An American at the Allianz: My first European football experience

A week on from my first European adventure, it almost seems as though it never happened. Last Sunday, I boarded my first-ever trans-continental flight to Munich, Germany, with some friends for a much-needed vacation. We spent a week in Bavaria marvelling at Munich’s beautiful architecture, the pristine views at nearby Neuschwanstein castle, traditional German food, and of course, the beer-fueled thrills of the world-renowned Oktoberfest celebration. Fast forward to this Sunday, and I was firmly back to my normal routine. A busy week playing catch-up at work was followed by a weekend of doing much of the same at home; with plenty of American football, FIFA 17, and of course blogging thrown in for good measure.

Among the sights I enjoyed in Germany was the scenic Neuschwanstein Castle, nestled in a valley near the Austrian border. 

Among the sights I enjoyed in Germany was the scenic Neuschwanstein Castle, nestled in a valley near the Austrian border. 

Which leads me to this post, and one of the more memorable moments of my maiden pilgrimage to Germany. As an avid football (talking European now) fan, there was no chance in hell I was going to Deutschland without catching a match. Fortunately for me, my friends and my choice of city afforded me the opportunity to see not just any team, but Germany’s very best. FC Bayern, “Star of the South” (or “Stern des Südens”, as the locals would say) had a match against FC Koln, and I had a ticket. It was perhaps the part of my trip I was most looking forward to, and it didn’t disappoint.

The morning of the game, my friends and I hopped on a train from Munich’s Marienplatz, a tourist-riddled pedestrian shopping center in the heart of the Bavarian city and conveniently close to our hotel. Our train seemed to be filled with Koln and Bayern fans in equal measure, providing me my first experience of Europe’s fabled away support groups. There were tons of tourists like myself on the train, a fact not lost on the native Germans who also occupied our car. I don’t know much German, but I picked up enough to know when our presence was being discussed (and at times, even lamented) by the locals.

My view of the arena from a distance after hopping off the train. 

My view of the arena from a distance after hopping off the train. 

When we arrived at our destination about 20 minutes later, I got my first glimpse of the Allianz. My first impression was just how massive the place was. A giant, futuristic-looking half dome, the arena sits in the middle of Germany’s Olympic Park, a business and athletic complex that features the old Olympic stadium and a BMW museum among other attractions. For a man whose only prior football stadium experience was the slightly cozier accommodations of the US’s modest MLS grounds, this place was nothing short of incredible.

As we entered the ground and found our seats in the third tier, we noticed that we were just a few sections over from the space allocated to the visiting Koln fans. Even several hours before kickoff, there were quite a few of them already there, sparring occasionally via cheers and chants with the Bayern supporters several levels below. That raucous atmosphere so early on was like nothing I’ve experienced in American sports, where most of the pre-game shenanigans take place in the parking lot and many fans don’t actually enter the stadiums until games are about to begin.

Bayern fans unfurl their banners behind Manuel Neuer's goal just before kickoff. 

Bayern fans unfurl their banners behind Manuel Neuer’s goal just before kickoff. 

From an entertainment perspective, the game delivered a decent spectacle when it finally started. Each team scored a goal (both of which were taken in acrobatic fashion), a couple posts were rattled, and the visitors almost stole all three points with a very late chance dragged just wide. Even in the upper deck, there was hardly a moment where the mostly Bayern fans around me weren’t on their feet, expressing either delight or frustration at what was unfolding on the pitch. I had done my part to blend in earlier by purchasing a Bayern jersey at the fan shop, which led to some Bavarians believing I was one of their own and trying to vent their opinions on the match to me. That usually stopped quite quickly once they realized I barely spoke a lick of German, though.

After the match, thousands of fans funneled out of the stadium towards the train station. Again, this was a point of stark contrast to what I’m used to at an American stadia, where fans for the most part drive themselves rather than rely on public transportation. The train ride home was punctuated by buoyant Koln fans singing of their hard-earned away point, much to the chagrin of the more downtrodden Bayern fans around them. This was a mark of the kind of success these Bayern fans are now accustomed to, that a home draw essentially felt like a loss to them. They, like their team, expect to be the best, and anything less is unacceptable.

All in all, my first European stadium visit served to further increase my appetite to see more matches live. We hadn’t even boarded the train back from the Allianz before I had mentioned to my friends that I’d be plotting a London trip next year so I could see my Spurs play in person. As an American, my only frame of reference for how the game was treated in Europe was what I saw on TV, or was told about by those who had been there. But to live it first-hand was eye-opening, and proved that for the most part my preconceived notions about how awesome it’d be were true. The game is revered in Europe on a scale it will likely never reach in my home country, and to step into that world for even a few hours was an experience I’ll remember for a very long time. 

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