I’m only a casual soccer fan. I watch the World Cup, and the occasional English Premier League match.
That’s why I’m a little shocked my sister and I have become absolute suckers for German soccer.
The Bundesliga, Germany’s top soccer league, resumed this weekend after a roughly two-month hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic. Health measures were put in place to keep players, coaches and staff safe. There were no fans in the stand
Despite that, top-level competitive sports were being played on television. It’s almost a miracle, all things considered.
Before I continue: No one in my family speaks German, and I only know the names of a couple Bundesliga teams from playing the FIFA video game on my Xbox One.
Some of the teams are good, probably, but I’m not totally sure which ones. My sister had never seen a Bundesliga team play.
At roughly 9:30 a.m. on Saturday my sister Carissa and I tuned into the feed from Germany. Borussia Dortmund and FC Schalke 04 were already in the second half of their match.
We picked a team to root for based on their colors. We both went with the yellow and black squad, Dortmund.
When the score came up, we saw our pick had already amassed a 4-0 lead on Schalke and won the match about ten minutes later.
Dortmund celebrated with elbow bumps and showed thanks by applauding the empty stadium. The TV announcers explained the “yellow wall” behind a goal is usually filled with the most passionate Dortmund supporters, and I couldn’t help but feel something as I watched the players cheer in the empty arena.
A short documentary came on between the Dortmund victory and the next match. It recapped a tense 2007 match between Schalke and Dortmund. We learned the two squads were bitter rivals.
At that moment it sank in that, in the midst of one of the worst global pandemics in history, there were people who were crushed by their favorite soccer team’s blowout loss to the team they hate the most. It was somehow comforting that the bitterness that accompanies a rivalry loss was back in the world.
While my sister and I were getting a crash course in German soccer rivalries, we were also undefeated in our German soccer analysis.
In the second match on Saturday, Borussia Mönchengladbach and Eintracht Frankfurt emerged one team at a time from the tunnel.
We both picked the light blue Mönchengladbach, partly because we were seeing the pre-match commentary that said they were a good team, partly because we can’t spell Mönchengladbach without looking it up and because of their jersey color. It’s so intoxicatingly German it was impossible to pick against.
Only 40 seconds into the match, Gladbach scored.
You know when a team you’ve known your whole life hits a buzzer beater, completes the 80-yard touchdown pass or hits the walk-off home run and your arms shoot up and stay there for about a solid minute?
Yeah, that happened to both of us for a team we can’t pronounce and have only known exists for about five minutes. The team we picked mostly because of their jersey color, usually a sports taboo, gave us a feeling we haven’t had in months.
Mönchengladbach won 3-1 to move to third in the Bundesliga standings, and my sister and I moved to 2-0 in our mostly random predictions.
Sunday brought two more matches, the first of which was the Cologne, Germany squad 1. FC Köln at home against 1. FSV Mainz 05.
My sister and I finally had a split opinion. I picked Mainz, and my sister picked Köln.
The match ended in a 2-2 draw, but I felt like I lost. The announcers explained Köln had a live goat mascot, and it wasn’t at the match due to the hygiene regulations in place at the stadium.
There have been some soul crushing moments in sports this year. The realization I didn’t root for the German soccer team with a live goat mascot is up there with IU’s Gator Bowl loss and the cancellation of March Madness.
In the last match on Sunday we both knew enough to pick German powerhouse FC Bayern München as they defeated FC Union Berlin 2-0, and we both moved to 3-0-1 in our light-hearted contest.
Who knows if my sister and I will continue to watch Bundesliga as other sports leagues resume? After all, this weekend also brought the return of NASCAR, providing possible blueprints for the return of the NBA, MLB and other leagues.
My advice is to grab a loved one, root for your new favorite unpronounceable team and start a love affair with German soccer.
It might look different for now, but sports are back. Or, rather, Sport ist zurück.