English football should learn from Germany and its democratic clubs


They do things properly in Germany, and that includes their national game. German football is on the brink of a new golden age. The national team is once more feared, the Bundesliga is thriving – average attendances 42,000-plus – and the top German clubs are doing well in Europe.

Bayern Munich, Dortmund and Shalke are all poised to make waves in the Champions League last 16, contrasting with the tepid performance of English clubs. German football, which went through a rough patch in the 2000s, is now eclipsing Spain (a two-horse town), Italy (blighted by corruption) and the Premier.

Like most aspects of modern day life, we have a lot to learn from Germany and the Germans, and that includes how to look after everyone’s favourite sport. They have a strict rule that insists that Bundesliga clubs are 50% plus 1% owned by members. Bayern Munich, for example, are 82%-owned by 185,000 members. Hannover tried to have the ruling changed a couple of years back and the entire league voted against them (aside from three abstainees). It creates a form of democracy that makes the English “free market” looks akin to the feudal system. German clubs have a management board and a supervisory board – the sort of structure adopted by DAX 30 companies!

The English “ownership” approach has soaked into the game at all levels – from the top to several steps into non-league, yet the best and fairest way to run football would be to throw it into the hands of the people who patronise the game week-in, week-out. In Germany, that’s what they have and as a result, the fans feel as though they belong to the club and vice-versa.

Borussia Dortmund, the best supported club in Germany with a cool 80,000 people per game, had financial problems a few years back, but they are now one of Europe’s top (if somewhat overlooked) clubs.Their chief executive, Hans-Joachim Watzke, has had a snipe at the English game and he’s not far wrong. He considers Germany cares more about its football and that the Germans have a more “romantic” view of their game.

Certainly, the English seem hell bent on freezing out young talent. While the Bundesliga comprises 48.5% foreigners, the Premier has 65%. And as Watzke puts it, what will life after Abramovich look like for Chelsea? German football is based on sustainability and supporter engagement. Why else would they make the game so accessible?

It costs little more than the price of English non-league football to watch Bundesliga football. That’s a staggering statistic and one that should make the suits in Soho Square, London, think twice about the sort of game that is being created. Just eleven euros to watch Dortmund? That sounds like a good deal for the under-25 age group.

And you can still stand at a German game. They’ve tried to enforce all-seater stadia, but so far, the fans are winning the battle. They look at English football and its flat lager of an atmosphere and have unequivocally said, “Nein”. They may ultimately lose that battle, however, once the debate moves to Berlin!

Even English TV has started to feature Bundesliga highlights as a fresh appetite for German football gathers momentum. But it’s not just the game itself that draws our admiration. The Germans have got it right off the field and one day, the English may just regret the way the free market has damaged the home of football….

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