Nicknamed the ‘Dinosaurier’ (the dinosaur), Hamburger SV are one of Germany’s oldest and most successful clubs with three league titles, three DFB Pokals and a European cup. 

It’s the club where Kevin Keegan won both of his Ballon d’ors, the first club ever to have a shirt sponsor, and since the Bundesliga’s inception in 1962, every team who’d ever been in the top flight had spent some time in the second division bar one…Hamburg. 

They were so well known for this exclusive record, they even had a clock in their home, the Volksparkstadion reading ‘in the Bundesliga since’ in case anyone dared forget about their exclusive record. 

But since their relegation in 2018 their struggle to get out of the second division has been well documented. So how exactly did HSV go from unrelegatable to unpromotable?

The downfall

It all started in the 2013/14 season. A pretty average mid table season quickly turned sour. They finished in 16th, the relegation play off spot, with them scraping past Greuther Furth on away goals.

But it was the 2014/15 season where the wheels really started to fall off. They spent the first two months in the bottom three, they suffered an 8-0 loss to Bayern and then the infamous ‘Backpack Gate’ would turn Hamburg from struggling to an absolute circus. 

A member of the public found a backpack in a Hamburg park, which turned out to belong to Hamburg Sporting Director Peter Knabel. Inside the bag were confidential club documents such as wage slips and contract details.

The finder phoned the club and told them what they’d found, the club ignored them so the finder phoned the tabloids, who spilled the beans to the world. 

Despite the scandal and sitting in the bottom three for most of the season, a final day win against Schalke and other results going their way meant they’d somehow avoided the drop and would go into another relegation play off.  

A 1-1 draw in Hamburg gave Karlsruhe the away goal advantage going into the second leg. But it looked to be curtains for HSV, with Karlsruher 1-0 up with 13 minutes left of the second leg.

With all hope lost and Hamburg fans all across the country coming to terms with their clubs’ fate, they got a free kick in the last minute. Marcelo Diaz stuck it in the top corner and sent the fans behind the goal into pandemonium and the game to extra time. 

An extra time tap in from Nicolai Muller put Hamburg ahead, and a last-minute penalty save from Rene Adler meant they’d scabbed it again. Hamburg couldn’t be relegated. 

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The following two seasons were less eventful with HSV finishing 10th in 15/16 and 14th in 16/17. But with them second bottom at Christmas in 17/18, it looked like round three of relegation roulette for Hamburg. 

But this time it was different. They picked up just four points between January and April, and found themselves rock bottom, seven points adrift with six games left. They were doomed. 

Three wins on the bounce put HSV just two points away from Wolfsburg in the playoff spot with two games left. Going into the final day Hamburg had to win and Wolfsburg had to lose.  

Against a Borussia Monchengladbach side who had nothing to play for, Aaron Hunt put Hamburg 1-0 up from the penalty spot. But with Wolfsburg 1-0 up against an already relegated Koln, celebrations were muted. 

Monchengladbach equalised but so did Koln against Wolfsburg. The great escape was back on, and when Holtby put Hamburg back in the lead the inevitable impossible looked to be on. 

Hamburg had done their bit, but their luck had run dry. Wolfsburg retook the lead in Koln and that’s how it would stay. 

With the news of the Wolfsburg score going around the ground, the travelling Monchengladbach fans unfurled a tifo mocking Hamburg’s famous ‘in the Bundesliga since’ clock, with all the sections reading zero. The pot that had been simmering for five years finally boiled over. 

Fans threw flares onto the pitch with riot police and horses being brought on. Most German fans rejoiced, finally Hamburg were down. But in the Volksparkstadion this was no laughing matter, this was the reality of what their football club had become.  

Zweite strife

With part of the club’s identity now ripped out of them, they had to get back up as soon as possible and by March 2019 it was looking good. 

But out of nowhere Hamburg would go eight games without a win in the final run in. That tied with losses to teams around them meant Hamburg finished fourth and, shockingly, would spend a second season in the Bundesliga.2. 

The following season of 19/20 they’d finish fourth for the second time. They spent much of the season in the top three but fell apart again with a 5-1 humiliation at home to Sandhausen burying their promotion hopes. 

They’d complete the hattrick in 20/21 and would finish fourth yet again. Being top of the league in February they bottled it again, winning just four of their last 14.

In 21/22 like the three seasons prior, they spent most of the season in the promotion spots. But right on cue a fantastic start to the season was once again thrown away and they found themselves seven points away from the playoff spot with five games left. 

However, this time they summoned the resolve that kept them in Bundesliga for all those years. They scabbed third, meaning they’d play Hertha Berlin, this time on the other side of the relegation/promotion play off they were all too familiar with. 

In a sold out Olympiastadion a scrappy goal from Hamburg’s Ludovit Reis would be the only goal of the game, with HSV taking a 1-0 win and a crucial away goal to the second leg. In the second leg however, Hertha would score either side of half time and that was that. HSV had failed again.

Last season would fully sum up the last five years for HSV. In the final game of the season Hamburg had to win and results go their way to get automatic promotion. They beat Sandhausen 1-0 and promotion rivals Heidenheim were 2-1 down against Jahn Regensburg with 90 mins on the clock.

With promotion all but sealed, delirious Hamburg fans flooded onto the pitch unaware that Heidenheim had just equalised in injury time. With Hamburg fans glued to their phones, a 99th minute Heidenheim winner put them in second and Hamburg in third.

Fans collapsed with devastation as the stadium announcer announced the full-time scores across the Bundesliga.2. A demolition from Stuttgart in the play-off kept them away from the Bundesliga once again and that brings us to now. 

Once again challenging for promotion, Hamburg will be hoping to break their curse and get back to where they belong. With city rivals St. Pauli flying at the top of the table, HSV will be more desperate than ever for their long awaited return to the top flight. Will there be any more crazy twists this time?