Fan-spiration: “I was always comfortable going against the grain”
For as long as she can remember, football has always been a part of Tlalane Mugivhi’s life. As a black South African growing up in the townships, football was everywhere, she says: “It was the way to start a conversation with a stranger at the shops, it united us, and more importantly, football distracted us from our depressing surroundings.”
Tlalane’s grandmother ran a shebeen – a place similar to a tavern – from their house in Johannesburg, which meant that her home was always full of people. They would come every day to watch TV, and Saturday afternoons were generally reserved for football games.
“The two big Soweto rival clubs, Chiefs and Pirates, were and still are the most supported clubs in South Africa,” Tlalane recalls. “Walking around various townships in the country, you’d see different houses painted in the colours of the owner’s favourite club. Football was everywhere!”
Some of her family members were Pirates fans, while others rooted for the Chiefs – but Tlalane herself, still a teenager back then, threw her support behind the Mamelodi Sundowns, “a sign that I was always comfortable going against the grain,” as she refers to it.
When it comes to the national team of South Africa, Bafana Bafana, however, the family’s support has always been unanimous. The team had a successful period in the 1990s, most notably winning the 1996 African Cup of Nations. Tlalane still remembers that their shebeen was packed on matchdays, with family, friends and customers being glued to the TV screen and cheering for “their boys.”
“The group stage game against Egypt was a tough test because Egypt had the lethal Hossam Hassan leading their attack,” Tlalane says. “We were all tense, watching and hoping for an equalizer after Egypt scored very early on. At some point the power went out, and someone brought batteries for an old radio, which we huddled around, to finish the match. When the referee blew the final whistle, our hearts sank, as we lost that match 1-0.”
Fortunately, the defeat happened in the group stage, and South Africa went on to win the tournament – but Tlalane vividly remembers the incredible atmosphere at her house: “It was the first time I was emotionally invested in the outcome of a football game, the first time it became personal.”
Tlalane, who now works as an optometrist, carried her passion for football throughout childhood and youth through university and adulthood, and at some point, became more interested in international football clubs as well.
“A lot of South Africans love English teams, because of colonization, so that’s all we could watch for a while, but none of those teams tickled my fancy – I knew them and watched them, but not one stole my heart,” Tlalane says, adding that this was just another proof her habit of going against the grain.
“I can’t really remember how I started watching German football, but I remember being fascinated by this team in Red that played with so much passion,” she continues, when asked about becoming a supporter of FC Bayern.
“The mental strength to rise up from defeat and win everything has always been a fascination for me. The inclusivity, the hard work, the family feeling – I know this has probably become a cliché, but that’s because it really is true. The values of FC Bayern are very much aligned to my own: Do absolutely everything in your power to succeed, and even when you fail, you do so with your head held high because you know you gave it your best.”
Tlalane’s love for FC Bayern has grown so strong that she borders on obsessive when it comes to watching games.
“When we go on holiday, we must find a place to watch the match,” she explains. “I’m lucky that my partner understands this, and even our dates are scheduled around matchdays and times. In 2016, I went to Thailand with my mother, and Bayern was scheduled to play the first leg against Juventus in the Champions League. I couldn’t go to a bar at Patong beach in the wee hours of the morning, so my partner, who was home at the time, turned on the TV and set up his phone in front of it, so I could watch the game via Facetime. That’s sweet, right?”
Tlalane’s most devastating moment as a Bayern fan has been imprinted so deeply in her mind that she still remembers exactly the day it happened: “It was a Friday evening, and Bild announced Bastian Schweinsteiger’s departure. I knew and understood why he wanted to go, but it truly broke my heart because I couldn’t imagine the club without him. I went to bed and wept. It hurt even more because it didn’t quite work out the way he wanted.”
It’s hard for Tlalane to name just one favourite player – however, after giving it some thought, she chooses Thomas Müller. “He’s so unassuming and so honest about how he feels, so you see him as a real person. He’s a true club legend, and you can tell that FC Bayern is not just his employer, he’s a fan of the club.” Then, she adds with a laugh, “Can I just say how much I love Lisa for being Lisa that one time?”
Tlalane already had the chance to see FC Bayern play at the Allianz Arena twice, the first being a 2-2 draw against Mainz.
“Coming from the train station and seeing the big white blob that is the Allianz Arena appear in front of me – an incredible feeling,” she recalls. “I remember how nervous and excited I was walking through the turnstiles.”
The second time, she continues, was not really planned – which made it even better.
“I applied for a bunch of matches at the beginning of the season, and one afternoon I was driving from one of my offices to the other and I received a bank notification for a payment to FC Bayern on my credit card,” Tlalane says. “I was so happy because I knew it meant I got tickets. I didn’t even know for which match, or when.”
It turns out that it was a match against Hoffenheim in January – and Tlalane, who received the notification in November, says that her partner knew it was best nod and be agreeable when she insisted on going.
“We left sunny Johannesburg for crazy cold Munich for a weekend, just for the match. When the immigration officer asked what the reason for our visit was, he couldn’t believe it – but in a good way,” Tlalane says. “He was shocked that we had travelled all the way from Johannesburg to Munich, just to watch a match. But it made sense to me then, and it still makes sense now. I was very fortunate to be able to do that, and I never take it for granted.”
Despite her loyalty to the club, there are some things she would like to change – if she could.
“The association with Qatar stands out for obvious reasons, but I also understand that clubs need money,” she explains. “I’d also like to see less leaks of contract negotiation details to the media because they always leave a bitter taste.”
A few years ago, Tlalane adds, she also thought that FC Bayern could be more inclusive to fans from other continents – but thanks to Twitter, things have changed.
“When the FCBayernUS account on Twitter was set up, some of the European fans weren’t happy because – I’m guessing – they felt that the club was theirs and theirs alone, but for me at least, it became more accessible, which means everything,” she says. “It’s really great to know that your club sees you and that they ‘know’ you. This is what made me become a member: I felt and still feel seen, I’m part of it and it’s part of me.”
Tlalane’s Twitter account: @tlalane