Being a fanatic, a fan, a supporter of a sporting club entails the duality of lightness and heaviness. The heaviness occurs, for example, in being a suffering supporter of a club that seems too often clueless in its decision-making ie perhaps like a certain North German red-shorted side or a Swabian club from the South. But there is also the lightness of being a fan, when your club is performing well, perhaps even over-achieving, or when, after years of seeing from afar, one finally experiences the delightful lightness of seeing up close, being nearby. Randall Hauk and I, Bundesliga-loving fans far from Germany,are experiencing that lightness, right now, in Orlando, Florida.
Just prior to the 2010/2011 Bundesliga season, the Bundesliga Fanatic site was born out of the thought that Bundesliga football was seriously undervalued, suffering from a distinct lack of recognition outside of Germany. The German league’s quality of play and competition, its willingness to commit effort and money to the development of young players as well as its concern for fans regarding their input and ticket prices was clear evidence that the Bundesliga was at least equal, if not superior, to any domestic footballing league in the world. To create a site, written in English, to make that truth more apparent to those outside of Germany seemed to be a worthwhile undertaking. And it has been.
Of course the site would not have gone far in attaining its goals but for young writers such as Cristian Nyari, Niklas Wildhagen, Quazi Zulquarnain and later Aleix Gwilliam, Travis Timmons and Randall Hauk coming aboard — all more talented and knowledgeable than the site’s founder, They contributed their time and talents to share with our readers their passion for German football, as have over 120 contributors around the world, creating entertaining and informative articles about the matches, personalities, trends and history that make the beautiful German game so riveting. And although we’ve all strived for professionalism as far as quality and accuracy goes, there never has been a time that all of us were, at our most basic, simply fans.
This week, in Orlando, Florida, Randall and I are truly living the dream. Bayer Leverkusen and Randall’s beloved 1.FC Koln have made a historic trip to the United States to be the first German clubs to do their winter training in North America and compete in the Florida Cup against iconic Brazilian clubs SC Fluminense and Corinthians FC. And we’re here, witnessing it all up close.
We do make some effort to act like the professional journalists from Germany, Brazil and the United States covering the clubs’ training, but it is a difficult task. Randall was like a school boy on our first day visiting the Billy Goats training facility, seeing up close the team that is so much a part of his being rather than from a distance of 5,000 miles away. And I must admit that I was rather thrilled, chasing an errant Torfabrik and returning it to the pitch, as well as seeing the players scrimmage only feet away. Watching the players execute some sort of rugby game with an American football was a laugh, but as an American, I felt it my duty to demonstrate the proper technique of throwing the pigskin to Koln physio Yann-Benjamin Kugel.
Taking pictures, talking with players and team officials, is just way too much fun for any two Bundesliga devotees. Meeting great fans like Leverkusen supporter Frank Rüdiger is a pleasure, too, as well as watching Bernd Leno, Dario Kresic and German-American David Yelldell go through their goalkeeping drills from a few feet away. Listening in on a conversation between Randall and the well-spoken Mišo Brečko was a thrill, as topics of conversation ranged from favorite books to the success of Mišo‘s fellow Slovenians Goran Dragic and Benno Udrih during the current NBA campaign. Also thrilling is the passion displayed by Corinthians’ fans as they jump and sing whenever their heroes are nearby. And still yet to come for us are the actual Florida Cup games and meeting up with American Bundesliga friends such as Bayern superfan Susie Schaaf from South Florida as well as Eric Bruehl of the excellent Neverkusen Podcast.
But besides all the fun we’re having, we are quickly learning that the Bundesliga does indeed love us, its fans from outside of Germany, and we float even higher. Not too long ago, some of us felt that the BuLi were happy that we Americans, Chinese, South Koreans, South Africans, Brazilians and so on enjoyed their brand of football, but were dismissed with a “Danke, und Auf Wiedersehen.” But if that perception had some validity, it has none today. Bundesliga clubs trained this summer in China, have visited South Korea. VfL Wolfsburg and 1899 Hoffenheim are currently training in Cape Town and Johannesburg, respectively, breaking tradition to train outside of Europe or the Middle East as surely as Leverkusen and Koln are in North America. Bayern Munich opened their New York office last spring and the champions played matches against Chivas Guadalajara in New York and the MLS All-Stars in Portland this summer. Affiliations between American youth soccer organizations in Ohio and Utah with Borussia Dortmund were created last year.
Speaking with representatives of the DFL last night at dinner, it is very obvious that the 36 professional German clubs are looking outward and embracing their foreign fans, replacing a prim “thank you” for your interest with a warm hug that says “we love you too.” Perhaps the all-German Champions League final of two years ago, and Germany’s World Cup triumph this summer, has convinced the sometimes reticent German mindset that yes, German football is very. good….yes, we can compete with the English and Spanish and Italians for the interest of football fans worldwide…. yes our games can be featured on TuneIn Radio worldwide…..yes we can increase revenues with more lucrative foreign TV licensing and make our product more available to more fans. Yes yes yes yes.
Yes. The paradigm has now, officially, shifted. We fans of German football, no matter where we live, no matter if we even support HSV or VfB, can exhale and feel the warmth, experiencing a newfound lightness of being. Our love is being reciprocated.