Created on 29-07-2014 at 09:41 AM
Times Square, Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty, Wall Street, Broadway, Central Park... and FC Bayern. The organisation flying the flag for Germany’s biggest club in the heart of Manhattan is the New York City fan club, one of 20 FCB fan clubs in the USA and the only one in the Big Apple.
Matthias Schmitt founded the meeting point for Bayern fans two years ago in February 2012. The 42-year old from Baden moved to the USA in 1996 and has spent the last nine years in New York working as a freelance television producer. Schmitt spoke to fcbayern.de about his life as a Bayern fan in New York, German fan club culture and how he feels ahead of the arrival of FC Bayern in the Big Apple on Wednesday for the start of the Audi Summer Tour of the USA.
Interview: Matthias Schmitt
fcbayern.de: Matthias, how did you get the idea of setting up a Bayern fan club in New York?
Matthias Schmitt: I always missed being involved with football during my time in the USA. The fact you can meet up with friends, watch football and talk about the game was unknown here. And, as I’ve been a Bayern fan since I was a kid - when Paul Breitner and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge were playing in the late 70s and early 80s - the idea came to me: there must be enough Bayern fans in New York to start a fan club. It’s developed brilliantly. The fan club has grown and grown from a handful of people to 160 members today.
How do your American work colleagues react when you tell them about your fan club?
There’s a certain element of surprise. With American sports you go to the stadium, watch the game and then you make your way home. The professional sides include high school and college teams - rather than the clubs we have in Germany with teams of all ages from U8s to veteran teams. A place where you train, play and meet up in the club house. That’s completely alien to the Americans.
How do the American members of the fan club get on with this German club culture?
It’s like the Oktoberfest and many of the them have been there. Sitting together, drinking beer and singing - our Americans think they’re in a beer tent on Theresienwiese. We meet up for a drink once or twice a month, watch football together and have the occasional game. We also visit the beer gardens in Manhattan. There are lot of them here although not all of them actually have a garden.
What percentage of the fan club members are German?
Around 25 percent are German. We’re a multicultural bunch covering a wide range of cultures, languages and backgrounds. That makes us a great meeting point for Bayern fans who have just arrived in the big city. You quickly find loads of new friends at the fan club.
What’s it like when you get together to watch a football match? When we kick off at 3.30 on a Saturday afternoon you must be about to have your breakfast.
Yes. It’s half nine in the morning here so you really do have football for breakfast. Or brunch as they say here. We meet up in our local bar. And the beer’s soon flowing.
What’s the difference between watching football in New York and in a pub in Germany?
The big difference is you don’t normally sing after every goal. We like to sing here in New York.
What do you sing?
After every goal we copy what Stephan Lehmann does at the Allianz Arena: 'Goaaaaaal for FC Bayern! Goalscorer on such and such a minute was our number... ' Or: 'Come on Bayern, let’s have a goal. ' The usual fan songs that our English-speaking fans can join in with.
How unfamiliar is soccer to the Americans?
I’ve lived in the USA for 18 years now and I’ve come to the conclusion that the understanding of and affinity for football grows and grows from one World Cup to the next. It was a minor subculture at the start but there are more and more soccer fans now. All the bigger cities have youth academies and teams where children can play football. Soccer is very popular here in New York as the city is so multicultural. There are three pro teams here: Red Bull, Cosmos and now New York City FC.
Images of partying and celebrating Americans were seen all over the planet during the World Cup. Was there really that enthusiasm for soccer?
It really was like that and the pictures didn’t lie. It’s a pity the USA were knocked out in the Round of 16. The level of excitement is always related to the success on the pitch.
What effect did Germany’s World Cup win have on you here in the city?
You can definitely walk taller as a German. People talk to you about the World Cup win all the time and you keep seeing Germany shirts in the city.
And now FC Bayern are on the way. How exciting is that for you?
First winning the World Cup and now Bayern - it’s fantastic! We’ve organised a great set of events here at the fan club and we’re looking forward to meeting other Bayern fans coming to the city. We’ve had loads of e-mails from people from Baltimore, Philadelphia, Washington and Montreal who are coming to New York to watch the game.
What exactly has the fan club organised?
We’ll start by going to watch the training session on Wednesday and then go to the Legends game in Brooklyn. Of course, we’ll be at the match against Chivas on Thursday. We’ll meet up in our local before the game. We’ve also had a huge banner and t-shirts produced and we want to present some of them to Bayern as a welcome gift. We’ve also organised a big party for all Bayern fans in New York on Friday night.
Are you looking forward to seeing one particular person from Munich?
Pep Guardiola of course as he lived in New York for a year. But we’re also looking forward to seeing Robert Lewandowski. Or Holger Badstuber who has fought his way back so well. Obviously, it’s a pity the German World Cup winners won’t be in New York. But we understand that. Never mind. FC Bayern are coming. We can hardly wait.