“Oh I do love playing away”, Frankie Fryer’s famous mantra, perfectly captures one of the beautiful parts of our sport: the away day. A necessity for the modern fan; whether it’s the short hop across the Trent for the Nottingham Derby, or flying across the world for an international friendly, each trip and travail matters.
In this new series, our writers chronicle their favourite away days; from visiting local grounds while at university, to traversing the globe to follow their team, it’s all going to be here.
This week, Jamie Hamill regales us with his trip to every Chelsea fan’s top pilgrimage destination: the Allianz Arena in Munich.
Saturday 19th May 2012. For anyone outside of football, a normal day; for Chelsea fans, something else entirely. The day marks the completion of a true, Hollywood-esque underdog story. Now I know most people would argue against Chelsea ever being labelled ‘underdogs’, but the circumstances don’t lie. Playing against arguably the best team in the world, in their home stadium, and with so many injuries and suspensions that Ryan Bertrand was starting at left-mid, the odds were always stacked against the Blues. But that just made the result so much sweeter.
Two years later, I made the pilgrimage to Chelsea’s Mecca. I say pilgrimage; I was also fortunate enough to be going to one of the biggest games in the Bundesliga calendar: Bayern Munich versus Borussia Dortmund.
But more on the football later. If I’m going to write about Munich, there’s only one place to start: with the beer. Several pubs and beer halls were visited on my trip, but without a doubt the most impressive was the Hofbräuhaus am Platzl. To a tourist’s eyes it’s the epitome of Bavarian culture: litre steins of beer are poured from wall-sized barrels, mouth-watering platters of sausage are carried around by equally appetizing waitresses, and the spacious biergarten overflows with patrons and noise throughout the day. There’s even an Oompah band. It should feel clichéd, but it doesn’t, simply because the food, beer, and atmosphere is fantastic. Now, while my time as a student drinking warm tinnies of Fosters in mate’s garages may have lowered my expectations, I can confirm that even my Dad loved the place. So really the only cliché is that, yes, pretty much anybody should have a good time here.
On to Munich, and most importantly, the game day itself. Ever since a summer interailing I’ve come to the firm believe that all cities should be experienced on foot and without a map; simply go for a roam, and you’ll get where you need to go eventually. However, after several assurances from a friend that “you have to visit the New Town Hall”, we made it our first destination and were suitably impressed. It’s a towering gothic building situated in the Marienplatz, Munich’s main square. From here, all of Munich’s inner city is within walking distance.
We spent the rest of the morning taking in the sights, including the Frauenkirch and Nationaltheater München. Throughout the morning (and I would imagine it’s the same on any gameday given the reverence of the local support) you could feel the atmosphere building. By midday there was only one place to be: the Augustiner-Keller biergarten, nearby the Marienplatz, where fans from both teams gathered hours before the game to drink and chant team songs. For an English football fan used to enforced segregation before matches, the atmosphere in the biergarten was a revelatory experience: supporters from both sets of teams sat alongside each other and chatted away, while passing groups exchanged shouts of “Super Bayern!” and “Heja BVB!”. The English game has a lot to learn from the Germans.
After several steins of beer we followed the singing fans onto the subway. This is where it really began to get lively; if I could understand German it might have been a different experience, but even without understanding a word, just watching hundreds of fans packed into a tight subway station screaming chants at each other was an incredible experience. The U6 line from Marienplatz to Fröttmanning took about 15minutes and then we were there. The Holy Land: instantly recognisable from that night in May.
The approach to the Allianz is a special one, comparable to the long walk up to Wembley. The stadium stands alone on a hill, and when lit up at night, is a beacon for football fans miles around. In typical German style the approach is lined with beer and sausage vendors. I particularly recommend the curry-sausage; similar to currywurst (for those that know their German cuisine). As you would expect, the stadium is ultra-modern and well planned, and the pitch is gorgeous to look at – a true billiard green. The only downsides to the ground is the netting behind the goals, which I always feel distances the fans from the game, and the ridiculous balloon-mascots that appear after every goal and at half time – honestly, why are these here, it’s a football match, not a kids party!
After an excellent game, which produced a surprise win for Borussia, the local fans’ spirits were unsurprisingly dampened. However, after following the supporters back into town, we found Munich still buzzing, and the rest of the night was well spent sampling the different local beer, all for research of course…We walked off the following day’s hangover in the Englischer Garten , a beautiful green spot just off from the centre of town, and discovered the locals surfing a man-made wave in one of the rivers.
Munich is a fantastic city, and is much more than the sum of beer and sausages as I seem to have depicted it, so get out there and check it out for yourself!