German Football League (Bundesliga)

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Occupying the apex of German football leagues is the “Fußball-Bundesliga,” better known simply as the Bundesliga. It is made up of 18 teams, who compete in a season that runs from August to May. At the close of the season, two or three teams are relegated to the second tier “Bundesliga 2,” while an equal number are promoted. As of 2012-13, the Bundesliga ranked as the #1 football league in the world in terms of attendance at games, with 45,134 fans on average, and based upon European performances over the past five years, it was rated by the UEFA as #3 among all leagues in Europe.

From Many Divisions to Unity

Many of Germany’s current clubs got their start around the opening of the 20th century, when football was played at an amateur level within numerous sub-regional leagues. The Deutscher Fußball Bund (DFB) was formed in 1900 as the nation’s first countrywide association, comprising some 86 clubs. That led to the institution of a National Championship decided by playoff matches involving regional champions and runners-up. The fist official national title was won in 1903 by VfB Leipzig, who defeated DFC Prague by a score of 7–2 in a game played at Altona.

In 1935, Germany’s first national cup competition was established. Now played in a knock-out format among 64 teams, it was initially called the Tschammer-Pokal and the first titleholder were 1. FC Nuremberg. In 1937 Schalke became the first team to win the double. The tournament takes place from August through June, and it has been known as the DFB-Pokal since 1952-53.

Following World War Two, part-time semi-professional competition was introduced in West Germany in 1949 and five regional Oberligen (Premier Leagues) existed: North, South, West, Southwest and Berlin. Debate raged over the formation of a central professional league, which many felt was needed in order to prevent the outflow of top German players to countries that paid more than the semi-professional domestic leagues. In 1950, East Germany acted unilaterally and created a league called the DS-Oberliga (Deutscher Sportausschuss Oberliga). It was renamed the Football Oberliga DFV in 1958 (aka DDR-Liga or DDR-Oberliga) and consisted of 14 teams with two relegation spots.

Embarrassed by the defeat of West Germany’s national team by Yugoslavia in the 1962 World Cup quarter-finals, the DFB decided to establish a new elite echelon, the 16-team Bundesliga, with its first season to commence in 1963–64. Early favourite 1. FC Köln became the first Bundesliga champion, with Meidericher SV and Eintracht Frankfurt tied for second spot. Since then, the organisation of the Bundesliga has undergone frequent changes. For example, the reunification of East and West Germany resulted in a 20-team structure in 1990-91, reduced to the current 18 teams thereafter.

Current State of the Sport

All together, 43 clubs have won the German championship over the years, including titles won prior to the formation of the Bundesliga along with those claimed as part of the East German Oberliga. Of special note, BFC Dynamo Berlin were a powerhouse before reunification, winning 10 titles in East Germany. However, since the two leagues were combined in 1990, no club from former East Germany or Berlin has won the Bundesliga.

Established in 1900, Bayern Munich have long been the dominant power in German football as well as one of the most successful European clubs internationally, with one UEFA Cup, one European Cup Winners’ Cup and two Intercontinental Cups. Although the team won its first national championship in 1932 and would go to win 22 titles in total, they were not selected for the Bundesliga at its inception in 1963.

In the mid-1970s, Bayern Munich were unstoppable, winning the European Cup three times in a row (1974–76). They have reached the European Cup/UEFA Champions League finals ten times, most recently winning their fifth in 2013 as part of a Treble. It comes as no surprise that the defending champions from the 2012-13 season are Bayern Munich.

After just a single season at the top tier, Fortuna Düsseldorf and Greuther Fürth were relegated down to Bundesliga 2 and replaced by that division’s champions, Hertha Berlin, and runners-up Eintracht Braunschweig. The other 15 clubs vying for the Bundesliga championship in 2013-14 are Augsburg, Bayer Leverkusen, Borussia Dortmund, Borussia Mönchengladbach, Eintracht Frankfurt, SC Freiburg, Hamburger SV, Hannover 96, TSG 1899 Hoffenheim, 1.FSV Mainz 05, 1.FC Nuremberg, Schalke 04, VfB Stuttgart, SV Werder Bremen and VfL Wolfsburg.

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