The second game was during a trip to see my sister and her husband in Austria. They live near Salzburg and close to the border with Germany. I had asked about the possibility of going to see a Bayern game as her husband is a Bavarian and a Bayern fan. I had driven past the Allianz Arena a number of times on the way from and to Munich’s airport but had never had the opportunity to see a game there. Through a convoluted arrangement we managed to get tickets to the Bavarian derby between Bayern and FC Nürnberg as guests of one of Bayern’s sponsors. In all my years of going to games as a fan and paying ever-increasing prices for everything this was to be my first glimpse of how the other half live. As Withnail so rightly says, “Free to those who can afford it, very expensive to those who can’t”.
We left Austria mid-morning and drove the two hours into Munich, most of the way of Germany’s public racetrack they call the autobahn. The road into Munich leaves the Alps behind and runs past a few scattered lakes and eventually hits modern south German suburbia. Small towns predominate with orange-roofed houses and tall, white church spires with green domes. The towns are all linked by an extensive rail network and the growling autobahn. Germany is a big country full of people doing things correctly. In my imagination Britain is a small country full of people muddling through as best they can but Germans do things properly. From making cars and beer (c.f. Reinheitsgeböt) to public transport and cycle lanes. From ensuring oligarchs can’t pervert football club ownership to preparing an outstanding crop of young German footballers. Germany’s successes are thrown into stark contrast with Britain’s failings in my mind. I am a little in love with Germany and Germans, it is true and I definitely have an expat’s tendency to be an overly harsh judge of my own country.
After dropping off my sister in Munich city centre her husband and I continued on to the Allianz Arena. Approaching the stadium from the road provides an outstanding vista and the glowing red lights blink into and out of view in rhythm with the contours of the road. We arrived at the ground and parked the car in the rabbit warren of a car park next the stadium and walked the rest of the way. We had arrived an hour or so early so we could take advantage of the corporate hospitality. After showing our tickets to various young girls dressed in red who were happy to insert our tickets into the turnstile machines for us we were admitted into a vast hall full of food stands and beer dispensers. Everything you could possibly want was here from pasta and local delicacies to pastries and various asian foods. We found our reserved seats and went to fill up some plates. I was feeling like I didn’t really belong in among all these rich, privileged people who are so used to being given things for free so I had to check that everything was indeed kostenlos. The waitress, a young girl dressed in traditional dirndl, giggled at me and replied in English, ”Of course, have whatever you like.” I chose a bit of vegetarian pasta and a Weißbier. During our meal another waitress came to take our half-time drinks order so we wouldn’t have to rush back from our seats at the break.
This orgy of food and beer is one of the reasons that Munich’s other team, TSV 1860 are in a legal dispute with the management of the Allianz Arena, a company controlled by Bayern. The former directors of 1860 committed to share the shiny new stadium with Bayern and also agreed to pay a share of the catering operation that 1860 with their declining performances and finances were never able to fulfill. 1860 are claiming that the catering contract constitutes an anti-trust violation as they had no other stadium to use. At the time I was there it seemed likely that 1860 would have to move back to their old Sechzgerstadion if they were forced to keep paying their catering bills.
After eating and drinking we ambled to our seats in the stadium, we were a little to the left of the half-way line about twenty rows from pitch level. Over to the right in the Süd-curve the Bayern fans were putting on a show of singing and flag waving. A banner above them read, “South stand – the heart and soul of our club” and throughout the game the fans there unfurled various banners communicating different messages to the Bayern directors. The general theme being – this is our club, you may run it temporarily but it belongs to us. I would guess this is a feeling shared by many fans but I have never seen it expressed so strongly elsewhere as it is in Germany. The hardcore Nürnberg fans were in a section of the top deck away to our left. They also put on a show and never stopped singing and bouncing despite their team’s poor performance in this game, even launching into that traditional hymn, “Zieht den Bayern die Lederhosen aus” – don’t they wear lederhosen in Nürnberg as well..?
The hardcore fans from both teams put on a great show of partisan support and they were both equally impressive. However the Ultra sections were islands of noise, colour and passion in an ocean of placid, seated fans seeking only to be entertained by a winning Bayern side. There are a number of concessions to these fans unprepared to make their own entertainment. The cheesy music after a goal is scored and the call-and-response routine with the stadium announcer being two examples. And in truth they seemed a little ridiculous to me. Maybe that is because I grew up watching Liverpool were I was always told that the game is the entertainment so why would you need anything else. I remember a debate about the installation of the scoreboard at Anfield, those against the idea believed that anyone at the game should already know the score without the electronic reminder.
An interesting show from some fans though was the people dressed all in white and sitting in a formation that was made up the logo of T-Mobile, another of Bayern’s sponsors. It made me wonder who these people were? Were they employees of T-Mobile who had won some employee-of-the-month bonus to go along with the photo on the wall in the office canteen? Or was it, as someone suggested on twitter, the world’s biggest coincidence? You decide.
The first goal came after great work from Danijel Pranjic down the left, he continued his run into the box and his cross found Mario Gomez a metre from the goal line and with a simple task to opening the scoring. My brother-in-law’s usual half-time ritual when watching Bayern at home is to eat a würstsalat if Bayern are losing. I didn’t see any of that in our corporate hospitality section though there was a lot of cake and coffee and more weißbier which had appeared on our table. After our visit to the feeding troughs the second half resumed with Bayern in the ascendency again. Their second goal arrived through a cooly taken penalty from Bayern and Germany captain Phillip Lahm after Gomez had been fouled by the keeper. Franck Ribery made his return from injury in the second half as a substitute for Toni Kroos and showed his threat from direct running at the defence, and laid on the third goal with Gomez again heading in directly from his corner. Bayern’s top scorer this season had a chance for a hat-trick with five minutes remaining as he took over penalty duties from Lahm. Gomez though blazed his 11-metre high over the bar and with it went his chance of a hat-trick. Also making a second half substitute appearance was one of my favourite players, Thomas Müller. His ungainly running style, speed, ball control and movement off the ball make him a nightmare for defenders. It will be fun to watch him develop as a player.
The final whistle came and Bayern celebrated, the TV presenters made their way onto the field for the post-match interviews and we headed back to the car to meet my sister. After an hour of waiting in the queue to get out of the car park we finally made it to the autobahn and drove through the darkening countryside. In the twilight somewhere along the way Germany melted into Austria and we were home.
Read some other posts in this Sport and Travel series: