The Bundesliga - Germany's foremost football division - is approaching its 60th anniversary. - © DFL
The Bundesliga - Germany's foremost football division - is approaching its 60th anniversary. - © DFL

The history of the Bundesliga explained


Since its inception in 1963, the Bundesliga has developed into one of the best, most recognisable leagues in the world. This is its story so far...

Prior to the Bundesliga's inception, the German football pyramid was broken up into regional tiers that represented Berlin and the north, the south, southwest, and west of West Germany. The top two in each region would then advance to a second stage to determine that year's national champion.

With Germany split in two until reunification in 1990, the east of the country operated its own system from 1948 to 1991, with the DS-Oberliga (later renamed the Fußball Oberliga DFV in 1958) sitting at the top of three divisions that made up the Eastern league structure.

Everything was amateur or semi-professional in those days and the merging of West Germany's Oberligen marked a new era of professionalism for football in the country.

The formation of the Bundesliga has not only been attributed to a desire to professionalise the sport in Germany, but also to stop the best players from heading abroad and to revive the fortunes of the national team following their 1962 FIFA World Cup exit at the hands of hosts Chile at the quarter-final stage.

Borussia Dortmund were the last German champions of the pre-Bundesliga era. - imago

Eighteen days after that defeat, on 28 July 1962, 103 of the Deutscher Fußball-Bund's (German Football Association) 129 delegates voted in favour of a centralised league at a now historic meeting in Dortmund. Osnabrück lawyer Hermann Gösmann, who had long campaigned for greater professionalism within the game, was named the new DFB president and tasked with overseeing the execution of the new league.

Gösmann formed a six-man committee alongside Hamburg native Walter Baresel, solicitor Dr. Willi Hübner from Essen, Cologne president Franz Kremer, his Nuremberg counterpart Ludwig Franz, and journalist Hermann Neuberger.

They had to preside over numerous key decisions, with just 12 months before the Bundesliga would make its debut. After the wider DFB delegation voted in favour of a 16-team division to kickstart things in 1963/64, the first major job on their plate was to decide who made the cut from 46 applicants.

Eventually, a unanimous vote decided that five teams would join from the Oberliga West, five more from the South, three from the North, two from the Southwest and one from Berlin. The founding member teams were: 1860 Munich, Cologne, Borussia Dortmund, Eintracht Braunschweig, Eintracht Frankfurt, Hamburg, Hertha Berlin, Kaiserslautern, Karlsruhe, Preußen Munster, MSV Duisburg, Nuremberg, Saarbrücken, Schalke, VfB Stuttgart and Werder Bremen.

The respective champions of each league the season before were guaranteed a spot regardless of their position in the complex standings showing performances of the previous 10 years. There was also a rule stipulating that only one club per city would be permitted in the Bundesliga. This therefore meant that Bayern Munich automatically missed out on a place because 1860 won the title in 1962/63 despite being ahead in the 10-year standings.

Although sides were left slighted at being overlooked for the top tier, and some would launch legal challenges, they would be given the chance at earning promotion from the various Regionalliga divisions that remained, now feeding into the new championship.

Borussia Mönchengladbach and Bayern Munich enjoy a rivalry dating back decades, but neither club is a founding member. - DFL

The inaugural Bundesliga campaign got underway on 24 August 1963 and it took less than a minute for the first goal to be scored. Dortmund's Timo Konietzka was the man to etch his name into the history books, finding the back of the net after only 58 seconds against Werder.

Konietzka later recalled that his effort caught a lot of people off guard, which is why there was no photograph captured of the historic moment. He said: "The photographers were all behind our goal, because they were all expecting Bremen to score."

The Lünen native would go on to score 20 goals in the division, second behind only Hamburg's Uwe Seeler in the Torjägerkanone race, but neither of their teams would lift the Meisterschale.

That honour would go to Cologne, who finished six points clear of Duisburg - then known as Meidericher SV - back when it was two points for a win. Georg Knöpfle was the coach that delivered the first-ever Bundesliga title to the Billy Goats, with 16-goal striker Karl-Heinz Thielen providing the firepower on the pitch. Münster and Saarbrücken were the first relegated sides, while Hannover and Borussia Neunkirchen earned promotion from the regional divisions below.

Cologne won the inaugural Bundesliga title, finishing six points clear of the chasing pack. - imago

Sixteen teams would become 18 from the 1965/66 campaign, while Bundesliga 2 launched in 1974 and the 1981/82 season saw promotion/relegation play-offs introduced for the first time. They briefly went away from 1991 to 2008, but have been a mainstay across the top three divisions ever since.

The 1991/92 season resulted in a 20-team top flight when Germany's reunification saw teams from the former east come into the fold. Hansa Rostock and Dynamo Dresden were the first Eastern representatives to take part in the Bundesliga, but we are still waiting to see a team from the old east lift the Bundesliga title.

Historically, German teams were not-for-profit organisations run by members’ associations. The introduction of the 50+1 rule in 1998 ensured that private ownership of any kind was prohibited. The rule means that clubs – and, by extension, the fans - hold a majority of their own voting rights. Under German Football League [DFL] rules, football clubs will not be allowed to play in the Bundesliga if commercial investors have more than a 49 percent stake, and is why debts and wages are under control in German football and why ticket prices are so low compared to other major leagues in Europe.

There have been 12 different German champions since the league's founding, with Bayern Munich (30) collecting the most titles. Dortmund and Borussia Mönchengladbach (both five) are next on the list, while Werder (four), Hamburg, Stuttgart (both three), Cologne and Kaiserslautern (both two) are the other clubs with more than one Bundesliga trophy in their cabinets.

Bayern's current nine-year run as champions is the longest in history, while Nuremberg (nine) have been relegated from the Bundesliga more times than any other team. Bayern's 91-point haul in 2012/13 is the most of any club in a single season and Tasmania Berlin's eight-point return in 1965/66 the lowest. There were two points for a win back then, something that was changed going into the 1995/96 campaign. All in all, 56 teams have competed in the Bundesliga, with Union Berlin the most recent debutant in 2019/20.

Nowadays, the Bundesliga is broadcast in over 200 nations. - Jörg Schüler/Bundesliga/Bundesliga Collection via Getty Images

Udo Lattek is the coach with most championships (eight), Charly Körbel has made the most appearances (602), Gerd Müller holds the record for most goals (365), and Manuel Neuer tops the pile when it comes to clean sheets (212) and wins (311). Youssoufa Moukoko (16 years, one day) is the youngest ever play to feature in the Bundesliga, while Klaus Fischel (43 years, six months, two days) is the oldest.

The Bundesliga is now firmly established as one of the world's best leagues and is a leader when it comes to fan ownership and sustainability. It's football as it's meant to be.