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Bundesliga

Bundesliga: The clock is really ticking for Hamburg

HSV put in an abysmal defensive display in the 5-2 home defeat by Dortmund. It looks increasingly likely they will write a new and entirely unwanted chapter in the club's history books, says Matt Pearson in Hamburg.

Perched above the terracing in the northwest corner of Hamburg's Volksparkstadion is German football's most famous clock. The electronic timepiece highlights the club's unparalleled status as the Bundesliga's only ever-presents and, just before Ousmane Dembele lifted in Dortmund's fifth of Saturday's game, it ticked over to the 74th day of its 54th year. 

What was once a reminder of the club's endurance now feels like an ominous record. On Saturday's evidence it's difficult to believe that it will ever tick over in to year 55. The current side look primed to be relegated and put out of their misery.

As if an error-strewn performance wasn't enough to emphasize the club's decline, Saturday marked the 80th birthday of Hamburg's favorite footballing son. Scores of home fans in the Volksparkstadion donned Uwe Seeler masks ahead of kickoff, the big screens showed black and white footage of Seeler's best moments and the man himself stepped on to the pitch to raptorous applause, chants and a rendition of 'Happy Birthday.' 

Once the game started, the Hamburg players proved as generous with their defending as the fans had been with their support, though Seeler was unlikely to appreciate Rene Adler's early gift quite as much as the visitors. The Hamburg keeper spilt a weak shot from Emre Mor in the fourth minute and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang gleefully tucked in the opener. 

Hamburg made defensive mistake after defensive mistake, Johan Djourou's woeful backpass handing Aubameyang his second on 23 minutes. The Gabon international would complete his hat trick soon after, and the whistles from the crowd weren't far behind. This is a Hamburg side bereft of confidence and a stoic crowd is losing faith.

The players were whistled off at halftime, when they re-emerged for the second period and at fulltime, after Aubameyang helped himself to a fourth and Dembele's goal was sandwiched between two consolation strikes for the hosts. 

Unfortunately for Hamburg, history, generosity and club legends don't win Bundesliga points. The former European Cup winners spent close to 40 million euros in the close season to try to escape from the cycle of relegation scraps and managerial changes that has defined them in recent years. But it's failed. It's now 2 points and 4 goals from 10 league games for bottom side Hamburg.

In recent seasons, the northern German club's long-suffering fans have rallied behind the team when the end has looked nigh but this season's soporific start has seen some reach a point dangerously close to the end of their tether.

Peter Schmidt has been watching Hamburg for close to 20 years. As he started to make his way out of the Volksparkstadion, his mood was as dark as the November sky. 

"I think we are down, we are not good enough," he told DW. “I support the team always but it is hard to stay with them when it is so bad out there. We are a big club, we should not have to be dealing with this (relegation concerns) every year. It is getting harder to keep believing in HSV – these players you see are not good enough.”

Though there is an air of resignation among many matchgoing fans, the feeling isn't quite universal, Martin Stark says that backing the team is not conditional but that the carousel of coaches and 'philosophies' has been detrimental to the club and its relationship with the fans. 

Bundesliga Uwe Seeler im HSV-Volksparkstadion (picture-alliance/dpa/C. Charisius)

Uwe Seeler: A former great who casts a long shadow over this current Hamburg side.

"It is hard to tell what Hamburg is now," he said. “All this stuff for Seeler is great but we could do with him (playing) now. At the minute we do not have much identity. But I have been here for many years, this is my club and I still believe we can make it.”

Despite an improved second-half performance and a call for unity from coach Markus Gisdol in the post-match press conference, there's little evidence to support that belief.

Gisdol's appointment was widely seen as uninspired in September and opinion has not changed.

But the lack of cohesion in Hamburg's play cannot be a surprise to anyone, Gisdol is the club's second manager this season and their 10th permanent appointment in the last six years, as director Dietmar Beiersdorfer and the rest of the top brass flail wildly for the magic formula. 

Beiersdorfer's is a name that crops up regularly with supporters who have grown sick of new starts and panicked decisions. In fact his name was booed by a number of the hardcore home fans stood in the north stand as it was announced in passing before the start of the game. 

There are those who believe that stopping the clock and sweeping a new broom through the hierarchy is the best thing that could happen to the club, that a spell in the second tier might offer a chance to look forwards and upwards rather than backwards and down. And as a sea of dejected home fans made their way out of the ground to begin the long, cold walk back to the train, Stark, at least, could find a small crumb of comfort.

"At least in the second division we can win a game," he joked. At the minute, that seems about the best this storied club can hope for.

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