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 By Uli Hesse

Hilarious history of Bundesliga opener

On Friday evening, the new Bundesliga season will kick off with Bayern Munich playing VfL Wolfsburg and all the pomp and circumstance we've come to take for granted -- the playing of the national anthem and the league hymn, the presentation of the championship trophy and then a game involving the title holders under floodlights, shown live on free-to-air television.

That is, all this will happen provided there won't be another blackout. In 2004, only two years after the introduction of this official opening game, the match between Werder Bremen and Schalke was just about to begin when suddenly the PA system and the video screen shut off. Then the floodlights went out.

At first, it was reported that an excavator had inadvertently cut a major power cable during construction work near the ground. It didn't sound like the most plausible of explanations, given that it was 8.26 p.m. when the lights went out -- a rather unusual working time for a construction crew. And so Bremen's local electric utility service provider was soon forced to admit that one of the countless couplings that connected two cables had been defective. Which also explains why it took no less than 65 minutes to finally identify the culprit and bring the lights back to life.

"You don't need electricity to play this game," the fans sang in the dusk when the players got bored with waiting in the dressing room and began to kick balls about on the pitch. But of course television needed electricity, and so the delay dragged on and on. Wilfried Straub, the managing director of the League at the time, sarcastically said: "We have promised the fans a season full of suspense -- and we deliver on the first day."

German legend Franz Beckenbauer has been involved in some of his country's greatest football moments. He's also been part of a few of the most infamous at the start of the German Bundesliga season.

It was enough to make you nostalgic for the old days, when a season began without much fanfare and with nine games played simultaneously on a Saturday afternoon. Because it's not as if there were no spectacles back then. Bayern Munich, in particular, seemed to be in the habit of doing something unusual on opening day.

For instance, you'd expect that the game which produced the highest winning margin ever recorded on an opening day would involve the Munich giants. But would you expect them to have been on the receiving end?

On August 24, 1974, Bayern Munich travelled to Kickers Offenbach to begin the new season. A solid seven weeks had passed since the triumphant World Cup final, yet the Bayern players weren't in the best of shape. During August alone, they had played no less than 15 friendlies. (This was the time when Bayern needed to make money in the offseason by barnstorming across Europe.) They had lost 5-0 against Real Betis, 2-0 against Osnabrück, 5-1 against Molenbeek from Holland. Putting it mildly, this team was not in form.

Yet nothing could have prepared their support for the Kickers match. After 19 minutes, World Cup winner Georg Schwarzenbeck deflected a long-range strike into his own net, having wrong-footed Bayern's goalkeeper, World Cup winner Sepp Maier. Twelve minutes later, World Cup winner Franz Beckenbauer won possession in his own penalty area but didn't let Maier collect the ball. Instead, he poked it directly into the path of Offenbach's striker Dieter Schwemmle, who curled the ball into an open net. In the second half, Offenbach -- who had never won a league game against Bayern before -- added four more goals for the final scoreline of 6-0.

"The holidays after the World Cup were too short," coach Udo Lattek said. "And we had no preparation because of the numerous games." On the day after the Offenbach debacle, Bayern travelled to Italy to play yet another friendly, against Cesena Calcio. "When the club decides we have to play, we play," Lattek said.

A decade later, Bayern were no longer in such desperate need of revenue (and the sale of Karl-Heinz Rummenigge to Inter would soon get the club out of the red for good), but apparently they still invited opening-day mishaps.

Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, left, celebrates Oktoberfest with Bayern Munich manager Pep Guardiola and his wife. Rummenigge, the CEO of Bayern Munich, is part of many an opening-day tale from the days of Bundesliga yore.

Aug. 21, 1982 was not only the first day of the new season, it was also the first Bundesliga game for Bayern's new goalkeeper, Jean-Marie Pfaff. The 28-year-old Belgian was supposed to be Bayern's key coup on the transfer market. Coach Pal Csernai had lost faith in the mistake-prone Walter Junghans and Manfred Müller, telling the board he needed a world-class goalkeeper to challenge Ernst Happel's all-conquering Hamburg team. The board agreed and spent 800,000 Marks on Pfaff. Bayern were playing away at Werder Bremen on this hot August day. They dominated the match, but Bremen's excellent goalkeeper Dieter Burdenski denied them again and again. And so the game was still scoreless when, with a minute left in the first half, Werder won a throw-in deep in Bayern's half, only a few steps away from the corner flag on the left flank.

Bremen's right winger Uwe Reinders came running over, because long throw-ins were his speciality. Even if you hadn't known this, it would have immediately become obvious from the way Reinders held the ball in only one hand and then walked back a few steps to take a short run-up.

As the ball sailed toward the near post, where Bremen's midfielder Rigobert Gruber was waiting for it, Pfaff left his line. However, he couldn't quite get to the throw-in, because Gruber was blocking his path and his view. The ball flew above the heads of friend and foe, but Pfaff probably didn't see this. All he saw was that the ball was suddenly above him and on its way into the goal. He desperately stabbed at it with his right hand. Although he made contact he couldn't stop the ball from crossing the line.

It was the only goal of the game. And of course it hadn't counted if Pfaff hadn't touched the ball, because you can't score from a throw-in. As the players sat in the dressing room after the final whistle, Csernai went through the roof. "This is ridiculous," he yelled so loudly that his words echoed down the hallway where the journalists were waiting. "This is the worst goal we have conceded in three years!"

To be fair, Pfaff went on to play a strong season and became a crowd favourite at Bayern. But the league title went to Hamburg again.

If the club's fans thought this goal was hard to top in the absurdity department, they were wrong. Only three years later, on Aug. 10, 1985, Bayern started the new season away at Bayer Uerdingen. Less than three months earlier, this team had surprisingly won the cup against Bayern, so the Munich giants knew they had to be on their toes.

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Which may be why right back Helmut Winklhofer decided to play it safe on 34 minutes. He was running toward a loose ball, some 35 yards in front of Bayern's goal, and saw that Uerdingen's Icelandic striker Larus Gudmundsson was coming at it from the other side. Winklhofer calculated that both would get to this 50-50 ball at the same time and decided to simply kick it against Gudmundsson's shin.

Winklhofer struck the ball with full force, but at the last possible fraction of a second, Gudmundsson pulled back his right leg. Instead of hitting his shin, the ball sailed through the air in a wild, spectacular arc. Pfaff, who was standing at the edge of the six-yard box, never had a chance. The viewers of "Sportschau", the premier sport magazine on free television, later voted this stunning strike "Goal of the Month." It was the first time in 14 years that an own goal had won this award -- but the club forbade Winklhofer to pick up his winner's medal.

Needless to say, it was again the only goal of the game -- and it was Winklhofer's first game for the club. "Of course that was a rather unfortunate debut," coach Udo Lattek said after the game. "He was a nervous wreck at half-time and I had to comfort him."

Incidentally, Winklhofer's own goal wasn't the only unusual thing on this first matchday in 1985. Over in Nürnberg, Bochum were forced to field an amateur goalkeeper named Marcus Croonen, because their regular No. 1 Ralf Zumdick was injured. On 25 minutes, Nürnberg's Reiner Geyer was clear through to goal and Croonen left his line to intercept the ball just outside the penalty area. He was late and knocked Geyer down. Referee Werner Föckler brandished a red card; it was the first time in Bundesliga history that a goalkeeper was sent off on opening day.

But it wasn't the end of the story. Bochum's coach took off striker Stefan Kuntz to bring on a new goalkeeper -- a 17-year-old youth-team player by the name of Dirk Drescher. Amazingly, the kid put in a faultless performance, and seven minutes from time, Bochum even won the game when Martin Kree scored from a free kick.

As you can see, first matchdays used to be quite entertaining even before the spectacle of an official opening game.


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