ABERDEEN'S return to action on Sunday at Rugby Park after Thursday' night's engagement with aristocrats Bayern Munich represented a thudding crash back to terra firma, such was the excitement generated by their visit to southern Germany last midweek.
But for Bayern Munich the UEFA Cup appointment with Jimmy Calderwood's side was simply the start of a crucial period which reaches a climax tonight, when Bayern's great rivals TSV Munich 1860 are faced in the stadium both clubs share.
"Games with 1860 are always important," said Max Breitner, press officer son of the great Bayern and West Germany midfielder Paul. "For the fans at least this game is the most important of the three we have at home, including the UEFA Cup match with Aberdeen and Sunday's Bundesliga match with Hamburg." Oliver Kahn, the Bayern goalkeeper, noted how the fans spent most of the 90 minutes against Hamburg on Sunday singing about the team they are due to play tonight. "They were warming up," he said.
Breitner Junior is based at the Bayern training ground in the southern Munich suburb of Untergiesing-Harlaching and can almost feel the anticipation building at the 1860 HQ, just two blocks away. Both clubs share the same neighbourhood and relocate to the Allianz Arena on match days. But 1860 might argue they remain the more authentic representatives of the area, and, indeed, the entire city. Tonight's quarter-final meeting in the DFB-Pokal German Cup presents manager Marco Kurz's side with the eagerly awaited chance to secure bragging rights, although, as was was the case with Aberdeen, the odds are stacked against 1860. Currently sitting seventh in Bundesliga 2 the club are investing their hopes in youth after years of financial turmoil. In the 20 competitive derbies contested between 1994 and 2004, Bayern won 14 and 1860 only two, and these came in succession in 1999-2000.
As is the case in Britain, where Manchester City are reckoned to be the true team of Manchester, the less successful club purport to represent Munich. Even Breitner, who was only two when his father retired but grew up watching Bayern from the south curve of the Olympic stadium, agreed: "They are the club of the working class, and in Munich itself probably still have more fans than Bayern," he said in an office adorned by a cartoon of his famously hirsute father. "Fans come to see Bayern from as much as 200 kms away."
1860's old home ground, the Grunwalder – or Sechzger (Sixty) – Stadion, still stands just a few hundred yards down the Grunwalder Strasse from their training base, and is where 1860 won their one and only German title in 1966. Bayern shared their stadium then, but both clubs left for the Olympic stadium when it was built in 1972. 1860, however, had spells back at their old old stadium, particularly when a drop into the amateur third tier of German football in the 1980s rendered the 70,000 capacity arena superfluous to their needs, although even now 1860 remain well-supported. Their average attendance this season is 37,500.
The first-team last played in the ground in 2004-2005 but it still stands and those Aberdeen fans who strayed south of the city centre bierhalls last week will have been impressed by a stadium which shames many Scottish Premier League clubs. The club's reserve side is still based at the 20,000 capacity arena, and many fans pine for the days when they didn't have to venture all the way to the northern outskirts of the city to watch their team play, particularly at a stadium which is presently wholly owned by Bayern. The club acquired a 100 per cent stake in the Allianz Arena after purchasing 1860's 50 per cent share in the holding company for 11 million euros. This hasn't helped the feeling that the heavily branded Bayern have bought their way to prominence, with 1860 left counting the financial cost of trying to keep up with their now more famous neighbours. Resentment has been added to the fierce emotions aroused by meetings between the sides.
The rivalry has been described as being as extreme as that between Celtic and Rangers. The contrasting fortunes of the two clubs has meant that opportunities to judge this have been at a premium, although tonight's cup match does follow hard on the heels of a 1-1 draw in a 'friendly' meeting last month. Breitner offers an illustration of the bitter feelings which linger between the clubs. "The fans still hate each other," he said. "When the reserve teams play each other in the Grunwalder Stadium over 5000 fans attend and 1000 policemen. There is always fighting in the streets."
The meeting in January was part of an agreement to play once every season in an attempt to recoup funds required to build the Allianz Arena, with costs having risen to more than 340 million euros. The fixture always commands a sell-out crowd, and tonight will be no different with Bayern, drawn as the 'home side', having made a gesture of good-will towards 1860 by offering them 15,000 tickets when only required to set aside 10 per cent of the 69,000 capacity. The stadium'a exterior will, though, be red. Bayern are not ready to accede this right to their rivals, who, when they play their home games in Bundesliga 2, ensure the lights inside the walls of the impressive arena have been switched to their sky blue setting.
The security guards and police will also be on red alert for this first competitive meeting between the sides in over four years and the one, with all due respect to Aberdeen, which has really knocked the froth from their beers in Munich.