They think it’s all über: London braces for all-German Champions League final

They think it’s all über: London braces for all-German Champions League final

They think it’s all über: London braces for all-German Champions League final

Owen Gibson | 5/24/2013 | The Guardian

It is less than a mile from the home of the London club that broke Bayern hearts 12 months ago, but there is a corner of the Fulham Road that is forever Munich.

At the Octoberfest pub in Chelsea on Saturday evening, 225 Bayern Munich fans will gather in the hope that their team can succeed where they failed in 2010 and 2012 and lift the European Cup for the fifth time in the club’s history.

Standing in the way of Germany’s most successful club will be Borussia Dortmund, the exciting underdogs led by the charismatic young manager Jurgen Klopp who swept aside Real Madrid in the semi-finals.

About 90,000 spectators will fill Wembley, including holders of 25,000 tickets officially sold to the fans of each club, but up to 100,000 more are estimated to have travelled from Germany without tickets.

Their numbers will be swelled further by ex-pats who support one or other of the finalists.

Dortmund, who have brought a black and yellow double-decker bus to visit tourist hotspots in London and promote the team, had 500,000 applications for their allocation.

They announced their arrival in London with a tongue-in-cheek poster featuring a deckchair next to a red phonebox with a club towel on it and the slogan: “From Dortmund with love”.

For those that have tickets, the German newspaper Bild has issued a warning over the hot dogs at Wembley, calling them “full of fat” and “unbelievably expensive”, but was full of praise for the atmosphere and facilities at the expensively revamped national stadium.

But the hordes descending on the capital without tickets, who City Hall claim will help boost London’s economy by €52m £44m, may struggle to find somewhere to watch the match.

In contrast to the final in Munich last year, where tens of thousands watched on big screens in the city centre as Bayern lost on penalties to Chelsea, Uefa said police had advised there could be no public outdoor screenings.

So while the European governing body is staging a free Champions Festival next to the Olympic Park in Stratford, featuring sponsors’ events and exhibition matches with retired football stars, as well as a 3D projection show in a Trafalgar Square, ticketless fans will be forced to pack into pubs and bars during the game.

At the Octoberfest bar in Fulham, manager Nathan Gee believes they could have sold out several times over for the event, at which fans will watch on two big screens and dine on a buffet of pork knuckles, sausages, sauerkraut and pretzels to soak up the 86 German beers on offer.

The 35-year-old, who became a huge Bayern fan as a child when he used to visit family in Munich, said the bar was anointed as the HQ for the official London supporter’s club seven years ago when a group of 15 to 20 fans started to gather to watch Bundesliga matches.

“We fill the clubhouse for big games. The crowd is a mixture. Around half are German ex-pats and the rest are from the UK,” he said.

“We have seen the popularity of the Bundesliga grow over the past seven or eight years. The anglo-German relationship is undergoing a bit of a renaissance. Attitudes are changing.”

Many believe that the all-German final, at a Wembley Stadium celebrating its 90th year and hosted by a Football Association marking its own 150th anniversary, is well timed.

Previously of niche interest, there is a new wave of love for the Bundesliga among many UK football fans.

“German football is the best attended and cheapest in Europe. A lot of fans are looking jealously over there and wondering what they are doing differently. A lot of that comes down to the intrinsic role of fans,” said David Lampitt, the chief executive of supporters group Supporters Direct.

With two historic exceptions, all clubs in the Bundesliga must comply with the “50+1 rule” that ensures majority control remains with the club’s members.

“These guys are members and have an active part to play in their club. That’s completely different to the perception in this country, where people feel they are increasingly seen as customers rather than fans,” said Lampitt.

While German football is not without its issues, many fans in the UK have begun to look wistfully at ticket prices as low as €13 at Bayern and €11 at Dortmund, where fans travel free to the match and can eat and drink cheaply.

The 2006 World Cup is often cited as a turning point in the relationship between English and German fans, when hundreds of thousands of England fans made the trip and realised they had more in common than they thought. The rise of cheap city breaks to Berlin and Munich has also had an impact.

“The first big change in attitudes we noticed was around the 2006 World Cup. A lot of Brits went over and were really happy and surprised to discover that Germans are actually quite welcoming and funny,” said Sabine von Reith, the owner of two booming Bavarian Beerhouse bars in Old Street and Tower Hill who sends a truck to Germany once a fortnight for authentic supplies.

Both venues are running a series of football-themed events in the runup to the final and are fully booked for Saturday night.

“We were the first German bar to open in London in 2005. You can never be entirely sure but London is so cosmopolitan we were pretty sure it would work. There was every single kind of culture represented but not a single German bar or restaurant. It’s been crazy from day one,” said Von Reith.

Gina Thomas, cultural correspondent at German broadsheet Frankfurter Allgemeine, said the attitude towards German football felt a long way from that of Euro 96 and the Daily Mirror’s notorious Achtung Surrender headline when the two national sides played.

Benjamin McFadyean, a former Dortmund season-ticket holder who grew up in the town when his stepfather was employed on a British army base there, said his team would be the choice of the vast majority of neutrals.

“I’m black and yellow through and through. It’s an industrial town and it’s the only thing to do on a Saturday – go and watch the local team. You’ve got 40,000 fans on one side of the stadium,” said McFadyean, who now runs his own events company in London.

“It goes mad, it’s an incredible atmosphere. You’re right next to the pitch. The Dortmund people are fans through and through. The prices are cheap and they get very, very big gates and they are very focused on being socially inclusive and friendly.”

The German media this week seized on a Guardian interview with Klopp, in which he said “we are a club, not a company,” and rallied neutrals to his “special side”, as evidence that the UK would swing behind the black and yellow underdogs.

McFadyean, sore at the way in which runaway German champions Bayern announced the signing of Dortmund’s injured star player Mario Gotze before the final, is convinced his side will be the popular choice.

“They are arrogant, they are extremely rich. They have had a strategy for many years of buying up talent to weaken the opposition. In Dortmund, they live and die for the football team.”

But new research suggests Munich’s fanbase outside Germany is growing fast as they seek to challenge the likes of Barcelona and Manchester United as global players.

According to the agency Repucom, Bayern have 17.8 million “avid fans” in 11 key markets outside Germany. For Dortmund, the figure is 5.5 million.

“For Dortmund, it comes down to consolidating their rapid development in recent years to become established as a top European club,” said Philipp Kupfer, a senior consultant at Repucom.

“Bayern are already at that level and are now aiming to go one better, by joining FC Barcelona, Manchester United and Real Madrid as one of the absolute elite club brands in global football.”

For Lampitt, there are broader lessons for English football in the new wave of German club success that can now be put alongside a revitalised national team, better youth development (26 of the players in the two squads are homegrown) and a fan friendly ethos.

“The relationship between the league and the FA is very much tighter than it is over here. Seeing success on the pitch is incredibly important in proving that their model can deliver,” he says.

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