Another Side to the Champions League Final

London decked in Deutsch was a sight to behold. The first all-German Champions League final, another edition in the recent Klassiker saga and no matter what, the Bundesliga was guaranteed its first European Champion in 12 years. But there was more to it than that – because such is the inextricable link between the Bundesliga and its supporters, it ensured the capital would witness some of the fan culture which has helped to solder a good reputation for German football. Take the scenes in Trafalgar Square on the day of the final.

Gathered below Nelson’s column on the Saturday afternoon was a swarm of black and yellow, drinking in the atmosphere, the weather and come to think of it, a fair amount of beer too. Borussia Dortmund were making themselves heard and felt. One TV presenter, intent on recording a piece to camera, probably didn’t expect to be hoisted aloft by one BVB fan – much to the adulation of others in what was an amusing but harmless moment. Quietly observing such shenanigans was Paul Lambert. He was playing for Borussia on the only occasion they got their hands on the Champions League Henkelpotts in 1997.

Up on one of the balconies overlooking the centre of Trafalgar Square, the Aston Villa manager was approached regularly for autographs and photos. He was of course happy to oblige. Lambert may have only been at the Westfalenstadion for a year but as he admitted earlier in the week, there had been tears in his eyes when he’d said goodbye to the Borussia Dortmund fans. His presence in central London on Saturday afternoon was a special touch.

You may have noticed that this description of Trafalgar Square lacks any mention of Bayern Munich, mainly because their supporters were difficult to spot. Then again, given the very noticeable PR push by Borussia Dortmund, along with their supporters’ colourful presence in London, walking round certain parts of the capital might have had you thinking there was only one team playing on Saturday.

Be assured though: Bayern were present but unlike the stereotype which goes with the club, they were low key, especially in comparison to BVB. The whole final experience was not new to their followers – only the winning bit was, having lost twice in three years. Whilst there was much more enjoyment from the Borussia Dortmund supporters, the Bavarian fraternity appeared decidedly more nervous. That same enjoyment that Borussia were having before the final would only come for Bayern should they win it. As ESPN’s Bayern blogger, Susie Schaaf, explained: Bayern Munich was all business.

“From the news conferences delivered in German, as they’ve always been, to the players arriving at the hotel stone-faced and with their heads down, not stopping for pictures or autographs, Bayern wasn’t in London to charm the world. Bayern Munich was here to win.”

Despite watching every game, seeing Bayern in the flesh is not a regular occurrence for Susie, so understandably she was certainly one of the more vocal Bayern presences in the capital. To be honest, wouldn’t you be if you’d travelled over 4,000 miles from Florida for the occasion?

Susie had some colourful stories of when she had made it over to Europe for matches. That included bowing down to a certain Uli Hoeness after he simply opened the door for her at the Allianz Arena. Whoever says long distance relationships don’t work hasn’t heard of Susie’s love for Bayern Munich, or Uli Hoeness for that matter.

That was demonstrated in a more visible fashion on Friday night as she walked into the Albany Pub on Great Portland Street with hair highlighted red. This was a brave move, considering the place was rammed with Borussia Dortmund fans and for good reason too.

Downstairs that evening, the Borussia Hearts Club convened. As Trafalgar Square would do the following day, it contained plenty gathered in black and yellow and, as ever, a fair amount of beer too, but there was more to it than that with a range of events taking place, amidst the songs blared out on the stereo from the Borussia Dortmund hymnbook. This ranged from a reading in German about the Südtribune by Uli Hesse (author of the wonderful Tor! A story of German football) to an interview with Nico, one of the people responsible for the BVB choreo.

He told of how it takes nearly 300 people to make a tifo on the Südtribune such as the one seen for the Malaga game, how the planning for that iconic display started over a month beforehand and how these biggest choreos can cost up to €12,000 – a large sum of money for any fan group to stump up.

Now gushing about the Borussia Dortmund supporters has become a well-trodden area. Events such as the Borussia Hearts Club organised by Stephan Uersfeld and hearing from people like Nico about the effort which goes into preparing choreos just reiterates why this is the case.

There were some who kept a lower profile in the Albany who showed this. Take Sandra Goldschmidt, another younger BVB supporter, but the word fanatic is probably more appropriate in her case. Living in Duisburg, around 40 miles from Dortmund, Sandra is a season ticket holder and a member at BVB. In the Champions League alone, she’d travelled to Manchester, Malaga and Madrid, twice, to see Borussia play this season alone. Now in London, Sandra was upbeat about what Saturday would bring. This in itself wasn’t too surprising having become accustomed to her positive outlook on Borussia Dortmund on Twitter.

She was one of quite a few Bundesliga aficionados, usually confined to Twitter or Skype, present in the Albany that evening. This was something else to savour. Having spent so many hours online with them, it was great now to just share a pint with them on the eve of what was a humongous occasion for German football.

There was just one thing that would complete the occasion on a personal level – a ticket. Having pestered every man, woman, child and organism, by the end of Friday night, my search seemed to have been unsuccessful. I was reminded of this whilst sharing a taxi to Covent Garden after the Borussia Hearts Club with Jon Hartley (host of Bundesliga Show), Lewis (an English BVB fan) and the aforementioned Susie Schaaf. Everyone in the cab was going, apart from me. Jon, being the witty chap that he is, sensed his moment of comic genius by saying that someone on Facebook had a ticket. Before I even had a chance to interject, he exclaimed “To Muse!”

Cue roars of laughter from three members of the taxi and expletives from another. Indeed, Muse were playing the Emirates on Saturday night but in this regard and with the greatest respect to them, a ticket to the Champions League Final was the only thing that was going to leave me Feeling Good.

Up to this point, I thought I’d tried everything. As it turned out I hadn’t, as Ben Dudley proved. He bought a blank high visibility security jacket on eBay, getting “UEFA Steward” printed on the back and then attempted to bypass security at Wembley. He was ultimately unsuccessful in spite of what was a valiant effort.

I would be more fortunate, just without the valiant part. One of the many pleas I’d put in for a ticket with a friend finally came off on Saturday afternoon. That wasn’t before being offered two tickets to the final for £3500 each by one cheeky beggar on Twitter. Within half an hour, he’d knocked £1,500 off that price, despite maintaining they were “the best seats in the stadium.”
No matter – standing in Trafalgar Square at 2.30pm, a shining beacon of hope came in the form of an email asking whether I had managed to acquire ticket. Feverishly, I responded saying I hadn’t managed to yet before then hearing nothing for two and a half hours. Optimistically, I clung to the hope, the mere possibility that another email would come through.

Instead, having left Trafalgar Square and headed to the adidas lab, I was now watching a panel discussion on how football viewing would be in the future. Actually, scrap that – it was more listening to the discussion whilst frantically pressing refresh on my phone every two minutes so. And then, finally, a pocket vibration.

Praying that I wasn’t about to read about “NECTAR’S LATEST OFFERS” (and yes, I have a Nectar card – English people, don’t judge; others, never mind), I tentatively checked my phone. I read the message. I read it again. My eyes widened. I tried to resist a celebration. I failed, letting out a small, muffled YES. Like a modern day Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, just without a Charlie or a Chocolate Factory for that matter, a ticket for the game was secured.

Departing swiftly, I spotted Terry Duffelen, someone who along with Jon Hartley had helped to foster my passion for German football. When telling him of what I’d acquired, I could see the mixture of emotions in his facial expression, one of which suggested a mugging was imminent. Instead, an embrace ensued before bidding farewell and heading for Wembley Park station to collect my ticket.

Still, there was an anxious wait to be had at Wembley Park. Nerves were frayed by the blocked signal around the stadium making it impossible to contact the man with my ticket. It wasn’t until 20 minutes before the game that our paths crossed and finally, I was walking up Wembley Way which was quite empty by this stage but of course it was – this was a Bundesliga Champions League Final after all.

With some childish glee, and seat reached a full seven minutes before kickoff, it was time to gawp at the surroundings. The perception I’d once held that this incarnation of Wembley was just a rather expensively assembled block of concrete seeped away as to the left was a tremendous block of red and much closer, to the right, a sea of black and yellow, Wembley’s very own gelbe Wand. Bayern’s impressive choreo followed before the teams strode out, as the occasion’s awesome aesthetic was completed with Zadok the Priest christening the Final before at last the game begun.

Thankfully, it lived up to the hype and was not the tight game that many predicted. For all Bayern’s achievements and record breaking exploits during the season, there is a certain complexion to their recent games against Borussia Dortmund which seemed to faze them initially. Perhaps it was all part of Jupp Heynckes’ grand plan. Still, Borussia were brighter from the off as was reflected by the increased noise to the right and the muted nature of those in red on the left.

Noise arrived though each time Robert Lewandowski was thwarted by Manuel Neuer – the game’s initial duel. Having surveyed the situation, Bayern took it upon themselves to show some intent of their own, especially after Neuer’s sharp stop from Blaszczykowski. After efforts by Mandzukic and Martinez, it was then Arjen Robben who was stopped by Roman Weidenfeller. It may seem ignorant to narrow down the game to just these duels and it is not to proclaim that these are the reasons for how the Champions League Final was won. Merely, these duels were interesting subplots to the main storyline.

Only three weeks previously, Neuer had saved Lewandowski’s penalty at Borussia, yet a year previously, the Pole was netting a cup final hat-trick against the German in Berlin. And a month prior to that, Lewandowski was nonchalantly Cruyff flicking a title clincher past Neuer back in Dortmund. That’s where Arjen Robben comes in – because the man playing Lewandowski onside was the Dutch winger.

Robben even had the chance for immediate redemption on that April night at the Westfalenstadion. After being felled by Roman Weidenfeller, Robben then had his penalty saved by the keeper. That wasn’t even his last chance as he shot over the bar inside the six yard box minutes from the end. Minor revenge, if there is such a thing, would come in the cup final as he scored a penalty as Bayern were thumped but greater reward came this season in the DFB-Pokal quarter-final as Robben curled in a spectacular winner against Borussia.

It just so happened Robben’s next game against BVB was the Wembley Final. Rather than taking the tone of his previous performance against them, the first half resembled his Westfalenstadion nightmare as Weidenfeller firstly blocked Robben’s left foot poke before his face denied the Dutchman’s close range half volley.

As expected, roars of appreciation, quickly followed by derision of Robben in the surrounding seats. Half time followed where I discovered that Jon – yes, the same chap who less than 24 hours had made fun at my lack of a ticket –had a spare seat next to him, meaning a new perspective and experience for the second half with Jon positioned further into the black and yellow mass and also closer to the action.

And after the first half’s promise, the second half delivered. If the extraordinary sights and noisy sounds weren’t enough, soon there was a pungent smell of cigarette smoke wafting over my shoulder in the second half at Wembley, the home of the Football Association. Smoking in the stands along with the whole crowd standing to watch a match – the FA wouldn’t like this. Still, it would have been most amusing to see a steward even attempt to wade in and prevent any of it from happening. In any case, even as a non-smoker, I didn’t care – it just checked another box on the whole experience as I could now smell the angst of the Borussia Dortmund fans as Bayern pressured.

Soon I’d hear it too as Robben squared it to Mandzukic and goal. The block of red at the far end erupted. Being lower down in the stand, it was harder to see how it had come about. Replays on the big screen showed that it hadn’t been anything terribly intricate that BVB had been undone by, yet it mattered not. The loud masses around fell quiet bar the lively block in the centre who tried desperately to raise spirits. That wasn’t proving easy and as another wave of cigarette smoke wafted over my shoulder, I could smell it wasn’t working until – PENALTY.

In a Mönchengladbach mash up, Dante fouled Marco Reus. Penalty. Hindsight is wonderful – looking back on the game now, it was a second yellow card for Dante. He should have been sent off. But no one gave a damn at the time (and to be honest, no one complained after full time about it either). All around were just a grateful for a chance, a shot at Neuer from 12 yards.

But it wouldn’t be Lewandowski to take it. This was probably something to do with his performance on the night but more likely the fact that three weeks previously Neuer had guessed correctly against him from the same distance. As Süddeutsche Zeitung had warned at the time, this sort of thing might become relevant in the “motherland of missed penalties.” How right they were, so instead, İlkay Gündoğan took the ball.

“Komm İlkay” shouted one fan behind me. “Believe” was the exasperated exclamation of another. Others in front turned away from the pitch but only one incredibly nervous soul would continue looking away for the penalty itself. Perhaps he should have used the English mentality.

“A German? Taking a penalty? At Wembley? Goal.” Here the English logic would be right, for once, as Gündoğan planted the ball the other side of Neuer helping me to complete the fourth sense of the evening: touch. This involved thudding into several large men in black and yellow, each overcome with emotion. Oh and Jon too. It showcased the sort of euphoria that unexplainably makes football irresistible.

Subsequently, the noise rose once more again around us as belief returned but apart from one exciting break, there was little else to get excited about for BVB. The players looked to be tiring. It was odd not to see Klopp change any players. Jon wasn’t too optimistic for BVB’s chances as Bayern were becoming stronger and stronger and then, for all of the intricacies to their play, they scored with another fairly simple move.

A long ball, a Ribery flick and Robben faced Weidenfeller. In the past, the Dutchman had perhaps been guilty of overthinking it with his chances but he shot early, catching Weidenfeller off guard and the ball trickled towards goal. Even at that moment, some 100 yards away, as the ball bobbled over the line, the BVB faithful could sense it was over.

But for Bayern, the celebrations took off. Arjen Robben didn’t just run away celebrating; he tore away with arms spread wide, knowing he’d done it. He’d avenged his BVB demons, his Champions League demons and even his own fan demons as he showed in part of his celebration. Because after celebrating with teammates, he trudged over to a section of the Bayern support. Robben had copped some abuse from sections of his own fans before the Final and judging by his reaction, during it too. So now he volleyed back some of the treatment he’d been given but the fans did not care. After all, Robben had just made his point to any doubters around 45 seconds before that.

Contrasted with the vibrant, delirious nature of those in red, the other half of Wembley was an altogether more sombre surrounding. Tears weren’t being shed around us but still, the feeling was just one of emptiness. No more could have been given. Injury time may have remained but there was to be no comeback of Malaga proportions this time round despite the late raft of substitutions.

The trophy was Bayern’s as celebrations and frivolity commenced at the opposite end but the yellow wall was not broken. In fact, it’s difficult to recall anyone of a black and yellow persuasion departing immediately after full time. Instead there was applause, a few chants and whistles when Arjen Robben was announced as man of the match but no one was leaving just yet.

There, the fans remained to acclaim their team with the majority still present when Bayern lifted the trophy emphasising the link between this club and its fans. The feeling was similar for Bayern who seemed just as much relieved as they were delighted – finally, after 12 years, they had the trophy again. For Arjen Robben, the duel was won but most importantly, for Bayern Munich the jewel was won. After witnessing some of the celebration shenanigans with Jon, we headed back down Wembley way amidst the jubilant swathes of red.

Slowly trudging towards Wembley Park really brought home the unique nature of everything witnessed over the past few days – whether it was seeing Arjen Robben’s winning goal writing another chapter in the history of European football or witnessing the overhaul of Trafalgar Square Even now, it’s still difficult to pinpoint just how special an occasion it was.

Seeing the game in person of course helped my enjoyment. Yet reflecting a month on, as prestigious an event as the Final was alone, meeting the people who share the same passion for the Bundesliga along with seeing some of the German fan culture firsthand was what made the whole occasion very special indeed.

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Archie is a freelance sports reporter and producer with a strong interest in all things Bundesliga. You can follow him @archiert1

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