Monthly Archives: July 2011

Where Shot Putters Tread – Impressions of the German Cup First Round

You can learn much about the sporting development of a country from its lower professional sporting leagues. Germany, by comparison to the UK, seems to have a larger proportion of relatively small municipal athletics grounds. At least it looks that way. My observations are hardly scientific given that Germany is a much bigger place than Britain.
Of the thirty two Pokal fixtures, last weekend, I counted eleven grounds that had or used to have running tracks but the point I’m slowly reversing into is that in the UK, lower league clubs tend to own their own Football specific stadiums. Whereas, when I look through the pictures of lower league club’s stadia, I see a significant number of athletics tracks. In fact when I read the very splendid European Football Weekends blog I am drawn to the pictures of half empty track and field facilities taken from a small stand as, somewhere in the distance, some football players are struggling for attention amidst the ordinance reserved for spikes rather than studs. I assume that many of that these facilities are publicly owned and as a consequence, multi-purpose.
In the UK, there is a tradition for clubs to own your own football specific ground. It is seen as an important part of a club’s identity and essential to securing the club’s security and stability. In Germany, they seem to have taken a different approach, preferring to lease from the local council.
At this point we could go off into a discussion about the role of property within western societies and the respective cultural traditions that lie therein but I suspect you may find that a little dry. You could also point to many lower league clubs in Germany that do not play where shot putters normally tread and a number of UK clubs that do. In fact, I’ll start with Rotherham, Croydon FC and in a few years, West Ham United.. I’m also conscious that athletics is not confined to the lower leagues as Hertha and up until recently, Bayern and Stuttgart also played with one.
However, since I’ve been following German football for what must be seven or eight years, I’ve always looked forward to Pokal first round days where the big clubs of the First Bundesliga are compelled to travel to the homes of 3-Liga and Regionalliga football clubs a week before the start of the League season to face a packed house of partisan locals and a highly motivated opposition anxious to prove that they’ve still got it. In these moments that oft used axiom that athletics stadiums lack atmosphere seems hollow.
As an Englishman, it is almost impossible not to impose the traditional values of the English FA Cup Third Round on the DFB Pokal Round One. However, as a non German resident I must be careful not to presume that the competition is held in the same esteem in these early stages.
Even so, few will argue that getting knocked out by Regionalliga opposition is ideal preparation for a new season in the German top flight. But that is precisely what happened to Wolfsburg on Friday whose company picnic with RB Leipzig ended badly at the hands of Leipzig striker Daniel Frahn’s hat trick. Despite the obvious gulf between the two clubs it had a strange look about it. The Leipzig club are only passing through the divisions on their way to the top thanks to the support of the Red Bull corporation. They play in a modern stadium built for the 2006 World Cup and had the look of a team that had a purpose. The Regionalliga season is yet to get underway but you feel that RB Liepzig will be among the favorites to be promoted to the Third Division at the end of the campaign.
There was also, perhaps an absence of romance even about Second Bundesliga, Dynamo Dresden’s astonishing comeback against Bayer Leverkusen. Dresden have also moved to a swanky new stadium. The club clearly envisage the day when home wins against First Division clubs are the norm rather than the exception. None of which should take anything away from the players achievement.
But for the authentic cup upset experience you need to travel to the Voith Arena in Heidenhem where the Third division side beat the mighty Werder Bremen 3-1. Heidenheim’s, stadium used to hold athletics until it was recently converted to a soccer specific stadium. Perhaps, despite my earlier musings, there is a sense that if you want to get on in football, you need to ditch the Discus.
The other big upset of the weekend was at Unterhaching of the 3-Liga. An 87th minute penalty meant that Freiburg will be concentrating on the League this season. 3-2 was the final score at the Generali Sportpark. At the time of writing there is only one more match to go and that his on Monday evening where Bayern will be hoping that they don’t join Leverkusen, Freiburg, Bremen and Wolfsburg in the Slain Giants 2011 Club. The Bavarians travel north to newly promoted Second Bundesliga club Eintracht Braunschweig who, mercifully for bluff old traditionalists like me, play at an athleitcs stadium.

Company Picnic At The Pokal

Who doesn’t love a big, shiny, golden cup? After all, before the winnings from competitions such as the Champions League went from being paid in plug nickels to enough money to fully fund most Third World countries, the big prize was just a cup.
Okay, there might have been some ribbons too. The point is that, at the end of cup competitions, there is a tangible object–often a great lump of a trophy that’s been places you wish you could go–awarded to the triumphant side. One of the best cups out there to win, aesthetically speaking, is the DFB Pokal Cup. Just look at that lovely piece of silverware–it’s a solid and divinely-wrought piece of metal from which Vikings should be drinking mead.

Wouldn’t you want your club’s captain to be hoisting something similar to the German Cup at the end of a title-winning campaign in 1.Bundesliga over a bloody hubcap? The best thing you can do with that is dine on salad–Bundesliga winners deserve a cup that can hold a liver-wilting amount of beer rather than an over-sized appetizer plate.

But that cup instead goes to the winner of Germany’s domestic competition, and the opening round begins this weekend. The draw set up some interesting matches to begin, from a plucky club Terry’s featured elsewhere hosting Bavarian behemoths Bayern to a few that see 2.Bundesliga sides squaring off in perhaps more competitive affairs. One of the most intriguing fixtures, however, might pique those curious in the Battle for the Mead Cup for what the two clubs embody rather than which side will emerge victorious. When RB Leipzig host VfL Wolfsburg on Friday evening, it sees two clubs take to the pitch in a contrast of the company club from yesteryear with one of the modern footballing age.

Die Wölfe, of course, is the post-World War II incarnation of the football club associated with the Volkswagen auto works factory in Wolfsburg. With the pre-war works team BSG Volkswagenwerk Stadt des KdF-Wagen having been disbanded, VfL was granted license to operate by the British occupation forces after so that town residents–Volkswagen employees– could get a bit of exercise after having spent the week building VW Beetles. Playing in the shadows of Volkswagen’s office buildings and near barracks that once housed foreign prisoners forced to work for the company during the war, VfL nearly went extinct as well when all but one of its players left to play for 1.FC Wolfsburg, a club still in operation today in the Northeast German Football Association (NOFV). While today we consider them a 1.Bundesliga regular–their current spell in the top flight beginning in the late 1990s–and having even stolen a Hubcap off Bayern Munich in 2009, for a long period of their existence Wolves were mainly a regional team supported by the town’s employer in a scheme devised to let the employees blow off a little steam.

The story of RB Leipzig–that’s SSV Markranstädt in old German–probably is well-known to those that have been foolish enough to have read down this far. If not, then, a quick refresher: fizzy energy drink company Red Bull made the fifth division German side its fourth football acquisition in 2009 after having purchased franchises in Salzburg, New York, and Sao Paolo. With Bundesliga having that pesky ownership rule that insists outside investors can retain no more than a 49% interest, the company only purchased a minority stake of the former East German club and was allowed to rebrand the club as “RB” rather than Red Bull Markranstädt to smudge up said rule. As for the Leipzig part, shortly after the organization bought SSV’s playing license it moved the club from the cozy Stadion am Bad with a capacity of 5,500 a few miles away to play in Leipzig’s 45,000 capacity Zentralstadion, a bit of a “white elephant” that had been left over from the 2006 World Cup.
Red Bull’s goal is to have RB Leipzig competing in the 1.Bundesliga within the next eight years, which is the primary reason behind the move to what is now Red Bull Arena under a name that could easily be construed as being shorthand for “Rhapsodic Bohemian Leipzig,” or something like that.

As an odd parallel, SSV’s pre-fizzy drink history shows that, as Wolfsburg was being supported by an automaker in the west, rebranded RB Leipzig had spent portions of its own existence funded by manufacturing companies in the east. While the town of Markranstädt is known principally for brewing tasty beer, it also has been a home to automotive and machine factories. Company sponsorship of the club during the Cold War years was reflected in its name, from being known at various times as BSG Motor or BSG Turbine. Likely those sponsorships reflected the need for a local side to be able to survive financially during the difficulties of post-war German division and a company’s desire to keep said club in operation for the sake of domestic tranquility. A prime contrast between its previous company associations and the current RB Leipzig formula, then, lies in ambition.

Surely the East German motor works company or those machine builders did not lend their financial support in hopes of turning a fifth or sixth division club into a future 1.Bundesliga powerhouse. Nor did they have a philosophy of incorporating a Markranstädt side into part of their global marketing strategy. That has, it seems, been what has become of the club. It appears to turn the origins of company sponsorship, like that of VfL Wolfsburg, on its head; rather than being an recreational outlet for locals tired from the rigors of a business day, it has instead made the club part of the business itself, detaching the team from its Markranstädt roots and plopping it down the road and labeling it with enough red bulls to potentially break all the china in the Bundesliga’s shop.

Why say that? Red Bull’s purchase of the club and stated aim to fund it through to the top flight presented another potential ally to Martin Kind’s attempts at seeing out alterations to Bundesliga’s 50 + 1 rule. The Hannover 96 president recently presented a new proposal to be decided by the Court of Arbitration for Sport that would expand the previous statute allowing commercially-owned clubs Bayer Leverkusen and Wolfsburg to retain their majority owners to other clubs that have also received uninterrupted support from a similar group for a lengthy period of time. Uli Hesse provided a fantastic summation of the current proposal here in Part I and Part II. Should this be approved, it would set up quite nicely for RB Leipzig, as Red Bull would then be able to continue funding the club up the league tables with a move to full ownership once that period of time has been reached without having to legally challenge for the right to do so.

So, while this DFB Pokal Cup clash between Wolfsburg and RB Leipzig is a first for two clubs that owe their current existence to commercial endeavors, it might not be the last. The future of Bundesliga might see a bit more of this, as traveling supporters hop in their Passats and sip Red Bull on the way to a match at Red Bull Arena. Perhaps we might see RB Leipzig lift the Mead Cup someday, guzzling from it the latest sugar-free concoction designed to give you wings. And while this meeting represents a bit of a new relationship betwixt company and club versus the old, one thing remains a constant. Should Red Bull achieve its goal of having RB Leipzig promoted to 1.Bundesliga some day, it will still likely have to steal that Hubcap away from Bayern Munich much like Wolfsburg did a couple years ago.

The Bundesliga Show 26 – Season Preview, Super Cup & DFB Pokal Round One

Thankfully the summer break is almost at an end and the Bundesliga is about to resume. To mark that occasion, The Bundesliga Show with Terry Duffelen and Jon Hartley, also makes a return to round up what’s been happening during the football hiatus. There is a special report on the Schalke’s prospects for the coming campaign from Stuart Dykes aka Schalke UK, and there is also a look at what Cologne have to offer in the season ahead…plus chat about Bayern, the Super Cup and the first round of the DFB Pokal.

To download the podcast direct, right click here. Alternatively, listen via Soundcloud, below.

The Bundesliga Show 26 – Season Preview, Super Cup & DFB Pokal Round One by soundoffootball

Lounge Acts: Marko Arnautovic

A slightly whimsical and completely false accounting of a footballing life from the first person. Today, we hear from Marko Arnautovic, that reputed troublemaker from Werder Bremen. Marko’s spoken up this summer about being less of a distraction this season as Werder look to rebound from a poor 2010/11 Bundesliga campaign. He chose to elaborate further on his new attitude.

When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. In fact, I did that just yesterday when I didn’t yell at that goalkeeper for not allowing me to score a spectacular goal in training. I think his name was Tom. Instead, I just gave him a respectful golf clap for catching the ball and told myself I let him do that so he would feel better about himself.
Because I think our GK Tom Wiener needs a bit more confidence after last season’s performance, especially since he had to live in my shadow for the first time ever last year.

What’s that you say? I used a quote from the Bible? But of course I did, silly! It’s from one of those Arnautovical texts left out of the New Testament. It’s from the book of Marko 3:31. Look it up. Great read, highly recommend. The author is a handsome devil who’s just as good with words as he is with the ladies. And speaking of ladies, is it not a sign of my increasing maturity that I admit, and then later lie about what I want in a woman? When I was keeping the benches warm in Milan a couple seasons ago, there were SO many beautiful women, and I sampled a bit of everything Italy had to offer. I was able to play the field and narrow down my choices. After all, I had plenty of energy to burn with that so-called “Special One” not giving me much time on the pitch, so I was as active as a rabbit while I was off it.

Heh, heh. Oh wait, supposed to be “mature” now.

Since I’ve been stuck in Bremen, (Remember Marko, not a dump, not a dump, not a dump) I’ve had a chance to consider who the future Mrs. Gold Boot Fantastic should be, and since I can’t get any more tattoos while here (not a trash heap, great place, happy place), I want her to have the beautiful ink. And silicone. Lots and lots of silicone. Other grown-up adult male types prefer a woman with a sense of humor, a good personality, or a love of music, and this is similar to me wanting a dark haired tattooed devil godess with massive, uh, “talents.” Some people even announce things like having attacking midfielders that play for their favorite clubs to score goals! That Peter Crouch chap loves nachos and doesn’t score goals over in England as a striker–nobody calls him immature.They call him into the England XI. As for me, I score a hat trick for the season and Herr ‘Tache saw fit to keep me on the bench most of last season.

This year, though, it’s a new attitude and a new Marko. I will not be bitter about any lack of playing time (which shouldn’t be an issue anyway since no one wants to come and play in this du…stop it Marko!) and do exactly as Mr. Schaaf says. I am out to prove I can play well with these Italian players they’ve got around me, such as Caligula Pizzaface and Mario Marinara and at last fill the void when that bug-eyed guy was sold off to Real Madrid (I hate him). I will demonstrate my mature turn at decision-making on the pitch, so when I consider that Pizzaface is highly unlikely to score, or that fake Marko looks like he’s going to trip over himself again, my not passing to them shouldn’t be considered selfishness. Instead, just assume I’m maturely deciding to take a shot for myself and that a spectacular goal is about to be scored.

That’s what I tell myself anyway.

And, if later in the season I should voice my concerns about my team’s performance or inadvertently remark that I still think this place is still a dump, that I hate the colour green or that Claudio Pizzaface smells like warmed goat cheese again, Please don’t think of it being another episode from last season’s bad boy Marko. Rather, think of it as a mature, adult Marko trying to be a leader for his squad now that Torsten Ringo has left. Also, should I remark that Thomas Schaaf is as useless as teats on a bull that hasn’t been injected with silicone, I’m not being immature but just trying to be an honest grown-up type person. For as it says in the Good Book, Marko 4:17, “He who is honest with himself and with others should be rewarded for his noble works with his own parking space in the club car park.”

I wonder if Klaus Allofs has read that passage yet?

Welcome to the Bundesliga Lounge

The Bundesliga Lounge is the new home for the weekly podcast the Bundesliga Show.

Along with publishing the podcast, we intend to bring you blog posts and articles about German club football. We’ve enlisted some of our favourite writers to give us a hand. On this blog, you can expect to find, features, profiles, the odd match report or travelogue, tactics and anything else that takes our fancy.

The pace of the site is intended to be relaxed and reflective, hence the name Bundesliga Lounge. We invite you to take a seat and enjoy the new Bundesliga season as it unfolds.

Audio: Cologne Pre-season Preview

The Bundesliga Show co-host, Jon Hartley caught up with two FC Cologne fans, Marcel and Christian, to discover their take on their club’s friendly with Arsenal and the ‘Billy Goats’ prospects for the coming season.

The Bundesliga Lounge – Cologne Pre-season Preview by soundoffootball

Audio: Supporter Liaison Officers

Stuart Dykes of Supporters Direct talks about the role of Supporter Liaison Officers (SLOs) in Germany and their importance in maintaining secure relationships between club fans in the Bundesliga and combating hooligansim.

Stuart also talks about his role in helping all UEFA football clubs appoint their own SLOs as part of the upcoming financial fair play rules.

LIGAtotal! Round Up

The LIGAtotal! Cup this year provided a brief two day window to analyse four teams that, on the basis of the performances witnessed, should be looking to compete with one another for the top places in the forthcoming Bundesliga season.

The accolade for the ‘Most Memorable Performance’ goes to Manuel Neuer for his two displays of nervousness that made him look like the devil spawn of Thomas Kraft and Hans-Jorg Butt. Poor Manuel, who has also somehow found himself on a slightly distasteful (read: asinine) campaign by a set of Bayern ultras who inhabit the Südtribüne of the Allianz Arena, who last week supplied the German #1 with a five-piece protocol that he must obey if his stay is to be comfortable. His performances did nothing to breed confidence in the Bayern faithful, after being partly culpable for the majority of the goals conceded within the tournament. He looked uncharacteristically flustered; this would usually be understandable given he had Holger Badstuber playing ahead of him, but for someone who had to put up with the inept defending of Christoph Metzelder for a couple of seasons, he should be used to lackadaisical – bordering on the slapstick – defending witnessed in his back four.

Heung Min Son of HSV, however, did genuinely impress however, even if Neuer did offer him a helping hand in his goals. His perfectly timed darting runs behind the opposition’s defence offered something that Hamburg missed last season. Further, the lad has a haircut moulded from his Mother’s mixing bowl – so for us, he’s an inevitable favourite. Dortmund new boy Ivan Perišić – who scored regularly whilst at Club Brugge – produced performances that should excite BVB fans. His aerial ability and goal scoring ability should hopefully improve BVB in front of goal, as they were often profligate in front of goal last year and the Perišić should be seen as seen as a solution to their (relative) goal scoring problems.

As a brief aside; the 30-minute per half format was intriguing to see in practice. Generally, the game seemed quicker in pace and more direct. Players rushed to get the play started again and genuinely seemed concerned with the time. Pre-season friendlies are usually typified by a lack of speed or pace to the game, with teams content to keep possession between the centre-halves – this was not the case here. With teams playing two matches in two consecutive days, it was not only a healthy proposal but one that lent itself to supporters who like to consume the happenings of their team over the whole year with a thoroughly watchable spectacle.

A New League for Old Men

With all the pomp and circumstance befitting someone with the nickname “Goldenballs,” David Beckham joined Major League Soccer side Los Angeles largely to cheers but also to jeers from American football enthusiasts certain his arrival stateside was only part of his early retirement plan. Arsenal legend Thierry Henry later arrived in New York to slightly less pomp but more circumstance owing to his reputation as a goal scorer and having landed in the media capital of the nation. As other footballers of a certain pedigree followed Becks & Titi (sounds like a terrible mixed drink, eh?) across the pond, the ceremony surrounding their arrivals lessened and for most the jury’s still out as to what positive contributions they have brought to their respective MLS clubs.

So, what’s this have to do with Bundesliga? Principally, it centers around the recent signing of former Schalke 04 & Hamburg SV keeper Frank Rost to Red Bull New York. Now, while Bild‘s transfer rumors can be as true as a Protestant Pope, it appears that it did indeed come to pass that Grandpa Rost is moving to the Big Apple. Red Bull New York desperately needs a keeper who understands he is the one allowed by the rules of the game to grab the ball with his hands during a match, and after shipping Canadian international Dwayne DeRosario off to DC United the New York club have an empty Designated Player slot that was set aside for a competent keeper. Rost would certainly fit the bill for RBNY in this respect, and Seattle’s Casey Keller has shown that being old enough to become Medicare eligible is no deterrent to being a quality keeper in MLS.

Another consideration as to the merits of Rost’s departure from the Hamburglars is that of late, Major League Soccer has become slightly fashionable for Bundesliga players who might no longer have the chops to handle the talented youth who seemed to have become prominent performers in the league. With Rost getting his wings from RBNY general manager Eric Soler–himself a former Hamburg player–he is the third notable signing from the German top flight to the United States for the season. Former 1.FC Koeln GK Faryd Mondragon joined Philadelphia to begin this summer’s campaign and has started all matches for the club that sits just below RBNY in the table on goal differential. Werder Bremen’s Torsten Frings opted to discover first-hand just how many American fans still remember his dubious handball non-call in the 2002 World Cup by joining Toronto FC (yes, Toronto’s in Canada, but the Reds play in the US league and supporters will let him know how they feel on away days).

What might it be, then, that could be the appeal for these former Bundesliga regulars to make the jump to MLS rather than try their hands and feet somewhere in Germany or Europe? While the story of Mondragon’s move might be peculiar, owing to him leaving the Billygoats on less than friendly terms, for players like Frings and Rost it might be down to the style of play employed in the United States. While lateral movement and wing play has generally been improving in the league, most MLS clubs choose to attack in a more direct manner–not necessarily Route 1 football–but mostly through the center of the midfield with goals often coming from the heart of the pitch or by unbeatable shots from afar like Vancouver’s Eric Hassli performed earlier this summer. For experienced Bundesliga campaigners like Rost and Frings, they might have a chance to succeed playing in this style, as Rost is more than capable of collecting shots from the middle of the park while Frings can simply force his way through the average MLS midfield.

Or at the very least, draw fouls to set up free kicks he hopefully doesn’t take. Watching his last days at Werder last year on the dead ball was rather painful at times.

Granted, the league has some quality within its midst–Goldenballs and Henry are still about along with some promising young lads–but there currently exists a dearth of darting Kagawas, cutting Robbens, ball-hawking Vidals, and the like populating a majority of the MLS squads. An American adventure for both former Bundesliga pros, then, might turn into good business for the sides that employ them and give additional pause to older Bundesliga players like Hans-Jorg Butt who are suiting up in the top flight of Germany on the bench.

Bundestweets: Follow your club on Twitter

Below is a list of Twitter accounts dedicated to their German football club who tweet, predominantly, in English. The list is by no means complete. Please contact us if you know of more accounts that we should add to the list.

Schalke supporters club for fans based in the UK and Ireland and friends in Germany.
Fan of Port Vale FC and 1.FC Union Berlin.
Full-time student. In her 20s. Tweeting from Singapore unless otherwise stated. A female’s view of the world. And, owning a blog too. Stuttgart fan.
VfB Stuttgart 1893 news and updates – in English.
English language Eintracht Frankfurt.
British supporters club for Hertha BSC. Based in London, looking to recruit new members and followers.
SV Werder Bremen supporter and sole contributor to the werder blog, a Grün-Weißen blog for Werder and non-Werder fans alike.
Covering all things SC Freiburg from the UK – from the mind of @onedavebamber
The Hoffenheim Offside.
Bayer Leverkusen Offside.
A blog about Bayer Leverkusen 04.

FC Bayern news, rumors, opinions and other stuff – all in English.
News, opinions on Bayern Munich.
English language fan-club of 1.FC Nuremberg.
Hamburg and RB Leipzig.
Musings about FSV Mainz 05, the Bundesliga, and Arsenal. Also blogs about the German National Team.