Until the early 1980s, the runners-up in the two second leagues determined the third promoted team. After that, the second division plays on a single track. Masters and runners-up go straight up, while the third meets the third from bottom – called relegation. The first duel is 1982 Kickers Offenbach against Bayer Leverkusen. “We have to score three goals,” Offenbach’s Michael Kutzop demands before the first leg.

However, only one goal is scored, and that too for the guests. “The 35-year-old senior and five-time national player” (Tagesspiegel) Dieter Herzog, world champion in 1974, becomes the first goal scorer in the relegation. Bayer also wins the second leg (2-1) and remains top notch.

The relegation may have its peculiarities; it is not a separate competition, at least according to the statutes. Rather, it is the continuation of mastery by other means. In this specific case, this means that the warnings from league operations continue to count. Hertha will therefore have to do without Santiago Ascacibar on Thursday, who saw his fifth yellow card over the weekend. Stevan Jovetic is threatened with a yellow card suspension for the second leg, as are HSV Bakery Jatta and Mikkel Kaufmann.

What is new this year is the abolition of the away goals rule – analogous to the innovations in the European Cup. While there was also no away goals rule between 1982 and 1991, it has influenced the outcome three times since 2009. HSV (2014 against Greuther Fürth), 1. FC Union (2019 against VfB Stuttgart) and Werder Bremen (2020 against 1. FC Heidenheim) only prevailed because they had scored more times in the opposing stadium than their opponent . All six games ended in a draw.

In the period before the away goals rule, second division side Fortuna Köln won the first game against Borussia Dortmund 2-0 in 1986. In game two, the underdog leads 1-0 in front of 54,000 fans in the sold-out Westfalenstadion through Bernd Grabosch before Michael Zorc converts a controversial penalty for BVB in the 54th minute. Cologne goalkeeper Jacek Jarecki then made an outstanding save, BVB didn’t want to do more than Marcel Raducanu’s 2-1. Up to the 90th minute. Then Jürgen, known as “Kobra”, hits Wegmann – who has already announced his move to FC Schalke 04 for the new season – to make it 3-1.

For the first time in the history of relegation, there will be a third game on a neutral pitch. It is to take place four days later in Düsseldorf. However, she doesn’t. The match committee of the German Football Association (DFB) announced the day before the match: “Since Fortuna Köln declared that they were unable to play by submitting a medical certificate confirming the inability of eleven injured players to play, the DFB had no choice but to do so Cancel the game and move it to a date to be determined.”

The game will be played a week later. It was 0-0 for a good half hour, and in the end it was 8-0 for Dortmund. “We played a strong game. Fortuna resigned early on,” says BVB coach Reinhard Saftig. He also remained victorious with VfL Bochum against 1. FC Saarbrücken in 1990, making him the only coach to triumph twice in the relegation round.

In the third game between SV Darmstadt 98 and Waldhof Mannheim in 1988 in the Ludwigsparkstadion in Saarbrücken there was no goal for 120 minutes. “Both teams lacked any suitability for the Bundesliga. Confused defenders faced staid strikers whose nerves gave out when there were few opportunities,” writes the Tagesspiegel.

In the only penalty shoot-out in the history of relegation, Karl-Heinz Emig has it on his feet for Darmstadt. The former player from Waldhof and Hertha BSC just has to score. Emig shoots flat and in the middle, goalkeeper Uwe Zimmermann holds. Five shooters later, Mannheim celebrates staying up in the league. There will be another deciding game: In 1991, the Stuttgarter Kickers won 3-1 in Gelsenkirchen against Bundesliga club St. Pauli. According to the mode, the decision is now always made in two games.

That’s how you can fool yourself. When the German Football League (DFL) decided to reintroduce relegation in August 2007, this did not lead to an outcry among the second division clubs. On the contrary. “According to information from association circles, the second division teams are almost closed for the reform,” reports the daily mirror. Today they probably see things differently. Because de facto the relegation has meant that the second division teams have lost a promotion place.

In 13 attempts since 2009, the second division team has only been able to assert itself three times: 1. FC Nürnberg (2009), Fortuna Düsseldorf (2012) and Union (2019). And when Holstein Kiel won the first leg 1-0 at 1. FC Köln in May 2021, it was the first win by a second division club in nine years: since Hertha’s 1-2 win at home against Düsseldorf. In between, there were nine draws and eight defeats for the second division. Between 1982 and 1991, the first division teams also had a clear advantage: they won seven times in ten duels.

Friedhelm Funkel stands on the sidelines and spreads his arms. The coach of VfL Bochum is a bit angry. But that’s nothing compared to his anger after the game. It is triggered by what happens exactly in second 17 after the end of the indicated two-minute overtime in Borussia-Park in Mönchengladbach. After a long throw into Bochum’s penalty area, after a lot of confusion in front of the VfL goal and another rescue by the formidable goalkeeper Andreas Luthe that evening, substitute Igor de Camargo scored in the first leg to make it 1-0 for Gladbach.

The Borussia Park escalated, and even for the otherwise reserved Swiss Lucien Favre, the winning goal led to an emotional discharge. Borussia’s coach, who has only been in charge for three months, sprints down the sidelines to join the cheering crowd of his players. After a 1-1 draw in the second leg, Gladbach actually stayed in the league – and Lucien Favre triumphed over Friedhelm Funkel, the coach who replaced him at Hertha BSC a year and a half earlier.

Relegation can be a curse or a blessing. And sometimes a perfect springboard. Since 2011 there have been three clubs that have remained top-flight thanks to relegation and qualified for Europe just a year later. 1. FC Köln, who will start next season in the Conference League, have managed to do just that. This feat was also achieved by VfL Wolfsburg (2019, sixth in the table) and Borussia Mönchengladbach. In 2012, the Gladbachers even qualified for the Champions League play-offs as fourth in the table.

Relegation is an extreme experience that can shape a club and strengthen a team. The positive development of Eintracht Frankfurt also began with the successful relegation (2016 against Nuremberg). A year later, the SGE did not reach Europe, but at least the final in the DFB Cup.

The second leg between Düsseldorf and Hertha is mainly remembered for the scandalous circumstances surrounding it. However, this game also has a record almost exactly ten years ago on May 15, 2012. At the very beginning, Düsseldorf’s Maximilian Beister picked up the ball not far from the center line, ran with it for a long time and slammed it into the goal after 24 seconds from over 20 meters. Earlier than anyone else in a relegation game.

A special figure was already reported in the first leg: 68,041 spectators in the Olympic Stadium are a record number of spectators in the relegation.

According to unconfirmed rumours, Manuel Gräfe has again been voted Germany’s best referee this season – although he ended his career a year ago. But even the best referee is not immune to mistakes. Gräfe has known that since June 1, 2015 at the latest, when he punished a handball by Jonas Meffert with a free kick in the last minute of the relegation second leg between Karlsruher SC and Hamburger SV.

What appears undisputed in real speed turns out to be a wrong decision on closer inspection. The ball did not hit the angled forearm of the Karlsruher, but his elbow. But Gräfe’s decision stands.

And of course it comes as it must. Marcelo Diaz curled the ball into the corner to make it 1-1 and thus saved HSV into overtime, in which he finally secured 2-1 relegation. Rafael van der Vaart actually wanted to take the free kick. But Diaz has other plans. “Tomorrow, my friend, tomorrow,” he is said to have said to his colleague.

Only the two parties involved know whether the sentence was really spoken. Van der Vaart later said that at least he hadn’t heard him. But: “He ran, shot him in, everything is fine.” It was – in 20 competitive appearances – the only goal that Diaz scored for HSV.

July 2020, because of the coronavirus pandemic, the games between second division club 1. FC Heidenheim and Werder Bremen will take place without fans. Some spectators are still present, and one has decided to create a good atmosphere. A man works very persistently with a wooden spoon on a frying pan.

Which causes little amusement for a large number of those who follow the game via Dazn. Especially on Twitter there are masses of annoyed statements. Heidenheim did not help the unusual continuous sound system, Werder remains in the Bundesliga.