Willi O. Hoffmann: A proud Bavarian

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On 31 May 1980, the sky shone in white and blue - Bavarian, one would say - and even before FC Bayern’s 2-1 win against Eintracht Braunschweig, brass band music and shoe-slapping created a great atmosphere at the Olympiastadion. The team including Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Paul Breitner, put together by young general manager Uli Hoeneß, celebrated its first Bundesliga title in six years - and the first trophy since the 1976 European Cup. The fans squatted in the stands in traditional dress - they had responded to the president's call with their outfits. Willi O. Hoffmann had wanted this special day to be celebrated “in the Bavarian way”. And even the sky played along in Bavarian state colours.

Uli Hoeneß (r.) became general manager at Bayern under president Willi O. Hoffmann.

Hoffmann was a member of the club’s management for 27 years, first as secretary and treasurer, then as president from 1979 to 1985, and later as a member of the supervisory board. His nickname ‘Champagne Willi’ has long since become legendary. He passed away today. “The Bayern family mourns the loss of Willi O. Hoffmann, who more than earned his place in the history of FC Bayern,” said current president Herbert Hainer. “He laid the foundation for FC Bayern to become one of the most successful clubs in the world during what was then a difficult phase for the club.” Hoeneß, who started as general manager under Hoffmann and later also became president, added: “In Willi O. Hoffmann we are losing a person who always carried FC Bayern in his heart. He always approached all tasks positively and made an important contribution to the development of FC Bayern with his optimism.”

First stadium visit in 1938

The ‘O’ is a kind of royal reminiscence. Hoffmann's middle name was Otto. His parents baptised their son in reference to the Bavarian prince who once became King of Greece. Growing up in the Munich district of Sendling, as the son of a toolmaker, he was first taken to the FC Bayern stadium by his dad in 1938 - from then on he was a Red. Today he is listed as one of Sendling's famous sons, alongside the journalist Siegfried Sommer, who explored Munich as a walker, the pop singer Patrick Lindner and the Munich icon Uschi Obermaier. No wonder he wanted people in traditional costume back then, when there was finally something to celebrate again. 

Willi O. Hoffmann was Bavarian through and through and liked to celebrate with his FC Bayern. Back then that meant a hearty drink from the cup just won.

Hoeneß: "A great feeling for people"

Even as a boy, Hoffmann argued with his classmates who were fans of TSV 1860, because his father once covered for his work colleague in the tool factory when he went off to train with FC Bayern at lunchtime. Hoffmann Sr. helped to distract the gatekeeper at the factory gate at 5 p.m. to stamp the stamp card of the runaway. It was Josef Lechler, who was in goal for Bayern when they won their first championship in 1932. Always find a way, maybe he got that from his father, says Hoeneß about this anecdote. In any case, Hoffmann was like that when he joined FC Bayern as secretary in 1958. As treasurer, he was also responsible for the club's rise from a shaky Oberliga team to a top European club, and when Wilhelm Neudecker and the team fell out in 1979, he took over as president. “He became president at a time when things were turbulent; there was real chaos at FC Bayern. But Hoffmann was always popular with the players, he had a great feeling for people,” said Hoeneß, “He managed to calm the team down - and then to bring a new line into the club overall.”

Two league and cup titles as president

At the time, Hoeneß was on his way from player to general manager, and it had already been agreed with Neudecker that he would pull the strings at Säbener Straße in future. Hoffmann would not have to abide by this agreement, but he made two landmark decisions: Hoeneß was to explore new avenues as general manager, Breitner was to ensure sporting success on the pitch with Rummenigge. The plan worked. By the time he handed over to Fritz Scherer in 1985, FC Bayern had won the Bundesliga and DFB Cups twice each and reached the final of the European Cup in 1982, which they lost to Aston Villa. How did Hoffmann react to this unexpected defeat? Hoeneß: “Obviously it was a shock for all of us. But Willi is a guy who never despairs. He said, ‘It goes on’.”

Hoffmann got on with every player. It saw him symbolically hand over his hat to Karl-Heinz Rummenigge when he left Bayern as a player.

Hoffmann contributed to the further development of FC Bayern with many ideas. Under his leadership, the first youth centre was built and the first artificial turf was laid. Together with Hoeneß, he introduced the idea that players should regularly appear in traditional Bavarian dress. He himself led the way as a proud Bavarian. King Otto sends his regards - except that he is not wearing a crown, but a chamois hat that became his trademark. To this day, the item can be seen in the FC Bayern Museum. Hoffmann's motto was ‘With a happy team to the top in Europe!’ He could call the players together after an away victory: “Let your wives know that when we've landed, we're going straight to the Käfer to celebrate!" And everyone was only too happy to follow the call from ‘Champagne Willi’. Hoeneß recalls: “Such actions would be unthinkable today.“

A good four decades on, it’s also hard to believe the story of how Bayern once boarded the plane of a Dutch budget airline after a European Cup match in Belgrade, which was half made of wood and was supposed to take off in snow and ice - but did not have the necessary fuel. Hoeneß claps his hands over his head at the memory. Bayern then did a whip-round among all the passengers for fuel money. Only then could the plane take off. That’s how it was back then, under president Willi O. Hoffmann - you had to have courage, find creative solutions and maintain optimism. That's how FC Bayern made its steep climb to the top. Sometimes you don't have to be a king to make history. Sometimes a simple "O" is enough of a sensation.