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Darmstadt supporters are hoping against hope

Darmstadt fans follow their team in a stadium that feels like it’s from another time. Despite being last in the table, they remain solidly behind their team, and hope rookie coach Torsten Frings can deliver a miracle.

"Sorry, what was the name?" the women with the think glasses asks as a reporter tries to pick up his accreditation. "Can you spell that please?"

"S-c-h-l…"

It is to no avail, the reporter has to speak to someone else to get his Arbeitsticket, his accreditation for the day -but it is sorted out quickly enough, and into the Bundesliga's smallest and oldest stadium he goes.

Even with the renovations that were undertaken in 2015, after Darmstadt were promoted to the Bundesliga for the first time in more than three decades, the capacity at the Jonathan-Heimes-Stadion am Böllenfalltor, which was first opened in 1921, still only holds 17,400 - and even at that it feels quite cramped.

However, the good news is, that in the Bundesliga at least, they have absolutely no trouble selling it out, even for the last-place team that Darmstadt 98, the "Lillies," currently are.

A trip back in time

When you sit down in the stadium, which has been renamed for this one season only after a fan who died of cancer shortly after turning 16 last year, it's almost like a trip back in time.

Fußball Bundesliga SV Darmstadt 98 v Borussia Mönchengladbach (picture alliance/dpa/Revierfoto)

Hecking and Frings were both making their debuts

If you can ignore the modern advertising that surrounds the pitch and the modern scoreboard in one corner near the main stand, you could almost forget that it is 2017. Looking at the wall of supporters in the roofless opposite stand, against a backdrop of old fir trees in a forest located behind it, you feel almost transported to another time, when the Bundesliga wasn't quite as perfectly packaged and marketed as it is today.

You have to imagine that this view wouldn't have been much different in the 1990s or even the 1980s, except for the fact that back then, you wouldn't have been watching Bundesliga football here. Now the fans and everyone associated with the team dearly hope new coach Torsten Frings can pull off the miracle he needs to keep the Lillies in the top flight for another year.

Darmstadt fans hoping against hope

"I know that this is Frings's first head-coaching job, but he was a great player," says a female fan who appears to be in her mid-20s before the start of the match.

"We'll just have to wait and see," a fan who looks to be in his late 40s says. "I'm hopeful," he says. "Maybe we can make it to the relegation playoff and stay up. Who knows?”

Asked if he will be back next season, even if Frings and Darmstadt are relegated, he doesn't miss a beat. 

"Absolutely!" he replies. 

Fußball Bundesliga SV Darmstadt 98 v Borussia Mönchengladbach (Getty Images/Bongarts/M. Hangst)

Jerome Gondorf (right) and his Darmstadt teammates fought for every ball - all afternoon

Unanimous support

From the opening whistle, it is clear that despite Darmstadt's position in the table their supporters are100 percent behind them.

As Frings would later concede in the post-match press conference, Darmstadt have trouble getting into the game in the first 10 minutes and only a good reflex save from goalkeeper Michael Esser keeps them from going down a goal early.

This sparks the first spontaneous round of singing from the home fans. "Stand up if you're from Darmstadt!" they sing.

Having dodged that bullet, the players in blue and white gradually find their way into the sort of scrappy game that was to be expected between two teams who are short on confidence. This may be Torsten Frings' very first game as a head coach, but for the much more experienced Dieter Hecking, it is also his first in charge of Borussia Mönchengladbach.

Gladbach's technical superiority canceled out

The Lillies fight for every ball, something that their fans clearly appreciate. Every tackle produces a loud cheer and chants of "Darmstadt! Darmstadt! Darmstadt!" Or "The Lillies!"

Fußball Bundesliga SV Darmstadt 98 - Borussia Mönchengladbach (picture-alliance/nordphoto/Fabisch)

Neither team found the net in the hard-fought contest

Gladbach's superior technical skills are canceled out by the determination of the Darmstadt players, who put on the kind of gritty performance their coach was known for in his playing days. Real scoring chances are scarce, but towards the end of the second half Gladbach's Thorgan Hazard looks to have made the breakthrough - but it comes back off the woodwork, and the Darmstadt fans breathe a sigh of relief.

Goalkeeper Yann Sommer saves a Darmstadt effort late in the match, and the two struggling sides settle for a draw.

In the post-match press conference, the two coaches agree that it is a fair result. And after it is all over, out of earshot, Hecking has a long handshake and tap on the arm for his younger counterpart. It looks like is welcoming him to the coaching fraternity and wishing him all the best.

Two seasons not enough

"Do you think Frings can keep them up?” the cab driver asks a couple of reporters as he drives them to the station to catch their train home. "I sure hope he can," the cabbie says without waiting for the answer. "Two seasons in the Bundesliga aren't enough."

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