A Long Way From Home
Written by Natasha Pritchard
If you’re reading this in English, chances are you are a Bayern fan living somewhere other than Munich – you’re one of the countless American, African, Asian, Irish etc. fans that make up the FC Bayern family. You may not be able to go to the match every weekend, sit with fellow fans, cheer in unison, and do all the other things that make football a social phenomenon. Your friends may not understand your obsession with a foreign club.
I live in Liverpool, England, a city famous for its football. Every match day, I watch my city don their reds and their blues and walk to and from the stadia in groups, cheering or commiserating, a family of fans feeling all the highs and lows together. My family and friends are all Liverpool FC fans, and I sit with them in living rooms and beer gardens and cheer along, and I enjoy it. Yet later in the day when the team I love plays, I find myself alone on the sofa. I no longer feel that atmosphere of fellowship and communal faith that I had felt during the Liverpool match. Don’t get me wrong, (and this may not be popular…) I’ve grown to really like Liverpool FC, but they’re not my team. You just know when you find your team – it drags you in and makes you want to learn everything about every player, consume every interview, buy every mug and shirt and beach towel – the team that really makes you feel something.
Being a foreign fan can make you feel, well, foreign. It’s a lonely existence. However, our experience has some unique aspects that local fans might not get. What I’m saying is, it’s not all bad being a foreign fan. Whereas supporting your local team can make things easier, it can also make them more ordinary. I could go on an Anfield stadium tour any day of the week, or watch a match in the pub full of Everton fans every weekend. I could drive less than an hour away to visit the Old Trafford megastore, or stand outside Manchester City’s training ground hoping to spot a player. But my own team are shrouded in mystery – they’re in an inaccessible realm (well, one that would involve a lot of planning and travel at least). The times I havehad encounters with Bayern Munich have meant so much more to me because they’re so extraordinary.
When Bayern drew Liverpool in the Champions League draw in 2019, I couldn’t have anticipated the rush of excitement that I felt. I took a day off work for the first leg and went to the airport. Seeing the Bayern bus outside the terminal, the same bus I’d seen on the TV so many times, felt like a dream. I got about two full minutes of watching 25 or so men walk from an airport building to a bus, and couldn’t stop talking about it all day. Later that day I drove to Anfield with a neutral friend and saw people walking around wearing Bayern shirts. I was too shy to talk to them, but I felt thrilled to know that suddenly my city was filled with people who shared the inexplicable love I felt for the badge on their chests.
Visiting Munich for the first time felt like a pilgrimage. I can’t describe how exciting it was to see a Bayern Munich fan shop at the airport. At home I’d had to wait weeks for my first jersey to come from Germany – what a luxury to see that any item of memorabilia could be mine in under a minute. The excitement didn’t stop at the airport. My husband had to take a picture of my face as I stood dumbstruck upon seeing the imposing Allianz Arena in the distance as exited the train station. I think I scared a tour guide with my enthusiasm. I sat cramped in a tiny sports bar and felt myself cheer in unison with other Bayern fans for the first time.
There are Bayern Munich fans throughout the world, and if you’re one of the ones feeling lonely each matchday, just know that you are part of something much bigger. Liverpool fans have a sensible way of putting it – You’ll Never Walk Alone – but I believe our Mia San Mia captures it even more (Sorry, Liverpool fans). We are Bayern, it is part of who we are. We are part of something bigger than the gaps next to us on the sofa. We’re never alone because across the globe every match day, there’s millions of us wearing our shirts and shouting at the television in unison. We may be apart but we are not alone – Bayern runs through our veins.