There are plenty of examples of cities playing host to two football clubs with staggeringly different fortunes, where fans from one team always enjoy the bragging rights and success compared to their rivals. Nottingham in the late 70s and early 80s cannot have been an easy place to be for Notts County fans when Forest were taking the First Division by storm and securing two consecutive European Cups. Before the Sheikh moved in to revive and propel Manchester City to a Premier League title and into Europe, they were constantly belittled by the huge signings and sustained success of Ferguson’s United. Right now it wouldn’t be difficult to argue that Munich plays host to the current largest mismatch between two professional clubs; Bayern Munich and 1860 Munich.
Bayern dominated the Bundesliga last season (their eighth title since the turn of the millennium), claimed the DFB-Ligapokal and won the Champions League trophy to complete the first treble in German football history. They now possess one of the most desired squads in the world and have a brilliant manager in the form of Pep Gaurdiola, who had millions of euros at his disposal this summer to bring in more signings. Meanwhile 1860 Munich have spent most of the last ten years in Bundesliga 2 maintaining mid table obscurity, suffered a number of financial scares which almost saw the club lose its licence and have had to seek sanctuary and share a home with Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena – something that every Bayern fan revelled in when asked about the ground share.
When I went to visit Munich and watch 1860 at the end of August, it was timed perfectly to show the contrast between themselves and their rivals. While I could purchase a ticket to watch 1860 Munich play SV Sandhausen in Bundesliga 2 for €11, the rest of the city was settling down to watch Bayern Munich play Chelsea in Prague and claim the European Super Cup. However, I wasn’t to be deterred and made the journey from the Marienplatz city centre subway station to Frottmaning in the north of the city. Arriving out of the station on the warm Friday evening and beginning the walk to the stadium, I felt amazed that any team could feel aggrieved at having to play at the Allianz Arena. The path twists and meanders up the hill to the stadium and means that the size of the Allianz is even more emphasized as you see it rise up before you, the plastic panelled shell giving it the image of a giant soft marshmallow in the middle of the Bavarian countryside. It truly is one of the world’s most recognisable stadia.
Munich 1860 fans were swarming up the road with us, every single one we saw wearing a club shirt, scarf and small flag tied around their wrists – meaning that visiting football fans like ourselves were easily identified and given a suspicious stare. Being the only group not swigging from brown bottles of beer also made us stand out and we felt the need to rush inside and get ourselves drei Bier bitte. In exchange for €7 we were handed pints of freezing cold German beer and a foot long bratwurst before retiring to our seats to take in the scenes unravelling in the stands – at times more incredible than anything happening on the pitch.
Men in leather trousers were tirelessly swinging cow bells above their heads while beginning two hours of endurance chain smoking that left our surrounding area with a grey haze and migraine inducing smell. Never while watching a football match have I enjoyed such an incredibly relaxed experience. People were laying on the floor, backs up against the barriers and fences, drinking and smoking, while deep in conversation discussing and debating everything wrong with 1860. Tickets are so readily available and cheap that Munich’s teenagers seemed to be using the Allianz Arena as a safe haven where they could indulge a new found taste for beer and nicotine away from the prying eyes of their parents, and there were countless groups of boys and girls tirelessly flirting and laughing throughout the 90 minutes of the game.
The match itself did little to boost the morale or ego of anyone in attendance. While 1860 Munich have been a mainstay of Bundesliga 2 for most of the previous decade, their opponents were embarking on their first season in the division since the club’s inception. After three games they were already in the bottom half of the table, although from the way they played I couldn’t understand why. While 1860 under manager Alexander Schmidt were slow and predictable, sending long balls up to two strikers who were incapable of controlling a single one, or breaking so slowly that any advantage was lost, Sandhausen were flying up the pitch and taking on opposition defenders at every chance possible. Macro Thiede was a joy to watch as he collected the ball (which was constantly lost by a non-existent 1860 midfield) and stormed up field to confront 1860 Munich’s defenders who were only able to fall to the ground or be soundly beaten. Unfortunately, a similarly impressive player was lacking from the Munich outfit, and two first half goals from Florian Hubner and Ranislav Jovanovic were enough to secure a 2-0 win for Sandhausen and seal a famous win for the minnows – a result that would leave 1860 Munich without a manager the following morning. Both at half time and full time the fans inside the Allianz made their feelings evident as an ear-splitting wolf whistle reverberated inside the fish bowl structure of the stadium and the players rushed off the pitch to avoid the punishment. They had seen their constant raucous support, chanting and screaming rewarded with nothing more than the sight of a man in leather trousers foaming at the mouth with anger, drawing many laughs from our section of seating.
The two 1860 Munich fans sat next to me reminded me of the two Arsenal fans played by Colin Furth and Mark Strong in the 1997 film Fever Pitch as they watch the final game of the season against Liverpool. While one is watching the game avidly and being the eternal optimist, believing that his team will grab another goal and cheering everything possible, the other spent most of the Friday night game with his head in his hands, kicking the seat in front of him or wandering away for another beer and cigarette. They very much represent the feelings of their compatriots in the stadium, who never fail to turn up and sing for their team despite the rut the club has found itself in, and despite the jokes and abuse levelled at them by Bayern fans. For all the doom and silence among the supporters as everyone filed out of the Allianz Arena and headed back to Frottmaning, it was impossible not to feel uplifted at the sight of the arena projecting a dark blue light into the night’s darkness, showing solidarity with the crestfallen fans.
Published in Permission with Callum Farrell