Munich on Lake Michigan

In most sports, the off-season is the worst time of year. Days of refreshing Twitter in desperate search of news to fill the void that can’t be replaced until that first touch of the new season.

In soccer the off-season can be one of the most exciting times of year depending on your perspective. This year Chicagoan Tyler Faiure is one of those people.

In 2012, Tyler was watching the Champion’s League final in a downtown Chicago pub. “There were a ton of Bayern fans there. I had no idea there were so many Bayern fans in Chicago. It was certainly an eye opener.”

Shortly after that experience, Tyler began looking into joining an official FCB fan club in Chicago. Finding no organized group Tyler established FCB Chicago, and declared Cleo’s, a sports bar in Chicago’s Ukrainian Village neighborhood, it’s home.

By Fairue’s own admission, it was challenging at first to gather the 25 members required to garner the “official” fan group status. But 3 years later, FCB Chicago has grown to become the largest fan group in America, with over 350 members.

Cris Nyari, the Director of Communications for Bayern Munich’s US Office (and former Fanatic editor), confirmed this lofty status: “In 2014 we had eight official fan groups (in the US). Today we have 105 and growing. Chicago is the largest, recently passing the New York and DC fan clubs.”

Bayern’s popularity has grown rapidly in just a few years in large part a result of their investment in a dedicated US Office based in New York City that produces English language content, an asset in quickly growing a fan base across the Atlantic Ocean from Munich.

Bayern is not the only Bundesliga club to call Cleo’s home. Borussia Dortmund and Hamburger SV both have well established fan groups that also gather there, leading to a large Bundesliga contingent filling the beer garden on a match day.

But watching a match on television from 4500 miles away is not the same experience as seeing it in person. Tyler has seen many a Bayern match in person, but never in his home town.

“Having spent some time studying and working in Paderborn, I ventured down to Munich as often as I could to watch Bayern play a few matches in the Allianz Arena. As a Bayern fan, there’s nothing like it, and there’s this incredible sense of community and belonging when you’re with the fans in the arena.”

Tyler and his compatriots found out shortly before the public announcement that Bayern would be paying them a visit this summer.

“We found out about a week before the news became public, and it was hard to contain our excitement. It’s a rare occasion to have Bayern play a match in your home city, so we’re relishing this opportunity to show Bayern and fans around the world just how passionate the fans in Chicago can be.”

I visited Tyler and the FCB Chicago fans the night before the August 27th friendly between Bayern Munich and AC Milan. I stood outside of Cleo’s waiting for the group to return from the open training session at Soldier Field. I heard the trolley approaching before they turned the corner onto Chicago Ave. to drop off a large group of imbibing Bayern Munich fans. In what could easily been misconstrued as a German bachelor party heading out for the night was actually a core group of FCB Chicago supporters arriving for post-training day festivities.

The Bayern crowd at Cleo's
The Bayern crowd at Cleo’s

The group spilled out onto the sidewalk, carrying empty bottles and tapped coolers, decked out in combinations of Bayern’s iconic red, white, and blue (with the occasionally bragaddious gold trim mixed in, in case anyone forgot about FCB’s recent Treble.

Immediately upon entering Cleo’s it was clear it was very soccer friendly, with banners and scarfs pinned to the wall. The bar was also very Chicago, with Old Style and Malört on offer for anyone with a wallet light enough or a personal bar low enough to take part.

Passing through the main house of the bar there we scores of Bayern fans talking excitedly about the training session and discussing which of the club’s stars who had made the trip they were most excited to see. In the adjacent beer garden a true Chicago style traffic jam was slowing the transit of 32oz Paulaners on their way to the jovial groups of Die Roten faithful, who were toasting FCB quicker than the wait staff could fill their glasses.

The throng of supporters was not simply made up of Chicagoans, but from supporters from all over the country. I met fans from St. Louis, Nashville, Phoenix, Indianapolis, both Dakotas, and even Montana.

Regardless of where they came from, they all had 2 things in common; their love of German beers, and their excitement to see Bayern Munich take on AC Milan the following night.

There aren’t many cities who’s NFL stadium sits in a more picturesque location than that of Chicago’s Solider Field. Solider Field’s famous columns preside over the water front Museum Campus in downtown Chicago, harkening visions of famous Bears teams of the past, while it’s modern architecture jutting out from the facade points to the possibilities of the future. In the present, a sea of red clad Bayern fans pose for photos in the shade of the stadium alongside recent Bayern silverware and sip Heinekens in the fan zone.

Inside the stadium there is even more red. Bayern faithful make up a large majority of the 44,826 in attendance. The most boisterous of those are a large group on the north side of the stadium made up of FCB Chicago members. Chants of “Deutsche fußballmeister” to the tune of Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It” echo through the stands as fans from other sections join in, many clapping along to the familiar tune without knowing the words.

On the field, Milan came out of the gates quickly, pushing the limits of the Bayern backline’s pre-season pace. Even with two goals from fan favorite Franck Ribery, Die Roten ultimately fell to AC Milan in penalty kicks.

But in a “meaningless” pre-season friendly, the result doesn’t matter. The meaning in an event like this is the opportunity for the fans, some for the first time, some for the only time, to see their favorite team play right before their eyes. To see your favorite player, who was only ever a two-dimensional shape on your television, score a goal in three-dimensional space right before you eyes, and then to celebrate that moment with tens of thousands of other passionate fans is a moment that many people will never forget.

After the match, Tyler reflected on the experience. “Obviously we were all very excited for the match, and, although it’s a pity that we lost, I really don’t think too many fans were disappointed. We had spent most of the day marching from bar to bar, making friends, singing chants, and so on. I think that years from now, those are going to be the experiences that people remember, not the final score.”

Franck looked good in Chicago
Franck looked good in Chicago

Photos by Jered Schneider

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