Football Far More Than A Game In Germany
It’s cold and misty as we step off the airplane in Frankfurt, Germany, after a 12-hour flight from sunny Cape Town. Before I take my first steps on German soil, a police officer checks my passport and asks, “Your visa says your stay is just six days. What will you be doing here?” I proudly tell him, “I’m here with the Bundesliga” and immediately his face lights up. Football is more than just a sport in this country. His smile said it all. He wishes me a good stay, but I knew it’d be more than that.
A two-and-a-half hour train ride gets us from Frankfurt to Dortmund, where the love of the game is felt instantly. It absorbs you. The first thing I noticed was ‘BVB’ stickers on every shop window, on every lamppost, on every car on the street. These people are so proud to be associated with Borussia Dortmund, so you can imagine just how gratified they are to see their club, a people’s club, challenging for the league title.
I, along with my fellow colleagues from other parts of Africa, are warmly welcomed at the Steigenberger Hotel at around lunchtime on Friday, a destination just a five-minute walk away from Dortmund’s famous Signal Iduna Park. We’ve been invited by Bundesliga as part of a media visit and we’re about to be treated in the best way possible, by some incredibly passionate people who work for the league. It all began on Friday.
We meet down at the hotel lobby before making our way into a room, where we were shown an in-depth presentation on just what it is that makes the Bundesliga so remarkable. An investment in youth and affordable tickets are just but a few factors that contribute to the hugely successful workings of this league. At 11am on Friday, we’re told our transport is waiting outside for us, but it’s no ordinary car ride – it’s the Borussia Dortmund team bus, driven by the team’s usual bus driver. Fully kitted out in BVB gear, he takes us to the club’s training centre. There, we meet Benjamin Hoffmann, the U19 head coach. We’re given a full tour of their state of the art facilities, where the likes of 2014 FIFA World Cup winner Mario Gotze have been developed, before we make our way to the Signal Iduna Park for a lunch and stadium tour. Our guide, a tall young German fella, takes us around the ground, educating us on its brilliant history and tells us some funny stories. For example, the away team dressing room never had hairdryers before one player, a name you might be familiar with, complained. You guessed it - Cristiano Ronaldo! After our tour, we rest back at our hotel before being treated to dinner just next to the stadium. So close, in fact, that I could connect to the Signal Iduna’s WiFi just by stepping outside the restaurant’s doors for air. Ha!
On Saturday, it’s the big game! But before that, we meet with the assistant to the managing directors of Wolfsburg in a room inside the Signal Iduna, while after him, we chat with the enthusiastic and infectious Carsten Cramer, the managing director of BVB, who happily tells us about the club’s deep connection with fans and what their ambitions are. Without a presentation, without a prepared speech, he charms us with his humour and engaging personality. We never once felt below him. He was one of us. This was one of my highlights of the trip! It’s people like him who make this club as special as it is. Then, the game! BVB host Wolfsburg, needing a win to keep their title hopes alive.
The stadium is buzzing, fans are singing, black and yellow is all that’s seen. A late free-kick goal from Paco Alcacer puts BVB ahead and the ground erupts. Vibrations shake the concrete. The Spaniard scores another to secure the all-important win on the same match-day Bayern Munich drop points. I’m sure you can imagine what this means to the tens of thousands of supporters in attendance, 81 365 to be precise, and 25 000 of them on the famous Yellow Wall. Passion, late drama, celebrations and an exciting season finale – football as it’s meant to be! After the 2-0 win, we enter the mixed press zone, where we brush shoulders with the heavyweights. Gotze, Axel Witsel, Manuel Akanji, all of them. We then head to a private lounge courtesy of Mr Cramer, who spontaneously gave us access bands following our meeting.
On Sunday morning, we’re given a tour of the brilliant German Football Museum in Dortmund. Old memorabilia, a 3D film of Germany’s World Cup successes and a lovely tour guide keep us occupied for the next two hours, before we take a two-and-a-half hour bus ride back to Frankfurt. We head straight to the wonderful Commerzbank Arena, where the home side host a struggling Stuttgart. Sitting in the media stands, we had the best view in the house! Frankfurt win 3-0 and to the mixed zone we go! We chat with a few players, as well as the Eagles’ manager. Following the match and interviews, we head back to the incredibly lush Hyatt Hotel for our last night of the tour and what a tour it was!
The football culture in Germany is something else. A massive thanks to the Bundesliga guys and girls who took care of us on this unforgettable media visit. We truly felt welcome from the moment we got there and for that we’ll forever be appreciative. We made some lifelong friends and we made memories that even Shakespeare would’ve struggled putting into words, and that’s all down to Bundesliga.