Large attendances show World Cup hasn′t dampened Germany′s appetite for football | Sports| German football and major international sports news | DW | 29.07.2018
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Large attendances show World Cup hasn't dampened Germany's appetite for football

Over 40,000 in Kaiserslautern, 20,000 in Braunschweig, 15,000 in Cottbus, plus impressive non-league support. Big attendances show that German football is about so much more than "Die Mannschaft" and the World Cup.

Anyone who has been following the fallout from Germany's humiliating World Cup exit could be forgiven for thinking that German football is absolutely on its knees.

In Russia, the reigning world champions, arrogantly branded as Die Mannschaft, were rightly punished for their sloppy preparation and tactical deficiencies — not to mention the shameful handling of the Mesut Özil affair and a hubristic marketing campaign.

Now, after a shortened summer break, German football is slowing turning its collective attention back to the game's bread and butter: Club football.

Third-division football, top level support

This weekend, both the nationwide third division and regional fourth divisions got back underway for the 2018-19 season. The football on offer might not be of the highest quality, but that hasn't affected the fans' appetite, as attendance figures across the country show.

In southwestern Kaiserslautern, an incredible 41,324 supporters packed out the Fritz-Walter-Stadion on the famous Betzenberg hill to see two former Bundesliga giants, as four-time German champions Kaiserslautern beat 1966 Bundesliga winners 1860 Munich 1-0, despite both clubs struggling with significant off-the-field issues.

The local "Red Devils" have been relegated to the third tier for the first time in the club's rich history, weighed down by a mountain of debt, while the Bavarians, back in professional football after a year in the regional fourth tier, were accompanied by over 7,000 traveling fans who had made the 400-kilometer (249-mile) journey across southern Germany from Munich.

At the opposite end of the country, 2,600 Hansa Rostock supporters made a similarly long journey to Cottbus, but couldn't prevent their team crashing to a 3-0 defeat to newly promoted Energie Cottbus in a match seen by over 15,000 fans at the Stadion der Freundschaft.

Elsewhere in the same division, 20,000 supporters saw Eintracht Braunschweig draw 1-1 with Karlsruhe — another meeting of two former Bundesliga sides.

Deutschland 3. Fußball Bundesliga - 1. FC Kaiserslautern vs. TSV 1860 München (picture alliance/dpa/U. Anspach)

Despite both clubs struggling off the field, over 40,000 fans turned out to see Kaiserslautern vs. 1860 Munich

Non-league

The Bundesliga itself doesn't get underway for another month, but that didn't stop around 1,000 impatient Borussia Dortmund supporters making the 120-kilometer trip down the river Rhine to Bonn, where BVB's reserves got their Regionalliga-West campaign off to a winning start, beating Bonner SC 2-1.

The black-and-yellows' second team regularly receives vocal support from the so-called "Ultras von die Amateure" (sic), the club's "Amateur Ultras" who choose to follow the reserves in the fourth tier rather than the first team, partly due to disillusionment with the perceived over-commercialization of the Bundesliga — and the fans made their presence felt in the former capital, waving flags, throwing streamers and setting off yellow smoke bombs in the summer sun.

Attendances are impressive across the fourth tier. In Leipzig, home to a Bundesliga side since 2016, local regional league club Lokomotive Leipzig have sold over 1,100 season tickets — a club record and a positive development for a club that has had to battle with a negative image. Local rivals Chemie Leipzig have also sold more than 1,000 season tickets despite relegation to the fifth tier, underlining the depth of support for football in the city.

Borussia Dortmund's "Amateur Ultras" away at Bonn last season.

Fans at friendlies

Attendances at pre-season friendlies also demonstrate the growing excitement ahead of the new season. Second division Union Berlin traveled to London for a friendly against English Championship outfit Queens Park Rangers – backed by over 2,000 traveling supporters who packed out the historic Loftus Road away end.

Meanwhile, over 100 Fulham fans headed in the opposite direction, traveling to Duisburg to see their team in a friendly tournament which also featured Fiorentina and Athletic Bilbao.

Union Berlin fans made a lot of noise in London.

In contrast, attendances at the so-called "International Champions Cup" (ICC), an attempt to generate commercial revenue from pre-season warm-up games, have disappointed, despite the huge names on show. 

Only 16,717 fans saw Borussia Dortmund's game against Portuguese champions Benfica in Pittsburgh, USA, despite the presence of Christian Pulisic, while Manchester United's games against San Jose Earthquakes, Club America and AC Milan were all far from sold out.

Crowds did pick up when Jose Mourinho's side faced Jürgen Klopp's Liverpool in Michigan, crashing to a 1-4 defeat in front of 101,000 fans despite ICC ticket prices ranging from $54 (€46) to $254.

"If I were them, I wouldn’t spend that money to come and watch these teams," the United head coach said.

Indeed, when Bayern Munich faced Paris Saint-Germain, now coached by Thomas Tuchel, in Klagenfurt, Austria, fans of the German champions unveiled a banner reading: "€67 – International Cash Cow," playing on the competition's ICC initials.

Expense was also an issue at the World Cup in Russia, where tickets ranging from $105 to $210 in the group stages, and rising to over $500 later in the tournament, priced out much of football's traditional support in favor of a more affluent demographic drawn from the world's wealthier middle classes.

It then came as little surprise when games struggled to sell out, especially in the group stages, and the atmosphere inside the various venues resembled that of a carnival rather than a competitive football match.

Attendances across Germany this weekend have shown that football doesn't need hashtags, brand names, kick-off countdowns or goal music. Ahead of the new season, Germany's appetite for the beautiful game in its simplest form is as big as ever.

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