In the 1980s sport on television was hard to find in the UK, so ITV filled the gap with Dickie Davies’ World of Sport. It featured football previews, a bit of racing, a bit of wrestling and a shedload of filler from across the continent that you had to watch because there was sod all else on. It was almost legendary – though I detest those postmodern conversations about Hong Kong Phooey and how Mars bars used to be bigger, so will indulge it no more.
For years in Germany five-a-side Hallenfußball did the equivalent. Filled a gap. From the mid-1970s to the late 1980s arenas were filled to the rafters with fans desperate to get a dose of football, a smidgeon of atmosphere. Sure, it wasn’t real football, but it gave a chance to get drunk and have a sing all the same.
It died away as the Winterpause grew shorter and the worries about injuries to highly paid players became paramount. Hallenfußball had slunk out of the footballing lexicon like a juicy tabloid headline faced with a super injunction.
But whether it’s through nostalgia or just enjoyment it has come back. Last year’s Flexstrom Cup at the Max-Schmeling-Halle attracted over 6,000 fans. This year’s topped that by over a thousand. And there have been several over the last month – with Charlottenburg’s featuring TeBe, Türkiyem, BAK, Lichterfelde as well Union and Hertha’s under 23’s taking part – looking like a more interesting take than the “legends” format on display at the Schmeling. Next weekend it is the turn of the old GDR giants (and, weirdly, also Hertha) such as Dynamo Dresden, Magdeberg, Cottbus and Lokomotiv Leipzig to line up at the Sportforum.
The Flexstrom cup, anyway, screamed “Bundesliga Legends”. It screamed it accompanied by a burst of “We will rock you”. But the only thing louder than the incessant though obligatory music was the words of my father in the back of my head muttering, “It’s not real football though, is it?” Well, no. But it tried.
The Union fans taking up the double tiers behind one goal opposite the Herthaners – both ends bedecked with banners, t was like a photocopy of a real match day atmosphere. Not far off, but… The Galatasaray fans were just around the corner, with bangers and drums like it was a European night at the Ali Sami Yen.
Werder’s fans, like an autistic cousin, sat awkwardly in one corner, their team as insipid and uninspiring as their anthem. I quite like Werder, but if I never hear that song again it will be too soon. It makes Belle and Sebastian sound like Bad Brains. At least they went out in the first round. Watching a team play pretty football before falling over their own shoelaces must be okay for a while, but these guys have to do it every week.
To their credit, most of them hung around until the bitter end, opposite the Köln fans whose team had just demolished them. It was 6-1, and something strange had happened. I fell in love. Based around Andrzej Rudy, Köln suddenly took on a sepia tinge to them. Rudy looked the archetypal 1950s footballer, his hair swept back and his body the shape they used to be. Not massive, not lithe and strong, but real – with a gut. Alongside the skeletal, balding and pacy Matthias Schertz they reminded me of Bulgaria of 1994, the last great balding football team. For a moment someone also seemed to want to win as much as I wanted them to fight.
The Leverkusen fans went about their business, slowly like their players, but confidently meandering through to the end.
After the phony war of Union vs. Hertha, I actually did get excited. Yeah, the derby was fun, but it felt as if there was too much being placed on it as if it was actually important. We were disappointed not to get a repeat of last year’s clash of the managers, Preetz vs. Beeck, but some of the scribes at least got something out of watching the old boys. One was practically rolling around as Christian Beeck was bundled over. Christian terrifies me, personally, so I kept schtum. I remarked to my neighbour jokingly, “He’s got no left foot” after a ballooned effort in the first game against Gala’. “Er hat gar kein Fuß” chortled the journo. He was enjoying himself.
Hertha could have used Carsten Ramelow or even ex-boss Falko Götze, but they were turning out for Leverkusen. As they crowded around Daniel Galic after he had saved Köln’s final penalty I was celebrating as much as the Leverkusen players because it meant that the music would finally stop. For a moment all was peaceful and my headache lifted long enough to notice Galatasaray’s Savas Koc smoking a fag outside. He had snarled his way through the whole thing, and recieved one of only two yellow cards on the whole day. I liked him; after all, it’s no fun without competition is it?