JOHANNESBURG – This trip to Germany was an eye-opener on two levels, it made me grateful for what we have and realise where we need to improve to take our football to the next level.
I spent five days in Germany - going from Munich to Mainz and Frankfurt - in a Bundesliga experience made possible by Independent Newspapers’ partnership with StarSat. I was there along with journalists from Kenya, Uganda, Ghana and Nigeria.
They were in awe of most of the places we went to, from the state of the art FC Bayern Campus to the cathedral that is the Allianz Arena, and the speed train we took from Munich to Mainz.
While they were in awe, they would interject that I don’t understand what they were going through because in South Africa we have similar things. The main field at the FC Bayern Campus is a lot like the stadiums that most universities have, while FNB Stadium is a lot like the Allianz Arena - and bigger too, not to brag. The Gautrain, despite its limited route, is our answer to the speed train.
We have a lot of good things going on for us that we need to be proud of without rubbing it on our African brothers through our superiority complex that most South Africans have, especially towards the rest of the continent.
But while we have made huge strides in certain areas as a country, there are also areas that we can improve on by learning from those doing it better.
The stadium experience that I got from attending the Allianz Arena for Bayern Munich’s 4-1 thumping of Eintracht Frankfurt and the Opel Arena where I saw Mainz beat RB Leipzig 3-0 was amazing - something we only get a small percent of on special occasions here, in the Soweto Derby or a cup final that includes well-supported teams.
The funniest part from yesterday was how some of the Mainz Ultras threatened to slip this assistant referee’s throat after an incorrect offside call. But when he got injured after colliding with a player they looked genuinely concerned for him. pic.twitter.com/HcTos3Ljza
It’s unfair to compare Bayern to our teams because they are a world juggernaut which has unlimited financial muscle. But their brand consciousness is something that we can learn from. It’s very easy to see whose house the Allianz Arena is, even though they shared it with 1860 Munich last season.
Their famous logo is plastered all over the place and their fan shop at the stadium has everything that you can imagine with a Bayern logo off course.
They have documented their history well in the museum that’s also at the stadium. I went to the museum on the match day and then popped inside their fan store.
The experience I got from the museum left a filling impression that football ended up being just a dessert.
Mainz was even better. Their passionate fans, of a team which was facing relegation, created an unbelievable atmosphere which made it hard not to get caught up and chant whatever they were chanting. My voice was hoarse afterwards. What I loved about Mainz is how they made the outing into a family thing. They had a kids' area to entertain the young ones while they wait for the match and were so accommodating that they supplied earplugs to many children due to the high volumes of noise at the venue.
After Alexandria in the 2016 Caf Champions League final, this is the best stadium experience I have had. pic.twitter.com/hnqlBj4DBb
What also struck me was how they had adverts on the screens in between intervals.
Kaizer Chiefs are the most brand-conscious team in the country. They also promote their products on the big screens during halftime and they have plenty of flags with their logo at FNB Stadium. But they are also lagging behind in making attending their games an experience.
If we can create an experience in attending our games, like we do with the Soweto Derby where football becomes secondary, we can perhaps consistently pack stadiums and maybe improve the overall product.
Njabulo Ngidi was in Germany courtesy of Star Sat.