How did FC Bayern experience the September 11 terror attacks?

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On 11 September 2001, the attacks in New York shocked people around the globe. How did FC Bayern experience this event 20 years ago? In the end, there's a historic, central message that is still valid today - and will be forever.

It was one of the most moving moments in the history of FC Bayern, and it took place away from the football pitches of this world, and right in the heart of society. Five years ago, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and a delegation from the German record champions laid a wreath in club colours at the 9/11 Memorial (now One World Trade Center) in New York to commemorate the approximately 3,000 victims of the attacks of 11 September 2001. No one will ever forget the horrors that took place exactly 20 years ago at this site, which is now also known as Ground Zero. And no one will ever forget where they were on that day. FC Bayern were en route to Rotterdam for a Champions League group stage match at the time. "We got on the plane in Munich and everything was just like it always was," recalls Giovane Élber. "When we landed, our world was a different one."

On the morning of 11 September 2001, Oliver Kahn, Hasan Salihamidžić, Élber, Claudio Pizarro, coach Ottmar Hitzfeld, manager Uli Hoeneß and the entire Bayern squad went through the security checks at Munich Airport for the last time in the relaxed manner that was customary back then. Life was: normal. The players' thoughts revolved around their task against the long-established Dutch club. But after landing, normality became a thing of the past.

Uli Hoeneß' mobile phone vibrated - a message from an acquaintance that a plane had flown into the World Trade Center. At first, the then manager and now honorary president thought: Well, an accident, probably a small sports plane. But when he heard that a second plane had been flown into the second tower, he was alarmed. The news from New York was running on the TV screens in Rotterdam, but without sound. On the team bus on the way to the hotel, people were phoning home to find out more. By then, football had long since become very insignificant. The game the next day? No longer an issue. "Our thoughts were with the people in New York," says Élber.


Illustrations: Xiao Hua Yang.

Hours of uncertainty followed - worldwide and also in the world of FC Bayern. Some of the players sat alone in their rooms, watching the news on TV and talking to their families on the phone, others followed the unfolding events together. In a moment like that, you move closer together, because in a situation like that you don't want to have to wait alone to see what might happen next. Hitzfeld tried to find the right words. It was a dark day for the whole world, he told his players.

Football takes a back seat

While the coach and the players were processing the events together, the management, led by Uli Hoeneß had to deal with fundamental questions of the upcoming procedures. UEFA hesitated for a long time - too long - with the decision to cancel the matchday out of respect. "It was clear to all of us that you shouldn't play football in a situation like this," says Hoeneß: "The way those two towers collapsed like a house of cards - no-one could have imagined that beforehand. It was just terrible." And so there was great relief when the Wednesday matches were finally cancelled. No-one could have thought of football in those hours.

But until the final decision was made, Bayern had to continue preparing according to the normal schedule. The obligatory final training session in the De Kuip stadium took place. Today, Uli Hoeneß can no longer say whether he was at that session as was his wont. Chaos reigned, he says, in the whole world as well as in people's heads. The manager couldn't sleep all night, "I was watching CNN", and when they were all sitting together at the breakfast table in the morning, "we were focused on the next steps. Sport had absolutely taken a back seat; it was now all about our responsibility for the people and getting home safely." European airspace was cleared for just a few aircraft that day, and the Bavarians were allowed to return to Munich.

Life goes on


At home, of course, the questions about the consequences of the events in New York continued to circulate. The upcoming matchday in the Bundesliga was fast approaching and there were controversial debates: Should football be played in German stadiums or not? How quickly can you return to normality after certain incidents? Hoeneß followed the discussions from close quarters and remains ambivalent to this day: Suspending play would certainly have been a good option, but in the end the decision-makers were probably convinced that life had to go on. But: "Not continuing would basically not have been logical either."

If Giovane Élber had had his way, there would not have been a match on the weekend following 11 September. However, the Brazilian says he also understands the other line of argument: "Many people said we can't just stop living our lives now. Maybe they were right, but I was against it at the time." Nevertheless, he was then in the side against SC Freiburg in Munich's Olympiastadion "But my head wasn't in the game that day," Élber recalls.

And yet it was the Brazilian who scored the decisive goal, as he so often did: For 89 minutes the game had passed him by, then he found himself in the right position on the edge of the penalty area and slotted the ball home to win the match. Élber was known for his emotional goal celebrations, but on that day, there was no emotion in him, only sadness and the thought of all the suffering of the last few days. "I wasn't thinking about the goal or the three points. That was all very distant for me." And so he, the joker, formed a dove of peace with his hands - a gesture that you initially had to look at closely, it was at first so small, and yet in the end so wonderfully large. Even in his home country of Brazil, it was reproduced in the newspapers for days afterwards, and the peace symbol made its way around the world.


Serious observer

Sitting in the dugout at the time, Uli Hoeneß thought to himself: "Hats off, I wouldn't have thought of that idea! Giovane did complete justice to the situation in that very special moment. He's usually always up for a laugh - but that's often the way it is with humorous guys: they're the most serious observers and have a special intuition for people and what moves them."

The idea was a spontaneous one, Élber says today, 20 years later. "I hadn't thought about it beforehand because I didn't want to play and I hadn't thought about scoring a goal. And how can you celebrate when you know you can't enjoy it anyway?" As his teammates ran up to celebrate with him, they asked him what the gesture was meant to express. "I told them it was meant to be a dove. That we need peace." That was also one of the most moving moments in the history of FC Bayern back then, in the middle of the football pitch, with a message going right to the heart of society.

On Open Monument Day on Sunday, visitors will be given free access to the Kurt Landauer memorial at Säbener Straße:

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