A Bayer 04 stalwart is 70

Happy Birth­day, Gelle.


He is one of the promotion heroes of 1979, was coach of the Werkself, head of the youth section at Kurtekotten and today is the head of the football department: Jürgen Gelsdorf is one of the great personalities at Bayer 04 and he has played a crucial role in the history of the club. Today he celebrates his 70th birthday. A good reason to hear from friends and colleagues such as Norbert Ziegler, Peter Hermann, Rudi Völler, Reiner Calmund, Bum-kun Cha and Kai Havertz. But first of all: Many happy returns on your 70th birthday, dear Gelle.

Rudi Völler (at Bayer 04 since 1994), as a striker you often came across man-marker Jürgen Gelsdorf by his own account. Many years later, in 2005, you brought him back to Leverkusen and made him head of the youth section. Why are people like Gelle so important for the Bayer 04 DNA?

Völler: Like me, Gelle has almost done everything at this club: player, coach, head of youth, head of the football section… He's almost on his own as a representative of Bayer 04 Leverkusen and it's definitely not an exaggeration to describe him as a face of our club. His enthusiasm for the Black and Reds is unbroken, Jürgen is simply part of it all and you can't imagine him not being under the Bayer Cross. Many people may not remember that he was not only a tough defender as a player but he also had a fine left foot: I've not forgotten!


Peter Hermann (Werkself player from 1976 to 1984, assistant coach and caretaker manager at Bayer 04), would you perhaps never have become a coach in the Bundesliga without Jürgen Gelsdorf ?

Hermann: Jürgen took over from Rinus Michels as head coach at Bayer 04 in April 1989. When it became clear that he'd also stay on for the following season of 1989/90, he asked me if I could imagine being his assistant coach. Up to that point, I’d had a little experience as a player coach in the Oberliga at SC Jülich but he was obviously taking a risk with me. The Bundesliga was a completely different kettle of fish. I have to thank Jürgen for me taking that step up and without him I’d never have landed up in a job like that. And then everything went very well, we had a really good season. We were even top of the table in December 1989. Unfortunately we fell away at the start of the New Year but qualified for the UEFA Cup in fifth place. That was the best Bundesliga finish for Bayer 04 up to then. In that successful season I realised that I liked the job as assistant coach. Jürgen and I always got on brilliantly from when we both arrived in Leverkusen in 1976. And we are still close friends today.


Ronald ‘Ronnie’ Worm (former teammate of Jürgen Gelsdorf in the MSV Duisburg youth section, later a Bundesliga player at MSV and Eintracht Braunschweig), did you think it was possible that your old mate, the slim and technically gifted number ten Jürgen Gelsdorf, would become a tough central defender?

Worm: If I remember correctly, Jürgen played further back in our final year together in the U19 team at MSV Duisburg. We were quite successful back then and we reached the final of the Western German Championships. Gelle counted as one of our leading players and was definitely not a softy on the pitch. Therefore, I wasn't a little bit surprised about him turning into an uncompromising defender. I was later on the end of that myself a few times as an opponent. I scored three goals for Eintracht Braunschweig against Bayer 04 at the start of the 1980s. Jürgen was playing in central defence and I had the upper hand against him due to my pace. When he tried to put in a sliding tackle I was long gone (he laughs). Otherwise, I felt his physicality in some of the other games.

Kai Havertz (joined Bayer 04 at the age of 11 in 2010, a Werkself player from 2016 to 2020 and now at Chelsea), what role did the head of the youth section Jürgen Gelsdorf play during your time as a youngster at Leverkusen?

Havertz: Jürgen Gelsdorf was incredibly important to me as a young player at Kurtekotten. He conveyed sporting and human values he was always someone to go to for any questions. I associate moving up to the first team with him and I'm very grateful to him along with my family for his brilliant support.

Andreas Thom (player at the Werkself from 1990 to 1995), for Jürgen Gelsdorf you were one of the best, fastest, most talented and technically gifted players he ever coached. What was Jürgen Gelsdorf to you?

Thom: (He laughs) What must I have done back then for him to see me as being that impressive? Jürgen Gelsdorf was my first coach in the West. I often saw him as a player on television before the turnaround. And in his first season as head coach, he appeared to be no less ambitious than he was on the pitch as a player. He wanted to take his chance as a young coach and I wanted to get established in the Bundesliga as an Ossi (East German) straight after the (Berlin) Wall came down. We were both hungry for success. He – but also the whole team back then – made it very easy for me to settle in the West. A less happy memory I associate with him is our exit from the DFB Cup semi-finals in Mönchengladbach in 1992 – Jürgen Gelsdorf was the Borussia coach…


Fred Bockholt (Werkself goalkeeper from 1975 to 1981), were you more relaxed in games as a goalkeeper when Jürgen Gelsdorf was in central defence?

Bockholt: Definitely. Jürgen was competitive and ambitious. He was always extremely well prepared for games and knew everything about his opposite number. You could rely on him 100%. He just took everything very seriously including every training session. Back then, I was by far the oldest player in the team and it surprised me how Jürgen as a young man – often together with Dietmar Demuth – held the defence together. Jürgen was not fussy about the means he used and he never held back.

Norbert Ziegler (player at the Werkself from 1975 to 1981, former head scout at Bayer 04), who was better in card games, Gelle or you?

Ziegler: (He laughs) I was clearly on top. Jürgen was always a very interesting and demanding opponent at cards but he mostly didn't have enough at the end of the day. Reiner Calmund also joined in occasionally if he had time. We never played for money but instead always for beer – the loser paid for the next round of Kölsch. And that was often Jürgen… As on the pitch, he was always very focused and keen at cards – and he didn't like losing at all. But afterwards everything was okay again. Now cycling is our big joint hobby. Gelle and I have had some great tours in almost every part of Germany. We don't meet up as often these days because I've been living in the Allgäu for a couple of years. But Jürgen and his wife Gaby regularly come to visit me. I wish Gelle on his 70th birthday good health above all as that is more important than anything else at our age – and I'm looking forward to lots more cycling tours with him.

Die Aufstiegsmannschaft von 1979 um Jürgen Gelsdorf mit Norbert Ziegler (Mitte, 4.v.l.) und Fred Bockholt (sitzend, 4.v.r.).

Reiner Calmund (former general manager and managing director at Bayer 04), why was parting company with coach Juergen Gelsdorf in 1991 one of your most difficult personnel decisions?

Calmund: I found it difficult to replace every coach. But with Jürgen it was actually really tough because he was my friend and a witness at my marriage. He came to Leverkusen around the same time. In our surprising promotion to the Bundesliga, he played in all 38 games as a tough libero and even scored eight goals. After over 400 games as a player, Jürgen was the first full-time youth coach at Bayer and assistant coach with the first team in 1988 following our UEFA Cup win. When he replaced the Dutch coach Rinus Michels in 1988/89 we finished mid-table with Jürgen.

And then in the following season, he finished level on points with FC Bayern at the winter break with an inexpensive side and we ended up qualifying for the UEFA Cup. It was a bitter moment for me when we let Jürgen go in 1991. Back then I drank several bottles of wine to settle my nerves – and I was glad that Jürgen went on to get good jobs as a coach in professional football after leaving us. As the Borussia Mönchengladbach head coach, he inflicted a bitter defeat on us in the DFB Cup semi-finals in 1992. I was very happy that he found his way back to Bayer 04 after his coaching career and became head of the youth section and football section at TSV Bayer 04. Because Jürgen was simply a really good lad – and he is still the same at 70."

Andrzej Buncol (player at the Werkself from 1987 to 1992 and now technical coach at Kurtekotten), The tough "General" Rinus Michels was replaced as head coach by his assistant Jürgen Gelsdorf in 1989. Did fun return with Gelle?

Buncol: Rinus Michels had just won the European Championships with Holland and he had a golden time at Ajax behind him. Of course, he was 60 when he joined us. He placed great value on discipline and did not laugh much. The atmosphere changed in a flash when Jürgen took over. He'd played for Bayer including with some members of our team who he was now coaching. Yes, there was lots of fun under him as coach. Although he was a tough coach in his own way – but always straight up. We beat Bayern for the first time with him in the dugout, were top at Christmas and Jürgen really helped us improve. His biggest strength: He was able to motivate us incredibly, get us going like nothing else before every game and that was fantastic.

Roman Klossek (commercial director of youth section), what's Jürgen Gelsdorf like as a boss at the Kurtekotten Performance Centre?

Klossek: Jürgen was an absolute figure authority as a line manager who always trusted his colleagues 100% – and that was repaid. He radiates great authority and calm – the only thing that wound up were refereeing decisions he didn't agree with. It was always special when we went to meetings with the DFB or the DFL with Gelle: When he entered the room many of the officials pricked up their ears. There was huge respect for him and through that we were able to get our Bayer 04 interests through in many cases. I look forward to carry on working with him on the departmental board at TSV Bayer 04.

Rüdiger Vollborn (Bayer 04 honorary captain), at the start of the 80s, what were you able to learn as a youngster from Jürgen Gelsdorf, who was ten years older and an established player?

Vollborn: I had a very settled defence in front of me including Dieter Bast, Jürgen Gelsdorf and Walter Posner who were all over 30 at the time. It was difficult for me to play like I used to in the youth teams: giving out vocal comments and commands (he laughs). Of course, I didn't dare do that with the players in front of me in the first two Bundesliga seasons. Nevertheless, they always made me feel they trusted me although I wasn't the most confident player at the start. Basically, Gelle played a big part in me not getting swept away in matches and me producing solid performances in later years. That was above all due to players like him who always performed at a very high level, including in training sessions. Everybody respected Gelle, he was definitely one of the players in the driving seat in our team. He gave me a lot of confidence.  

Linda Schöttler (Women's team general manager), how has Jürgen Gelsdorf made an outstanding contribution to women's football at Bayer 04?

Schöttler: Because he has supported us from the start as the head of the football section and always stuck up for us. Gelle has been a frequent and popular visitor at Werkself Women's games for many years.    

Thomas Hörster (Werkself player from 1977 to 1991, former youth and head coach at the Werkself), both yourself and Jürgen Gelsdorf come from the Ruhr region. You played alongside him at Leverkusen for nine years and were a colleague at Bayer 04 for many years. Is he like a brother to you?

Hörster: Well, if so, Gelle is definitely the bigger brother. He's been an enormous presence in my life for decades and not just on the pitch as the also has an impressive personality. In terms of him as a football player: When we were promoted to the Bundesliga in 1979 we often came up against opponents whose challenges bordered on the dangerous. But with Gelle in defence, I never feared anything could happen to us. It was very settling to know he was alongside and behind me. And in terms of his team: A clear word at the right time has always been very important to him. You always know where you stand with Gelle.


Bum-kun Cha (Werkself player from 1983 to 1989), Jürgen Gelsdorf’s foul on you filled the headlines for a few weeks in 1980. A few years later you were his teammate at Bayer 04. How did you become friends?

Cha: I have to admit that I obviously remembered the foul by Gelle when I signed for Bayer 04 and that I was actually afraid of him back then. But when I arrived in Leverkusen and got to know him better I was in for a surprise: I'd never thought that Gelle would be such a likeable person. I associate lots of good and valuable memories with him and I'm very grateful for that. And whenever I have a twinge in my back these days I think of Gelle (he laughs).


Bayer 04 legend Rüdiger Vollborn congratulated Juergen Gelsdorf in his series "Rudi recounts…". HERE you can see some action from his time with the Werkself...