If there is one team that can come back from the brink of death, it’s Werder Bremen. The River Islanders have shown that they can turn around incredible deficits from their away fixtures into wins at home in the Weserstadion.
One of those occasions was 11 October 1988. Five weeks earlier, the Green and Whites had made the trip to East Germany to face BFC Dynamo. Werder’s players were given the full-on East German treatment.
At the border, the team bus was searched by government officials. Later, after the club had arrived at the hotel, the Stasi stood ready at the other side of the road, watching the players’ every movement with binoculars.
Most East Germans disliked Dynamo, however, as the club was a Stasi team and Erich Mielke’s pet project. So if Werder had won the fixture at the Jahn Sportpark, it would have sent waves of joy through much of the GDR.
However, the Green and Whites had a particularly bad day, as Mirko Votava missed a sitter early on before BFC kicked into overdrive. Thomas Doll, Andreas Thom and Frank Pastor scored the goals for the East Germans, leaving Werder with a massive 3-0 deficit to overturn at the Weserstadion.
In the stands, Werder manager Willi Lemke was shocked, as he sat next to Werder honorary member and former German chancellor Willy Brandt. Both couldn’t believe how poorly the team was performing that night. During the drive home, the entire team bus was silent – nobody was in the mood for fun and games.
On a side note, it should be pointed out that Werder would have faced a deficit going into the return match even if the club had won the first-leg on the pitch. That’s because Werder manager Willi Lemke had forgotten to secure a playing license for Vegard Skogheim, meaning that Uefa would have awarded BFC a win if the East German club had handed in a complaint.
A warm welcome for the comrades from the East
The rotten treatment the Green and Whites received during their foray into East Germany was seemingly forgotten when BFC arrived in Bremen. Willi Lemke had made sure that BFC were stationed at the upmarket Park Hotel.
Furthermore, the Werder manager had even arranged a shopping trip for the BFC squad. The East German players could shop all they liked, enjoying all the luxuries West Germany had to offer. Some might think that Lemke’s left-leaning politics meant that he wanted to do something nice for a club arriving from a communist state. That wasn’t the case, though.
First of all, Willi Lemke wasn’t a communist. But even more importantly, he used all the tricks he could to secure himself and his team every possible advantage. Said shopping trip ended at around 1900 CET on the day of the game. The match commenced just one hour later.
“They were shitting their pants”
Only 20,000 people had made their way to the Weserstadion that night. Most fans weren’t expecting a miracle. And in their dressing room before the game, the Dynamo players were still flying high after consuming all the great things they couldn’t get on the other side of the border.
They were rudely awakened by a knock on a door and Werder striker Manni Burgsmüller yelling:
“Get out you cowards – it’ll get nasty.”
Midfielder Günter Herrmann told their East German counterparts that BFC were in for a tough ride. “We’ll put five past you today”, he told the BFC players. And as it turned out, Herrmann was right.
According to Burgsmüller, Dynamo’s players showed fear from the get go. Werder could do whatever they like with the ball, reportedly creating chance after chance. It took a full 22 minutes before the Green and Whites scored, though. Michael Kutzop slotted home a penalty after Rune Bratseth had been brought down in the box.
The onslaught continued, but somehow Werder didn’t manage to score again before the break. But two quick goals around the hour mark by Günter Hermann and Karl-Heinz Riedle then equalled the three goals Dynamo had scored in the first leg.
Manfred Burgsmüller had already had his chances during the match, and he finally got his goal with a flying header in the 80th minute. The spectators in the Weserstadion brought roof the down.
There was no holding back at that point, although there were still 10 minutes to get through. And a single goal for Dynamo would have meant that Werder’s incredible comeback wouldn’t have been rewarded with a place in the next round.
But at the end of those ten nervous minutes it was Werder-legend-in-the-making Thomas Schaaf who brought the score to an incredible 5-0 just before the final whistle.
Otto Rehhagel almost lost for words
After the final whistle, Werder coach Otto Rehhagel was surprised by his players’ performance. In the dressing he told his squad:
“This was a great game, but keep in mind that the next opponent awaits on the weekend.”
When the press asked him for an explanation, he could only muster an answer including lines from a German hit by Katja Ebstein. Rehhagel simply quoted her lines, saying:
“Miracles do happen from time to time, today or tomorrow they could happen again.”
He then added, “today was such a day”.
His counterpart Jürgen Bogs simply stated that his team had a “shit” day, while Thomas Doll only remembers the drive back as one of his worst experiences ever. “We simply shat our pants”, Doll would later say.
The Stasi didn’t take too kindly to the loss, writing either, in a secret document:
“The main reason for the defeat was down to the fact that BFC’s team wasn’t ideologically and morally ready for the game. The delegation had no functional leadership that could handle all aspects of the trip to Bremen.”
Coach Jürgen Bogs was given a reprimand by the Stasi after his team’s performance.
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