I'm beginning to understand why Felix Magath is so fanatical about pre-season conditioning. Guess I have been woefully unprepared for what lies ahead, because the new campaign is only a couple of weeks old - and I'm already drained. Mentally as well as physically.
On Friday, I got home at 6.30pm or so and turned on the TV just to check on the games in the Second Bundesliga already in progress. I had noticed there was no Friday match in the top flight due to the midweek internationals, still I was a bit surprised that I could choose from only two games instead of the usual three, in this case Fürth vs. FSV Frankfurt and Paderborn vs. Karlsruhe.
Anyway, I decided to follow this latter match, as newly-promoted Paderborn surprisingly led Karlsruhe by two goals which had me hoping for some excitement. As you may know, the footballing version of Murphy's Law says that when you go channel surfing on a matchday you will, without fail, miss all the goals. So, keeping that in mind, I stayed with Paderborn - and didn't see another goal, while Fürth scored three more against Frankfurt.
Well, of course that meant I now had to sit through a few post-match interviews and wait for the Fürth highlight reel. After that had finished, I was reaching for the remote, but then a very familiar mug filled the screen, as good old Peter Neururer, clutching a microphone and standing on a pitch, was explaining football and the universe while a smiling Claus-Dieter Wollitz listened patiently.
"What's that?" my wife said, only mildly interested. "Didn't you say there's no Friday evening game today?"
My mind was racing. My wife thinks I can answer every question having to do with football, so I needed to make some deductions pronto. Neuruer was, as far I as knew, still Duisburg's coach. Wollitz ... now, where had Wollitz gone? ... quick, quick ... Cottbus. Yes, the man known as "Pelé" was now coaching Energie. Duisburg had opened the season at Frankfurt while Energie had beaten Augsburg in Cottbus, so that made it highly likely Neuruer and Wollitz were now in Duisburg.
"Well, the Zebras are hosting Cottbus," I announced to buy some time. (Note how I used the silly moniker "Zebras" to appear in the know.) Now, what the heck were they doing there, at this time of day? I could only make a guess. "When I said there's no Friday evening game, I meant in the Bundesliga," I said, trying to sound convincing. "Which is why they have moved the top match in the Second Bundesliga to that slot." My wife nodded and went back to her book while I watched Neururer and Wollitz share the spoils, 2-2.
I have told you about German football and pay television before ("Turn on, tune in, fork out", January 20, 2003), but that was a long time ago. Since then, many things have changed. Premiere, which started covering the Bundesliga in 1991, has been renamed Sky, because a huge chunk of the shares are now owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation. And while Premiere showed every Bundesliga and every Champions League game live back in 2003, the supply now also includes every game in the Second Bundesliga and every German FA Cup game. Just for good measure, Sky has furthermore acquired the rights to every Europa League game from the group stage on. "That means we now have live football seven days a week," Carsten Schmidt, Sky Germany's head of sports, proudly says.
This is ... wonderful, isn't it? I mean, there must be many of you out there who grasp at every straw to watch some Bundesliga football, the way I would knock on the doors of British soldiers in the 1990s to ask them if they had a BSkyB decoder and would tape the World Series for me. (At least I have it on pretty good authority that a reader known as Double Pivot watches Bundesliga games on DVD, days or maybe even weeks after the event.)
Yeah, sure it's great. I grew up with, believe it or not, only three television channels (yes, that's channels, not stations), as private, commercial television was illegal until 1984. In those days, you didn't really see much Bundesliga football at all on the small screen. The main football show on Saturday covered only three of the nine matches and live football was restricted to internationals and the latter rounds of the German FA Cup and the European cup competitions.
On April 20, 1983, when Hamburg played Real Sociedad to reach the European Cup final, German television immersed itself in the World Ice Hockey Championships. (Sweden narrowly beat the GDR and the Russians wiped the rink with West Germany.) You had to wait until 10.40pm to see pictures from Hamburg. Which is why kids in those days often had to do what was known as "sleeping ahead" to watch European football. (You went to bed very early and asked your parents to wake you in time for the football.)
So, yes, it's great that things have changed. But it's also taxing. Very taxing.
On Saturday, I had to watch Chelsea vs Hull City for professional reasons, so I turned on the television at 1.30pm, fifteen minutes before the kick-off. And what did I see? It was 1-1 between Hansa and 1860 in Rostock. I bit my lip. Oh, damn! I had totally forgotten that, as a result of all that rescheduling to please television, we now also have two games in the Second Bundesliga at 1pm on Saturday (apart from Friday and Sunday and Monday, that is). Sigh.
So I did some channel hopping to follow both the German teams and Chelsea, which of course meant that I didn't see any of the goals as they happened. As 3.30pm approached, the kick-off time for what is still - but barely - the majority of Bundesliga games, the fourth official at Stamford Bridge announced there would be six minutes of stoppage time. I kid you not. Six! (The look on my face must have been the same as the one sported by Tigers manager Phil Brown.)
Well, I refrained from changing channels at that point, because we all know Chelsea, don't we? Though I must say I was stunned when they scored the winner a mere two minutes into stoppage time instead of using up the whole six they had been allocated. Still, since I had missed the other goals I was now forced to wait for the post-match highlights. Once those were over, at about 3.45pm, I switched to Hamburg, where my team was playing. In the upper right-hand corner of the screen it said: 3-1. What the ...?
I didn't select the conference channel (where they take you from game to game) because I needed to know what had happened at Hamburg. After all, it's been 45 years since we last had four goals in the first twelve minutes of a Bundesliga match. Needless to say, the teams stopped scoring the instant I began watching them. Midway through the second half, when it became apparent we wouldn't come back, I took a stroll through the league, checking on this and that and actually seeing a few goals, such as Elson's stunning strike against Freiburg.
About a week ago, both churches issued statements warning against too much football on television. A Protestant spokesman from Düsseldorf called Rolf Krebs said: "It could have devastating consequences for the togetherness of families if fathers now spend almost the complete weekend in front of the TV set." And Heiner Koch, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Cologne, said: "There is the danger that everything will revolve around football within the families."
I was reminded of that while I was putting the finishing touches on Saturday's work at around 6.15pm (roughly five hours after I had turned on the TV set and one hour after the afternoon games had ended). That's because both Krebs and Koch come from the Rhineland.
And what did I do once I had shut down the iBook and closed the lid? Well, of course I watched Lukas Podolski's first game back in a Cologne shirt. Live at 6.30pm. And Sunday was still to come.