“No,” said Gerd Kentschke, “we didn’t do anything different preparing for these matches than we did with normal Bundesliga games.” So, no training camps, no special motivational support from the club as there was in 1996 when Bayer 04 members of staff set up a flaming appeal to the team just before the night match against FC Kaiserslautern. Business as usual? No way. Everyone under the Bayer Cross was well aware of the immense significance of the play-off matches against Kickers Offenbach at the beginning of June 1982. Bayer 04 hoped to give the team a decisive boost with one change. The top coach Dettmar Cramer brought in to Bayer 04 for the new season joined the trip to the Bieberer Berg. “He was the high-flyer of German coaches, the football professor, who had now been asked: ‘Look what they’re doing in Offenbach,’” said Kentschke. Cramer, who passed away at the age of 90 in 2015, would have still been the coach in event of relegation. Now, at the beginning of June 1982, he took up the role as a sort of advisor.
The former assistant to Germany coach Helmut Schön had already won the European Cup twice with Bayern Munich. Would his magnetism or charisma really have an immediate effect ahead of the two crucial matches on 4 and 9 June? Much later, Cramer described his influence in a more modest way: "What share did I really have? I had a couple of individual conversations, perhaps trained with the team once or twice and tried to instil a bit of joy." He left the rest to Gerd Kentschke, his former player, who played for him in the schoolboy national team in 1956. Kramer called his charge 'Gerdchen' (little Gerd) back then. And now, 26 year later, he said to him: "Gerdchen, do it again with Offenbach."
Today, Kentschke has to smile when he thinks back to the first play-off match at the Bieberer Berg. "Cramer first took his place in the stands but he was suddenly next me on the bench when we went 1-0 up through Dieter Herzog shortly after half-time." Back then it was clear to the 39-year-old Kentschke that the universally admired Cramer would attract attention and the TV cameras would be focused on him. "He was the man of the world, I was the little bod was the view of some people."
In fact, Kentschke had really got the team back on track for the end of season run-in. In the middle of November 1981, head coach Willibert Kremer, who brought the club up to the Bundesliga two years before, was dismissed. And under his assistant coach, friend and successor Kentschke there was no immediate turnaround. "We realised too late that there was a lack of unity in the team with groups forming and there was trouble too." But the team with captain Jürgen Gelsdorf, Peter Hermann, Thomas Hörster and Dieter Herzog earned a goalless draw on matchday 30 away to league leaders and champions of Germany in waiting Hamburg SV, and a week later secured a 2-1 win after coming back late on from being 1-0 down away to MSV Duisburg, a direct rival in the race to stay in the top-flight, "It did something to the team and woke them up," Kentschke is convinced. "It was a turning point at least in terms of morale and togetherness."
It was almost enough to finish just above the drop zone. Just two more goals and none conceded in the final game against Arminia Bielefeld would have seen Bayer 04 avoid the play-off matches. However, Leverkusen ended up sixteenth in the 1981/82 season after a 3-1 win at the Alm ground that put them level with Fortuna Düsseldorf in fifteenth but with a two-goal worse goal difference.
At the end of the day, the Werkself could consider themselves fortunate that they still had a chance of staying up. The relegation matches between the third bottom in the Bundesliga and the team third in the newly created Bundesliga 2 had never previously existed since the founding of the German top flight in 1963. "Of course, the tension was huge with me as well," admitted Kentschke. There was so much hanging on it. My pulse was extremely high before kick-off at the Bieberer Berg.” It was no different with the players. Jürgen Gelsdorf, captain of the group and one of the promotion heroes of 1979 recalls: The two games against Offenbach were intense. It was clear to all of us: We had taken so long to get promoted to the Bundesliga. And now it could all be over in two games."
The opponents, Offenbacher Kickers, were not to be underestimated. OFC were in a direct promotion spot in the second division on the third last matchday. In their ranks were experienced players like Michael Kutzop – a friend of Rudi Völler from their time together at Offenbach and later his teammate at Werder Bremen – and talents like the 21-year-old Uwe Bein who became a World Cup winner alongside Völler in 1990. However, there was trouble at the Bieberer Berg towards the end of the season. With three games to play, the Kickers slipped to third after a 4-1 defeat against SG Wattenscheid 09. The club parted company with coach Franz Brungs and player Kurt Geinzer took over as caretaker coach. On the last matchday the season, OFC suffered a 5-2 defeat away to 1860 Munich under Geinzer. Four of the Lions' goals were scored by the former Offenbach player Rudi Völler and the coach of 1860 since the previous few weeks was Willibert Kremer. That's what happens in football sometimes
There was another change of coaches at the Kickers before the play-off matches. Lothar Buchmann, who won the DFB Cup with Frankfurt the year before, took charge. "We weren't afraid of Offenbach," recalls Peter Hermann. Bayer 04 actually kept their heads at the Bieberer Berg on that Friday night 4 June, resisted the pressure from the hosts and in the end won the game 1-0 from the 35-year-old stalwart Dieter Herzog. "The crowd went wild but we were the better team and deservedly won the game," said Kentschke. On the return journey to Leverkusen, he and Cramer analysed the game in detail once again.
Five days later, on 9 June, there was the second leg at the Ulrich Haberland Stadium. And, as in Offenbach, Cramer kept moving back and to from the stands, the bench and touchline. To the horror of the Bayer fans, Offenbach took the lead to level the scoreline from the first leg. Four minutes later, the goalscorer suffered a broken ankle in a collision with a Leverkusen player. And injury hit Offenbach again in the first half when the Kickers captain Keinzer had to go off due to concussion. As the game went on, the hosts dominated proceedings in front of 20,000 spectators. The team dealt well with going behind, did not get nervous but instead moved up a gear," said Kentschke.
Peter Szech scored the equaliser on 27 minutes from a perfect pass from Thomas Hörster. When the same player made it 2-1 with a header from a pinpoint cross from Juergen Gelsdorf on the hour mark the crowd at the Ulrich Haberland Stadium celebrated unbounded while Dettmar Cramer again returned to the touchline to give a couple of quick instructions to the captain Gelsdorf. A few metres away, Kentschke with his staff and substitutes joined in the celebrations. "After the final whistle I thought: 'Yes, I've done it,'" said the now 79-year-old. Who knows how the club would have developed in the event of demotion and how Bayer AG would have reacted. It was definitely clear to me that we would never have been in that mess if we had always played and battled in the same way as we did in the two play-off matches against Kickers Offenbach."
Staying up was celebrated with the exact same level of euphoria as promotion to the Bundesliga three years before. Bayer 04 fans and OFC supporters embraced each other on the pitch after the final whistle and sealed a really special fan friendship that is still exists today. And they were able to celebrate again a year after the play-off matches: Kickers Offenbach were promoted to the Bundesliga in 1983.
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