Niklas Stark didn’t play for a long time. At least not on the lawn. But Niklas Stark played along very well. From the bank. Again and again the 27-year-old jumped up during Hertha BSC’s relegation second leg at Hamburger SV, clapped, cheered. He came on for Suat Serdar in the 85th minute and, including the long stoppage time, was still on the pitch for a good ten minutes in what was by far the most important game in the club’s recent history.

It was a final for Hertha, relegation or not. And it was the final game for Stark at Hertha. After seven years and 199 competitive games. The contract, which expired at the end of the season, had not been extended. “Economic issues” also played a role, sports director Fredi Bobic announced a few weeks ago.

In decisive games like against HSV it’s about “a few percent that are so important. I tried to get those percentages out with the guys on the bench,” said Stark, who struggled with injuries several times in the final stages of the season, after the win in Hamburg: “I think it’s very important that the team feels that she has full support. And those on the pitch did an outstanding job.”

In the end, it was just fine for Hertha. Thanks to an increase in performance that was hardly considered possible after the first leg. This is how Stark’s time in Hertha ended without relegation, but with an extraordinary evening. “That’s going to be one of those things to remember,” Stark said. The season in the Europa League in 2017 is also part of it.

Actually, it was still early to recapitulate everything, Stark thought. He then looked back briefly: “I went through good phases, I went through bad phases. The last two or three years have been really difficult.” What is meant is the constant background noise around the club, coupled with the ongoing sporting crisis.

In the past few weeks it has been a farewell to the fans in several small acts. A bit against FSV Mainz 05. A bit more after the first leg against HSV, when everyone involved was very depressed. Stark still got applause from the fans in the east stand.

On Monday, after the rescue, the really last walk to the fans followed. He walked over alone after the supporters and team had celebrated relegation together beforehand, and received prolonged applause. “Somehow I can’t get it baked to say goodbye one hundred percent, it will take a while,” said Stark, emotionally agitated: “It’s all surreal.” When Hertha tweeted him goodbye on Tuesday, the fans thanked him very much defender.

Stark came from 1. FC Nürnberg in 2015. He quickly became a regular player under coach Pal Dardai and made two international appearances. In difficult times – and times have been difficult almost consistently at Hertha in the recent past – the vice-captain was usually the one who spoke in public. Trying to explain what was difficult to explain.

Last summer there were signs that the Stark/Hertha connection would continue. However, both sides have never come close during the season when it comes to a contract extension. Stark did not want to comment on this in detail now either.

Instead, he said goodbye with greatness: “I wish the club the best. That a foundation is created that you can build on and that Hertha BSC will become Hertha BSC again.”

It is still unclear how things will continue for him. First comes vacation. For the time after that “there are a few options,” said Stark, who concluded his seven years in Berlin as follows: “If you think about it completely, it was a great time. And a long time for a football career. I’m glad to have been here.”