When the 96th Bundesliga Rheinderby between 1FC Köln and Borussia Mönchengladbach kicks-off of Sunday there will be no love lost between the two sets of fans as one of Germany’s fiercest rivalries plays out. The two clubs are however bonded by one man, who serves as a hero for both- the legendary coach Hennes Weisweiler.
Across three decades Weisweiler proved one of Germany’s most successful coaches and managed to do what few have done- win Bundesliga titles at both Köln and Gladbach turning himself into a cult figure at both clubs in the process.
When 1FC Köln formed in 1948 Hans Weisweiler was in their very first line-up and when his playing career entered its final years he was given a player-coach role at the club. Such was his popularity that when circus owner Carola Williams donated a billy goat to the club as a Karneval joke, the beast was named ‘Hennes’ in his honour.
After a short spell working as German national team assistant Weisweiler returned as coach, but three years later after a dispute with club president Franz Kremer, he moved to the other side of the river to take over at Viktoria Köln. In 1964 he left the Domstatdt completely to herald an era at Borussia Mönchengladbach that would see them rise from the Regionalliga to the very summit of European football.
“Hennes Weisweiler was the character. He made Borussia Mönchengladbach” former player and current club vice-president Rainer Bonhof said about his former coach. It is hard to argue with Bonhof’s sentiments.
Weisweiler it was who promoted youngsters such as Günter Netzer, Berti Vogts and Jupp Heynckes into the team and the style of play was a breath of fresh air in the German top flight. “When we’re on the ball, we all attack; on the other hand, everyone plays for defence if the opponent is in possession of the ball,” Weisweiler once described his Gladbach style. The Bökelberg fans certainly loved the brand of exhilarating football produced.
It also won trophies with a first Bundesliga title won in 1969-70 followed by further Meisterschale in 1970-71 and 1974-75. The DFB Pokal was won in 1973 with the final against former club Köln producing the infamous showdown with Günter Netzer. Irked due to the legendary midfielder’s imminent transfer to Real Madrid, Weisweiler benched his star man for the final in Düsseldorf. With the score at 1-1 in extra-time, Netzer famously subbed himself on without the coaches say so and duly scored the 94th minute winner to take the Cup.
The trainer followed Netzer to Spain in 1975 taking over at FC Barcelona after winning the UEFA Cup with the Foals. He however lasted just eight months in Catalonia with a power struggle ensuing with Johan Cruyff, which was only going to have one winner.
He instantly found a new (old) home with Köln more than willing to bring the successful Weisweiler back to the club. Some 10,000 fans attended his first training session and he promised, “Give me two years to become a champion”
He lived up to his word. The Geißböcke won the DFB Cup in 1977 and the following year saw the greatest triumph in the club’s history with the team winning the double.
He enjoyed further success with the New York Cosmos where he won the North American championship in 1980 with a certain Franz Beckenbauer playing under him. He later moved to Switzerland where he achieved the league and cup double with Grasshoppers in 1983. Sadly, three weeks after the cup triumph Weisweiler dies of a heart attack.
One thing missing from his stellar career was the opportunity to coach the German national team, his name lives on as a legend of German coaching. The DFB named its coaching academy after him, while the Borussia Mönchengladbach head office is located on Hennes-Weisweiler-Allee.
When Köln host rivals Borussia Mönchengladbach on Matchday 26 the spirit of Weisweiler will be at the Rhein-Energie Stadion and when Hennes the Goat is paraded out pre-match spare a thought for the coach who did the unthinkable- bridged the gap between the two Rhine rivals with success.