Supporting a football team can often be a rollercoaster for fans, but SC Paderborn have taken that to an extreme over the past five years.
Climbing from amateur football to the Bundesliga summit in a decade, a crushing three successive relegations sent the German club spiralling down – before a huge slice of luck inspired one of football’s most intriguing tales.
Three years after they were relegated to the fourth tier, they will face Bayer Leverkusen when the new Bundesliga season begins on Saturday.
Beginning his career with the club in 2007, captain Christian Strohdiek knows as well as any what that journey has felt like.
“In the last years, everybody has been laughing about the team and about Paderborn. This is great for the town as well as the club,” the 31-year-old told BBC World Service’s Mani Djazmi.
“You lose confidence and you can’t believe that these things are happening to your team and the city. You end up in a deep black hole with no way to fight out.
“To be top of one of the best leagues was amazing, the best feeling. Maybe we can do it again, maybe not.”
What happened to Paderborn?
Topping the Bundesliga four games into their debut top-flight season in October 2014 was a fairytale for a club who entered professional football in 2005.
A dizzying high point in a topsy-turvy period, relegation to the amateur Regionalliga was confirmed in 2017.
“Every week you’ve got your plan but nothing works. We reached a point where we had to change and build a new family,” said Strohdiek, who, a season with Fortuna Dusseldorf aside, has been present for every tWISt.
“Everyone was doing their own thing, not thinking about the team or the club. You have to trust and believe in your team-mates, but there was nothing. That’s why we kept going down and we couldn’t stop it.”
Cue an unlikely lifeline and one impressive comeback.
The misfortune of third-tier side 1860 Munich, demoted for failing to pay their license, saw Paderborn reinstated to 3. Liga for the 2017-18 season – at the end of which, they won promotion to the second division.
Transformed by manager Steffen Baumgart’s attacking philosophy, they then finished runners-up in the second division to seal promotion back to the Bundesliga.
“We changed our football and became more offensive and powerful. We like to score goals and this has been the key,” Strohdiek added.
“It’s unbelievable that we kept going up and up. Now we’re back and we’re proud of our process.”
‘We were screaming, players were crying, it was unbelievable’
It was not all plain sailing for Paderborn.
Defeat away to Dynamo Dresden on the final day of last season left the players huddled around one mobile phone in the changing room as they waited to see if Union Berlin, needing victory, would take advantage of their final day slip-up.
As much as any club, this one knows there is always hope.
Berlin drew 2-2 with Bochum. Paderborn were back.
“We knew the game in Bochum was in the last seconds. Everyone was trying to see what was happening and fighting to see something,” said captain Strohdiek.
“Our vice-president called and was screaming: ‘It’s over! It’s over.’ Everybody ran out towards the fans. We were screaming, some players were crying. It was an amazing feeling for the whole city.
“Everybody who went down with us, they could say ‘I’m a guy of Paderborn’. It was unbelievable that the miracle happened.”
And if there are any more such final-day dramas this season, Strohdiek will make sure they are ready. “We definitely need to get some TVs for the dressing room so, next time, we are prepared better,” he joked.
SC Paderborn’s rollercoaster ride in brief
|1985: TuS Schloss Neuhaus and FC Paderborn merge to create third-tier club TuS Paderborn/Neuhaus|
|1997: Club changes name to SC Paderborn|
|2000: 13th in Regionalliga West/Sudwest – relegated to fourth tier|
|2001: First in Oberliga Westfalen – promoted to third tier|
|2005: Second in Regionalliga Nord – promoted to second tier|
|2008: 17th in 2. Bundesliga – relegated to third tier|
|2009: Third in 3. Liga – promoted to second tier|
|2014: 2nd in 2. Bundesliga – promoted to top flight for first time in their history|
|2015: 18th in Bundesliga – relegated to second tier|
|2016: 18th in 2. Bundesliga – relegated to third tier|
|2017: 18th in 3. Liga – initially relegated to fourth tier but then reprieved|
|2018: Second in 3. Liga – promoted to second tier|
|2019: Second in 2. Bundesliga – promoted to to flight|