Our plane dipped gently down over Bavaria, its ribbon strip farmers’ fields growing larger by the second. “Welcome to Munich” offered the flight attendant – words of promise and magnitude, because there is something so momentous, so substantial about that city’s name.  

At passport control, a security officer enquired as to the purpose of my trip with a sternness that suggested fanatical devotion to old-fashioned national stereotypes. When I mentioned I was in Germany to watch some football matches, the mask slipped in a most delightful way. It was as if a cloud had departed and the sun had suddenly and fleetingly illuminated a dark corner. We talked now not in English, but in the international language of our shared sport, this Esperanto of the round ball. “Oh Yes? Which games?” he brightly asked, before offering a recap of VfB Stuttgart’s recent form and an account of 1860 München’s woes. A waft of impatience from those queuing behind sailed over us. Then, the clunk of his passport stamp snapped us back to the humdrum real world. “Enjoy your time,” he finished. 

The Herald:


Munich old town had the feel of a place waiting for something to happen. Locals nattered on corners, tourists idled and took too many photographs. Beneath the gothic pomp of the town hall, Marienplatz was almost empty. I stood and imagined it in a few months’ time, colonised by men in kilts and reverberating with beery declarations of love for John McGinn and steins clinked to the Good Lord Steve Clarke. This elegant yet dull canvas would then be richer. 

As if performing a rehearsal version of that thought, the next morning Munich central station’s drab main hall was temporarily animated by Bayern ultras passing through en route to an away fixture. Then on the train to Stuttgart, somewhere by the silky Danube, a man asked why I was travelling west. He listened and said, “Ah. You are a Groundhopper!” From the airport to the carriage, Germany trickles with football.  

On the twenty-minute walk through Bad Cannstatt to VfB Stuttgart’s plush stadium, that trickle became a deluge. Thousands tramped merrily in their red and white trimmings, a magnificent procession of hope and optimism and bursts of song as all strolls towards kick-off should be. Some stopped to consider buying further hats and scarves from bounteous street stalls, or beers from buckets of ice. Every 50 metres or so waited a local with a supermarket trolley, collecting empties to cash in.  

The Herald:


It was everything another country’s pre-match parade should be – full of the purpose and routine we all know so well, yet embossed with different matchday furniture. I felt immediately, ridiculously jealous towards those of you who will soon stride this promenade.  

The hoards shuffled around a corner and as one looked to the same nearing object: the Stuttgart Arena, framed by a colossal beam in the manner of an old gasholder. Here was a palace, a temple, a bustling society all of its own. Soon it will be painted blue.