And so, on Saturday, the emotions of that day, 11 years ago now, came to my mind as the Bundesliga teams took to the pitch for the final match-day of an unforgettable season. I started my rounds in Munich, as players and staff members who had become part of the furniture bid adieu.
And before I knew it, the waterworks started.
First, I thought it was just me. And then Jerome Boateng began to cry as he was substituted.
Got Me In My Feelings.— Jérôme Boateng (@JeromeBoateng) May 22, 2021
Forever Proud And Grateful ❤️ pic.twitter.com/4tBg9UK3MH
Then, David Alaba came off. Javi Martinez came on.
And finally, with one minute of the season left, Robert Lewandowski did the unthinkable and broke Gerd Müller’s record of 40 goals in a single Bundesliga campaign, a record that stood for nearly 50 years.
But you knew that.
What you perhaps didn’t know was that Arminia Bielefeld’s captain, as Bayern’s campaign was winding down, was sitting on the sidelines biting his nails in Stuttgart. They had a tough assignment; 0-2 up, they had to see the match out. Before the final whistle went, Klos, who puts everything into every game was in tears. And after the game, there was nobody more depleted than him as Bielefeld survived the drop.
Bielefeld, being away from home, could not enjoy the moment with their fans; Werder Bremen could have — if they had survived.
As the consequences of losing 2-4 to Borussia Mönchengladbach began to draw on Bremen and the result from Köln filtered in, relegation became more inevitable by the second. After the final whistle, despite the presence of Bremen staff in the stands, there was an eerie, deafening silence, silence that I would never expect in the Weserstadion. A face I am all too familiar with, Thomas Schaaf, was on the sidelines. The very figure who had overseen a double in 2004 for Bremen would be the manager overseeing relegation.
Only when their long-serving player and vice-captain, Theodor Gebre Selassie went up to the crowd did the silence break; there was applause for the shift he had put in. Nobody foresaw this after the first half of the season; however, the last nine league games under Florian Kohfeldt had yielded just one point and defeat against Gladbach was inevitable.
If there was silence in Bremen, there was jubilation in Köln; a late winner would guarantee them a place in the relegation play-off against a depleted Holstein Kiel; Kiel, who looked set for promotion endured a lengthy COVID-19 break; that led to a rush of fixtures and Kiel fell away, eventually finishing in third after giving it all away in a defeat to Darmstadt on Sunday.
If Schalke, Bremen and Köln all go down, the Bundesliga will lose three historic sides with a smaller Ruhr club in VfL Bochum, a Bavarian underdog in Greuther Fürth and possibly, the team that knocked Bayern out of the Pokal, Holstein Kiel, taking their place.
Nobody quite felt Koln’s survival (for now) like their hero (who played striker from time to time under Friedhelm Funkel this season) Jonas Hector:
Jonas Hector appreciation tweet. pic.twitter.com/RUPmjeVkcb— 1. FC Cologne (@fckoeln_en) May 22, 2021
Speaking of heroes, Borussia Dortmund said goodbye to Lukasz Piszczek in yet another brilliant win for them; the Pole’s emotions were there for all to see as the banners around the stands celebrated him. There were some banners for the retiring Sven Bender. The two players captained their sides as Manuel Gräfe tossed his coin up in the air one last time; all three along with Lars Bender would be retiring on the day:
Two lads, 597 Bundesliga appearances pic.twitter.com/nrNDkt9C5h— DFB-POKAL CHAMPIONS 2021 (@BlackYellow) May 23, 2021
There were no such banners in Dortmund for his twin, Lars Bender, but there was an 89th minute penalty that was the best way to send him off:
Lars Bender announced he would be retiring this season at just 32 yrs old— International Champions Cup (@IntChampionsCup) May 23, 2021
In the 89th minute he was subbed on during Leverkusen vs Dortmund and was given the opportunity to take a penalty
Roman Burki then refused to save it and let Bender score giving him the proper send off pic.twitter.com/V3EOpX52k1
If everyone was crying afterward, Erling Haaland offered a moment of joy by taking over refereeing duties after the final whistle:
The jersey swap of dreams pic.twitter.com/a8OQtF5HwA— DFB-POKAL CHAMPIONS 2021 (@BlackYellow) May 23, 2021
And yet, that wasn’t the end of the drama; the lesser known team from Berlin, everyone’s beloved Union Berlin, scored a late winner to secure qualification for the newly formed Conference League.
And Union fans let their team know how much they loved their team:
Perhaps one of the moments I will remember the most is the referee’s final touches in Bayern’s match against Augsburg. Markus Schmidt, who was also retiring, took out his magic spray and drew a heart on the grass; fans applauded him and his contributions to the game.
All around the grounds, the best of the Bundesliga was represented. There were tears and appreciation for players leaving, jubilant celebrations for teams which survived the drop, and as usual, plenty of goals.
At the end of a strange season, I was left in tatters; the Bayern Munich that will take the pitch next season will look very different from the one I have known for years. David Alaba, Jerome Boateng, Javier Martinez all made their debuts during my time as a Bayern fan; they are gone. I read stories about Hermann Gerland keeping Bastian Schweinsteiger at bay during his youth; now, Gerland is gone. I watched Miro Klose star for Germany in four World Cups, play for Bremen and eventually Bayern as well as coach Bayern as an assistant; he has also left the club. Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, who is synonymous with FC Bayern, has stepped down as chairman.
As Bayern will change, so will the rest of the Bundesliga; I remember watching VfL Bochum getting relegated in the 2009-10 season and now they are back in the Bundesliga. Kiel might come up; I have never seen Kiel in the Bundesliga.
I wonder whether I will adjust to the changes or whether I will look back to this season constantly for a reminder of what the past was like.
What are some of your reflections from the Bundesliga’s final fixtures of the season? Let us know your thoughts and, as always, thank you for reading!