Fan-spiration: “A perfect balance of local culture and global reach”
Born in the US to Peruvian immigrants, Robert Cervantes had no choice but to develop a passion for football – it was the only sport he knew during the first years of his life, and he learned at an early age how deeply connected Peruvians are to the game.
“The first shirt I remember wearing was one from a club in Peru called Club Deportivo Pacifico FC,” says the 35-year-old who is now based near Baltimore, Maryland. “My father was a fan of this club and another one called Sport Boys. Some of my fondest memories are of my father taking me to watch amateur leagues in Union, NJ, where some of his friends played. I would go behind the goal with the kids of the other players and play pick up.”
Growing up, however, Robert became more interested in basketball, baseball and American football – until he started playing the video game FIFA World Cup 2006 with a friend who had studied abroad in Germany and fell in love with the country and the language. For the video game, Robert says, his friend always picked Germany, while he himself usually chose Peru or the USA.
“At the time, Oliver Kahn was Germany’s keeper, and it was nearly impossible to get a goal past him in the game – and in real life,” Robert recalls. “On the Peruvian national team, the best player was Claudio Pizarro. I started reading about the players and who else they played for. Once I found out that Pizarro was with FC Bayern, they became my team. Kahn also being at Bayern just cemented it.”
Robert started following the team, but only became serious about it in 2011/12, when it became easier in the US to watch Bundesliga games.
“They played so beautifully and with such passion,” he says. “Not to mention that watching the matches on TV, you could hear how crazy the fans were. It was an infectious energy.”
Of course, the 2012 Champions League final meant complete devastation for every FC Bayern fan around the world – Robert included.
“It is one of only two sporting events where I cried,” he acknowledges. “It was almost too perfect. A great run to the final. At our home stadium. Against a team that fired their manager mid-season. And yet, to come up empty was the biggest hurt. I was also recovering from Achilles tendon surgery, so I couldn’t drink my sorrows away. I cannot watch that match again. Even when I watched the highlights at the Bayern Museum, I cried again. It still hurts and I don’t think I will ever get over it.”
While Robert obviously immensely enjoyed winning the treble one year later, another favorite FC Bayern moment came in 2014, the DFB Cup final. On that day, he was on his honeymoon in Puerto Rico and went to a bar near his hotel with his wife to sample some local delicacies, when he noticed two guys wearing FC Bayern jerseys.
“They had a tablet with them and asked the bartender for the WiFi password to watch the final,” he says. “I went up to them and we started chatting about the season and the match itself. Once they got the password, I ran back to my hotel room, grabbed my FC Bayern shirt and came back. We watched the match as FC Bayern won 2-0.”
“Here I am on this wonderful island on my honeymoon, watching my favorite team in a cup final and winning it with fellow Bayern fans,” Robert continues. “The sheer happiness I felt when Thomas Müller scored the second goal is something I will never forget. I thank my wife every day for pausing our honeymoon so I could watch Bayern lift the Pokal. This moment is probably why the Pokal is my favorite trophy in football.”
For Robert, who is one of the three people running the FC Bayern fan club B-more Bayern out of Baltimore, the club means community.
“It is an almost perfect balance of local culture and global reach,” he explains. “Being a Bayern fan is like an invitation to learn and fall in love with Bavarian and German culture. I’m a big fan of traditions and having established ways of doing business. I definitely like the fact that club legends continue to have an impact on the direction of the club. It has this feeling that once you are a part of Bayern, you will always be a part of the club.”
When asked about his favorite player, Robert doesn’t hesitate: it’s Claudio Pizarro, the very reason he became a fan of the club in the first place.
“He had such productive years during both his stints,” Robert explains. “He plays the game with such joy and flair during his younger years. It was a pleasure to watch him have so much success in a country so different from Peru. My first FC Bayern shirt has Pizarro on the back and I will always cherish it.”
He will also gladly snub any other player for a chance to get an autograph from his favorite striker – even if that other player is Robert Lewandowski.
“In 2014, I had the opportunity to get Lewandowski and Pizarro’s autograph, but while we were queueing, we were told that we could only get one signature per player,” Robert, who had brought three jerseys with him, says. “When it was my turn, I directly approached Claudio Pizarro – and he signed all my shirts with minimal effort. I completely ignored Robert Lewandowski like he didn’t exist!”
Every time he tells people this story, they are baffled that he stood up Lewandowski. But it was an easy decision for Robert: “Pizarro is the reason I watch the matches religiously and became a paying member of the club.”
When asked if there was anything about the club he doesn’t like, Robert rightfully states that no club or company is perfect.
“I think it’s important that Bayern understands that they have a social responsibility to have their ethos and their financial business align,” he says. “I know that the sport has become a financial race to the top, but the club must have confidence in itself that it can do business with socially responsible companies and still be a player in the global football market.”
Robert had the chance to see FC Bayern live six times – five times during their US tour and one time at the Allianz Arena – as well as an FC Bayern Frauen match vs FC Barcelona.
“The events surrounding the friendlies are the gold standard to how a sporting organization should treat their fans,” he says about Bayern’s US tour, where he connected to many other fans.
“However, to be at the Allianz for an official match was remarkable: a wonderful experience from the walk up to the venue to hearing the roar of the fans after every pass and attempt on goal. To top it off, it was against Werder Bremen and Claudio Pizarro was a substitute during the match. I looked over to the Bremen supporters and was marveled to see a giant flag with Pizarro’s face on it. My one regret from that trip was not being able to hold that flag.”
Robert had plans to travel to Munich for the Oktoberfest this year but had to cancel due to the global pandemic.
“As soon as fans are given the all clear to come back to the Allianz Arena, I plan to make a trip and be there to cheer on the club again.”
Robert’s Twitter account: @bnceo