It’s been a bond developed through watchful eyes and playing ties, of fans in The Rainbow Nation embracing the passion of a pulsating brand of football and cheering on their footballing heroes from afar. Indeed, despite the geographical distance that separates the two, the magical blend of the Bundesliga and South Africa has always been one to savour.
Be it the brilliance of many a Bafana Bafana protagonist excelling on the big stage in Germany’s top flight or supporters tuning in to enjoy their weekly fill of great goals and incident-filled games, interest in one of Europe’s brightest top-flight leagues has long been high in South Africa.
The Bundesliga was initially beamed onto screens across the African continent via the pioneering television programme, Football Made in Germany. A weekly television highlights show hosted by Toby Charles, the broadcast was a huge and unmissable hit for Bundesliga fans across the continent and ran from 1976 until 1988.
In South Africa, players such as Delron Buckley, Steven Pienaar and Sibusiso Zuma (a.k.a. Zuma the Puma) would later grace the Bundesliga playing fields to help heighten German football fervour even further. Before all of those had their chance to shine, however, Glenn Jordens paved an important path by playing two seasons at SV Darmstadt 98. The midfielder was part of The Lilies 1981 promotion push and then went on to feature eight times in the Bundesliga the following season.
Durban-born Buckley would best those appearance figures by a considerable margin many years later when the versatile winger - who scored ten times in 73 games for Bafana Bafana – became one of the Bundesliga’s leading foreign lights. Signing for VfL Bochum at just 17, the team he would make his Bundesliga debut for, Buckley ended up spending most of his professional career in Germany.
Now 40, the former Borussia Dortmund man enjoyed his most successful run in the German top-tier when he registered 15 goals to help Arminia Bielefeld stave off relegation in 2005. He would later go on to represent 1. FSV Mainz 05 and Karlsruher SC.
Another of those to feature for Dortmund was South African football great Pienaar, the slick and skillful wide player who featured in two World Cups for South Africa (2002 and 2010). Starting his professional footballing adventure at Ajax Cape Town, Pienaar moved to the Netherlands where a successful spell at Ajax preceded his move to the Signal Iduna Park in 2006. Capped 61 times by his country, the Johannesburg native featured in 25 Bundesliga games during his short stint in North Rhein-Westphalia.
The spectacularly monikered Zuma the Puma – or Sibusiso Zuma – still enjoys hero status in Denmark following his magnificent exploits for FC Copenhagen. However, when the attacker’s time in Scandinavia came to an end, he sought to challenge himself in the Bundesliga, and it was with Arminia Bielefeld where the Durban man slotted in. Between 2005 and 2008, the now 43-year-old – who racked up 13 goals in 67 appearances for South Africa - netted eight times in 69 Bundesliga outings at Die Blauen (the Blues).
And the above mentioned South African stars were not alone in entertaining the masses throughout the fine stadiums across the Bundesliga. Others from the Rainbow Nation like Bradley Carnell, Lance Davids, Rowen Fernández and Rowan Hendricks have also earned their German footballing stripes, as has Sean Dundee.
Although at one point switching his international footballing allegiance to Germany, Durban-born Dundee grew into the game with his boyhood teams Bayview Durban and D'Alberton Callies. Arriving in Germany with Stuttgarter Kickers in 1992, the striker once netted 33 goals in two seasons with Karlsruher while a later spell at VfB Stuttgart helped to increase his impressive Bundesliga career tally to 61 goals in 162 matches.
Of course, it hasn’t just been the collection of playing talent that has helped to strengthen the link between Germany’s No.1 division and South Africa. In recent years, several Bundesliga teams have travelled the 13,000 km to undergo important mid-season training camps in the African nation. In 2014, for example, Stuttgart headed for Cape Town for some vital workouts and friendly encounters ahead of their challenge in the Rückrunde – or second half of the German season. As part of their stay, Stuttgart’s players and staff took in visits to Robben Island and Table Mountain.
The 2009 champions VfL Wolfsburg also held their winter training base in the South African city in 2014, enjoying games against Ajax Cape Town and Chippa United. Meanwhile, TSG 1899 Hoffenheim took on Kaizer Chiefs and University of Pretoria in 2015 – when they worked through their mid-season break in Mzansi. Buoyed by the experience, the Sinsheimers returned to be based in the north west of the country a year later.
Fond, too, are the memories of Germany’s run to a third-place finish at the 2010 FIFA World Cup, held in South Africa. It was the year when Die Mannschaft – as the German team are often referred to – took a 23-man squad containing only Bundesliga players to the finals and went on to finish the tournament in third place.
FC Bayern München’s Thomas Müller took the Golden Boot – as well as the Best Young Player - at the South African footballing spectacular, the Bayern man’s five goals and three assists winning the individual scoring prize. Müller was one of seven Bayern players in what was a young Germany setup overseen by current coach Joachim Löw. FC Schalke 04, Hamburger SV, Hertha Berlin, Stuttgart, SV Werder Bremen, Bayer 04 Leverkusen and 1. FC Köln were the other teams represented in Germany’s squad in 2010.
The tournament would prove a hugely important lesson for a group of players, many of whom would form part of a side that went on to become world champions just four years later. The likes of Philipp Lahm, Manuel Neuer, Müller, Jerome Boateng, Miroslav Klose and Bastian Schweinsteiger, to name just a few, would all be on the glory trail in Brazil following their impressive feats in South Africa.
And so, as the engines begin to fire up ahead of what is certain to be one more captivating Bundesliga campaign, it seems apt to celebrate a captivating connection between this leading world league and its special South African fans.