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17.10.2021Bayer 04

‘All you could hear was the clinking of coffee cups'

Christoph Pluschke accompanied Bayer 04 to Barcelona in October 2001 as the sports editor for the Kölner Stadt Anzeiger – and he recalls a business trip that had its quirks.
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He would not have sat up there for love nor money. Just looking at the scoreboard and the away section below it. "I couldn't have stuck it out for five minutes," says Christoph Pluschke. He had an "incredible fear of heights" and was overjoyed that he could watch the match between Barcelona and Bayer 04 from the press box as a journalist. On the night before the game at the final pre-match training session, the sports editor at the Kölner Stadt Anzeiger took in the massive dimensions of the biggest football stadium in Europe for the first time from the pitch. It was his first visit to the Nou Camp. He was impressed but he felt sorry for the Leverkusen fans who had to support their team from those dizzying heights the next day.

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banquet at top Restaurant - hardly any sleep

This business trip did contain a number of surprises for him. The first night in Barcelona was disturbed. Pluschke and the other media representatives flew into the Catalan capital with the Bayer 04 team but he was not staying in the press hotel. His accommodation was in the immediate vicinity of the foreigner's registration office. "From four in the morning there were asylum seekers, accompanied by police on horseback, queueing to get into the office later on. There wasn't much sleeping to be done," recounted Pluschke.

The evening had ended well for him. At the banquet on the terrace of the top restaurant 'Barceloneta' with a view of the yacht harbour Port Vell, Reiner Calmund got the travelling journalist, sponsors and VIPs in the mood for the big game with a passionate speech. "You could see how proud he was that his club was now part of the European football high society," said Pluschke.

Bayer 04 were not yet seen as a member of that high society in the Spanish media. Quite the opposite: The local newspapers in Barcelona wrote in a slightly disparaging tone about the "Aspirin team of Bayer". "In spite of taking part in the Champions League in previous years, the club only really earned sporting respect in this 2001/02 season," said Pluschke.

Lucio, Diego Placente, Dimitar Berbatov - "What players!"

He had become aware of the huge potential of the team several months earlier at Bayer 04's winter training camp in Rome. "Berti Vogts was still the coach when three new signings completed their first training session on a gloomy January morning: Lucio, Diego Placente and Dimitar Berbatov. Good Lord, I still get goose bumps when I think about that training session. What players! Above all Berbatov – I'd never seen a more talented player before."

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The Bulgarian did not play for the Werkself at the Nou Camp but Lucio and Placente were in the starting line-up as usual. Around 50,000 spectators only half filled this huge bowl. Christoph Pluschke had imagined the atmosphere would be different somehow. He sat with his fellow journalists behind glass in the press box. "That only exists in a few stadiums in Europe. With the chances and the two goals from Barcelona, only a dull noise penetrated the thick panes of glass. Otherwise you only heard the clinking of the coffee cups from the neighbouring catering area." A few years later, the editor experienced the atmosphere at the Nou Camp again on a private visit in the normal stands. "But then you could also see that the atmosphere is nothing like a cauldron. Fans singing and waving flags is not the norm. The whole thing is more like being at the opera."

Pluschke and the  unfortunately timed holiday

Pluschke perceived the Bayer 04 coach Klaus Toppmöller as the much more passionate thing in Barcelona. His facial expressions did "look like stone" after the kick-off but he was back in a good mood just after midnight in the departure lounge at the airport and he was convinced of progress to the next round. "Toppi was also a positive nut in the Calmund sense. He was buzzing whenever he talked about football. He said to me once: 'Do you know, Mr Pluschke, you have to see it like this: Normal people have blood cells in their veins but with me it's little footballs.'"

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Even though the editor of a big daily newspaper was obliged to be neutral, Pluschke admits today he was thrilled as a football fan by the performances of the Werkself in the Champions League. But, even at his most optimistic, he didn't think they would get through to the final. In the autumn of 2001, he casually booked his holiday for the coming spring of 2002 – and he missed the highlight. Two other colleagues reported on the final in Glasgow on 15 May between Bayer 04 and Real Madrid.

Caption for title picture: Christoph Pluschke (here at Bayer 04's 1-0 win against Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley in 2016) accompanied the Werkself at the Champions League group match in Barcelona as the sports editor of the Kölner Stadt Anzeiger.

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