The ranks of the honorary captains were extended by the addition of Rüdiger Vollborn and Stefan Kießling in the summer of 2019. Bayer04.de is using the current period without games to thank these rightful Werkself legends every Friday. In the sixth and final part of the series we pay tribute to Rüdiger Vollborn. The former Werkself number one has been at the club for nearly 40 years and has made a record 401 Bundesliga appearances for the club and he was the only Bayer 04 player to win both the UEFA Cup (1988) and the DFB Cup (1993).
After hanging up his boots, Rüdiger Vollborn was for many years the goalkeeping coach and now the Berliner works as a fan liaison officer looking after the club archive and fascinating his audiences on BayArena stadium tours, city tours or with his lectures in the Schwadbud with anecdotes and exciting insider knowledge from the long history of Bayer 04. "I practically live the whole day in the past," said the 56-year-old with a smile. As a boy, he was happy to immerse himself in sagas and stories of Gods, he read Felix Dahn's 'Ein Kampf um Rom' (A Struggle for Rome), and he includes Ken Follett's The Pillars of the Earth and World without End amongst his favourite books. And his enthusiasm for music goes beyond just listening to songs as he lists them in charts that go back to the 1950s. The man is an historian through and through.
His own story at Bayer 04 four begins in 1981. It's a magical year for Rüdiger Vollborn. He's the Germany goalkeeper, he signs for Leverkusen in March, in June he becomes a U18 European champion and goes on to win the U20 World Cup in the same year. It all happened "as if out of the blue," and Vollborn is still surprised about it today. You have to go back a bit to be able to classify the year that was so special to him.
After leaving his first club, Traber FC Mariendorf, Vollborn became the first choice shot-stopper for the established club Blau-Weiß 90 Berlin. He wins the final of the U17 German championships with them in 1979. The opponents were FC Augsburg with Raimund Aumann, the future Bayern Munich keeper, in goal. The former Germany coach Dietrich Weise watched the final and then called up both Vollborn and Aumann for youth international fixtures. Vollborn was on the bench for the full 90 minutes against Poland and then travelled to the USA in January 1980 with the Germany U17 squad where he made his first youth international appearance but then did not hear anything else from the DFB for a year. He was then invited to a course in October 1980. Vollborn was on top form in a tournament in Moscow in January 1981. He played in three of the five games and was then one of five players selected for the U18 European Championship in Germany.
A young journalist from the Kicker was in Moscow and shortly after that he phoned Vollborn in Berlin to ask for an interview. It was the first interview for the youth keeper – for the young journalist Frank Lußem equally so. The two of them met in Berlin and Lußem asked the new Germany U18 number one: "Which club in the Bundesliga would you like to sign for?" Vollborn answered honestly: "My favourite club was always Borussia Mönchengladbach. But I'd like to join Leverkusen." Lußem was taken aback. But the Berlin A-level student, with his specialism in mathematics, sitting in front of him had long ago genned up on the current goalkeepers for the Bundesliga clubs. And he reckoned he would have the best chance of a regular start between the sticks at Leverkusen. "I knew: Hubert Makel was 38 and Fred Bockholt 36 years old." Somebody less mathematically gifted than Vollborn would also have recognised that a new number one would be needed at Leverkusen sooner or later.
At the time, Vollborn could not have known that the club would sign Uwe Greiner as the successor. "On top of that, I thought I could do an apprenticeship at Bayer AG, which was very important for my father."
It was a good job that Frank Lußem was in close contact with Reiner Calmund, then head of the youth section at Bayer 04. They knew each other from their time together in Frechen. "I'll give someone a call," said the Kicker reporter to the talented goalkeeper.
Rüdiger Vollborn came home late one night in February 1981. There was a note from his mother on the kitchen table: "A Mr Kallemund rang up," was written on it. Vollborn could hardly sleep that night. In the morning he excitedly asked his mother: "What did he say, what did he say?" But she just answered: "I didn't understand anything." As usual, Reiner Calmund would have said a lot but his Cologne dialect was like a foreign language for mother Vollborn.
Calmund called again soon after that and he invited Vollborn to Leverkusen for trials. Rüdiger boarded a plane on 9 March. 'Calli' picked him up from Cologne Bonn airport and he was in a great mood. Two days before, Arne Larsen Ökland almost beat Bayern Munich single-handed in a 3-0 win. Calmund brought Vollborn to the Ramada Hotel (now Best Western) and in the afternoon Gerd Kentschke fired the first shots at the young man from Berlin in pouring rain. Reiner Calmund and Heinz Heitmann, then the first team general manager, watched from the car. The next morning, Vollborn trained with Fred Bockholt, then the Werkself number one who was to finish at the end of the season. Full training followed in the afternoon. Vollborn did not "feel that great. It was pretty awful. I could hardly follow anything and it was all too fast."
He flew back to Berlin with an uneasy feeling. Nevertheless: Calmund told him they wanted to see him play in a game. "Then two weeks later, we played against Hertha 03 Zehlendorf who were second in the table," said Vollborn. Calmund and football chairman Vollrath Höhne were actually at the game. But what they saw was more like slapstick comedy: In the warm-up, the ball hits Vollborn full in face and he sinks unconscious to the ground. The coach brings him round with a few slaps. "Rudi, Rudi, can you play?," he asks. "I have to, Leverkusen are here," said Vollborn still rather dizzy. So he goes back in goal and then got under two crosses. Mistakes that lead to two goals being conceded. Vollborn thinks: "I suppose that's it with Leverkusen," and he goes home embarrassed where he sees his parents sitting in the living room with Calmund and Höhne. "What are you doing here?," he asks the pair. Calmund asks back: "Why?" – "Well," said Vollborn, "I wouldn't sign me after this game." Calmund counters, "Look here lad," appreciating the youngsters self-critical approach, "that's exactly why we want you."
A couple of days later, Vollborn flies back to Leverkusen and signs his contract in an office at the Ulrich Haberland Stadium. In June he wins the European Championship with the Germany U18s and four months later goes on to win the U20 World Cup in Australia.
Vollborn played for the reserve team in his first year at Leverkusen. In the 1982/83 season, coach Dettmar Cramer makes the 19-year-old Vollborn, who at the same time is starting an apprenticeship course at Bayer AG, the number two keeper for the first team as understudy to Uwe Greiner. Bayer 04 have a poor season, are bottom at the winter break and finish the campaign eleventh in the table. Uwe Greiner's contract is not renewed and the 20-year-old Rüdiger Vollborn is the new number one for Bayer 04 from the 83/84 season. Andreas Nagel, 18, is the number two. "Neither of us had played in the Bundesliga or had experience as a professional. But nevertheless, the club started the season with us two whippersnappers – no club would do that today."
The season opens with an away game at the record champions in Munich. Vollborn hops onto the pitch for the first time, excited as a schoolboy ahead of a first school trip, onto the turf at the Olympic Stadium. Jürgen Gelsdorf, the old stager, casts a sceptical glance at him: "What's up with you?," he asks. "I'm just enjoying myself, I'm really up for playing here," the youngster answers. Today, Vollborn has to smile when he thinks back to the puzzled face of 'Gelle'. "But back then I really thought it's brilliant to be on the pitch that you've only seen before on television. And now you're part of it. I never wanted to be a Bundesliga goalkeeper to earn money. I wanted to be on telly on the Sportschau. That was my incentive."
His debut ended in a 2-1 defeat, and Vollborn goes on to play in all 34 games including a 2-0 victory against the reigning champions and European Cup winners Hamburg SV with the young keeper putting in an outstanding performance. He didn't have any problems with the ominous 'banana crosses' from Manni Kaltz and, again and again, he plucks the ball away from the head of Horst Hrubesch. Bayer 04 finish seventh, his best Bundesliga position to date.
But the goalkeeper has a difficult start. His performances in training are good. But he doesn't always feel he has the full support of his teammates. Dettmar Cramer has lots of conversations with him. Vollborn is very taken with the little man with the big coaching reputation. "With him, you had the feeling that he made Bayer 04 more professional in a number of ways." The only thing missing was real success on the pitch.
Vollborn’s second season did not go well, neither for the team nor for him. After a 3-1 defeat at FC Köln, where he performed badly, he receives telephone calls at night: "Piss off! Go back to Berlin!" Vollborn feels unloved: "The people didn't like me because I got under crosses. He actually toys with the idea of going back to Blau-Weiß 90 Berlin. His contract at Leverkusen was due to run out at the end of the 84/85 season. With just a few games to go in a pretty messed-up season, he receives a call from Erich Ribbeck, the successor to Cramer for the following season. "I'm banking on you," Ribbeck says, "you have to stay." Vollborn allows himself to be persuaded and signs a contract for another two years with reduced payments.
The new coach does not want any new players but he does completely reorganise the team. He turns central striker Christian Schreier into a defensive midfielder, the defensive midfielder Thomas Hörster into a sweeper, central strikers Thomas Zechel and Falco Götz into a right back and an attacking midfielder respectively. "Those changes did us good," said Vollborn who Ribbeck sends to see the psychotherapist Birgit Jackschath, a former basketball player for TuS 04, who several years later went on to write a book on football psychology with Dettmar Cramer. Vollborn sees her regularly and learns through autogenic training to be more settled and relaxed on the pitch. "I was just always far too excited before games and I was much too nervous," Vollborn says.
With the therapist, he targets his weaknesses, above all his penalty area phobia. He wants to be more courageous and and dare to go outside the box in spite of his deficiencies on the ball. As in the derby at FC Köln in January 1986. He anticipates Klaus Alloffs playing a pass out of the FC Köln half. He sees Uwe Bein start to move into the open space so he plucked up courage and runs to the edge of the penalty area before the ball has even been played. He comes closer and closer to the 18-yard line. Then he thinks: "Bollocks, I’ve got to go outside the penalty area!" He takes another small step but the ball bounces in front of him and goes over his head into the goal. He looks really old in this incident as he scrambles after the ball but can only grab hold of it behind the goal-line. "I should have just stayed in the penalty area where I could have just caught the ball." But he wanted to be brave and make a clearance outside the penalty area. The game still counts as one of his favourite matches because Bayer 04 ended up winning the game 3-2 after being two goals down and it was the first Bundesliga derby win in Cologne.
Under Ribbeck, the club qualified for the UEFA Cup for the first time in that season and went on to win the competition two years later in 1988. Of course, that's the biggest triumph for Vollborn as a player – with him centre stage in the penalty shootout that he had so often wished for, so often dreamt of and which he had prepared for with Birgit Jackschath, who he was still regularly visiting. His relationship with the fans was outstanding by the latest with the semi-final second leg in the UEFA Cup at Werder Bremen. Bayer 04 had the backing of 3,000 fans at the Weser Stadium and, after the final whistle, Vollborn immediately ran to the fans to celebrate going through to the final with the supporters – the ice is finally broken. "For me this game was the turning point in this relationship: The fans now knew what made me tick and I knew what made them tick."
Winning the DFB Cup came five years later. Vollborn is the only Bayer 04 player who shared in experiencing the two biggest successes in the clubs history. He is now 30 years old and long since an established Bundesliga goalkeeper. Strong on his line, excellent handling, and also good in dominating the box. In 1992 was called up by Germany to be the third keeper in the European Championship squad but he did not travel to Sweden because only two keepers were then allowed in European Championship tournaments. "I didn't even get the bag with the DFB and European Championship logo on it," he says with a smile.
But something else gave him a much bigger headache: The back-pass rule, introduced by FIFA in 1992, where the goalkeeper could only control a ball played back by a teammate with his foot and no longer with his hands. That rule was the slow start of the end of his career as he clearly felt. He is after all – like most keepers of his generation – a goalkeeper of the old school. He likes to save shots and prevent goals. He doesn't want to start playing with his feet and definitely not be a build-up player. And as coincidence or fate would have it, Eric Ribbeck demoted him to the number two keeper in 1995 with Dirk Heinen becoming the number one. For twelve years he was the undisputed number one for the Werkself and he had made 397 Bundesliga appearances up to that point. Now he was supposed to play second fiddle. And, in spite of that, the best season of his career was still to come. Rüdiger Vollborn was on the bench as the second keeper for the whole of the 1995/96 season. As with everybody else that Bayer 04 means something to, he was worried about staying up in the last match against Kaiserslautern. When the 1-1 scoreline was secured by the legendary strike from Markus Münch, a new era begins in Leverkusen. The renovation of the Ulrich Haberland Stadium can continue. But more importantly: Christoph Daum arrives. "He succeeded in waking us up, the sleeping giant, that non of us knew we were,"
Daum moulds this group of players into a band of brothers. The new coach seizes the attention of the team with his methods and his special approach. "He always demanded 100 per cent, always worked flat out and he explained his football philosophy as Dettmar Kramer used to do," Vollborn explains. And Daum knew that Vollborn would be an important player for him. The number two had not lost any of his ambition, trained as obsessively as ever and is of great value to him as the most senior player and somebody knows how to win titles.
The season starts with a DFB Cup defeat in Bremen but Bayer 04 produced an impressive performance in the 6-4 loss on penalties. In the first match in the Bundesliga, the team secure a thrilling 4-2 victory against reigning champions Borussia Dortmund. The season ends with Bayer 04 finishing as runners-up for the first time, just two points behind Bayern Munich. They picked up the most wins (21), scored the second highest number of goals (68) and thrilled their fans. Vollborn makes one appearance in this first Daum season: On the last matchday in the 2-0 win against VfL Bochum when there was nothing to play for. It says a lot for his lack of vanity that he, with the most number appearances for Bayer 04 and the only player to win two titles, describes the 1996 – 97 season as his best during his time at Leverkusen even though he was only in goal for 90 minutes.
In the following years there was the first participation in the Champions League and two other runners-up spots in the Bundesliga. Vollborn was in goal for Bayer 04 twice in 1997/98: In the 6-1 home victory against VfB Stuttgart just before Christmas and finally in the game against Hertha Berlin, the club from his hometown, on matchday 33. It's a big landmark for Vollborn: his 400th Bundesliga appearance for Bayer 04 Leverkusen. The 35-year-old goalkeeper enjoys the plaudits from the fans on 2 May 1998. In the next thrilling moment for Vollborn comes a year later. He comes full circle in the last game of the season against the confirmed champions Bayern Munich. Vollborn played his first Bundesliga match at the Olympic Stadium in 1983. Now, 16 years later, he was in goal for the last time. Against FC Bayern again. And the match also ends in a 2-1 defeat again. But Vollborn enjoys the last ten minutes to the full when he comes on to replace Adam Matysek. The fans at the BayArena bid farewell with a standing ovation. His 401st Bundesliga appearance will be his last. In the following season, Vollborn is a standby keeper behind Matysek, Frank Juric and Dirk Heinen. He's on the bench sometimes but does not make another appearance.
Vollborn started his second career at Bayer 04 in 1999. He becomes the assistant coach of the reserve team under Peter Hermann. But he actually mainly looks after the goalkeepers. Initially that was Romuald Peiser and Maurice Gillen. But he also takes care of the youth keepers from the U19 down to the U15 teams. "Suddenly I was also the youth goalkeeping coach and I slipped into a role that I didn't want to do it all initially," recalls Vollborn. And he also worked for the DFB as the coach for Germany's youth goalkeepers where he discovers the then 14-year-old Leipzig player René Adler, who signs for Bayer 04 in 2000/01, and lives with the Vollborns for the first four years. In 2003, Rüdiger took over as first team goalkeeping coach from Toni Schumacher. Adler finally becomes the new number one at Bayer 04 in 2007 and shortly after that is called up to the Germany squad for the first time by Joachim Löw.
Vollborn ends his second career as goalkeeping coach at Bayer 04 after the 2011/12 season. And the third stage of his life at the club begins: He becomes a fan liaison officer. After initially feeling unloved by his own supporters, he now looks after fan interests – an irony of fate. Although the main part of his role is in the historic working up of the club’s history. When Bayer 04 CEO, Michael Schade, turns the VIP VINII Wine bar in the East Stand of the BayArena into the Schwadbud, that was not only to be a fan meeting point before games but also served as a sort of club museum, he is brought in as a club legend, the player with the most appearances and the historic memory of Bayer 04. Who else knows better what there is to exhibit and what's worth showing than the man who has experienced everything since 1981 and is the only player to have won both club titles.
And he throws himself into this new role with a passion and application that marked him out as a player and goalkeeping coach. He delves into everything that his predecessor as club archivist, Werner Röhrig, had been busy collecting. He studied what Walter Scharf said about the start of the club history. And he spends hours and hours in the Leverkusen city archive looking through everything to do with Bayer 04.
His relationship to Bayer 04 has become even more intimate through his intensive engagement with the club's history, says Vollborn. It's a long time ago since the only shared his knowledge in the setting up of the Schwadbud or the concourse at the BayArena where the walls have been covered with images of club heroes in street art fashion for a number of years. Vollborn now has a sense of mission and he wants to carry forward the Bayer 04 history and keep it alive – he does this with his heavily requested legend tours of the BayArena where he leads interested fans through the stadium himself. Also with the 90-minute lectures on the club's history in the Schwadbud that Fernando Carro, chairman of the board, also likes to listen to. Or with city tours with the Schwadbus to locations associated with the club's history such as the first ground, the old Dhünnplatz, that has not existed for a long time. In addition, Vollborn is a regular guest on the W11 Fan talk after home games and a sought-after interview partner on Werks11 Radio.
It is not exaggerated to maintain that there is nobody in the big Bayer 04 family who – from their own immediate experiences as equally as from in-depth research – has such comprehensive knowledge of the club as a Rüdiger Vollborn. He could, if he wanted, right down a complete match history including all line-ups and goalscorers for all Bayer 04 competitive matches since 1950. He says that like an aside. But you can believe it straight away.
Rüdiger Vollborn also talks about his labour of love Bayer 04 in a big joint interview with his fellow honorary captain Stefan Kießling.
Date and place of birth:
12 February 1963 in Berlin
Traber FC Mariendorf, Blau-Weiß 90 Berlin, Bayer 04
UEFA Cup winner with Bayer 04 1988, DFB Cup winner with Bayer 04 1993, U20 World Cup winner and U18 European Champion with Germany 1981