The Bayern Munich fan is privileged to cheer for one of the most consistently successful teams in the world that also maintains many of the best features of a smaller football club. Bayern is one of the richest clubs in the world and it continues to collect silverware like preppers stockpile toilet paper in a pandemic.
Despite their size and success, Bayern Munich manages to offer the feel of a smaller club through fan-ownership, the “mia san mia” philosophy and promotion of Bavarian culture. Having said all that, modern Bayern is a giant club, run like a big business, and has not known significant failure in decades. While there is nothing wrong with getting overwrought with the question of whether or not the club can win its ninth Bundesliga title on the trot, there is a great deal to be gained by cheering for a smaller club as well.
Here are a few reasons why giving part of your heart to a smaller club will make football better for you.
You will understand the game better
My father used to run several of Canada’s biggest publishing outfits, churning out millions of books and newspapers a year. But even when he was at the pinnacle of his responsibilities, a few times a year you would find him down in the fulfillment department getting his hands dirty and learning how to run the latest folding, printing, binding or cutting equipment. When people would ask him why he was doing that, he would reply that in order to run the companies properly he needed to understand in detail just what was required to make it all happen. How could he set goals, deadlines and production schedules without knowing exactly what he was asking people to do?
Football is the same.
While the pinnacle of the game involves transfers of hundreds of millions of euros and highly-polished players commanding massive salaries, that is built on a worldwide infrastructure of players fighting to keep a job, or make a living, and clubs that have to get mighty creative and make really tough decisions on how to survive and thrive. To really understand both how football works, and just how good Bayern is as a sporting and business endeavor you need to see how football works for the vast majority of clubs around the world. It’s a bit like money. When you are born rich (and stay that way) you can intellectually understand poverty, but you simply cannot grok the feeling of having to decide between paying the rent, the car insurance, or new clothes for your child. By getting invested in a club that is fighting relegation, or fighting to move up a division, or has to choose between a two million euro transfer fee and keeping a rising star from the academy, you will begin to both “feel” and understand football in a more meaningful way.
You will see the next generation of stars before the rest of us
Let’s face it, by the time a player becomes a Bayern target he is pretty well known in the football world. But there is a certain special feeling getting to see diamonds in the rough before the vast majority of fandom has ever heard of them. Kind of like going to see U2 at a tiny concert hall before they break out, or even the Beatles at the Cavern Club.
It’s a rush knowing that you were part of something amazing before it broke out. Vancouver fans got to see Alphonso Davies long before the “Roadrunner” was on Bayern’s radar. Rapid Vienna fans got to enjoy Marcel Sabitzer’s raw skills in the Austrian Bundesliga before he was stolen away by the Evil Empire. Philly fans got a long hard look at Brenden Aaronson before he too succumbed to the Dark Side.
The big clubs are in a position to pick-and-choose between very well-developed players, which means their fans are effectively well behind the curve in discovering young phenoms. If you want to get ahead of the curve you need to follow a smaller team, preferably in a smaller league.
There has never been a better time to follow lesser known clubs
Before the internet explosion, it was hard enough to get timely news on clubs like Bayern outside of Germany, let alone staying abreast of developments in smaller clubs around the world. With the advent of the internet, live streaming, citizen journalism and blogs, you can stay on top of the details of almost any professional or even semi-professional club in the world from the comfort of your own home. Geography is no longer a barrier to enjoying smaller football teams.
Language is no longer a barrier either. With translation software, you can follow the media and club reports of almost any squad. Even if you don’t want to go to the trouble of translating web reports, the Championship in England offers a plethora of teams with varying histories and cultures to choose from. The yearly struggle to climb into the EPL or fall out of the Championship, or to determine which assets a club has to sell to stay afloat, produces unmatched drama. And in terms of actual fan attendance, on most years the Championship boasts the third highest overall attendance of any league in Europe (only behind the Bundesliga and the EPL).
Smaller teams provide more emotion on a consistent basis
Let’s face it, a Bayern match against the bottom third team or even mid-table team does not produce much suspense or anticipation in the lead up or during the match. Most weeks the Bayern fan can sit comfortably in his chair knowing his team will deliver the win, often with no muss or fuss. Games that you can get really excited about can be few and far between. That is not the case for smaller teams who have to fight for every point. Nail-biting one goal affairs are more common, especially when you know that a couple of points here or there will make all the difference between relegation or promotion, or perhaps getting a valuable European spot. This multiplies the emotional intensity by orders of magnitude for “regular” games.
Here are three examples of smaller clubs or leagues that BFW members follow and why:
Sandvikens IF — Marcus Iredahl
They are the team from my dad’s hometown and are currently in the Swedish third division. I have grown up a bit everywhere in Europe and have barely lived in Sweden. Sandvikens IF is therefore my Swedish team, as my dad has often talked about how it was going to the stadium during the glory days when they were in the second division. My grandfather, who is in his late eighties, never misses a game on television and used to go regularly when he was able to.
Philadelphia Union — Chuck Smith
This one is obvious for me if you read BFW. I follow ALL the Philadelphia teams (year and years of suffering comes at no extra charge!), including the 2020 Supporters’ Shield winners. Part of the allure — aside of the geographic location (more on that in a bit) — is that the Union have taken the “road less traveled” to respectability. No longer dilly-dallying around with half-assed ways to be competitive from year-to-year, the Chester, PA-based club invested in its youth academy, committed to those young players, and are now reaping the rewards of that investment.
So, about Chester...Chester is a financially struggling city on the banks of the Delaware River, where the Union plopped down their stadium, training grounds, and headquarters (little known fact: Prior to the development of their current training grounds, they used a public park where I used to go to American football practice in high school...things have certainly changed!). I was born in Chester, I went to school in Chester for a few years, and I still only live about 15 to 20 minutes from the stadium, which is set perfectly next to the river — and just about two-and-a-half miles or so before you hit the casino and prison! So, you can attend a soccer game, get drunk, gamble your money away, get in a fight, and go to jail --- all within a couple of miles! So, yeah, I follow them...I probably always will just based on geography, but it sure helps that they have taken the “build from within” approach, which should ensure years of success ahead.
Österreichische Fußball-Bundesliga — RLD
What’s not to love about the Austrian Bundesliga? Teams with long histories, great traditions, fanatical fans and epic rivalries abound. Want to cheer for a club based in a “city” whose population that would not half fill Borussia Mönchengladbach’s stadium, but managed to beat them there 4-0? They have that. Want to cheer for a team that begins a legendary and notorious clapping routine at the 75th minute of every game to urge their players to conquer the final quarter hour? They have that. Second most played derby in European history? Covered. An evil, tradition-smashing club owned by a giant corporation that everyone loves to hate? Check. They even have an English-language website covering news and the teams run by English expats living in Austria if you don’t want to learn the language.
But the best reason to watch the OBL, is that it has become a key feeder league for the German Bundesliga, and other parts of Europe. If you were watching the OBL over the last few years you would have seen players like Erling Haaland, Marcel Sabitzer, Konrad Laimer, Naby Keita, Stefan Lainer, Takumi Minamino and more. If you want to take a good hard look at Patson Daka, Domink Szoboszlai or Yusuf Demir before they break into the top leagues, now is the time.
And beyond seeing the next generation of playing talent, the OBL also offers up the next generation of coaching leaders, now consistently sending coaches to teams in the Bundesliga and the EPL. Names like Ralf Rangnick, Marco Rose, Ralph Hasenhuttl, Valerian Ismaël, and others all started their career in the OBL.
So, we urge you to take up this opportunity to broaden your horizons and enhance your Bayern fandom by diving in headfirst and following a smaller club. You’ll love the ride and it will make you a better football, and Bayern fan.