It was a genuine bright spot at the end of possibly the most difficult decade in the history of Alemannia Aachen. At the end of May, the team coached by Fuat Kilic beat SC Fortuna Köln, from the division above, 3-1 in the final of the Middle Rhine Cup to secure a place in the first round proper of the DFB Cup for the first time since 2012 (0-2 against Borussia Mönchengladbach). Back then, Alemannia had just been relegated from the second division but the runners-up of the Bundesliga in 1969 have now been in the fourth-tier Regional League West for a number of years. Last season Aachen finished a decent sixth but the new campaign has not started well. The Black and Yellows lost 2-1 to Wuppertal SV in the opening game of the Regional League season and last weekend they were only able to draw 1-1 with the Fortuna Düsseldorf second team. One advantage for the underdogs: In contrast Bayer 04, Alemannia are already in full competitive mode.
After a number of turbulent years, the club is currently in calmer waters. That is personified best by Fuat Kilic (pictured above, centre). He has been head coach at Aachen for over three and a half years with five coaches at the club in the same period of time before that. Kilic is also the sporting director at Alemannia with responsibility for the very young squad with only four players over the age of 25. One of those can call himself an international: The London-born central striker Gary Noel has played nine games for Mauritius. The 29-year-old joined Aachen for the new season from Flensburg and along with David Bors (signed from Bonner SC) that should compensate for the departure of Dimitry Imbongo Boele, who was top scorer for Aachen last season with 11 goals, and now is playing in the league higher for Sonnenhof Großaspach. Probably the most famous Alemannia player of recent years will run out for Bayer 04 on Saturday: Kai Havertz was an Alemannia youth player from 2009 to 2010 before joining Bayer 04. For Kai, the game on Saturday also represents a return to his hometown.
Without doubt: money. Alemannia have been plagued by financial difficulties for around ten years and that was recently the cause for their tumble from the Bundesliga to the Regional League. The construction of the 'New Tivoli' ground, that was opened almost exactly ten years to the day, failed to take certain costs into account – liabilities that still burden the club. Aachen have gone into administration twice in the last seven years with the last time being in 2017. Even though the financial situation is more settled: Alemannia cannot take massive steps forward and sign big-name players like other big clubs in the Regional League. Since taking over, Fuat Kilic as almost been forced to make a virtue out of necessity.
The team is young and capable of improving and the youth development continues to be well above fourth division levels. As soon as the club can get a grip on its financial problems then a return to professional football will become a possibility. Admittedly, it will be difficult to rediscover the great past of the club: In 1969 Alemannia secured a sensational runners-up spot in the Bundesliga and the club has been in the final of the DFB Cup three times with the last outing a 3-2 defeat against Werder Bremen in 2004 following an incomparable underdog story including a 2-1 victory over the great FC Bayern. Aachen qualified for the UEFA Cup by being in the final where they even went on to win against Lille and AEK Athens as a second division team.
The daily routine in the very west of the Federal Republic now looks completely different of course. The meeting with Bayer 04 at least brings some international flair to the Tivoli stadium after a long time and the capacity crowd is expected for the first time in four and a half years. Alemannia Aachen are definitely the underdogs in this tie but reaching the first round proper is already a great success for Aachen and that will bring in urgently needed funds. That can provide a foundation – and perhaps in the next few years lead to more than 'just' battling in the top third of the Regional League West.
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