May 25, 2013. Wembley Stadium, London. The final of the UEFA Champions League. Minute 89.
Jerome Boateng punted a long free kick upfield straight to Franck Ribery. A handful of defenders stood in front of him. Ribery didn’t hesitate, though, and backheeled the ball into the penalty area, straight into the path of Arjen Robben.
Robben received the ball and with a simple tap of his left foot, left all the defenders for dead. He then saw the outrushing goalkeeper and gently rolled the ball towards the far corner. The ball slowly, almost teasingly, rolled over the goal line, and Robben wheeled away in celebration with outstretched arms, before getting mobbed by his teammates.
It was the first time I had started to follow FC Bayern Munich.
From that day on, I watched almost every Bayern game I got the chance to. Bundesliga, DFB-Pokal, Champions League, Super Cup, Club World Cup, you name it. I even watched the preseason friendly tournaments like the Telekom Cup or the Audi Cup. When I develop an interest in something, I really dive deep into it. That particular characteristic is the reason why I know the difference between two batches of KTX-Sancheon train sets, and why Tyrannosaurus rex was most likely not covered in feathers.
Okay, back to Bayern. The reason I chose Bayern may seem a bit cheap now. Because of Ji-sung Park’s presence, I was supporting Manchester United at the time. However, once Park left United in 2012, supporting them just wasn’t the same. I had very little loyalty to the players, and I didn’t really have a connection with the club itself. I needed to find a new club, and I remember debating between FC Bayern and Real Madrid, two teams I considered to be very good, teams that would be easy to support. I chose the former.
I still remember the first game I watched as an ‘official’ Bayern fan. It was the third league game of the season against Nurnberg. A goalless first half was followed by the breakthrough goal from Ribery and a trademark dribble and finish from Robben. We won 2-0.
When I watched that game, I felt something. You know that feeling when you just know you’re a perfect match with something or someone? Perhaps a spark that ignites within you? It’s hard to explain, but I felt like this:
‘Now this is my team.’
In the next seven years that followed, Bayern won a whopping 18 trophies. It’s obviously easy to support a team that wins all the time. But you’d be well mistaken if I only supported Bayern in their glory days. For one, I still supported them last year after seeing them conceded five goals for the first time. My friend gave me an AS Roma sticker as a comforting gift. I know she wasn’t telling me to support Roma from then on, but all the same, I said bluntly:
“If you’re asking me to switch teams, the answer’s no.”
I politely declined my best friend’s offer to support Real Madrid after their third Champions League win in a row, and also an offer to support Man United again. I remember in 2014, just a few months after I picked Bayern over Madrid, we met each other in the Champions League semifinals, and we got humiliated by a 5-0 aggregate score. Madrid went on to win the tournament. If I had selected Madrid a few months before, I too would have been basking in European glory.
But I did not regret choosing Bayern for a second. Why? Because in those short few months, I had made Bayern into ‘my team.’ The spark that hadn’t been there when I was supporting United was still burning, and it is still going strong seven years later.
What is this spark, anyway? Is it simply loyalty, or is it something else, something stronger? Is it pride of our “mia san mia” mentality? Or is it all of the above?
I guess it might have started with pride in supporting the best players in the world. Who wouldn’t be proud to have a team chock full of world class players? The best goalkeeper in the world in Manuel Neuer, the best full back in Philipp Lahm, the best wingers in Robben and Ribery, and the one and only Raumdeuter in Thomas Muller. Add the best striker in Robert Lewandowski, who joined a year after I started supporting Bayern, and you really had a team to be proud of.
The pride I had of the players became the pride of the team itself. Bayern had a lot of players between then and now, but all of them sported the same badge on their chests. The badge of FC Bayern. You could look at any player on the pitch and you would see the red, white, and blue of the emblem. That emblem is now burned into my eyes, and also into my heart.
That pride became a feeling of familiarity. A crest that I saw everywhere, a team that I thought of all the time, a never-changing team spirit of ‘mia san mia,’ that was all a familiar part of my life now. Bayern was not just a football team that I supported, but a family-like presence that I could not imagine my life without. It’s probably appropriate that one of Bayern’s biggest values is family.
Familiarity then became thankfulness. Bayern has given me so many different experiences. I started learning about a completely different country and its culture. I gained an interest in a region that I didn’t even know existed. I was even encouraged to learn an entirely new language (although admittedly, that was also partly due to my German professor being quite attractive). I traveled to Germany to watch my team in person, and I met so many different people through my support of Bayern, people from all around the world. In a way, Bayern had opened up a new world for me.
But I am not just thankful for the new experiences that my team gave me, but also for the fact that it has been there for me just as much as I have been there for it, if not more.
Over the past three years, I have developed several mental illnesses. Anxiety, depression, panic disorder, you name it. I don’t know when it started. All I know is that it got serious around three years ago, to the point that I started going to therapy and taking meds, and I faced some very scary moments indeed. Of course, that story is still a story in progress.
I have been hurt by many people, sometimes it was my fault, sometimes it was not. But the one common denominator was that whatever the reason, I was losing trust in people in general, exacerbating my condition. I became afraid of people, and I still am reluctant to meet new people sometimes.
But when I support my team, I forget about my troubles for 90 minutes, because of that sense of familiarity. I know what I am getting into, and I know that I am one with the team. And whenever I smile or shout with glee when we win, I think to myself:
‘Yeah, I don’t need to rely on others to be happy.’
And boy, was I happy a lot of times. There has been no shortage of happy memories while supporting this wonderful club.
March 2014, I woke up to the news that we had won the Bundesliga in record time overnight. I was overjoyed. My first Bundesliga title as a fan.
May 2014, I cheered as Muller rounded the goalkeeper to put the DFB-Pokal beyond Borussia Dortmund’s reach. My first Pokal title as a fan.
September 2015, I woke up in shock to the news that Lewandowski had scored five goals in nine minutes. My goodness.
May 2017, I watched my team live for the first time, and sang and danced with delight in the most beautiful stadium in the world.
May 2019, I was in Berlin to watch Lewandowski chip in our third goal of the DFB-Pokal final. I didn’t make a sound, but held up my fists in triumph as I got lost in the cheers of the erupting fans.
August 2020, I stayed up late on a family vacation to watch my team destroy FC Barcelona 8-2, which kicked away any lingering sleepiness.
Likewise, I owe Bayern so much for providing me with these memories, memories that have been an effective antidote to the poisonous mental disorders that permeate my life. The only way that I can repay my team is to offer my fullest support come rain or shine.
Of course, supporting Bayern is not always the easiest thing in the world. The pressure to be the best at all times, the crushing feeling of loss after defeats, which we are not used to, and the hatred and jealousy of all the other teams we play against. This is a crown whose weight is sometimes too tough to bear. But Bayern is also a team that repays its supporters well. Care to see another example?
August 24, 2020. Estadio da Luz, Lisbon. The final of the UEFA Champions League. Minute 90+5.
The score is 1-0. We only need to hold on for a few more seconds. My heart is racing harder than ever. In fact, the only ones working harder than my heart are the players running their socks off on the field.
And finally, it happens. The final whistle blows.
FC Bayern are European Champions for the first time in seven years.
I let out a roar of delight and jump out of my chair. The time is 6am, but I don’t care. Blazing tears escape my eyes and cut my cheeks.
That feeling of victory, that is the reason I started supporting Bayern, and that is the reason why I will never regret that choice.