It’s the moment that all football fans fear. The game is coming to end; the fourth official comes to the touchline and lifts up his board. Whatever the number says determines how long, in a close game, you are on the edge of your seat.
For fans of Schalke, this took a whole new meaning in 2001. After a tight battle with Bayern Munich for the Bundesliga title, they thought they were on the verge of winning their first league crown since 1958, only to see it slip out of their hands in the fourth minute of injury time on the very last day of the season.
With six games to go, Huub Stevens' side had gone into the dragon’s lair and come away from Munich with a 3-1 win over Bayern to take control of the table. Carsten Jancker had given the home side the lead after three minutes, but an Ebbe Sand hat-trick stunned the Olympic Stadium and left Ottmar Hitzfeld scrambling for a comeback.
The Royal Blues couldn’t handle the pressure of leading the chase, and after an away draw at Bochum and Bayern winning at Freiburg, the sides were level again. Schalke then lost 1-0 to Stuttgart, through a last-minute goal from Krassimir Balakov – while at the exact same time Alexander Zickler was sealing a 1-0 with for FCB over Kaiserslauten.
That put Schalke three points behind the favourites with just the final league games to play. They only had to secure a draw against Hamburg, while S04 had to face Unterhaching. Their opponents were down in 16th place and fighting for their position in the top flight.
Hamburg had nothing to play for. Safe from the drop, but too far away from the European spots. Unterhaching, if your German geography isn’t up to par, is a suburb of Munich. Everything was on the line.
Schalke went behind after three minutes when André Breitenreiter fired home after a scramble in the penalty area. The silence from Gelsenkirchen’s Parkstadion was deafening. It would only get worse on the 27th minute when Mirosław Spiżak nutmegged Oliver Reck to make it 2-0 to the away side.
Afterwards, Bayern general manager Uli Hoeneß wasn’t happy that the score was shown on the big screens: “Our players slowed down after that.”
Nico van Kerckhoven gave the home side hope when he tapped in from Sand’s chance, then a minute later, on the stroke of half-time, Gerald Asamoah brought the game level with a cheeky back-heel.
After the break, Bayern had the ball in the net when Carsten Jancker headed home from a Bixtente Lizarazu cross, but the linesman’s flag was quickly up. However, back in Gelsenkirchen, the underdogs re-took the lead when Jan Seifert heads in a free-kick from Cizek and this triggers celebrations in the Bayern end.
Just six minutes later the game was level again when Jörg Böhme fired in a superb free-kick from 20 yards. The midfield did it again less than sixty seconds later, this time with a sublime chip – Schalke were in the lead, the Park erupted. Maybe, just maybe, the gods are on were side.
In the last minute of normal time, Sand, with his 22nd league goal of the season, tapped in from close range to put the icing on the cake for Schalke, with the score 5-3, there’s no doubt they were doing their part in a nail-biting final day.
At the same time, Hamburg’s Marek Heinz played in a cross from the left and Sergej Barbarez found the net. Hitzfeld was stunned, the HSV players celebrated like they’d won the title and some of the Bayern players stood motionless with their heads in their hands. The ever-vocal Olivier Kahn grabbed the ball and ushered his team-mates to get their act together. This isn’t over yet.
Into the third minute of injury time, Bayern pushed, chasing that all-import goal to win the title, but Hamburg weren’t for budging. Then, a glimmer: Tomáš Ujfaluši hit the ball back to goalkeeper Mathias Schober and the referee had no choice but to award an indirect free-kick inside the penalty area.
Stefan Effenberg took control of the situation, and although both Mehmet Scholl and Michael Tarnat were not on the pitch, the German had a plan. It would later come out that Kahn was questioning why Swedish defender Patrik Andersson was anywhere near the dead ball. He would find out very shortly.
With the ball touched to the right, Andersson smashed it past the near post and the Bayern bench erupted; thoughts then turned back to the Parkstadion. Schalke players were on the pitch, the fans were celebrating, then a murmur … a rumour that Bayern had scored. Surely not? Hadn’t that game already finished? Schalke were the Champions, right? Wrong!
Joy turned to tears and Schalke will forever be remembered as the “four-minute champions”.
They would come close in 2005, finishing 14 points behind Bayern this time. In 2007, they again finished second, just two points behind Stuttgart. Bayern would win the title in 2010 and Schalke, bridesmaids again, came five points behind the champions.
Winning the title in 1958 must seem like a lifetime ago for the Royal Blues' fans. With Bayern continuing to dominate and the likes of Borussia Dortmund, Bayer Leverkusen and Borussia Mönchengladbach continuing to grow, the Schalke fans might yearn for the days where they were upset to finish second.