What Does Bundesliga Mean?

If you follow international soccer, you’ll no doubt run into the term Bundesliga before long. The reason? It’s the name of the most prestigious German soccer league, and Germany produces some of the most amazing soccer stars in the entire world.

The top tier of the Bundesliga is the German equivalent of the UK’s Premier League, Spain’s La Liga, and Italy’s Serie A, but what exactly does Bundesliga mean?

What Does Bundesliga Mean?

Well, despite it being an amazingly fun word to say, the literal translation is actually quite mundane.

In English, Bundesliga means “Federal League” — Doesn’t have quite the same ring to it as the German, ay? In fact, it refers to neither Germany nor soccer, which seems strange.

So, if you’re an inquisitive type, your next question may be to do with the origin of such a nondescript name and how it ended up as the title of the highest level of national soccer in Germany, so in this post, we’re going to dig a little deeper, but first, an elocution lesson!

How Is “Bundesliga” Pronounced?

If you’re looking to impress the German natives in your life or simply want to sound like a soccer whiz in front of your friends and family, you’ll pronounce Bundesliga like so…

  • Boon
  • Duh
  • Slee
  • Guh

Now altogether…

Boon – Duh – Slee – Guh

Now you’re gettin’ it!

Where Did The Name Bundesliga Come From?

Prior to 1962, soccer in Germany followed highly regional structures, by which I mean that there were a number of “premier leagues”, one in the North, one in the West, one in the South, one in the Southwest, and one in Berlin.

These were known as “Oberligen”, which translates as “Top Leagues”. Yet, even with “top” right there in the name, Oberligen were only considered semi-professional contests.

Even way back then, this kind of fractured sporting architecture was unusual in other soccer-mad continents and countries, but Germany was all but forced into such a system after WWII.

When the war came to a close, the nation was divided amongst the victorious allied forces, with territories held by the USA, UK, and France collectively forming “West Germany”, and those held by the Russians forming “East Germany”.

These geopolitical fissures filtered down into German society, including soccer operations, and thus, the regional leagues sprouted up.

The winners of each of these discrete regional leagues would then be pitted against one another to determine the champion team of West Germany, rounding out a structure that would prove to be quite harmful to German soccer.

Sepp Herberger, manager of the West Germany team that took home the 1954 FIFA World Cup, was one of the most impassioned and revered voices pleading the case for a national league, stating “If we want to remain competitive internationally, we have to raise our expectations at the national level.”

However the cracks weren’t just beginning to show on the international soccer stage but the domestic stage too as most of Germany’s top players were being headhunted to join professional teams abroad, further stunting the nation’s regional teams.

The good news was that proponents of a national soccer league knew such a feat was possible, as by the late 50s, the unification of regional German ice hockey leagues into a centralized entity had already been achieved.

And guess what names they chose for this new league? Yep, that’s right… Bundesliga.

So, when soccer followed suit, the authorities gave the new national league the exact same name, and to distinguish between them, simply introduced the modifier “Fußball”, transforming the league title into a compound noun (a classic move in German linguistics).

These days, as soccer is the far more popular of the two sports, if you mention the word Bundesliga, most will take it as a given that you’re talking about soccer and not ice hockey.

What Does Bundesliga Mean?

When Was The Bundesliga Founded?

To the joy of German soccer players, staff, and enthusiasts across the nation, on July 28th, 1962, newly appointed president of the DFB (Deutscher Fußball-Bund) Herman Gӧsmann and his committee announced the creation of the Bundesliga.

The declaration was made at the Westfalenhallen commercial center in Dortmund, along with the plan to implement the new league during the approaching 63–64 soccer season.

East Germany held on to its regional league structure for the most part, but teams were permitted to apply for this new and exciting centralized league.

46 clubs did so, but only 16 teams were considered eligible in the end, with approval being based on prior success, economic criteria, and matters of representation.

Just four years later, Germany was unified geographically, and the remaining Eastern teams were absorbed by the Bundesliga system, with Dynamo Dresden and FC Hansa Rostock making it into the top-tier league.

But Why Call It “Bundesliga”?

The “liga” part of this prestigious league obviously means league, so it’s no mystery why that ended up in the name of the primary German soccer apparatus, but “bundes” admittedly is a tad confusing.

However, by this point in time, the “bundes” prefix was an established artifact of German political language, having already been used to form a number of compound words, such as Bundestag, Bundeswehr, and Bundesland.

Now, being that the evolution of soccer structures throughout the nation’s history is so entwined with Germany’s political story, Bundes doesn’t seem like such an odd choice after all, even though it’s not all that effective a descriptor.

What Was The National Soccer Structure Like In Germany Prior To WWII?

Before the creation of the Oberligen, competitive soccer in Germany was divided into a great many sub-regional amateur leagues.

The best of the teams in these local contests were introduced into the top-tier regional Oberliga, while many of the others remained amateur and sub-regional in nature.

Final Thoughts

To recap, Bundesliga means Federal League, which is the centralized soccer league of Germany, the top division of which is the most prestigious in the nation.

Being that it doesn’t reference Germany or soccer, it can cause quite a bit of confusion, but after dipping into the sporting, political, and linguistic history of this country, such a name isn’t quite the head-scratcher it first appears to be.

Adrian Turner
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