Often overlooked, frequently maligned, yet always special, there is nothing vanilla about the Kreisliga. Sitting almost at the bottom of the German football tier, it’s a long way to the Bundesliga from here. When people make their generic comments about ‘grassroots football’, whether they are aware of it or not, it is the Kreisliga to which they are referring. The irony that Kreisliga is rarely actually played on grass escapes them.
My first foray into the world of non league football was at Kreisliga level. ‘Two red cards, three penalties (only one converted) and four goals!’ were not uncommon things to be excited about after the ninety minutes were over. It seemed a waste that the average attendance of Kreisliga is about 5. Local derbies will stir up a larger crowd, whilst some impressive rivalries can push the attendance closer to 100. The most memorable Kreisliga crowd I was lucky enough to witness featured a blow up sex toy and even a streaker. Perhaps they were overcompensating for the fact that it was also the most boring Kreisliga match most people in the crowd had probably ever witnessed. But such is the nature of the least glamorous of all the tiers of German football, they will always give you a good reason to attend.
This year it would appear that Radio Berlin station have gotten wind of the magic of the Kreisliga, and have chosen to give a little bit of a boost to SV Rot-Weiß Viktoria Mitte. Stars of a new multimedia documentary, RW Viktoria Mitte are the ‘Kreisliga Könige’, and treated to the attention one would usually bestow on the likes of Hertha BSC (or perhaps closer to FC Union Berlin). It’s quite an extraordinary amount of exposure for not just RW Viktoria, but for the entire Kreisliga.
One such benefit of this attention had already paid dividends and came in the form of new goalkeeper Max Neumann. Finding themselves without the all important person between the posts, Radio Berlin organised a trial evenin for a number of hopeful Kreisliga stars. In the end, and after a gruelling session of shot stopping, 25 year old Max Neumann was the chosen one. RW Viktoria Mitte will be happy that they can enter their next match without the conundrum of who to play in goal. A welcome change in sure, especially after their 0-7 defeat in the their last match against BSC Rehberge II.
The first appearance for Neumann was by no means expected to be a baptism of fire, their opponents, 1.FC Marzahn 94 II, sitting on only one point after 9 games and having conceded 62 goals after a 7 games. Not a record that could strike fear into the heart of a debutant. Unfortunately for Neumann, something far more dangerous would be his greatest challenge; his own defence.
Whilst not calamitous, Viktoria’s defending was cut through as if non existent numerous times within the opening minutes of the game. It was only through Marzahn’s failure to bundle the ball over the line in a scrappy chance in the opening five minutes that it took until the 10th minute for the home side to grab their first goal. If the opening ten minutes hadn’t been disheartening enough for the visitors, the 12th minutes saw Viktoria’s own Dennis Brixel knock one past the absolutely helpless Neumann to double Marzahn’s lead. After an own goal the afternoon couldn’t get much worse. It could. It did.
As half time approached Viktoria seemed to have found some rhythm to their game, enjoying a bit of possession, though still giving the ball away too easily all over the pitch. With only three minutes to go the unlikely happened and Viktoria got themselves back into the game, on paper at least, through a Felix Kropp goal. This immediately changed the body language of the men in red, and perhaps had it not been for the half time whistle, the spark of the goal, the adrenalin and the shock it gave Marzahn, could have helped Viktoria push on to take some control back from Marzahn. This was not on the cards and the half time whistle followed shortly after, sending the teams back to their dressing rooms, Viktoria somewhat happier than they perhaps would have been were it not for Kropp’s strike.
The words of a coach can inspire players to turn a game on it’s head. Lost causes become stories that will never be forgotten. Should such words have been uttered by coach Christian Rötzer at half time, it became immediately evident that none of his players had paid attention. At all. The referee blew his whistle to restart the match and almost instantaneously Marzahn were 4-1 up. Two goals inside the opening three minutes of the second half. Viktoria clearly have an issue with waking up in the minutes immediately after having been in a dressing room. It looked perfectly feasible that from this point Marzahn would steamroller Viktoria, showing no mercy as they tally up some goals which could well come in handy late on in the season. Instead they chose to take it easy and allow Viktoria to self destruct.
It’s worth mentioning at this point that referee Karsten Nowak does not like complaining. It’s not the first time I have seen him officiate, therefore I know this of him. Viktoria players and staff did not seem to have this information, and it was this lack of knowledge about the ref that would, in the 65th minute see them reduced to nine men. Not ten, but nine. For as one wise team member would watch his teammate receive a second yellow for refusing to stop complaining, he would immediately jump to his defence in a tirade of verbal abuse and receive his own second yellow card for having done so. 4-1 down and a deficit of two players. What happened next?
Well, most likely the opposite of what you might have expected. Certainly the opposite of what I assumed would happen. Somehow among the chaos, Viktoria actually produced their best period of football. They held possession well, pushed forward and defended with a renewed competence, and thoroughly deserved their goal, which was taken wonderfully by Alaaddin Abdallha. Sadly this was not the start of a miraculous comeback. Though Viktoria undoubtedly improved after going down to nine men, it was never going to be enough to see them claw their way out of the mess they had created for themselves in the first hour of the game. But just to make sure no one was under the false impression they were done trying, Viktoria managed to earn their third red card just on the final whistle. Entertainers to the bitter end.
So what of their ‘Kreisliga Könige’ mantle? The title may be arbitrary, but how well does it fit? If they were anywhere near the top of the table at the end of the season, it would be quite the surprise. But maybe to be Kings of the Kreisliga, one does not have to be top. Kreisliga is wild, unpredictable, and a little bit crazy and for these reasons, infinitely entertaining. Yes, certainly by these criteria, SV Rot-Weiß Viktoria Mitte are most certainly Kreisliga Könige.