Frankfurt - 18 May was previously a date that strikes a chord with the older generation of Eintracht Frankfurt supporters, but now it has a special place in the hearts of the club's younger fans too.
On that day in 1960, the Eagles competed against the mighty Real Madrid CF in the final of the European Cup. The German side fell to a brave 7-3 defeat, but the occasion remains one of the great stories of Eintracht folklore, and might well have served as inspiration for the current team's latest success. Exactly 53 years later, Eintracht sealed qualification for the UEFA Europa League, their highest league finish for 19 years and their first return to Europe since 2006/07
Going into the final day, Frankfurt needed at least a point from their home game with VfL Wolfsburg to take their place in Europe, and when the final whistle sounded to end a 2-2 draw, it was then time for staff, players and the fans to celebrate the crowning moment of a fantastic season. Raucous singing from the stands, showers of beer on the pitch and a sea of smiling faces gave the occasion the sense of a championship triumph. For Frankfurt, it probably felt like one.
Eintracht were only promoted to the Bundesliga last summer, but have adapted themselves remarkably well to the rigours of top-flight football. They set the tone for a successful campaign with four wins from their first four games and have not been out of the top six all season. “We’ve had a great season and to be among the top six at the end of it makes it all worthwhile,” beamed head coach Armin Veh delightedly.
As ever, though, such is the level of drama that the final day throws up that qualification looked far from secure at times. Frankfurt came up against a Wolfsburg team unbeaten in nine games, and when the Wolves took an early two-goal lead, the home fans would have been fearing the worst. There was still the possibility that they could be pipped to sixth place by Hamburger SV, who were at that time being held by Bayer 04 Leverkusen.
Thankfully for the hosts, their luck changed. Wolfsburg’s Makoto Hasebe was sent off for a professional foul, top scorer converted the penalty and the supporters believed again. A stoppage-time own goal by Wolves’ defender Ricardo Rodriguez made sure that Frankfurt’s job was done, while defeat for Hamburg made it truly safe.
Never stopped believing
“I knew it would be difficult for us, but I was able to stay calm because I always believed Leverkusen could do us a favour,” admitted sporting director Bruno Hübner. For Meier, however, the credit for reaching their target was down to the players' mentality, honed by Veh over the course of a gruelling season. “Our team spirit was the deciding factor and a lot of that is down to the coach. He’s led the team so strongly this year,” he said.
This time two years ago, Eintracht were preparing for life in Bundesliga 2 after being relegated, but the progress they have made in that time has been nothing short of sensational, so much so that right-back Sebastian Jung boldly declared, “This team is ready for Europe, just like the fans.” After winning the old UEFA Cup in 1980, the fans can now begin planning for the club’s next chapter of European history.