Social commit­ment under the cross

Sus­tai­nable assis­tance

Bayer 04 is celebrating its 120th birthday next year. Today and over the next few months, is taking this opportunity for a regular look at football under the cross, first and foremost exploring the question: how did we become the club we are today? Part 3 of our series looks at Bayer 04's social commitment, which has always been part of the club's DNA and has been expanded to include numerous additional projects in recent years.

The crowd is huge. The queue stretches right into the Wiesdorf pedestrian zone, half an hour before the Christuskirche opens its doors. On a Friday morning in mid-December, hundreds of needy people line up from 8 a.m. to collect the Christmas parcels that have been packed for them. Among them are many refugees from Ukraine and other countries, older women and men, single parents. Frank Linde is also on site early. The coordinator and project manager for community affairs at Bayer 04 has brought along reinforcements. Markus Kaiser and Thorsten Stergiou, two fans of the Werkself, are helping with this Leverkusen food bank campaign. At the entrance to the church, they show people the way to the various distribution tables, help them carry the approximately 9-kilogram packages inside and repack the contents into the bags and handcarts they have brought with them. Flour, rice, pasta, coffee, tea, chocolate, canned goods, stollen: this and much more was placed in the 1,400 Christmas parcels the day before by employees of the food wholesaler METRO, which were then transported to the Christuskirche by three trucks from the THW (German Federal Agency for Technical Relief) and stacked there.

The packages are funded exclusively through donations. "We already took part last year," says Linde. A good dozen Bayer 04 supporters - almost all participants in the "Football Fans in Training" course offered by the club - had already helped stack the parcels in the Christuskirche the day before. "This time it was a bit difficult to recruit people for this work because we were playing Molde in the Europa League on the Thursday evening," says Linde. So they decided to help with the distribution one day later. Several fans are also working in shifts this Friday in Wiesdorf.



Bayer 04 and the Leverkusen food bank - a relationship that has grown over the years. In November last year, the works club called for food donations to be brought to the BayArena for the first time before the home game against VfB Stuttgart. The donations were collected by Bayer 04 fans at the drop-off points and taken to the food bank the next day. This year, the campaign was repeated before two more home games. With great success. A total of almost 1.5 tons of food and toiletries were donated by the fans. "We really appreciate the commitment of Bayer 04 and its fans," says Reiner Endlein, vice chairman of the Leverkusener Tafel. "It's simply good when we have reliable groups who help and lend a hand at certain points during campaigns such as the Christmas parcels."

Endlein reports that there are currently around 7,000 needy people in Leverkusen with food bank vouchers. Around 1,500 of them regularly come to the six distribution points in the city. This Friday, around 800 people will collect their Christmas parcels within seven hours. Depending on the size of the household, some are entitled to up to three parcels. The gratitude is written all over many people's faces, but some are also ashamed.


Bayer 04 employees have been experiencing similar reactions for several years during another campaign on the market square in Wiesdorf. Around St. Nicholas Day, they distribute bags filled with food and care products to the homeless. Whether it's five-minute terrine, cough sweets, skin creams or chocolate Santas, here too all items were financed by donations, in this case from Bayer 04 employees. The team led by captain Lukas Hradecky and the coaching and backroom staff also donated a large amount. Before the cup match against SC Paderborn on December 6, 100 bags were handed over to homeless people on the market square. "It's frightening to see how many young people are homeless," says Linde. "You can sense fear and, in some cases, deep disappointment." One man told him that he was living in the forest because he no longer wanted to be around people. "Too many psychological injuries." Linde says he had to gulp.

Dropouts, reprobates, even alcoholics for various reasons: "They are always people who need our help," says Linde with conviction. The non-profit organization "Kältegang Leverkusen" has been involved in helping the homeless on a voluntary basis for five years. And it has been supported by Bayer 04 for four years, not only with the bag campaign on the market square. The proceeds from the deposit cup donation at the BayArena also regularly benefit the "Kältegang Leverkusen". For example, the charity's information mobile was partly financed by donations from fans. And just recently, Werkself captain Hradecky handed over 140 blankets to the volunteers of the local homeless charity after the big Bundesliga match against Borussia Dortmund at the BayArena.

Kältegang Leverkusen


"Social engagement has always been part of Bayer AG's DNA and also part of our club's self-image," says Meinolf Sprink, director of fans/social affairs at Bayer 04. Whether local, regional or international projects, "we focus on continuity because social commitment must be sustainable," says Sprink. The euphoria around Bayer 04 and the Werkself, which has been noticeable for months, also has the nice side effect that social initiatives and campaigns for a good cause receive more attention, Sprink notes: "People here in Leverkusen, but also in the surrounding area, are taking an even greater interest in us as a club, including our activity off the pitch. The desire to get involved and help with one of our numerous projects has become even stronger."

The "Einfach Fußball" ("Simple Football") initiative has long been a wonderful success story. Just recently, the 6th edition of the "Einfach Fußball" Cup for children and young people with intellectual disabilities took place in the Ostermann Arena. Everywhere you looked you saw happy faces, girls and boys enjoying football and fair play, and lots of hardworking helpers. The initiative was launched back in 2010 by Bayer AG and Bayer 04 in cooperation with the German Football Association (DFB). Since then, more than 20 locations have joined the initiative, primarily in North Rhine-Westphalia. As always, the proceeds from this year's "Einfach Fußball" Cup went to the partner special schools Hugo-Kükelhaus-Schule (Leverkusen), Martin-Buber-Schule (Leichlingen) and Anne-Frank-Schule (Wipperfürth).

"vital FOR our society"

The Bayer 04 Sportförderung gGmbH volunteer award, which has been presented since 2007, is also an integral part of the regional commitment. This year, the award was presented to the three clubs BSV Roleber 1919, TuS 05 Oberpleis and SV 1924 Glehn during the home match against Borussia Dortmund, with the clubs each receiving prize money of €5,000. Bayer 04 has already provided 55 clubs from the Middle Rhine (FVM) and Lower Rhine (FVN) football associations with a total of more than €250,000 in financial support. "Volunteering is a fundamental component of football," emphasises Fernando Carro, CEO of Bayer 04. "The voluntary work of each and every individual in sport conveys and promotes values that are vital for our society. The award is not only intended to recognise the winners. We also want to honour all other applicants for their day-to-day implementation of innovative projects and hope that numerous clubs and individuals will continue to get involved in the future."

"A smile from these people also warms our hearts“Frank Linde, coordinator and project manager for community affairs at Bayer 04

But Bayer 04 is not only involved on its own doorstep. The Football Club Social Alliance (FCSA) is the best example of the boundless power of the sport to unite people. Since 2009, Bayer 04 has been a member of this association of professional football clubs that work together in crisis and developing regions around the world to help children and young people in difficult circumstances. The focus is on a training programme for young coaches, qualified coaches for children and young people. As Bayer 04 instructors, Peter Quast, Jörg Kappenhagen and Thorsten Judt have trained countless young local coaches in Uganda, Colombia, India, Sudan, Vietnam, Jordan and many other countries in recent years. Most recently, the FCSA project was a guest in Ecuador, where it worked closely with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), among others.


"We help people to help themselves," says Quast. The poverty and hardship of the local people are often depressing, the individual fates harrowing. Stories like that of the boy in Colombia who was used as a drug courier and shot dead on a soccer pitch in front of his own mother because he failed to do his job once are hard to take. "It's unbearable," says Quast. But he and Kappenhagen have also experienced other, touching moments. A woman from a small village in northern Uganda told him that, as a trained young coach, she is now regularly invited to talk about football and the Africa Cup, says Kappenhagen. "Moments like that make my heart skip a beat." It's nice when your own commitment leads to such results.

It's often the reactions of the people in need that also give a lot back to the helpers. They make the commitment a benefit in every respect. Even at home, large financial investments are not always necessary - just small gestures can go a long way. And sometimes bring back precious memories, for example. When residents suffering from dementia in Leverkusen's retirement homes are visited by Bayer 04 with a "memory suitcase", this becomes very clear. Singing the Bayer 04 anthem together, memory games with pictures from the club's history and tactile objects such as jerseys, goalkeeper gloves from Rüdiger Vollborn or tickets from the 2002 Champions League final in Glasgow awaken emotions in the patients, stimulate them and give them joy. Almost 20 volunteer fans of the Werkself are involved in the "Memory Case", a project by Bayer 04 and the Regional Office for Ageing, Care and Dementia. The project has just been awarded second place in the NRW state government's "Heimat Prize".


Bayer 04 has also been involved in a large number of successful initiatives, campaigns and projects in the year now drawing to a close. Many of these, such as the "Bayer 04 Learning Curve", the "Bayer 04 Helps Day" and the "Football Fans in Training", have long since become a tradition. The support for the Leverkusen food bank in distributing Christmas parcels is also well on the way to becoming one.

At the end of the day, the campaign was a complete success for those in need as almost all of the 1,400 parcels found their recipients. There wasn't too much time for a chat or two with them on the day, and the queue of people in front of the Christuskirche didn't get any shorter as the day went on. "It was important that we were able to serve everyone quickly," says Linde. "And a smile from these people also warms our hearts."