As recently as 1987, SpVgg Furth reached the nadir of their then 84-year history. The German club were plagued by financial problems and plummeted into the Bavarian County League, the sixth tier of German football.
25 years on, SpVgg Greuther Furth, as the club is known today, are eager to embark on their Bundesliga adventure having just clinched their long-awaited promotion to the top flight. "What a sensational day," said coach Mike Buskens amongst all the celebrations. "This is the best moment of my life as a coach so far. We might be going into the Bundesliga as underdogs, it won't be a one-year spell."
The club's long and difficult path to success has made president Helmut Hack all the more appreciative of the team's achievement: "It's just amazing. We've left 100,000 worries and a million setbacks behind."
Early success and fall from grace
Formed as part of a gymnastics club in 1903, SpVgg Furth quickly grew over the following decade and soon boasted over 3,000 members, making it the largest organisation of its kind in Germany at the time. Unsurprisingly, the football team became one of the most successful of that era.
Furth collected three national titles (1914, 1926, 1929) among several other honours and provided the majority of the German national side of the 1920s. They fought numerous unforgettable battles against neighbouring FC Nuremberg, a rivalry which will be rekindled once again next season.
After the tailspin of 1987, it took another three years for SpVgg to recover, but a 1-0 victory over the mighty Borussia Dortmund in the first round of the German Cup was followed by promotion to the Oberliga in 1991. A merger with TSV Vestenbergsgreuth (famous for beating Bayern Munich 1-0 in the 1994/95 German Cup) subsequently proved the catalyst for positive change in 1996 as SpVgg Greuther Furth was born.
Good things come to those who wait
Just one year later the Franconians gained promotion to Bundesliga 2, where they remained for 15 years. Since 2001, Furth have finished fifth no less than seven times, going one better last season but missing out on a play-off place by a hair's breadth in fourth. Much to their chagrin, Furth were given the unwanted nickname 'The Unpromotables', a tag they can thankfully now consign to history.
"We can be very proud to have gotten rid of the 'Unpromotables' moniker," said Buskens, who took over the side in December 2009. "That name became something of a curse for us over the years. People always said: 'They don't want to go up, they can't go up', but now we've shown them all."
Furth were not necessarily among the favourites for a top-two finish at the start of the season, with the competition for a place in the top flight fierce to say the least. However, after overcoming an opening-day defeat to title rivals Eintracht Frankfurt, they never looked back in their quest for the Bundesliga.
Six straight wins and a run of 11 games unbeaten left the Clover Leaves well-poised in third by the winter break. In the home straight, Furth have racked up more points than any other Bundesliga 2 side this calendar year and remain unbeaten since a 3-1 loss away to Dynamo Dresden back in February.
"The atmosphere in the squad is incredibly good," Canadian striker Olivier Occean, who leads the second division scoring charts with 17 goals this season, told FIFA.com. "Our motto is: 'All for one and one for all', and everyone in the team seems to have taken that onboard. Everyone fights for his colleagues out on the pitch. We also have an unwavering will to win and some great individuals who are capable of deciding matches on their own."
The team secured promotion with a 1-1 draw at FSV Frankfurt on Matchday 32 – an extraordinary moment even for former Germany international Gerald Asamoah, who joined the club on a free transfer during the winter break. "I've experienced a lot in my career," said the 2002 FIFA World Cup™ runner-up, "but this is without doubt a very, very special day for me. It's truly awesome."
Nobel Prize-winning support
One fan as proud as any of Furth's ascent to the top tier is former United States Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, a Nobel Prize winner who was born in the town and remains a life-long fan. The 88-year-old regularly checks the Clover Leaves' results online and has promised he will be in the stands for the club's first home game in the Bundesliga.
Whether Kissinger will be joined in the stadium by current coach Buskens remains to be seen, however. Furth's success over the past few years has attracted interest from several more established Bundesliga clubs and even Asamoah, a former team-mate of Buskens at Schalke 04, was unable to charm a definite answer out of his boss. "Coach, are you staying?" asked 'Asa' during the post-match celebrations in Frankfurt. Buskens could only respond with a smile: "Now I know it was definitely a mistake to bring this guy here!"