It's not just foreign players who are flocking to the Bundesliga in ever greater numbers. The word has spread that Germany is home to top-quality, competitive, value-for-money football, in an atmosphere whích seeks its like anywhere in Europe. FC St. Pauli fan Scott Stubbs is far from alone in finding it worth his while to travel abroad - in his case from the north of England - whenever possible to savour the Bundesliga (2!) experience. Here's the story of his latest road trip.
The release of the Bundesliga fixtures at the end of June provided the first opportunity to get out my map of Germany and plan my first trip of the season over to watch St. Pauli. I fell in love with the club a few years ago during a football weekend in the Rhine-Ruhr region, and I've made countless journeys over to Germany since. Having studied the map and realised that Cottbus was relatively close to Berlin, I pencilled the away fixture in. Having never visited the capital before, it allowed me to take in football and do some sight-seeing at the same time.
The most poignant experience in my opinion when visiting any German football game is that fan culture still remains. As an English football fan, I have slowly seen the erosion of fan culture, to the extent where football is almost a soulless entity in most English grounds. It's quite the opposite in Germany.
An early Friday morning flight from Manchester to Berlin meant I also had time to take in the Hertha Berlin-Regensburg game at the Olympic Stadium on Friday evening. Beforehand, I wandered round Berlin doing some sightseeing and noticed that the St. Pauli team bus was parked outside Berlin Hauptbahnhof! Not wanting to pass up the opportunity, I went over and met a couple of the players and took some photos.
As I got off the train at the Olympic Stadium the active fan culture was immediately apparent. Fans have arrived well before kick-off, taking in the atmosphere. Groups of supporters were having a drink next to their cars whilst playing music. Two elderly women wearing Hertha scarfs sat on a bench outside the stadium sharing a bottle of wine. It made me laugh, just thinking that they would probably receive a banning order in England. Inside the ground, there were competitions and entertainment for families, making the football more of a day out rather than just 90 minutes. The hardcore supporters were already long in place, waving flags and creating an atmosphere before kick-off. You don't have to be a fan of either side to realise this is how football should be. An enjoyable experience for all, where fans are treated like adults. By chance, I also managed to meet Michél Mazingu-Dinzey at the Olympic Stadium. Michél is one of St. Pauli's greatest ever players, and was voted in the Jahrhundertelf (Team of the Century) by the fans during the centenary celebrations two years ago. Meeting him was an absolute highlight of the trip!
However, as much as I enjoy German football generally, there's nothing quite like following your own team, joining in the singing and having a biased view on the game. I arrived at Cottbus' Stadion der Freundschaft early to sample the atmosphere that was building even an hour before kick off. Soon the terracing was packed and the capo was soon leading the stands to a chorus of 'Forza St. Pauli'.
This atmosphere makes the whole trip worthwhile, and it's a good job too. St. Pauli started the game poorly, and Energie Cottbus deservedly scored the first goal. In all honesty, St. Pauli could have been a few down at half time. The second half started in the same manner, and Cottbus scored again just after the hour mark. But the away fans didn't leave or start to react negatively, the singing and chanting continued as if we were winning. St. Pauli could actually have scored twice in the latter stages, but Ebbers and Saglik squandered good chances. It was too little too late, and the result left St. Pauli still waiting for their first league win of the season.
Regardless of the result and the poor performance though, the game and the trip were thoroughly enjoyable. Supporting St. Pauli is more than just football. That said, I hope my trip to Cologne in a couple of weeks sees us pick up three points!