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Fortune favours the Bavarians

It was ten past five or thereabouts when the scoreboard flashed up and the logo of the nation's biggest tabloid appeared. That signals a goal has been scored elsewhere, proudly presented by said gazette, so we briefly averted our weary eyes from the field of play. 'Schalke vs Hamburg' said the scoreboard and then, following those very long few seconds you either love or loathe: '1-2'.

That Hamburg had gone ahead at Schalke with less than a handful of minutes left on the clock was a potentially crucial development, for both the title race and the struggle for the UEFA Cup slots. Which is why people all around me began to discuss the implications instantly. Some were gloating, some angry, others reserved or surprised. But sooner or later they all uttered the same word - 'Bayern' - because everybody knew what was going to happen next.

And indeed, two minutes later the scoreboard came alive again and the first people began to laugh out loud even before it read 'Hannover vs Bayern Munich'. This time the suspenseful seconds seemed even longer - precisely because they held no suspense whatsoever. Finally the scoreboard dutifully obliged to announce the inevitable: '0-1'.

The most popular theory as we trotted home was that Schalke had been hit on the break looking for a winner, while Bayern had gone in front in the final minute thanks to an own goal. That was not quite correct, but close enough: it was the Schalke game that had been decided by an own goal, whereas Bayern had scored through Owen Hargreaves, brought on three minutes from time. But whatever the details, it was just your average and relentlessly predictable Bayern luck, right?

We even have an expression for that. It's 'Bayern-Dusel'. Your dictionary will probably translate 'Dusel' with 'luck', but that's only half the story. Monday's edition of kicker magazine, for instance, carried a piece on Bayern that included the words 'luck' and 'Dusel' - and that was not tautological. 'Dusel' is of Dutch origin and stems from a term that denotes dumbness or some other mental defect. It thus refers to the kind of luck usually ascribed to fools or drunkards: unearned, unjustified, inexplicable luck.

Which is why the TV journalist Rolf Toepperwien was very careful to not use the word 'Dusel' when he shoved his microphone in the face of Bayern's business manager, Uli Hoeness, after the game at Hannover. He spoke of a 'lucky win' instead, but even so it was enough to have Hoeness explode. The final minute, Hoeness explained with barely contained fury, was as much a part of the game as the 15th minute - and Bayern's win was primarily deserved, not lucky. Toepperwien more or less agreed in order to save his hide, then went looking for coach Felix Magath and cleverly asked: 'Would you agree that we can speak of a lucky win?'

In Germany we even have an expression: 'Bayern-Dusel'. It refers to the kind of luck usually ascribed to fools or drunkards: unearned, unjustified, inexplicable luck.
People from outside this country may not readily understand why Germans regard Bayern as always being lucky. After all, this is the team that lost the 1999 Champions League final in the most unlucky fashion imaginable. Thus you could be tempted to think our deep-seated belief is rooted in past Bundesliga seasons, such as 2001, when Bayern edged past Schalke four minutes into stoppage time on the last day of the campaign, or 2000, when Leverkusen lost at lowly Unterhaching on the last day (mainly due to an own goal from a certain Michael Ballack) to gift Bayern the title on account of goal difference.

Yet these dramas only reinforced the myth, as 'Bayern-Dusel' is much older. It goes back to the 1970s and the big Bayern vs Borussia Moenchengladbach thing. During that decade, Gladbach were the country's most popular team and the most successful one - domestically (from 1970 to 1980, Gladbach won five league titles, Bayern only four).

But something very strange went on under Wednesday night's floodlights, in Europe. Season after season, mishap, drama and tragedy followed Gladbach wherever fate sent the team.

The first-ever penalty shoot-out in the European Cup saw them go out against Everton; a bent referee cost them a much-deserved victory at Real Madrid; a can thrown from the strands annulled a 7-1 win over Inter Milan; a blocked drain release caused a UEFA Cup final at Anfield to be called off at a time when the Germans looked the better side; four years later Gladbach's Uli Stielike was one-on-one with the keeper in a European Cup final with the score tied. He missed, of course, and then the opposition struck.

By stark contrast, Bayern had no such problems when playing for the biggest trophies. On the contrary. During their first-ever European campaign, 1966-67, they would have gone out to a Czech second-division team if Gerd Mueller, of all people, hadn't blocked a shot on the goal-line in the 86th minute. One round later, only a goal two minutes from time saved the team from being eliminated by the decidedly unmighty Shamrock Rovers. The list is endless.

Owen Hargreaves is mobbed after netting Saturday's last minute winner.
Owen Hargreaves is mobbed after netting Saturday's last minute winner.

The 1973-74 campaign started with a penalty shoot-out against Swedish part-timers Atvidabergs and later brought Georg Schwarzenbeck's last-minute desperate attempt from distance which forced a replay of the European Cup final. A year later, Bayern's coach Dettmar Cramer moaned 'There is nothing to celebrate' when his side had squeezed past Yerevan, while president Wilhelm Neudecker said 'Believe it or not, we have to pay a bonus for that performance' after Bayern defeated St. Etienne. The next match was the final against Leeds, which had the English seething because they felt the referee had robbed them of a legal goal.

So far, so good, or maybe bad. What is astonishing is that this impression of Bayern has survived the decades. Yes, they may have won three European Cup finals in the 1970s all of which they should have lost. But then they lost three they should have won.

And there is something else. When the European Cup was born, Bayern were in the second division and had only ever won one German championship. Two decades later they were among the continent's elite and have stayed there ever since. When the Bundesliga was born, Bayern were again in the second division, and a bit over two decades later they were Germany's record title-holders - something which is not going to change in the near future.

Explaining that through luck, even 'Dusel', is a tad too simple. Bayern neither had a hand in Mladen Krstajic's own goal, which completed Schalke's downfall on Saturday, nor in the misplayed offside trap which had led to Hamburg's equaliser. And Hargreaves' last-minute shot was simply a very fine effort that hit the triangle perfectly. It wasn't even deflected.


  • Uli's seminal history of German football, Tor!, is available online.

    Also available: Uli's new book Flutlicht und Schatten for all you German scholars to gen up on the history of the European Cup.

  • Any thoughts on this article? Email us.