• Club's stadium renamed in honour of Johnny Heimes.
  • Sponsors waive their stadium naming rights for the rest of the 2016/17 season.
  • Former child tennis star tragically died of cancer in March.

In an incredible gesture, SV Darmstadt 98 have renamed their stadium the Jonathan-Heimes-Stadion am Böllenfalltor in commemoration of deceased supporter Johnny Heimes.

Heimes was a former tennis prodigy and much-loved fan whose battle with cancer proved to be one of the inspirations behind the Lilies’ successful bid for promotion to the Bundesliga in 2014/15.

He tragically passed away in March at the age of 26, but the club have honoured his memory by renaming their tradition-laden home in tribute to him, with premium sponsor, the science and technology company Merck, forgoing their naming rights to the arena for the rest of this season.

'Johnny's living room'

Club captain Aytac Sulu, who along with the rest of the squad, celebrated Darmstadt’s promotion with Johnny in front of thousands of jubilant fans in the city’s Karolinenplatz in May 2015, expressed his joy with the stadium’s new title.

“We’re playing in Johnny’s living room now, which is a motivation in itself,” said the 30-year-old. “We want to stay up again this season and this connection will spur us on even more. Every Darmstadt fan who identifies with us identifies with Johnny too.”

Heimes joined the Darmstadt players in celebrating the team's promotion to the top flight in May 2015. © imago

“We were ready and willing to make this gesture and we’re delighted that we’ve been able to do so in agreement with all parties,” said Merck board member Kai Beckmann, while Johnny’s father Martin praised the company for their generosity.

“It’s tremendous that Merck have named the stadium after our son Johnny, who loved and supported this club so much. This also helps ensure that the initiative ‘DUMUSSTKÄMPFEN’ goes on.”

'Nothing is lost yet'

German for ‘You have to fight on’, the DUMUSSTKÄMPFEN foundation is a non-profit organisation set up by Heimes and Darmstadt native and professional tennis player Andrea Petkovic in February 2015 to help young cancer sufferers.

The words resonated strongly with the team that season – former midfielder Tobias Kempe had another of Heimes’ statements, “Es ist noch nichts verloren” (“Nothing is lost yet”), tattooed on his arm – and Heimes was a guest of honour at the promotion celebrations three months later. His battle with cancer, with which he was diagnosed at the age of 14, continued into this year, before his death on 8 March.

Heimes established a children's cancer charity with professional tennis player Andrea Petkovic. © imago

Charity set to benefit

Darmstadt’s main sponsor, Software AG, have also joined in the commemoration to Heimes by announcing that for one matchday on the anniversary of his passing next March, the players’ shirts will bear the DUMUSSTKÄMPFEN logo, instead of the company’s name. The club also plans to sell the jersey as a limited edition kit, with all the proceeds raised going to the foundation.

A special edition DUMUSSTKÄMPFEN wristband will also be produced, and from Tuesday onwards, one of the city’s trams will be decorated with the club colours and the words “Thank you Johnny!” 

Bernard Reeves