Bundesliga top of the shots (again)
What - another column from Germany? The third in ten days? Yes, because it's that time of year again when we all know what's coming as surely as spring turns into summer and yet scratch our heads regardless. Or at least I'm always scratching mine.
Once again we're talking, of course, about goals.
(Regular readers may want to skip the next lines and make a cuppa while I put the others in the know.)
After the end of each season, I do some maths to find out how many goals per game we have seen in the five big leagues - England's Premier League, France's Ligue 1, Germany's Bundesliga, Italy's Serie A and Spain's Primera División - and then draw up a ranking.
I can do this now, even though there is still one complete matchday to come in France, because the habitually austere French have been their penny-pinching selves again and found the target so rarely. Ligue 1 currently stands at a miserly 2.32 goals per game and even a veritable deluge this weekend won't help their cellar-dweller status in this particular competition.
New readers will probably stumble over my use of the word "habitually", but the interesting thing about this goalscoring chart is that it's rather uninteresting - meaning the result is almost always the same.
See, this is now the 11th year in a row that Ligue 1 has the fewest goals per 90 minutes of league football (in 2000, Italy finished last). At the same time it is, and that's not a typo, the 21st year in a row that the Bundesliga has the most goals per game.
Germany's figure for the season just past stands at 2.92 goals per game; it is the same as in 2009 and 2002 and almost the same as in 2005 and 2001. The goal gap between the Bundesliga and Ligue 1 is so, err...gaping that even France's very best result during the past fifteen years (2.57) is still far below the Bundesliga's very worst in the same span (2.68).
Normally, the three places that separate Germany from France are up for grabs and hotly contested, but this time around we have the exact same order as last May: England (2.80 goals per game), Spain (2.74), Italy (2.51).
This time I also checked a few other leagues, maybe just for laughs, maybe because a part of me is still searching for a convincing explanation why the goals-per-game chart is so predictable.
Without having delved into every domestic league on the continent, it's safe to say the Netherlands' Eredivisie once again outscored the rest of Europe - 3.23 goals per game is pretty hefty. In the past ten years, the Dutch were outscored only two times - once by Germany, once by Germany and Spain.
There used to be a theory that said the Eredivisie's impressive goal harvest indicates that a league with fewer teams, fewer big teams, or both, is conducive to the higher goal tally. However, that theory has never stood the stats test and fails it again now, because there were 2.53 goals per game during Scotland's regular season (12 teams), 2.48 in Romania (18 teams) and only 2.43 in Portugal (16 teams).
All of which reminds me that there is another category in which the Bundesliga almost always comes out on top. That's the number of spectators the games attract. As a German, you have become so used to the figures that it's usually forgotten how amazing they are. A year ago, the average attendance in the Bundesliga was 41,800 and now it's 42,400.
Two years ago, the English company Deloitte calculated that the Bundesliga attracts, on average, about 50% more fans than the other four big leagues - 40,000 to those leagues' (combined) 26,400. According to Deloitte, the Bundesliga is the best-supported league in the entire world.
It may be a by-product of the sheer numbers, but the German fans also expect something from the people who play for their clubs. No, not just goals, of which, as we have seen, there are plenty. And no, not only commitment on the pitch, which is taken for granted. Rather, I'm talking about a certain closeness to the supporters.
If you've ever seen a Bundesliga game in the flesh, you will have noticed that the players don't just shake hands with the opposition after the final whistle, wave in the general direction of their fans and then disappear into the tunnel.
If they have won, or otherwise done well, the players will sit down in front of the fan stand and follow a strange ritual usually known as the Humba, sometimes as the Uffta. Perhaps you have also seen it after games of the national team. It's a choreography which slightly differs from ground to ground but is based around the idea that players and fans sit down, then get up, jump around in a most strange manner and sing a song in unison.
The Humba started at Mainz in the mid-90s, as the song that's normally being sung and that has given the ritual its name, "Humba Täterä", is a 1964 carnival hit originally recorded by the Mainz singer Ernst Neger.
A proper Humba needs the footballing version of a precentor, who will lead the chant in the manner of cheerleaders at gridiron games, asking them to spell out something, in this case a word that means nothing: Humba. The fact that a megaphone will really help to get this job done is one reason why this custom's spreading through the league has coincided with the rise of the ultras movement.
In Mainz, the players themselves soon began to scale the fence that separated them from their supporters to lead the chant. And now it's quite common to see footballers standing among the fans, megaphone or microphone in hand. Even stars like Michael Ballack do that. (I mention him because he caused a minor ruckus in March, when he used the megaphone to hurl abuse at Leverkusen's rivals Cologne.)
Some people are critical of the Humba, either because they think fans in non-carnival hotbeds don't really understand what this is all about or because they think it's become such a cliched ritual that everybody's just going through the motions.
Still, the Humba rarely fails to fascinate foreigners, who are not used to such spectacles at home. That refers not only to foreign observers but to foreign players, which is why one of the great, unforgettable moments of the past season happened after Schalke's home win over Inter in the Champions League.
That's because the Schalke player who climbed into the North Curve to lead the chant among the fans was the one player you wouldn't have expected there - Raul. Watching one of the most famous players in the world standing among regular Schalke supporters (one of them stripped to the waist) and leading the chant as best as he could in a language he hasn't yet mastered was quite a sight .
"It was a very special moment for me, very touching" Raul told a local paper last week. He added that he hadn't been used to anything like that in Spain, where you "just greet the fans and wave goodbye".
I don't know how Senor Blanco feels about this but I, for one, am already looking forward to August 5. To more goals and more silly Humbas.