This past weekend Flensburg pulled off one of the more unlikely Champions League victories in the history of the sport. On Saturday in the Semifinals they came back from a 6 goal deficit late in the 2nd half against highly favored Barcelona to send the game into overtime. Following overtime they then knocked off Barca in penalty shots. Then on Sunday against favored Kiel they came back again from a 6 goal lead, this time in the first half. They then built a 4 goal lead and held off Kiel to win their first Champions League Title. Going into the Final Four they were 10-1 underdogs; the afterthought team just happy to be there. Who would have thought they could win it all?
Bold Prediction Comes True
Last September I participated in a Champions League Preseason EHF Google Hangout. During the discussion the moderator noted that teams like Flensburg hadn’t even mentioned. Seizing the moment, I put on my hat and boldly predicted, “I’ll go on record: It’s Flensburg’s year.” (The prediction is at 27:18 LINK) A little while later we were asked to name our Final Four and I went with Barca, Kiel, Veszprem and Flensburg.
If you’ve ever been in the predicting business, you know how fraught with peril it is. Listen to any Sunday talk show or sports radio show. You’ll hear the politician or blabbermouth run for cover when asked to make a prediction. Either that or they hedge their bets in a big way. But, forced to make a prediction I used a little logic and a little bit of what I wanted to have happen and voila I nailed it. And, this was way back in September… Why it reminds me of the 1995 NBA playoffs when I made a little bet in Las Vegas on the Houston Rockets when they were down 3 games to 1 to the Phoenix Suns. Or the time when I predicted that Troy Calhoun would some day become the Head Football Coach at the AF Academy… when he was still a cadet. Alright, enough gloating. In the dustbin of my memory there’s surely countless predictions that have been entirely and totally wrong. Still, for sure, it is still incredibly satisfying to be so entirely and totally correct.
How did an American become a Flensburg Fan anyway?
But, if my bold prediction was partly based on wishful thinking, why on Earth would I be pulling for Flensburg anyway? I’ve never stepped foot there. I might never even visit that little city on the Germany-Denmark border. I don’t speak German or Danish. I’ve never seen the club play in person. Why that particular club and not some other? Heck, I lived in France and I’ve got no particular allegiance to any club there. Why does this American wear his Flensburg hat all over town and why does he care? Why did I have the biggest smile on my face yesterday afternoon as they hoisted that trophy?
As often is the case with fandom it’s a combination of historical circumstances, personality and perceived identification. Here’s some elements as to why I’m a Flensburg fan:
Historical Context: Back in 2005 as I was just learning about club handball in Europe I had the pleasure to witness the most oddly compelling and dramatic match I’ve ever seen in any sport, let alone handball. This was the 2nd leg of the Montpellier – Flensburg match where Montpellier scored on a free throw with no time remaining to lose by “only 13” and advance on aggregate. I wrote about this 9 years ago and I’m still shaking my head as I recall that match. I was already a fan of handball, but that match really ignited a passion to follow the sport more closely. It was also my first introduction to the Flensburg club.
An Iconic Star: After you watch a team play quite a bit and see how individual players carry themselves on the court you start to identify with certain players. Quite often you see a player’s demeanor, their ability to score in the clutch and their attitude. If you identify with those characteristics you can’t help but root for those players and their team. Such a player for me was Lars Christiansen. Even though he hasn’t worn a Flensburg jersey in four years, some of my fandom surely still can be attributed to him.
Blue Collar Team: Rightly or wrongly, I perceive Flensburg as a blue collar team of hard working players. Don’t get me wrong they’ve got some world class players, but they are a notch down from the Barca’s and Kiel’s of Europe. And, while they’ve got a few hired guns they just don’t feel like a mercenary team. They play together as a team, not as a team of individual stars. When they win as they did yesterday it has the feel of a real team celebration and a collective victory.
So, hats off to “my boys” from Flensburg. Looks like I’ll need a 2014 EHF Champions tournament T-Shirt to go along with my hat.
But, if you want to know who’s going to the Final Four in 2015 and who’s going to win it all there’ll be no more freebies. You’re going to have to subscribe to my betting service.