I’d heard that there was very little to do in Leverkusen and discovered on the journey that it was actually only established as a city in 1975! Known primarily for its pharmaceutical company Bayer, it perhaps unsurprisingly doesn’t have the same pull of other nearby cities like Dusseldorf and Cologne.
There was however one reason to visit the city and that was for the famous football team: Bayer Leverkusen.
Thankfully, when planning this trip I’d taken football into account and actually bought a ticket for Leverkusen’s Saturday afternoon clash with Hoffenheim before even booking flights and accommodation!
The journey from Cologne to Leverkusen costs €3.90 on the train and took 19 minutes. It took much less time for me to decide that I might as well not try and do any specific sightseeing before and after the match and just see what I stumble upon!
I arrived in the city about 45 minutes before I could check in to my hotel so went for a quick wander and saw very little of note. The main shopping street had the standard stuff including the Bayer club shop, which I quickly left when I saw the shirts priced at €80! The price of football shirts these days really is outrageous.
As seems to be the case in most of Germany there was a nice church plonked in the middle of town but I was more interested in the bar next door. I wasted a bit of time with a beer in here for a very reasonable €1.50 before heading to drop my bags at the hotel.
Bags dropped, I set off to the stadium which was around a 15 minute walk from the city centre through some nice parkland. A bit similar to Kofu in Japan but all in all a nice change from many of the football grounds I’ve visited in the past!
I was surprised at how few people seemed to be making their way to the stadium, although since living in Spain I’ve realised that people there don’t arrive until a few minutes before (or sometimes after!) kick off. Maybe that was the case here too.
It was nice to see people selling cans of beer on the street seemingly legally, although at €3 a can it was easy to see why people were bringing their own!
The stadium started to peek through the trees and before I knew it I was there. The first point of action was to buy a BayArena Card.
Similar to BBK Live and Lollapalooza, it seems the BayArena is embracing the cashless phenomenon. You can’t buy anything in the ground with cash, so beforehand you have to buy a prepaid card for all your purchases. It comes with a €10 deposit which you get back at the end of the game.
It turns out there were plenty of fans there, they were just waiting for the security checks at the ticket gates! I’m not one to complain about security checks as they’re there for our safety and it was nice to see any sort of security considering the complete lack at the ice hockey the previous night!
After a claustrophobic 10 minute wait I found myself in the ground with half an hour to spare. Time for beer and food. I’d put €30 on my card and bought a bratwurst and a beer for €7. They do say German football is cheap!
Aside from the sausage being in a burger bun and not a hot dog bun there were no complaints here!
I took my seat in block B1 and was surprised at just how good a view I got for €35 – especially when you consider I paid €45 to be up in the gods at Athletic Bilbao just a few weeks before. Second only to Fiorentina in terms of value for money!
In terms of the game I was particularly interested in seeing how Arsenal loanee Reiss Nelson got on as he’d apparently been tearing it up in previous weeks for Hoffenheim. It was also good to see a few Football Manager legends in Julian Brandt and Kevin Volland lining up for the home team.
I was fully expected Nelson to be anonymous seeing as I’d made a point of looking out for him, but after Leverkusen had a goal ruled out for offside it was that man who broke the deadlock with an absolute screamer from a short corner. Well worth a look on YouTube!
Now one of two things tend to happen when I watch football. Either it finishes 0-0 (hence talk of a curse in Japan!) or I miss a goal. Well, I’ve already told you about the game’s first goal, so you can rule out a 0-0. No prizes for guessing what happened when I went for a beer around the 30th minute.
Yep, Leverkusen equalised. Thankfully I saw a replay and it looked like pretty poor keeping as the goalie was beaten at his near post. I was very ready for the game to fizzle out into a 1-1 bore draw but that wasn’t to be as Hoffenheim re-took the lead just four minutes later and held on to take a 2-1 lead into half time.
Thankfully there were no missed goals in the second half, but there were indeed a few more goals! Hoffenheim essentially killed the game off with a penalty a few minutes after half time, and while Leverkusen knocked at the door a lot throughout the rest of the second half they simply couldn’t find a response. Another Hoffenheim goal on the counter was the final nail in the coffin as the visitors ran out with what I have to say was a slightly flattering 4-1 victory.
Overall I was impressed with the game, it’s rare I see a goal let alone five (OK, four if we’re being pedantic!) and one in particular that was worthy of any entrance fee. I also found the atmosphere to be fairly lively, although I was informed by the three guys next to me that it is actually one of the worst in Germany!
I was told by them that my next destination for a real football atmosphere should be lower-league Dinamo Dresden. Now, just let me boot up Skyscanner…