When German official Wolfgang Stark blew the final whistle in the Esprit Stadium last night, it was clearly the the beginning of an inquest that could be far reaching for German football. German football fans in particular - the night was a nadir for pitch invasions and Pyros. Both were ill timed, caused disruption to the ebb and flow of the game and became the talking points. A real shame in a two-legged relegation play-off that ended 4-3 to Fortuna and condemned Hertha to a second relegation in three seasons.
By way of comparison, the first-leg in Berlin had passed with little incident. I was in attendance last week and took a few snaps.
The tie was finely poised at 2-2 on the night and 4-3 to Fortuna on aggregate, when in the 6th minute of added on time, hundreds of Düsseldorf fans mistakenly thought that Stark had blown for full-time and invaded the pitch to celebrate. The fans had started to leave their seats as early as the 85th minute, forming a cordon of people around the advertising hordings, constantly being watched by police and stewards but not moved on.
The match had such an inordinate amount of injury time, not due to one moron as was the case at Manchester City at the weekend, but several. Hertha fans had launched fireworks on the pitch when they went 2-1 down on the night. Hertha fans clearly thought that the 4-2 aggregate scoreline was unassailable. Moments earlier they had lost their goal scorer and arguably their biggest threat in Ben-Hatira, who was booked for a challenge that you can't get away with in modern football. It was a second yellow but could have easily been a straight red in 2012. Ten years ago, a clever official would have given him a warning and the game would have been all the better for the decision.
Germany is very much the home of 'proper football' in terms of fans though. The matchday experience is envied by the English fans who have a sanitised version of the game. All topics for another day of course but last night will be a stick that the German FA can beat the pro-pyro lobby with. @valedave made a point on Twitter last night that the good work of the pro-pyro lobby has been undone in one night. In one moment. Not a moment of madness but one of spite and ill feeling. Hertha have felt aggrieved all season. A freakish amount of own goals being their latest gripe - one in three goals conceded of late have been own goals. That's football Hertha fans.
When you consider the way Manchester City came back from 2-1 down to score two vital goals to win the Premiership, it was telling that Hertha scored in the 85th minute. Could a side in blue score 2 goals in quick succession? Without all of the added on time this goal would have came at around 78 minutes giving them almost quarter of an hour to salvage their top tier status. Would they have found a goal in this time? Would they have been slightly less drained of emotion and spirit? They had to go across to their own fans midway through such a crucial game and urge them to calm down and stop throwing fireworks on to the pitch.
The game sparked to life after only 25 seconds when Düsseldorf's Beister hammered in a shot from just outside the penalty area. The sot curled away from the Hertha goalkeeper and the visitors could have let this early setback derail them. However, staying true to their sponsors (DB, who had laid on discounted travel) they charged forward at every opportunity, often leaving themselves exposed to the counter attack and long balls down the channels. Unfortunately, as with DB, the game would also feature delays.
Hertha's possession finally bore fruit when a free-kick was whipped in from the left and Ben-Hatira rose and powered his header in to the bottom corner past the hapless Ratajczak. At 1-1, Hertha needed to be aware that a second Fortuna goal would mean they needed 3 goals in normal time. However, another goal for Hertha would force the tie in to extra-time.
It was parity as the sides went in at half-time and Hertha coach, Otto Rehhagel, was clearly using every ounce of his forty years of managerial experience, by keeping the Fortuna players waiting, as Hertha took their time entering the field for the re-start. The half was only 10 minutes old when Ben-Harita received his marching orders and 4 minutes later Hertha were 4-2 down on aggregate.
The goal Hertha scored on 85 minutes was overshadowed by the scenes that followed. If the Fortuna fans had waited for the game to be finished before celebrating wildly on the pitch then they would have the moral high ground. As it is, there was talk of Hertha consulting lawyers on Twitter last night and at the very least the game will be remembered for the images below rather than the seven goal thriller and feast of football that it was. Two Berlin derby games next season though - can't wait.
Es war ein Spiel, über das noch lange geredet werden wird – und der sportliche Ausgang stand trotz des Finalcharakters lange im Hintergrund.