Remember when going to a professional sports match in the U.S. wasn’t a epilepsy-inducing ordeal of multimedia marketing and $6 hotdogs, nominally occasioned by the tiny figures running around hundreds of yards below on a patch of green? Neither do I.
In Germany, though, it’s still more or less really about the Game, man. As I noted to my reassurance when I was recently invited by my friend Thomas to go see the local boys recently, Fortuna ’95 of Duesseldorf.
In the Golden Days of the 1970s, Fortuna played in the top German league with the big boys. Since then they’ve dropped down to the third league, and have had numerous financial crises, necessitating a large infusion of cash from the local punk band Die Toten Hosen ("The Dead Pants", derived from the slang expression for nothing much going on: "It’s just dead pants here."). In return, official Fortuna merchandise now sports the band’s logo, a red star with a death’s head in middle(!).
The game took place in the LTU Arena, a fancy new place named after some minor German airline (I think). However, that’s pretty much the only concession to marketing. There are no Diamondvision billboards, no giant loudspeakers broadcasting ads for broadband internet access, and only a couple of desultory ad-posters on the wall. Exactly 4 food stalls serving 20,000 visitors, where you can get beer in plastic jugs and traditional sausages and rolls. The tickets cost from 10 to 30 Euro and almost everyone arrives on packed trains, which run an extra-frequent schedule. This means ordinary working people who love their local team can actually afford to come see them play, regularly.
The opponent was St. Pauli, a team named for the red-light district in Hamburg. Each football team’s fan base still has its own unmistakable identity here, and the lower you go in the league tables, the stronger the identity. You get an idea of St. Pauli’s fan base by looking at the team logo, in which the "L" is portrayed by a bright-red lace-up leather shoe or a whip. Or just look at the photo to the left. This is why seeing a German soccer match is still within the financial reach of ordinary Germans. Would you want to ask these folks to pay 60 Euro a ticket? (By the way, these are left-wing anarchist football fans, not skinheads).
The St. Pauli fans, doubtless feeling alone and misunderstood in a bastion of bourgeois squareness like Duesseldorf, weren’t particularly excited about the moment of silence for the recently-decased Pope. This fact was, of course, reported with outrage the next day by the Duesseldorf press. Other than that, everything went off peacefully, although the police (r) hung around just to make sure everyone stayed in line.
German fans pay careful attention to the game. Their mood rockets from jubilation at a goal to tension before corner and penalty kicks to anguish when the opposing teams scores. They wave huge homemade banners, burn flares in the team colors, and chant invitations to the opposing sides to engage in certain non-procreative forms of sexual contact. A ring of well-armed cops with German shepherds lines the playing field to keep order; some of the cops use telephoto cameras to take pictures of the hooligans, who invariably sit in the nosebleed seats.
And oh, yeah — the result. Although the match was hardly a blowout, Fortuna smiled on Fortuna, ratcheted her wheel in the right direction, and led the hometown to a handsome 3-0 victory.