Ask any German football fan who is their country's finest all-time No1 and you will most likely get two answers: Sepp Maier and Oliver Kahn. While the latter hung up his gloves as recently as 2008, the original Bayern goalkeeping legend is a product of a much earlier generation.

Josef Dieter Maier, known as Sepp, took his first steps on the footballing ladder at TSV Haar, a club located near Munich. And believe it or not, a player who became a household name in the 1970s for his heroics between the sticks actually started out as an attacker. Yet in his own words, it was a case of, "you're the laziest, you're the fattest – you go in goal" - and thus a legendary career began.

He certainly had every intention of becoming a striker for TSV when he started out as an eight-year-old but, fatefully, his team-mates and coaches were of a different opinion. However, once bedded into his new position, the youngster acquired a taste for clean sheets and his burgeoning talent was enough to land the then 15-year-old a place in the Bayern Munich youth team in 1959.

"I didn't go to bed with a teddy bear - I had a ball alongside me," Maier said, reflecting on his childhood. "What a relationship we had – I loved that ball! I can remember it all: it was just after Christmas, I was seven years old and I had a football.

"You were the king of the world back then if you had one. The lad with the ball got to pick the teams. ‘You're a creep, you were nasty to me! You're too fat, you go in goal!' If you had a ball, you were the boss."

The move to Bayern was the beginning of an incredible career, with the gifted shot-stopper signing professional terms at 18 and subsequently cementing a regular first-team berth. Once the Bavarian giants had won promotion to the Bundesliga, and playing alongside the likes of Franz Beckenbauer and Gerd Muller, Maier was part of the club's all-conquering 1970s side.

Four Bundesliga titles, four German Cup winners’ medals and five continental and intercontinental trophies are testament to his success, with Maier and Bayern lifting the European Cup in 1974, 1975 and 1976, as well as the latter year’s edition of the Intercontinental Cup. All of which helped earn Maier, Beckenbauer and Muller berths in Bayern’s finest XI of the past century, as voted for by the club’s fans.

I didn't go to bed with a teddy bear - I had a ball alongside me. What a relationship we had – I loved that ball!
Sepp Maier reflecting on his childhood

Nor was Maier's success estricted to club level, with the now 67-year-old also tasting FIFA World Cup™ and UEFA European Championship glory with the former West Germany, in 1974 and 1972 respectively. "Without Sepp we would never have won the World Cup," said Beckenbauer, who captained that Trophy-winning squad on home soil.

Maier amassed no fewer than 95 international caps in total, making him the most-capped goalkeeper in German history, while in the 1978/79 season he also had the honour of captaining his country in his last six appearances.

It will come as little surprise to learn that Maier also won a vast number of individual accolades during his playing career, including three German Footballer of the Year crowns and being chosen as the nation's goalkeeper of the century. Meanwhile, in the voting for the world's best goalkeeper of the past century, he finished a worthy fourth behind such luminaries as Russia’s Lev Yashin, Gordon Banks of England and Italy’s Dino Zoff.

Fun and games
While Maier was an example to many, he had two heroes of his own in the shape of the iconic Russian keeper Yashin and German comedian Karl Valentin. Indeed, Maier was always known for having a sense of humour as rich as his talent.

“A goalkeeper needs to exude a sense of calm - and make sure he doesn’t fall asleep!" was an oft-quoted phrase of his, as was his take on the importance of correct positioning: "There's no need to make a daring leap if you're standing in the right place to begin with."

Another memorable moment for German fans came during a Bundesliga match between Bayern Munich and Bochum. Having been standing idle after his team were awarded a penalty at the other end of the pitch, Maier chose to divert his energies and comedy timing to chasing after a duck which had waddled inadvertently on to the field of play.

In July 1979, the career of ‘The Cat from Anzing’, a nickname given thanks to his agility and athleticism, came to an abrupt and violent end. Indeed, Maier tore his diaphragm in a serious car accident in which he also suffered concussion, a broken arm and fractured ribs. "I always used to say that I'd carry on playing for as long as Franz Beckenbauer and Gerd Muller can push me on to the pitch in a wheelchair," he had once said, but this accident was to change his plans.

Forced to put away his gloves, much of his time post-recovery was spent at the tennis centre bearing his name. He then went on to become goalkeeper coach for Germany between 1987 and 2004 and former club Bayern from 1994 to 2008. His return to the latter, Germany’s most-successful team, coincided with moulding a young shot-stopping talent Der Rekordmeister had snapped up from Karlsruhe: Oliver Kahn. Cue the latter's 14 trophy-laden years following in Maier’s giant footsteps.

Always game for a laugh, even after the end of his career, Maier has appeared in almost 50 German variety music shows and sung footballing duets with popular Norwegian singer Wencke Myhre. He even managed to make his assistant – and a duck – disappear on stage under the pseudonym of magician ‘Sepp Copperfield’.

The former Nationalelf No1 has also written a number of books about football, including 1978’s Artist der Nation (The nation's artist), Ich bin doch kein Tor (Who says goalkeepers are crazy?) from 1980, Super-Torwart-Training (Super goalkeeper training) in 1990, 2000’s Mit Spaß zum Erfolg. Torwart-Training (The more fun you have, the better you'll get – how to coach goalkeepers) and the same year’s Wer mit dem Ball tanzt (Dancing with footballs).

What is more, he has even chosen to cut nearly all ties with the beautiful game. "That's all behind me now. I still play golf and tennis though," said Maier. Another thing he still does is keep a close eye on his beloved Bayern. "A very close eye," he adds wistfully. "That's my team."