Next year marks Bayer 04’s 120th birthday. To celebrate the occasion, we would like to take the opportunity, today and in the next few months, to regularly look at football under the Cross on bayer04.de and primarily delve into the question of: how have we become the club we are today? Part two of our series looks at our fans. Werkself supporters are enjoying this season like never before, providing incredible support both home and away.
It is hardly surprising that the home section of the BayArena has always been sold out at matches so far this season. The Werkself are playing inspiring, winning football. Everyone wants to be there, everyone wants to contribute to the fantastic atmosphere in their own stadium. As was the case again on Sunday with the 1-1 draw against Borussia Dortmund. At some home games, the demand for tickets has been so high that the servers sometimes crashed. But even an old hand like Andreas ‘Paffi’ Paffrath is surprised that tickets for away games are now so popular. What the Bayer 04 fan representative describes with palpable joy in his voice is an expression of a completely new Leverkusen feeling. When Bayer 04 recently requested the entire contingent of away tickets before the game in Bremen, his phone rang. "The colleagues from Werder rang us and asked to be on the safe side in case we had somehow miscalculated," said Paffi with a grin. No, they hadn't. After all, around 4,100 Werkself fans travelled to the Weserstadion. And the away block is also sold out again for the upcoming and last away game of this calendar year in Stuttgart. "VfB would have liked to sell the upper tier tickets to their own fans," said Paffi.
Support for the Werkself in away stadiums has reached unprecedented levels. A few figures illustrate that: 3,000 fans followed their team at the DFB-Pokal first-round match at Teutonia Ottensen. Some 5,200 supporters accompanied coach Xabi Alonso's team to Munich for the game at Bayern, 5,000 were there at Mainz, 3,800 in Sinsheim at Hoffenheim and 3,400 in the second round of the cup at Sandhausen. A total of 31,000 Bayer 04 fans have cheered on their team in the eight away matches in the Bundesliga and DFB-Pokal to date. On average, almost 4,000 Black & Red supporters were in attendance away from home. And often made more noise there than the home fans.
Even in the Europa League, die-hard fans were not deterred from travelling long distances. Around 900 supporters made the journey to Gothenburg, by plane, by ferry, by car or in an organised bus. What an adventure, yet again, over 1,000 kilometres. Nordkurve12 had also organised a bus. Around 15 hours later, they arrived in wintry, snowy, ice-cold Gothenburg. Travelling with Bayer 04, on tour #aCROSSeurope. Once again, the atmosphere in the Ullevi away section was great. Most of the fans went straight home after the game. The bottom line is that they spent more than 30 hours travelling to and from the match for 90 minutes of football. Madness, some would say. Others call it passion. We say thank you!
So, what has happened in Leverkusen, at Bayer 04, with the fans? "It started last season," Paffi explained. "In the week before the home leg of the Europa League semi-final against Roma, the whole city was electrified. People were wearing our colours. Black and red scarves were hanging from cars, you saw flags on houses, cyclists had put on jerseys on their way to work or school."
Before the game, there was a fan march from Opladen to the stadium, in which thousands took part. The team bus could only travel at a snail's pace. It was a huge a reception for our team. And then the game at the BayArena against the master bricklayers from the Eternal City. "I've never experienced such an atmosphere over 90 minutes as against Roma," said Paffi. "Maybe for a bit of the legendary 4-2 win against Liverpool in 2002, but against Roma there was such a loud volume for the entire duration of the game, there was a level of support like never before. That was awesome, pure goosebumps." The team had ignited the spark. And the fans sensed that something is happening here, something is possible again. "Some had already booked their flight to the final in Budapest. They didn't give a damn whether they would be stuck with the costs. The main thing was to be there."
As we all know, the Budapest dream never materialised, but the euphoria remained. And when the club gradually presented its new additions during the summer break and was able to retain almost all of its key players, the message got through to the fans: We want to achieve something, we have plans. "It fits from front to back," according to Paffi. "Xabi Alonso as coach, new players like [Granit] Xhaka and [Jonas] Hofmann, who are real leaders on the pitch. Or [Alejandro] Grimaldo and [Victor] Boniface, these great players and guys. And what's more, the guys sometimes stay longer after training to sign autographs. They are approachable, you can feel their identification with the club. All of this led to the fans saying: I'll get in the car, I want to be part of the journey."
Before the journey really got under way, the previous record of 19,350 season tickets for the BayArena was already broken prior to the start of the 2023/24 season. Bayer 04 sold 40 percent more jerseys than in the previous season. The Bayer 04 Clubs were pleased to see an increase of over 20 percent compared to the previous season - more than 39,000 members are now registered. At the time, nobody could have imagined that the Werkself would make such an impressive start to the season. But many had firmly believed in it.
Reach on social media channels has also increased enormously once again. Bayer 04 now has more than 11 million followers on its 17 digital platforms, and rising. This puts the club in the top three in the Bundesliga.
The fact that the team is setting record after record and racing from win to win makes the euphoria almost permanent. Paffi knows such phases. After all, the man has been an active Bayer fan for over 50 years and has been involved in the club's fan support for over three decades. But such enthusiasm? "No, it's never been like this before," said the 56-year-old.
His own life as a fan began with an away match between Bayer 04 and Union Solingen. He watched his first football match at the Hermann-Löns-Weg Stadium in 1971 as a four-year-old. Since then, the Leverkusen native has experienced all the highs and lows. Including, of course, the 1978/79 promotion season, when the atmosphere was light years away from what it is today. Even though Gelsdorf, Hörster, Herzog and Co. clocked up victory after victory in the last second division season and were at the top of the table from the second to the final matchday, they were far from sparking a spectator boom. A total of 150,000 spectators attended the 19 home games, an average of just under 8,000, while the Ulrich-Haberland-Stadion had a capacity of 22,000 at the time.
And even in the first years in the Bundesliga, the stands were often dreary - and not just in Leverkusen. Full stadiums were the exception, not the rule. When coach Willibert Kremer's team secured their first ever away win in the Bundesliga at Schalke on 1 December 1979 (2-0), only 6,000 spectators were lost in the vast arena of the venerable Parkstadion. However, the yawning emptiness also had its advantages: "You were able to direct the team well from the back," recalls goalkeeping legend Rüdiger Vollborn with a grin. "The players heard you because it was so quiet."
With the conversion of the Ulrich-Haberland-Stadion into more of a showpiece, but above all with the signing of stars such as Andy Thom, Ulf Kirsten, Bernd Schuster and Rudi Völler in the early to mid-1990s, spectator numbers skyrocketed. In the 1994/95 season, the average attendance had already risen to 22,800. The stands became more colourful. On the one hand, because fan merchandise such as scarves, flags and jerseys were now available to buy. Secondly, because a wider audience found its way into the stadium. With the ‘Familystreet’, Bayer 04 offered families an attractive programme. The ‘Atmopshere Working group’ provided elaborately designed, colourful tifos in the stands. The Ultras also contributed to the significantly improved atmosphere in the stadium. The recent remodelling of the BayArena in 2009 brought even more service and comfort.
Fan support, the fan project, the Bayer 04 Clubs, the ‘Kurvenrat’, the ‘Kreativ Schwarz-Rot’ association, the independent fan initiative Nordkurve12 - in 45 years of uninterrupted Bundesliga membership, a fan scene has grown in Leverkusen that loves and lives Bayer 04. Paffi concludes: "And everyone feels and hopes that the close cohesion between club, team and supporters can lead to something big this season."