Football clubs around the world have different histories and roots. Some of them were founded by students, some by the members of the working class who saw football as a form of entertainment after the long days in factories. The story of Wolfsburg is about the latter one. The local football club was meant to become a part of Volkswagen’s industrial stronghold that was built in the 1930s under Nazi rule.
During the 1930s, Adolf Hitler was keen to create a model of car that could be suitable for the working class. Not too fancy, and affordable. Numerous leading engineers were involved in the creation of the People’s Car that gave the name to Volkswagen. Amongst the engineers who were selected for this project was Ferdinand Porsche. He designed the famous Volkswagen Beetle model.
When the prototype was presented and Hitler approved it, it launched the construction of the industrial buildings and apartments for the workers around the small town of Fallersleben. Later it was incorporated in the newly founded city of Wolfsburg.
However, the ambitious project had to stay on hold because of World War II. Volkswagen became an army vehicle producer that worked for the needs of Reich’s army during WWII.
When WWII ended in 1945, the industrial city was now known as Wolfsburg, and it also saw the start of the Vfl Wolfsburg’s history. Due to its industrial background, throughout the years, Volkswagen managed to avoid the famous German 50+1 rule that gives the majority of their own voting rights to the fans, keeping German football clubs outside of the possible foreign money influx. Since Wolfsburg was a Volkswagen factory team from its foundation, the consistent sponsorship helped gain 100% ownership of the club. Yes, you can actually own a Bundesliga club singlehandedly, but to do that, you have to invest in its development for 20 years in a row.
To be under the wing of one of the biggest car manufacturers in the world is a pleasure for the club’s management. However, it is not always that simple; there is the other side of a coin The football club is just a part of a bigger structure that provides the work for more than 60,000 of Wolfsburg’s population. It is fully dependent on the success and financial stability of Volkswagen. There were moments in the recent history of the club when Volkswagen’s struggles impacted its football structure.
In 2015, the German manufacturer went through a scandal known as Dieselgate. Volkswagen had to recall more than 8 million vehicles due to several emissions violation.
The scandal led to a fall of Volkswagen’s shares in the stock markets and the loss of billions of euros. Wolfsburg felt the side effect of its industrial patron’s struggles. The budget saw its decrease, and the club had to sell some of its leading players, like Kevin de Bruyne to Manchester City (€75 million) and Ivan Perisic to Inter Milan (€20 million). Wolfsburg also had to put on hold its plans to build a modern youth academy worth €40 million.
This scandal did its damage, but not that impressive to leave Wolfsburg without chances to keep themselves in the German Bundesliga. On the opposite, after the situation started to get back to normal, Volkswagen used its football club as a tool to improve the company’s image. It is planned that Wolfsburg will become the first CO2-neutral professional football club in the world in 2025. There are already several climate-friendly features implemented in the club’s infrastructure, such as green electricity and LED lighting.
Football is like a shop window. “Many people are watching us,” said Wolfsburg’s Managing Director Michael Meeske. “And if we spread the message that climate protection is one of the central issues for humanity, we can hopefully convince many other people to act as sustainably as possible.”
The other policy that has been strongly supported by the club in recent years is diversity. Wolfsburg supports the LGBTQ community, women empowerment in football and outside of it. Its women’s football club has been a success, winning two UEFA Women’s Champions League titles in 2013 & 2014. The management does a lot to improve the image of the club and attract fans from abroad.
Such policies make a lot of sense because, traditionally, Wolfsburg has not been a club with a deep connection with its local fanbase. Yes, it is historically a working-class team. However, most of the workers that came to Wolfsburg had ties to their original hometown clubs. There is not that much of a local population around this industrial stronghold. Many Volkswagen workers do not have strong ties with the local city. Of course, it might eventually change for good. The future generations that will be born in Wolfsburg might feel more enthusiastic about their local football club. The previous generations had different upbringings, and their lack of enthusiasm is understandable.
In terms of its journey in German football, Wolfsburg has been a stable Bundesliga member since 1997, when they finally earned the promotion. Results have been mixed – from hard-fought battles to avoid the relegation to moments of joy, such as the 2008/09 title run under the leadership of Felix Magath.
The dynamic duo of Edin Džeko (26) and Grafite (28) scored 54 goals thanks to the support of Bosnian midfielder Zvjezdan Misimovic, who shared 20 assists that season. Another journey to remember was the 2015/16 UEFA Champions League run when Wolfsburg made it to the 1/4 finals and was knocked out by the eventual champions – Real Madrid.
Overall, Wolfsburg’s management always tries to keep their feet on the ground. Being a part of Volkswagen’s structure gives a certain amount of security and some obligations as well. If you are a Wolfsburg player, there are not many options in the choice of a car. There was an incident in 2016 regarding this. The Danish striker Nicklas Bendtner was fined by Wolfsburg after posing next to a Mercedes car on his Instagram profile. Otherwise, to have such a powerful business structure behind is something many football clubs would dream of. For the industrial Wolfsburg – it is a reality.