Bay Arena Leverkusen, home ground of Bundesliga club Bayer 04 Leverkusen since 1958

Germany’s Football League – The Bundesliga

Although football originated on the shores of the UK – nearly seven hundred miles west of Germany – the “country of poets and thinkers” may as well change their nickname to the country of poets and thinkers and footballers.

Germany has long had a special affiliation with the beautiful game. Today, it is estimated that 47% of the population actively keeps up with the sport, with 1.9 million of those fans tuning into the German Bundesliga year-on-year.

The Bundesliga – or the Fußball Bundesliga – is the main professional association league in Germany. Since its inception in 1963, it is not only recognised as the league at the top of the country’s pyramid, but also as one of the best football competitions in the world. 

Throughout the years, it has helped to unite fans and players across the country, serving up a number of iconic fixtures while simultaneously challenging clubs to grow and develop in order to find a way in. But what exactly is the Bundesliga, and where did it all begin?

The 101 of the Bundesliga:

  • The German Bundesliga was founded in 1963, after 129 delegates voted in favour of a centralised league to grow the game and improve the overall skill set of the country. 
  • It is essentially the Premier League of German football, with two lower divisions forming a pyramid to the top.  
  • The league operates on a promotion and relegation system, with the two top teams of division 2 taking the place of the bottom two teams from the Bundesliga.
  • Today, games are attended by an average of 22,000 spectators and it is one of the most-watched football leagues in the world.

A (Fitting) History Of The Bundesliga

With a self-given nickname of “the country of poets and thinkers”, it is fair to say that Germany demands and radiates excellence. It is a proud country, with an aspiration to be the best at whatever it does, and its sporting pursuits are no exception. 

When Germany adopted football back in the late nineteenth century, it was played on an entirely amateur level. It wasn’t until 1949 that semi-professional leagues were introduced but, by then, football had become recognised as the world’s game, with a total World Cup attendance growing from around 400,000 in 1934 – Italy’s world cup – to nearly 1,000,000 in 1954 – Switzerland’s world cup. 

Whilst the introduction of semi-professional leagues led to a West Germany World Cup win in 1954, the speedy development of the game – paired with Germany’s struggle to keep up – led to a devastating World Cup quarter-final exit at the hands of hosts Chile, in 1962. This was when the German Football Association – Deutscher Fussball-Bund – came together for what would be a historic meeting. 

It was the Osnabruck lawyer, Hermann Gosmann, who had been arguing for greater professionalism in the game for many years, and the meeting between 129 delegates further hammered home the need for such a change. Germany was struggling during World Cups because it did not have a centralised, competitive league, and the players who were being bred through the current divisions were heading abroad to find their footballing-fortunes outside of Germany’s borders.

Gosmann decreed that there should be a centralised league which brought out the best of German football, and provided a way for the game to develop and succeed both in club-form and on the international stage. The 129 delegates agreed. They voted in favour of his plans and Gosmann was subsequently made the new DFB president, with the task of overseeing the new league’s execution. 

Of course, conjuring up a new league is no small task, especially in a country thatw already has 46 separate clubs that can make the cut. Alongside a six-man committee, Gosmann’s first job was to slice these 46 applicants into a team of 16, which would kickstart the competition just one year later, in 1963/64. It was voted unanimously that five of those teams would be from the Oberliga West, with another five from the South, three from the North, and three from the Southwest and Berlin.

The initial teams of The Bundesliga were as follows:

  • 1860 Munich
  • Cologne
  • Borussia Dortmund
  • Eintracht Braunschweig
  • Eintracht Frankfurt
  • Hamburg
  • Hertha Berlin
  • Kaiserslautern
  • Karlsruhe
  • Preuben Munster
  • MSV Duisburg
  • Nuremberg
  • Saarbrucken
  • Schalke
  • VFB Stuttgart
  • Werder Bremen

These participating clubs were decided through the standings of performances of the previous 10 years; however, the respective champions of each previous season were guaranteed a spot. What’s more, only one club per city was permitted into the Bundesliga – which meant that clubs like Bayern Munich automatically missed out due to 1860 Munich’s win the season before. 

For years since, however, promotion has been giving clubs across the country a way to earn their place in the league, which has fulfilled Gosmann’s original promise and driven clubs across the country to improve and develop their game. This has also helped them on the world stage, as Germany has won a total of three World Cups since the Bunesliga’s conceptualisation (1974, 1990, and 2014). 

The Bundesliga Timeline

  • In 1949, semi-professional leagues were introduced into the German game.
  • In 1962, Germany lost its quarter-final playoff against hosts Chile in the World Cup.
  • Eighteen days later, 129 delegates of the German Football Association voted in favour of a centralised league.
  • Gosmann is made head of the DFB and sets to work with a six-man committee.
  • In 1963/64, the first Bundesliga was played with a 16-team division.
  • To this day, the league is the most successful and prestigious in Germany, with a record viewership of 6 million for a single game in 2020.

A Fresh Season: The Bundesliga 23/24

The 22/23 Bundesliga season went down to the wire. Dortmund looked set to eclipse Bayern for the first time in over a decade. They simply had to win at home against Mainz – sitting in mid table with nothing to play for. Going 2-0 down in the opening 25 minutes to end up drawing 2-2 while Bayern beat Köln 2-1 meant Dortmund lost their hold on a long-coveted title on goal difference. Another season of Bayern as champions. 

The key Bundesliga narrative heading into the new season will be, “How can Bayern be challenged?” With Jude Bellingham out, Dortmund have lost a superstar. Marco Reus has resigned as captain, too. Felix Nmecha and Ramy Bensebaini have entered the fray but aren’t the kind of transfers that take Dortmund immediately to guaranteed challengers. 

RB Leipzig lost their stars, and Bayer Leverkusen appears too far off even RB and Dortmund to be a threat to Bayern.

Will the season’s main narrative be Bayern running away with the league again? A summer of significant incomings – from Laimer, Guerreiro, and Kim Min-Jae – only makes Bayern stronger. Then again, more of their attention will be on a Champions League victory.

Further down the league, Freiburg, Eintracht Frankfurt, and Union Berlin will all offer their exciting brand of football, which will disrupt title challengers and enthral all spectators. The relegation fight, as it does every year, will suck in both surprising and expected teams, reaching further and further up the league as the points gap shrinks. We can be sure that, as with last season, the competition will keep growing fiercer and fiercer.

The Bundesliga – Memorable Players

If SC Freiburg do manage to take the top spot from Bayern Munich, this will be a fairy-tale of epic proportions. Like Leicester City in the EPL, Freiburg has only recently been promoted into the Bundesliga, after their stunning break to victory in the 2. Bundesliga in 2016. As mentioned before, however, it will take a lot of planning, commitment and – above all –talent from every individual. 

But there is plenty of inspiration to be found in this regard. Over the years, Bundesliga has seen a number of iconic matches and moments, all driven by players who have gone down in the history books. One of the players Freiburg can take inspiration from is Franz Beckenbauer – nicknamed Der Kaiser – who was the ultimate Sweeper at Bayern Munich during the 1968-69 season. Despite the odds, he captained the side to their first ever league victory, and he finished his career as a four-time German Cup winner. 

As well as Der Kaiser, it would be foolish not to mention the German striker, Gerd Muller – AKA the finishing machine. Out of 426 Bundesliga games, Muller scored a total of 365 goals, leading the Baravarian’s to four Bundesliga titles. On the international stage, Muller also toppled the scales to score 68 goals in 62 games, leading Germany to a World Cup trophy in 1974 almost single-handedly. 

Robert Lewandowski, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Philipp Lahm also deserve honourable mentions. If Freiburg players – and indeed, every club who wishes to challenge Bayern Munich’s ongoing dominance –take heed of these players, then who knows? They might just be able to channel some of their magic into their own game and write another line in Bundesliga folklore.

The Bundesliga: DAZN Bet’s Pop Quiz

So, there we have it: Germany’s top league. Fifteen teams at the beginning. Eighteen teams now. History and alumni galore. It’s all there in black and white for anyone who wants to get involved and become what could be described as a “true fan”. 

But hold your horses. In order to be such a fan, there’s a little more you should know first. It’s all very well going down to the local bar to watch Eintracht Frankfurt vs Schalke when the season picks up early next year, but what if one of the barmen starts asking questions? 

No one wants to be found out as a newbie, so you’ve got to be prepared. For your consideration, here are five of the most popular questions-and-answers that will provide the finishing touch to your Bundesliga education:

Q: Which Teams Are In The Bundesliga Right Now?

A: As mentioned before, the Bundesliga is highly competitive, so there’s been a bit of a shakeup to participating clubs since 1962. Today, the teams battling it out are Bayern Munich, RB Leipzig, Borussia Dortmund, VFL Wolfsburg, Eintracht Frankfurt, Bayer 04 Leverkusen, FC Union Berlin, Borussia M’gladbach, VFB Stuttgart, SC Freiburg, TSG Hoffenheim, FSV Mainz 05, FC Augsburg, Hertha Berlin, FC Schalke 04, FC Koln, VFL Bochum 1848 and SV Werder Bremen. Phew. Take a breath.

Q: Who Is The Most Successful Player Of All Time In The Bundesliga?

A: Technically, the most successful Bundesliga player would have to be Gerd Muller, who scored a seemingly unreachable 365 during his reign in the Bundesliga. With 312 goals, Robert Lewandowski is the only other player who has come close.

Q: Who Is The Top Goal Scorer in the Bundesliga 22/23?

A: In terms of the here and now, Christopher Nkunku – who plays for RB Leipzig – is the leading goal-scorer with a total of 12. Not far behind him are Niclas Fullkrug – who plays for SV Werder Bremen – and Marcus Thuram – who plays for Borussia M’gladbach – with 10 goals between them. 

Q: Which Bundesliga Team Has Won The Most Titles?

A: You should be pretty confident in answering this question, but we’ve put it here anyway. Yup, you guessed it, the top Bundesliga team of all time is… Bayern Munich. No surprise there. Since the Bundesliga began, Bayern Munich has won a staggering 31 titles. 

Q: Which Bundesliga Clubs Have Never Been Relegated?

A: This is a multi-faceted question. You could say that, since coming in, Bayern Munich has never been relegated. But they are not exactly OG’s. In terms of that original division back in 1963, only one team managed to continuously play in the Bundesliga, and that was Hamburger SV. Sadly, however, they finished in 17th place during the 2017-18 season, so they have finally been demoted. The competition is fierce, people.

Our Predictions: The Bundesliga 23/24

Although everyone loves a football fairy-tale, it would be a bit of a stretch to suggest anyone else winning the 23/24 season other than Bayern Munich. They are truly a force to be reckoned with. They are brilliant in attack, robust in defence, and they have enough individual flair to fill a whole country. Bayern Munich would have to play a pretty lousy second leg to drop their winning streak now.

Having said that, this is the Bundesliga, and this tournament loves an unexpected table climber. If we had to choose, we would say that the biggest competition comes in Dortmund, Leipzig and Leverkusen, all of whom look secure and might very well manage to untangle Bayern Munich’s bootlaces somewhere down the line. 

Of course, Freiburg should also be mentioned, but that’s a bit more of a stretch. They are hot on the heels of Bayern Munich right now and – if they can keep up their form – should have a solid chance of remaining in that coveted top-four spot. But kicking Bayern Munich from that podium finish? That sounds more like a dream than a reality. Or, in other words, a fairy-tale…