Monday 03 June 2019, 12:44

A title race decided by compassion

  • Several members of VfB Peine’s U-15 team were seriously injured when their bus crashed on the motorway

  • The league leaders’ closest rivals agreed to concede all of the points available from their remaining games

  • Peine express their gratitude for this display of fair play

More than 100 kilometres – many of them on the A7 motorway – lie between Gottingen and Peine, near Hanover in Germany’s Lower Saxony region. On 11 May, VfB Peine’s U-15 footballers travelled to an away game at JSG Sparta-Weende Gottingen. The league leaders recorded a resounding 12-0 victory over the team placed second from bottom in the table before climbing into several cars and a minibus for the one-hour-plus drive home.

During the return journey, the minibus packed with 14 and 15-year-old players left the road and overturned. The bus was completely written off, and the driver and several of the young footballers suffered serious injuries, some of them critical. Luckily, all of them survived this terrible accident.

"Having seen the picture of the wrecked team bus, I have to say that the lads had a lucky escape," said VfB chairman Peter Konrad. Nevertheless, it quickly became clear that it would be some time before many of Peine’s talented youngsters could get back out on the pitch.

In addition to the young footballers’ physical injuries, the psychological impact of such a traumatic experience can also be significant. The team’s targets of winning the championship and securing promotion no longer mattered and seemed a distant prospect.

In an email to the regional football association and Peine’s scheduled opponents for the rest of the season, Frank Mengersen, U-15 coach at VfB’s fiercest championship rivals BSC Acosta Braunschweig, who at this point were only three points behind the leaders, suggested calling off the title race in the wake of the accident and giving all remaining points – and the championship – to the stricken club.

It was a unique display of fair play, made all the more impressive by the fact that the Braunschweig Landesliga is in the second-highest tier of the German U-15 league system, with the potential to win promotion via a play-off to the Regionalliga Nord, where the U-15 teams of Bundesliga clubs such as Werder Bremen, Hannover 96, Hamburg and Wolfsburg await.

"It’s magnificent; none of us thought that things like this could still happen in this day and age," Peine coach Christoph Hasselbach told television channel NDR. "The lads dreamt of reaching the relegation/promotion play-off, as you don’t get too many chances like that in your footballing life."

"It’s not about charity, it’s an act of compassion and solidarity," explained Mengersen, the initiator of the plan. "We said: 'If you can’t play on, then we don’t want to play on either.'"

"It’s hard for us to put into words what we are feeling at this time, but it would probably be somewhere between guilty and very emotional," a statement from VfB Peine read. "This display of unequivocal sporting solidarity has overwhelmed us at this time and has made us incredibly proud of the way in which football brings us together. This whole situation has shown us that there is more to sport than rivalry, and we want to take that message out into the world with us. Thanks to our league rivals for showing the way!"