40 years in the Bundesliga: Amazement at first sight

On Saturday 25 August, Bayer 04 start Bundesliga campaign number 40 away to Borussia Mönchengladbach. Only two other current top-flight clubs (Bayern Munich 1965 and Borussia Dortmund since 1976) have had a longer run in the Bundesliga. Reason enough for us to look back over the coming weeks and months at special moments and stories from the four Werkself decades in Germany's top flight. Let's start at the beginning: the first Bundesliga match on 11 August 1979.

This team was not used to losing. When Bayer 04 crowned a sensational and triumphant run through the Bundesliga North Division 2 in 1978/79 with promotion, Willibert Kremer's team had almost forgotten what it felt like to lose a game: the runaway champions only lost once in 38 outings. Of course, that level of dominance was history when the captain Dieter Herzog led out his team on Saturday 11 August,1979 for the first time in Germany's top flight. There were three new signings in the Werkself line-up: Jürgen Glowacz, a midfield stalwart from Köln, Kurt Eigl, a left-footer from Darmstadt, and central defender Dietmar Demuth, previously at FC St. Pauli – a fearless figure of a man known for his physical challenges and dry sense of humour. For example, when asked about his favourite reading he replied 'my savings book.'

Leverkusen had the honour of playing their first game in the top division at the venue where millions of people across the globe had watched the Olympic Games seven years earlier: the Olympic Stadium in Munich. A dubious pleasure for the rank outsiders to be playing away to the title favourites FC Bayern in their first fixture. Coach Willibert Kremer highlighted the significance of the target for the season ahead of the game: "If we manage to stay up then we'll have doubled our performance levels compared with winning the league last term." There was an additional incentive of a points bonus of 1,000 Deutsch Marks per player


Karl-Heinz Rummenigge (left) outjumps Walter Posner to make it 2-0 to Bayern – against the backdrop of the pavilion roof of the Olympic Stadium.

eyes to the heavens

Three minutes into the game in Munich refereed by Gert Meuser and the ball was in the back of Fred Bockholt's net for the first time: Bernd Dürnberger gave the favourites the lead (top of the photo) and by the time Karl-Heinz Rummenigge had doubled the advantage less than ten minutes later it was clear to the last Leverkusen fan that it would a much bumpier ride in the top division. We were all pretty much overstretched in this clash and we were spending more time with our eyes to the heavens admiring the pavilion roof of the Olympic Stadium than we were putting up decent resistance to Bayern ," said the Bayer 04 libero at the time Jürgen Gelsdorf.

Demuth's goal for the record books

Above all, the visitors were unable to get a grip of the outstanding Paul Breitner at any point in the game. After 90 minutes, Bayer 04 had deservedly lost their first game in the Bundesliga but had not lost face. Norbert Janzon made it 3-0 for Bayern on 59 minutes but Dietmar Demuth pulled a goal back from the penalty spot three minutes later to go down in the record books as the first Bayer 04 goalscorer in the Bundesliga and that helped to soften the blow of a 3-1 defeat.

Peter Szech (centre), who died four years ago, celebrates making it 2-0 against Hertha Berlin– the match ended in the first Bundesliga win for Bayer 04.

After this joyless start to the season, Willibert Kremer's team quickly showed top division pedigree.The first home game against Hertha Berlin brought the first points to the pleasure of 15,000 fans at the Ulrich Haberland Stadium, which had an extra 2,700 seats in an additional stand built in the closed season  on the east side of the ground: Kurt Eigl and Peter Szech, who died four years ago, scored for Bayer 04 in the 2-1 victory and by the first fixture of the second half of the season on 19 January 1980, Bayer 04 were established in the Bundesliga: 20,000 fans went wild when the Werkself succeeded in tripping up the  mighty FC Bayern to secure a 1-0 win.

Back of the net: Dietmar Demuth converts another penalty to beat Walter Junghans – for the 1-0 winner against Bayern Munich in January 1980.

Hermann the spoilsport

Once again, Dietmar Demuth beat the FC Bayern keeper Walter Junghans from the penalty spot on a bone-hard frozen pitch. This time it was not a consolation goal but instead a strike that brought two valuable points in the battle to avoid relegation. By the end of the season, the Bayer 04 central defender had clocked up a noteworthy eight goals (including the goal of the month for February 1980, a header against MSV Duisburg)  – five of them were penalties and all fired into the net. The best player on the pitch in the win against FC Bayern: Peter Hermann, who man-marked the Bayern playmaker Paul Breitner out of the game .

Peter Hermann with Kevin Keegan of HSV – the 2-1 win against the defending champions was an absolute highlight of Bayer 04's first season in the Bundesliga.

Within a few months, the wide-eyed newcomers from August of the previous year had turned into a competitive side. The highlight came on the penultimate matchday: With a goal from Dieter Herzog and a magical strike from Thomas Hörster, Bayer 04 beat the defending champions Hamburg SV, with the great Kevin 'Mighty Mouse' Keegan in their line-up, 2-1 in a brilliant display that decided a tight league title race in favour of Bayern Munich. At the end of their first season in the Bundesliga, the Werkself were twelfth after 12 wins, 8 draws and 14 defeats. The newcomers to the top flight were only in the drop zone once over the course of the whole season: after the opening 3-1 defeat away to FC Bayern.

The Bayer 04 line-up for the club's first ever Bundesliga fixture on 11 August 1979:

Bockholt – Posner, Gelsdorf, Demuth, Scheinert – Bruckmann, Glowacz (Gniech 75'), Hörster, Eigl (Brücken 75') – Szech, Herzog

The match in Munich was the first of a total of 1,330 Bundesliga games for Bayer 04 up to the present day. The current record is  565 wins, 396 defeats and 369 draws – with 2,222 goals for and 1,776 against.

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