Five-time Bundesliga runners-up and losing finalists in the 2002 UEFA Champions League and DFB Cup, there's a reason why Bayer Leverkusen have been nicknamed 'the Eternal Bridesmaids'. bundesliga.com has the lowdown on one of German football's unluckiest clubs.
Founded in 1904 by workers of pharmaceutical company Bayer AG, Bayer 04 Leverkusen have been regulars at the top table of German football for over half a century but missed out on the Bundesliga’s debut season in 1963/64 after finishing ninth in the previous season’s Oberliga West. It would be almost two decades in the second and third tier before Die Werkself – or ‘workers XI’ because of their history as Bayer employees – finally made it into the Bundesliga in 1979, where they have remained ever since.
Leverkusen, who are exempt from the league’s 50+1 Rule because Bayer had backed the club financially for over 20 years, were regular European competitors by the mid-1980s and even lifted the UEFA Cup for the first and only time in 1988. The club’s greatest period of success, though, came around the turn of the millennium as the team’s all-time top scorer Ulf Kirsten fired Leverkusen to four second-placed finishes in six years. The last, in 2001/02, will go down as the most famous as the team led by Michael Ballack finished runners-up in the Bundesliga, DFB Cup and Champions League. It was a campaign that gave rise to the club’s unfortunate nickname ‘Neverkusen’. In the years since, Leverkusen have regularly qualified for Europe. Their local rivals are Cologne with the two clubs competing to be the ‘Force on the Rhine’.
Bundesliga 2 champions (1978/79)
UEFA Cup (1988)
DFB Cup (1993)
Heiko Herrlich has been the man in charge at Leverkusen since the start of the 2017/18 season. The former Germany striker enjoyed a successful playing career with Leverkusen, Borussia Mönchengladbach and Borussia Dortmund, winning the Bundesliga and DFB Cup twice each, as well as the 1997 Champions League with BVB. In 1994/95 he was the Bundesliga’s top scorer with 20 goals for Gladbach. Since retiring, he has coach youth teams at both Dortmund and Bayern, Germany U17s and U19s, and the first teams at Bochum, Unterhaching and Jahn Regensburg.
While Julian Brandt is undoubtedly the future of Leverkusen, the team’s current leading man is winger Leon Bailey. The Jamaican exploded onto the scene in 2017/18 after a disappointing first six months at Bayer. In 30 Bundesliga appearances he contributed a joint-best 16 goals (9 scored, 7 assists). Only turning 21 days before the start of the new season, the Kingston native still has much more to offer.
Watch: Leon Bailey - a defender's worst nightmare
Leverkusen put their disappointing 12th-place finish from 2016/17 truly behind them last term. Under Herrlich they looked rejuvenated in their push for Europe, and a 12-match unbeaten run in the first half of the season propelled them to the verge of the top four. The second half of the campaign saw them yo-yo between second and fifth, but on the final day they fell agonisingly short of a return to the Champions League, finishing fifth behind Hoffenheim and Dortmund only on goal difference and having to settle with a place in the UEFA Europa League.
The BayArena has been the club’s home since 1958 and was known as the Ulrich-Haberland-Stadion until 1998. At the same time a hotel was built on site, which now forms the north stand and allows guests pitch-side seating. The stadium did not host a FIFA World Cup match in 2006 but was used by Germany as their base. Between 2007 and 2009 the ground was expanded to host accommodate 30,000 spectators, after which it hosted four FIFA Women’s World Cup matches in 2011. The BayArena hosted the first live coverage of a Bundesliga match in 3D when Leverkusen played Hamburg on 14 March 2010.
Watch: There's nowhere quite like Leverkusen's very modern BayArena
Mostly rural until the end of the 19th century, Leverkusen owes its name and status to chemist Carl Leverkus who chose to build a dye factory there in 1860. The area, located just beyond the northern limits of Cologne, has become one of Germany’s most important centres for the chemical industry as home to multinational pharmaceutical company Bayer. It is one of Germany’s smallest cities but owes its fame to Bayer and its football club.
Leverkusen itself has no commercial airport but is located halfway between two of Germany’s busiest international airports: Cologne/Bonn and Dusseldorf. Both offer flights to a plethora of European cities as well as regular services to North America and Asia. For further options, Frankfurt airport is Germany’s busiest and only an hour away by high-speed ICE train. A change in Cologne is necessary, but lying directly between North Rhine-Westphalia’s two biggest cities, Leverkusen Mitte station is served regularly by local and regional trains.
Getting to the BayArena
Coming by public transport from Cologne or Dusseldorf, Leverkusen Mitte and Leverkusen Schlebusch train stations are the closest to the BayArena. Both are within walking distance of the stadium, but local buses also run frequently on matchdays and stop directly in front of the stadium.
Tickets can still be bought via the official club website HERE.
Can’t make it? Watch here:
If you can’t make it to the stadium, Bundesliga matches are broadcast around the world. FOX Sports and Univision provide coverage in the United States, while BT Sports are the exclusive broadcaster in the United Kingdom. In Germany, Sky Sports show the majority of matches, with Eurosport hosting one match per week.
Buy the kit
You can get your own Leverkusen jersey from the official club shop.