02 Feb 2010: Upperdate – apparently if one refers to a football club incorrectly, watch for the sudden spike in traffic. Apologies to those who follow TSV 1860 Bayern, and thanks to those who corrected me.
Undoubtedly there are sports writers much more eloquent than I who could provide a readable summary of the game, say for instance on goal.com, or bundesliga.de – instead here are my thoughts about the entire experience.
We ( a US colleague and I) departed Greding just after noon on a motor coach filled with semi drunk German soccer fans for what would normally be only an hour long trip. Unfortunately just 5km down the autobahn we came up against the back end of a colossal weather induced ‘stau’ (traffic jam – which we later learned was stopped for at least three hours). Fortunately the parade of brake lights in front alerted the driver and tour leader to the lengthening jam ahead and our driver wisely dived off the motorway onto snow covered local roads where we continued on at a somewhat slower pace south towards Ingolstadt and then back onto the autobahn. However while this slowed us considerably, we succeeded in avoiding the jam. For the remainder of the inbound trip, traffic on the autobahn consisted of nearly equal parts soccer fans, Polish upper middle class families heading south to ski the alps and long suffering locals just trying to get home from Saturday shopping. Consequently we arrived about an hour later than planned, but still with plenty of time to find beer and pretzels. As an aside, staying in a little town at a family owned hotel, where the staff knows you by name pays off in little things, such as the hotel owner’s son making all the arrangements for us to obtain tickets and transportation, – all paid through the front desk – and introductions with our tour host. They made us very welcome, treating us to beer on the bus and asking kindly when we might be back. It turns out that at home vs Hannover 96 could fit very nicely with my next trip.
Allianz Arena is configured for 69000 fans at league games, and I would estimate that there were about 65000 for this game – few seats empty. It has an open roof, but it extends far enough that unless you are seated right next to the pitch, you are covered. We were seated in the 300 series or upper deck, about 10 rows down from the top – however the rows are very steeply pitched offering an unobstructed if distant view of the field. Although two teams play in this stadium (TSV 1860 Bayern Munich is the other team) you would be hard pressed to find any indication that the other team even exists. This is largely due to the fact that although both teams originally committed to a 50/50 cost share arrangement to build the stadium, mounting debt problems at 1860 Bayern Munich resulted in Bayern Munich buying out their share for a 100% ownership of the facility.
Once inside, the atmosphere is simply amazing – from the rabid ‘Rot und Weiss’ fanatics at the south end with drums, smoke canisters and flags to the near constant chanting and singing – “hey hey bayern” – the entire crowd including noobs like me were soon involved. Whilst my command of the German language is sufficient to order from a restaurant menu, and to find the nearest brewery, it comes up short with the slightly more complicated lyrics of the local songs – however, like any good sports / beer drinking anthems, they are designed for even the simplest of sports fans to feel included and so soon I found that I too could sing the refrain after a couple of times through. I might have been insulting the mothers of the visiting players, but I’ll never really know.
The game had to have been a disappointment for FSV Mainz, as they had beaten FC Bayern Munchen in week three and they sit eighth on the table, however they looked like a team that is headed south while the home side was very much in command and looked like they deserved their standings at the top of the table. Mainz had maybe three quality chances in the first half – including one corner kick – and one dangerous attack in the second. They played a 2/4/4 defensive arrangement throughout which only encouraged the hosts and rarely caused the Bayern defence to break a sweat. Bayern on the other hand could easily have crushed this game 5 or 6 nil. Instead Mainz was lucky to escape Munich with merely a 3-0 drubbing. A missed penalty kick in the first, shaky goal keeping at the FSV Mainz end, a nice ball in off the crossbar in the second, plus numerous quality runs made for an entertaining game – at least for the home crowd. Arjen Robben made some spectacular broken play dribbles into the area and then scored the final goal from a free kick in the second half. Just before half time, it began to snow, at first lightly and then quite heavily through the break such that by the beginning of the second frame officials were using shovels to clear the lines over about three quarters of the field.
Observations: unlike north american sports, the concourses of the stadium are free of concessions hawking club merchandise – instead, to find gear, you must puzzle your way to the not very obvious, but still rather large fan store on the mezzanine level. Lots of pretzels, wurst and beer are available at not outrageous prices (4 euro for a beer which is only 1.3 x regular gasthof prices). Clearly the Bundesliga could learn a thing or two about merchandising from professional sports in Canada and USA. On the other hand they do not have to share the revenue (nor does the league own the rights to their gear as with the NFL) with other teams, so I guess they market exactly well enough to make a comfortable profit.