Bayern Munich vs. Werder Bremen and the history of their rivalry
There's a big game in Germany this week, though most fans will be surprised when they hear what it is. On Tuesday, in the DFB-Pokal, Bayern Munich take on Werder Bremen.
For more than two decades, this encounter -- rather than Bayern vs. Dortmund -- electrified the country. Seven years ago, Bremen scored five goals without reply at Bayern's ground in the span of less than 40 minutes. Today, such a scenario seems absurd due to the clubs' diverging fortunes; Bayern have won each of their last 12 games against Bremen -- scoring a staggering 47 goals in the process.
But while the great Bayern-Bremen rivalry is not what it once was, you can trace the origins back to a one-sided goal-fest on April 12, 1980. Bremen lost 7-0 in Munich on that day. It didn't really come as a surprise, as the two clubs were worlds apart; perennial relegation candidates Werder hadn't won against Bayern since 1973 and fielded one of the worst Bundesliga defences ever that season.
Seven weeks later, Bayern won the league and Bremen went down. However, the 1980 relegation would eventually pave the way for Werder's unlikely ascent. It began, literally, with an accident.
In February 1981, with Bremen in first place in the northern tier of the second division, Werder coach Kuno Klotzer crashed his car. He suffered minor injuries and came back after a short lay-off to coach the team again through March. However, he was plagued by persistent headaches and with six games left, stepped down to recuperate properly.
Bremen's business manager at the time was Rudi Assauer and he replaced Klotzer with Otto Rehhagel. It seemed an odd choice. Most people considered Rehhagel an expert in hopeless cases, read: a nomadic coach who never stayed long in one place taking on the challenge of coaching teams mired in the relegation zone. But one of those rescue missions had taken him to Bremen a few years earlier and many locals remembered him fondly.
Rehhagel finished the job started by Klotzer. Less than four weeks after taking over, he won promotion with a team that included a 19-year-old Thomas Schaaf. Then, in May 1981, Assauer announced he would leave Bremen for Schalke. It took Werder six months to find a successor and when they did, he was another odd choice. In November, the club revealed the new business manager would not be a former player but a local Social Democrat politician: Willi Lemke.
"The team is top and so is the coach," Lemke told the newspaper Die Welt. "Now we'll have to try and perfectly market all those positive elements."
Lemke was speaking figuratively when he said Werder were top -- but only slightly. In their first season back in the Bundesliga, Bremen did well and qualified for the UEFA Cup. It was the beginning of a sensational run. During the years that followed, cash-strapped Werder somehow managed to challenge for silverware almost every season.
Consequently, they became the most persistent thorn in the flesh of the biggest club in the land: Bayern Munich. The first signs appeared as early as August 1982. Mighty Bayern opened the new season away at Bremen, proudly presenting their latest signing, goalkeeper Jean-Marie Pfaff. The game was still scoreless when Werder won a throw-in near Bayern's corner flag with a minute left in the first half.
Bremen's Uwe Reinders hurled the ball towards the near post; Pfaff left his line but couldn't get to the throw-in, as an opponent was blocking his path and, desperately stabbing at the ball with his right hand, got a touch but failed to stop it crossing the line. It was the only goal of the game and would have been chalked off if Pfaff hadn't touched the ball. But, only a few years after Reinders' legendary throw-in, the two teams' budding rivalry escalated.
The straw that broke the camel's back came in November 1985, when league-leaders Werder were beaten 3-1 in Munich. The result was merely a side issue. What everyone was talking about was a professional foul by Bayern's Klaus Augenthaler on Rudi Voller in the first half. Augenthaler was only booked, while Werder's striker had to come off and was sidelined for five months. Bayern's business manager Uli Hoeness called the foul "normal," while a national newspaper recently listed it among the six most brutal in league history.
Nine days after the game, Voller told Der Spiegel magazine that Bayern had been "aggressive and brutal," and referred to the club as "arrogant." Asked about the remark made by Hoeness, Voller used the words "cynical" and "pathetic." He also said that Werder's fans would rather finish second in a sporting manner than win a title by playing dirty.
That's also how most neutral football fans felt. In the wake of the November game, Bayern would be typecast as the league's villains; Bremen as the forces of justice and gallantry. Augenthaler was mercilessly booed wherever he played, while Werder became everybody's second team.
Lemke, meanwhile, smartly milked the controversy for all it was worth. At last, he had found a way to perfectly market his club's "positive elements" -- one of which was that they were not Bayern. His needling eventually led to one of the great Bundesliga feuds, because Hoeness developed an almost palpable antipathy towards his counterpart at Werder. Hoeness called Lemke "a demagogue" and according to his biographer Christoph Bausenwein, added: "This man has stereotyped us as the enemy. That's class war, pure ideology. We are the arrogant millionaires, they are the league's underdogs."
All of which made the return game in Bremen one of the most eagerly anticipated Bundesliga clashes. These days, people complain that prematch coverage of important football matches tends to be frantic and blown out of all proportion. But not even the most overhyped Clasico can hold a candle to the hysteria that gripped Germany in the buildup to the match between Bremen and Bayern on April 22, 1986.
It was the penultimate day of the season and a win would have given Werder their first league title since 1965. When Voller came on after 77 minutes of a scoreless game, making his first appearance since Augenthaler's foul, the noise was deafening. Many people were certain he would now score the winning goal. He did not, but he won a penalty as his attempted chip hit Bayern's Soren Lerby in the face with three minutes left. The referee blew his whistle and pointed to the spot.
More than two minutes went by before the penalty could be taken, as Bayern's players protested the decision, pointing out that the ball had not touched Lerby's arm. At long last, Werder's penalty taker, Michael Kutzop -- who had converted 29 spotkicks in a row -- stepped up. His shot hit the outside of the right-hand post. Four days later, Bayern climbed past Werder to claim the title on goal difference.
Rehhagel eventually led Werder to the title in 1987-88 and followed it up with another in 1992-93. After 14 years, he left at the end of the 1995 season and his last game as Bremen coach took him to -- where else? - Munich, though it was not a happy time. Werder needed a win on June 17, 1995 against Bayern to lift another Bundesliga title ahead of Dortmund. The hosts were miles off the pace, in sixth place, and had nothing to play for except pride. Yet the players took visible delight in putting one over on their old adversary, winning 3-1 and ruining Rehhagel's farewell party.
Rehhagel ended his Bremen career with two Bundesliga titles, two domestic cups and the Cup Winners' Cup and having established the small, unglamorous club among the country's elite. And yet the next time Lemke met Rehhagel, at a news conference, he looked past him and made a point of referring to him as "Mister Rehhagel" instead of Otto, because Rehhagel had left Werder for none other than the despised class enemy, Bayern Munich.
Werder struggled after Rehhagel departed. When the team sank into the relegation zone in early 1999, many people felt another of Bayern's rivals had fallen by the wayside, like Gladbach, Hamburg or Cologne before. But with four games left, Schaaf took over as coach and guided the team to safety. Indeed, he finished the season on a dramatic high as Werder won a thrilling cup final against Bayern on penalties on June 12, 1999 with Stefan Effenberg and Lothar Matthaus missing from the spot.
Four months later, Klaus Allofs took over from Lemke as Bremen's business manager and, against all odds, Werder embarked on a second golden era. During the next 10 years, the club would finish outside the top seven only twice. That in itself was an incredible achievement for a club of this size -- bearing in mind that teams like Cologne and Frankfurt suffered relegations during the same time -- but Schaaf and Allofs did more. They built a team that challenged Bayern once again.
When Bayern hosted Bremen on May 8, 2004, the Munich giants were trailing by six points and had to win to stay in the title race. Such was Bayern's aura that many people felt even such a big lead might not be enough for Werder. But it was. Oliver Kahn famously gifted Bremen the opening goal and Werder raced into a 3-0 lead before the first half was over.
Bremen managed to annoy their old foes for a few more years after this triumph. In 2007, they finished third, thus barring Bayern from the Champions League. In 2008, they won 5-2 in Munich against Jurgen Klinsmann's erratic side. However, this unforgettable match would be Werder's last win against Bayern to date, as economic realities finally caught up with them, ending one of the great rivalries of the German game.
And Lemke and Hoeness? Both mellowed with age. In 2015, they finally buried the hatchet. 11Freunde magazine compared it to Cuba and the United States having restored diplomatic relations a few months earlier.
Uli covers German football for ESPN FC and has written over 400 columns since 2002.