Fistball tradition north of the German-Danish border

Fistball had in Denmark’s most southern part – Sønderjylland (or Nordschleswig in German, respectively North Schleswig in English) – a long tradition, in particular among the German minority.

Since 1920, North Schleswig is part of the Kingdom of Denmark. Today, the German minority in North Schleswig includes about 15,000 people among a total population of 250,000, and runs kindergarten’s, schools and libraries, as well as church and social work. It publishes a newspaper and offers sports and cultural activities. The minority is represented by the Bund Deutscher Nordschleswiger. Part of the minority’s identity is to contribute to a good and trustful relationship with the Danish majority and to build bridges between Germans and Danes.

WC 2007 – the Danish national team from North Schleswig
WC 2007 – the Danish national team from North Schleswig

Fistball was highly popular in the 1950s, and was played in almost every village as well as in the sports clubs of the German minority. By the end of the 1960s, Handball took increasingly over. While some clubs would sporadically participate in tournaments in Schleswig-Holstein, the quality did not reach anymore the same level as in the 1950s.

In May 1987, fistball in North Schleswig was revived, among others due to the initiative of Günter Haagensen from Tondern/Tønder as well as of some clubs, which were supported by teams from North Frisia (in particular TSV Rot-Weiß Niebüll). A year later, North Schleswig championships could again be organized, and fistball was also played at the two big summer festivals of the German minority – the Pfingstturnier and the Knivsbergfest. Furthermore, teams from North Schleswig participated from 1988 until 2007 in the league in Schleswig-Holstein (winter and summer rounds). The development of fistball in Denmark was often supported and promoted by individuals from North Schleswig, for example Hans Peter Asmussen, as well as coach Uwe Jörck and the publisher of the magazine “Faustball-Sport”, Heino Kreye (both have unfortunately died). Mr. Kreye was championing Denmark’s participation at the World Championship 1990 in Austria, which was followed by participations in 1992, 1995, 1999, 2003 and in 2007. In the latter years, coach Olaf Neuenfeld significantly contributed to an increased quality of the team. But, as in the 1960s, fistball in North Schleswig/Denmark came once again to a halt due to a lack of investment in youth.

WC 2007 – positive spirits at the end of the match, despite loss against Austria
WC 2007 – positive spirits at the end of the match, despite loss against Austria

A new start
Interest in sports is shifting, also in North Schleswig, in particular among young people – individual sports are becoming more popular at the expense of traditional team sports. In response to this, the German minority in North Schleswig has, in addition to the sports activities in clubs, initiated the concept “Team Nordschleswig – Æ Mannschaft”.

Since 2016, Team Nordschleswig – Æ Mannschaft has evolved as a success story. Having started as a sheer football selection of the German minority in Denmark, the team participated in the EUROPEADA 2016 (football European cup for minorities). While the participation was no success in sports terms, the concept proved to be successful and the enthusiasm around the concept Æ Mannschaft is planned to be expanded to two additional sports – handball and fistball. Each of the three sports would have their own strategies and sports objectives. Team Nordschleswig – Æ Mannschaft is being organized by Bund Deutscher Nordschleswiger (association of the German minority – and Deutscher Jugendverband für Nordschleswig (sports and leisure association of the German minority –

The number one goal in the fistball division is to sustainably build a men’s team, which would participate for Denmark in international championships within a few years. In contrast to earlier fistball initiatives, the endeavor is this time fostered in multiple ways – in terms of sports, structures and marketing, including the support of fulltime employees.

Furthermore, Team Nordschleswig – Æ Mannschaft depends on the support of enthusiastic volunteers who contribute their knowledge and experience for a sustainable revival of fistball. Hence, former national team players Kurt Asmussen and Günter Haagensen have recently met with three representatives of Team Nordschleswig to discuss the possibilities of a new start. The discussants agreed on the following:

– First would be establishment of a men’s fistball team (primarily comprised of members of the German minority)
– Support from Asmussen und Haagensen, including with the identification of a coach
– A first training camp, from September 8 to 10, 2017, at the Bildungsstätte Knivsberg, Denmark
– Participation in international championships for Denmark with the World Championship 2019 in Winterthur, Switzerland, as goal

The collaboration with the two former national team players is already ongoing, and Kurt Asmussen was able to recruit German coach Roland Schubert for the training camp in September. After this, further discussions will be held if a firm collaboration can be established. “He (i.e. Roland Schubert) will look at everything and then decide to what extent things should continue”, says Kurt Asmussen.

WC 2007 – Kurt Asmussen in form
WC 2007 – Kurt Asmussen in form

Team Nordschleswig – Æ Mannschaft faces a difficult legacy and knows about the expectations for this revival. These expectations have to be met to allow bringing North Schleswig and Denmark again back on the radar of international fistball.

Author: Uffe Iwersen, Team Nordschleswig – Æ Mannschaft