Rain, wind, cold. I could have stayed in Eng­land for that. But then I wouldn’t be at the start of a fasci­na­ting adven­ture, would I? And when ever­ything else around you, not least the lan­guage, is dif­fe­rent, a wet slap in the face from the wea­ther on the walk to work is reas­su­ringly fami­liar.



This is the first day of my two-month stay at 11FREUNDE a maga­zine that has occa­sio­nally appeared in my office in Eng­land like a rare map to hidden trea­sure, to be poured over and deci­phered in tiny snat­ches – pic­tures, head­lines and cap­tions poin­ting to a story, buried because of my very basic German (Ich ver­sproch euch, dass am ende mein Ver­weilen werde ich in der Lage ein Blog auf Deutsch zu schreiben!).

I am an Eng­lish jour­na­list from Hay­market Publi­shing in London, where I con­tri­bute to all sorts of foot­ball publi­ca­tions, from match-day pro­grammes for the Eng­lish Foot­ball Asso­cia­tion, to maga­zines such as Cham­pions, the offi­cial UEFA Cham­pions League maga­zine and 4−4−2, a popular glossy maga­zine. But coming to do work expe­ri­ence at 11FREUNDE is a whole new chal­lenge: it is a maga­zine with a strong iden­tity, smart readers and about a world of foot­ball I don’t know that much about.

So let me start by unloa­ding my pre­con­cep­tions about German foot­ball for you all to com­ment on, and by trying to exp­lain what the Eng­lish ima­gine about foot­ball here in this country.

Firstly, not many Eng­lish foot­ball fans get a chance to watch the Bun­des­liga. It is broad­cast on ESPN UK, who show up to five live German games a week – an impres­sive number – but the channel costs Sky sub­scri­bers (who already pay almost £40 per month for sport) an extra £9, and only reaches appro­xi­mately 750,000 homes. That means for most fans, the only German club foot­ball they see is in the Cham­pions League or Europa League, and even then most will only dis­cover a German team if they face Bri­tish oppo­si­tion (as both Stutt­gart and Wolfs­burg must in this season’s Cham­pions League). When it comes to German foot­ball, we tend to be preoc­cu­pied by the national team, our tra­di­tional nemesis at European Cham­pi­ons­hips and World Cups. It is a one-sided rivalry (I under­stand Ger­many care more about bea­ting the Nether­lands) that is too often stirred up by popu­list Bri­tish media for all the wrong rea­sons. The unde­niable and bril­liant suc­cess of the 2006 World Cup though may have led to a sof­tening of atti­tudes (I hope so), though we will only know for sure if the two nations meet in the knock-out stages in South Africa (and it goes to pen­al­ties).

The weekly drama of the Bun­des­liga then remains slightly mys­te­rious. We’ve heard of Bayern, Bremen, Wolfs­burg and the other big boys, even Hof­fen­heim made head­lines in the UK last season, and we strongly suspect that St Pauli must be cool (pirates!). The pro­pa­ganda that the Pre­mier League is the world’s most exci­ting league rings in our ears though and we tend to believe that the qua­lity of the foot­ball being played in Ger­many is lower. I look for­ward to dis­co­vering for myself whe­ther this is true or not – though I’m not sure if a trip to Hertha Berlin at the moment will swing me.

What does excite us about German foot­ball though is ever­ything that goes on around it – for many Eng­lish fans it is a glimpse of how foot­ball could have been. What it is important to under­stand is that unlike the way in which the German game has evolved orga­ni­cally, 1989’s Hills­bo­rough dis­aster marked an abrupt catharsis for Eng­lish foot­ball. After decades blighted by hoo­li­ga­nism, bad poli­cing, and weary stadia, with Eng­lish teams banned from European com­pe­ti­tion, some­thing had to change. The Taylor Report which fol­lowed Hills­bo­rough, com­bined with the birth of satel­lite tele­vi­sion (1989) and the foun­ding of the Pre­mier League (1992), radi­cally trans­formed what went on inside and around foot­ball grounds, as well as the demo­gra­phics of the fans atten­ding games. The Taylor Report ushered in all-seater stadia, removed fences, and drasti­cally improved safety at games – but it also meant you could no longer have a beer in your seat (only in the sta­dium con­course). The result was a more family-fri­endly middle-class envi­ron­ment, more mar­ket­able than what came before 1989, and cer­tainly more pala­table to cor­po­rate spon­sors and guests – »the prawn sand­wich bri­gade,« as Man­chester United legend Roy Keane called them. But while the Pre­mier League could attract great players with its highly com­mer­cial model, some­thing may have been lost.

Eng­lish fans now cast a romantic eye over to Ger­many, where they know you can still stand at games, where a ticket doesn’t cost a small for­tune (the average mid-range season ticket in the Pre­mier League last season cost £590), and where someone with a Zapf­hahn will come and fill your beer up for you. It is such a seduc­tive image of the game, that groups such as the Cheshire 1. FC Nürn­berg Fan Club from the north west of Eng­land travel to Ger­many expressly to sample the Bun­des­liga utopia.

What fasci­nates me as a typical Eng­lish foot­ball lover then is German foot­ball cul­ture. Luckily, I have come to 11FREUNDE, a »Magazin für Fuß­ball­kultur«, where I hope I can dis­cover what really makes German foot­ball, and its fans, tick. You can help me along the way with sug­ges­tions, advice and comments – and why not tell me what your impres­sions of Eng­lish foot­ball are? I might not have all the ans­wers, but perhaps there might be a few mys­te­ries I can help solve. When it comes to exp­lai­ning the con­tents of meat pies, the popu­la­rity of Bovril and England’s ina­bi­lity to take pen­al­ties though, I really can’t help.