In this guest post, Chris Lee, founder of Football travel and culture blog Outside Write, describes how he first fell for German Football and how the Bundesliga experience has probably helped change attitudes toward Germany among English Football fans.
It’s the evening of 13 July 2014. I am sat in a packed bar in Balham, South London, enduring yet another turgid World Cup final. I can’t remember a good one since 1986, when the opponents were (almost) the same: then it was West Germany and Argentina.
Growing up around English Football in the 1980s and ’90s, these two countries were the big rivals. Not Scotland, not Wales, England fans really want to beat Germany and Argentina. Football fandom, as is so often the case, is entwined with off-the-pitch affairs, but those two teams in the ’80s and ’90s were also often the barriers to tournament progress.
But by 2014, something in the room was noticeably different: Everyone – everyone – was supporting Germany. It wasn’t a half-hearted support either; they meant it.
Götze scored and Deustschland ist Weltmeister.
Football is Germany’s soft power. As English Football – especially the Premier League – becomes increasingly expensive, atmospheres dulled, and clubs a plaything for foreign billionaires, so the authenticity and excitement of Germany provides a welcome juxtaposition. No wonder British Football fans increasingly descend on Germany for entertainment.
Here are just a few of the ways in which German Football trumps the experience in England and many grounds in Scotland:
Many German clubs have the famous 50+1 rule, where the club members have a majority share. This anti-commercialisation culture has protected the authenticity of German Football, and when that authenticity is challenged – for example by Germany’s “most hated” club, Red Bull-owned RB Leipzig – fans take action.
This prevents a lot of the shenanigans in Britain, such as foreign owners changing the colours of shirts when they fancy it, as what happened with Cardiff City.
You can drink beer in your seat!
Fans of non-league Football in England will be used to drinking in the stands, until an FA-regulated match comes along and it’s back to the clubhouse. In the Premier League and Football League alcohol cannot be consumed in sight of the pitch, but in Germany it can. Hell, sometimes they’ll even serve you in your seat!
The choreography of the ultras is absolutely fantastic at most venues and it lacks the sinister edge of ultra movements in many other countries. Typically the side Tribüne (stands) may be quiet and just make responsive noises to action on the pitch, but at either end you can expect non-stop singing. I instantly became a 1.FC Union Berlin fan after a visit to the Alten Försterei stadium. I can’t explain it, just go and experience it for yourself. Wonderful.
Also, while visiting fans will have their own section, there isn’t fan segregation. My first Bundesliga match was a Nordderby – the ‘Northern Derby’ between Hamburger SV and Werder Bremen. While there was a little bit of crowd trouble before the match, during the game itself there were no problems.
Great value for money
The Football is affordable. While I have paid €40-plus for some games, I could have gone to cheaper sections. The clubs are getting better at online booking. Some still post – post – tickets to you, when most of us are used to printing tickets off at home in the UK.
At many grounds you can rock up on the day but it pays to buy ahead. Bear in mind that German match times/dates may not be confirmed until a few weeks before the game due to TV. I planned a Hamburg weekend perfectly, I thought, Hamburger SV on the Saturday afternoon, St Pauli on the Sunday lunchtime, fly back Sunday night. Except St Pauli’s match was moved to Monday.
The quality is top notch, too. Bundesliga clubs often compete at the latter stages in Europe. It’s not all about Bayern and Dortmund, although I’d say overall the league would benefit from a little more competition
It’s easy to catch a few games
Germany’s Football powerhouses come in clusters, so you could easily base yourself in Düsseldorf and access Gladbach, Schalke, Dortmund, Köln and Bayer Leverkusen within an hour. Düsseldorf’s own F95 is worth a look-in, too. Frankfurt has two major teams, with Darmstadt and Mainz close by; Munich likewise has two major teams, with Augsburg and Ingolstadt within reach. Berlin has several clubs.
While I traditionally gravitated towards Spain and Italy for my Football, I now aim to get at least one Bundesliga weekend in each season.
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