Last Saturday, as 19-year-old Matthew Hoppe’s hat-trick helped Schalke 04 to their first Bundesliga win in almost a year, the 82-year-old sat down with the Berlin publisher and celebrated the young American’s goals – perhaps more so than the Königsblauen players at the Veltins Arena.
This man, Hans-Hunter Ace Becker, turned around and asked: Where did this guy come from? Has he ever played for her before? It’s sensational what he’s doing. He took a chance that a seasoned pro would never get off to such a bad start. He is now a national hero in Gelsenkirchen! And we kept our record.
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Earlier, a car had taken Becker, the former captain of Tasmania Berlin, home and driven him north to the heart of Berlin. Springer Media, Germany’s largest publisher, invited him to its offices to attend the Bundesliga match between FC Schalke 04 and TSG Hoffenheim.
Fifty-five years ago, Berlin Tasmania (apparently named after the place in Australia where the club’s founders chose to settle at the turn of the century) made history with 31 consecutive winless games until the 1965-1966 season ended with two wins, four draws and just 10 points from 34 games. They were relegated after scoring just 15 goals and conceding 108, an average of more than three per game.
These numbers seemed forever certain, and they would determine the identity of Tasmanian Berlin – this story is simply part of the Tas. Our only season in the national league was five and a half decades ago, but we are still a national topic of conversation, club president Almir Numic said in an interview in December – although the club has no intention of writing such a story.
Unlike the rest of Germany, where growing fears about Schalke’s fate were out of control – Schalke had lost 30 games before last weekend’s win, including one against Tasmania in Berlin – Becker supported the Königsblauen. Most of the football world expected Schalke to continue to fail and become league champions, and no one thought anyone could break that record – especially not Becker on a team that had set an infamous standard in the 1965-1966 season.
A group of Berlin amateurs and Tasmanian midfielders have conceded 108 goals in 34 games this season, an average of more than three per game. Werner OTO/Ullstein Image via Getty Images
After all, Schalke became the fourth coach in a year when former Tottenham Hotspur manager Christian Gross was appointed on the 27th. December took the lead with a 4-0 win over Hoffenheim, the worst win in the history of German professional football.
I didn’t even think anyone would come close, Becker, who was playing defense at the time, told ESPN Becker. These days there are so many ways to end a match like this in clubs. They can buy players, they can hire psychologists. We couldn’t do it. It was a different time.
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On his way to the publishing house, Becker drove past the former Tempelhof Airport, which has become a huge amusement park in the city center since it closed in 2008. He recalled what it was like to jump on a plane in the 1965-1966 season. This year he was a frequent visitor to the airport. He remembers taking a plane to West Berlin to fly over the former GDR and landing in a West German city, where the team he coached, Tasmania Berlin, usually conceded one or two goals, failed to score – they managed only one draw in 17 games – and then returned to the divided city.
Just before landing on their way home, if they had looked south, they would have seen their old club, Werner Silenbinder Sports Park.
When we played our last away game – against Schalke 04 of all teams – the club had no money left. In the morning we left Berlin by bus, went to Gelsenkirchen, more than 500 kilometers away, got off the bus, warmed up a bit and played. We lost 4-0 that day, which was good.
Becker was talking about this season: These days there are so many ways for clubs to end a match like this. They can buy players, they can hire psychologists. We played at different times. Bruno Scholz/allstein Image via Getty Images
In 1965 Tasmania were told they would be playing in the Bundesliga, just three weeks before the first game of the season. Hertha Berlin, the largest club in the divided city, was relegated for financial irregularities and paid player registration fees, which was illegal at the time. But for political reasons, the German Football Association insisted that the Berlin club join the Bundesliga, the West German football league that turned professional in 1963 with 16 founding members. The Tasmanians’ forced promotion has also had the side effect of keeping Schalke 04 in the Bundesliga, despite their last place in the standings last season.
The Tasmanian players in Berlin were on holiday in Europe while the news spread. Becker was on the beach in Scharbeutz and remembers that a neighbor approached him and told him to go back to Berlin.
According to Becker, it was heard on the radio that all players had finished their holidays and had 14 days to prepare for the main flight of German football.
It was completely impossible, says Becker. The same goes for staying at the top [of the Bundesliga]. I saw it right away. But the club told us to quit our jobs and become professionals. I had no interest in letting football ruin my life. I had been in government service for several years and I told the association that I would not quit my job, he recalls in a broad local accent.
I told them we would only be professional for nine months and they asked me why. Because we’re going down, I replied, but they didn’t take it. It is impossible, they said, and I replied with almost absolute certainty that this is exactly what would happen.
Several of Becker’s teammates have left their jobs to embark on the Bundesliga adventure. When it became clear that we would be relegated, I was told I was a seer, but at the time I was a realist.
Bayern Munich, right, have beaten Tasmania Berlin twice in this ill-fated season. von der Beke/ullstein built via Getty Images.
Yet Tasmania managed to get the whole town moving. In the first game against Karlsruhe on the 14th. In August 1965, more than 81,000 fans marched past the gates of the Olympic Stadium and great euphoria helped them to a 2-0 victory. But when the joy was over, the fans stopped coming to the stadium they now use, because their home, the Werner-Selenbinder-Sportpark near Tempelhof airport, did not meet the requirements of a Bundesliga stadium.
In January, when we played against Borussia Monchengladbach, there were only 827 fans in the Olympiastadion, Becker said.
Those who were there, however, gave the impression that it was a family event. During a game without fans, Becker’s wife gave birth to their son, and he remembers the songs from the stadium: Buy us a round, buy us a round!
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It’s one of many memories that have surfaced in recent weeks as Schalke 04 approach the record, with a club named after the Australian island of Tasmania suddenly making headlines. Rumors spread around the world that the mighty Schalke 04 were not only about to become the worst Bundesliga team of all time, but that the record books were active against them.
The series of defeats is part of our identity], Numik’s club president told ESPN in November.
Numic took over the presidency of the club in early 2020 and has big plans. The club, which was restructured by financial difficulties after the collapse of Tasmania Berlin in the early 1970s, closely followed Schalke’s success throughout the tie. Under Numic’s leadership, the club has renovated its modest stadium and built a new casino, with fans helping by keeping as much social distance as possible. When fans were allowed to return for a short period last summer, they came in droves – some of them, like Hans-Joachim Joakel Posicki, were even members of that former Bundesliga team from the 1960s.
As it stands, the club is thriving, playing exciting football and finishing first in the NOFV-Oberliga Nord – the fifth division of the German football pyramid – when the pitch came to a standstill again in November, just as Schalke’s efforts to break the Tasmanian record are gaining momentum.
I think I know how they felt, Becker. It’s like walking through a swamp and trying to turn back, but there is no turning back. They’re trapped. This happened to us years ago.
The president of the Numic club followed the project in Schalke last Saturday at the casino SV Tasmania Berlin. We supported them, he said, revealing that he supports Schalke’s fiercest rival, Borussia Dortmund. But my heart was beating faster in Tasmania.