The Premier League is one of, if not the, most exciting football leagues in the world. However the English game has been dominated by the so-called ‘top four’ in recent times, with fellow teams unable to break the stranglehold. Indeed, since 1992 only once has the title not been won by a member of this elite group. The inexorable predictability of the championship race has been criticised by several sources – The Times’ Marco Pantanella named the Premier League second in a list of ‘50 Worst Things About Modern Football’, claiming: ‘If you won the First Division title, you were the best team in England. If you win the Premier League, you owe someone £500m’. Evidently our top league is not loved by all. So allow this writer to introduce you to an alternative – The German Bundesliga.
Having lived in Germany for nine months – handily in parallel with the Bundesliga season – this writer has first-hand experience of the country’s number one league. There are certain aspects that are similar to the Premier League, and immediately noticeable is the intense antipathy most fans held for one club in particular – Bayern Munich. The “Manchester United of the Bundesliga” was one rather apt description, but others are far less publishable. Living in Stuttgart, the city’s pride and joy – VfB – became this writer’s local team. But why recommend following the Bundesliga, or even better, going to a game in Germany? Read on to find out why this is one of the most gripping and exhilarating competitions in Europe.
The Bundesliga really does offer more shocks than the Premier League, with the title race in particular often wide open. In the 2006/07 season, VfB Stuttgart began the season with one of the youngest squads, and, unfancied by many, defied the odds to take the championship. Heavyweights Bayern failed to even make the Champions League. Last season, Wolfsburg shocked the league by winning their first ever Bundesliga title, but before they did it looked as if new boys Hoffenheim were going to be in contention right until the end. Hoffenheim (a village of just over 3000 people) were playing in the fifth division of German football in 2000 – equivalent to England’s Blue Square Premier.
Goals, goals, goals
Over the last few years, the Bundesliga has consistently outscored the Premier League in terms of goals per game (remember there are only 18 teams competing, not 20). The team to watch seems not to be Bayern, but Werder Bremen – champions in 2003/04. They scored six goals away from home on two separate occasions in 2006/07, while the following season they were involved in two games with nine goals (an 8-1 home win against Bielefeld, and a 6-3 away defeat to Stuttgart). Last year they beat Hoffenheim 5-4 in a thriller. The quality of goal in the Bundesliga is also second to none, for example take this inventive effort from Werder’s Diego. Although he is now with Juventus, the league is still graced with quality players – none more so than Bayern’s much coveted star man Franck Ribery.
In Germany, football is life. Never has this writer seen so much enthusiasm for the game as in Stuttgart – and he has been to games up and down the UK. At the impressive Mercedes-Benz Arena, safe terracing is still in place in what is affectionately known as the ‘fan block’. To really create a hostile atmosphere for visiting teams, it is one man’s job to constantly rally these fans by use of a megaphone – the noise generated is intense and fantastic. This will usually get fans singing for 90 minutes and, with teams from both the same and neighbouring states considered as rivals, passion is always running high on and off the pitch.
Football always comes first
You will be hard pressed to find any prima-donnas in German football, as love of the game is the driving factor in the Bundesliga. Traditional German values, none more so than efficiency, ensure that clubs remain out of debt, and players play for their shirts, not their paycheques. One fan told me this in turn produces ‘real’ football – 100% commitment, without the sulking which has unfortunately become an unappealing part of our modern game.
If you’re looking to broaden your football horizons, then the Bundesliga offers everything a fan could want. Attacking football and passionate players, some of the most modern stadiums in the world, and an unpredictability which means quite anything could happen. A trip to Germany to see a game will certainly not disappoint. Failing that, grab a Bratwurst and a Bier and follow the action online and through television. Discover for yourself why the Bundesliga is rapidly becoming one of the most watchable football leagues there is.