Thursday, 21 June 2012

Berlin 1 London 0

Sitting in a Berlin bar, whose name takes its inspiration from German legend, Rudi Völler, I’m in awe of the Germans once again. At Tante Käthe (Aunt Kate) we’re surrounded by a healthy mix of fans - men, women, children and an English dog. Völler picked up the absurd nickname due to his dodgy haircut - in England he'd probably have been called Mavis.

The scene is set for Germany to progress to the Quarter Finals of Euro 2012 and part of me is sad. I want everyone in England to experience this. Not the winning of a group with maximum points - I’m a realist - but the way in which Germany and Berlin in particular, has embraced public viewing since hosting the World Cup in 2006.

Even the walk to the bar is surreal as we help an American man and his Hungarian girlfriend with their bikes, as we clamber over two fences to access Rudi Völler Strasse - a road you won't find on Google maps. It has been invented by the bar to guide locals to the venue via a back route.

If we were not enjoying this cool urban football mecca that is Tante Käthe - which is situated in a barren wasteland north of the now trendy Mauerpark flea market – we could be in a boat watching a big screen on a small island in the Treptow district of Berlin or with thousands of supporters in the ‘fan mile’ in the city centre.

Tante Käthe is in a different league when it comes to watching football. Not only do they have in excess of 20 screens of various dimensions dotted about the maze like yard, they also boast a sandpit and a huge table football. The place has been lovingly thrown together to attract an ideal mix of supporters. You also never queue for more than a couple of minutes for a beer.

The fan mile is situated where the Berlin wall once divided the city at Brandenburg Gate; it creates a carnival atmosphere where fans come decked out in team colours and blowing vuvuzelas. There are multiple giant screens and few queues for the facilities. Once again the Germans are streets ahead of the English. This is not just about football; this is about community. It’s an international melting pot of cultural diversity – and here multi-culturism is working.

Whilst there are a plethora of places to view matches on big screens, the charm of Berlin during a major tournament, is the weird and wonderful lengths people go to screen games. Whether it be my local newsagent who has positioned a plasma screen street-side and found three old benches for fans to sit on or the entrepreneurs who have turned their backyard into a place where they can charge a few euros for a beer - strictly friends of friends only. In Friedrichshain, my FC Union partner in crime spotted a screen inside a trailer! It was parked on the side of the road with fans gazing in. Only in Berlin.

England started their second group with a big number 9 up front. Whatever the merits of Carroll up front, he certainly provides us with a neat signifier of the English game - both on and off the pitch. We were the future once. Carroll’s inclusion in the first eleven and Hodgson’s conservative tactics in the opening fixture of group D are symbolic of the English mind-set - inherently conservative.

London can erect gargantuan screens so that the masses can see an elderly woman wave at her subjects, yet London is incapable of leveraging the interest in Euro 2012 and bringing new fans on board. At times of social uncertainty, the coming together of people, whatever it may be for, has to be a good thing. It should be encouraged. Will the capital city grasp the nettle during The Olympics or will the over-bearing brand protection of the games destroy any hope of public viewings?

In Berlin there are a significant amount of public viewing spaces. Admittedly many are outdoors and due to the 'beautiful' June weather people have taken advantage of coming together to watch the Euros. However, there are several make-shift tents dotted around the city should the weather be inclement. The beauty is that these spaces attract a new type of fan. The casual fan who will join a group of friends just to be part of something. I personally find it quite quaint when people ask if the ball has to hit the net for it to count as a goal or if Rooney still plays for 'Manchester'.

An interesting point made by my Berlin visitors at the weekend, was the scant regard Berliners place on the dreaded "health and safety" laws, that in my view shackle the entrepreneurial spirit of the English. For years now, the statute book has been a noose around the neck for public gatherings in the UK.

Football clubs are constantly looking for new revenue streams. How about this? Erect a big screen, charge a few quid to get in and celebrate a feast of football and attract football fans and new supporters by creating a month long mini festival around the Euros or the World Cup.

If you can host Coldplay you could at least try and engage with the community by doing something more in line with your core business. There are almost 80 players represented at the Euros from the English Premier League. If you are involved in new business at any of these clubs you’ve not scored an own goal – you were not even in the squad. You’re the Peter Crouch of your profession; you are in the dark ages, you long for a big number 9 and you listen to bland music…probably. Or, perhaps you've just never been to Berlin!

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