Kommen sie bitte und listen… It’s happening. This weekend. The Bundesliga is back. Now I know you’ve grown close to your adopted South Korean or Belarusian team, but if you fancy a return to the big leagues then you’re more than welcome to join.
It’s time to stock up on sauerkraut, bratwurst and bier. Football’s coming home. And by home, I of course mean from Germany via satellite link into our living rooms. Embrace your inner Deutscher Mann, read some Nietszche, kick back and watch Hertha Berlin to the sound of pounding techno. Ja, bitte. The matches on show promise to deliver a weekend filled with some of Europe’s best players, biggest clubs and biggest rivalries. In fact, it opens with what is typically a fierce Ruhr derby, between Borussia Dortmund and Schalke 04, at 14.30 on Saturday. There’s top of the table clashes, there’s relegation battles, it has all the spoils of your classic fixture round. If there’s one thing that this league promises, it’s competition. Anyone can beat anyone. Saturday, Sunday and Monday, each fixture provides an interesting dynamic for a developing plot in this brewing Bundesliga season. For footballing fans across Europe, this is a step closer to normality. Live football from one of Europe’s top leagues. It’s more than enough to get the juices flowing and I for one, am ludicrously excited. There are some, however, who are even more excited. Enter Tooting, London. Surprisingly, home to the UK’s foremost English-speaking, Eintracht Frankfurt supporters club. Started by Newcastle fans Matty Ayre and Callum Henderson, initially as a distraction from the Mike Ashley-led shit show in the North East, their twitter account has now ground to hundreds of followers and they now have a newfound weekly ritual of following their adopted lieblingsfussballmannschaft.
They frequent the Zeitgeist pub in Lambeth, famed for its schnitzel, bratwurst and the creation of a thoroughly teutonic atmosphere. If things get too German for you, and you can’t let go of your stuffy, close-minded Britishness, the Queen’s Head is around the corner. Suit yourselves. Here you can congregate and embrace a Germanic way of life, with some fine German pilsners and some fine German football on show. Regardless of any pandemic, the Bundesliga has soared in popularity in the UK of late. The league’s close affinity with its respective fanbases, the attacking football on show and the propensity to develop local, homegrown talent has driven this, with thousands of UK based fans now traveling to Germany for the weekend, sampling the beers and the footballing excellence. But why Eintracht? As Matt, rightly points out, “all the other teams seemed to have big UK fanbases, I'm not sure why Eintracht didn't have one but it seemed like a good fit.” Making the trip to Frankfurt’s Waldstadion (or Commerzbank Arena as it’s known for sponsorships reasons) should be high up on your list of Bundesliga stadia if you’re ground hopping. It has the unique advantage of ticking a number of boxes. It’s a historic stadium with a modern revamp, you’re close to the pitch with unobstructed views, steep stands and a great atmosphere. Few can parallel this. In Matt’s own words, “we had some mates who went to see them last year, who said the atmosphere was class”. Few come away who aren’t impressed. It’s worth noting that this has been Eintracht’s home since 1925. The stadium has evolved into a modern arena but sentimentalities remain. This was the ground where Paul Oßwald’s team reached the 1960 European Cup Final, the first German team to do so, losing out 7-3 to a Ferenc Puskas and Alfredo Di Stefano inspired Real Madrid side in one the greatest football matches ever played. Eintracht also won the 1980 UEFA Cup Final, in a year where four German teams made up the four semi-final places. This was an Eintracht team led by the likes of captain Bernd Holzenbeing and South Korean Cha Bum-Kun. Sadly, much like the likes of Stade Reims, St Etienne and Borussia Moenchengladbach, Eintracht’s European exploits have dwindled following their heyday in the 60s and 70s. Of late, however, they looked to reverse the trend. Both Matt and Cal also came across Eintracht during their Europa League run in the 2018-19 season. Their semi-final fixture with Chelsea last season, won Adi Huttler's (pictured below) Eintracht admirers across Europe for their progressive and entertaining style of play. They drew with Maurizio Sarri’s team over both legs but unfortunately going out in the cruelest of fashions, penalties.
There’s also the Peep Show connection. “We’d been watching a lot of Peep Show when we set it up and Frankfurt is mentioned a lot.” Matt’s an ardent fan of the series. In fact he introduced me to it. Frankfurt serves as the home for the European head office of Mark Corrigan’s employer, the fictional credit union, JLB. In episode one of season six, this is highlighted when enigmatic branch manager, Alan Johnson, announces the branch closure in order to keep the German mothership afloat. This is followed by Corrigan performing an ill-advised and truly offensive satire of German head of JLB, Steffan Strauss, which involves the drawing on of a certain moustache once worn by a certain dictator. Textbook. In many ways Eintracht are the perfect fit for the UK-based Bundesliga fan. Generally speaking, Frankfurt’s position as a travel hub is highly beneficial. Naturally the city is home to Eintracht but a quick train ride could take you to Kaiserslautern, Mainz, Darmstadt, Mannheim, Heidelberg and, if you’re really committed Nuremberg is within reach. It works in a similar way to Dusseldorf or Cologne, both surrounded by Bundesliga teams. Fortuna; Koln; BVB; Gladbach; Schalke; VfL Bochum, Rot-Weiss Essen’ MSV Duisburg, endless possibilities. As for Newcastle? Matt remains hopeful that the Saudi-led takeover goes ahead, “despite the controversy, it is what the team needs. The thing is, the fans have never had any say in who owns the club, so we might as well have owners who will at least invest in the team and the area generally.” He’s got a point. Any Newcastle United fan who wants Mike Ashley to remain at the helm of their club must be suffering from a severe bout of Stockholm Syndrome. “I don't think anyone's owners are squeaky clean either. The only thing is, it will be a massive shame when we inevitably become the most hated fanbase in the country, possibly Europe.” The human rights issues that are well documented with regards to the Saudi Arabian government and the inordinate amount of money involved are a concern. The influx of such wealth often rips the identity out of the clubs it engulfs. A price to pay for Champions League football and marquee signings. With Eintracht, Matt doesn’t have this problem. This is where the Bundesliga differs. The teams aren’t money-making vehicles or franchises or a means to improve an owner’s PR relations. They are just football clubs and football clubs start with the fans. Football without the fans is nothing. It exists for them and because of them. German football recognises this. Tune in this weekend, pick a team and get behind them. Tschüss!
For more information on Eintracht Frankfurt Fans UK, follow them on Twitter: @EintrachtUK, https://twitter.com/EintrachtUK
Image Credits: Both Wikimedia Commons: