I was in a bar in Berlin showing Sky Sport on a Friday afternoon and the barman listening to heavy metal, skin headed dressed in black and covered in tattoos who I just presumed ‘did not like football’ said to me.. “I don’t like English football”..
As I sipped my stein, I found myself nervously agreeing with him stating “money has ruined it” and with that simple line we talked endlessly about how the Germans have got it right and how everything in English football is oriented towards “money”.
One thing I get when I’m overseas (in Europe especially) is that when someone says they ‘don’t like’ or ‘know nothing about football’ they usually know more than you.
That German barman educated me about football and how the model worked in Germany. The fans are the game in Germany, they are taken seriously, with consideration and are respected by their clubs, the players they support who they interact with in a special bond and the staff who’s wages they help pay.
That Friday afternoon four years ago that same barman told me there’s a big game in town. Dortmund, his team would be playing Hertha Berlin on Saturday. I didn’t realise just how big Dortmund were until that day, I got tickets to the game and walked up the Olympic Way to the stadium and a sea of yellow… not blue, despite BvB being the away team.
The official attendance that day was 74,244…I’m guessing that at least 50,000 of those were fans of Dortmund. 50,000 away fans? Just try and fathom that.
Not an ounce of trouble, fans mingling outside, drinking beer eating hot dogs (or currywurst) with an amazing amount of yellow and black merchandise trucks not for Hertha products, but for Dortmund! Catering for the masses I expect?
Fans got in the ground early, a historical venue, the atmosphere building up, men with beer on their back came to your seat and delivered drinks. Football for football fans could not get any better.
The game itself was drab, we left before the end with the score finishing goalless… The Dortmund side included Aubameyang, Reus and Gundogan amongst others… Hertha fielded one Soloman Kalou who looked sharper than I had previously seen when playing for Chelsea.
But I will always look back on that day, having had away days in England shoved from pillar to post by Police stuffed in crowded smoke filled ends under the terraces and having experienced awful matchday conditions in countries Italy and venues like the San Paolo that ‘this’ is how I want to watch my favourite sport. The Germans have simply got it right.
They largely play their football at 3pm on a Saturday afternoon. Ticket prices are reasonable and the 18 team league ensures there’s not too much fixture congestion to annoy the wife with.
And on Monday night German football listened as a game between Eintracht Frankfurt and Union Berlin was boycotted by home fans in a bid to STOP playing Bundesliga games at such a stupid time of the week. If only the Premier League fans were ‘man enough’ to do the same?
The Eintracht fans leaving nothing more than a simple black banner with a cross through the word Montag in their stadiums usually vocal end behind their goal.
Simple, passionate, destructive.
A message that German football had already ensured they listened to in stating that there will be no more Monday night football under the next TV sponsorship deal, not good enough for those still playing on Mondays’ the fans of both Eintracht and Union came together as they usually do in Germany to state that they want no more football on Monday nights period.
The Berlin fans themselves produced a banner that requested kick off times be scheduled fairly, something that for the last 20+ years in England which has been completely neglected.
When it comes to football and the fans, when it comes to football fans/players relationships and when it comes to football clubs relationships with the fans, nobody does it better than the Germans and as we’ve tried so hard here in England to model the German philosophy for our own International Team’s model it may now be that our league must also do the same and implicate cheaper ticket prices, fairer kick off times, less meaningless games and more power to the supporters, something the Germans have done quite well in between winning a few World Cups along the way.