It all began in the early 90s. It must have been 1992 or 1993, at a time when I thought that wearing orange baggy pants was cool, and at a time where I seriously thought that Jon Bon Jovi was a tough rock band. And this was also the time when I discovered my passion for soccer. And no, it didn’t involve a guy. It actually involved about 10 girls who were annoyed with the boys in our year because they would never let us play soccer with them. That’s when we started our own girls’ soccer team. Well, what can I say? We sucked (with one or two exceptions – and I was NOT one of them), but for me, with this, something changed. I started to understand why my dad would spend HOURS and HOURS in front of the TV watching how miniature men kicked a tiny ball back and forth. I started to understand why soccer was so important to many people. You have to know, that where I grew up – close to the Ruhrgebiet (the former coal mining region of Germany) – soccer is omnipresent, it is nothing people take lightly (and I am sure this is true for many other parts of the world). The real soccer fans around that region dedicate their weekly guys’ night out, their living room walls, their cars and their wardrobe to one of the many major league teams of the region. It might seem very silly to an outsider or someone with a more analytic perspective than me, but if you have seen a German man cry (and I don’t mean a tear drop or two, I mean sobbing shamelessly), you know that soccer is no joke. German men don’t cry. If they EVER do, it’s because of soccer. And right then, at age 12, I suddenly understood the deeper meaning of a simple game.
Many years have passed since then. The players that I once used to admire are now retired, the stadiums are now named after sponsors, and “exotic” countries are hosting the soccer world cup. But one thing hasn’t changed: my passion for soccer.
So here I am, back in the Ruhrgebiet, finally watching a German soccer game again. I am standing in the famous Westfalenstadium (pardon me; Signal-Iduna-Arena) in Dortmund, the BVB (“my” team) is playing one of its biggest rivals: Bayern Munich. The stadium is packed, 80.000 people and me are excited, nervous, happy, ecstatic, and mind you, at temperatures around freezing – we’re cooooold. But that doesn’t seem to have any effect on the mood. To the contrary! Everybody is singing, chanting, jumping and dancing while I am right there with them, taking in the great atmosphere of the stadium. Even if you don’t care about soccer at all: If you are in the Westfalenstadium (sorry, it’ll always be that to me), watching 30.000 people in the section across from you waving their flags and singing and dancing in sync, and it doesn’t give you goose bumps, you simply don’t have a heart!
Soccer is really not only about the game itself. It has obviously become like a holy set of rituals for many: Getting to the game 2 hours early so you can find a parking space; walking to the stadium together, united in a group of 80,000 soccer fans who, in that very moment, seem as close to you as your best friends; anxiously waiting in line in front of the stadium; saying “hi” to the people that you meet there every week because they have season passes just like you; the waving of the fan club flags right before the game. You can feel the tension in the air, until the game starts. That’s when it is all is released – and everybody (including myself) goes crazy and the soccer game becomes a Dionysian celebration.
Being abroad so much obviously means that I hardly get to live out my soccer passion, at least not in the same way. Even if there is a world cup game that you are watching with 15 other Germans at the hostel … what are 15 Germans compared to 80.000? But none of this matters right now. This very second, I am right here. With all of them. One soccer heart and soul. Suffering with every mistake a player makes and rejoicing with every good opportunity. My body is feeling every motion of the ball. I jump up from my seat every time the ball gets close to a goal. I yell at the players when they mess up, and I clap and scream like a madwoman, in order to encourage my team. All the good stuff soccer fans do.
However, as much as we try to support the team, it doesn’t help. Just like the girls’ soccer team that we had in 1992, the BVB sucks. Big time. But, also like our girls’ team, it doesn’t matter. I was there and I gave it my all. That’s what counts. I suffered. I screamed. I felt passion and anger, joy, pain and cold. I waved my BVB scarf, danced and sang until my voice was hoarse.
I have finally been to a German soccer game again!