You get used to the funny looks. Tell anyone in England that you follow the Bundesliga before the Premier League, and unless you’re blonde, wearing Lederhosen and speaking with a thick, comic German accent, they will look at you like you’re insane. Come to think of it, if you are wearing Lederhosen, they will probably look at you like you’re insane anyway.
“But,” they stammer, “but…you’re English.”
The very idea that an Englishman could sacrifice his most prized of characteristics – patriotic insularity – is as horrendous as the thought that the Queen is, in fact, German.
“You’ve got to admit, though,” they say, once they’ve eventually recovered from the shock, “the Premier League is The Best League In The World”. The capital letters are always audible.
The Premier League is indeed impressive. The manner in which it has whored itself across the globe in the name of expansion is gloriously reminiscent of the good old days of British dominance. The panache with which it has convinced the entire British public that football began in 1992 is simply extraordinary. But it is, for these very reasons, by no means the Best League In The World.
If you were to ask the nonplussed Englishman exactly why he thinks the Premier League is the Best in the World, he would look at you blankly. He does not know. How could he possibly? It’s not as if he watches any other European leagues; that would be an act of treachery in itself. He must therefore, as all good Englishmen have done before him, rely solely on the clichés which he is spoon fed on a daily basis. The Spanish are cheats, the Italians likewise, the Bundesliga has no quality, and the French don’t actually play football outside of the Champions League. They’re far too lazy to form a national league, and even in Europe they always surrender before the quarter finals.
So why do some of us watch the Bundesliga? It is, after all, unbelievably difficult to be a Bundesliga fan in England. One either has to stream games illegally on the internet or spend the hour before every Friday evening kick-off persuading the barman in The Red Lion that Mainz v HSV “really is worth it guv'nor".
But it’s worth it. It remains, unlike many of Europe's national leagues, a football competition, not a hedge fund. When the managers give post match interviews, they do not, as in England, mention the league’s sponsor, as if the deeply immoral Barclays bank were in some way responsible for their team’s success. Fritz von Thurn und Taxis, for all his ills, does not laud every goal scored on a Saturday afternoon as irrefutable proof that the Bundesliga is the greatest league in Europe.
Bundesliga Summer Transfers 2012-13
The Bundesliga has a particular charm to it. It's not just about 50+1, beer in the stands and cheaper tickets (though all those things are invaluable). It's about the fact that Dortmund can break the Bavarian monopoly with little more than excellent management and a strong youth system. It's about the fact that Gladbach can make the transition from relegation certainties to Champions League participants in just one short year. But most importantly, it is about the fact that these achievements are enjoyed for the sporting achievements they are, and not held up as proof of some arbitrary claim to superiority.
When Dortmund came to the Emirates to play Arsenal in last year's Champions League, the English media boggled at the enthusiasm of the travelling support. They marvelled at the fact that here were fans who could watch their side play Bayern Munich for less than €20. They had, on that cold November night, all been told to keep an eye on a supposed wonderkid called Mario Götze, but they left, despite the result, amazed at how a team full of players they had not yet heard of could be champions of Germany.
In England, the title can either be bought or it can be given up. The fans, meanwhile, are disregarded as mere extras in a spectacle which caters first and foremost for the sponsors and investors who use and abuse it at will. And yet, despite all the signs to the contrary, the Premier League and its endorsers arrogantly swagger on, safe in the knowledge that their league makes more money and must, by extension, be The Best League In The World.
Why do we watch German football? Because when we do, it feels like watching sport, not watching the stock market.
Of course, the Bundesliga is no Utopia. It has its problems, and they are problems, like fan violence, which England largely eradicated years ago. But the hooliganism we currently see in Germany is nothing like the English hooliganism of the 80s. Even the Ultras are largely capable of involving themselves in sensible debate. And while the Premier League certainly helped banish the plagues of English football, it did so by replacing them with a new, far more sinister malady: a rampant, free market obsession with finance over football.
The arguments are well versed, and I am, no doubt, preaching to the converted. But there remain some in the Bundesliga who doubt the fact that its stricter rules are actually a force for good. Well, Germany, no matter what Martin Kind says, I implore of you: hold on to 50+1. Hold on to standing tickets. Hold on to fan power, and to competitiveness and to not having a sponsor. Your enjoyment of football depends on it.