Holger, what you particularly remember about your only season at Bayer 04?
Fach: It was an incredibly varied campaign. We had a good first half of the season. But then a lot of things happened at the same time: There were the problems between Erich Ribbeck and Bernd Schuster. We had a lot of injuries that partly lasted for weeks: Christian Wörns and Markus Happe, who missed all of the second half of the season due to a broken foot. Ulf Kirsten was out for several games. Then there were several postponements so that we slipped down the table and others went above us at the start of the second half of the season without us having played. That meant we had a lot of double fixture weeks to make up the games. But everything went very well for me in that season.
How did you see the arguments about Bernd Schuster?
Fach: I've had a brilliant relationship with Bernd up to this day. But back then it was clear to me that he could no longer play as a sweeper. He had problems in defensive work, running after the ball, being uncompromising in challenges – none of that was his thing. Regardless of how you assess his performances: I think it was out of order that nobody spoke to him in order to isolate him. Of course, this tension didn't contribute to a good atmosphere in the team.
How tense were you before the relegation 'final' against Kaiserslautern?
Fach: In almost 20 years as a player I experienced several similar situations and never had any major problems with it. But I know that before this game some of them were scared shitless. At the end of the day, you have to try and look at it rationally. Sometimes at the end of the season just about damage limitation – fortunately we managed it in 1996. Then you put it behind you and carry on.
Markus Münch has enjoyed hero status in Leverkusen since his goal to make it 1-1. If you hadn't put your head in the way in the true sense of the word just before the end of the game then the match would probably have been lost and Bayer 04 relegated…
Fach: (He laughs) Whenever I meet Reiner Calmund, he talks to me about that incident. It's true for most fans the story stops with the goal scored by Markus. But then there was this shot from Thomas Hengen just before the final whistle that I was able to intercept with a flying header from about ten metres in front of our goal. It was lucky I was standing there. Otherwise it would almost definitely have been too difficult for Dirk Heinen to hold onto the ball.
Holger Fach joined Leverkusen from Borussia Mönchengladbach in 1995 playing 32 games for Bayer 04 (three goals) as a sweeper, central defender and holding midfielder before moving on to Fortuna Düsseldorf in the summer of 1996. He played a total of 415 Bundesliga games (67 goals) for Fortuna Düsseldorf, Borussia Mönchengladbach, KFC Uerdingen, Bayer 04 and 1860 Munich.
Carsten, your first six months at Leverkusen could hardly have been more turbulent. How did you feel in that situation as a young player?
Ramelow: When I joined Leverkusen in January 1996 it was the second chance for me at the Bundesliga club. Before that, I rejected an offer from KFC Uerdingen. Then I wanted to take the next step in my career. I had huge respect for all the big names and could never have imagined being involved in a relegation battle with this team. And it all went really well for me: I was a regular first choice straightaway and it was incredible fun being able to train and play alongside people like Rudi Völler, Ulf Kirsten Ioan Lupescu and Peter Lehnhoff. In my first six months at Bayer there was almost everything in terms of experience and emotion. I learned a lot during that time. And perhaps those months toughen me up for the following twelve years at the club. We got into a similar situation in 2003. And nobody could really explained how that could happen to a team that finished runners-up three times the season before. I was glad that we turned it round in 1996.
Was there a certain point where it became clear to you that it was no longer about qualifying for Europe but instead staying up?
Ramelow: No, it was a slow process. Some point we had a bad run. We messed about, lost narrowly, and often only drew. And you get dragged down when you end up in a mess like that. You can't always explain it. We wanted to qualify for Europe with this group and weren't prepared for a relegation battle. And we underestimated the situation for a long time. Then mentality plays a crucial role. A lot of people were unable to produce their usual performances due to the mounting pressure.
The nerves were raw, you had three players sent off in the 1-1 draw at Schalke. You were one of the three to get a red card… Ramelow: Yes, what a game. I don't think my red card was justified. I pulled Martin Max's shirt a bit but he got caught up in me and also I wasn't the last man. We were incredibly annoyed with the referee. And then you let in the equaliser just before the final whistle. If we’d have taken three points from that crazy game then that would have been a reward for a great battle and would have given us a boost.
So everything went to the big showdown against Kaiserslautern on the final matchday. How did you deal with the pressure ahead of this decider to stay up?
Ramelow: The tension in those days before the game was extreme. But I was able to cope with the situation really well as it stood. Get stuck in, give everything you've got and do your job – that was my motto at the time. So I was happy after the days of preparing at the training camp in Much that I could finally warm up and go onto the pitch at the stadium. It was a battle of nerves but we mastered it in the end.
Our honorary captain Carsten Ramelow made 333 Bundesliga appearances for the Werkself (22 goals) in 13 years and with Bayer 04 he was the runner-up in the German league four times, runners-up in the cup twice and was in the Champions League final against Real Madrid in 2002 and in the same year he played for Germany in the World Cup final against Brazil.
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