Bayer 04 are playing for Bundesliga points in Düsseldorf on Wednesday. The Werkself did the same ten years ago for eight matches on the bounce. In contrast to now, they were never away. The club was forced to find an alternative venue for the second half of the 2008/09 season due to the construction work at the BayArena. There was no love affair between the Werkself and the LTU Arena as this edition of our series '40 years of the Bundesliga' demonstrates.
There were several new things in the 2008/09 season. A 1-0 home defeat to Werder Bremen on the last day of the previous season saw the Werkself drop from fourth to seventh place – thereby missing out on Europe. That cost coach Michael Skibbe his job in the summer break and Bruno Labbadia was brought in from Greuther Fürth to replace him.
One thing was clear from the first game in 2008/09: It would be a season with a handicap for the Werkself. Because the BayArena was being redeveloped and that extension of the capacity was being carried out during the season, Bayer 04 played their home games in the first half of the season on a building site surrounded by cranes, diggers and scaffolding. After the winter break, the complicated construction of the roof and upper tiers made it unavoidable – the Werkself had to move to Düsseldorf. A serious restriction in sporting terms.
Fears that fans might shy away from the 50 kilometre journey to Düsseldorf was the least of all evils looking back. The attendances at the LTU Arena were decent, above all in financial terms. At that time, Fortuna were playing in the third division and the Bayer 04 management hoped to attract the interest of neutral spectators for games in the top flight. Of the eight Bundesliga 'home games', three (against Hamburg SV, Werder Bremen and Borussia Mönchengladbach) attracted over 40,000 fans to the stadium. And the DFB Cup game against Bayern Munich saw 50,000 friends of spectacular football witness a 4-2 win for the Werkself – it was definitely the most joyful moment for Leverkusen in the state capital. Although the money was rolling in, points on the pitch were a fleeting pleasure. Bayer 04 felt like a stranger at the stadium in Stockum, to a massive extent. And lining the walls to the dressing room on match days with photos of the Werkself pros did not particularly help.
The Werkself received valuable support on the sporting front in the summer. Patrick Helmes was signed from neighbours FC Köln and he turned out to be the most effective striker by far with 21 goals, and two new Brazilian players joined the squad with the addition of the highly talented Renato Augusto and Henrique. Labbadia's powerful attacking game gained traction in the first half of the season with Bayer 04 in a promising fifth place at the winter break: There was a 5-2 win against the then league leaders Hoffenheim, a 4-0 victory over Hannover 96 with a Helmes hat-trick, plus 2-0 wins in succession against Eintracht Frankfurt, FC Köln, Werder Bremen and VfL Wolfsburg. Fifth place after the first half of the season and just three points behind the leaders inspired justifiable hopes.
In the second half of the season, rising star Toni Kroos joined Bayer 04 on loan from Bayern Munich. But then came Düsseldorf – where the Werkself suffered one disappointment after the next. Eight 'home games' in the Bundesliga with no wins in seven games in succession; three defeats and four draws. On matchday 31, after a pretty poor performance against Armenia Bielefeld ended in a disappointing 2-2 draw, Stefan Kießling summed up the mood in the team: "I'll be glad when we get away from here."
Only the last game in Düsseldorf on matchday 33 ended in a win, albeit an academic one. The 5-0 victory over Borussia Mönchengladbach remains a memory for the 43,000 fans at the game because the whole stadium, including the Foals supporters, showed their appreciation for Bernd Schneider after he was brought on late in the game. 'Schnix' had missed all the season due to a neck injury and was now celebrating his comeback after a year on the sidelines. It later became clear: Those with the final minutes in a competitive match for the Bayer 04 honorary captain who was not considered by Labbadia in the following games away to Cottbus and the DFB Cup final in Berlin against Werder Bremen. He ended his career after that one year before his contract ran out because his body couldn't take it any more.
Bayer 04 finished ninth in the league at the end of the season, a bitter disappointment. "Our second half of the season was a disaster," declared goalkeeper René Adler. That was definitely due in part to Düsseldorf. The numbers are clear: In the first half of the 2008/09 season with home games in Leverkusen 32 points and in the second half with home games in Düsseldorf 17 points. And: In that season the Werkself picked up more points away (26) than at home (23).
It was a completely different picture in the following campaign in 2009/10. Back on familiar ground in Leverkusen under Jupp Heynckes, who took over as coach in the summer after Labbadia left, Bayer 04 again became a force to be reckoned with at home. The first game at the extended and upgraded BayArena, with its new upper tier and a capacity of 30,210, saw a 1-0 win against TSG Hoffenheim on 15 August 2009 with the winner scored by Stefan Kießling. The Werkself were finally back home after six months away. And the record of home games was impressive: 38 points at home was a great return and that was only surpassed by Bayern Munich (40).
Here is a video of Bernd Schneider's last game: