RB Leipzig may be the Bundesliga’s youngest club, but their fan base around the world is growing. bundesliga.com previously brought you the story of the RB fan club in Maputo, Mozambique, but this time we cross the Atlantic and make the 5,000-mile trip to Havana, the capital of Cuba for yet another fledgling Leipzig fan base.
On an island famed for its revolution, the population are beginning to take note of a club who started a revolution of their own in the Bundesliga with promotion in 2015/16, a ground-breaking second-place finish in 2016/17 and this season's UEFA Champions League campaign.
Watch: Get to know Leipzig's Mozambique fan base!
The rise of Leipzig to the Bundesliga has brought a surge in support for the Eastern upstarts, and now the founding of another fan club on the other side of the world. In a country where baseball has been the people’s sport for so many years, football is beginning to take hold. Although satellite television is still a rarity in Cuba and internet connections are slow, Germany’s most popular sport, and the Bundesliga, are spreading like wildfire.
As was the case with Leipzig’s Mozambique fan club, the origins of the support in Havana go back to Cold War politics. Leipzig was the second-largest city in the former East Germany, which had a strong, comradely connection with Cuba under Fidel Castro. The former Cuban minister for industry, a certain Che Guevara, even paid a visit to Leipzig during his time in office.
The bond between the two nations took thousands of Cuban students to East Germany to attend university in a number of cities, including East Berlin, Leipzig, Rostock and Dresden. Those students are today behind the fledgling RB fan club in Havana.
Both Jesus and Bobby were in love with Lokomotive Leipzig during their time in Germany and have seen a shift in sports back in Cuba. Baseball is on the decline with only one Major League Baseball game shown per week on television (not even live) as football is on the climb.
Live European football, including the Bundesliga, is shown on Cuban television. Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund are beginning to win over younger Cuban fans who have turned to football over baseball, but for the likes of Jesus and Bobby, their hearts remain in Leipzig.
They’ve always felt a sentimental link to the city that welcomed them and introduced them to football, and now they have the chance to combine their two passions in the form of Die Roten Bullen.
Jesus, a German translator and interpreter, explained his affinity to the club promoted in 2016: “When you’re in a foreign country, you develop an affiliation with the area, which is why RB represents us. Our identity is in Leipzig. We don’t support Bayern or Dortmund, we’re Roten Bullen because that’s where we spent an important part of our lives.”
‘Mei Leipzsch’ was officially founded on 22 November 2017 at the El Centro Vasco bar in Havana, which has now become a hub for the fans. Jesus, who was elected president that night, explained, “Internet connections are slow here in Cuba, and not everyone has a satellite television to watch foreign football, so this bar has become our home for watching matches.”
The president also talked about the ceremony around the founding: “We had a friend visiting Havana from Leipzig and she brought us kits with our names for when we all met up at Centro Vasco.”
Bobby speaks of the pride they and the people of Leipzig can feel in their team. “Lokomotive was the team when we were there, but they never broke through. For the first time, the city of Leipzig has a team fighting for the Bundesliga and competing in Europe. We think it’s admirable how the city has bounced back and created something great from a young team.”
The younger Alejandro admits he was a Real Madrid fan previously, but the rise of Leipzig has seen him have a change of heart. “Anyone who likes football will be aware of RB Leipzig. It’s phenomenal to see such a small team rise and compete with Europe’s best. My love for Leipzig is now forever.”
Much like the club they support, the members of ‘Mei Leipzsch’ are now out to seek recognition from those within the game, including from RB Leipzig themselves, as well as helping to consolidate football’s position as Cuba’s favourite sport.