Holstein Kiel are on the verge of making history. Promoted from the third tier of German football in 2017, they are now two matches away from a maiden Bundesliga campaign if they can overcome Wolfsburg in the relegation play-off.

Let bundesliga.com introduce you to a team looking to switch a city’s focus from handball to football…

Who are Holstein Kiel?

Named after the region and city in which they play, Kiel trace their history back to the turn of the 20th Century and claimed their one and only German championship in 1912. In their federal state of Schleswig-Holstein, they have often been the dominant force over local rivals VfB Lübeck, but have failed to shine nationally since that sole domestic success bar a runner-up finish in 1930. They were ever-presents in the top flight of state football prior to the introduction of the Bundesliga as the nationwide first division in 1963.

After decades of struggles, the Storks are flying once again as they look to deliver the special package of Bundesliga football to Kiel for the first time. © imago / DeFodi

Since then, the Storks – supposedly stemming from a club pub named “Zum Storchennest” (to the stork’s nest) – have drifted between the various second and fourth tiers of German football. The lack of footballing success in the city has seen other sports since take precedence on the Baltic coast, including sailing (the city hosted Olympic sailing in 1936 and 1972) and more importantly handball. The city is home to THW Kiel, who are the most successful handball team in German history – once winning every game in a league season – and one of the best in the world.

The football team are now attempting to change that. Promoted to Bundesliga 2 only 12 months ago, they are now looking to become just the eighth club in history to go from the third tier to the Bundesliga in one go. They would be the 56th different club to play in the Bundesliga should they get past Wolfsburg, and the first ever from their state of Schleswig-Holstein.

How they did it

After failing to gain promotion to Bundesliga 2 after play-off defeat to 1860 Munich in 2015, Kiel finally returned to the second tier of German football in 2017/18 for the first time in 36 years after finishing second in the third division the previous campaign. And they have not looked back since then, often blowing away teams in an incredibly competitive Bundesliga 2 campaign. Their haul of 71 goals was not only the most in the division but set a new record for a promoted club. Their total of 56 points – the second-most by a debutant in Bundesliga 2 after Hoffenheim – saw them finish just four points short of automatic promotion but a comfortable eight points clear of fourth place.

Translation: We've got plans for Whit Monday... The madness continues: The #Storks will compete for Bundesliga promotion in the play-off on 17 and 21 May!!!

Equally impressive home and away with just six points more coming at their Holstein-Stadion, the Storks in fact topped the table for five weeks over the course of the season. In a run of form that exemplified the unpredictable nature of the second tier in 2017/18, the promoted side started the season with nine wins from their opening 13 games (plus 2 draws and 2 losses) but then went on an 11-match winless run before ending it with a 5-0 win over fellow promoted club Duisburg. Unmoved from third place since Matchday 20, their 56 points is the lowest ever for a team to reach the play-off, which they secured with a draw at champions Fortuna Düsseldorf before a rotated side trounced Eintracht Braunschweig 6-2 on the final day to relegate the club who had just 12 months earlier failed to beat Wolfsburg in the play-off for Bundesliga promotion.

Star player

In a team not really shaped by individual quality, striker Marvin Ducksch has led from the front for Kiel. A former Borussia Dortmund youth product, he is on loan from St. Pauli and has fired his way to the top of the league’s scoring chart with 18 goals to his name. Speaking to bundesliga.com, Ducksch put that down to the perfect understanding he has with his teammates, who “always know where to play the ball and welcomed me in straight away so I could immediately find my feet here.” And that he did, scoring on his debut in the DFB Cup and the league.

The sight of top scorer Marvin Ducksch wheeling away in celebration has been a familar sight in Bundesliga 2 in 2017/18. © imago / Agentur 54 Grad

Honourable mentions also go to midfielders Kingsley Schindler (12 goals, including 7 in last 10 games) and Dominick Drexler, who’s chipped in with 12 goals and seven assists in 31 games this season – he had previously registered just two goals and one assist in 33 Bundesliga 2 appearances. Behind them are defenders Dominick Schmidt, who’s 2342 touches was a league high in 2017/18 and Niklas Hoheneder, who boasts a 92.7% pass completion.

The coach

The Kiel job was the first in charge of a professional team for Markus Anfang. The 43-year-old, who hung up his boots in 2010 after spells with numerous clubs, including Bayer Leverkusen, Düsseldorf, Schalke and Kaiserslautern, went on to work in the Leverkusen academy for four years before the Storks picked him up in August 2016.

Despite masterminding Kiel's rise, 43-year-old Markus Anfang will leave the club to join Cologne next season. © gettyimages / Eibner

Since then Anfang and Kiel have only known only known success. Promotion in his first season to Bundesliga 2 and now on the verge of the top flight, it is now rather ironic that no matter the outcome of the play-off with Wolfsburg, Anfang will remain in Bundesliga 2 having agreed to take over relegated Cologne for the new campaign.

The stadium

Kiel’s home since 1911, the Holstein-Stadion is one of the oldest football grounds in Germany and contains a memorial to club members who died during the First and Second World Wars, including players from the 1912 title-winning side. With a capacity of a little over 10,000 spectators, the picturesque ground near the Kiel seafront would be one of the smallest ever in the Bundesliga. That has, however, led to the club initially being denied a licence by the DFL to play their home games at the Holstein-Stadion should they feature in the Bundesliga next season, where rules dictate that a stadium must have a capacity of at least 15,000, of which 8,000 are seated.

The Holstein-Stadion would be the smallest ground in the Bundesliga if Kiel are allowed to play there next season. © imago / Jan Huebner

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