Fussball ist Wunderbar!
A couple of weekends ago I had the absolute pleasure of going to Germany, where I visited some German clubs and watched some Bundesliga football. I was there to see Schalke beat Ausburg 3-0 at the Veltins Arena, I saw Bayer Leverkusen draw 1-1 with Werder Bremen at the BayArena and I also took a tour of Borussia Dortmund’s magnificent 81,000+ seater stadium: Signal Iduna Park. It’s an experience I will treasure for the remainder of my days and I would recommend to absolutely anybody who has even the remotest of interest in football to take the trip. I don’t want to sound pretentious or attempt to portray myself as an expert in foreign football, I’m far from it, But, during my short experience, I think the typical English matchday experience could benefit from taking inspiration from our German counterparts.
I’ve always been told how “foreign football is so much cheaper” compared to what English fans pay to see their teams; however when booking the tickets for the two matches I went to, I paid around £35 for each ticket (both games I was central along the touchline, right at the back) which falls around the average cost for a ticket in England. However it turns out that, at its cheapest, you can attend most German football matches for just over a tenner; quite remarkable when the typical cheapest ticket in England hovers around £30. If you’re lucky enough to book your tickets early, willing to watch from a slightly less favourable position and be within a safe standing zone (which I will get onto later), a day out to the football needn’t be as expensive as you’d think. Furthermore, German season tickets are remarkably cheap; for example: you can be part of Dortmund’s world famous “Yellow Wall” for as cheap as €130.50. For a club of their magnitude: that’s incredible value. Most clubs follow suit, such as Schalke who were offering season tickets from as cheap as €200. The club make up for this in other ways, such as charging €90 euros for a jersey; but when you think of the money that bolsters the top leagues these days, especially the Premier League, you have to wonder why other clubs aren’t following suit and rewarding the loyal.
The atmosphere created by a football match can, at its peak, be an unrivalled experience – it was the remarkable din alone whilst watching my first ever Stoke game that allowed me to fall in love with football. I’ve been lucky to sample some crazy atmospheres over the years, but lately they are all geared around frustration, hate or unnerving the opposition. The atmosphere that flooded the stadia in Germany was truly unlike anything I had witnessed before: it was loud, it was passionate but (for the majority) it was warm. The Germans manufactured a culture in order to provide this fantastic spirit in their games: Dortmund close the concourse during the 90 mins meaning you have to be in your seat for the game. They have also designed their roof to point downwards (rather than upwards) in order to trap in as much noise as possible. In general, fans are invited and encouraged to scream the surname of players after the announcer says his forename. You’re allowed to take beer into the stands. There were plenty of away fans in the home end during the Leverkusen game, all singing proudly, and no trouble was raised. There was an element of trust, of friendliness, it felt like football was one big family.
I must admit, I was a cynic when it came to safe standing before this trip: the well-documented tragedies, plus the fact that I’d never been in a safe-standing environment, mean I didn’t appreciate that they’d be worth the risk. Now I’ve seen it first hand, I’ve completely changed my mind. Dortmund’s yellow wall contains 25,000 standing fans, all just as passionate as one another but all just as considerate for everyone’s safety. The standing contingents were by far and away the main sources of the din during the matches and it achieves something that just isn’t replicated in English grounds. It allows for fans to go that extra step and fully embrace themselves as an ultra (again, more on that later) and it really separated the tourists, visitors and casual fans from the fans that truly stand out. At the front of each of the specially designated stands sits a little metal box, and this is the key to all of the passion that erupts from the safe-standing crowd. In this metal box sits an orchestrator – usually a fan that is voted in by all others at the start of each season – and his job is to stand with his back to the game and encourage those above him to sing, to jump, to go nuts. It’s a simple idea that allows a special (and willing) fan to be recognised as a leader and also ensures that the delightful atmosphere rings around the ground for the entirety of the match. This hub of noise really did set the tone for the match, encouraged others to do the same and one-hundred percent made a difference when you compare to games back in England. A hugely positive difference.
Some fans publicly identify themselves as ultras. These ultras have a completely different persona to how some English fans may identify ultras: being branded as hooligans or gangs who go to games with only violence and antisocial behaviour on their minds, often being to cowardly or malevolent to wear team colours. No, these ultras draped themselves with team colours and had intent only to represent, encourage and display their unwavering love of their team. Whether it was performing a march outside the arena, triggering a display during the game or simply roaring en masse, these ultras are truly the beating heart of the fanbases. Giant flags and pyrotechnics made their way into the stadia and, when executed safely, means the matchday experience set itself apart. By labelling themselves with such a term means they must feel that there is a certain responsibility on their shoulders to be the facade of their club’s support and it truly adds fire to their bellies. It’s a culture that should be embraced on these shores: a culture of devotion without adversity.
The combination of everything I’ve mentioned truly allowed my short-lived taste of German football to be absolutely magnificent. Everything was driven around the ultimate supporter experience: from the game-changers such as cost and atmosphere, to the little moments that mattered such as free WiFi and efficient security checks pre-game. Like I said before, I’m sure I have so much more to learn about footballing cultures across the world; but there’s potential for the English game to be improved so much further. If you’ve never been to watch foreign football, I highly recommend you broaden your experiences; if everybody did so, maybe we could all learn a thing or two from our neighbours, but unfortunately I do wonder if that’s asking too much. I say all of this whilst embracing the way that English fan culture is and recognising that it’s just as unique, just as heartfelt and just as extraordinary as all the others. I love being supporter of an English club, specifically Stoke City, and I wouldn’t give up the buzz I get from it for the world. However, during a stage in our lives where we’re beginning to detach ourselves from Europe, we’d do well to continue to embrace it’s footballing cultures.
Football is wonderful!
Written by Ben Rowley
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