There's nothing like a lovable underdog. I should know because I've been following 1860 Munich for years, and for most of that time that's exactly what they were. The perennial underachievers. At some point every season, you realise this one's just not going to be it. They might one day make it back to the top flight of German football, but not this year. It's always a sad day when you finally come to terms with such a reality.
Which is what makes this season so uncomfortable. They lost some important offensive power at the end of last season, and many fans were resigned to another 'rebuilding' season. However, the management of the traditional club down in Giesing had a different set of ideas. The rebuilding started in the offseason and some impressive players were added to the squad, but as any loyal Lions fan will tell you, it's not prudent to get too excited in the autumn. The springtime has a way of bringing reality crashing down on any dreams of grandeur.
Sure enough, the first several games of this season have been difficult to watch. The team showed moments of brilliance, especially in the impenetrable defence, but the players were simply not accustomed to one another. The hope was that we'd be able to overcome these early growing pains and still be in a good position down the stretch. Well, I have good news for any fan of Sixty. It's already starting to happen. Really.
On Wednesday 26 September, the Lions travelled to local rival Ingolstadt for what was dubbed an Upper Bavarian Derby. The cab driver assured me that Franconia was another 30 kilometres to the north and we were still firmly in Upper Bavaria. The rivalry is still relatively new, as FC Ingolstadt has only been in the 2nd Bundesliga since 2008, but the local police deemed it a 'high risk game' because of the potential clashes between rival Ultras.
The match itself was exciting partially because of both teams fans. Because Ingolstadt is quite a small provincial club, the fans were clearly worked up about playing their big city 'enemies'. Obviously, the 1860 fans who make the trip to away stadiums are passionate, to say the least, so that part of the stadium was often as loud as the locals. 14 thousand people would make the Allianz Arena look empty, but here it was a full house.
Moritz Stoppelkamp, who had been taken out of the starting lineup in the game at the weekend against Eintracht Braunschweig, was the hero of the first half, when he scored in the 32nd minute. To set the goal up, Kai Bülow had passed to Daniel Halfar on the flank. When the midfielder's shot was deflected, Stoppelkamp made quick work of it and put the Lions up 1:0.
The second half was no better for the 'Schanzer', as Ingolstadt is called, as they continued to be outclassed in nearly every position. Guillermo Vallori sealed the win, when the Spaniard chipped over the goalkeeper in the 74th minute. No matter what the home side tried to do, they were denied at nearly every turn. What a joy it was for the visitors to let someone else play the part of the lovable losers.
1860 Munich comes home unbeaten in seven games, and Hungarian Gábor Király has only allowed three goals this season. Although the season is long and there are plenty of unforeseen things that can still happen, any fan of Sixty must be doing his best to control his optimism.