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The German Bundesliga – A Beginner’s Guide

The German Bundesliga is one of the most popular football leagues in the world, ranking 4th in the UEFA Football League rankings. It has some of the most recognizable and oldest teams in the world competing for the league title, including the likes of Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, and Borussia Mönchengladbach amongst many others.

It may surprise you to learn that though some of the clubs are over 100 years old, the Bundesliga is one of the youngest professional football leagues in Europe.

All of these German clubs were playing the game at an amateur level until 1945, most of them were athletics clubs that also played handball, gymnastics and tennis. There were some clubs, such as Werder Bremen, that were formed by schools that encouraged boys to play football amongst other games. The most interesting may be Borussia Dortmund, which was founded by a group of Parish youth who were fed up with playing football under the stern eye of the priests, and decided to form their own football club.

The clubs played in the Oberligen (Premier Leagues) and from 1925, the Deutscher Fussball Bund (The DFB was the national association for football), created a national championship, where the victors of the Oberligen could play each other for a national trophy.

Despite the fact that the game was still amateur, in that the players were not paid, football was hugely popular in Germany, with 150,000 players listed in 1919 and over one million by 1932. The DFB felt that the game should be played between local and regional men, and that professionalism would turn the game into a market which was not the ideal they were trying to achieve with the sport.

After the war, Germany was split into East and West Germany by the Allied powers, and all football was banned, except those with no political affiliations. The Western part of Germany were the first to allow these clubs to start playing regional matches, and East Germany followed suit a couple of years later, but only for a few years in the 50s, before the Cold War started becoming more serious, and afterwards the leagues were separated.

West Germany also had a problem holding onto players, as most of them would travel abroad to play professionally. Despite this, the West German national team won a World Cup in 1954 against the competition favourites, Hungary.

West Germany went on to become a successful side, but when they lost in a quarterfinal to Chile in 1962, the DFB finally got their wish in having a unified league throughout the non-Soviet parts of Germany.

The Bundesliga was created in 1962, and modelled on the English football league (which was formed in 1888). East Germany remained Soviet and had its own league structure.

The league was popular amongst the people, and with a very open competition, the public came out in large crowds with much enthusiasm.

The 1980s saw Bayern Munich start to dominate the league, and they won six titles during the decade. General interest fluctuated at this point, as it saw the rise of hooliganism, but the end of the decade suggested that there may be a unification between the West and East leagues, which brought the interest back.

In 1991, the leagues were unified by the DFB, and the sixteen team Bundesliga was expanded to the 20 team league we have today. To accommodate the influx of new Eastern teams, the secondary leagues were expanded to create a pyramid league structure, replicating the English Premier League and English Football League.

Interesting Facts

Ownership Rules

These regulations may have some roots in the days of amateur football, where the sport was clinging to an ideal that it was a game for the people and not a market in which corporations can make a profit. The DFB regulates that a club must have the majority of its shares owned by club members. This is called the 50+1 rule, where clubs will only be able to receive a license to play in the Bundesliga if more than 50% of the shares belong to members, in an effort to fend off foreign investors who may wish to influence the club for their marketing purposes.

Some exceptions to this are Vfl Wolfsburg and Bayer 04 Leverkusen, who are owned by Volkswagen and Bayer Pharmaceuticals. These clubs are allowed to play because they were formed long before the Bundesliga was created, already having their own history and fan bases.

RB Leipzig are a company that receive criticism, as they are owned by many Red Bull Gmbh Agents. The company is called Red Bull Leipzig because of their logo and because they are practically a team that was created out of a 6th tier semi-professional club by Red Bull. Their real name is Rasenballsport Leipzig, as the German football law does not allow clubs to take on names of companies, and have been shortened to RB Leipzig so they can appear to look like they are called Red Bull Leipzig.

Financial Regulations

Clubs in the Bundesliga must apply every year for a license to play in the Bundesliga, at the end of each season the DFB looks over all their finances and accounts to make sure that everything is in order. This was brought in after a number of match fixing scandals that started during the days of the Cold War. This includes the inspection of the 50+1 rule (with factory teams Vfl Wolfsburg and Bayer 04 Leverkusen excused).

Player wages are also inspected; the Bundesliga has the lowest amount of club revenue spent on player wages, at 50%. Clubs also must try to form most of their sponsorship deals with local companies (the popularity of the league has made some of these companies international now, but the roots were in local or regional markets).

Ticket prices are also capped, with the Bundesliga having the lowest ticket prices and highest match attendance figures in the top five European leagues.

Youth Promotion

The Bundesliga has been praised for its positive attitude to young players. The DFB made it compulsory for all clubs to have a youth academy, so that the league and also the national German team could profit from local players. Since 2010, the Bundesliga and the second Bundesliga spend €75 million a year on youth academies, increasing the number of under 23 year olds in the league from 6% to 10% from 2006 to 2010.

It’s not just local footballers who can take advantage of the league’s mentality towards youth players, as many international players have gone to the Bundesliga to help get their careers started. Young English players such as Jude Bellingham and Reece Oxford play in the German league currently, whilst the likes of Jadon Sancho, Ademola Lookman and Jonjoe Kenny have played in the Bundesliga and have now returned to England.


The German league promises top football and there are many interesting teams with different styles of football. You can find some of the biggest names in the world currently plying their trade in the Bundesliga, and now with some background information hopefully you can enjoy the league even more.

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