It needed to be there, on the Parkstadion. Schalke’s outdated floor had all the time been a spot of drama and scandal. Its closing act was no completely different.
For 38 years it was house. It had seen many essential video games, it had seen relegation to the second tier. There had been instances when “there wasn’t enough money for washing powder”, as Charly Neumann, long-standing workforce official and soul of the membership, as soon as mentioned. There had been instances when paper beer cups full of rainwater on the crumbling, unending steps under the high-rise floodlight masts.
On one block, the ‘Nordkurve’, a wild a part of the stadium, stood ‘the Wren’, a person with a gray beard and lengthy hair. “I always stood there,” he mentioned. “Beside me children grew up. Then they stood with their own children.”
The closing match performed on the outdated Parkstadion was one of the vital dramatic in German soccer historical past.
For Schalke followers, that afternoon shall be mentioned ceaselessly; their life tales intersect at this level. Everyone remembers the four minutes and 38 seconds after they had been champions.
19 May, 2001, 15:25
It was the stadium’s final recreation earlier than closing. A model new fashionable area awaited for Schalke, who had been battling with Bayern Munich to be topped German champions.
Schalke had by no means received the Bundesliga – not as soon as because the league’s formation in 1963. But the great thing about that title might now finally be theirs on the season’s closing day. They had been three factors behind their rivals, however with a greater purpose distinction.
The tabloids had labelled the week earlier than the “seven-second death”. Schalke had topped the desk by profitable in Stuttgart within the final minute. Seven seconds later Munich scored in opposition to Kaiserslautern to seal their very own victory.
Beauty had given them the brush-off. On the ultimate day, although, the Schalke followers nonetheless hoped. The solar was beating down, and also you could not inform whether or not faces had been pink with the pressure or the warmth. Officially there have been 65,000 spectators, however anybody who believes that determine cannot have been there. The dusty coliseum was greater than full and one thing was within the air.
General supervisor Rudi Assauer – not for nothing often known as the ‘German league’s final macho man’ – had turn out to be melancholic. He stood within the dugout, a cigar in a single hand, wiping tears from his cheeks with the opposite. Radio reporter Manni Breuckmann sat down for the final time within the place the place he had commentated for so a few years. “I felt a relaxed atmosphere,” he remembers. “There was no indication of the drama still to happen.”
A loopy first half ended. Opponents Unterhaching went 2-0 up after 27 minutes, however Schalke dragged it again to 2-2.
“What was wrong?” followers requested themselves on the beer stands through the break. Some began to sing: “Sergej Barbarez! Schalalala!” The Hamburg ahead had 21 targets for the season and Schalke hopes now rested on one other from him in opposition to Munich. But in Hamburg it was 0-0 at half-time. Everything pointed to a different title for the Bavarians.
On TV, an interviewer requested Assauer: “Do you want to congratulate Bayern on the title already?”
He answered: “No. Anything can still happen in football.”
By the 73rd minute the Parkstadion was quiet. Unterhaching had been now in entrance once more, 3-2, and the title appeared to be gone.
From 20 yards out, Jorg Bohme positioned the ball down for a Schalke free-kick, confronted by a seven-man wall. His strike slid beneath the leaping defenders: 3-3.
Eighty seconds later, the participant often known as ‘the madman’ was in on purpose once more. Clear by, he feinted to shoot, the keeper went to his knees and Bohme lifted the ball deftly into the nook. The followers rejoiced, climbing on the fences, their chants ringing out once more. They had been 4-3 up.
Then, within the ninetieth minute, it was 5-3. Striker Ebbe Sand beat on a fan’s drum. Fellow ahead Emile Mpenza kissed the membership crest. Now “HSV, HSV, HSV!” resounded across the floor. Former participant Andreas Muller ran by the principle stand sporting a Hamburg shirt.
“I had a feeling it would happen,” he mentioned. His premonition appeared to be proper. Suddenly a stadium announcement boomed out.
Something was happening in Hamburg.
People writhed like landed fish. Heads turned in each route. Isolated cheers had been heard. Those with radios held them shut and did not let go. A mass of not less than 80,000 spectators surged forwards and backwards, a mixture of those that knew one thing and those that did not imagine what was spreading across the floor.
In the north stand any person stood with a mobile phone to his ear. Fans beseeched him: “What’s going on there?” He pressed his lips collectively, eyes glassy, and virtually whispered: “1-0 to Hamburg. It’s true.”
Sergej Barbarez had put the house aspect forward within the ninetieth minute. The whispers grew to become louder by the second, a spreading wildfire. After some time the remoted cheers grew to become one big collective scream. The Parkstadion knew it: Schalke 04 could be the German champions.
As hope turned to certainty, the scene imploded. Cheering followers rolled down the steps within the south stand and pressed in opposition to the fences. People held their heads with shaking arms. It was a mix of trance and hysteria. They felt so near the solar; it was the second the Ancient Greeks referred to as kairos.
Thomas Spiegel, an workplace worker, mentioned: “People felt like the the stadium wobbled. It was like a gateway to nirvana.”
Spiegel’s buddy Michael Knicker jumped on him, legs and arms within the air, and Knicker remembered a dialog that they had had earlier than the sport.
“I had said this morning to God: If we become champions, he can take me.” But what had sounded flippant felt a lot too severe now for a person who had suffered a coronary heart assault the earlier yr.
“I hope God does not stick to the arrangement,” the chums now thought as they stared on the tv within the press space exhibiting the sport in Hamburg.
“I was paralysed,” mentioned Spiegel. “I stammered three words over and over like an insane man: Stop the game! Stop the game! Stop the game!”
Schalke coach Huub Stevens waved an admonishing hand in entrance of the dugout the place full-back Nico van Kerckhoven was performing chin-ups. He despatched the gamers to the altering rooms, however some stayed on the pitch along with Assauer, Muller and board member Jurgen W Mollemann.
Now hundreds within the stadium held on the phrases of two males, one seated proper amongst them. “The game in Schalke is over. We wait for release,” mentioned commentator Breuckmann.
A false hearsay started that the Hamburg match had already ended. Over and over once more Breuckmann acquired as much as inform individuals to relax. “It did no good,” he mentioned. “Nobody got it. In Hamburg they were still playing and I was the only one around me who knew. It was an absurd situation.”
Word of the match ending in Hamburg got here a number of instances. Shortly after the ultimate whistle in Schalke some had been already saying the sport in Hamburg had completed. But Assauer shouted to Van Kerckhoven: “It’s not over yet!”
The normal supervisor had turn out to be the barometer for most onlookers. Quickly every part calmed down. Then got here his subsequent gesture. Assauer was knowledgeable once more that play in Hamburg had now in reality ended, and he thrashed out an arm, like a boxer throwing an uppercut.
Beside him midfielder Jiri Nemec smiled. For the Czech, this amounted to an unbelievable emotional outburst. Fireworks started, deliberate in celebration of the stadium’s closing match, however even their blast was overwhelmed by the noise of the followers. They stormed the place. The hearsay couldn’t be contained any extra.
At precisely this second, a flicker appeared on the large video display above the south stand. It ought to have began straight after the ultimate whistle in Gelsenkirchen, however there had been a technical fault. Now the final minutes from Hamburg had been being broadcast reside within the stadium.
It couldn’t cease the madness. Many assumed it was a replay. Pitchside reporter Rolf Fuhrmann congratulated Muller on the championship, as behind them the play in Hamburg continued on display.
“I don’t know how it stands,” mentioned Muller. “It’s ended in Hamburg, you are champions!” replied Fuhrmann. Muller was handed an outsized beer glass.
“Every time I have met Fuhrmann afterwards, he has apologised to me, he was very sorry,” Muller would later comment. Parts of the stadium celebrated the title, others seemed to the display – and realised it was not a replay.
One fan mentioned it was “like watching your own burial”. Goalkeeper Oliver Reck lay underneath the desk within the dressing room the place the gamers had been following the tip of the sport.
“Something will still happen,” he mentioned to Muller. “I know it. Oh God.”
When captain Tomasz Waldoch made to go and converse to the media, Reck held his arm. “Tommy, it is not over yet.”
It was from an oblique free-kick, contained in the field. The ball was laid off and Patrick Andersson thrashed it house to make it 1-1, within the 94th minute. Bayern had been champions.
In the south stand in Gelsenkirchen an outdated man slumped: “I just wanted to be champions – once.”
Assauer reeled within the route of the tunnel. On the pitch, many followers broke down, howling, others lacked the power to cry. The plug had been pulled. Silence descended on the stadium. The solely sound was the continued blasts of the fireworks, just like the orchestra enjoying because the Titanic sank.
The creator Steffen Kopetzky, himself a Bayern Munich supporter, later wrote for Die Zeit: “As a Bayern fan, I never felt more lonely and desperate than at this moment.”
On the pitch, followers had been in mourning. In the altering rooms, Sand had collapsed into himself. He slumped on the ground as bottles and chairs flew previous him. “Benches, doors, televisions – nothing remained. Luckily nobody sent us the bill,” mentioned defender Marco van Hoogdalem.
Forward Youri Mulder laughed with out that means to. “Sometimes cyclists laugh when speeding downhill because they are so nervous and have no control of their emotions. That’s just how I felt at this moment.”
Bohme lit a cigarette. Assauer and Stevens tried unsuccessfully to consolation the gamers. Minutes later within the press convention, Assauer mentioned: “Do not tell me any more that footballers are ice-cold.” Then got here his oft-quoted line: “I have lost faith in the god of football.”
Stevens’ face went arduous as he referred to as the workforce collectively, congratulating them on what that they had achieved that season and reminding them that the next Saturday they nonetheless had a trophy to play for, within the German Cup closing.
Then he despatched them out, to the followers who remained on the pitch. One supporter shouted within the silence, a easy cry: “Schaaaaaalke!” As he repeated it time and again, increasingly joined in. The workforce stood as “You’ll Never Walk Alone” was performed, and Stevens lastly misplaced the struggle to carry again his tears.
Later, round 200 followers had been nonetheless there milling round; they merely could not go house. Assauer stepped out from his workplace on to the balcony and delivered a blazing speech. On the Monday morning 15,000 supporters confirmed as much as the final coaching session earlier than the cup closing.
The subsequent Saturday, Schalke beat Union Berlin 2-0 to assert the German Cup. And within the Schalke part of Berlin’s Olympic stadium, a banner learn: “Everything will be fine.”
Schalke stay with out a Bundesliga title – and this season completed backside. They had been final topped nationwide champions in 1958.
Following the occasions of 2001, membership stalwart Neumann mentioned: “I hope God lets me take the championship trophy to our stadium one more time.”
In 2007, as Schalke missed out on the title once more, this time by dropping a decisive match with arch-rivals Borussia Dortmund, Neumann, who was then aged 85 and significantly unwell, insisted he be taken to the Schalke followers’ part.
First quietly, then louder, the mantra grew across the stand. The followers sang for a number of minutes: “Charly, Charly.” Neumann died on 11 November 2008, his closing prayer unfulfilled.