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Culture

Schalke 04 Celebrates a Century

German soccer team Schalke 04 celebrates 100 years of existence on Tuesday. The Gelsenkirchen-based club will stage centenary events all year, but the official birthday party is set for this week.

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The Schalke faithful are in party mode.

On May 4 1904, eight friends founded a soccer team in the industrial heartland of western Germany. It was not a particularly special event. The turn of the century saw an explosion in the formation of organized sports clubs across the country.

But when Willy Gies, Josef Ferse, Viktor Kroguhl, Johann Kessel, Heinrich Kullmann, Adolf Ötzelmann, Josef Seimetz and Willy van der Berg got together on an uneven meadow under the name Westphalia Schalke, they were laying the foundations of a club that would become one of the biggest in Germany.

A century on and Schalke 04 has changed almost beyond recognition. Gone are the original colors of red and yellow, replaced by a blue and white uniform in 1924, the original club staff has been expanded from 16 to 250 employees and the sloping field of 1904 has been replaced by the €185 million Schalke Arena, one of the world's most advanced stadiums. But Schalke has remained Gelsenkirchen's team and has stayed true to the roots laid down 100 years ago.

In the years that have passed since its foundation, Schalke 04 has won the German league championship seven times, the German Cup four times and has tasted European success with a UEFA Cup victory in 1997. It is this history of achievement and the hard work that went in to achieving it that is being celebrated this week as the club marks its birthday on Tuesday.

Schlake celebrates

The celebrations are set to continue for most of the year, but this week marks the real start of things. Under the title "Schalke Celebrates," the Royal Blues and their supporters will come together on May 8 at the Schalke Arena for a huge fan party inside the stadium. "We aim to show that we're still quite sprightly, even at 100. It'll be blithe, funny and off-the-wall," said the club's cigar-loving manager Rudi Assauer.

The club will also be taking its celebrations on the road in its centenary year under the motto "Schalke on the Road" when the club's roadshow sets off to cover some 40,000 kilometers -- the equivalent of once around the world -- in exactly 100 days. There is also an open-invitation soccer tournament planned involving 80 teams at 16 locations all over Germany, The first three teams from each preliminary round will battle it out for the opportunity to play for the Victoria Cup at the Schalke Arena.

The obligatory centenary match is of course an integral part of the club's plans. "We are in the final phase of our planning, but will not announce our opponents until we have received firm confirmation," said Assauer.

A musical history

When the week of birthday celebrations ends this Sunday, with the premiere performance of "04 - Nobody Can Get Past God" - a musical based on the history of the club, Schalke 04 will prepare to embark on the next 100 years with a new injection of cash and new players on the horizon.

However, the vision stays the same as Rudi Assauer asserts: "I will become a German champion. I cannot look into a crystal ball but I know sometime I will have the trophy in my hands." With funds at his disposal, Assauer is prepared to take Schalke into the big league of high-spending European soccer clubs in a bid to make his and the club's dreams come true.

Transfer activity

Already the future is beginning to take shape. The draw of the German team has already brought Werder Bremen's Brazilian scoring sensation Ailton to the club for the beginning of next season -- no mean feat considering the potential glory awaiting the striker at his current club come the end of the season and Champion's League action at the start of the next. On top of that, Assauer has been serenading a number of Europe's most sought after stars in an attempt to build a team capable of domestic and European success.

The much-fancied Dutch international Mark Van Bommel is in advanced talks with Schalke about a move to Gelsenkirchen from PSV Eindhoven despite the interest of a number of English Premiership sides. Bayern Munich's Claudio Pizzaro is also likely to join Schalke for next season while Assauer has also made enquiries into the availability of Liverpool's midfielder Dietmar Hamann in a bid to bring the solid German international back home.

There is also talk of accelerating the transfer of VfB Stuttgart's Brazilian defender Marcelo Bordon so the player can join Schlake for next season. A deal has been agreed for Bordon to join in 2005 but the Brazilian has expressed a desire to move a year earlier.

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