With 20 points from their first 9 league matches and sitting comfortably in second place, Schalke have had their second best ever start to a Bundesliga season. They are also flying high in Europe, coming off a big win against Arsenal and topping their Champions League group. Bayern München meanwhile have set the standard for all to follow, winning all of their first 8 games, a league record. Both sides are rightfully touted, albeit still early into the season, as the two favorites for the title.
Over the course of time these two have also played out some of the greatest matches in league history. One of the most prominent of those may have been their encounter in the 1974/75 season, a game that was both exhilarating and and an example of German football at its peak but also symbolic of a shift in German football and in the narrative of arguably the greatest team in Bundesliga history.
Bayern München 0
FC Schalke 04 2
Place: Munich, Olympiastadion
Time: Saturday, 3:30 p.m.
Date: 28 September 1974
Referee: Horstmann (Gross Escherde)
“The End of an Era” read the Kicker headline the Monday after this game. And indeed, Bayern’s most glorious years in the Bundesliga were now definitely over, poignantly marked by the end of the historic unbeaten run at home, a series of 73 games in which Bayern won 62 games and drew 11, scoring 257 and conceding 74 goals. Their last defeat in a home game had occurred more than four years earlier on March 28, 1970 against VfB Stuttgart. In these four years, Bayern won the Bundesliga three times in a row and twice ended up runners-up. Bayern skipper Franz Beckenbauer commented after the game: “This has been long overdue.”
Every great run has to end eventually, but the fact that this task fell to FC Schalke 04 of all sides, nobody could have foreseen. Schalke was one of the most unlikely candidates to overcome the legendary Bayern as in their previous nine games in Munich, they only managed to score two goals and lost eight times (one draw) and their record at Munich during the last three years had been downright depressing: 1-5, 0-5, 1-5.
There had been an impending feeling of complacency about this Bayern side though. The team had become fat and lazy, they had virtually won everything there was to win and the leading players had also added World Cup medals two months ago. This total lack of motivation was coupled with a ridiculous preparation phase. In order to earn money, Bayern played countless friendly games all over Europe with the result that no serious training sessions could be held. Paul Breitner had left the club only a month ago to join Real Madrid and the Beckenbauer/Müller tandem was simply too tired to make a difference at that stage of the season.
But what had not changed was that every team Bayern had to face in the Bundesliga was still highly motivated especially when it became known that Bayern were highly vulnerable. All that culminated into Bayern’s domestic downfall that season. If not for Maier, Beckenbauer and Müller, the team would have been relegated at the end of the season. That is how drastic things had gotten in the end. It was only in European Cup games that the whole side’s concentration and motivation was up to old standards and thus surprisingly this troubled and tired Bayern side managed to repeat its European Cup triumph of the previous year. Their contradictory performances were also indicative of a team on its decline and no longer able to maintain the same level of performance across all competitions.
In contrast to Bayern’s previous glory years, their opponents Schalke 04 had some very troublesome years behind them. The young team that came in second in 1972 was involved in the 1971 Bundesliga scandal and almost all the major players were banned in all or most of the 1972-73 and the beginning of the 1973-74 season (among them Libuda, Fischer, Rüssmann, Fichtel and Lütkebohmert). Many youngsters had to take their place in the meantime in 1973 and miraculously the heavy depleted Schalke side managed to avoid relegation. By 1973-74 most of the old players were allowed to play again and thus Schalke was relieved from immediate relegation worries. But the scandal still loomed over Schalke until 1976, the players who had committed perjury finally admitted this in 1976. In spite of all these lingering demons Schalke still pulled off an unlikely yet significant victory that came to mark the end the greatest club side in German football history.
Both teams began somewhat cautiously in the first 20 minutes, but there were already fine opportunities. After four minutes Bongartz had tested Maier and two minutes later Fischer sent his shot over the bar. After these first attacks by Schalke, Bayern understood that one forward up front (Müller) was not enough and began to move forward more determinedly and with more aggression. Bayern started to control the game more and more from that point on. Franz Roth, whose shot was notoriously ferocious, had his attempt from 18 meters saved by Nigbur (9th minute). Just seconds later Katsche Schwarzenbeck tried a shot but Klaus ‘Tanne’ Fichtel got his head in the way to clear it out of danger.
It took 20 minutes for Gerd Müller to get his first opportunity after Klaus Wunder cleverly set him up with a short pass, but Rolf Rüssmann read and intercepted the play before it could become dangerous. A minute later, Beckenbauer set up Müller, who turned around and shot in one move (like in the good old times) but his shot lacked the necessary accuracy to trouble Nigbur. Bayern actually didn’t play badly in the first half, especially between the 20th and 40th minute where they should have gone ahead if they had had a just little bit of luck. In the 23rd minute Hans Bongartz intended to play the ball back to his goalie Norbert Nigbur, but he didn’t notice Müller was lurking and the ‘Der Bomber’ grabbed the ball, both center back Rolf Rüssmann and Norbert Nigbur were already beat but Müller’s shot only hit the post! A Müller in top form probably would have aimed a bit better, hitting the net not the post, but Müller was not his usual self those days. And neither were Bayern as this game would eventually show.
After half an hour Swede Conny Torstensson’s header tested Norbert Nigbur in somewhat controversial fashion, his attempt bouncing right along the goalline leading to Bayern protests that it should have been a goal but referee Horstmann correctly gave a goalkick to Schalke. After 37 minutes, Schalke were the ones protesting: Jupp Kapellmann couldn’t tackle the ball off Erwin Kremers in the penalty box, Schwarzenbeck interfered, bringing Kremers down. Whether it was a dive or a foul was hard to tell, but referee Horstmann decided it was a regular interception by the Bayern center back, a decision that could just as easily have been given in Schalke’s favor. At half time, the corner ratio had been 8-3 for Bayern, but still no goals in a stadium Bayern had normally become so accustomed to scoring on a regular basis and quite easily at that.
Even without the goals, the excitement continued in the second half. Scoring chances in both boxes were a plenty, but the two goalkeepers, especially Schalke’s Nigbur, were in top shape. In the 53rd minute Sepp Maier saved a header by Klaus Fischer from just four meters out, an absolutely fantastic save. Then ten minutes later Bayern wasted their greatest chance of the game so far. Müller had passed the ball to Klaus Wunder the left winger shot over instead of the goal despite having found himself unmarked 10 meters in front of the net. A ridiculous effort and another opportunity this Bayern side would have otherwise converted in the past. It was just another sign that something was different about this Bayern team.
In the 68th minute, Fischer dumbfounded Schwarzenbeck close to the corner flag, beating his marker and getting off a cross into the box off the turn. The outside right Rüdiger Abramczik stood unmarked at the edge of the Bayern box, positioned just correctly enough to score with a vehement header. 0-1! A shock to Bayern and their supporters. Silence came over the entire stadium. Now they had to play even more offensively, corner after corner, forward run after forward run, desperation reaching a climax with every passing minute, but all to no avail. Norbert Nigbur became the best player on the pitch. Schalke’s number one saved shot after shot, some of them looked like 100% certain sitters. Maier also had a fine day, but one minute before time, when Bongartz crossed the ball from the left wing, the Bayern keeper made a blunder which would officially seal Bayern’s defeat. Germany’s first choice keeper miscalculated the cross, then with a desperate jump tried to reach it, but came too late. Herbert Lütkebohmert was in the right place at the right time and put the ball past Maier, who was laying on the ground in agony and regret. 0-2! The sensation had been completed. All of Bayern’s efforts had been in vain.
This game was lost by Bayern’s midfield players. Rainer Zobel couldn’t keep up with his counterpart Rainer Budde and Uli Hoeness totally disappointed against his opponent Herbert Lütkebohmert. Hoeness only tried to score goals, he didn’t track back to aid the defense and offered little to the collective performance of the team. The press later caught a dialogue between Bayern’s Kapellmann and Hoeness’ opponent Lütkebohmert:
Kapellmann: “You started to run while he just kept standing.”
Lütkebohmert: “True, and to think he’s a professional…”
Kapellmann: “Right, a professional. Everyone must run for the other. What he did today was a impudence. But he sure has a big mouth!”
What came next?
Kapellmann’s words said it all. Complacency, lack of consistency and quality. Something unthinkable from the team that had won the European Cup, three league titles and whose core players had also won the European Championship and the World Cup. Sure enough, the game was not an isolated incident that season and Bayern ended up with their second worst finish ever to a Bundesliga campaign, even to this day. They lost again in Braunschweig the following week (3-1) and would finish the season with an unprecedented 14 losses after languishing near the relegation spots for much of the season. Bayern repeated their European success for the third time the following season but their domestic dominance had ended and they would have to wait until 1980 to add another league title. In the ten years after the 1974/75 season Bayern would be German champions just two times.
Schalke, the eternal underachievers, enjoyed a better season than Bayern but only finished in 7th by the end of the year. Apart from this win against Bayern and subsequent victory against Kickers Offenbach the following week, it took Schalke until the 29th matchday to string together back to back wins. There was always a feeling of “what if” about Schalke. Still, their symbolic win perhaps overshadows their own finish because to this day that Bayern side remains German football’s peak. But every rise is accompanied by an inevitable fall.
Maier – Kapellmann, Schwarzenbeck, Beckenbauer, Dürnberger – Roth, Zobel, Hoeness – Torstenson, Müller, Wunder
Trainer: Udo Lattek
Nigbur – Thiele, Rüssmann, Fichtel, H. Kremers – Bongartz, Budde, Lütkebohmert – E. Kremers, Fischer, Abramczik
Trainer: Ivica Horvat
0-1 Abramczik 68
0-2 Lütkebohmert 89
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