To celebrate our 7 year anniversary (and 5 month wedding anniversary), S and I bought tickets to see a Bundesliga (German first league) soccer game this past Saturday. Since we live near Stuttgart, we decided to support VfB Stuttgart at home in the Mercedes-Benz Arena in Bad Cannstatt, Stuttgart. We had been wanting to see a live soccer game for some time and we thought what better time than the beginning of the season in early fall when it’s still fairly warm outside.
Now, I think S would appreciate me saying that his true soccer loyalties lie with FC Bayern München (ie. Bayern Munich), but Munich is quite a ways away so we decided to be Stuttgart fans for the day.
We booked our tickets easily through the VfB Stuttgart website on a Monday, only 6 days before the game. There were still plenty of seats available at different price points. In the end, we decided to get some lower priced seats in the corner next to the VfB Stuttgart ‘Super Fans’ behind the net so we could soak in the atmosphere and get a good view of the field.
We gave ourselves plenty of time to get to the game since we knew there would be crowds. We took the S-Bahn train to the Stuttgart Hauptbahnhof (central train station) before we switched the the U-Bahn line. The U11 line runs in a loop throughout parts of the city with the last stop as NeckarPark (Stadion). We knew we were headed in the right direction when our train was full of soccer fans. Nearly everyone on the train (and at the game) was dressed in red and white, the home team colours. I was impressed with how many people had scarves, jerseys, patches, flags, and tshirts in the team colours. According to S, VfB Stuttgart is known for their loving fan base. After this game, I can sure see why! Unfortunately I didn’t have a VfB Stuttgart tshirt or flag, but I did make sure to at least wear a white shirt. Royal blue, the colour of the away team TSG Hoffenheim, would not have served me very well in the sea of red and white! Tip #1: Take note of team colours and dress accordingly!
A little back story about TSG Hoffenheim: the owner of a renowned software company started to fund the soccer club some years ago. The concept of a private investor funding a club has gained popularity in other countries such as in England and in France but it has yet to gain footing in Germany. In fact, many traditionalist fans disagree with this practice. Instead, they value a team’s rise in the standings due to dedication and good tactics rather than from contributions out of deep pockets. Hoffenheim is a tiny village and in a short period of time they built a brand new arena, bought some star players and eventually made their way to the first German league. VfB Stuttgart fans are deeply traditional so this game brought together fans of both the old and new paths to Bundesliga success. On top of this tension you can add that Stuttgart and Hoffenheim are geographically very close to one another and any game between the two is ultra competitive. This type of rivalry is known as a derby.
I was a little surprised (but not really surprised) to see so many people drinking beer on the train and outside the arena before the game. As you may know, drinking in public is not illegal in Germany. However, you only tend to see people with beer on the streets in the evenings (at least in my experience). I guess on game day it’s perfectly normal to see university students, grandpas, and moms with young children enjoying a bottle of beer at 2:45pm on a Saturday!
As we were getting off the train at the arena, we noticed two 20-something guys in front of us each holding onto a handle of a crate of beer. A full crate of beer! S pointed the guys out to me:
S: You see those guys? Look how much beer they have!
Me: Wow, that’s about 24 bottles of beer! Can they take that into the arena with them?
S: No. But believe me, they will surely finish those off outside before the game.
After accidentally getting in the wrong entrance line and earning a mild scolding for the gate attendant, we eventually made our way to the correct entrance. Tip #2: Read your ticket before getting in the entrance line; you can only enter the arena at the gates outside your assigned seat section.
As kickoff drew nearer, the seats started filling up. I noticed a section of TSG Hoffenheim fans all wearing blue and white in the opposite corner from us. Each soccer stadium has a section designated for the away team fans. If you’re going to a game and want to support the away team, you can buy tickets to sit with your fellow away team fans. I like this idea a lot; whenever I go to a Vancouver Canucks NHL hockey game, you can usually spot a few away team fans but they are always scattered throughout the crowd. I guess when you compare the National Hockey League which covers North America coast to coast with the German first soccer league which only covers the area equivalent to roughly one Canadian province or one US state, it’s understandable why there aren’t entire sections reserved for away team hockey fans since they would likely have to travel quite a distance (ie. across North America) to get to the game!
I noticed that the seats around the away fans never filled up. According to S, the clubs try to restrict seating of home team fans around the away team fans to deter any conflict. In the photo on the left, you can even see some security guards standing facing the away fans in case of bad behaviour. Fortunately there weren’t any incidents during the game.
The game itself was fun to watch. The fans were cheering and waving their jumbo flags the entire game and whistling high pitched sounds to distract the Hoffenheim players during their corner kicks. Stuttgart controlled the ball for most of the game and were definitely trying to get some goals in the net. Since we were seated in the corner, we got to see a lot of offensive rushes on the Hoffenheim net for the first half of the game, as well as a few corner kicks. Unfortunately, the final score was 0-2 with Hoffenheim scoring one goal in the first half and the second goal in the second half with 20 minutes to go.
After that final goal, the mood in the arena was extremely tense. The Stuttgart fans were fed up with the team not only failing score during the game but also failing to gain more than one point in the standings after the first four games of the season. At the end of the game, the ‘Super Fans’ were not just disappointed but angry and hostile to the point where I voted to get going shortly after the final whistle. The fans outside the arena were all well-behaved though their disappointment in the team’s performance was clear.
Despite VfB Stuttgart’s loss, it was a fun outing. I would definitely recommend seeing a Bundesliga game if you have the opportunity while in Germany.
Have you seen a live soccer game in Germany? Which Bundesliga team do you support?