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German Football – Worth the hype?

Beer in seats, clubs owned by fans and standing tickets. Our Foreign Correspondent and self-confessed Derby County fan Michael Barraclough gives an insight into whether the Germans really do football better

I’m a third year student of English Literature and German at Queen Mary. I’m currently in Munich as part of my compulsory year abroad, working for a sports media company. Despite working lots of evenings and weekends, it’s a great job. Anyway, that’s some background about me. I’m here to write a bit about my experience at a German football ground. I went to Bayern vs Paderborn at the end of September and had a great time. It’s a totally different experience to going to a game in England, and is worthy of most of the praise the British media often give it.

The Allianz is an impressive stadium. The futuristic design outside is equally matched by an incredibly open and airy inside. You certainly never feel too crammed like certain Premier League grounds are (not that I’d know, my team won 11 points a few years back and are now deemed ‘the worst team in history’). I was surprised by how easy access to the ground was. You get your ticket scanned and security checks done about 300m from the ground, and once you’ve passed that you’re in. There are no turnstiles like in England, there are big black doors all around the exterior (think exit doors at a game) for everyone to use.

It doesn’t matter where you’re meant to be, or even which team you’ve gone to visit. Everyone can enter and exit the same way. This promoted an idea of friendship and a unified love of football, which isn’t felt in England. This is furthered by the fact that segregation doesn’t really exist. Away fans mix with home ones from start to finish, much like the mixed end at Craven Cottage, and there is no trouble. You could hardly see a steward or policeman about. Everyone knew the rules and stuck to them. This made for a family friendly atmosphere throughout the ground, which is great. The segregation in our grounds often enforces and initiates the hostile ‘‘us against them’’ mentality.

I stood at the game (15€) and had a great night. My view was perfect, the game was excellent, and the atmosphere was okay. The lower tiers behind the goals are set aside as standing locations, so most of the atmosphere comes from here (or from the away fans who are placed somewhere in the top tier). One stand is pretty much handed over to corporate seats, which means for the first 20 minutes of the second half it’s empty. However, unlike Wembley, the cameras don’t face that way so you’d never know this unless you were there.

It’s strange to be in a ground where you can openly smoke and drink whilst the game is on. It’s good and seems to prevent supporters from actually getting tanked up before the game and causing trouble. Same goes for smoking; I could actually go to the loo at half time without having to fear being choked by smoke. Maybe it’s the whole idea of “if you treat the fans like criminals, they’ll behave that way.” I mean in England there’s a lot of stuff you can’t do at the football, which in some ways dilutes the whole experience.

The game itself was great. Bayern raced into an early 2-0 lead and were constantly in control. They added a further two goals in the final 15 to wrap up a comprehensive 4-0 victory. Whilst the game was on, the Paderborn supporters didn’t stop cheering and applauding their team, even when the fourth goal went in. The so called Bayern ultras did themselves proud and ensured that there was some atmosphere throughout the match – flags, organised bouncing, across stadium chants with the other terrace etc. Don’t get me wrong, there was a decent atmosphere, but it wasn’t enough to make the Allianz a cauldron of noise to scare away teams. Maybe playing Bayern is fear enough? They win everything and have all the big players, so maybe it’s a case of the “Manchester United’s circa 2010” – you fear the team more than you fear the place.

I think my abiding memory is of how the terraces were full of people of all ages standing together, unified in their love of one thing. Football. A goal is still treated as a mysterious being even though Bayern nearly always score – people were jumping into the arms of strangers, bouncing around, waving flags and making sure that all the kids had a good view. There was a sense of respect and friendship, which, in my opinion, is because fans aren’t treated as customers in Germany; they are an important part of the club. It seems football really is more than a game; it’s a way of life, as you’re made to feel important and valued, not just a consumer of a service. If only English clubs could start to move that way.


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