Why do some English fans prefer the Bundesliga to the Premier League?
May 25, 2013. Bayern Munich vs. Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League final at Wembley. It is perhaps the zenith of German club football. It is certainly the zenith of German club football in England. The Bundesliga had never looked more appealing. But it wasn't so much the standard of football that bewitched the English, it was the way it was watched in Germany.
The following year, Borussia Dortmund's head of marketing Carsten Cramer said that approximately 1,000 British fans were coming to every home game. They were travelling for the atmosphere, cheap tickets and the freedom to drink beer during the match -- something that is illegal in England. Four-and-a-half years on, the fascination with the German game continues.
"This time last year, we had 7,000 members on our Facebook page," Benjamin McFadyean, founder of the Borussia Dortmund London Fan Club tells ESPN FC.
"Now we've got over 15,000. We have 300 paying members of our fan club, I field about 20 enquiries a week and our page is filled with reviews from people who've been out to Germany. Almost all of them say they are longing to go back."
McFadyean is English, but was raised in Germany and fell in love with Dortmund as a youngster. When he moved back to the UK, staying in touch with the team was hard. The arrival of the internet and the explosion in televised European football made it all far easier. Now he passes on his love for the club to a new audience, bringing in English fans and advising them on their travels. Though the Bundesliga has been criticised because of Bayern Munich's seemingly perpetual dominance, he doesn't believe the appeal has dimmed at all.
"My experience, despite Dortmund's weakness this season, is that people still love the Yellow Wall, they still love Borussia Dortmund and I am not aware of any doom and gloom about the Bundesliga. I think the Bundesliga experience is still at the top of people's bucket list and Dortmund is right up there with the best."
The English game has made efforts to follow the German game's lead. Fan parks, where food and drinks are freely available, are a frequent sight in the Premier League now. Tottenham Hotspur's new stadium has been designed to incorporate their own version of the "Yellow Wall". But the Premier League experience, in the opinion of many, still does not compare. Common complaints include the featureless all-seater stadiums, the resultant lack of atmosphere, officious stewarding and, of course, that ban on drinking beer in your seat.
"I can remember the horror on the face of a Dortmund fan when I told him that you can't drink beer in your seat at a game in England," says German football journalist and broadcaster Archie Rhind-Tutt. "He looked like he'd seen a ghost."
Alcohol can be sold at football matches in the UK, but it must be kept in the concourses within the stadium. This means that fans tend to slip out of their seats before half-time to queue for a drink, then bolt it down during the break to try to get back to their seat for the restart. The intention is to prevent drunken violence, but in Germany, there are no such restrictions, and there is rarely any trouble either.
"If you treat people like grown-ups, they tend to act like grown-ups," Rhind-Tutt told ESPN FC.
This is also the view of the Football Supporters Federation, an influential English fan group that works tirelessly to improve the lot of the British supporter.
"I think a lot of the issues we see around alcohol are, ironically, caused by the alcohol restrictions," said Amanda Jacks of the FSF. "It means that some might choose to drink more before the game than they ordinarily would to make up for it. Sometimes clubs will decide not to serve away fans, which not only means that travelling supporters might choose to stay in the pub until the last possible moment."
The FSF believes that the legislation is outdated and should be reviewed.
"If football stadiums sold shots and spirits, you could understand the problem. But it's beer, and it's generally the weaker brands of beer. We think people might be pleasantly surprised at what happens when you allow people to drink in their seat like grown-ups."
While the FSF have succeeded in their efforts to deliver a limit on the price of away tickets (£30, less than half the controversial £62 fee charged to Manchester City fans away at Arsenal in 2013), home tickets can still be prohibitively expensive. In 2016, the average price of a ticket in the Premier League was £53.76. In the Bundesliga, it was just £23. Supporters groups in Germany frequently ally together to protest increases. However, English fans should know that the rise in popularity of the German experience has attracted tour agencies, and they are quick to take their cut.
"I play five-a-side here in Germany with some guys who get to see Cologne for about €15," says Rhind-Tutt. "But what no-one mentions is that if you're coming from England, you do need to plan ahead, otherwise you'll end up paying top dollar. You'd be best off getting in touch with a well-connected supporters' group, with someone like Benjamin McFadyean, and you'll get a better price there. But it depends on the club you go to. If you want to see Wolfsburg against Hoffenheim on a Tuesday night, you will have no problem at all, you can bring the whole stag night."
Bayern Munich's CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge spoke out in September against Germany's fabled 50+1 rule, the rule that ensures that more that 50 percent of a club must be owned by its members. This is what has prevented German football from turning into a marketplace for billionaires, as seen in the Premier League and Serie A. Of course, outside investment would enable the other clubs in the division to keep up with Bayern. But for McFadyean, and many of his fellow supporters, the 50+1 rule is part of what makes German football special.
"The football clubs in Germany are institutions," he said to ESPN FC.
"They exist to support the community. They are run for the benefit of their members. I think there's something very right about the way German clubs are run, certainly in comparison to the way that English clubs are run, for the benefit of industrialists and capitalists who, frankly are taking English people to the cleaners. It's our game, it belongs to us, our children and our grandchildren."
Iain Macintosh covers the Premier League and Champions League for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @IainMacintosh.