Cooperation Agreement

Text: Vera Schankath · Photos: Roman Pawlowski

Simply the Best

Hamburger SV and Rangers Football Club have signed an official Cooperation Agreement. Supporter Tim-Oliver Horn and midfield legend Jörg Albertz discuss the two clubs. A spine-tingling encounter.

Timo Horn’s football stories are so full of charm that they might leave you needing a sit down. His enthusiasm for the legendary left-footer Jörg Albertz is infectious and is illustrated as Timo recalls how, as a young boy, he listened to the radio commentator when Albertz - nicknamed The Hammer - had a shot: “The ball flies towards goal at the speed of light!”

Ali, the Hammer

Jörg Albertz, born in Mönchengladbach in 1971, joined HSV from Düsseldorf in 1993. The midfielder became captain under manager Felix Magath. In the 1995/96 season, ‘Ali’ played all 34 games, scoring 9 goals - before moving to Rangers, where he played 132 games in 5 years, scoring 83 goals and winning the Scottish league title three times.

Timo Horn, born in 1978 into a HSV-mad family, was head of the HSV Supporters Club for six years. Since 2007 he has been an active member of the Hamburg Loyal Rangers Supporters Club, the oldest Rangers fan club in continental Europe.

Ali and Timo share a burning passion for traditional, old school football. In July 2021, the two met for the first time. At the Tankstelle Sports Bar, they talk about similarities and differences between Rangers and HSV.

For Ali, it’s important to explain why he moved to the Scottish Premier League in 1996: “I loved Hamburg. Then the offer from Glasgow of guaranteed Champions League football came. And that team: Paul Gascoigne, Brian Laudrup - those were huge names. Financially it wasn't that attractive, but I could play internationally."

Half a century of fan friendship

When the fan favourite left Hamburg, the fan friendship between the two clubs was strengthened. It had already been around since Rangers' friendly games at the Volksparkstadion in 1970 and 1974, when thousands of Scottish supporters came to the city on the Elbe. HSV supporters were fascinated because fan culture was still relatively new here in Germany.

Michael Burzlaff played a major role in establishing the strongest fan friendship in international football. In 1970, Scottish fans gave Hamburg fans their scarves. Merchandise was something that fans had never seen before in Germany. For a young Burzlaff, the rest was history. He tracked down relatives in Glasgow and told them he was coming to visit. Since then he has travelled there with friends every year by bus, train and ferry. In 1977 Michael Burzlaff founded the Hamburg Loyal Rangers Supporters Club, which included British soldiers who had been stationed in Hamburg. Timo joined thirty years later, in 2007.

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In Glasgow hat’s mir gut gefallen (from the Abschlach! song Mein Hamburg lieb ich sehr)

Timo flew to the Scottish port city for the first time in 2005. The way he was welcomed here would have a lasting effect on him and his later involvement with the HSV Supporters Club. He was impressed by the Scots' warm hospitality. As well as his club colours, his hero also helps him to find a way into people’s hearts and into pubs: "You come from Hamburg like Big Albertz. Welcome!" he would hear everywhere.

"Sometimes it was spooky," says Timo as he reveals another fan moment: When he went into a Glasgow bar wearing a HSV scarf, he was led straight into a secret club room where he was allowed to drink at the owners' expense. "That's where long-lasting friendships were formed. Many people sleep on each other's sofas," Timo says. “That’s pretty cool," says Ali. "The pub, however," Timo adds, "was smoked out by Celtic fans two years later."

The Rangers-Celtic Rivalry

The fierce rivalry between Rangers and Celtic is a complex one. Rangers are considered a Protestant club, whereas Celtic are considered Catholic. "I had no idea of the extent of the rivalry when I came to Glasgow. You’re either born blue or green,” says Ali.

Timo talks about stadium tours at Ibrox with a "distinguished British gentleman". "Yes, that’s Peter," Ali recalls. Peter explained that Albertz was the first Catholic to make it into the Rangers' Hall of Fame. He didn't know that himself, but he remembers the first thing he was told in Glasgow: Never cross yourself on the pitch! Until 1989, Rangers had an unwritten rule that Catholics were not allowed to play for them.

Albertz enjoys great recognition in Glasgow, even among Celtic fans. But because there are always some idiots, during his paying time the down-to-earth Rhinelander rarely went out and lived a bit further out in Helensburgh. Goalkeeper Stefan Klos, striker Brian Laudrup, manager Walter Smith and midfielder Jonas Thern were his neighbours.

Nevertheless, in 1998, there was an incident after an Old Firm game. The scene at Ibrox which lead to this? Celtic's player Paul Lambert tackled Jörg Albertz in the penalty area. Albertz's knee hit Lambert so unluckily that he lost two teeth. A penalty was awarded, which Ali scored. That same evening, bottles came flying through the window of his house in Helensburgh. He was walking his Labrador Luka when it happened. “Diehards are stupid, but we have them here too," he says.

Timo knows that today it’s more tolerant than in the nineties. However, he was warned that if someone sings Rangers songs on public transport, you shouldn't join in, as it could be a trap.

The atmosphere at Ibrox

Timo and Ali rave about Rangers' home ground, the illustrious Ibrox Stadium (which replaced Ibrox Park, built in 1887). "The wood, the stairs - it does something to you," says Ali. "In the dressing rooms, it's painted all blue with old wood. There's the photo of the Queen on the wall. That’s it. Windows facing the street where people walk." Timo knows this from the stadium tours. Another spine-tingling memory. "Then you go down the tunnel. You experience the tradition first-hand, you feel it. It makes you want to play there. The atmosphere is incredible," says Ali. “Yes! You experience that as a fan," says Timo.

Ali's debut was a testimonial match for captain Charles Richard Gough. Gough won nine consecutive Scottish Championships with Rangers and earned 61 caps for the Scottish national team. "Testimonial matches are always played in Scotland when a player has been with a club for ten years. He can then ask for a testimonial match and receives the winnings," Ali explains. "Not bad," Timo remarks. Rangers were playing against Arsenal. Sold out, as always (even when they were in the fourth division). Ali scored. "That's when it spilled over to the fans. We had a connection," he says.

Albertz also felt immediately at home in the team, even though he didn't understand a word to start with. Players such as Brian Laudrup, from Denmark, and Peter van Vossen, from the Netherlands, spoke German and helped him. Manager Walter Smith was a father figure who led his team like a family. "We were there for each other," says Ali, "but if you didn’t fight, you were in trouble. Walter was no fun at all then.”

In-game support

"It's the same in the stands in Scotland," Timo explains. “You might play badly. But as long as you fight, it’s ok.” The fans would never whistle. “I know how hard it is when someone messes up. Scottish fans are great at giving the players an extra push. They may come up with expletives, but never towards their own players.” Ali agrees. Criticism comes after the game, not on the pitch.

Timo thinks the German Ultra movement is very important because it brings social responsibility to football. "Our Ultras tend to sing regardless of how the game is going, reacting less to what is happening on the pitch". Timo likes the atmosphere in the stands in Scotland, which changes depending on the game, and he finds it amazing how fans can carry a game.

However, overpriced tickets and compulsory seating are ruining Scottish football. Fans are also getting older. That’s why Gers are enthusiastic about the freedom and atmosphere in Germany. The fact that there is singing and drinking throughout is loved by those who sometimes find it really quiet in their own stands.

The good old days

Ali talks about his time with the Gers: Walter Smith, who was Rangers’ manager until 1998, created a community that still exists today. Ali praises him for relying on personal responsibility, which is something you don’t see today. When everything is imposed, a lot is lost. "But that still exists with the fans," says Timo. "Football is alive in the stands just like it used to be. In Glasgow and Hamburg, the fans are so valuable." Ali also praises the level of trust back then at HSV. When he left, Uwe Seeler was president of the club. He had promised that he would be allowed to leave if an offer from abroad came along. And he kept his word. It was not easy to go to the Rothenbaumchaussee and terminate his contract. Ali hadn't thought about the fact that the Scottish league wasn't that prestigious and was not the best technically. “Because the players in the Scottish league give it their all, and show a lot of heart.” But it was not an easy league to play in. Not every player could handle it - and nor could every opponent.

Thirteen years after Ali's transfer, the fan friendship between the two clubs got another boost in 2009 when HSV beat Celtic, Rangers’ arch-rivals, in the Europa League. 5000 Hamburgers were in Glasgow - and their celebrations were welcomed. When they came out of the stadium, Rangers supporters lined the streets and applauded. Local residents cheered HSV fans from their windows.

Tickets, merchandise and friendlies

Arthur Numan (Gers full-back from 1998 to 2003) regularly organises fan meetings with Rangers legends. In September, Ali will be back in Glasgow for two weekends with Lorenzo Amoruso. In September he will stick to apple juice, as he does today. "We players make a lot of dreams come true, you just have to drink without us." Timo thinks it's a shame that HSV doesn't organise similar meetings with its well-deserving players and legends. "Well then," replies Ali, "invite them. The boys would be happy to come to your fan clubs. There is potential there.”

Ali and Timo are cautious about their expectations for the partnership. Timo wants to get tickets. But at Ibrox, these are almost exclusively reserved for season ticket holders. Tickets for HSV fans means: Rangers fans would have to go without. Even so, a ticket allocation would represent a huge success and would bring the fan friendship to life. "So far it's only been done through pub connections; official channels would be good as well," says Timo. Ali nods: "A club is only a club because of its fans. And they need tickets.”

Timo believes that having joint and mutual merchandise is just as important: "Why can't I buy a Rangers shirt in the HSV fan shop and vice versa?" Fynn from the Tankstelle sports bar has another idea: Friendly matches to get young people to come and watch. “HSV fans want to go to Glasgow and Gers want to come to us. That means there should definitely be a home and away leg." Ali agrees: “For example, the opening game of the season would be a great fixed point to have every year to make the partnership visible."

Football means friendship

Another difference between the two friends is the pre match beer. The Scots don't serve beer inside the stadium. Fans meet in the pub and then go to the game together. "In Hamburg, we drink our way from pub to pub. It’s completely different," says Timo. In Glasgow, he says, bars are close to the stadium. You don’t get that in Stellingen.

But the Tankstelle is a focal point in Hamburg for the fan friendship. Here on the Hans-Albers-Platz you can find the only Scottish beer in Northern Germany. Tennent's and Magners on tap. "So drinkable, it goes down well," says the landlord Deniz. He has bought authentic thick-walled pint glasses from Scotland. Even Rangers ultras come to the bar. Hamburg is the starting point for their European tours.

Football unites people and creates friendships. Jörg Albertz came to the Tankstelle sports bar for the first time after being invited by supporters news, the HSV Supporters magazine. "But" he says, "I'll be back. You can really feel at home here". |