Bayer 04 Leverkusen 5 Borussia Mönchengladbach 0 (12th December 2015)
A day that started with me taking in a match 40 miles north in Oberhausen, and would end in a Düsseldorf bar with pretty barmaids and ceiling completely covered in the football scarves of famous clubs from around the world (and …err… Farnborough Town), would see the meat in that sandwich being a trip to the Bayer Arena to see Bayer Leverkusen play Borussia Mönchengladbach.
Being the only sizeable ground in the region (apart from Uerdingen 05’s 34500 capacity Grotenburg Stadion in Krefeld, currently limited to one stand with 05 languishing in the 5th tier) and often quite difficult to get a ticket for, availability for such an attractive fixture was enough to temp me to commit to a weekend away before the fixtures were finalised.
Leverkusen is twinned with Bracknell, and like Bracknell, it’s not a town that’s likely to do a roaring trade in postcards featuring the architectural delights of the place. I had planned to spend a little time walking round the centre, just to give it the benefit of the doubt. However, the train from Oberhausen get delayed at the stop prior to Leverkusen, and limped the rest of the way, meaning it arrived about 20 minutes late. This didn’t give me a lot of time, and after about 100 metres of pedestrianised precinct I gave up. An illuminated sign for pharmaceuticals company Bayer was about as pretty as it got.
As Bayer 04’s name would suggest, they were formed in 1904 as a works team of Bayer – a time when one of Bayer’s products was “Heroin”, which they sold as a cough suppressant, marketed as a safer less-addictive to other cold remedies of the day such as morphine. It makes a dose of Night-Nurse or a Beecham’s Powders seem a little lightweight.
In Leverkusen’s twin town if Bracknell, the local football club, Bracknell Town, feature the fortunes of Bayer Leverkusen in their match programme. I didn’t see a programme at the Bayer Arena, but I somehow can’t imagine the fortunes of The Robins in the Hellenic League features too heavily.
It’s also fair to say you’d struggle to find too many similarities between Bracknell’s Larges Lane and the impressive Bayer Arena. It’s not one of the larger German venues, holding a shade over 30,000 but it’s definitely one of the most impressive in person. With the overhang of the circular roof and the glow of the floodlit exterior, it looks like a giant alien mothership landed in the woods.
Ten years ago it was pretty ordinary. It was a 22,000 all-seater ground, with one end mainly given over to a hotel, but then a 2nd tier was added and the rest of the ground given a glossy makeover too. The result is a hugely impressive stadium, decked out in red and black, topped, quite literally, by a stunning flat circular roof, hanging over the stadium like a giant vinyl record.
The same online ticket system that allowed me to buy a ticket from England also allowed fans of Borussia Mönchengladbach to buy tickets far in excess of the official allocation in the corner on the far side of the pitch, the result of which meant there were as many around me in green as is red, even allowing for the free red and black Santa hats left on each seat.
Being still owned by Bayer, Bayer Leverkusen are often derided by fans of other clubs for being a plastic modern football kind of club, but as kick off approached, the atmosphere in the ground was as good as most other Bundesliga games I’ve been to. It probably helps that Leverkusen do have a very good side, and this match was between two club in contention for a champions league place.
For an hour it looked every inch the tight contest you’d expect. Stefan Kiessling had opened the scoring after half an hour with a near post header that the Borussia keeper got a foot to, but could keep out. Once prolific for the club, this was only his second of the season after a 13 game drought, and he was clearly delighted. A free kick off the post was Leverkusen’s best other chance of the half, while Borussia had a shot that flashed just past the far corner.
Whatever words the Borussia manager chose at half time, they probably weren’t the most inspiring, as they lost their way, and Bayer Leverkusen took full advantage, gleefully banging in four goals in just 13 minutes.
The first, Bayer’s second, came from ex-Manchester United forward Chicharito. Picking up a pass inside the area, he shimmied past one defender, taking the ball on, then poking the ball into the corner.
Three minutes later Kiessling was getting his second, heading in a corner at the near post, sending out the signal to the home fans that this was going to be one of those days when everything just clicks. Even Faithless’ Insomnia blaring out after each goal, a tune that seems for at home in an arena (or a club, obviously) than a football ground, just seemed to work and capture the mood.
A whole nine minutes elapsed before the next goal, another fine one by Chicharito. Receiving the ball with his back to goal on the edge on the box, he turned and then casually chipped the ball into the far corner, as if kicking a ball back into a bag at the end of a training session.
After two fine goals, he had to wait for just a minute to complete the hat-trick, and this one was a simple tap-in for a change. A ball was squared across the box past the keeper, and he had the easy task of sliding in to make it 5-0.
It was noticeable among all the joyous home fans that there were many gaps appearing where fans in green had been previously. It’s hard to blame them. This had been a rather painful quarter of an hour, and they didn’t want to see any more – or perhaps they feared what they’d see if they stayed. Had Bayer Leverkusen really gone for it at this point it could easily have been 6 or 7.
As it was they subbed Chicharito three minutes later, to allow him to take a deserved standing ovation, and for the club DJ to pick out a bit of stereotypical Mexican music as a salute.
Perhaps mercifully for Mönchengladbach, who’d not only been well and truly thrashed, but been thrashed on live tv as well, there was no more scoring, but for the home fans the celebrations would no doubt last until well into the night. And for one English fan returning to his base in Düsseldorf’s old town, perhaps it was a little too late into that night. I was very grateful the next day’s game didn’t need an early start.