HSV History: Friendship with Rangers
As part of the announcement of the official partnership between the two clubs, we look back to the origins of the friendship between Hamburger SV and Rangers FC.
Hamburger SV and Rangers have long been associated with one another, but few know the full story behind the origins of the friendship between the 2. Bundesliga and Scottish Premiership sides, and that it dates back as far as the 1970s.
Hamburg and Glasgow share natural links, with the two cities based on the water and shaped by their maritime and shipbuilding history, built upon the hard work of the working class on the Clyde and the Elbe. The colours that are most associated with Hamburger SV and Rangers are also similar; blue, white and black at the Volksparkstadion, and blue, white and red at Ibrox Stadium, whilst both clubs are stepped in tradition; HSV winning the German title on six occasions and Rangers the Scottish championship a record 54 times.
This tradition was the reason for two friendlies arranged in the early 1970s, HSV challenging for the Bundesliga title at the time and Rangers being at the height of their powers, winning the European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1972. Part of the attraction lay in the mystery and reputation of the Rangers fans; at the time, German fan culture was a shadow of what it is today, and a long way behind British fan culture. There was no official or even unofficial HSV club merchandise, no fan clubs, few fans visited away games and visiting a stadium was mainly limited to watching the match, there were no terrace chants or HSV songs to sing.
On top of that it was difficult to get regular information about German football, let alone British football, Scotland and Ibrox Stadium seen as a bit of a promised land for groundhoppers in the 1970s, thus the invitation to Rangers to play the friendlies at the Volksparkstadion. Whilst HSV were able to win both friendlies (3-1 on the 24th July 1970 and 3-0 on the 4th March 1974), it was actions off the pitch which would be the origins of the friendship. Particularly during the second match-up in 1974, the HSV fans were impressed by how many Rangers fans made the trip over to Hamburg, and the difference that their vociferous and colourful support made to their team and the matchday experience as a whole. Contact details were exchanged and a number of HSV fans were able to secure themselves Rangers scarves, a highly prized article at the time, and also meaning that in the following few years you were more likely to see a Rangers scarf in the Westkurve than a HSV one, the sale of official and unofficial merchandise still taking a while to get going.
HSV fans Michael Burzlaff and Kay Giese were so impressed that they decided there and then to make the trip over to Glasgow. It goes without saying that making such a journey required much more planning and a good slice of luck four decades ago, but the pair eventually managed it in 1977, forming the Hamburg Loyal Rangers Supporters Club as part of their journey, which still survives to this day and is the oldest Rangers fan club in mainland Europe. The two Hamburg natives were able to see a 4-1 win over Clydebank FC on their first visit to Ibrox Stadium on the 1st October 1977, also enjoying a 6-1 win over Aberdeen in the cup four days later. Hamburg Loyal RSC were able to make friends with RSC fan club Paisley True Blues, although this fan club was later disbanded.
Membership numbers for Hamburg Loyal RSC grew in the ‘80s, although exact numbers are difficult to know, Michael conceding “we weren’t very careful with the accounting.” The one constant was the flag of the fan club, which included ‘Hamburg Loyal RSC’ in white across the middle red band of the Union flag. The aim of the fan club was never to grow significantly in size, Michael and Kay only introducing people into the fan club who fitted in and were as passionate as they were about both HSV and Rangers. As of 2012, the fan club ‘only’ had 15 members.
However, this also ensured that the friendship between the two sets of fans was mainly on a personal level, driven on by the Hamburg Loyal RSC fan club, but also not shared by the majority of the Volksparkstadion or Ibrox faithful. The catalyst for the change in relations was the transfer of HSV fan favourite Jörg Albertz to the blue side of Glasgow in 1996, fate ensuring that Hamburg were also drawn away to Rangers’ cross-town rivals Celtic in the UEFA Cup in September 1996. With it also being the Rothosen’s first European game in five years, the appetite for an away day was large amongst the HSV faithful, travelling across in their thousands to Scotland. Rangers fans helped with the planning of the trip, and also recommending which pubs to go to, the concept of pubs and bars ‘belonging’ to one team being something that you encounter very rarely in northern Germany.
For broad masses of HSV fans, these meetings in Glasgow before the UEFA Cup game at Parkhead were their first interaction with the Rangers fanbase. A 2-0 win against Celtic, thanks to goals from Karsten Bäron and Andre Breitenreiter, guaranteed the new-found friendship was celebrated long into the night, the Hamburg faithful accepting the standing ovation and free drinks on offer from the Rangers fans upon their return. The staff at Ibrox were also happy with their new-found friends, HSV fans descending on the Rangers Store in their hundreds to buy replica shirts with Jörg Albertz’s name on the back.
The friendship grew from strength to strength after HSV’s win at Parkhead, visits increasing over the years, including after a HSV game in Aberdeen and a Germany game at Hampden Park in 2003, whilst the Glaswegian Bar Loyal HSV Supporters Club was founded in 2005. The friendship was particularly maintained by the ‘Chosen Few’ HSV ultra group and the newly formed ‘Union Bears’ in the 2000s, visiting each other four or five times a year. With direct interaction between the two limited, visits were usually restricted to Rangers games in Europe or HSV games in the UK. Rangers’ surprising trip to the 2008 UEFA Cup Final also saw them beat Werder Bremen in the semi-final, around 150 HSV fans accompanying the Rangers faithful to the Weserstadion, home of their northern rivals.
How the friendship had grown by the time that HSV were drawn in the same group as Celtic in the 2009/10 Europa League was shown by the number of HSV fans who travelled to Glasgow; 4,000 making the trip across compared to 1,500 in 1996. A 1-0 win courtesy of Marcus Berg at Parkhead ensured another heroes’ welcome for the travelling HSV fans as they walked back into Glasgow, handed memorabilia and celebrated by the Rangers fans along the way.
The double-header against Celtic in 2009 meant that the friendship reached new heights, and a friendly was organised at the Volksparkstadion for the 29th November 2011. Unfortunately, a Tuesday night game in the middle of the season before Christmas didn’t prove entirely popular with either fan base, 12,000 turning up on the night, but still an impressive 1,000 making the trip over from Glasgow mid-week for the essentially meaningless game, HSV running out 2-1 winners.
Cheap flights and the increased popularity of weekend getaways have seen the friendship grow even further in recent years, every weekend large numbers of HSV fans being seen at Rangers games, and Rangers fans also enjoying all that Hamburg has to offer alongside a trip to the Volksparkstadion.
Sources: Kinder der Westkurve, HSV Museum, HSV Archives