I might be a little late joining the party, but the penny has finally dropped: I need to start following German football. It’s not like I’ve been completely oblivious to the re-birth of ‘Fußball’, but the recent exploits of Schalke in the Champions League quarter finals was the moment I said “Alright, alright, enough already! You win.” It wasn’t just the manner of Schalke’s victory, it was the scenes that followed the match in Gelsenkirchen. Who wasn’t envious of those fans celebrating victory with Raul? I can only imagine what it’ll be like if they beat United.
I first became aware of the modern German football experience about five years ago. I went to see Hertha play Hamburg during a visit to Berlin and the scales were lifted from eyes. I am ashamed to say my perception of German football until this point owed more to tired stereotypes (efficient, clinical etc.) than any personal observations. However, as with many things in life, ignorance can be bliss. When you’ve spent the last few years becoming increasingly cynical about rising ticket prices, sterile atmospheres and the predictable outcome of the Premier League, it rubs salt in the wound to discover that a modern football culture can thrive under an alternative model. Germany is now presented as some sort of football fan’s utopia, with affordable tickets, modern stadiums with standing sections, and one of the most competitive top divisions of any major European league. Oh, and you can also enjoy the game with a beer stein and a decent hotdog. It’s a compelling argument.
Obviously, I’m jealous, but I’m also intrigued. It’s not just the football culture that’s impressive, it’s the quality of footballers Germany is currently producing. The national team plays with a dynamism and energy that is the antithesis of how I remember them during the 1990’s, and according to recent reports the likes of Mesut Ozil and Thomas Muller are just the beginning.
This is one bandwagon I definitely want to jump on, but to really enjoy the Bundesliga I need to have a vested interest, an emotional attachment to maintain my support. With this in mind I have decided to adopt a Bundesliga club for the 2011/12 season. Seeing as the current season is just reaching its climax this might seem an odd time to choose, but I want to allow plenty of time to swat up on my new team in preparation for the next term. The problem is, I have no instinctive allegiance to any German side. I’m going to spend the next week or so doing some research to help me choose, but to any Bundesliga fanatics out there, I need your help – who should I follow next season, and why? Tell me anything you think would be useful: what are my chances of a successful season in 2011/12? Does the club have a unique history? And, most importantly, how good is the local beer?