Borussia Dortmund have won 15 major trophies throughout their history: the Club World Cup, the Champions League, the European Cup Winners' Cup, eight Bundesliga titles and four DFB Cups. Probably the most important of the lot was claimed 30 years ago today, on 24 June 1989, when the Black & Yellows brought an end to a trophy drought stretching back over 20 years and gave their loyal supporters reason to be proud once more. It was a title that would pave the way for numerous others to follow.
The final of the 1989 DFB Cup, which took place on 24 June, pitted the 1966 European Cup Winners' Cup winners Borussia Dortmund against the 1988 German champions Werder Bremen; the former a club steeped in tradition, the latter a club oozing tradition and success in equal measure. Not only were the Black & Yellows outsiders in a sporting sense, but – in the eyes of the Berlin public – they were no longer the hip club they had been. So to get the neutrals in the stadium on their side, BVB went on a charm offensive.
A delegation spearheaded by treasurer Werner Wirsing and Fritz Lünschermann – who at that stage acted as both the club's media officer and marketing director – and containing a handful of employees, friends and former title-winning players headed for the capital a week before the final. Each day in the lead-up, the bus of the Dortmund-based brewery Union-Brauerei – whose first master brewer was a certain Mr. Fritz Brinkhoff – rolled up at prominent locations across the western half of a city that was still divided in two. Badges, stickers and small flags were distributed, as were newspapers with a "greeting from Dortmund" in the form of a beer holder.
On the eve of the final, a youth team of Hertha Zehlendorf players gathered in front of the Werder Bremen team hotel – decked out, of course, in yellow and black jerseys. Werder boss Willi Lemke was not amused by the stunt, sending his players into the foyer via a side entrance and angrily criticising the "material war that Dortmund are waging".
The fact that bananas are yellow, and at the time there was a more or less official partnership with "Chiquita", suited the club down to the ground. Huge inflatable bananas were manufactured for swimmers to take with them to the pool or the beach, and the Dortmund fan scene quickly took to the inflatables. On the day of the final, and in the days leading up to it, thousands of such bananas were handed out. The BVB delegation had quickly managed to get their hands on an air compressor for that very purpose.
But while Berlin was decked out in yellow, head coach Horst Köppel had entirely different worries on his mind. Three of his key players – Thomas Helmer, Murdo MacLeod and Norbert Dickel – were not fit, with the latter having only undergone major knee surgery six and a half weeks earlier. Only on the eve of the final did the striker return to team training. His goal? To somehow get into the matchday squad...
Norbert Dickel: As a footballer, finals don't come around all that often. I felt pretty good, even if shooting with my instep was awfully painful. Of course, I made sure not to tell anyone. I couldn't expect to be playing from the start, even though I had been hoping I would. At least by being included in the squad, I had reached my first goal. When we arrived in Berlin, it initially looked as though we would line up with an additional defender in Bernd Storck.
Horst Köppel was leaning towards a cautious tactical approach. As underdogs, he wanted to shore up the defence against a Bremen team boasting the likes of Reck, Schaaf, Bratseth, Votava, Eilts and Riedle.
Horst Köppel: I was leaning towards not putting Nobby in the starting XI. There is a certain element of risk involved when you start with three injured players. But that's what we did in the end – and as we now know with the benefit of hindsight, we got it all spot on.
It was Gerd Niebaum who persuaded the coach – or at least made him feel it was the right choice – to take the riskier approach of starting with Helmer, MacLeod and Dickel, even though only two substitutes were allowed in those days. On the eve of the final, after dinner, the two sat down together. "Listen Gerd, this is how we'll start," said the coach. But Niebaum was not convinced...
Köppel: Gerd certainly wasn't an football expert, but he was our president, I got on with him splendidly and, I have to say, his instincts were usually right. MacLeod and Helmer were important defensive pillars for us. Murdo was a true Scot, who really cleaned everything up. And Thomas was in outstanding form. As for Nobby, there was a chance he'd be able to play all the way through, but at most – at the very most – it was 50-50. For the others it was perhaps 70-30. But Niebaum said: Let him play. His conviction impressed me. And so ultimately that's what happened. And it worked! It was fortunate for Nobby. It was fortunate for me, and it was even more fortunate for the team and the club.
In the afternoon, the team boarded the bus to the Olympiastadion. Berlin was a sea of black and yellow.
Dickel: We could only see our supporters. 40,000 were in the stadium. Black and yellow everywhere. It really moved me. I was fighting back tears. What kind of sacrifices had the fans made to see our match, to give us their support?
The opening stages went largely as the pundits expected them to and as the Dortmund fans feared they might: Werder Bremen opened the scoring through Kalle Riedle on the 15-minute mark, but the underdogs hit back soon with Norbert Dickel grabbing an all-important equaliser six minutes later.
Dickel: We were underdogs. But we wanted to win the thing. Whatever it took. Riedle scored a goal like the one van Basten had scored in the international between the Netherlands and Germany a week earlier. "What a bummer!", we thought. But nobody wanted to throw in the towel. Suddenly Frank Mill broke through down the left flank and centred the ball. Rune Bratseth somehow got caught out and couldn't get to the ball. He would have normally dealt with that kind of situation easily. And suddenly I was one-on-one with Oliver Reck and I slotted home – 1-1. That served as a real catalyst for us. It was at that moment we felt: they are vulnerable, after all. The game was open from that point onwards. We got better with each passing minute.
Karl-Heinz Riedle: We had a bad day at the office. I have hardly any memories of that match, because I'm not a big fan of thinking about the games I lost. But I know that Dortmund's victory was deserved. They punished our mistakes.
Köppel: For me, it was important for us to equalise quickly. If we had been 1-0 down for longer, we would've had to play more offensively and put ourselves at a greater risk of conceding another goal. Had we been 2-0 behind, the match would've been over.
What followed were two key incidents involving Frank Mill, who first made a last-ditch clearance to stop Kalle Riedle from making it 2-1 to Bremen and then headed home at the other end.
Frank Mill: Bremen had the chance to go 2-1 ahead, and then we would've had to open up and they would've been able to hit us on the counter. At that moment, the game could've gone in the complete opposite direction. Directly after that came the passage of play that led to our second: Oli Reck could only watch as the ball sailed past him.
Dickel: The circumstances had completely changed. Now Bremen had to attack us. And do so in scorching heat. We were able to pace ourselves better, played on the counter and caused them problems.
That spell lasted 15 minutes, with almost all of the neutrals among the 76,500 spectators in the Olympiastadion by now cheering for the outsiders from the Ruhr region, while the millions of spectators watching on television wondered what turn the game would take next. Would Werder turn it around? Or would BVB score a third, potentially decisive goal? Dortmund countered and Mill was presented with a chance to beat Bremen keeper Reck, who made a strong save with his foot. But Mill was first to the loose ball and crossed it into Dickel's path...
Mill: At the moment the ball rebounded back, I saw that there was a yellow shirt over the other side. And then he obviously hit it well, it was a one in a hundred attempt. What a great goal it was.
That goal was the clincher. The fourth and final goal followed 159 seconds later, with Michael Lusch the scorer. Ever since that day, 24 June 1989, Norbert Dickel has and always will be the "Hero of Berlin". But the match-winner was Frank Mill, who scored a goal, set up two more and made a goal-line clearance. "I'm happy that after 30 years someone finally mentions that," he said, laughing. That 54th-minute clearance would crucially shape the club's history.
Mill: Had Werder Bremen scored, they could've played on the counter-attack. Which would've been an advantage on that hot afternoon. And we didn't have as many experienced players as Bremen.
Here we are entering into the realms of the hypothetical. But had Kalle Riedle scored his second goal and established a 2-1 lead for Werder Bremen, there may well have been no European final against Juventus eight years later in which two Riedle goals sealed Borussia Dortmund's biggest-ever victory...
Riedle: 89 was the springboard. I completely agree with that. If that hadn't happened, perhaps other, subsequent events wouldn't have occurred at all.
A year later, Mill and Riedle would be part of the Germany squad that won the World Cup in Italy. By 1993/94, they were both playing together for BVB. But prior to the Bundesliga titles of 1995 and 1996, and the Champions League triumph of 1997, Mill left the club. The '89 DFB Cup success would remain the only domestic title of a career in which he scored 151 goals in 415 appearances for Gladbach and Dortmund. "I twice missed out on the league on goal difference: 1984 with Gladbach, 1992 with Dortmund."
But back to the 24 June 1989. There were prolonged celebrations as the cup was repeatedly filled with champagne. At the subsequent dinner, Herbert Sandman, a defender in the '56 and '57 title-winning teams, handed over his ring of honour to Michael Zorc, saying: "You take it, it'll be in the best-possible hands with you. You're Borussia's future." It was a Black & Yellow accolade of the highest order for the captain of the '89 team – a side that would usher in a successful sporting future for the club.
The celebrations left more of a mark than the battle on the pitch. And the return flight to Dortmund the next morning was anything other than pleasant.
Dickel: Back then, you were only allowed to fly over the GDR at a height of 1,000 metres. That made it a very bumpy ride in that little aircraft. Given the not insignificant amount of alcohol that had been consumed, one or two of the lads got sick – as did the guys they were sitting next to. It was gruesome. But by the time we were approaching Dortmund, we'd all calmed each other down again. The pilot informed us the whole city was out and that there'd be no room to move around the airport. The final 15 minutes seemed to take three days. I wanted to see what was happening in Dortmund. And on the approach, when the crowds of people became visible, I thought: "What's happening down there?" We wanted to take the bus to the Borsigplatz. Two hours were set aside for that, but it took four and a half. None of us will ever forget that journey. The whole of Dortmund was going crazy.
Between 250,000 and 400,000 people, depending on the reports you read, were waiting to welcome the German cup winners back to their home city. When the airport doors slid open, the Wickeder Chaussee was full of people. There was no way through. The victory parade to the town hall lasted five hours. The bus that was carrying the heroes of Berlin did not have a toilet on board. To the amusement of the bystanders, the players had to nip out into a bush to relieve themselves of all the drink that they had consumed.
Not only Dortmund was going crazy; Norbert Dickel's right knee was too. It would never truly return to normal. And it still hurts the Hero of Berlin to this day, 30 years after that fateful final.
Dickel: Every day I hoped: "Tomorrow it'll be better." But by 15 December 1989, I had only managed to make six more appearances because the knee kept on swelling up and because I could no longer shoot or play with the inside of my foot. A long-term therapy that would last nine months was my last hope. Every day I travelled to Düsseldorf or wherever else I needed to go. At some point, either in August or September 1990, came the news: "We won't manage to repair the knee."
However, it remains a myth that he sacrificed his career in order to take part in the final. The joint could still carry him through a game. 77 minutes for eternity. Nothing more, nothing less.
Dickel: I don't believe that this match had an especially strong impact. Perhaps I would have been able to extend my playing career by three more months. I did everything right that day in Berlin. If I hadn't been involved, I wouldn't be working at the headquarters of Borussia Dortmund still today. My knee is gone, but my life has panned out pretty well.
But it was not only his life that changed for the better on 24 June 1989; so did the life of an entire club with its hundreds of thousands, and now millions, of supporters. That mood of euphoria, which Gerd Niebaum channelled and - together with Michael Meier - used to guide BVB to four major titles from December 1989, ushered in the second golden era in the club's history. Without that cup triumph in 1989, finishing runners-up in 1992 and reaching the 1993 UEFA Cup final would have almost been inconceivable. As would the 1995 and 1996 Bundesliga titles and the 1997 UEFA Champions League and Club World Cup triumphs.
Everything starts somewhere. And that new beginning was initiated by the heroes of Berlin: Wolfgang de Beer, Günter Kutowski, Thomas Helmer, Günter Breitzke, Michael Zorc, Andreas Möller, Murdo MacLeod, Thomas Kroth, Norbert Dickel, Michael Rummenigge, Frank Mill, Bernd Storck, Michael Lusch and their coach Horst Köppel.
"The feeling of euphoria was back," explained the coach, "it was all upwards from there, though unfortunately not with me at the helm for long. I was already a bit worn out by that point. So for me it was fair enough that my contract wasn't extended. I wasn't mad back then. To this day I still have friends in, and good memories of, Dortmund." He was replaced by Ottmar Hitzfeld in the summer of 1991. And thus begun another golden era for BVB.
Author: Boris Rupert / Photos: imago images