Home » 1. FC Heidenheim: What’s behind the Swabian football miracle

1. FC Heidenheim: What’s behind the Swabian football miracle

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1. FC Heidenheim: What’s behind the Swabian football miracle

For a long time it looked as if Heidenheim an der Brenz could get another unique selling point. As part of 1. FC Heidenheim’s plans to expand its stadium, the local council of the town of 50,000 residents on the northeastern edge of the Swabian Alb was busy with an unusual project: the construction of a cable car from the central bus station down in the valley up to the Schlossberg . In addition to the medieval fortress of Hellenstein Castle, there is a natural theater, a residential area – and the Voith Arena, where the newcomer from one of the smallest Bundesliga cities plays its home games.

However: The plans are about to come to an end. Too expensive, they say, even though there is a need. Because every two weeks the stadium is bursting at the seams, which regularly leads to chaos on the streets when 15,000 people want to go to the Schlossberg. Most people come from outside the area by car and cause traffic problems. This is likely to increase if the arena is expanded. The capacity is expected to be increased to 25,000 next year. As far as the necessary approval is concerned, things are looking good, they say, and nobody in Heidenheim can refuse the FCH anything.

The club is a flagship. The club, which in the 1990s shuttled back and forth between the fifth-tier state league and the fourth-tier association league, has made it to the top. And after a good two thirds of the season, it looks like he should be able to stay there. On Saturday, Eintracht Frankfurt will come to the Schlossberg. Heidenheim is eleven points ahead of the relegation place. Hardly anyone expected this before the start of the season.

No team runs as much as Heidenheim

Not even Holger Sanwald, who has been working for the club for 29 years. “None of those in charge have played in the Bundesliga, not even our coach Frank Schmidt,” says the CEO to WELT AM SONNTAG. Sanwald started playing football here when he was 13. He made it to the national league. In 1994 he became head of the football department.

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Holger Sanwald (l.) and trainer Frank Schmidt

Source: picture alliance/Eibner press photo/Heike Feiner

There are reasons why things are going so well. Although Heidenheim has the least amount of ball possession of all 18 Bundesliga clubs (43 percent), the prevailing belief is that we can still do it. The team runs an average of 121.8 kilometers per game – more than any other team. No matter how great the opponent’s playful superiority may seem: FCH never gives up.

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Such feats of strength are only possible with the greatest possible homogeneity. Everything is done to create this sense of community. Frank Schmidt lives it: He has been responsible for the team for over 16 years. The trainer relies on identification, ideally in combination with quality. Like Jan-Niklas Beste, who was brought in from Werder Bremen in the summer of 2022 for 950,000 euros. He is the top scorer with seven goals and ten assists, followed by Erin Dinkci and Tim Kleindienst, who each scored seven goals and assisted three more. What unites them is that their talent was overlooked elsewhere.

In short, Jérôme Boateng was in the conversation

Relying on such players and integrating them into the established structure has been the philosophy in Heidenheim for years. In the summer, after brief consideration, it was decided not to make any changes. This would have been entirely possible thanks to the additional income from television marketing alone. But what would have been the point of signing expensive players now? “They couldn’t have given us a guarantee either. In the end we might still have been relegated and had to foot the bill – or maybe we would have been broke. This has happened to some clubs,” says Sanwald.

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There were certainly temptations. In the autumn, for example, when the number of goals conceded increased due to injuries in the defense, there was even consideration of bringing in a world champion. Jérôme Boateng, who was without a club until February, would have been available for free. “We don’t limit ourselves in our thoughts. That’s one of the reasons we looked at him, even though he’s definitely not a typical Heidenheim player,” says Sanwald. However, the idea did not progress beyond an exploratory discussion. The question was also: Can a star who attracts so much attention pose a threat to said homogeneity? Probably yes.

Because even if it doesn’t look like it – Heidenheim definitely has something to lose: the status quo that the provincial club has laboriously achieved and which goes far beyond its league membership. The FCH has become a social and economic factor. “We have recognized the power and opportunities of our Swabian region and are managing to get people excited about the FCH,” explains Sanwald.

Three major regional sponsors support the club

The promotion was another development boost. The number of members tripled to 9,700. The three major sponsors MHP (a Porsche subsidiary), the medical device manufacturer Hartmann and the technology group Voith have a regional connection – as do over 550 other partners. The area’s largely medium-sized economy is the backbone of the club. “We have succeeded in developing the largest business platform between Stuttgart and Augsburg,” says Sanwald. In the sponsorship and hospitality sector, 17.5 million euros had already been turned over by the end of February – ten million in the entire promotion season.

The self-established network keeps the club alive and opens up perspectives, for example with regard to the expansion of the stadium or the further development of the youth department. In times when the efforts of many clubs to optimize their income opportunities are viewed with skepticism or rejection by some fans, Heidenheim is selling its history as a registered club with a regional lighthouse function with great success.

It should be continued for a long time. Sanwald is ready for this and hopes that Frank Schmidt is as well. One thing is clear: players will continue to leave in the future, they’ve gotten used to it. However, if Schmidt, who is under contract until 2027, one day no longer feels like it, that would be a blow.

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“Of course desires have been aroused. But we have created something together here – it can’t be repeated. “Just because there isn’t enough time for it anymore,” says Sanwald and laughs. He is optimistic that his most important comrade-in-arms will stay for a long time: “To be honest: I don’t even want to imagine that Frank will stop here.”

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