht Frankfurt, boasting more than 5,000 members, and practising athletics, rugby and cricket alongside football.
It was the birth of a club which soon rose to regional prominence in hard-fought encounters with rivals FSV Frankfurt. Thanks to a propensity for elegant play and ingenuity, Eintracht made the final of the German championship in 1932, although they lost 2-0 in Nuremberg to Bayern Munich.
The making of a legend
Creativity and a knack for always being ahead of the times characterised Eintracht in the club's early years. Imported stars such as Hungary's Istvan Sztani and Yugoslavian ace Ivica Horvat had the crowds flocking in during the 1950s.
That team also featured a gifted playmaker, the incomparable Alfred Pfaff. He was simply unlucky to be born at the wrong time, as he was a contemporary of a certain Fritz Walter from FC Kaiserslautern, who went on to claim a FIFA World Cup™ winner’s medal in 1954 and was later named honorary Germany captain. But for Walter, many believe Pfaff would have been a regular for his country.
This collection of outstanding individuals ultimately provided the club’s only true golden era. In 1959, a 75,000 crowd in Berlin saw Eintracht win their one and only German championship, a 5-3 extra time triumph over neighbours and bitter rivals Kickers Offenbach. The following season, Frankfurt won a place in fans’ hearts all over the continent, defeating Glasgow giants Rangers 6-1 and 6-3 in the European Cup, before contesting a truly memorable final against what was then the most feared club in the world.
The final at Hampden Park in Glasgow against Real Madrid's first set of galacticos, including Alfredo di Stefano, Ferenc Puskas and Francisco Gento, ended in a 7-3 defeat, but Eintracht earned a chorus of praise for taking on their invincible opponents not with robust physical tactics but with technically excellent play. Even today, the 1960 final rates as one of the most enthralling in the history of European club football.
Logically enough, Eintracht were founder members of the national Bundesliga in 1963, but they struggled to make an impact on the domestic stage for a time. That only changed with the arrival of exceptional goalscoring forwards Bernd Holzenbein and Jurgen Grabowski, both 1974 FIFA World Cup winners with Germany.
The men from Frankfurt rewarded their fans’ unceasing passion with the German cup in 1974 and 1975, but the greatest success in the club’s history came in 1980. Eintracht met Borussia Monchengladbach in an all-German UEFA Cup final, contriving to lose 3-2 at home but winning the away leg 1-0 to claim European honours for the first time. The Hesse outfit then won the German cup again the following season.
However, the name ‘moody diva’ was not unearned. The football could be pleasing on the eye, but lethargy and a certain aloofness were never far away either, and the greatest setback in club history was looming on the horizon. World-class Hungarian Lajos Detari led Eintracht to their fourth and last German cup triumph in 1988, before Uwe Bein, a 1990 FIFA World Cup winner and another elegant playmaker, became the dominant figure of the club’s last great era.
Once again conjuring up football from a future age, the team dominated the 1991/92 Bundesliga season with crisp short passing and thrilling attacking play. However, points were unnecessarily dropped here and there, and Eintracht ultimately tossed away the title on the last day in a 2-1 defeat to practically relegated Hansa Rostock, dull but consistent Stuttgart seizing the crown instead.
The Eintracht team with the spine of Andreas Moeller, Anthony Yeboah, Jorn Andersen and Uli Stein still rates as the best ever in the history of the club. However, the nightmare in Rostock has left a seemingly permanent scar on the club and its fans.
Inexorably and somehow inevitably, Eintracht never recovered from the trauma in 1992. Four relegations from the top flight followed, and the club teetered on the brink of financial oblivion on numerous occasions. However, building on the foundation of a consistently excellent youth section, the club has repeatedly bounced back and revived hopes that the diva might yet one day blossom into a queen.
In the spring of 2012, Frankfurt’s famous Roemer Square, an oasis of higgledy-piggledy buildings in the heart of the old town where German FIFA World Cup or FIFA Women's World Cup winners traditionally greet their adoring fans, was turned over to Eintracht for a day. The team coached by Armin Veh had regained their Bundesliga status at the first attempt, unleashing a wave of optimism in the city. The plan now is to creep back towards the glory days in small, realistic steps.
“The name Eintracht Frankfurt alone, which is so closely linked to a long and successful history, makes Eintracht very special. An average crowd of 47,000 in the top flight tells you all you need to know about the depth of interest in the region and speaks volumes for the fans’ passion in our unique stadium," Eintracht chairman Heribert Bruchhagen exclusively told FIFA.com.
“We've just been promoted, we've extended coach Armin Veh's contract, and we're trying to put together a competitive team for the new season. Surprises are always possible in football, but our priority is simply to re-establish ourselves in the Bundesliga, financially and in sporting terms."
In 2005, the venerable Waldstadion gave way to the ultramodern Commerzbank Arena. The original stadium was opened in 1925 and frequently modernised, before demolition and complete reconstruction as a dedicated football stadium for the 2006 FIFA World Cup. The 51,500 capacity arena with a video cube and closing roof is one of the ten biggest in Germany. Even in the second division season just ended, Eintracht attracted an average of 37,600 to their home games in the south of the city. The arena has already hosted two FIFA finals, the decider in the FIFA Confederations Cup 2005 and the Final of the FIFA Women's World Cup 2011.