It should have been a triumphant evening in Munich for Uli Hoeness. The Bayern president was presiding over what was arguably the most successful AGM in the club’s 113 year history. It was a night of celebration. But Uli Hoeness wept openly.
On the field, Bayern had won the treble, and by extension their fifth European Cup. They had won the league with a 25 point advantage over second placed Borussia Dortmund and, a third of the way into the current season, were table toppers once again. They had secured the services of Pep Guardiola to continue the legacy of Jupp Heynckes, and signed a host of the world’s most gifted midfield stars.
Financially, too, the club had every right to be smug last night. A record turnover of 432.8m Euros, and profits of 14m Euros made for some comfortable reading for those in the red half of Munich. Predictably, membership had also risen to 223,985, leaving the club only a short way behind leaders Benfica as the sports club with the second highest amount of members in the world.
But this night, despite all that, was always going to be about Hoeness. Not because of the way he has shaped this football club over the last thirty years, nor for the rather obvious reason that he is the president of the club. It was about Hoeness because in March, the man who embodies FC Bayern will be in court and, in the worst case scenario, may face prison.
The scandal over Hoeness’ Swiss bank account has wound along inseparably from the club’s successes in 2013, from the moment he made a self-declaration of unpaid tax in January, through his arrest in March, the revelation of the entire story in the press at Eastertime, and the boos that rang through Wembley as the Bayern players briefly passed him the European Cup in May.
It is a testament to how significant Uli Hoeness, FC Bayern and football are to the cultural landscape of Germany that this story has made front pages time and again over the last seven or eight months. Angela Merkel was one of the first to express her disappointment in Hoeness, while leading members of the Social Democratic Party SPD were quick to pounce on the story, with then party candidate Peer Steinbrück declaring it indicative of the Coalition’s laziness in dealing with tax agreements with Switzerland.
Hoeness’ self declaration meanwhile, has allegedly correlated with an unprecedented rise in other citizens doing the same thing. The amount of tax evaders who declared their own errors was as high as 9186 in the first half of 2013.
Then, there is of course the footballing side. With pressure from many political and public figures for Hoeness to resign from his posts as Chairman and President of FC Bayern, the club has refused to budge. The board declined to ask him to leave last Easter, and he has enjoyed the unerring support of those around him in football ever since. It was Karl-Heinz Rummenigge’s speech at the AGM last night which set the tears rolling down Hoeness’ face.
“Uli is the spiritus rector of this club. Without his engagement and his commitment, it would not be what it is and represents. Friendship reveals itself, when you stand by one another in difficult times. I have the impression, that I am not the only friend of Uli Hoeness here; that the whole of FC Bayern is his friend.”
For Hoeness, the emotion was too much. And after all the errors and silence of the preceding months, it was his turn to thank the club for that solidarity. “I am overwhelmed, not just from Karl-Heinz’s speech, but from the reaction of all our members. Thank you so much.”
Then came the question of the future. The man who was voted as president with a majority of 97.1 per cent at the last throw promised his fans that after the trial, he would call a meeting and a vote on his position as president and chairman. “I made a mistake. I am not absolving myself of that. I will accept any vote and decision, and will give you the right to decide if I am still the right president for this club.”
It was a bittersweet end to a remarkable year in the history of this club. The staggering growth of its on field reputation coupled with the incredible potential of the Hoeness scandal to destroy that reputation have re-established FC Bayern München as one of the most interesting clubs in world football. Last night, they could celebrate and profess solidarity. Now all they can do is wait for March, when Uli Hoeness will learn his fate.