Time for a little flashback. Tomorrow, FC Bayern München host Bayer 04 Leverkusen at the Allianz Arena. Instead of one of my many Bayern Trikots, I will be wearing one from what is today a third-tier club. Read on to discover why.
May 20th, 2000. The final day of the 1999/2000 season. Bayer Leverkusen are in the Munich suburbs. Not in Fröttmaning, as the Allianz Arena was not even built back then. Not even in the Olympiapark close to the suburb of Milbertshofen, where the famous Olympiastadion still stands.
SpVgg Unterhaching, based in the suburb of the same time, are today in the 3. Liga, having won promotion from the fourth-tier Regionalliga Bayern last season. But back at the turn of the millennium, they were mixing it with the big boys. At their small Alpenbauer Sportpark, a little piece of Bavarian football folklore was written.
Leverkusen: clear title favourites
Since their 4:1 defeat in Munich in February, Christoph Daum’s Leverkusen had strung together an unbeaten run of fourteen league matches and had scored 41 goals, including a club record of nine against relegation-threatened SSV Ulm 1846. As the final day of the season arrived, they were clear favourites to win the coveted Meisterschale for the first time.
While Bayern entertained seventh-placed Werder Bremen in their final match at the Olympiastadion, Leverkusen would be just twelve kilometres down the road in the quiet suburb of Unterhaching – needing just a single point against SpVgg to claim their first Bundesliga title.
For Bayern, the mission was simple enough. Win the game, put up a good final show for the Olympiastadion crowd, and hope for the best. They needed to beat Bremen to have a chance of pipping Leverkusen on goal difference, but nobody in their right mind would have thought that the Rheinlanders – beaten only twice in their previous thirty-three Bundesliga matches – wouldn’t pick up at least a point against tenth-placed Unterhaching. But over the years football has proved that even the most predictable fixture can often lead to the most unpredictable results; were this not the case, nobody would have had much to write about.
Bayern quick off the blocks
Bayern were quick off the blocks at the Olympiastadion, and had pretty much completed their part of the deal in just over a quarter of an hour against a poor Werder side. Bixente Lizarazu sent in a cross from the left for Carsten Jancker to nod in after just two minutes, and just ten minutes later the same man was on hand to double the lead in similar fashion after Paulo Sérgio’s header had struck the crossbar.
On sixteen minutes, the Brazilian winger scored a sublime third. Hasan Salihamidžić played a neat backheel inside to Mehmet Scholl, whose first-time pass was wonderfully met by Sérgio, who struck an even cuter backheel with his right foot past the static Frank Rost in the Bremen goal.
At that point however Bayern could have scored another dozen and it wouldn’t have made a shred of difference: with Leverkusen and Unterhaching still locked at 0:0, the Werkself still held the slight advantage.
Just five minutes later, things changed dramatically as news started to filter through that a Bayer Leverkusen player had got on the scoreboard – but at the wrong end of the pitch. His name: Michael Ballack. ‘Haching winger Danny Schwarz had swung a harmless-looking right-wing cross into the Leverkusen box, and with nobody around him the unfortunate Ballack had slid in to execute the perfect textbook finish.
Bremen pulled a goal back in the Olympiastadion five minutes before half-time, but Bayern now held the advantage. Even then however, not even the biggest optimist in the Olympiastadion Südkurve would have been banking on Unterhaching to keep the door closed on the free-scoring Leverkusen side for another forty-five minutes.
There were no further goals at the Olympiastadion, but with eighteen minutes remaining there was one more in Unterhaching. Left-sided midfielder Jochen Seitz floated a cross into the Leverkusen penalty area. There to meet it was the unmarked Markus Oberleitner, a player who had spent the 1996/97 season on the player roster at Bayern. Oberleitner timed his header perfectly, floating the ball in the top right corner of the net past the static Polish Torhüter Adam Matysek to double his side’s advantage.
There was no way back for Leverkusen, and the Meisterschale was on its way to Munich. With both teams finishing on seventy-three points from their 34 games, Bayern’s superior goal difference meant that Leverkusen would have to keep waiting for their first Bundesliga title.
This had not been a case of Bayern-Dusel. Leverkusen – living up to their unfortunate nickname of “Vizekusen” or, among the English-speaking press, “Neverkusen” – would only have themselves to blame. Unterhaching’s 2:0 win and Bayern’s fifteenth Bundesliga title would see the entire city of Munich – save those from the light blue Löwenbräu-drinking corner of the city – join in the celebrations.
Thanks to the wonders of satellite television, I had been able to keep up with every twist and turn and ebb and flow in what was an amazing finale to an dramatic season.
Excerpted from Red Odyssey: As FC Bayern Fan Journey. Available now on Amazon, for all dedicated fans of Die Roten.