Leverkusen start the title party on streets already named in Alonso's honour

AFP , Sunday 14 Apr 2024

Bayer Leverkusen fans were not in a superstitious mood before Sunday's home clash with Werder Bremen, where a 120-year Bundesliga title drought could be broken.

Leverkusen
One Leverkusen fan displays a mock-up of the Bundesliga trophy as they cheer prior to the German first division Bundesliga football match Bayer 04 Leverkusen v Werder Bremen in Leverkusen, western Germany, on April 14, 2024. AFP

 

Founded in 1904 as a team made up of workers at pharmaceutical company Bayer AG's Leverkusen headquarters, coach Xabi Alonso has taken the side to within one victory of a maiden German league title.

Alonso's side are 13 points clear with six games to play, needing just one victory to lift the title.

An estimated 10,000 fans clad in red and black lined Bismarck Street outside the stadium to greet the team's bus, which fans renamed 'Xabi Alonso Street' for the occasion.

Before the match, Alonso told reporters "it's good we have many chances to do it, but we want to do it (on Sunday)."

After a long winter, the sun is shining and the mercury has climbed to 17C -- one of the warmest days of the year so far to announce the arrival of spring.

The day has not only long been awaited by Leverkusen fans but German football neutrals in general, who have seen Bayern Munich lift the title for the past 11 years in succession.

Leverkusen have finished second on five occasions, with many fans unsure if the day would ever come.

As black and red smoke billowed through the trees outside the 30,000 seat BayArena -- long since sold out -- one fan, Hans-Jurgen Wesel, was optimistic an end to the title drought was in sight.

"Yeah, we'll manage it today, the 62-year-old from the Leverkusen suburbs told AFP.

"The sun is shining. the lads can enjoy it."

Anna Moeller, 23, was a toddler the last time Leverkusen came this close to the title.

Despite living in neighbouring Cologne, she has always been a Leverkusen fan, coming to today's game with two friends.

"It used to be easier to get tickets but that doesn't matter.

"This team isn't a nervous team. They have the energy. Xabi Alonso is the best coach -- he'll manage it for the team today."

Karsten de Feijter drove three hours from Breskens in the Netherlands to see the game today with three friends.

Despite admitting to not being Leverkusen fans, the quartet regularly make football trips and wanted to take a chance to witness history.

"They play high-pressure football. Very impressive."

"We were lucky with the tickets. We've had them for three months now. (Second-placed) Bayern Munich lost three matches so it worked out."

Asked if the side could deliver amid the weight of expectations, de Feijter told AFP "they have to."

"Today's the day."

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