Football is a place for us to dream. About having success, about one day becoming champions, go to Europe and win the Champions League. That’s hopelessly unrealistic of course, but for football fans it’s all about those dreams. That’s why the European Super League was such a bad idea. And that is why it is so much more important news that, amongst many others, my team Union Berlin have qualified for Europe next season. This is an ode to football romanticism.
My dad is almost 82 years now. But ask him where he was on May 6th 1970 and he will tell you. My old man was in San Siro in Milan that day, where his beloved Feyenoord team was playing Celtic, another traditional force in football with them beautiful green-white striped T-shirts, in the final of the Europa Cup I. The one for real champions.
When I was young he occasionally showed me the official images. He needed the projector for that, and a huge screen. The living room had to go completely dark so we could admire the 8mm video, the shaky black-and-white images without sound. At some point the tape cracked and had to be mended. But the end result remained the same: 2-1 for Feyenoord, their only European Cup for Champions until now. For the younger crowd: it was the precursor of the Champions League.
I can still remember going through the black-and-white yearbook of the European campaign of Feyenoord that year. Beating Reykjavik in the first round. Then AC Milan, before traveling to Vorwärts Berlin (where are they now?) and in the semi-finals beating Legia Warschau. What an adventure that was.
Obviously, things change. Football has moved on and has become much more professional. It has also unfortunately become much more predictable, with always the same teams making it to the latter stages of the Champions League.
The Super League would have made it even worse, but the current incarnation of the international competition is also unsustainable. And yes, I do have ideas how to change that, though those will not be implemented.
But it is necessary to find ways so many more fans of many more different teams all across Europe can dream of having international success again. Because it will mean something personal to them. And the European Conference League, on a sporting level not even close to being a competitor for the Champions League, will provide that.
Dreams and stories
Why? Because it fills fans with dreams and stories. One of my best friends is a Feyenoord fan. Although I have been living in Berlin for almost ten years now, we immediately found each other in the past weekend. Because his club qualified for the Conference League. My Union did as well. So there is a slight chance that our old rivalry (I am originally a fan of their archrival Ajax Amsterdam) will be ignited again.
No, this is no competition for the big teams. But for us Union fans it is an adventure. A place to dream. Like it was for Feyenoord in the 70s. Every year was different, always different opponents in other parts of Europe to visit.
That’s why I had to think of that yearbook of 1970. And the 8mm films of my dad. My Union friends immediately started to check which opponents we could meet. It is how we discovered Santa Clara, which turned out to be in the Azores, a mere five-hour flight from Berlin.
Rubin Kazan? Great club, magnificent stadium that I visited during the 2018 World Cup in Russia. I wouldn’t mind going again. Sweden? Belgium? Scotland? Bring it on!
More geographic spread
Of course I understand it would become more boring when you play European football every year. Bayern fans probably don’t even get excited anymore about the group stage of the Champions League. That, though, is exactly the reason why that competition should become more unpredictable. Why there should be more geographic spread.
European football isn’t about having the absolutely best teams possible, every year. It’s about being able to dream as a fan. About going special places, about winning something that is once-in-a-lifetime.
As a young Ajax fan I got used to success. Dreaming of winning the Champions League turned out to not be elusive in 1995. But a dream like that would be ridiculous now. Don’t even start about that as well as a fan of Feyenoord, Celtic, Vorwärts Berlin or Legia Warschau.
With Union Berlin we are not going to win the Champions League nor the European Conference League. But we will have several away adventures. We will have some magical European nights we will never forget.
No one can take away those memories from us. That’s what football should be about. And not about two teams that are owned by oil money playing the Champions League final, a personal fun project completely detached from the fans who are the heart and soul of football.