It’s been 22 years since Oberliga NOFV-Nord side 1. FC Lok Stendal last played in the DFB-Pokal. This Sunday at 15:30 CEST, they play in what will be the club’s fourth ever appearance in the cup when they take on second-division side Arminia Bielefeld. The fact that Stendal, based in a town 65 kilometres north of Magedeburg with a population of just 40,000, have been able to make their long-awaited return to the competition is in no small part down to their home-grown talent Philipp Groß.
The 24th minute in the semi-finals of the Sachsen-Anhalt Verbandspokal: 1. FC Lok Stendal are deadlocked at 0-0 against SV Blau-Weiß Zorbau. A free kick is blocked and the ball lands at feet of Martin Krüger, who subsequently whips a low cross into the box and Philipp Groß fires it into the back of the net from six yards out. It was the game’s only goal and also the most important of Groß’s career, a player born and raised in Stendal. Their opponents in the final were 1. FC Magdeburg, who went on to beat Stendal 1-0. However, a few weeks later, promotion into the 2. Bundesliga ensured automatic qualification to the DFB-Pokal for Magdeburg. This meant 1. FC Lok Stendal also gained a qualifying berth themselves.
“When you play in the Oberliga, you don’t often get the chance to play in the DFB-Pokal. That makes this winning goal all the more special,” explained Philipp Groß when he chatted to DFB.de. It was one of the full-back’s two goals in 32 matches last season. The 27-year-old said the goal earned him ‘one or two cold beverages’ from his teammates.
After securing the DFB-Pokal spot, celebrations had to be put on hold. Coach Sven Körner’s team were faced with the tricky task of navigating a relegation battle in the NOFV-Oberliga Süd. It was only in early June on the last day of the season that Körner’s team avoided relegation on goal difference after securing a 2-2 draw against table-toppers Bischofswerdaer FV. “It took a load off our mind and meant that on our end-of-season holiday to Mallorca we were able to celebrate staying up and gaining the DFB-Pokal spot,” commented Groß.
This year will be 1. FC Lok Stendal’s fourth appearance in the DFB-Pokal. One cup run to remember was in the 1995/96 season, when the team from Stendal beat three of what were then second-division teams: VfL Wolfsburg (0-0 draw, 4-3 on penalties), Hertha BSC (3-2 after extra time) and SV Waldhof Mannheim (2-2 draw, 5-4 on penalties). The victories took the Saxony-Anhalt-based team all the way to the quarterfinals, where they eventually lost 5-4 on penalties to a Bayer 04 Leverkusen outfit containing both Rudi Völler and Bernd Schuster.
“I was too young to remember that season, but I’ve seen videos and ever since this year’s DFB-Pokal draw we have been thinking a lot about what we did in the cup that season. If we make it past the first round we will already be in dreamland,” said Groß.
This time around, the opponents aren’t Völler and Schuster, but rather Julian Börner and Fabian Klos. “We were hoping to be drawn against a big Bundesliga club. However, Arminia Bielefeld are a second-division team with a rich history and they ended up in a respectable fourth last season. The game will be a sell-out with our ‘Stadion am Hölzchen’ set to welcome 3,000 fans. The club is motivated and ready to go. One thing is for sure; we’ll be talking about this one for years to come,” declared Groß.
It’s a huge game for Philipp Groß. The 27-year-old defender has been pulling on the Stendal jersey ever since he was 12 years old. He was first spotted by the club during a training session organised by club scouts looking for local talent. Groß started playing football at the age of five with Blau-Gelb Goldbeck. “My older brother and his friends were already playing at the club so I already had a connection to football”.
Groß has always had a strong alliance to 1. FC Lok Stendal. “I’ve never wanted to swap clubs. We have a small but charming stadium, as well as great training facilities and a strong team spirit. It’s just fun to play football here,” commented the civil-engineering student. Martin Gödecke, Franz Erdmann and Moritz Instenberg are just some of the other players to have been playing at the club since youth level.
“We are a tight-knit bunch with good chemistry. Even against a second-division team, on a good day, we can cause an upset.” 1.FC Lok can definitely count on support from the stands. “I’ve had a huge amount of ticket requests from friends and family. Walking around the town you can just feel the thrill of anticipation for the upcoming game against Bielefeld.”
Besides the DFB-Pokal first-round game, the upcoming season sees a new challenge for the Stendal team. For geographical reasons the club has been moved from the southern into the northern division of the NOFV-Oberliga and will therefore have to face a whole range of new opponents.
Groß commented on the positives of the move: “It feels almost as if we were promoted to the Oberliga this year and not last year. We haven’t played against most of the clubs and that in itself brings a certain amount excitement. I’m sure that we will gain enough points in the northern division too to avoid regulation.”