Carson: The best gift soccer has to offer
Alex Carson | Friday, October 2, 2015
For the first time, well, ever, the world’s greatest soccer league has been available to American consumers en masse.
And it’s glorious.
“Wait, hasn’t the English Premier League been on NBC for a few years now?,” you ask.
Absolutely. The issue? The Premier League isn’t the greatest league in the world.
It’s the Bundesliga.
Yes, that’s right, Germany’s national league is the best the world of soccer has to offer.
Granted, critics will point out that Bayern Munich have won the last three championships going away, and if you’re only concerned about what goes on at the top, you’d be right to criticize the league. But unlike the Premier League, it has so much to offer throughout the league.
A simple look the table over the last few years reveals a number of clubs who have seriously fought the “big clubs” for the elusive Champions League places: FC Augsburg last year, SC Freiburg and Eintracht Frankfurt two years earlier, Hannover 96 and 1. FSV Mainz 05 in 2010-11. That’s five in as many seasons — only Everton and Newcastle United have seriously pushed the big six clubs in England for those same spots in that time period.
Or look at the makeup of the league. Sure, AFC Bournemouth provides a Cinderella story in the Premier League, but the Bundesliga has its own debutant this year, FC Ingolstadt 04, and SV Darmstadt 98, a tiny club that returned to the top-flight for the first time in 33 years this campaign.
The fun thing? Both have been competitive so far; Ingolstadt sit eighth and Darmstadt ninth after the first seven games of the campaign.
And the Bundesliga is littered with those small clubs every year — SC Paderborn 07 played the role last year and in the two years before them, a pair of once-famous clubs did; 1967 German champions Eintracht Braunschweig and three-time winners SpVgg Greuther Fürth.
Then there’s the ultimate “cult” club, FC St. Pauli. If you know a friend you’d consider to be borderline socialist, and he or she follows soccer, it’s a good bet they support the Hamburg-based club in some capacity. They’ve become synonymous with their pro-equality and anti-fascist stance, and whenever they’re in the top flight, it’s always a treat to see.
Now, European sports have this pesky thing known as “promotion and relegation.” I’ve alluded to it already, but at the end of the season, the worst teams in the league get relegated to the second division, and the best teams from the second league come up. It’s part of what lets clubs like Paderborn, Ingolstadt or Greuther Fürth make it into the top flight — and what captivates us every time they do.
Of course, the other fun thing is looking at the “big” clubs who have stared down the barrel of relegation, and suffered it. Newcastle United were relegated from the Premier League a few years back, sure, but the Bundesliga has had more than its fair share of widely-supported clubs go down recently: Eintracht Frankfurt did it, capital club Hertha Berlin did twice in three seasons and 1. FC Nürnberg and 1. FC Kaiserslautern currently languish in the second division. Each of them averaged over 30,000 fans per game last year.
And naturally, that leads to the biggest reason why the Bundesliga is the best league in the world: its fans.
It’s the most-attended soccer league in the world — yes, more than the glorious Premier League — and has more passionate fans than perhaps anywhere else in the world. Their “choreo,” giant banners and card stunts performed before games to send messages of support to their teams, never cease to amaze, and the noise that comes from the crowd in Germany is entirely different from what you see in England.
Germany’s low ticket prices have a part to play with it — and despite them, the clubs remain in excellent financial shape — but 11 of the Bundesliga’s 18 clubs drew over 40,000 fans per game last year; just 7 of 20 did in England and only 5 of the Spanish La Liga’s 20 did last term.
So next time you’re looking for a Saturday or Sunday morning soccer fix, flip on FOX’s Bundesliga coverage. You’ll be treated to the best gift the sport has to offer.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.