Jeremy Armstrong is North-East correspondent for the Daily Mirror, a magazine in the United Kingdom, reporting on an area from Berwick, down to North Yorkshire and across to Barrow, including Northumberland, Durham, Tyne and Wear and Cumbria. Jeremy also covers sports for the Mirror, often times football.
In his article, Armstrong talks about how German football has not become owner based and still has teams that are run and owned by the people. This allows the fans of the team to vote on key topics for what he or she wants from their club. The fans vote to keep ticket prices lower for their teams which helps younger people attend games and raises the atmosphere in the stadium. When there is a good atmosphere at home, teams perform better and bring in more money for the club. Armstrong interviews two sisters who have been life long fans of one of the German teams and one of the sisters, 19 year old Svea, says, “We stand together, we sing together, we have a camaraderie -I love the atmosphere.” German football is still football played for the fans, while English football is played for money. Season ticket prices for English football teams are much too high and they force the young people to watch from home because they cannot afford to come to the stadium. This disrupts fan culture, which is something many of the older fans will hate to see go because football was such an integral part of the English culture when they were younger, but now it is slipping away.
The last seconds to kick-off are ticking away and a sea of 25,000 football fans sways back and forth singing “You’ll Never Walk Alone” as they await their heroes.
All around me fans are belting out the famous Liverpool FC anthem, their arms aloft, scarves proudly held up to the footballing Gods.
But this is very different to any ground in the English Premier League. They have all paid the equivalent of £8.95 for a match ticket.
Many have a beer in their hand. And they are all standing on old-fashioned terracing.
For a moment I am taken back in time to my first ever matches at St James’ Park, when a Newcastle United goal would signal a surge which lifted schoolkids like me off our feet and into a frenzy of celebration.
But these amazing scenes of footballing fervour have taken the best of the past, and, for Premier League giants balancing the demands of Fair Play rules on income and calls for cheaper tickets, may provide a glimpse of the future for the British game.
Borussia Dortmund won their domestic Double last season, cup winners and Champions of a German top-flight which at more than 45,000 has a higher average attendance than any other in Europe.
The match is a sell-out, with 80,720 supporters packed into the magnificent Signal Iduna Park for the Bundesliga match against Hamburg.
Despite freezing conditions and snow showers, the atmosphere is electric. As Nobby the stadium announcer – the magnificent Norbert Dickel, Dortmund Cup final hero turned match-day cheer-leader – reads out the team sheet, I am lost in tumult of Day-Glo scarves, shirts, hats, gloves and giant flags, the famous “Gelbe Wand” (Yellow Wall) of the towering arena’s south stand.
Many are in their late teens or early twenties – 40 per cent of Dortmund support is under 25 – and there is a high proportion of young women.
Sisters Mela and Svea Ruter are right at the heart of steep terracing which holds the die-hards; known as the Ultras, they are inspired by the fervour and passion of the Italian fans, using loud hailers to whip up the atmosphere.
Retail purchaser Svea, 19, proudly informs me she paid 187 Euro, the equivalent of less than nine pounds a game, for her 17-match season ticket.
At Arsenal, they cost between £985 and £1,955, though their deal includes Champions League matches. A trip to the Emirates can set you back up to £126, a £26 rise on last year’s figure, a programme (£3), pie (£3.30) and cup of tea (£2) adding to the cost.
Newcastle offer Premier League’s best value day out, with a ticket, programme, pie and cuppa coming in at £23.
But no English top flight side is giving their fans as good a deal as that offered by Dortmund. Svea said: “We stand together, we sing together, we have a camaraderie – I love the atmosphere. The low cost means young people can be a part of it. I do not get to the Champions League games unless we can get tickets from friends, or on eBay, but then you cannot stand because of the UEFA rules. It is not the same.”
Student Mele, 22, adds: “You see a lot of women. There is history, the first ever games in Germany were played here and there are a lot of big clubs in the area.
“There was a big discussion this season about the more crowd control, but fans of every single club wanted stadiums to stay the way they are.”
And fans have a big say on how the Bundesliga clubs are run.
Borussia Dortmund is built on on a business model not seen in the English elite, with Roman Abramovich-style takeovers banned.
The “50 plus one rule” means no one individual can own a club. There are 75,000 ‘fan members’ who pay 63 Euros a year – around £55 – to have their say, and a vote, on the make-up of Dortmund’s board.
Five full-time fan representatives ensure their views are heard on everything from ticket prices to standing areas, disabled access, children’s clubs and family stands.
German fans are paying ten times less for season tickets compared to some top English clubs. Away fans get a minimum ten per cent of the cheapest tickets available for each game.
“Fan culture in England is going down the drain”
Thursten Hans, 32, loves English football, and has been to Old Trafford, Wembley and Elland Road, as the city of Leeds is twinned with Dortmund.
But he says the row last month when Man City returned 900 tickets as their fans refused to pay £62 for seats at Arsenal would simply never happen in the Bundesliga.
“Gunners fans are paying just short of £1,000 for a season ticket, that is at least three times what we pay for a seat here,” he said.
“My place in the corner here is 430 Euros (£363) and even the best seats on the half-way line are 600 Euros (£507.55).
“Standing areas in British stadia would be a good way forward. When we played against Man City in the Champions League, even the British bobbies let us stand because we proved standing fans can also have good manners.
“Clubs should not be sold to one owner. You risk becoming some Sheik’s toy. Fan culture in England is going down the drain.
“That is a real menace because supporters’ traditions and values are what football is all about – we love our clubs, here we have a great sense of democracy.
“If we don’t like something, we protest about it – and the clubs help us do that. They want to hear our voice.”
In this corner of Nord Rhein-Westfalen, the most populous state in Germany in the heart of the industrial North, those views are echoed right the way to the boardroom.
The club’s chief executive, Hans-Joachim Watzke believes stadia should have standing areas, cheap tickets, and membership democracy.
“I was a supporter standing for 20 years, I know what it is to stand there,” he said. “They want to feel it is their club, not the club of Qatar or Abu Dhabi”
In Bundesliga, with the historic exceptions of Bayer Leverkusen, Wolfsburg and Hoffenheim, that means clubs being majority controlled by their members.
Even giants like Bayern Munich, which is 82% owned by its member-supporters, cannot be bought by a single owner, like Premier League clubs. It is democratically answerable to its fans.
Demos against ticket price hikes, and ‘crowd controls’, showed ‘fan power’ in Germany this season. “Safe Standing” barriers – which can be used to convert seating into standing areas – are used when Bundesliga grounds have to become all-seater for Eufa competitions such as the Champions League.
Political support for their use in Britain grows, with Roger Godsiff MP proposing an Early Day motion in October for a pilot scheme, though Margaret Aspinall, chair of the Hillsborough Family Support Group said: “There are 96 reasons why it should never be allowed. Standing should never, ever come back.”
The Hillsborough Disaster mean fences in Dortmund’s standing areas have ‘panic doors’ at the front which open automatically, and ‘wave barriers’ every three to four metres. In the end, the game against Hamburg had everything: red card drama, five goals, pulsating action.
Dortmund went down 4-1 in a shock home defeat.
Jens Volke, their former Ultra turned fans representative, was down at the result but upbeat about the future. “We love the English game but you have lost the young fans because of the prices,” he said.
“I am on Twitter and Facebook every day, it is much more work than for older fans but when you get all the young ones into the stadium for a match, it is such a good atmosphere.
“There is no violence here; we have co-ordinated singing, big flags, fair prices.
“It is very well organised – typically German really.”