By Sascha Staat
After the Champions League match of PGE Vive Kielce against Rhein-Neckar Löwen (RNL) on Saturday, when I talked to legendary goalkeeper Slawomir Szmal he told me the following:
“We were preparing for Löwen’s A team to play against us. When Flensburg lost in Magdeburg in Germany’s domestic league earlier in the week, we didn’t know if they (Rhein-Neckar Löwen ed.) would change their minds in the last minute.”
That’s how far handball has come following all the chaos preceding the game of the German champion in Europe’s premier league.
As Rhein-Neckar Löwen’s A team suffered a crushing defeat in Kiel just a short time after their youth team had lost by 24 goals (17:41) in Poland, the sport of handball was the biggest loser of all.
Supporters of Kielce weren’t able to see the top-tier opponent they deserved to watch and Löwen fans certainly did not want to see their team lose like this.
At least Kielce’s supporters showed up like they usually do as I only saw a few empty seats. The club was kind enough to offer tickets at a reduced price of 60 Zloty (EURO 14) instead of the usual 100 Zloty (EURO 23,50). It took some time to get into the game, for fans and players alike. But once all settled in and found their rhythm, it looked like a real match, although it was a far cry from being competitive. The difference between the Champions League and Germany’s third division was just way too big.
Right now, I still don’t know how to feel about all of it after witnessing a historic handball battle if you want to describe it this way.
I talked to a number of people before and after the game. Some were just looking for new records like the highest winning margin in a Champions League match, others were still furious about the decision made by Rhein-Neckar Löwen, but most could understand that for them it’s more important to win Germany’s domestic league.
Even the mighty boss of Poland’s handball powerhouse, Bertus Servaas, told me that he knows about Löwen’s priorities.
“I had good talks with Jennifer Kettemann (CEO of RNL) last week. It’s a shame we didn’t speak in person earlier. I guess the best solution would have been to play on Wednesday or switch the home and away legs. We couldn’t find a proper solution and that’s a shame for the sport of handball, because handball lost today.”
And the sport of handball or the one’s that organize it have to be very careful. Yes – the supporters of Kielce were singing and celebrating as usual, but this match serves as a major wake-up call for everyone involved in the sport. If players don’t know which team they will face, if fans can’t enjoy what should have been a great match up and if league- and federation officials don’t act in the best interest of the sport then something is really wrong.
The debacle shows that handball still has a long way to go. Imagine NFL commissioner, Roger Goodell, putting “his” league into such dilemma – knowingly? He would be fired by the clubs owner’s – instantly.
I wonder if those in charge and caused all the chaos will suffer any consequences?
Rhein-Neckar Löwen can hardly be blamed for having to deal with this kind of situation. Some have called them a bit naive, but I would not.
By the way, the amazing atmosphere and everything else in Kielce stunned members of Rhein-Neckar Löwen’s “second suit”. For them the trip to Poland turned into a lifetime experience, something they will tell their kids about. Who wouldn’t like to play in front of 4,000 mad fans and compete against a team that won the Champions League just two years ago?
But unlike the result suggested, there were no winners – only losers.