Back in November I spent a meat and beer fused weekend over in Germany, and in the regrettably small time I spent there I happened to visit the Signal Iduna Park to see Borussia Dortmund take on Stuttgart.
Although most of the afternoon remains as a boozy haze, I came away from the brilliant game of football, which Dortmund won 4-1, with a deep pang of sadness. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy it, it’s more of the fact that I enjoyed it so much that I knew the moment the full whistle blew that watching football in England would look like a stark, joyless prospect in comparison to the celebration of football that my trip to Dortmund was.
It’s been said to the point of tired cliché now, but England really could take a thing or eight from how football is watched and enjoyed in Germany, because it’d make it a far better experience for everyone.
And here are those eight things:
- Make Going to the Football an Actual Day Out
This may sound a little strange and you’re probably thinking that a long haul away day is, in fact, a day out, and you’re not wrong. However, I am actually discussing making it a day trip for the home supporters and not just the away crowd.
We arrived in Dortmund over three hours before kick off and I expected us to be the only ones there. I was quickly proved wrong as there were already more people walking around the stadium than what actually attend most games in England.
When I begrudgingly decide to watch Bolton, it’s a very rare occurrence that I’m actually ever in my seat before five minutes from kick off. But here the place was already beginning to buzz with the anticipation of football hours before the training cones would even be laid out on the pitch.
This is because in Germany, or Dortmund at least, there’s a reason to go so early. You can go and soak in the pre-match atmosphere, interact with fans you’ve never met before, both home and away, strangers with one overriding similarity: a love for football. We were there with hours to spare but I was not once bored, and that’s simply because there are places littered around the stadium where people could drink, eat and meet. Which leads on nicely to.
2. Cheap, but Great, Food and Beer
In a place where I saw the highest density of food I have ever seen on one plate in my life, let it never be said that Germany doesn’t have the most meatilicious of food offerings on the planet.
As you walk around the massive area surrounding the towering Signal Iduna Park, the smells and sounds of sizzling, grilling meat immediately engulf your senses. In England, the best you can ever really hope for is a better than average pie, but usually you just end up with an underwhelming burger with some strange, unwanted condiment smeared on it, and beer that may well have been taken from the flooding urinal, for all you know.
There was no such thing in Germany. With tents and gazebos dominating your eye sight where ever you turned, there was always a place to get a Bratwurst or a beer. With very cheap prices (€2.50 and €3.00, respectively) an unhealthy amount were consumed.
Just compare those prices to the biggest club stadium in England, Old Trafford, where you can get a “meal deal” of burger, drink and snack for £7. It’s quite embarrassing that most clubs, not just Manchester United, feel the need to charge so much on the concourse.
3. Fan Friendliness
As we sat around what can only be described as a beer garden just outside the stadium, huddled under a massive umbrella to take cover from the sudden monsoon, munching on sausage and swigging larger, our no doubt seemingly strange accents started getting attention.
Several native Dortmund fans all came over to us and struck up conversations as if we’d met there every match day for the past ten years. They were genuinely interested about where we came from, what football teams we supported and just what the game was like over the sea. They also, with gleaming pride, loved talking about their country, their league, their club, as if they wanted to share this special thing they had with everyone.
One elder gentleman, named Wilfried, exchanged videos of Champions League nights with a United fan in our party. The man’s son, a man in his late twenties, with an ironic grim, couldn’t help but announce his hatred for Bayern Munich and how “Scheiße” English beer was. He was right, of course.
It was something I’ve never experienced or done at matches in the professional leagues of England before, certainly not on away travels. I recognise that it is probably more of British cultural problem rather than a football one, but having such interesting conversations with total strangers was what really made the afternoon for me.
4. Lack of Booing
If there’s one thing I really can’t stand at football matches it’s booing. How a sound that when made by one person sounds so completely ridiculous can then combine with others to make such an irritating drone of anger is beyond me.
I’m not against the act of it per say, it’s just the sound, with it’s mind itching annoyance, erupting hate and so many connotations that I just can’t abide by it. So much so that I tend to leave football matches when I can sense boos coming.
They were no where to be heard at Dortmund.
Now, it of course helps that it was a routine victory for a top side against a poorer side but there were still plenty of opportunities. The travelling Stuttgart supporters could have had at any time turned against their side, but with every goal that went in for Dortmund you would have thought that it was actually Stuttgart who’d scored it, as their fans supported them with even more volume and vigor whenever they conceded.
The same can be said about the Dortmund faithful who, instead of resorting to unwarranted jeers when a sloppy goal was conceded, were also rejuvenated into singing even louder. Cheers are certainly kinder on the ears.
It wouldn’t be an article about German football if I didn’t mention the atmosphere, would it?
Signal Iduna Park was just as loud and boisterous as you’ve read about in recent years and The Yellow Wall, which is a sight to behold, certainly didn’t disappoint. From an hour before kick off until well after the final whistle blew, the atmosphere inside the stadium was electric, with nearly everybody joining in on the songs and cheers. It’s often said how the atmosphere at English stadiums is dying, and it is.
There are only a handful of home supporters in the United Kingdom that actually do create a great atmosphere in this day and age. If supporters could take half of the enthusiasm, in that regard, that the Germans had then grounds up and down the country would have a voice again. One way to that may be
6. Safe Standing
Safe standing is a very understandable taboo in the Great British game due disasters like Hillsborough and the Burnden Park, but it really is time that those ghosts were put behind us and safe standing was brought back.
There aren’t many places in English football that still have a soul, but you can certainly find the remaining few in the lower and non-league terraces in which everybody stands. That’s where atmosphere is created, songs are made up, laughs are had and goals are celebrated most passionately.
It’s simple, people have more fun at football when they’re stood up watching it. Lets have that again.
7. Allowed to Drink Beer in the Stand
No explanation needed in this one.
8. Stop treating supporters like criminals
This is probably the simplest of all.
In Germany football fans are treated like, er, football fans. Like people who just want to go and watch a game of football with their mates. You’re allowed to stand up, take photos, drink beer and have fun without some plod who traded in his personality for a high vis jacket telling you off.
It’s becoming a chore watching football in England’s top flights because fans are treated like criminals, guilty of a crime they’ll never commit. Above all else, that has to change before the game loses the very people who made it what it is.