For the first time in a while, Darmstadt have won a game, and it came on the anniversary of the death of their best-known fan. The spirit of Johnny Heimes is helping keep the Lillies' hopes alive, writes Tobias Oelmaier.
"The fans did well, we did well, and he'll be really happy up above," Darmstadt captain Aytac Sulu said after he and his Lillies beat Mainz 2-1 on Saturday. The guy "up above," to whom Sulu referred, was Jonathan, "Johnny" Heimes.
Johnny Heimes was an enthusiastic supporter of SV Darmstadt 98 but one year ago he lost a long battle against cancer. Despite having been weakened by the disease, he closely followed the club's march from the third division all the way up to the Bundesliga. He attended every match he could and became a symbolic figure for the club - a guy that didn't let anything get him down, even when he didn't stand a chance. That's a lot like the club he supported, with their tiny budget, as stadium that is much too small, and a roster that, upon closer examination, is actually only belongs at midtable in the second division.
However, just like the Darmstadt footballers, Heimes never let things get him down - even when cancer stopped his promising tennis career in its tracks. Once the youth champion of the German state of Hesse and training partner of top women's player Andrea Petrovic, he was powerless against the cruel disease. However, he never gave up. On the contrary - one year before his death he joined with Petkovic to establish a charity they named "Du musst kämpfen," (You have to fight), which supports organizations and projects that provide sports therapy as part of cancer therapy for children and adolescents.
Heimes became well known. He was the protagonist in television documentaries and was invited on talks shows. After his death, the company that pays for the naming rights to Darmstadt's stadium agreed to forego such rights for one season. This season, instead of being called the "Merck-Stadion am Böllenfalltor," the stadium is officially known as the "Jonathan-Heimes-Stadion am Böllenfalltor." This past Saturday, the anniversary of his death, Darmstadt didn't wear their usual jerseys, with the name of a software company emblazoned on the front, but instead a limited edition with "Du must kämpfen" in its place.
And Darmstadt, who are languishing at the bottom of the standings, honored Heimes' legacy. They gave it everything they've got.
"Johnny is a daily topic with us," coach Torsten Frings said in the days leading up to the match. "We have taken his motto to heart, especially in our situation- that you always have to fight on, always be positive, and always give it all you've got. They were rewarded with their fourth win of the season.
Despite their success on Saturday, nobody expects Darmstadt to avoid the drop anymore than Heimes' fighting spirit was capable of warding off death at the tender age of 26. However, these are the sorts of moments that give one hope, that make life worth living. Belief and fighting spirit can move mountains. And it is okay to have dreams. In sports as in life itself, he who doesn't fight has already lost.