Hamburger Polo Club are looking to continue their meteoric from the fourth tier of German hockey to the top table of the European club game as they debut in the EHL on Thursday evening against Wimbledon (19.00 CET).
It has been an incredible project overseen by Olympic gold medalist Matthias Witthaus, calling in some well-known faces to make their way through the lower leagues, guiding a series of youngsters.
“It was a good mix,” explains Luca Müller of the journey. “There was a couple of guys from the youth but Matthias managed to get in a lot of good players, old friends who had won things like the Olympic gold medal like Max Weinhold and Carlos Nevado.
“They were retired from professional hockey but, for the fourth and third division, it was enough to get things started. With these guys, they got promoted every single year bar one and started to look for more active players like Matthias Muller, me and Niklas Garst in 2018.”
It is a second rising of sorts for Luca Müller who helped Mannheim rise the ranks during his student days. He joined the club at 2013 as they evolved to become national champions in 2017, lining out in the EHL in Eindhoven and Rotterdam.
Originally from just outside Frankfurt, he was coaxed to Hamburg by one of his college buddies Jan-Hendrik Bartels who was from Polo before switching to Mannheim for university. Since then, it has become his new home as a “Hamburger”.
“When I came here, they were so open-minded and warm-hearted, and really welcoming. It’s a family club in the west of Hamburg and the cool thing is they are really enjoying what is happening professionally – they are taking it as an adventure that the club has gone from a family club to having a Bundesliga team playing for the championship.
“They are so grateful and happy with it and it feels for me like it is my home club even though I am only here four years.”
Indeed, there is still more to come with a new pitch and a stadium close to completion while their playing staff has taken on a cosmopolitan look.
New Zealanders Kane Russell, Blair Tarrant, Nick Woods, Hugo Inglis and Aidan Sarikaya are joined by Austrians Oliver Binder and Benjamin Kölbl, Spaniard Saul Esteve and Dutch international Diede van Puffelen. Combined with German talents Constantin Staib and Niklas Bosserhoff and it is a strong line-up.
And Müller says there is a very clear target of pushing for a ticket to the FINAL8 this weekend with the potential to go further next Easter.
“Establishing ourselves in Europe is always the case when you are one of the top teams in Germany. The other part comes automatically. I experienced from Mannheim when I moved there in 2013. By 2015, we managed to qualify for the first time.
“Back then, we weren’t really known and then all of sudden, we won a German championship and then one of the big names. It comes with being one of the top German teams that you want to be a contender in Europe.”
During the Mannheim years, Müller endured a painful shoot-out loss to Wimbledon, their opponents on Thursday in the KO16. As such, he knows how tough a battle it will be.
“I remember that game well but I don’t feel a lot of revenge five years on! I don’t know that many of their players are still there. It is the EHL and we are playing a top team from England and you are always 100% motivated for this kind of game, one of the biggest our guys will have!
“We are feeling pretty good even though the results have been a little mixed but playing at home is a big bonus. Our fans will not have to travel that far, just to the other side of the Alster.
“Staying at home, knowing the pitch. This is all very nice. It is always an adventure to go somewhere else in Europe like Barcelona or Rotterdam. It is big and you see something new but from a sports perspective, it will be a big bonus for us.
“And the fan culture is developing, maybe more accidentally than purposefully. These families are really enjoying the high level of hockey and seeing their club they have lived in for the last 30 years now on such a high level.
“It’s slight different to the famous fans of Mannheim, a lot of whom didn’t have much to do with hockey itself – a lot were friends of mine and other players from the university having an off-weekend during the EHL and so they built a little bit of a supporters club, “the hockey boys”.
“All of a sudden, it became a yearly event! At Polo, the families and the youth teams are now getting the hang of it!”
EHL Men’s KO16 will be available for broadcast across the globe from September 29 to October 2, 2022 via the following outlets
- www.EuroHockeyTV.org – every game live on pay-per-view for €6.99 (all regions except Latin America and France)
- ESPN Latin America will broadcast each game live
- SportAll hold the rights for each game in France.