By Tim Tod, der Kommissar der Fuß
Some of my American readers might have noticed that a couple of weird things are happening this weekend. First, there’s a football match on Friday between Man U and Aston Villa. Kickoff for that match is Noon thirty here on the left coast and the game is being shown on NBCSN, it promises to be a dour affair as neither of those two teams knows how to play actual football. But, second, the really interesting match actually takes place at the exact same time over on Fox as Bayern Munich take on Hamburger SV.
The Friday match idea was announced two years ago for the Premier League. The reason is simple, there is still a ban on televising 3pm Saturday matches in England, and the broadcasters wanted to have more matches on TV, so, almost as if by magic… Friday Premier League games were invented. The funny news is that for me, the Friday Bundesliga match upstages the Premier League match because it’s much bigger news, and frankly, if given a choice between watching van Gaal’s boring Man U or Pep Guardiola’s Bayern, I’m going with Bayern nearly every time.
As my one long suffering reader knows I started watching football in the 90′s. At the time I was studying Japanese and every Saturday morning I would get up and watch a Japanese language News program in order to practice my listening skills.*
After my program was done I would look around on the other channels for something to watch and by serendipity I found football. Back then the channel was called “Fox Sports World” and they broadcast the wide world of sports. I vaguely remember watching Aussie Rules Football and Hurling and thinking these are possibly the most insanely ruled sports on earth — is there any other sport where you are encouraged to jump into another person’s back with your knee or where you get to run around beating your opponent’s with a stick? It was wild and weird and I was all in.
They also carried a variety of football matches from several leagues. The Premier League was there, of course, which is how I discovered Arsenal**, but I have to admit that the games from the Bundesliga and Eredivisie were actually more attractive to me. In fact, enough time has passed that I can finally tell everyone that I liked Heerenveen best because they had little hearts on their shirts. There, I said it, I liked Heerenveen because their shirts were outrageous***. I still like Heerenveen and if I ever get a chance to go to the Netherlands I will make a point to catch a Heerenveen match.
The whole Dutch and German football experience was wildly different from what we had going on over here. Giant colorful flags waving in the stands, tens of thousands of fans singing in unison, and of course there was also the sport itself, a necessary sideshow to the rich pageantry on display. When I think of football fans, to this very day, I think of those Bundesliga games and their supporters.
Which is one of the many reasons why I’m so irrationally excited that the Bundesliga is coming to my television this weekend.
The other reasons that I’m excited is that the Bundesliga offers an antidote to the boring matches in the Premier League. We have long been told that the quality of football is higher in Germany. I do know that it’s a much more dribble-orientated league, but other than that I can’t really tell if there is more depth of quality there than in the Premier League.
But what I do get is more choice and in real terms that’s a huge boon for the average fan. Instead of just watching whatever dross the Premier League serves up next weekend I can choose a Bundesliga match.
This Saturday, NBCSports is offering Watford v. WBA, West Ham v. Leicester (top of the table clash!), and Swansea v. Newcastle. But over on Fox, I’ve got a choice of Werder v. Schalke, Leverkusen v. Hoffenheim, and in the late match, Borussia Dortmund and their new manager take on Monchengladbach. Yes, I have to put up with Fox and their rather annoying commentators, but it’s a small price to pay to see stars like Bellarabi, Xhaka, Bender, Wendell, Draxler, and Reus play in front of an exuberant crowd.
In fact, now that the Bundesliga is on TV in the USA and on TV in an easy way for the vast majority of people to gain access to it, I see it as a major threat to the Premier League. The Bundesliga has fallen behind the Premier League in terms of marketing itself to the world and showcasing its product on world televisions. The practical result is that teams like West Ham have a higher world profile than a team like Wolfsburg, and they make more money, and they can attract players from all over the world.
But I suspect that as folks discover the variety of talent that plies its trade in the Bundesliga; the differences in the game where skill, talent, and tactics are rewarded much more than physicality, speed, and brutality; along with the absolutely infectious crowds that attend Bundesliga games; the Premier League’s self-proclaimed title as “best league in the world” might be under threat.
*Japanese sentences are in effect “backwards” for English speakers because the verb comes at the end of the sentence. Further complicating the structure is that the verb’s conjugation comes at the end of the verb. So, that a simple sentence in English like “I went to the store” would translate literally as “I subject store to travel past tense”. Obviously, the more complex the sentence, the harder it is for English speakers to unravel.
**Like Columbus discovered America
***I’m just adding this third footnote for the guy who made fun of me on twitter yesterday for having footnotes. Don’t make me add a fourth footnote, pal.
****Check out Fox Sports’ official Bundelsliga schedule and my use of a FOURTH footnote!