Rot-Weiss Essen can trace their roots back to 1907 from an amalgamation of two clubs SC Preussen and Deutsche Eiche. They were originally called SV Vogelheim, the footballing section of Turnerbund Bergeborbeck. The footballers then left the association becoming SSV Emscher Vogelheim. The two entities merged again in 1923 finally adopting the Rot-Weiss Essen nomenclature.
The pre-World War II years were pivotal for Rot-Weiss. In 1938 the ruling Nazi party reorganised German football into 16 regional “premier” divisions and RWE were placed in the Gauliga Niederrhein. They were attracting big crowds to their original Hafenstrasse ground and the club had clearly outgrown it. The club President, Georges Melches, promised a bigger, better ground and despite some planning problems regarding an existing restaurant and school buildings which stood in the way, work began. Building around the problematic buildings, the club erected a big ground with a wooden grandstand housing 1,500 people and open terracing for 25,000 more. The new grounds’ capacity was well and truly tested when a crowd estimated at 30,000 gathered for the opening match against FC Schalke 04 in August 1939.
World War II saw Allied bombing raze Essen to the ground, in 270 air raids almost the entire city was destroyed, including the new stadium. As a major industrial centre Essen was a clear target for Allied forces and in March 1943 the city was subjected to one of the biggest bombing raids of the War. Nearly 500 inhabitants were killed and thousands lost their homes. Feelings were still running high when in December 1944 three British airmen were captured and lynched by the locals.
After the horrors of the War, Rot-Weiss Essen re-emerged and began rebuilding the stadium. Led by Ernst Ruhkamp a large band of locals from coal miners to professional workers banded together and worked tirelessly to repair the damage. The regeneration ushered in the club’s golden era in the 1950’s. In 1953 RWE defeated Regensburg, VfL Osnabruck, Hamburger SV and SV Waldhof Mannheim on their way to their first ever Deutscher Pokal final. Alemannia Aachen stood in their way of a glorious triumph. In front of 40,000 people at the Rhein Stadion goals from Fritz Herkenrath and Helmut Rahn gave RWE a strong lead but Aachen pulled one back through Jupp Derwall, later the German national team manager. RWE managed to hold on for a famous 2-1 victory.
Three years later the club qualified for the play-offs for the German Championship. They defeated Kickers Offenbach, Wormatia Worms and Bremerhaven 93 to reach the final for the overall title of German Champions. In a tight match with 1.FC Kaiserslautern in front of 80,000 spectators at the Niedersachsenstadion in Hanover, RWE eventually overcame their adversaries.
As champions of Germany, Rot-Weiss were invited to take part in the first ever European Cup competition in 1955/56 and unlike their British counterparts; the DFB sanctioned their participation in the revolutionary new multi nation tournament. While the English champions, Chelsea, looked on covetously, Rot-Weiss were drawn against Scottish Champions Hibernian. The Scots won 4-0 in Essen although the Germans regained some pride in the second leg holding Hibs’ “Famous Five” strike force at bay for a creditable 1-1 at Easter Road. In 1956 the Georg-Melches-Stadion gained floodlights and staged Germany’s first ever floodlight match when RWE defeated Racing Strasbourg by four goals to nil.
Since those glory years RWE have drifted in between Bundesliga 2 and the Oberliga. Financial worries lead to the club being denied licences in 1984, 1991 and 1994 and with it came the enforced demotion. It has not, however, been all doom and gloom the Reds won the German Amateur Championship in 1992 and two years later enjoyed a run to the DFB Pokal final. Sadly they could not repeat their win of 1953, succumbing 3-1 to Werder Bremen. In 2005 the club inducted the legendary Pele as an honorary club member. As recently as 2010/11 RWE were in the fifth tier, but having won the Nordrhein-Westfalen-Liga they returned to the Regionalliga were they currently remain.
In 2012 the club said goodbye to their traditional home of the Georg-Melches-Stadion, its modern day capacity of 15,000 deemed to low for modern needs. The new stadium was built over the old one and touchingly the club keep one floodlight pylon from the old ground which is used at a meeting point for fans as well as a nod to the clubs history. The nearby railway bridge bears the legend “Forever GMS” in homage to the old arena.
The new ground opened in August 2012 and has a capacity of 20,650. Should RWE rise back up the German pyramid the plan is to infill the four corners of the ground and should the Essenes climb back to the top flight all four roofs can be removed to enable a second tier to be added all the way around.
This season has seen RWE marooned in mid table for much of the campaign and today’s final match of the campaign has that distinct end-of-season feel to it. The club do the normal German presentation to players saying goodbye to the club which is always touching to see. Then with refreshing co-operation between the club and it’s ultras, the tannoy man announces the Ultras will now begin a special choreo. And special it truly it is, superbly orchestrated and highly colourful it first pays respects to Essen’s coal mining and industrial past before the entire stand is engulfed in a huge foil flag. It finishes with a giant RWE badge in the centre of the stand which then spreads outwards to reveal the word Ultras. It was really stunning stuff and ample reason for the referee to delay the kick off for a few minutes.
After that impressive opening the match was almost inevitably going to be a damp squib. Tenth place Essen and fifth place Sportfreunde Siegen pass and move well enough between each other in the warm late May sunshine, but chances are few and far between. It takes 81 minutes for the deadlock to be broken, Jerome Propheter nudging home a lose ball from a corner. Minutes later Tim Hermes produced a god-like free kick kept out only by a stubborn crossbar. In all honesty a two goal victory would have been hard on the plucky guests.
So it was a day where ultra culture outshone some pretty run-of-the-mill on field action. I find it so incredibly sad that any fledgling ultra scene in Britain is treated with equal measure of distain, shock and fear. Why does our officialdom demonise such upstarts as, at best, pariahs and at worst, resurgent hooligans? They should come to Essen where ultras give football back its lost soul, something English football’s comatose heart desperately needs.
Regionalliga West – Saturday May 24th 2014
Rot-Weiss Essen (0) 1 (Propheter 81)
Sportfreunde Siegen (0) 0
Attendance : 6,792 (at Stadion Essen)
22. Philipp Kunz, 2. Tim Hermes, 4. Michael Laletin, 9. Marcel Platzek, 15. Jerome Propheter, 18. Markus Heppke ©; 23. Kai Nakowitsch, 27. Max Dombrowka, 28. Samuel-Marian Limbasan, 30. Benedikt Koep 36. Lucas Arenz
Subs: 5. Benjamin Wingerter (for 23,54 mins), 7. Kevin Grund, 8. Alexander Langlitz, 14. Maik Rodenberg, 20. Damir Ivancicevic (for 18,64 mins), 24. Dominik Poremba, 26. Thomas Denker (for 30,89 mins)
12. Yannik Dauth, 3. Sascha Eichmeier, 4. Evangelos Papaefthimiou, 5. Christopher Schadeberg, 7. Alexander Hettich, 8. Daniel Grebe, 11. Abdelkader Maouel, 13. Mark Zeh ©, 17. Zouhair Bouadoud, 18. Andre Dej, 23. Richard Weber.
Subs: 1. Kevin Rauhut, 2. Patrick Koronkiewicz (for 4,57 mins), 6. Dennis Lang, 10. Manuel Glowacz (for 7,69 mins), 19. Serkan Dalman, 20. Sinisa Veselinovic, 24. Maikel Verkoelen (for 5,46 mins).