On Tour With FC Bayern: Part II – The Experience
For most of the supporters here in the U.S., the off field events are the part of the tour that really pique our interest. These events vary in content and accessibility but almost always provide a better chance at interaction with the club and players.
The first big event is the open practice session that the club has prior to their match. While this is commonplace at the Säbener Straße, for the supporters here this is in many ways a better and more insightful view of the players in action than the actual game.
More importantly, the players tend to be far more interactive with the supporters during this time, signing autographs and taking selfies with fans. This feels more like the normal expectations that are on them on a regular basis. They seem more comfortable and used to this type of interaction and experience.
For the D.C. event, some of the Fan Club members were even invited down to have personal meet and greets with players such as Thomas Müller, Serge Gnabry and Leroy Sané. This is obviously special access that would be a rarity for most supporters.
But it also provided different insights for the players. Some as you might expect considered it business. Being friendly enough but more or less doing their duty. Others seemed to have interest in what it was like living in the U.S. Even going so far as to ask why those who had immigrated from Germany had done so and how they found it living here.
Next in our list of activities are the events completely outside of the football arena that were provided to certain fan clubs and supporters. Following the training session in D.C., Paulaner sponsored an event at a local pub and invited a limited number of guests for a meet and greet with two players.
The first person affiliated with Bayern to show up was Stephan Lehmann. For those of you who have had experiences with the stadium announcer of FC Bayern, you will already know that he was very much in his element here.
Stephan is very personable and seemed to truly enjoy having a few beers and chatting with those in attendance. He particularly seemed to enjoy talking to those of us who were originally from Germany while sharing a laugh with them on a variety of topics.
Then the players were brought in. Just before they were set to arrive, Stephan announced the players who would be joining us, something that was previously unknown to most of the crowd. When he revealed that it would be Lucas Hernández and Joshua Kimmich, those in attendance exploded with glee.
I think most of us assumed that it might be more fringe players, whom we would all have been extremely grateful and happy to meet. However the news that it was two regulars exceeded all expectations. Kimmich was especially unexpected and greeted with a massive amount of enthusiasm.
Upon arrival, the players seemed understandably exhausted. Kimmich looked about as curmudgeonly as I’ve ever seen him. Both looked like they might fall asleep as soon as they sat down. However, a few minutes later after some icebreakers with Stephan, they seemed to adjust and brighten up considerably.
After taking pictures with everyone in attendence and signing autographs for all, they gratefully made their way out to a barage of cheers and toasts. Everyone in attendance felt extremely satisfied and fortunate to have been there.
The day following the match, there was yet another event at a T-Mobile store in Washington D.C. This one was open to the public and therefore drew a huge crowd, but the wait was almost certainly worthwhile for those who made the trek.
The players in attendence this time were Benjamin Pavard and Manuel Neuer. The excitement for Neuer was similar to that of Kimmich. Most of us simply do not expect that the players of this stature will be included in these events, but when they are, it is something extremely special to those who attend.
The players again signed autographs and took pictures with the supporters who showed up before being whisked off to whatever was next on their agenda.
One event that seemed to have flown a little under the radar was a discussion at the National Museum of African American History and Culture regarding racisim and it’s affects worldwide.
Seating was limited for this event and I personally did not know anyone who was invited but it is the type of activity that in my mind seperates Bayern from other clubs. While there are still issues to be addressed, even at Bayern (Qatar for example), taking the time and effort to try and address forms of discrimination while in another country on tour for entertainment purposes makes me proud to be a supporter of this club.
Racisim has increasingly become a problem over the last few years with incidents rising in this country and for Bayern to take an active interest in trying to confront the issue and bring awareness to it says a lot about them as a club.
The cynics out there will say that it was all for the media or that it feels fake, but the reality is that they are under no obligation to do it. Even if there was no sincerity involved, it does still accomplish something. It still takes a stand. It still makes a difference. If more clubs, organizations, teams and companies took a stand and participated in discussions and events like this, I can’t help but think that the world would be a better place.
Finally, there are two more events that popped up in our radar after the fact. The first seems like yet another forced obligation where they visited the German embassy to the U.S. and provided yet more people with an opportunity to meet players.
For the second, the players were able to visit the White House and take a tour which seems more like something that they actually wanted to do as there weren’t really any fan expectations surrounding the event. While I’m sure there was obligation here as well, it at least felt more like something they would choose to do than 95% of the events listed above.
And then there is the match. As a friend of mine who also attended said “The match is the least exciting thing about these tours.” In all honesty, I think the majority of us who had access to the previous events mentioned in this article would all agree with that.
When FC Bayern play a team like DC United, we all know what the result is going to be. We all know that the levels are so vastly different that there is no way for us to judge the levels of the team or guage the play.
Still, as I mentioned in Part I, this is the only opportunity that many will have to see Bayern, or in some cases any European footballing side, in their lives. Most of us take for granted the opportunities to see the teams and sports that are close to us, but for those abroad, even these exhibition matches provide an opportunity that is truly appreciated.
As exhibition matches go, this was one of the better ones I’ve watched. In some ways, playing an MLS side actually provides a better experience and more entertainment.
When they play bigger European sides, the play tends to be very lethargic. Neither team really ever gets past 70% (on the high side). Both teams tend to play not to get injured. Neither is really willing to go out and put in the type of effort or commitment to make it that entertaining.
However when they play a side like DC United, that changes somewhat. The players for DC do want to put in effort. They see it as an opportunity, maybe the only one they will ever get, to play against some of the best players in the world.
This gives them the motivation to put in as good a performance as they are capable of in order to shine for at least a night. While Bayern are never going to take it as seriously, this competitiveness can draw out more effort and excitement from the Bayern players. It’s only natural.
Then there was the fact that it was the first time seeing the new players in a Bayern jersey. Whether it was Sadio Mané and the very recent transfer Matthijs de Ligt scoring their first goals for Bayern or Gravenberch making a wonderful pass to Müller for a goal, these plays provided interest and excitement for those in attendance.
So while the match probably does end up being the least exciting event for those who experience the rest of the tour, it still provides entertainment and possibilities for those who are not so lucky or simply long to see the game played at a higher level than offered here.
The third and final part of this series will come tomorrow when I’ll answer some final questions more directly, specifically regarding the overall effects and perception of the summer tours.