Welcome to volume two of my blog paying homage to the football clubs I've visited all over the world and the wonderful people responsible for keeping them going and looking after the stadiums, and in some cases basic grounds.

Since I was a little lad I've been fascinated in football and more so where games are played. With my love of travel and curiosity of the game I wanted to visit as many grounds and see games wherever possible. I was lucky that my Dad also loved the game and spent so much of his spare time taking me to matches. As I got older the boundaries widened owing to my location and increased wages to Europe and indeed the world. The sight of a stand or a floodlight pylon in the distance immediately hightens my senses and eagerness for a closer look.

I hope this site gives you the chance to share in my pleasure and experiences and maybe one day set you on the road to adventure. If you get half as much out of the hobby as I've done I can guarantee some great memories, good friends and stories to pass on to future generations.

Give your local club a go today. They'll be pleased to see you!

Everlasting thanks primarily to my late and very much missed and dearly loved parents; my Dad Bob Bernard and my Mum; Ann, who put up with endless years of football chat and my brothers Nick and Paul who gave me the chance and encouragement to do what I have. Thanks to all my friends who offer encouragement and Sally and Stan who inspire and give me great pride. Young Stan is showing a keen interest in my hobby!

Please feel free to post any comments (please use sensible language - I want everyone to be able to enjoy reading) or ask any questions relating to visiting grounds or events. If you want to see any ground reviewed please let me know. It will take quite some time for everywhere to appear, but make sure you keep having a look as the site is continually updated.

If you click on a lot of the pictures you will get a larger version on your screen.

I have also added links to video clips on youtube where appropriate for those of you who are bored of reading or are filling in time at work. I haven't always gone for the most obvious choices, but items that will be in some cases unusual but always historically interesting.

Click to see volume one of HAOTW.

Rob Bernard


September 2015

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Bayer 04 Leverkusen (Germany)

Bayer 04 Leverkusen were formed in 1904. The club come from the industrial town of Leverkusen, which is on the eastern banks of the Rhine about twenty kilometres north of Cologne.

On the 27th November 1903 an employee of The Friedrich Bayer & Co, Wilhelm Hauschild wrote a letter to his bosses backed by a hundred and seventy of his colleagues seeking support in setting up a sports club. The company agreed, so on 1st July 1904 Turn- und Spielverein Bayer 04 Leverkusen was founded.

In 1907 a separate football section was formed, which caused a split within the club. The football, athletics, handball, fistball and boxing players went with the footballers to form SV Bayer 04 Leverkusen in 1928.

The club started playing third and fourth division football at the Ulrich-Haberland-Stadion, which opened in 1932, before reaching Oberliga West in 1951. They were relegated five years later and did not appear in the 'upper' leagues until 1962. After the re-organisation of the football system in West Germany, 'Werkself ("Factory Squad")' were placed in the Regionalliga West, tier II.

After a promotion and relegation, Bayer played in what is now 2 Bundesliga in 1973 and in 1979 they reached the Bundesliga. The side gradually progressed as an established top flight club and in 1984, the two sections that had split back in 1928 came together to form TSV Bayer 04 Leverkusen e.V.

In 1988 Bayer lifted the UEFA Cup after a dramatic two legged final against RCD Espanyol. Trailing three nil from the first leg in Catalunya, Leverkusen won the second leg by the same scoreline before lifting the trophy after a penalty shoot out. 

Later that year long serving executive Reiner Calmund was appointed General Manager in an excellent move that saw some astute player recruitment to move the club forward. Following the reunification of Germany in 1990 Bayer signed East Germany stars Ulf Kirsten, Andreas Thom and Jens Melzig as well as building contacts in Brazil. 

The German Cup (Pokal) was lifted in 1993 with Bernt Schuster scoring a wonder goal. Other big names to join the club included Rudi Voller, Jorginho and Paulo Sergio. At the same time the team reverted to playing in its historical colours of red and black.

After a near relegation, new boss Christoph Daum came in and built an attacking side featuring Lucio, Michael Ballack and Emerson. Daum's reign came to an end after a drug scandal. Leverkusen continued to improve and in 2000 had the title in their grasp. They only needed a draw against SpVgg Unterhaching in the final game but they went down two nil with Ballack scoring an own goal, allowing Bayern Munich to overtake them.

In 2002 the club had treble misery. They blew a five point lead with three games remaining as Borussia Dortmund won the league. The DFB Pokal Final was lost against Shalke 04 and Real Madrid beat them 2-1 in the Champions League Final at Hampden Park.

The era had seen the stadium rebuilt as the Bay Arena but leading players left including Ballack to Bayern Munich. The club fell from top finishes so had to compete in the UEFA Cup and then the Europa League. Managers came and went as the Bay Arena was further developed in the hope of being chosen as a venue for the 2006 World Cup. Unfortunately the venue was overlooked as well as the German team reneging on using it as their training base for the event.

In 2009 the highly experienced coach, Jupp Heynckes took over as first team boss with Ballack returning from Chelsea a year later as the club finished runners up in the Bundesliga in 2011. In May 2011 retiring defender Sami Hyypiä was appointed as the new manager. Hyppia took the side to a third place finish at the end of the 2012-13 season.

Hyypiä was sacked in April 2014 to be replaced by caretaker boss Sascha Lewandowski as the team finished in fourth place before Roger Schmidt took over as head coach. He took the side through the group stages of the 2014-15 Champions League before going out to Atlético Madrid.

Another fourth place finish ensued aided by the goals of Karim Bellarabi and Son Heung-min led to another Champions League campain in 2015-16. This time Bayer finish third in their group to be transferred to the Europa League where they went out in the round of sixteen to Villareal.

Javier Hernández was signed from Manchester United, and his goals took Leverkusen to third place in the 2015-16 Bundesliga campaign. The 2016-17 campaign was to be one of disappointment, despite a promising start.

Bayer went through from the Champions League group stage, only to be knocked out once again by Atlético Madrid. Bundesliga form faltered, leading to the dismissal of Schmidt, as the Turk, Tayfun Korkut took over.

Korkut didn't fare any better, as Bayer finished the season in twelth position, leading to his dismissal. Formaer German international and Bayer striker Heiko Herrlich was appointed in charge of team affairs at the BayArena in July 2017.

Bayer 04 Leverkusen will compete in the Bundesliga for the 2017-18 season.

My visit

Bayer 04 Leverkusen 4 Vfb Stuttgart 2 (Sunday 20th February 2010) Bundesliga (att: 28,851)

I went on a lads weekend to North West Germany with my mates Carl and Colm and on the Friday we'd been to Vfl Bochum v Fortuna Dusseldorf, followed by Borussia Dortmund v St Pauli on the Saturday afternoon. The match in Leverkusen was to fill in our Sunday's activities!

We checked out of our budget accommodation in Dortmund on Sunday morning, amazingly ahead of schedule. The tram wasn’t due for some time so we ended up walking down to the main station with plenty of time before our train. 

We purchased the great value ticket which covered up to five people for 36 Euros in advance on the Friday. It could be used on any regional railway as many times as we wanted on one weekend day. In a rare occurrence our train was running fifteen minutes late.

Again the advice from an internet football ground guide message board while preparing had come in useful. A poster had told me that Leverkusen didn’t have a lot going for it and we’d be far better off heading for Koln (Cologne). 

The train went through the mining towns of Westphalia and the Ruhr valleys as we passed the stadiums of MSV Duisburg and SG Wattenscheid 09 as well as many local grounds, which Carl pointed out would do for the homeless Scarborough Athletic. We gradually entered the wide part of the Rhine Valley, went through Dusseldorf and Leverkusen before alighting in Koln. The journey had taken seventy five minutes.

Koln is a very pretty city which relies heavily on tourism. The Gothic cathedral, which is built virtually on top of the station, really is a sight to behold.  We headed for the old town with its large market square and narrow streets and had a look down to the river. 

Most establishments seemed to just cater for meals with drinks. We just wanted a couple of quick beers to fill in a bit of time. We found a pub at last, which looked a bit of a den of iniquity if truth be told, but the bloke behind the bar was friendly enough.

It was then time to enter The Corkonian Irish pub for our first taste of football for the day. We had time to watch the first half of the Celtic v Rangers Old Firm game and enjoy a few drinks. Sadly the pub didn’t do Sunday lunch as was part of our plan but it was better than nothing. 

Actually I’ll have to change that sentence. I was surrounded by Celtic fans, plus Carl acting as Agent Provocateur as Rangers put in a pitiful first half showing, much to the delight of everyone else in our part of the pub. We headed to the station, just in time for our train with Colm in jubilant mood and me grumbling along. 

Fifteen minutes later we arrived at the rather basic station at Leverkusen. The city’s main reason for its existence is that it is the home of the huge multinational chemical works of Bayer, the makers of aspirin among other things, as well as its employees.

We walked along the banks of a small river through some pleasant parks where local football was going on, to the impressive BayArena. Over the years the club had developed the stadium with the crowning glory being the superb dramatic new roof.
Colm went for his fix from McDonalds whilst Carl and I went inside and I suffered the frustration of the same card scheme required to acquire catering as in Dortmund. The Bayer card was more like a credit card with its own chip and could also be used at the club shop and to purchase tickets. We got a beer and a different spicy sausage as we bumped into a group of Swedish fans who’d been to the same three games as us over the weekend.
We went to the top floor to our seat which offered a great view over the corner flag. Stuttgart had plenty of fans in their corner section, with the vocal locals in the opposite corner. I got the impression of Leverkusen being very much a family club.

The home side went ahead through Stefan Kiessling after just seven minutes and it was soon apparent that both defences were not exactly watertight. Bayer would go second in the league with a win, with Stuttgart starting in the relegation places. They certainly travelled with attack on their minds. 

They levelled after sixteen minutes with a fine finish from Austrian Martin Harnik, which saw fans on all part of the ground celebrate. It was some turn out considering Stuttgart was a long distance away. I warmed to them. I liked their style of football and as a kid I took a fancy to their kit in the Subbuteo sets. They fact that they once thumped Leeds 3-0 in the European Cup also helped with my affinity towards them.
The clubs' previous logos

The end to end football continued as Gonzalo Castro restored the home lead before half time before the coaches tried to explain the principals of defending during the break. Sammy Hyppia was leading the home rearguard, not very well it must be said.
After our welcoming gluwein we got back to our seats to see Zdravko Kuzmanović restore parity with a thunderbolt. At this point the game was in the balance when Bayer brought on a familiar face. It was at this point I definitely wanted Stuttgart to win as Michael Ballack came on. Ballack epitomised everything I dislike about modern big time footballers. 

During his career he never seemed to have stopped whining and diving. But the annoying thing about him is that he could play when he really wanted to. He decided this was going to be his day as he took control of the midfield. Both sides continued to squander chances before Stefan Reinartz put Bayer ahead nine minutes from time. 

The visitors poured forwards frantically looking for an equaliser when Stanley Sam broke clear for Leverkusen on a long run from his own box before teeing up Kiessling to finish the game off. It had been cruel on Stuttgart, but it had been a tremendous game. I dread to have thought what Alan Hansen would have made of it when analysing on Match of the Day!
We wandered back with the crowds. It was very cold by now. We had a protective wall behind us in our seats but the old lad on stewarding duties in the entrance looked close to tears as the wind whipped in. We still had plenty of time before our train so we decided to find a bar for a quick warm and a beer. It was not as easy as it sounds. The area around the station reminded me uncannily of Stevenage. It was no thing of beauty!

We managed to get seats upstairs on the busy train back to Dortmund. Everything had gone relatively well over the three days. My only real concern was that we caught the 6.04 train that we were now on. This would give us reasonable time for our taxi from the centre of Dortmund to the airport for the 8.55 flight.
I nodded off happy after reading through the free thick match magazine. I was awoken from my slumber as we came to a halt in the middle of nowhere. I had lost track of where we were but estimated we were past half way. 

We stood still for a while when the PA broke into life. I hadn’t a clue what was said, but the facial expressions of our fellow passengers suggested that it wasn’t good news. After no action another announcement was made. The towns of Wattenscheid and Essen were mentioned, followed by groans. This was not good. We didn’t know what was happening and time was of the essence.
A few minutes later the train moved, but sadly in the direction we’d just come from. Cue panic from three travellers from the UK! We chugged back through the suburbs of Essen. We waited for passengers to get off but no-one was moving so we stayed put. A few minutes later we were off again and this time it was in the right direction!

We were making frantic calculations and had given up more than once on catching the flight. We were saying that we’d need to get a refund from the railway towards the cost of a room for the night. Poor Colm was on a training course in Stoke the next day. It wasn’t so urgent for Carl and me with days off. 

We went through Bochum and we were by the doors as the train halted in Dortmund. It was gone 8pm. We sprinted through the station as fast as our unfit bodies could carry us, down to the left luggage lockers and to the taxi rank. I’m not sure exactly what Carl told our driver, but I heard the word “schnell”.

The word hit home as our driver took off like an older Michael Schumacher, as he went around the inner ring road and then hit the autobahn swerving in and out of traffic. We gave him a good tip but he was worth every cent. We ran in through the terminal doors to be greeted by four officials who told us to relax. We had made it!

The cleaners won’t have been overjoyed as we were the last people in the airport and they already had a shine on their floors thinking their work was done, but that’s life. Ours was the last flight that evening. We went down the stairs to see the last couple of passengers waiting to go through. We followed them and within minutes we were taking off.

A great end to a fantastic weekend but I was it had been a bit warmer!

To see a video I took inside the stadium on the day, click here:

Bayer 04 Leverkusen 4 FC Augsburg 1 (Saturday 18th February 2012) Bundesliga (att: 23,368)

I was back in Germany with my two pals Karl and Carl for a long weekend, this time staying in Dusseldorf. The fixtures for our stay didn't offer us much scope, so we plumped for a return to the Bay Arena.

The previous evening had been an eye opener in Dusseldorf as we'd unbeknowingly arrived during the climax of the regions Karneval. It had been a tremendous evening out, although the locals told us that it was quiet! After a walk into the city, where they were setting up for the street parades we headed for the station. We managed to work out how to buy a day pass for the three of us, and I bought our tickets for the following day to Aachen.

The platform was packed with revelers, many of whom were in fancy dress, heading for Cologne and the fun on offer down there. Some even got out in Leverkusen, although from previous experience I'd have been surprised if they found much entertainment there. 

We walked though the precinct, which was busy enough. The bar we found tweleve months previously was shut, so we ended up eating in McDonalds and heading to the stadium. As we neared the ground, a group of away fans were being led away by the police in a tight cordon, with full filming taking place. 

They didn't seem very happy! We went in through the same gates once again as we had seats in nearly the same place. I topped up the Arena Card and got the beers in. Free programmes were once again in the racks for all fans to take. Karl was most impressed thus far, and even more so when we got into our seats.

We took our photos and settled down. Although it wasn't too cold at street level, our seats were on an open corner so we got any wind in the air making it quite chilly. A group in suits and top hats were near to us, who turned out to be a stag party from London. They were well behaved, but the language and singing coming from a similar party from Birmingham reminded me just how embarassing Englishmen can be abroad.

Bayer were the better side in the early exchanges without threatening too much on goal. They had been defeated at the Bay Arena in midweek against Barcelona, so they were probably still lacking a little confidence. 

Bottom side Augsburg were a typical side for their league position. They were full of effort but not too much else. Bayer went one up after Stefan Kiessling headed home unchallenged from a corner.

At half time we were still full of food, so we settled for a warming gluhwein. Five minutes after the break Ja-Cheol Koo walloped home a superb equaliser from the edge of the box. Any thoughts of a shock result were soon put to bed as Leverkusen scored three times through Kiessling again, Gonzalo Castro and Andre Schurrle. 

The home side put some lovely moves together as the Augsburg defence and midfield fell apart. It was only because Bayer relaxed later on that they didn't go back to Bavaria on the receiving end of a real hiding.

We headed back across the parks past the training grounds and got back to the station with ten minutes to kill before our train home. We managed to get seats for the twenty minute journey and then work out which tram dropped us near our excellent Hotel Furstoff. My early research paid dividends as we ate an excellent meal in the highly recommended Bar Vossen.

After a rest we were ready to see what the Aldstadt of Dusseldorf had to show us on a busy night. We were not disappointed! What a wonderful day out in great company.

Bayer 04 Leverkusen 2 Borussia Mönchengladbach 3 (Saturday 28th January 2017) Bundesliga (att: 28,869)

While I don’t generally visit stadiums on multiple occasions unless I’ve some emotional connection, this fixture had plenty going for it. It allowed me an afternoon game relatively nearby and it was a local derby so the atmosphere should have been good; and so it proved.

I’d been at the 2pm kick off between Fortuna Köln and FC Magdeburg before taking a couple of trams to Wiener Platz where I knew that there would be some kind of stores as I required a new continental plug to charge my IPhone.

Once sorted I watched the last few minutes of 1.FC Köln’s 5-1 victory away to Darmstadt in the homely but small Zum Fass II bar, where I enjoyed a few kölsch in celebration before another swift one in Zoki's Brauhaus. Mulheim station was just a small walk away where I could catch a train up the line to Leverkusen.

Kick off was 6.30pm and I thought that I had plenty of time, so I was a bit taken aback to find I was pretty much on my own on the walk up to the Bay Arena where some f the land had bits of snow and ice.

The crowds were certainly in evidence at the gates. Progress was slow in getting inside. Eventually I was inside with a few minutes already played. I decided to use my Bayer stadium card to get some food and drink while there was no queue and I was hungry. The card didn’t work as a new design had been introduced so I just headed for my seat.

For the third time I was in the same block, with a decent view right on the back row between home and away fans. The Gladbach support was large in numbers and weren’t shy in getting behind their side. However, it would be the Bayer fans with most to shout about, at least until the interval.

On the half hour mark the home side went 1-0 up when Hakan Calhanoglu crossed for Jonathan Tah to head home from close range. Another smart move from a short corner led to Bayer doubling their lead. Karim Bellarabi crossed for Javier Hernández. The former Manchester United man made no mistake.

The Mönchengladbach support were in shock. Their side had more than played their part up to then but headed down the tunnel two goals worse off. They would end up having the last laugh.

I settled down for the second half in better fettle after biting the bullet and purchasing a new stadium card and grabbing some food and the always welcome gluhwein.

Ömer Toprak had an effort saved for Bayer just into the second half. It was at this point that Gladbach started to get a grip of the encounter. They had a couple of efforts at goal before Lars Stindl pulled a goal back with a low shot on fifty two minutes.

Six minutes later the roof nearly came off the superb arena when Stindl levelled things up with a header from an Oscar Wendt centre. Bayer coach Roger Schmidt responded by making two changes.

His side were in trouble and the impetus was with Borussia. I could see what was coming and sure enough a mad nineteen minutes came to a climax when Christoph Kramer set up Raffael to score with a shot and put Mönchengladbach 3-2 ahead.

Bayer tried to fight back and searched for an equaliser but it wasn’t to be. Borussia came the closest to adding to the scoreline as Stindl had a shot well saved to deny him a hat trick. The away supporters were delirious at the full time whistle. Their support had been impressive all evening.

Before I departed I queued to get the money back on my card. I reasoned that there was no rush. I had plenty of time before my scheduled journey to Bonn where I was spending the night before heading to Karlsruhe the following morning.

I even took a bus a different way to catch a train from Leverkusen-Kuppersteg as my App suggested that this was just as quick. This is where the fun really started. I thought that my journey to Berlin was a pain the previous day, then I hadn’t seen anything yet.

Quite a crowd stood on the platform. The indicator boards weren’t being updated. Eventually an announcement was made in German at low volume. There was a bit of laughter and shrugging of shoulders. The wait continued. My new calmness techniques were being put to the test.

I managed to find someone with basic English who explained that there had been an accident on the line between where we were and Essen and updates were at best sketchy. There was a vague rumour of a replacement bus service. It was time to take matters into my own hands.

Finding a bus stop with a timetable I managed to work out that the last bus back towards the stadium was due from a parade of shops near to the station. I caught it back to Bay Arena and then walked back to Leverkusen Mitte station, which was in hindsight what I should have done some time earlier.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and my pals wouldn’t have had such a great laugh when I put an impromptu video on Facebook letting them know of my prevails. Eventually I managed to find a bus heading back to Cologne.

The dramas didn’t quite end there as the bus terminated at Mulheim where I’d got on a few hours earlier. It was now approaching midnight so the tram services were not frequent. Eventually I got back to the Hauptbanhof and collected my rucksack from the lockers.

Arriving in Bonn I just jumped straight into a taxi to head to my hotel. I’d had enough adventure for one day. I wanted my bed. There was still a treat in store as I got to my Great Western Hotel as the computer was down and rebooting, so I couldn’t be checked in just yet.

The porter/receptionist was an absolute star and mind reader to boot when he suggested that I may fancy a couple of beers before I headed to my room? They didn’t last long. What a day out. I wouldn’t have swapped it for the world!

To see a brief video of the atmosphere inside the stadium during the match, please click here.


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