The first photo of me as a Bayer 04 player. At that point I was still playing for the Reserves. Dr. Jürgen Schwericke, the then president of Sportvereinigung Bayer 04, presented me with a bouquet of flowers at the home game against FC Köln and congratulated me on winning the U20 World Cup, which I’d won with Germany in Australia in October 1981.
This picture of me can also be seen on a pillar on the concourse at the BayArena. I can't remember the match it was taken at. It must definitely have been a celebration after a crucial goal we scored. I was usually a quiet aficionado of goals. That's exactly why I like this photo because it demonstrates that I was able to show emotions during a game.
The beginning of a great love affair between me and the fans. After this incident they knew: He's one of us. And I have to say: I wouldn't have had a bet on us coming through that defensive battle at Werder Bremen in the UEFA Cup semi-final. I didn't have to make many saves at all in that game and it was more a big joint battle with the whole team fighting to the end and standing up to the all-out attacks from Bremen. When I saw the unbounded joy of our fans after the final whistle, I just had to run to them. I wanted to celebrate progressing to the final with them and at that moment it was more important than celebrating with the team.
When I saved the penalty taken by Zuniga in the second leg of the UEFA Cup final, I knew we'd win it. It was like I was intoxicated. After I got up again, I went to Gerd Kentschke at the corner flag. There was a misunderstanding between us. He advised me: "Stand still for a bit longer as at least one of the five will hit the ball down the middle." But I understood: "Stand still as they will hit all of them down the middle." Well, I followed his advice with Espanyol's fourth penalty, waved my arms about and Zuniga really did shoot down the middle right onto my knee. A lot of people say the penalty wasn't taken very well. But he actually hit it very well with his instep. The daft bit was the foolish goalkeeper who just stood still in the middle…
One of my favourite pictures: Herbert Waas had just made it 2-0 against Bayer 05 Uerdingen. We were on the way to qualifying for the DFB Cup semi-finals for the first time in March 1989. I dreamt of Berlin. Before that I hadn't wasted a thought on it at all. But now Berlin became really interesting for us as a team. Unfortunately, we lost 2-1 in the semi-final against Werder Bremen. We had to wait for another four years before the dream came true.
This feeling, of standing with the cup in front of our fans at the Olympic Stadium in Berlin, as the only one left from the team that won the UEFA Cup in 1988 was very emotional for me. I held the cup up to our supporters as I wanted to say to them: "Here, it's your cup, you've earned it and you can be proud of it." At that moment, I was happy for them, the club and the city and that we were on the right path after taking the next step with this second title. We were somebody now.
During my playing career, I was always the first player to go to our fans after a home game to be close to them. Sometimes we did our applause at block B 4 because a lot of children were sat there. Then we moved on to the C and D blocks. It was a nice ritual that we did after wins and also after draws. You get the feeling that the team and the fans are united. It was obvious to me that I did that alone after my very last match against Bayern Munich.
After René made his senior debut in the game at Schalke in February 2007, I ran onto the pitch straightaway to congratulate him. He made some unbelievable saves. I said to him it's important now to keep his feet on the ground and behave in the right way in front of the press. I knew from my own experience that you sometimes say things in the euphoria that you later regret. But René's behaviour after the match and in the following weeks was exemplary.
My time as a goalkeeping coach at Bayer 04 ended in 2012. Wolfgang Holzhäuser asked me back then if I could imagine working in fan liaison. I’d always had a good relationship with the fans but the new job was obviously a big change for me. I'd been on the pitch for over 30 years at Leverkusen as a goalkeeper and goalkeeping coach. Now I was doing a classic office job from 9 to 5. It was all new to me. I had a fantastic reception from my colleagues. Paffi, Frank, Stefan and Daniela, and later Sebo and Ricardo (Andreas Paffi Paffrath, Frank Linde, Stefan Thomé, Daniela Frühling, Sebastian Friedrich, Riccardo Bitonti ed.) always helped me out. I got on really well with everybody from fan liaison and the fan project, also with the ultras and other fan groups. And I experienced what a demanding, often tiring and complicated job fan liaison is. The mediator role between fans and the club can give you a headache at times.
2014 brought the subject of the Schwadbud. They asked me, given my long career with Bayer 04, if I didn't fancy getting even more involved in the club's history. I helped to plan and design the Schwadbud and the upgraded concourse. I've always been interested in history. I came across books like '50 years of Bayer 04' , which I devoured. I finally knew how our club came into existence. That produced the desire to tell the story to other people. I gave my first lecture on 2 August 2018 on the subject of '60 years of the Ulrich Haberland Stadium'.
For 30 years – more than half of my life – I was on the training ground here nearly every day, first as a player and then as a goalkeeping coach. My workplace was like a second home. When I started we trained on pitch one, later came pitches two and three on top of that. Early on, I always preferred to stand in the goal between the Haberland Stadium and the former Haberland Hall. Because the fence around the training ground was so low back then, a lot of balls flew over it during the sessions. As a goalkeeper you had to go and collect them all again after the training session was over. On the opposite side in the direction of the VfL pitch, it took a lot longer because there was thick undergrowth there which made it more difficult to find the balls. On 'my' side, in contrast, the balls were mainly sent straight back onto the pitch by visitors or security people. There were also fans looking on who took balls and ran away with them. Peter Hermann used to run after them. Martin Kree, our man with a harder shot, managed to unintentionally hit a ball over the flyover and it came down in somebody's front garden. I've never been back to the training ground since my last day at work as a goalkeeping coach in 2012 – I'd be too nostalgic.
It used to feel like coming home for me when we returned to Leverkusen in the team bus after night games and I saw the Bayer Cross from afar. Köln have their cathedral and we have our Bayer Cross. I can't imagine Leverkusen without it. That's why I immediately got involved with the petition when there was discussion about demolishing the cross and the Bayer 04 fan groups developed a campaign to save the cross.
There are probably few people who have followed the development of our stadium so intensively and as long as I have. When I started at Bayer 04 the Haberland Stadium was turned into a purely football stadium from an athletics arena where football was played. Dettmar Cramer came into the dressing room before the 1984/85 season with a model of the new arena. I was absolutely delighted with it. A pure football stadium – up to then only VfL Bochum and Borussia Dortmund had them. It was brilliant when we played against Bremen in October 1986 for the first time in front of the new East stand. During my time as the number one, I played in the incomplete Haberland Stadium, which I saw as U-shaped. I only played my last four games in front of the rebuilt stadium. And we can be really proud of our stadium since the modernisation of the BayArena in 2009/10 – even if it could have remained a little bit smaller from my point of view. But is unique in the world. I hope we'll play here for ever and ever.
The Schwadbud is so important to me because, in our club with almost no or at least unnurtured awareness of our tradition, it evoked our interest for our own Bayer 04 history. Michael Schade got the project off the ground as the CEO. And Fernando Carro is fully behind it. It was great that I was allowed to help out with the design and implementation together with Harry Hartel (brand manager at Bayer 04, ed.) because we have a history we can be proud of, which can now be presented in a successful way particularly in the Schwadbud.
In the beginning everybody knew each other. At away games you could almost shake hands with all our fans at the fence. But then something developed Leverkusen that became something really good. This small family, as we liked to see ourselves at Bayer 04, definitely carries on today in our fan groups. Getting together, agreeing compromises, being there for each other – I think that makes us strong at Bayer 04. I was really bowled over by the 25,000 fans in Black and Red for the cup final in Berlin in 2009, which I saw and heard as I went to warm up with René Adler on the pitch at the Olympic Stadium. It's my dream to see that number in Black and Red frequently with us at the BayArena. We are all united by desire for another title. That makes me an even bigger supporter of my club. I think it's totally boring to be a fan of Bayern Munich. Passion also has something to do with suffering. And how often have our fans suffered with us. But how often they given us belief in ourselves. In 1988 for example. It was sheer passion. If there hadn't been that euphoria, that special atmosphere at the Haberland Stadium then we wouldn't have been the UEFA Cup winners.
The clock was hanging up in our dressing room for years. When we returned from Barcelona after the 3-0 defeat in the first leg of the UEFA Cup final there was a note next to the clock which read: Just 13 days left. I didn't know what it meant at first. The next day somebody crossed out the 13 and wrote down 12. It was clearly done to get us in the mood for the return game against Espanyol as the days were counted down. The clock remained in our dressing room after winning the final as it was almost holy for us. Generations of players have looked at it. Later our groundsman Harold Wohner hung it on the wall in his workshop. Harry never wanted to give it away although I often mentioned it to him. After his passing, the clock first went to his successor Martin Kowatzki who is a passionate collector of Bayer 04 shirts and other fan merchandise. Today that fine piece is hanging in the entrance to the Schwadbud. It's a reminder of our great triumph in 1988 as well as of Harold Wohner, our great groundsman.
My workplace since 2012. In the old Fan House on Lichstraße, which today is the home of the fan project, it was really tight with us altogether. But with the move of fan liaison to Breidenbachstraße we’ve had a really nice space since 2016. I'm in an office together with Paffi. We all feel really good there.
When I see pictures from the game against Uerdingen in 1979, where Matthias Brücken scored to make it 3-3, to be honest, I get tears in my eyes although I wasn't there myself. But that celebration after the final whistle of promotion to the Bundesliga when the players celebrated with the fans and lots of children ran onto the pitch – those images touch me again and again. I was often able to experience and live such deep emotions in my 40 years at Bayer 04. I'm very grateful for that. Football lives from emotion. And I don't just mean feelings as with our title wins in 1988 and 1993 or after the goal scored by Marcus Münch to make it 1-1 against Kaiserslautern in 1996. Or Lucio's strike to make it 4-2 against Liverpool. For example, it really got to me when I saw Bernd Schneider come off the bench against Mönchengladbach in 2009 after a long injury lay-off – we played our home games in Düsseldorf then because of the rebuilding of our stadium – and not just our fans but thousands of Gladbach supporters rose from their seats. Wow! Or Dimitar Berbatov. Years after his time at Leverkusen, he played for AS Monaco at our place and he laid on the winning goal for Monaco. He came off shortly before the end of the game and our fans gave him a standing ovation. Fantastic! That shows what a fine touch our supporters have for players who have always given everything for their club. A really intensive feeling albeit a negative one was at Unterhaching. The sadness of our fans hurt me more than missing out on winning the title.
Marion was born in Leverkusen. We married in 1991. And I believe I felt really at home in Leverkusen from the first day.
One time before I leave this earth I'd like to hold the shield in my hands and be champions of Germany with Bayer 04. I wish that from the bottom of my heart and I know that I share that desire with all the fans of our club.
HERE you can watch the video with a few of my saves but also one or two howlers.
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