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Holiday instead of party

Full of joie de vivre! Sepp Maier turns 70

A 70th birthday party? No thanks. “Why would I want to celebrate in February? You can’t even go to a beer garden!” Actually, it might have been possible this year. Nevertheless, Sepp Maier decided against it. “We wanted to put on a big party. But he told us in his inimitable manner that he’d rather go on holiday and celebrate his birthday in peace and quiet,” revealed Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, who congratulated the Bayern legend (473 Bundesliga appearances) on his 70th birthday on behalf of the club: “Sepp was an extraordinary character at Bayern Munich. I had the great fortune to play alongside him.”

Josef Dieter Maier, Germany’s number one keeper of the 20th century, knew how to delight his public - as a player and as an entertainer. For example, when he used to crawl under the tables at post-match banquets to tie his team-mates’ shoe laces together to “demonstrate the common bond in the squad”. When he used to hide rabbits in the team doctor’s medical bag or when he dived round the penalty area during games pretending to burst balloons or chase after ducks.

“I’m more of a situational comic,” explained the “Karl Valentin of football” in an interview with, “people should laugh. That’s all I want. My face reflects the happy life I’ve led up to now and the fact I was always a positive human being.” Maier is now 70 - but the “Cat from Anzing” has not lost any of his “huge joie de vivre”.

Sepp laughs and jokes. And he tells stories from his exciting past as if they had only happened the day before. As strange as it may sound: the trained fitter did not always play in goal. He started his epic career as a right winger at  TSV Haar where he even ended up as top goalscorer. His coach back then put him in goal as a stop gap. His team lost 12-0 - Maier impressed despite the result and he made the leap up to the Upper Bavaria youth team.

Maier was left speechless when the coach put him in goal. “Mr Weiß, I’m a striker and not a keeper. I haven’t even got goalie’s kit with me,” recalled Maier. Fortunately, that did not prevent his appearance between the sticks. “We won 3-1 and I saved two penalties - and I never repeated that feat again.”

Maier joined Bayern in 1958 at the age of 15. He earned his first pro contract in 1962 and he took over from Fritz Kosar as the regular keeper in 1963. The side built around the backbone of Sepp Maier, Franz Beckenbauer and Gerd Müller won everything there was to win in the next few years (see honours list). “I’m proud to have belonged to the generation that laid the foundations for what Bayern are today: a top club on the domestic and international stage,” said Maier.

Incredibly enough, the goalkeeping legend played 442 Bundesliga games on the trot between 1966 and 1979 - an all-time record. Was that down to a special diet  for athletes? “The night before a game we used to eat roast pork washed down with a wheat beer,” remembers Maier, “that gorilla [Bulle] Roth always used to eat three pieces of cake before a game - and it did him no harm.” Unthinkable in today’s game.

Maier hung up his boots in 1979 when his career came to a sudden end. Seriously injured in a car crash, he narrowly escaped with his life thanks to the presence of mind of his mate Uli Hoeneß who had him moved to another hospital for emergency surgery. “Another couple of hours and it would have been curtains for me. I wouldn’t be here now. I’d have been six feet under for the last 35 years,” explained Maier, thanking his ‘saviour’ Hoeneß.

Maier went on to achieve great things as a goalkeeping coach. When Hoeneß called him up in 1994 to tell him he had “bought a precious stone from Karlsruhe. Sepp, turn him into a diamond,” he did not hesitate for long. He formed an inseparable and successful partnership with Oliver Kahn up to 2008 . The two of them occasionally meet up on the golf course these days - Maier’s favourite activity alongside hiking (“You have peace and quiet and you get the chance to see how beautiful the world is.”).

The 70-year-old is seldom visits the Allianz Arena. He is happy to avoid the hustle and bustle on matchdays. Instead, he enjoys every game from the comfort of his sofa. “I think it’s great. It’s fun to watch. They play brilliant football,” said Maier, “our team back then would let in ten against the current line-up.” He laughs impishly, allows himself a pinch of snuff - and radiates happiness and satisfaction.

The FC Bayern Erlebniswelt is honouring Sepp Maier on his 70th birthday with a special exhibition. “I can heartily recommend fans to go and see it,” said Karl-Heinz Rummenigge. From Sunday 16 March 2014, visitors to Germany’s biggest club museum can immerse themselves in the life and times of the goalkeeping legend in the adjoining events room. Exciting personal and sporting stories about the “Cat from Anzing” await - recounted by Sepp Maier himself in a multi-media format that captures the emotion of the shot-stopper’s life. 

Admission to the special exhibition is free to FC Bayern Erlebniswelt visitors.