x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Entertainment goes before glory in Germany

The Bundesliga boasts big attendances yet it is nine seasons since a German side won a European trophy.

Alexander Madlung, left, and Obafemi Martins celebrate a Wolfsburg goal at Cologne.
Alexander Madlung, left, and Obafemi Martins celebrate a Wolfsburg goal at Cologne.

Teams from the Bundesliga may not have featured regularly in the upper echelons of European competition recently, but domestically they certainly know how to put on a show. On a warm summer's day in August fans of Eintracht Frankfurt and FC Nuremburg gather on the second Saturday of the Bundesliga. In Germany, it appears the match day experience is more valued by the fans than overall success and, as supporters from both teams sing their way through the tree-lined paths towards Eintracht Frankfurt's home, the Commerzbank Arena, it is easy to become swept up in the atmosphere.

This season marks 60 years since Eintracht last won the league, but that lack of success has not dampened their supporters' passions and the 52,300 capacity stadium is packed. Thousands of black and white flags wave, and the home end hoist tributes to the 1959 season and the players who claimed the title. A jubilant, carnival atmosphere on match days is a cheery characteristic of the Bundesliga explains Markus Heinrich, a 33-year-old Nuremburg fan. "It is a great atmosphere here. The fans mix and get on. There is some trouble, but never near the football grounds; here it is all good humoured. You can't beat the atmosphere of the Bundesliga."

Eintracht struggled in 2008/09, finishing 13th. Nuremburg, meanwhile, were promoted from Bundesliga Two. Each has something to prove this year, and in a league where the top teams jostle for position more so than in Europe's other biggest leagues. While the "big four" in the English Premier League - Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal - have been at the top for the past five or six seasons, the same dominance has not been witnessed in the Bundesliga. Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, Werder Breman, VfB Stuttgart and VfL Wolfsburg have all won league titles in the last decade.

Mind you, there is no doubt as to the dominant force in German football. "Bayern Munich, of course," insists Christopher Betta, a 25-year-old student and Eintracht supporter. Betta would like to see his team compete at the top of the table and in Europe, but sees the financial divisions as too deep. "Bayern Munich is the only club with buying power. We cannot compete with them," Betta says. "Teams in Europe - Spain, Italy, England - they can afford to pay ?100 million (Dh520m) for a player, we struggle to pay ?1m."

VfL Wolfsburg spoiled Bayern's party last season, however, storming to their first league title ahead of more habitual contenders such as VfB Stuttgart, Hamburger SV and SV Werder Bremen. Wolfsburg's insurgence continued on Saturday. They dispatched Cologne 3-1 for their second consecutive victory, and 16th in their last 18 Bundesliga matches. "I am glad that my team won and I was happy with my first Bundesliga goal. I hope that many more goals follow," said Obafemi Martins, a summer signing from England's Newcastle United.

It is easy to see why Bundesliga teams struggle to compete financially with other European leagues. Buying a ticket at the gate can cost as little as ?16 at the Commerzbank Arena and despite a packed, vibrant stadium it is still easy to pick up a ticket on match-day. Fans are philosophical about their absence from European competition, however, concerned over what change might bring. "We don't have the debt of other clubs in Europe. German teams are conservative," explains 26-year-old Eintracht fan Clemens Wiedemann. "We prefer it this way. We may not have a lot of money, but tickets are cheap and the support here is fantastic.

"Other clubs make money from ticket sales and merchandise. I would rather watch a lower class of match than not be able to afford to come as they have increased prices to pay for new players." zgriffiths@thenational.ae