Sunday 19 May 2019

The Four Minute Champions: The Dramatic Finale to the 2000-01 Bundesliga Season

“Life moves very fast. It rushes from Heaven to Hell in a matter of seconds.” - Brazillian novelist Paulo Coelho.

In life, euphoria can turn to despair in no time at all, and those involved in football know this all too well. It's amazing how is quickly a football fans world can be turned upside down. This is often most prevalent on the final day of a league campaign where one team's dreams can be affected by matters in another stadium at the other end of the country, and where fans in one ground anxiously tune into radio's to find out about events in another.

Sergio Aguero's injury time winner for Manchester City at home to QPR in 2012 saw them crowned Premier League champions, and Manchester United, playing elsewhere, suddenly relegated to second place when moments earlier they thought they had the title in the bag. On that occasion, Manchester United had barely had time to celebrate with full-time in their game at Sunderland and City's sensational last gasp winner coming literally seconds apart. But it was a slightly more heartbreaking affair over in Germany on 19 May 2001 in a Bundesliga finale that saw one team celebrate winning the title only to realise several minutes later had not won it after all.

FC Schalke 04 had never before won the Bundesliga, they had seven German football championship's to their name, but all were won in the years before the Bundesliga's formation. The Bundesliga came into being in 1963 with Schalke's last title coming five years prior to that, some 43 years earlier to be precise. In contrast, FC Bayern München, champions for the two previous seasons had won 15 titles in those intervening years. Schalke went into the final day of the season 3 points behind their title rivals Bayern, but with a superior goal difference, they knew defeat for Bayern would give them the chance to steal the crown.

A 3-1 win away at Bayern had given Schalke advantage in the title race with five games left to play, but the club took only 7 points from a possible 12 in the four games that followed to give their challengers the advantage going into the final round of fixtures. For that final day, Schalke were at home to SpVgg Unterhaching whilst Bayern were away at Hamburger SV.

At 15:30 local time Schalke's game kicked off in front of a sell out crowd of just over 65,000 at their old Parkstadion home in Gelsenkirchen, and by 15:04 the home side in their traditional blue kit were 1-0 down. Martin Cizek hit a freekick into the box and in the ensuing melee, André Breitenreiter found the net to silence the crowd. Over in Hamburg Bayern were struggling, but with Schalke losing it mattered one jot and the visiting fans were now in a celebratory mood. 

When Mirosław Spiżak nutmegged the keeper to put Unterhaching 2-0 up after 27 minutes the Parkstadion fell into despair. Bayern were champions surely now. As for Unterhaching, a win was vital to help them stay in the division, but as it stood with results elsewhere going against them, even a victory would still send them down.

Nico van Kerckhoven tapped the ball home to give Schalke a goal back whilst a minute later a cheeky backheel from Gerald Asamoah made it 2-2 on the stroke of half-time. Bayern meanwhile were also drawing and they went in 0-0 at the break with the HSV supporters gleefully cheering when news filtered through of Schalke's quickfire double. Bayern were still in the driving seat but had looked rather nervy, Schalke's two late goals meanwhile gave them momentum. Could the pendulum swing towards the boys in blue during the second half?

On 59 minutes Bayern had a goal ruled out for offside, Schalke were still drawing but not for long however as Martin Cizek restored Unterhaching’s lead 10 minutes later. On the bench Schalke coach Huub Steven was looking a solemn figure, although deep down he must have been worried, they were on the verge losing a title race that a few weeks earlier they seemed certain to win, especially with Bayern only needing a point. In contrast, the Bayern fans were celebrating in Hamburg, waving flags and cheering at the news from Gelsenkirchen in the north west of the country.

With VfB Stuttgart still winning, victory for Unterhaching would not be enough to save them from relegation. Things were getting desperate for Schalke also and club superstar Olaf Thon was ushered onto the pitch for his first game after eight months out with a serious injury, but it was Jörg Böhme, however, who wrote the next paragraph. An excellent freekick from Böhme on 73 minutes found the back of the net from 20 yards out to draw the home side level. A minute later and Schlake were finally in front with Böhme again on the scoresheet thanks to a clever chip over the keeper, seemingly destroying Unterhaching's already slim chances of staying up in the process. Over in Hamburg, the HSV fans raised the volume knowing one goal for their side would deny Bayern the title. Ebbe Sand soon put Schalke 5-3 ahead but Bayern were still drawing 0-0. As both games headed into stoppage time, however, there were still a few twists left in the season finale.

On 90 minutes HSV's Marek Heinz crossed the ball in from the left and Sergej Barbarez hit the ball past Oliver Kahn, Bayern were now 1-0 down, and with only minutes of the Bundesliga season remaining, Schalke were now top of the table on goal difference. Back in Gelsenkirchen news of HSV's goal filtered through and the celebrations began, albeit with some a little cautious and still rather nervous, after all, there were probably still a few minutes left in Hamburg and their game itself had not quite finished yet either. Although Schalke held on, caution in Gelsenkirchen continued at the final whistle but it did not last long. Whilst coach Huub Stevens and sporting director Rudi Assauer were trying to keep everyone calm word spread around the stadium that Bayern's game was over and HSV had won, cue absolute pandemonium.

The scenes at the Parkstadion were those of pure ecstasy, fans ran on the pitch in celebration and players and coaching staff were going absolutely berserk. Within no time at all the biggest party the town had seen in possibly ever was in full swing, and what minutes earlier would have seemed a miracle was now a reality. Or so they thought...

Over in Hamburg, however, the match had not yet actually finished at all, although as the game went deep into injury time Bayern thought all hope was lost, and coach Ottmar Hitzfeld looked distraught, it seemed as if they'd blown it! But could there be one more twist in the tale? You bet there could! 
One could argue that it was Matthias Schober who decided the title race, won it or lost it depending on your allegiance. When Schober the HSV goalkeeper stupidly picked up a backpass from Tomas Ujfalusi, referee Markus Merk had no choice but to award Bayern an indirect free kick inside the penalty area. By this point, Schalke's supporters in the Parkstadion had realised events on the pitch were still being played out in Hamburg and a hush descended over the stadium. Supporters eyes had all turned to the ground's giant screen which now that the powers that be had realised the title race wasn't quite over yet were showing on it live the dying throes of the HSV/Bayern game. With almost every HSV player in the wall and Bayern goalkeeper Oliver Kahn also up there in the HSV box, a slight touch from Stefan Effenberg then saw Patrik Andersson smash the ball through the wall and into the net. Unbelievable.

In the blink of an eye, there was suddenly pandemonium in what for sponsorship reasons was at that time known as the AOL Arena. Kahn was going wild waving the waving a corner flag in the air, club legend Franz Beckenbauer was going crazy in the stands, the coach Hitzfeld was beside himself on the touchline, and of course, the fans were jumping for joy in the stands. Schalke had been champions for only about four minutes, Bayern had stolen their crown in the most dramatic of circumstances, and back at the Parkstadion, it was suddenly like a morgue with the supporters absolutely stunned, sobbing into their scarves, and staggering around bewildered. FC Bayern München were now champions, FC Schalke 04 were not!

Since that final day in 2001 Schalke are still waiting for that elusive Bundesliga title, with four second placed finishes in the 18 seasons since the best they've managed. In contrast, Bayern, however, have fared much better winning 12 league titles during those 18 years, and become even more so than ever the truly dominant force in German fußball.

But that incredible end to the final round of matches of the 2000-01 season will go down in history as possibly most dramatic finale in Bundesliga history. In the blink of an eye, we saw ecstasy turn to agony in one stadium and agony turn to ecstasy in another, and of course, Bayern München were champions again, who else?

This article was also published on Pundit Feed and can be viewed here

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