The Bundesliga has always had a strong appeal to British football supporters for several reasons. The most obvious for the common English football fan are the affordable tickets. A weekend trip to Cologne will cost slightly more than a ticket at Arsenal or Manchester United. Therefore the choice is an easy one. Other reasons are the atmosphere in the grounds and the culture. The most obvious must be the taste for the new and the unknown.
In a personal piece James from From Boothferry to Germany recalls some of his experiences as a Brit in Germany.
I left. Germany was the destination. The first few months of your new life are always very touristy. You will know this if you have ever relocated internationally yourself. You fill with zeal for your exotic new home and all it has to offer and cannot help but explore with a camera, sharing it all with everyone back home. The national museum, the bunker, the war memorial, the cathedral, the park, the aquarium, the central square, the harbour. And inevitably, when the time and price are right, the Football Stadium.
At the height of your lust for your new home (and before you have been there long enough for it to piss you off), you search for a convenient medium to express your connection to and affection for it. Time and time again on From Boothferry To Germany, we talk about Football fandom being as much to do with identity as it is about entertainment. Newcomers to any city find sports events a good way to feel less foreign and celebrate the fact that this new city is a part of their life, as they can blend in to the crowd. And the sport in question is inevitably Football. If you move to pretty much any European nation excluding, say, Finland, all major sports teams are Football teams. If you move to the United Kingdom, you are perfectly capable of checking out a major Rugby or Cricket match, but the likelihood is you come from a country where those two sports are not played or sometimes even unknown (reminiscent of colleagues assuming I was talking about “croquet” when actually discussing cricket). So, inevitably, unavoidably, the Football Stadium calls.
In my case, the Bundesliga called.
So after a few weeks, next on the list is a Saturday trip to see the home Football team play in front of all the people you now call neighbours. Your Motley Crew of expat friends choose to meet in one of your flat-share kitchens on Saturday morning to drink warm Warsteiner, eat fried chicken and quickly watch Youtube videos to memorise as many player names as possible to impress the season-ticket holder you happen to sit next to. Midday passes and you leave the flat drunk, picking up more booze and fastfood on the way, to join the primary-colour-festooned queues outside the ground. This is the moment you REALLY feel involved. “I look just like one of them (even though I can’t speak this ridiculous dialect)”. Wearing your brand new merchandise and smelling like Bratwurst, high into the Kurve you go.
In my case, it was a dull 0-0 draw against Mainz 05. But it didn’t matter. A few weeks later the expat lager-swilling Bundes-novices were at it again. Gladbach. Leverkusen. Stuttgart. Each time learning an extra song or two. And eventually, the time came for an away day. But not with the foreign Bundes-novices. No no. A local friend took me under his wing, sent me a link to learn the songs the week before and gave me clear instructions. “Wear a dark hoodie and trainers and get some beers for the journey. And don’t bring your camera”, the last bit initially a little puzzling. Saturday 6am came and it was up and out to meet at the coach station to board.
This was the moment that changed how I saw the Bundesliga forever.
A load of young men (maybe a couple girls, I can’t remember), many with shaved heads, most pretty large, making their way cross-country for 90 minutes, only to make their way back again afterwards, drinking heavily and singing heartily all the while. I felt like Elijah Wood, surrounded by customs unfamiliar to me. Many boys were hesitant to engage with me, but after enough time, and Pils, we opened up significantly for a good cross-border fanatic Q&A session:
“What is the atmosphere like at English games?”
“Have you ever been in a fight?”
“You’ve been to Millwall?”
“Is it true you have to sit down all the time?”
“Old Trafford is full of Chinese people right?”
Good blokish bonding and more fun than British away day journeys. By the time we had arrived at the Borussia Park, I’d had half the coach singing “There’s only one team in Yorkshire”. But my status as most-interesting-person-to-listen-to on the day ended in the Gästeblock the moment the Ultras arrived, taking centre stage, steadying their drums, unrolling flags and taping banners to the railings. It was immediately obvious that I should not question or interrupt the young men in front of me, and their power and control over the thousands of individuals in the block was shocking. The notion of one guy with a megaphone getting up in front of the North Stand back in Hull and trying to command the entire sector is laughable and cringeworthy. But here I was seeing it right before my eyes.
I couldn’t understand it. For 90 minutes, we were told what to sing, when to jump and what to think. There was no humour to the chanting. These people barely even watched the game. Just never-ending claims of loyalty and longevity as a fan of your team, as one giant unit. This was so far beyond simply identifying with the city through the Football club. This was tribalism. This was being the city. It was raw and it was aggressive and it was serious.
As were the next away days. Chaos in Bremen. Thousands of young men jumping on any train headed to the coast, cramming the carriage so full we had to piss in the toilet two-at-a-time. And the police were there to greet us upon arrival. So the scarves, facial masks and hoodies go up, as do the voices. Outside the stadium, the Ultras exercise their power once again; “The police have arrested some of our Brothers. We will not enter the stadium until they have been released. Stand your ground”. So, hundreds of us waited anxiously as instructed outside the ground, standing off against the police, for over 70 minutes. Where did all this behaviour come from? Why had I never seen anything like this before back home?
These experiences were the founding moments of From Boothferry To Germany. We would wonder, “What are the factors that make the fan culture differ between countries?” As our involvement with the Bundesliga and its fanatical following grew, we saw and learnt more and more. Everyone has read the tabloid stories commending the excellence of the German Football day. Beer in your seat, cheap tickets, fan participation, accommodating stewards. It is all true, as the expat Bundes-novices and myself found out quickly. But the German Football culture is more. It is hierarchy. It is dogma. It is tribalism, obsession, competition and pride.
None of this is bad however. Bundesliga is Football fandom at its very purest.
To read more about British expats in Germany and their experiences of the Bundesliga, visit From Boothferry to Germany. If you have any experience of the Bundesliga, please mind leave a comment in the section below.