Founder members of the German Bundesliga in 1963, Werder have recently overtaken Hamburg to go second in the all-time points table. Their haul of ten trophies comprises five German championships, four DFB German Cups, and the European Cup Winners’ Cup, although they hold one unwanted record with seven runners-up finishes in the Bundesliga. The most agonising of these were 1983 and 1986, when Werder lost the title on goal difference to Hamburg and Bayern Munich respectively.
Birth of an institution
Fussballverein Werder von 1899 – Werder Football Club 1899 – was established on 4 February 1899 by sixteen founder members. The name is derived from the island (Werder in German) in the Weser River where the fledgling club initially trained and played, although FV Werder’s first-ever match, a 1-0 victory over Allgemeinen Bremer Sportclub 1898, did not take place until seven months later.
In the following years, Werder slowly began making a name for themselves. The club won the town championship in 1909, but the quantum leap was not to come until the move to the Weserstadion, their home ground to this day. The club also underwent a series of name changes, from FV Werder to Sportverein Werder von 1899, to SV Grun-Weiß 1899 Bremen, finally arriving at today’s SV Werder Bremen in 1946.
Growth of a legend
The club remains rightly proud of its status as a founder member of the Bundesliga in 1963. Back in 1961, Bremen defeated Kaiserslautern to win the DFB German Cup, and the first Bundesliga triumph was to follow two years after the league’s inaugural season.
However, whereas fellow northerners Hamburg are the only ever-present members of the modern top flight, Werder’s record was blemished by relegation in 1980, arguably the nadir in the club’s fortunes. The men in green-and-white bounced back just a year later under a certain Otto Rehhagel, currently Greece national coach, who was to preside over a 14-year era of success in Bremen including five major trophies.
The loyalty hinted at in the club anthem appears quite characteristic for the northern giants. Quite apart from Rehhagel, players such as Dieter Eilts (18 years), Marco Bode (13) and Dieter Burdenski (16) spent practically their entire careers at the club.
The present day
The latest and arguably greatest of this host of loyal and long-term servants is current boss Thomas Schaaf. The 47-year-old joined SVW in 1978 as a youth and played there until 1995. He remained at the club as youth and reserve coach, until stepping up to the top job in 1999. Working closely with general manager Klaus Allofs, Schaaf has established Werder as one of the biggest names in German club football.
The highlight to date was a domestic cup and league double in 2003/04, a feat only otherwise achieved by Bayern and FC Koln. The north Germans are also firmly established as regulars on the European scene.
The Weserstadion, originally constructed in 1909, has been Werder Bremen’s home since 1930. After frequent reconstruction and expansion, including lowering the pitch, the stadium currently boasts a 43,500 capacity. A Werder Bremen Museum (colloquially known as the Wuseum) opened at the ground in December 2004, housing replicas of the championship shield and DFB Cup, alongside rare posters, photos and other mementoes of the club’s history.
The home faithful are firm believers in 'Weser Miracles', as Werder have acquired a formidable reputation of rescuing seemingly lost causes in Europe. In 1987/88, Werder lost a first leg clash 4-1 to Spartak Moscow, but won the second meeting 6-2 after extra time to claim an aggregate victory. In 1999/2000, they went down 3-0 away to Lyon but won the return 4-0. The 2005/06 UEFA Champions League Round of 16 produced another spectacular turnaround. Werder went 2-1 behind at home to Juventus with only eight minutes left, but struck twice before the end to register an unlikely victory.