Munich - This weekend's Bundesliga match between FC Schalke 04 and 1. FC Nuremberg may not start until 15:30 CET on Saturday, but fans can look forward to a great afternoon even before kick-off as the two sets of supporters gather to celebrate a unique 'fan friendship'.
Through thick and thin
Countless myths surround the origins of the unlikely accord between the two clubs. One tale has it that during a game in the late 1970s, a group of Schalke fans confronted several of their own supporters who were trying to enter the Nuremberg stand in search of trouble.
Whatever sparked it, this affinity has gone through thick and thin over the past three decades, even when the two clubs were separated by division. For example, Schalke spent large parts of the 1980s in Bundesliga 2.
"I well remember Schalke's encounters in Bayreuth, which lays just a stone's throw from Nuremberg," says Jürgen Bergmann, Nuremberg's fans liaison officer. "We used to go to their stadium and support Schalke as well as we could." Another 1,000 travelled to Milan in 1997 to witness Schalke's famous UEFA Cup final success against Internazionale.
"A matter of course"
"The permanence and intensity of our Fan-Freundschaft is unique in the world," continued Bergmann, pointing out that "what's most fascinating is the fact that all the different groups join it. Even for the younger generation it's a matter of course to have an affinity to Schalke 04."
Despite the close ties, there is no doubt the action on the pitch will be as competitive as ever when the two teams go head to head on Saturday at Schalke's Veltins Arena. The hosts, third in the Bundesliga table, intend to complete a perfect week following stunning away wins in the UEFA Champions League against Arsenal and domestically in the Ruhr derby against champions Borussia Dortmund last weekend.
Room for improvement
Still, Nuremberg present "a very tough home fixture" according to Royal Blues' head coach Huub Stevens. "We go into it on the back of two impressive victories but that's just a snapshot. Against Nuremberg we start from scratch again, and the pressure is back on us to perform." In spite of recent performances, the Dutch tactician believes there is still room for improvement: "We did really well for long periods. Not everything was perfect."
Nuremberg's form dipped dramatically after collecting seven of their current eight points in the three opening matches, and since Hiroshi Kiyotake & Co. have slipped to 15th place. However, last week's goalless draw with Augsburg has helped Dieter Hecking's side regain confidence defensively. "We want to try and take something from the game," said the 48-year-old. "It’s a possibility as long as we show our qualities throughout the whole game."
Whatever the outcome on Saturday, one sure thing is that both sets of fans can look forward to cheering on their respective teams whilst representing what the Bundesliga atmosphere is all about - passion, emotion and most of all respect.
Schalke: Unnerstall - Uchida, Höwedes, Matip, Fuchs - Neustädter, Höger - Farfan, Holtby, Afellay - Huntelaar
Nuremberg: Rakovsky - Chandler, Nilsson, Klose, Pinola - Balitsch, Simons - Gebhart, Kiyotake, Frantz - Polter