By Legal Weasel, a sometimes controversial contributor to matters of law and morality.
It was St Gary of Lineker who said “Football is a simple game. Twenty two men chase a leather ball around for ninety minutes. And then the Germans win on penalties“.
Except that, on 19th May 2012, in Munich, they didn’t. Bayern Munich lost. On penalties. And, even more incredibly, they lost on penalties to an English team! Ok, ok, only three of the thirteen players used by Chelsea’s (Italian) manager were English. But, hey, Chelsea are based in England and named after an English cake. In this multinational age, that’s about as English as you’re likely to get.
So who was the star of the show? Didier Drogaba inevitably got the headlines, and not just for not getting himself sent off this time but, in truth, he was anonymous for the first 87 minutes. Cometh the 88th minute, cometh the Drog, but even then he followed up his equaliser with a needless trip to concede a penalty a couple of minutes into extra time, and if Arjen Robben had brought along his shooting boots, Drogba might have been remembered as the man who gave away the penalty that cost Chelsea the trophy. Ashley Cole made some exemplary blocks in defence, and took his penalty with confidence, but it was he who lost his man when Thomas Müller scored Bayern’s goal. And for the Germans, Bastian Schweinsteiger was a powerhouse in midfield, winning his personal dual with Frank Lampard, but it was his penalty miss in the shoot out that handed the trophy to Chelsea (and even apart from that penalty miss, it must be debatable whether anyone whose name translates as “He who climbs on a pig” can ever truly reach football’s highest echelons, though that is probably a subject for another column).« EPPP: Category of Academy – right of appeal? Tales from the Pavilion »
If, like the Legal Weasel, you watched the final on television, you may have concluded that the real star of the show was the amazing Allianz Arena. Multiple camera angles showed it glowing in the night in UEFA blue and green, perched on top of Munich like an alien mother ship. Thanks to Vorsprung durch Technik, it can glow red for Bayern Munich’s home games, or light blue for their local rivals 1860 Munich. The arena accommodates 69,000 spectators, and according to one journalist, no ground anywhere better combines that sort of capacity with “Shakespearean intimacy” (as the Bard wrote, “Can this stadium hold the penalty appeals that did affright the air at Agincourt?”). The Arena has Europe’s biggest car park, it’s own U Bahn Station, and no less than three day care centres, which no doubt come in handy when some of our less mature players are in town. Little surprise, then, that Bayern Munich pack it out for every home game, averaging 69,000 spectators. Who could fail to marvel at this pinnacle of the German game?
Except that the Allianz Mother Ship isn’t, as stadiums go, even the pinnacle of the German game. That would be Dortmund’s Westfalen Stadium, which holds 80,000. And yes, you’ve guessed it, Borussia Dortmund’s average attendance is 80,000. That’s more than Barcelona, Real Madrid, or Manchester United. In fact, four of the eight highest average football attendances in the whole of Europe belong to German clubs. The UK scores one club, Spain two. 94% of all Bundesliga matches are sold out. That beats any other football league, anywhere in the world. What’s going on here? We, after all, are the Motherland of Football, how come the Germans have not just one, but a whole Bundesliga full of better stadiums, packed to the rafters with more fans than most of our clubs can dream of?
The answer is simple. It’s the regulation. And the regulators of German football appear to operate by a novel principle. They put the fan first. Yes, that’s right. The fan. Not the tv sponsor, or the billionaire owner. In fact, there aren’t any billionaire owners. The regulations say that no one individual can hold more than 49% of the shares in any German club. Which means, no foreign owners in German football. Moreover, the Deutscher Fussball Bund sees football clubs as having a “social responsibility” to keep the sport accessible and affordable to fans from all income brackets, and tickets are priced accordingly. It costs just €15 to stand (yes, stand – they have safe standing areas at all grounds) on Dortmund’s famous “Yellow Wall”. Try getting into Old Trafford or Stamford Bridge for that. In fact, try buying a programme, a pie and a pint at Old Trafford or Stamford Bridge for that. And, whilst our clubs great and small teeter on the edge of a debt induced financial abyss, the German clubs don’t have debt. Every club in the Bundesliga is financially sound. Playing in front of full houses every week, watched by fans who have paid a sensible price. Oh, and the absence of debt induced player signings plus an obligation placed on each club to maintain an academy to foster young talent means that Joachim Löw (the national manager) has so many talented young German players to choose from that the national side are favourites along with Spain to win the European Championships. Is that Vorsprung, or is that Vorsprung?
And how do they do it? That’s simple. The DFB makes the rules, and the penalties for non compliance have real teeth. No namby pamby fines here. Proper penalties. Every season, each club has to file its accounts with the DFB. And if a club is in debt, or breaches the 51% rule, the penalty is clear. The penalty is that the club doesn’t get a licence to play in the forthcoming season. And that penalty ensures a domestic game in rude health when compared to our debt burdened game. As St Gary said: in the end, the Germans win on penalties….
About Legal Weasel
A sometimes controversial contributor to matters of law and morality.
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