Ralf Fährmann: Every game is a gift at this club
Against TSG 1899 Hoffenheim this Saturday, Ralf Fährmann made his 150th Bundesliga appearance in Royal Blue. We spoke to Schalke’s number one about fulfilling his dreams, set-backs, sleepless nights and Royal Blue dreams.
Ralf, are you living out your boyhood dreams after joining Schalke at 14?
Definitely! When I decided to move from Chemnitz to Gelsenkirchen as a teenager, my ultimate aim was to play one game at the VELTINS Arena. It makes me unbelievably proud to have been able to be behind the sticks at this great club for several years. To be honest, sometime I have to pinch myself to believe it’s all real! If I stay fit, it’ll also be my 100th Bundesliga game in a row in a few weeks. That’s another huge achievement for me personally.
Can you still recall your first Bundesliga game?
There are some games I’ll remember forever. My Bundesliga debut is absolutely one of those. The game itself was so eventful too. Away from home in a derby. We led 3-0 and needed another goal to put it beyond any doubt. Then the game turned on its head. Two decisions went against us. They scored an offside goal and then they got a penalty for a very questionable handball call. The game ended 3-3, it was action-packed to say the least.
As a 20-year-old, you moved to Eintracht Frankfurt as you weren’t getting games behind Manuel Neuer. You featured 18 times for Frankfurt in the Bundesliga, playing once at the VELTINS Arena in the process. Was it strange for you come to the VELTINS Arena as a visitor?
I can’t put it into words (pauses to reflect). It was a return to where it all began for me. A return to the club I’d loved since being a kid. Therefore, I had a release clause in my contract when I moved to Frankfurt which allowed me to return to S04. I remember playing with Frankfurt in the VELTINS Arena. I’d have preferred to have been in the home changing room. I wanted to say hello to al the faces I recognised in the crowd but of course I couldn’t.
You returned a few months later. You had a spectacular start as well saving Kevin Großkreutz’s penalty in the Supercup final against Dortmund and winning the cup.
I couldn’t have written it better! Preparing for that season wasn’t easy for me. Our former coach Ralf Rangnick always said that I have to prove myself and trust myself. He was even considering signing another goalkeeper. As a goalkeeper, you need security. That’s what made me so excited for that derby game.
What was going through your head at the final whistle?
I knew Ralf Rangnick couldn’t drop me (laughs)! We won, we celebrated with the fans and Raul lifted me up onto his shoulders in the VELINS Arena. Maybe it was a bit much but it was an incredible feeling. The day after the game I went to the Formula One race at the Nürburgring but we ende up just talking about football for the whole day!
After a strong start to the 2011/2012 season, you picked up a serious injury. When you regained your fitness, Timo Hildebrand had claimed the number 1 spot. How hard was that for you?
That injury was one of the lowest points of my career until this point. It was even harder when I returned to full fitness. Suddenly, I was ousted and was third choice. Lars Unnerstall was slightly ahead of me in the pecking order too. I was performing well in training but I wasn’t getting a look in and occasionally played in the U23s.
What happened next?
Despite the situation, I never gave up and believed my luck would turn. At the time, the support I received from my teammates was really important for me. When we played in training, the players would always pick me. From the outside, that might not seem like a big deal but it did me a world of good. Looking back at this time in my career, you can say my hard work was definitely worthwhile.
Since the end of 2013, you haven’t had to worry about competition too much. Are Bundesliga games normal to you now? Or does every game bring something new?
After playing a number of games, it does become slightly more of a routine. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t get excited before games anymore. I still get nervous too but I think you need that. It’s a different story for certain matches though. For instance, before a derby or a European game, you have to keep calm and not going onto the pitch too motivated. I think I’m in a great place in my life right now. The fact is: Every game in a Schalke shirt is a gift.
For some time now, you’re considered one of the best goalkeepers in the Bundesliga and have saved the team so many points but a few uncharacteristic mistakes happened against Bremen and Bayern…
I can only apologise for those errors as the team played well in both those games. It’s always tough for a goalkeeper. When you make an error and the striker is there to pounce, then that’s what happens. It’s tough to take but you can’t do anything about it now. These things happen over a career, you just have to keep going.
How do you deal with such events?
It’s not easy. Sometimes I worry I’m going to run through the walls of my flat by replaying everything in my head over and over. Sleeping can be hard sometimes. Thankfully, my partner knows how to pick me back up when I’m down. The key is just brush yourself down and go again. When a new training week begins, we have a new aim to focus on.
There’s a lot of love and appreciation for you on social media. Many of the fans helped support you. Some people though can be more critical. How do you cope with criticism?
I try to avoid it as I know everyone lets out their frustrations on there after a defeat. You can’t completely ignore it though. I am able to channel out insults. When a 12 year old loses a FIFA game on the PlayStation and writes about it on social media blaming me or whoever, I find it quite funny!
On Sunday, we head to Leverkusen. Last season, you had an exceptional game in the BayArena. What are you expecting from the game this time around?
A high-quality battle – not only because of where we both are in the table. I think you can compare the two teams quite easily. Both teams have new head coaches this season. Both teams have improved a lot from last season and raised their game. Our goal is to not head back to Gelsenkirchen empty-handed.
We’ve reached the DFB-Pokal semi-final largely due to three clean sheets along the way. What do you think the Royal Blues can achieve in the competition?
I’m very excited for the semi-final against Frankfurt. At the same time, I know how hard the semi-final will be. Eintracht are strong in the tackle, they will be chomping at the bit and away from home their record is very impressive. It’ll be a hard task over 90 – maybe even 120 – minutes. Our goal though remains to be reaching the final in Berlin. Our coaching staff showed us videos before the quarter-final against VfL Wolfsburg which showed how monumental winning the DFB-Pokal would be for Gelsenkirchen. It gave us all goosebumps.
It’d be the same for our fans. We’re all dreaming of a trip to Berlin before the summer break. Have you already booked your holidays?
The Germany national team head coach can still call you up for the World Cup this summer then?
I’d be ready. There’s been no contact until now so I don’t think it’d be possible to be part of the squad. But who knows what might happen. I’m just going to keep giving my all in every game and put in the best performances I possibly can.