Editor’s note: twenty years ago, Borussia Dortmund won the Champions League in sensational style, topping Juventus 3-1 in the final at Munich’s Olympiastadion. BVB’s triumph shocked many people, given Dortmund’s underdog role and the talent that likes of Juventus had on display, such as Zinedine Zidane, Christian Vieri, Didier Deschamps, Alessandro Del Piero, and Antonio Conte. To win the title, Dortmund tied for first in its group with Atletico Madrid. In the knockout stages, Dortmund beat the endearing Auxuerre (from Ligue 1), then Manchester United before facing Juventus in the final.
In this piece, on the 20th anniversary of BVB’s Champions League win, Ben McFadyean, founder and president of the Borussia Dortmund Fan Club London, interviewed legendary BVB defender, Martin Kree, who played for Borussia Dortmund from 1994 to 1998 and for the U21 Germany national team. At Borussia Dortmund, Kree won the club world cup, was twice German champion and cup winner, and is currently a member of the supervisory board of the German second division VfL Bochum.
Ben: I am here in the Zumtobel Lounge at Borussia Dortmund’s stadium Signal Iduna Park with the legendary Dortmund defender Martin Kree, Martin I can still remember very well as a young fan watching you as a player for VFL Bochum and Bayer Leverkusen play against Dortmund, you are also known as being one of the players who won the Uefa champions league with Dortmund in 1997, the biggest football cup for cups in the world, I remember you as having one of the hardest shots in German football and that’s saying something! Thank you for giving us an interview today
Martin Kree: Sure, glad to talk to you, thanks for asking!
Ben: Talking about Heroes of 1997, today we celebrate the 20th anniversary of that amazing BVB win of the Champions League in the final v Juventus which took place on 28 May 1997. Many of our readers in UK, India and other English speaking countries actually only started following BVB in 1997 because of that final. Borussia’s brilliant championship culminating in that victory in Munich.
Football fans, many of whom knew little about Borussia at the time watched the game in Munich and were thrilled by the unique style of attacking football which Dortmund have become famous for. It’s amazing to have one of the players of that team here in front of me today thanks for the chat.
So maybe we could start by speaking about the coach Ottmar Hitzfeld, Ottmar was one of the most successful coaches at Borussia, winning the champions league but also 2 championships and the DFB Pokal German cup, thinking about the final there were a number of players at Dortmund who came from Juventus was it just good luck or an ingenious move by Ottmar Hitzfeld to play 5 ex Juve players in the final? He had at that time a whole gang of Juve players Julio Cesar, Andy Möller, Juergen Kohler, Paulo Sousa. They knew Juventus inside and out.
Martin Kree: Of course, this has played a role but the whole development of our club and it’s success at the time is related to these players, without these reinforcements we would not have been even half as good and won the German championships twice back to back or would not have won the Champions League in 1997. I cannot say whether these players have been the decisive factor in the final. Of course these players knew the players of Juventus but the players of Juventus knew Möller and Kohler also. That’s why I believe that this has not played a role in the final, but they were all special Borussia players.
Ben: Thinking about that final, you are a Dortmund boy, born and raised in the region only 30 kms from the Signal Iduna Park you played for local team TuS Wickede, a Dortmund player from the home city like Lars Ricken, Kevin Grosskreutz or Marco Reus, something special for the fans. What kind of a feeling is it coming from Dortmund to lift the Champions league Trophy, the great pot for Borussia Dortmund, to bring it home? Very special no?
Martin Kree: Logically, this is my greatest memory of my active time that final in Munich. The final whistle and what happened then is a highlight in my life. In any players life if you can do that with your local club, I was born 30 kilometers from Dortmund. I can remember how I went to games at Dortmund with my father when I was a boy. Then Dortmund were still in the second Bundesliga, the second tier of German football and they played in front of crowds of as little as 10,000 spectators or even less at times, but there were already some great players like Hungarian midfielder Zoltan Varga. These are the memories I have as a child. There you were, a fan in the stands and watching games, without ever imagining one day you would be looking up from the pitch at the Suedtribuehne (Borussia’s famous fan stand) as a player at the BVB. But that’s how it turned out, I played for VFL Bochum, then at Bayer 04 Leverkusen and then I was signed by Borussia at what turned out to be exactly the right time. In hindsight, when I think about it, that move I came at exactly the right time, I get goose bumps just thinking about that part of my career with Borussia!
Ben: Yes, I get goose bumps, when I hear you talking about that time, It’s as if I had been there myself.
Martin Kree: This period of my career is associated with so many emotions, such a great time, you can hardly believe in hindsight.
Ben: One of the greatest experiences for a Borussia Dortmund player surely is the open top bus celebrations after a winning final Dortmund travel on a bus around the city and celebrate the cup with adoring fans, how was that in 97 the open top bus trip around Borsigplatz (the square in the north of Dortmund city where Dortmund was founded at a small church in 1909) I will soon experience this myself as a fan on 28th May if Dortmund win in the German cup final, the DFB Pokalfinale, I have already booked my flights from London. What is the feeling as a player that drive around the Borsigplatz to holding up ‘the big Pot’ and the thousands of adoring fans? You certainly celebrated with a few beers, didn’t you?
Martin Kree: In fact I’ve never drunk alcohol in all my life, that’s not my thing. But there were certainly many players who approved of having one or two beers, you probably will not believe it but the first time, when our boys won the German Championship in 1995, we were on a truck, since Borussia did not have a double decker bus. We celebrated on an open truck and around us were 500,000 adoring fans. You are sitting on the truck, celebrating but most of the time looking at the crowds and hoping that nothing happens that no one gets dragged under the wheels.
In the following year, the club had it managed better, there were security staff around the bus making sure all went well so we could relax and enjoy the party, then in 97 after the Champions league that was simply indescribable that feeling! To be up there. You could feel the warmth of the fans, the enthusiasm, the love!
Ben: Yes “Echte Liebe.” (Echte Liebe translated as “True Love” which is the advertising slogan of Borussia Dortmund.)
Martin Kree: In those days, they didn’t have an advertising slogan like that but nowadays Borussia Dortmund use that slogan. That was one of those simply magical fantastic memories I will never forget. I mean how many people can claim to have shaken 200,000 peoples hands in just two hours .. Something special.
Ben: What cool memories, you can really picture it just listening to you. The 1997 final was also an amazing day for me watching the final on TV. You have played in many major football matches the 97 final must have been one of the best.
I’ve been collecting soccer jerseys since my childhood. The most beautiful one in my collection is a 1984/85 Borussia Dortmund jersey. I was twelve years old and had a number 10 shirt, it was Marcel Raducanu’s shirt, a great midfield legend here in Dortmund, he might never have won a trophy but was still a hero at Borussia Dortmund. Do you collect shirts?
Martin Kree: Yes, Marcel Raducanu was a great and I personally know him well. He also has a football school in Dortmund and very successfully develops talents. 1989 and the DFB Pokal final was a great breakthrough for Borussia Dortmund after so many difficult years.
Ben: It was also a great pleasure for me to meet Marcel and to get to know him after 25 years and to have my shirt signed by him personally. Which jerseys did you collect during your career that you associate with special games and have them framed at home?
Martin Kree: You know football has changed so much. In our time we exchanged jerseys only for international games or Champions league games.We didn’t collect many shirts.
Ben: You also played for the Germany U21 national team …
Martin Kree: Yes, I did, but now the players are exchanging a jersey after every Bundesliga game. If I played nowadays, I would have 500 jerseys in the closet and could not even answer that question. A lasting experience I can share with you is about one of my most valuable jerseys. We played in the ’97 in the semi-final of the Champions League against Manchester United, you remember? Those were the two last two international matches of Eric Cantona..
Ben: Yes, ‘King Cantona’ they call him at Man U.
Martin Kree: In both games, he was my direct opponent. I have framed two of his jerseys at home. I remember well the encounters with Cantona. Or Zinedine Zidane when he was at Juventus.
Ben: You played against Zidane?
Martin Kree: No, he played in the midfield. But I played for Borussia Dortmund against Juventus with Zidane and we swopped jerseys.These were special occasions, there were not so many jerseys in those days. If I were to play today, then I would have a whole cupboard full of shirts. But when I think about the game in Manchester, I have a very special memory of the game in Manchester:
Ben: Yes Old Trafford. top stadium no?
Marin Kree: Yes, totally. One of the most beautiful stadiums I have ever played in. We won the first leg in Dortmund 1: 0 and also won the return game in Manchester 1: 0.
As a player you have a certain respect when you play in England the motherland of football. In Germany the spectators are separated with a fence from the football pitch. This is not the case in England. If you foul a player then the spectators suddenly all jump up and start shouting you think you are going to get hit or something but I’ve actually never seen a fairer audience than those in Manchester. I say this not only because you come from England but the spectators in England are great, we were clapped out of the ground after defeating the home team. Something quite extraordinary. I do not believe that this could happen in Germany – These are memories which are still very close even after 20 years – By the way wonderful for Man U winning the Europa league and for ex-Borussia player Henrik Mkhitaryan that he can celebrate such success only one year after joining the club.
Ben: hearing this makes me very proud as an English football fan. I admire German football but I know fairness is an attribute which is recognized in the English game and it’s great to hear that, although I am not a Man U fan I too am happy for Manchester especially after what happened this past week. l would like to ask you about that win in the Intercontinental cup ’97 in Tokyo. I recently talked to Paul Lambert, the Scottish midfielder who was on team with you at BVB, now coach at Wolverhampton Wanderers, who shared fond memories of that match in Tokyo but what are you recollections? How was that for you? I remembered that I was sick in my bed at the time and I watched the game from my bed in the early hours of the morning and celebrated with you.
Martin Kree: Yes, Paul Lambert and send greetings from me when you speak to him, okay well that game was special because we won beating the South American champions and in Japan but somehow this is an artificial cup for me.
Ben: The Toyota Cup.
Martin Kree: Yes exactly. You know it’s very tight the whole experience, we flew a day before, so we did not notice the jet lag and the change of time and it all went very quickly we played and flew back the next day not even time to celebrate properly. Of course, we were happy to win this trophy but it is such an artificial cup. The Champions league or Europaleague is something tangible. You know the Toyota cup or Intercontinental cup does not really matter to me, because I do not consider it an important trophy so it has not left a really a lasting memory. I would rather recall the many great games in the Champions league for example our matches in the quarterfinal against Auxerre, a good French that was a really tough match than that game in Tokyo but yes it was great to win.
Ben: I have always been somehow fascinated by Japan and this cup, but thank you for the insights I can recognize that one can’t even begin to compare this with the Champions league or the Bundesliga title or even the German cup DFB Pokal. I have to really thank you Martin Kree for the amazing chat today!
Martin Kree: Thank you, Ben.