FC Bayern Women, Karin Danner

Karin Danner: The Bayern powerhouse

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After 28 years in charge, Karin Danner is saying goodbye to FC Bayern. No one has shaped women's football at the club as much as the department head. She leaves behind a well-tilled field - a playground for dreams that become reality. FC Bayern members' magazine "Säbener 51" took another look at the past with Danner.

Karin Danner leans against a street sign and lets out a contented sigh. She looks around again and you can tell she's juxtaposing the present and the past in her mind's eye. Where the street sign now stands, there once was a telephone box where she spent a lot of time as a young woman. It's about 400 kilometres from Munich to her home town of Marnheim, and more than 45 years ago, unlike today, loved ones at home were much further away than a video call at the touch of a button or a quick WhatsApp. If someone occupied the box for a longer period of time, constantly pushing in coins, Danner would sometimes drum on the glass and tell them to hang up. "That was the only connection with home," she says, shaking her head a little in disbelief herself: telephone boxes are signs of a very different time. The sign she is leaning against displays a one-way street symbol. It wasn't here back then - but chance has placed it as a signpost for the past as well as the present: Danner has only known one direction her whole life: Forward. To where success lies.

The move to Munich for football at 18 

FC Bayern Women, Karin Danner
Where it all began: "51" accompanied Karin Danner back to her early days in Munich. Photo: Amelie Niederbuchner

It's a Wednesday morning in May and Danner is walking along Konrad-Celtis-Straße in the Munich district of Sendling. At the age of 18, she moved in here with Gustl Hausberger's family, intending to assert herself at FC Bayern - which she more than succeeded in doing, both as a player and, above all, in her second career: as manager or, more specifically, head of department, she made history. The first chapter was written here, at a time when telephone boxes were highly frequented and cars were not yet backed up on the Mittlerer Ring - because it didn't even exist back then. She still thinks back fondly to those days, she says: the Hausbergers quickly became her surrogate family, and she felt just as at home in the room right up under the roof as she did in the city itself, which was not a given for her as a "hillbilly", as she calls herself in retrospect. At home, everyone had warned her about Munich: "Girl, take care, it's quite different there than here!" Whenever she would visit Marnheim, many of them would enquire about her with concern, others with curiosity. "And I wanted to make them all proud."

Someone who never let anything get her down

FC Bayern Women, Karin Danner
From player to visionary: Karin Danner joined FC Bayern in 1977. In 1995 she took on the sporting responsibilities. Photo: Amelie Niederbuchner

Danner became a pioneer as a manager. But while still a player, she battled her way through: Not a problem on the pitch, as she had known, because she had confidence - and also off it, because she had the will to prove herself to everyone. Through Bayern, she got a job at the sporting goods store Sport Scheck, which paid 800 Deutschmarks per month. With a rent of 250 marks, she had to occasionally borrow 20 marks from her teammates ("in three days I'll get my wages, then you'll get it back"), and that's how she managed to make ends meet. A few hundred metres further down the road there was a small bar, "Josys" - there she and her teammates celebrated taking steps forward, minor and major victories, singing Udo Jürgens songs together and thinking about "how we're going to overcome our next opponents". Today, there's a day nursery there, and the "Haarbinchen" hair salon offers extensions, among other things. Danner has to interrupt the photo shoot briefly, her hairstyle is tidied up again - an unruly strand keeps sticking up in the wind. "I'm the devil from the [Rhineland] Palatinate," she says and laughs. She has never let anything get her down. "It was nice how we were in control of our own lives back then." 

They could never get enough football

FC Bayern Women, Karin Danner
Because the training sessions weren't enough for them, the players would meet regularly on the banks of the Isar. Photo: Amelie Niederbuchner

Dark clouds are gathering over the Wittelsbacherbrücke bridge, but on this day, for once, they remain a threatening backdrop. This spring, the Isar is living up to its name of "The Raging One", with the incessant rain causing the water masses to rush spectacularly through the city centre, and yet Danner stomps undaunted through the marshy meadows. She's wearing white trousers, "Stains don't matter," she says - she's drawn to the small recreational pitch in the Isarauen, where they used to play football near the Schyrenbad swimming pool, because the one or two training sessions per week weren't enough for them. "For us there was just football, football, football," she says. Today, wooden goalposts are embedded in the ground; back then, clothes and bags had to serve as boundaries. Danner has arranged to meet Lydia Köhl, who once stood between the sticks in her team and was later her predecessor as manager. Karin can always be relied on, she says - "and she is tenacious like no other. Karin has had to fight all her life. No one else could have achieved what she did." The two of them kick a ball around that Lydia has brought along, then the former teammate wants to make a comparison: "For me, Karin is the Uli Hoeneß of women's football. She reinvented everything - and she's always there for you. Uli Hoeneß and Karin Danner are cut from the same cloth."

"FC Bayern with heart, soul and passion"

FC Bayern Women, Karin Danner
Pen pals first, then teammates - and still deeply connected today: Lydia Köhl and Karin Danner. Photo: Amelie Niederbuchner

Now that's a big name to throw around in the middle of the pitch in the Isarauen - and a big comparison. It's at that moment you really become aware of the words on Danner's t-shirt that day. "The worst mistake is not to make any way", meaning not making a decision is the biggest mistake you can make. It's a saying that could also be printed on Uli Hoeneß' shirt, if he didn't usually wear light blue dress shirts. How does the comparison feel? President Herbert Hainer had also made a similar comment in a video message. "Well," says Danner, "something like that makes me very proud. Uli has always been my role model, and I would be happy if he saw one or two parallels between us. We're both emotional, we're both go-getters and we don't let up when something is important to us. I hope he's sensed that I, too, fight for FC Bayern with my heart, soul and passion."

From dreams to reality

FC Bayern Women, Karin Danner
Welcome to the modern age - you couldn't even dream of the FC Bayern Campus in the past. Photo: Amelie Niederbuchner

Fight - again. Lydia Köhl has already mentioned too, that Danner always had to apply a lot of effort to achieve her goals. Here she no doubt needed even more strength than Uli Hoeneß, because in women's football there were hurdles to overcome that no one in the men's game would have even dreamed of erecting. Danner is now standing in her office at the FC Bayern Campus - in a modern office building of an altogether modern training ground. When she thinks of her own time as a player, "the difference to today is like black and white, like day and night," she says. In those days, they still trained on a red ash surface on Säbener Straße, with discarded balls from the men's team, "and if the groundsman was feeling kind, he would get hold of a few shirts for us every so often". At that time, "there was no money either, on the contrary," she says, "we had to fund everything ourselves." Today, they employ a whole team of coaches and support staff in the women's department; back then, they had one coach: "He was responsible for the game, a medic and sometimes a soul soother."

Ladies' football becomes women's football 

In the FC Bayern Museum, the women's department has its own section, which is constantly growing. Karin Danner stands in front of a photograph showing her as a player, with "Strategist" written next to it in large letters. "We were allowed to live out our hobby," she says, "in the 70s they still said 'ladies' football' - we were ridiculed." Although 20,000 spectators came to games back then, in the Dantestadion, for example, "but that was more out of curiosity, because people simply wanted to know what kind of women were playing there". Today it's different, she says: "Today the fans know exactly what they're going to see, they intentionally go to women's football." The growing number of spectators confirms that something is developing rapidly; Danner speaks of a "quantum leap". It had always been her dream to play in the Olympiastadion one day, and she achieved that as a player in the Bavarian championship. Then came the next vision: games in the Allianz Arena. "And now we've already had 24,000 spectators here - we're setting milestones," she says, "we're constantly moving forward. From now on, there's no going back." She will also keep an eye on that when she observes everything from retirement in the future - and those who know her know it will be a restless retirement in any case."

One last look back 

FC Bayern Women, Karin Danner
Karin Danner strides across the pitch one last time at the FC Bayern Campus where she accomplished so much for the Bayern Women. Photo: Amelie Niederbuchner

Finally, we take one last look back at this long journey with its many obstacles. "It's crazy the battles we had to fight," says Danner, "but it's been worth it: I'm proud to have lasted so long at Bayern, and I'd like to thank Uli Hoeneß, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and the whole club for their support - together we've written a great success story. Women's football, she says, "is now fully established, the appreciation for it is honest and sustainable - we are 100 per cent on an equal footing. That sums up Karin Danner's life's work very well.

A few days after the "51" farewell interview, the FCB Women celebrated the fifth German championship in the club's history at the stadium on the FC Bayern Campus, with the men's team forming a guard of honour as they made their way to be presented with the Meisterschale, and later they travelled together to the town hall and stood on the balcony in front of 20,000 fans. It was a fitting farewell gift for the boss after 28 years in charge: Karin Danner, the Bayern powerhouse.

Read the complete article on Karen Danner in the club members' magazine "51.
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