The setting is gladiatorial, the passion is in sync and a contest — minus the bloodlust — is about to unfold. The presence of 60,000 deeply invested fans at kick-off gives a close view of the Bundesliga credo: ‘Football as it’s meant to be.’
Love for the sport, a rich history and pulsating fan-culture set the stage. For Germans, football is an emotion, and once the season starts every weekend is a celebration. Schedules are set in stone to catch the game, either at the ground, or on the telly, or on live streams.
Carsten Cramer, managing director of Borussia Dortmund, describes the phenomenon. “Football is the glue of our society. Politics, religion are not really able to bond the people and not even able to bring the society together. This is something football has achieved.”
The first-hand experience of watching two Bundesliga matches offered a view of how sacred football games are in the only nation to have won both the men’s and women’s World Cup. The men have four titles, while the women have two.
RheinEnergieStadion: 1. FC Koln vs Borussia Dortmund (August 23)
Not far from Cologne city, the RheinEnergieStadion had turned red and white, the colours of FC Koln. The away fans of Dortmund, in black and yellow, too made their presence felt. It also happened to be a special day for Koln’s living mascot, a billy goat, Hennes IX, which made its entry in accordance with the club’s tradition. The mascot is named after former club coach Hennes Weisweiler, who was gifted a goat by a local circus as a lucky charm. Since then, the goat has been part of the club’s history and also part of the team’s logo.
The previous mascot, Hennes VIII, had an 11-year spell as the mascot before retiring last month due to health reasons.
The air smelt of cigarette smoke, and copious amounts of beer flowed in the stands. A Dominick Drexler header in the 29th minute sent the home fans into a frenzy, with the standing terrace of the stadium being the loudest and leading the celebration with the team song. The away section of Dortmund fans matched the decibel level when Jadon Sancho netted the equaliser after the break.
Seated close to the pitch were two friends — a Koln fan and the other a Dortmund supporter. Both had their share of banter, although nothing bordering animosity. Achraf Hakimi and Paco Alcacer scored two late goals to give Dortmund a 3-1 win.
The home crowd dispersed and so did the two friends to the nearest stalls to grab more beer.
Veltins-Arena: FC Schalke 04 vs Bayern Munich (August 24)
Bayern Munich was under pressure coming into its second game at Schalke after having drawn 2-2 in the season opener against Hertha Berlin.
The Bayern fans presented a pretty sober figure as away fans when compared to Dortmund. Bayern ran away 3-0 winners, with Robert Lewandowski scoring a hat-trick. Another highlight of the night was Philippe Coutinho’s Bundesliga debut.
Home fans at the Veltins-Arena took the loss against the big guns of Bundesliga in stride. The season is long and there is much to fight for.
Schalke, founded by coal miners and situated in a mining area, decided to build a new stadium due to shifting of ground beneath the pitch. Mindful of history, the club also had an eye on the future. In 2001, a multifunctional stadium with 62,000 capacity was readied.
A conscious effort was made to make the new stadium earn revenue during off-seasons. So, the arena has a retractable pitch and roofs. During the off-season, the whole pitch slides out, including the southern stand, and the arena becomes host to concerts and events.
The writer was in Germany on an invitation from the Bundesliga.
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