Some might raise an eyebrow at people looking back on the Nazi-era as a golden age, but for fans of FC Schalke 04 that is precisely what those years were. From 1934 till 1942 their club dominated German football, laying the foundation for the clubs lasting popularity. But although Schalke 04 retains a sizeable and fiercely loyal following, the fans have been given scant reward for their loyalty, with the club winning only one championship since it's heyday in the pre-war era
Originally called Westfalia Schalke
, the club was founded in 1904 by a group of young football enthusiasts from the Schalke district of the city of Gelsenkirchen, located in the Ruhr-area, the industrial heartland of Germany. The name FC Schalke 04 and the blue and white colours that would give the club its nickname of Die Königsblauen
(the Royal Blues)
were adopted in 1924, capping of an early history that featured quite a bit of organisational turbulence.
By that time two brothers, Hans and Fred Ballmann, who would play a crucial role in Schalke's rise to greatness, had joined the club. The Ballmann brothers had spent a large part of their life in Britain, where they had observed, and been heavily influenced by, the Scottish short bal style, with it's emphasis on passing. It would form the basis of a system that would become synonymous with the club's pre-war dominance, the Schalker Kreisel
. Kreisel is the German word for spinning top, which is exactly what the Schalke team resembled in the eyes of many observers due to their quick circulation of the ball in a series of short passes, and their tendency to switch positions and run into space in order to offer a teammate in possession multiple opportunities to pass the ball. The Ballmann brothers found apt pupils in able young players like Ernst Kuzorra and Fritz Szepan.
Schalke players celebrate winning the 1939 German championship
Playing their trade mark system, Schalke rose through the ranks of German football steadily. Not even accusations of illegal payments, leading to the club being suspended during the 1930/1931 season, could stop Shalke's ascendance, which culminated in the clubs first appearance in the final
of the German championship in 1933. They lost that game, but made up for it in next season's final, winning their first German title. What followed was a period of remarkable dominance that saw Schalke compete in all but one of the finals held until 1942, and wining five more championships. Stand out players during that era were Ernst Kuzorra, Fritz Szepan and Otte Tibulski.
After the war Schalke 04 found themselves unable to recapture their pre-war glory.
In the 1950's things seemed to be looking up for the club, but the 1958 championship did not prove to be the starting point for a new period of dominance. The team was good enough to be selected among the clubs that made up the newly formed national league, the Bundesliga, in 1963, but found itself unable to make any sort of an impact on it. In fact, in 1965 Schalke only escaped relegation because the number of teams in the Bundesliga was increased.
In 1972 it once again seemed Schalke's fortunes were about to take a turn for the better, as they won the German Cup and finished 2nd in the Bundesliga. But the club found itself deeply embroiled in the Bundesliga Scandal
of 1971, which revolved around allegations of match-fixing and would lead to suspensions for key Schalke players such as Klaus Fischer, Stan Libuda and Klaus Fichtel. Admits all the turmoil, they new golden age that the 1971/1972 season seemed to promise never materialised. A second place finish in the Bundesliga in 1977, only one point behind champions HSV, proved another false dawn.
In the 1980's thing went from bad to worse, ending in the unthinkable for the club that had once dominated German football: relegation to the 2. Bundesliga in 1981. Schalke struggled back up the next season, but only to find themselves relegated again in 1983, and once again in 1988, after having returned in 1984. To add insult to injury deep financial problems put Schalke's license up for serious question.
Schalke 04 lines up for the 2nd leg of the 1997 UEFA-Cup final
Having won promotion in 1991, the club set about turning it's fortunes around through a process of professionalization and commercialization. Schalke's results improved and during the 1995-1996 season Schalke 04 qualified for European Football for the first time in almost twenty years. The UEFA-Cup campaign that followed brought the club it's first ever European trophy, when Schalke beat Inter Milan on penalties in the final. For the first time since 1972, the club's loyal fans had some silverware to celebrate. It would prove the starting point for a return to the forefront of German football.
The new millennium has been kind to Schalke 04. The club has moved to an impressive new stadium, the Arena auf Schalke 
, and has won back to back German Cups in 2001 and 2002. Schalke has finished as runner-up in the Bundesliga on three occasions (2001, 2005 and 2007), feeding hopes that a first championship since 1958 might be in the cards for the club. They came desperately close in 2001, when a goal scored in injury time on the final playing day of the season by Bayern against HSV saw the title go to Bavaria at the very last gasp. These days Schalke competes regularly in Europe, although a repeat of their 1997 triumph had not been forthcoming. The only cloud on the horizon is the formidable debt load the club had incurred in turning it's fortunes around.
#1: The club's official name is: FC Gelsenkirchen-Schalke 04 e.V.
Anther common nickname for Schalke is Die Knappen (The Miners), as both players and supporters often hailed from a mining background.
#3: In the days before the formation of the Bundesliga, the German Championship was decided by a knock-out competition featuring the various regional champions
#4: The stadium's name giving rights were later bought by an German beer brewery called Veltins, so that the official name of the stadium is now Veltins Arena.