Arminia Bielefeld are back in the Bundesliga, and it has been quite a ride to get there for the East Westphalians as they look forward to their 18th season in Germany's top flight in 2020/21.
A 4-0 win over Dynamo Dresden on Matchday 31 was enough to end an 11-year absence from the top table of German football, with their promotion confirmed after second-placed Hamburg could only draw with Osnabrück on Matchday 32.
A 1-0 win over Darmstadt on Matchday 32 secured the title for Bielefeld and after little more than a decade spent in the second and, for three years, the third tier, Bielefeld are back in the big time, with big dreams.
They were relegated from the Bundesliga in 2009 and it hit them hard, even if they were accustomed to it. A 2-2 draw at Hannover on the final day of the season condemned them to the drop for the eighth time in their history, when just one goal would have kept them above the bottom two.
Just two years later they finished bottom of Bundesliga 2, with relegation to the third division putting them on the brink of collapse.
Promotion back to Bundesliga 2 in 2013 gave them a fighting chance, but defeat to Darmstadt in a relegation play-off in 2014 saw them slip straight back down to the third tier. Financial problems continued to plague the club, even though they bounced straight back as third division champions in 2015.
By 2018, not only was the club's financial future secured, its on-field fortunes were kick-started by the appointment of Uwe Neuhaus as head coach at the Schüco-Arena.
The former defender had enjoyed seven prosperous years with Union Berlin, guiding them from the fourth division into Bundesliga 2 before delivering Dynamo Dresden to the same level in 2016. On 10 December 2018, he arrived in East Westphalia to start penning an even more successful chapter in an eventful 27-year coaching career.
Just a fortnight after his 59th birthday, Neuhaus joined a club on the brink of another relegation, without a win in nine. He snapped that record on his debut, and successfully guided them away from the drop zone to seventh, earning more points during the second half of the season than any other club in Bundesliga 2. That was just the beginning. Consistency was the key to Bielefeld upsetting the odds in 2019/20 and leaving illustrious rivals of the calibre of VfB Stuttgart and Hamburg in their wake.
That consistency came from the conviction Neuhaus instilled in his players. Only one of their starting regulars – Marcel Hartel – has already experienced Bundesliga football, yet his top-flight appearances for Cologne can be counted on the fingers of two hands. This was not a squad of individuals, but rather a collective group of players pulling in the same direction, pursuing a shared objective while keeping a low profile, almost bereft of pressure.
At the age of 32, club captain Fabian Klos – who joined in the third division in 2011 – will celebrate his best ever single-season return (21 goals) in Bundesliga 2 with a first ever opportunity to test his wits in the top flight. Even Neuhaus will sit in the hotseat of a Bundesliga club for the first time, although he was Matthias Sammer's right-hand man when he guided Borussia Dortmund to the title in 2002.
What they may lack in experience, Bielefeld will more than make up for in collective hunger and desire, and just as they did not quiver in the shadows of former Bundesliga giants Stuttgart and Hamburg, they will surely rise to the challenge of facing illustrious opponents on a weekly basis now they are back in the big time.
Welcome back Arminia Bielefeld!