I WENT to Hamburg for my stag do last weekend. The things that happen in Hamburg; the things you see. A drunken mate, for example, managed to fall asleep on a live amplifier in a nightclub, such was the impact of Astra, the local lager. I think Motorhead’s Ace of Spades was playing at the time.
We stayed on the Reeperbahn, a thoroughfare known as the most sinful mile in town and, naturally, we didn’t move too far. But when we did, it was worth it.
St. Pauli are anti-racist, anti-fascist, anti-homophobic and anti-sexist, a club that welcomes supporters to matches with AC/DC’s Hell’s Bells blasting out of the public address system. St. Pauli is also the first football club in Germany to integrate a set of fundamental principles, which dictate how it is run.
Point three of five reads: “St. Pauli FC is the club of a particular city district, and it is to this that it owes its identity. This gives it a social and political responsibility in relation to the district and the people who live there.”
Their ground, the intimate Millerntor, is a five-minute walk from the Reeperbahn. St. Pauli boast one of the highest average attendances of any second division team in Europe. Inconveniently they were away at Red Bull Leipzig on Sunday afternoon. So off we stumbled the evening before to the far west of the city where Hamburg, or rather, HSV, play their home games at the cavernous 57,000 seater Volksparkstadion.
I didn’t plan to make the event the subject of a column. Yet I had left Anfield the previous Monday through a Main Stand exit where a sign thanks fans for visiting and it got me thinking. You shouldn’t just visit Anfield. It sounds mushy but if you go to Anfield enough, it is a place that remains in you. I accept this as an admittance of guilt: you pay, you visit; you pay again.
The sign is a reminder that the wealthy visitors are abundant and they are able to attend because they are connected and connection brings accessibility. The irony is, those who expect to encounter a buzz at Anfield but are left disappointed when they don’t because Bournemouth are the opponents on a warm Monday night in August are probably taking the seat of someone who might help create a more memorable experience.
With so much being said and written about the Bundesliga being the best in the world for fans, making a comparison was irresistible.
Hamburg were hosting VfB Stuttgart and both were hammered on the opening weekend of the season. A goalless draw and a subdued mood seemed inevitable. Surely the Bundesliga — the atmosphere, the standard of football, the entertainment and value — couldn’t really be that much better. Surely the Volksparkstadion would be soulless, like one of those Premier League grounds located on a retail estate.
In the Premier League, indeed, 10 clubs are owned by billionaires. In Germany, the 50-plus-one rule exists, which means a club’s members have a controlling stake and commercial interests cannot take over. At Bayern Munich, Audi and Adidas each own nine percent but the members control the rest. Wolfsburg and Bayer Leverkusen operate outside this boundary but that is because both originated as sporting clubs created by workers at Volkswagen and Bayer, the latter being a chemical and pharmaceutical company.
Membership in Germany means fans are able to take care of what really matters. There will always be winners and losers — titles, promotions and relegations. But football needs to keep supporters enthusiastic and wanting more in order for sustainability to be realised: for it still to be there a century from now, for children to see it live, to be inspired, to go on and play themselves. It sounds basic — drastic even — but otherwise, the world will stop producing footballers or good ones, at least; ones that make you want to go back and watch your team, ones that continue the cycle from generation to generation.
Maybe that is why England consistently struggles to meet expectation, being a country where stadiums, for the last 50 years at least, have either been too violent or too expensive for children. It might explain too why Germany have achieved rather more on the international stage.
Presently, the Bundesliga has the lowest ticket prices and the highest average attendance of Europe’s five major leagues. Me and 11 other lads from Liverpool got into Hamburg because clubs limit the number of season tickets to ensure everyone has a chance to see the games, while the away team has the right to 10 percent of the available capacity. We parted with less than £17 each for our tickets near the away end. Included in that was public transport to and from the stadium for three hours before the kick off and three hours after.
On the trains, we saw Hamburg and Stuttgart supporters talking, drinking and singing. They were still together over at the Reeperbahn at 4am, identifiable through blurry eyes because of their white replica shirts.
Before the madness, the Volksparkstadion, with its roof sent from space, was almost full as the players warmed up because the beer and food is affordable, creating a greater sense that something exciting is about to happen before the kick off.
We sat next to a lady in her 60s, a season ticket holder for decades, someone who feels safe enough to go on her own. Near her was a Stuttgart supporter who celebrated his team’s goals without fear of reprisal. Passion was everywhere to be seen but arbitrary aggression was not.
In Germany, it’s the little bits of effort from the clubs that make you — the supporter — feel valued, as though you’re making an appreciated contribution towards the well-being of the club.
There is effort, like the 50 litres of beer distributed on the terraces at the Volksparkstadion among all supporters — home and away — when Hamburg score a goal. Hamburg scored three against Stuttgart. That’s 150 litres — the size of the biggest fish tank you’ve seen.
Fortunately, Hamburg won. Stuttgart only scored twice and Hamburg’s winner came as injury time approached. There was a sending off and the standard of football was below average.
Yet the intent was there to take care of the fans regardless of the outcome.
And that is why the Bundesliga is winning.
Pics: David Rawcliffe-Propaganda Photo