BY ZULHILMI ZAINAL Follow on Twitter
Last weekend, the deputy editor of the Malaysian edition of Goal, Zulhilmi Zainal along with several other sports journalists from other Southeast Asian publications, were invited to watch two Bundesliga matches live in Germany, thanks to the league operator.
Although the action in the two matches we watched; between Bayer Leverkusen and Eintracht Frankfurt at the BayArena on Saturday, and the Ruhr derby between Schalke 04 and Borussia Dortmund at the Veltins-Arena on the next day were both entertaining and worthy of discussions, we at Goal were more interested in what's going on behind the scenes during the two matchdays.
Just before the matches, the journalists were taken for stadium tours and during these tours, the two hosts were gracious enough to assign media or public relations officers to answer questions posed by the reporters. Goal too spoke to those employed by the clubs and the Bundesliga, to learn how club football is run in Germany, even if only at the surface level.
Matchday staff and club officials
The two host clubs of the matches we attended employed over 1,000 people for their matchday operations, and they staffed their catering, security and VIP departments. According to the 2018 Bundesliga report provided to us, clubs in the top two tiers employed a total of 54,275 people, either directly or indirectly.
And the staff we observed at the two grounds are diverse in terms of background and age. We could see stewards coming from minority and migrant backgrounds, as well as retirees who manned doors at the stadium diner.
Bayer 04 Leverkusen officials entertaining questions from Southeast Asian journalists. Photo by Zulhilmi Zainal
But what was also evident was also how apparent the officials and staff are also supporters of their respective clubs first and foremost. The Schalke media officer assigned to us for the brief stadium tour before their derby against Dortmund wouldn't even utter the name of their archrivals throughout the tour, and told us that her heart was in her throat, as she was nervous for the derby. The very next day, when we visited Dortmund's Signal Iduna Park for a stadium tour, the tour guide revealed that she also owns a season pass for their famous South Tribune (The Yellow Wall) and regularly attends their home matches. Safe to say, to club staff and officials in Germany, it is more than just a job.
The Borussia Dortmund dressing room entrance at their home ground. Photo by Zulhilmi Zainal
Commitment to technology and innovation
It's to no one's surprise that one of the most technologically advanced nations in the world would also employ innovation in the way its football is run, but to see it for ourselves was a revelation, to say the least.
And the highlight of our trip, in terms of the utilisation of technology in football, took place on the last day at the Borussia Dortmund training ground. We got to see for ourselves the famed football training machine Footbonaut; an equipment that trains footballers' touch and passing skills, as well as their reaction time.
Built at a cost of €1.5 million, Dortmund players at any age level can request to train with the machine, which the club have been using since 2012. The journalists too were allowed a session with the machine during the visit, and we can say for sure that it was a lot harder than it looks!
Dortmund's Footbanaut. Photo by Zulhilmi Zainal
Apart from Footbonaut; there were also other ways that we observed technology was used during the matches. For example, no cash is used to purchase food and drinks at the BayArena. Instead, fans have to buy refreshments using pre-paid cards.
Clubs by the fans and for the fans
The high degree of supporters' involvement in German clubs are not something new, but speaking to German fans and officials during the trip confirmed our preconception regarding the cause of their participation; that the German people are heavily involved in their social and political circles, and are highly likely to join associations and unions.
This also happens in German football and clubs; with most of Bundesliga clubs' shares owned by their supporters (although their day-to-day football operations are run by a purposely-set up company).
As such, German fans are less likely to be gouged at the turnstile. The low ticket prices, while ensuring that attendance remains high, also keep the stands inclusive, in that fans of all backgrounds can attend matches.
And this is not all. Schalke for example provided 1,000 free tickets for those who are less fortunate to attend the derby against Dortmund, while there is a small stand at the Signal Iduna Park, dedicated specifically to children and teenage fans.
Schalke fans during their match against Dortmund. Photo by Zulhilmi Zainal