THE contrasts between the play-offs in Christopher Schindler’s native Germany and England are marked.
Not only do the ties in the Bundesliga feature just a pair of teams competing in a two-legged final but the two combatants are also from different divisions.
These relegation play-offs, as they are known in Germany, also have the away goals rule that was scrapped in this country way back in 1999.
What doesn’t differ, however, between the two end-of-season deciders is the potential for drama. As Schindler knows only too well from two years ago when, as captain of TSV 1860 Munich, his emotions went from despair to pure, unadulterated joy in the space of just a few seconds.
“We played in the play-offs against relegation,” explained the 27-year-old, Town’s record signing, to The Yorkshire Post. “1860 is my club, as a supporter. I joined them at eight years old. A big club that had a big past, the second power next to Bayern. But we had a bad season. We stayed up, in the end. But it was really close.”
Holstein Kiel were the side standing between 1860 and the abyss that is the third tier of German football, home to reserve teams and just one small step away from semi-professional competition.
1860, who faced Leeds United in the Champions League qualifiers as recently as 2000, had finished the 2014-15 season third bottom of Bundesliga 2.
Kiel, meanwhile, had been bouncing around the third and fourth tiers since being relegated in 1981.
A tense goalless draw in the first leg led to almost 55,000 fans packing into the Allianz Arena, the home 1860 share with Bayern, for the return.
The vast majority of that huge crowd were then silenced in the 16th minute when the visitors went ahead. Schindler, sporting the armband as usual that June day, recalls: “Relegation would have been very bad for 1860 Munich. We all felt responsible for the season we’d had and were desperate not to be relegated.
Don’t put too much pressure on yourself, you have to be relaxed to make the right decisions.Christopher Schindler
“But we were still losing with just five minutes to play. We got an equaliser but away goals count double in Germany so we were going down. Thankfully, the winner came in the 92nd minute. There is actually a video of this game now.
“I watch it and I have goosebumps.”
Huddersfield fans will be hoping Schindler will be similarly well disposed in the future towards watching a re-run of the upcoming double-header against Sheffield Wednesday.
A trip to Wembley – “playing there would mean everything,” says Schindler – is at stake along with the opportunity to keep alive the dream of reaching the Premier League.
The bookmakers have Wednesday down as favourites. Not only did the Owls finish the regular season by taking 18 points from their final seven games but the last four meetings between these old Yorkshire foes have all gone the way of Carlos Carvalhal’s men.
For Schindler, promotion would be the perfect end to a season that started with the defender becoming Town’s record £1.8m signing from 1860.
It has proved to be an astute buy.
“Everyone else in the Championship would be jealous to have the opportunity to play in such a great stadium with breath-taking atmosphere,” said the defender who has missed just two league games for Town this season.
“That is what you dream of as a child. That is what I mean when I say, ‘Do not save anything, put it all into these two matches’. We have to put everything we have got into this game and win it.”
To reach that May 29 final, of course, the Terriers must find a way past Carvalhal’s men.
It is a challenge Schindler relishes.
“These play-offs for promotion are a positive pressure compared to the relegation play-offs (in Germany),” he added. “I am a big fan (of these play-offs) but not relegation.
“Two years ago at 1860, it was really hard. Especially before the games, when I was thinking, ‘What if we lose and go down?’
“There were 55,000 at the stadium so the pressure was on. Once you have experienced that, you can take a lot out of it and use it for this situation to be more relaxed.
“Don’t put too much pressure on yourself, you have to be relaxed to make the right decisions.
“It was a bad season at 1860. For me, winning the play-off game was the only way to make up for that. I wouldn’t want to have that experience again but it made me grow as a person and as a footballer. I am thankful for that.”
Penalties, of course, could come into play at the end of next Wednesday’s return leg at Hillsborough. Bearing in mind Germany’s shoot-out record against the Three Lions down the years, The Yorkshire Post suggests this might not be a bad thing for Town.
“That is a cliché,” replied Schindler before adding with a big smile: “And a fact.
“I have been in a shoot-out in my career, in the German Cup. I did take one but, of course, this is a different kind of pressure.
“The German Cup cannot be compared to this match with a chance of getting promoted to the Premier League. The pressure is way higher. I hope we can decide it earlier.”
As Schindler’s 1860 proved against Kiel two years ago, the play-offs do have a tendency to delay the drama until the very last moment. With that in mind, does Schindler have any advice for his team-mates?
“These games are all about body language and the way you affect other players,” he said. “If you are nervous, they will see it and maybe feel the same. You have to be calm, relaxed and focused. If you do that, you can help your mates feel the same. The way you act affects how your mates may play.
“The play-offs felt totally different to any other games. We played (at 1860) to avoid relegation, a different pressure. But these play-offs are positive, there are a lot of players in the Championship who wish they were in our place.
“We can be proud of what we did so far. But now we have to take the next step.”