My phone buzzes as I get back to my south Munich hotel. “Head to the place. Augustinser whatever.” The place it is referring to is Augustiner Keller- one of the best known beer gardens in the city where I agreed the previous night to meet up with fellow Chicago Fire fans for a few drinks before the game against Bayern Munich – a game to thank Bastian Schweinsteiger for his time with the European superpower.
“Weyyyy” one of them shouts across the hundreds of Bayern fans in the garden near the main train station in the city as I enter, instantly recognising another Fire fan within a sea of Germans. He is the owner of the @cf97uk Twitter account for which the bio is “Proud supporters of The Chicago Fire Soccer Club and the wider #cf97 community – especially those in the UK, to whom this humble account is dedicated.” Unfortunately only the two of us from a known number of about ten or so fans made the trip from the UK but this won’t dampen our spirits on a perfectly sunny Bavarian afternoon.
He introduces me to other people sat around the table and before I know it faces are being matched to more social media accounts. People I have known for years online but never met are now drinking across the table from me in a major European city.
The beers flow, and within 45 minutes we have two picnic benches filled with fans who have travelled to watch a club who haven’t won in nine matches watch a non-competitive game. But we know this is unlikely to happen again. How many fans of clubs in MLS are able to go on an away day to Europe? Equally, how many UK-based fans will be able to watch their team so close to home?
More people arrive and before we know it we are the loudest group in the area. Songs are sung as loud as possible, flags and scarves are waved in equal manner as we look to assert our presence and the table soon becomes a truly international affair as a German couple arrive in Fire attire and a Hungarian man who is looking to spend time with us once we get into the game are all welcomed with open arms, as I was when I first began to follow the Fire.
This summer marks the fourth year I have been keeping an eye on the highs and lows (and even more lows) of the Chicago Fire. I was a Chicago Bears fan for a year or so before and, in the preseason of 2014, I thought I might as well see what the city’s soccer franchise has to offer. After many long nights of dodgy streams, late night losses and a lot of twitter interactions later, I was on my first away day- in Germany of all places!
With photos taken to commemorate the event and steins emptied, we began to walk to the U Bahn with pride on our faces and songs in our lungs.
And these songs continued onto the metro platform and onto the train. Despite our group getting split in two by crowds in the city centre we remained vocal and traded chants with home fans as we sped underneath the city towards the Allianz Arena to the north of the city centre.
Before long we were marching our way down the wide path which links the U Bahn and the stadium, flags draped around us, scarves around our waists and necks with more no sign of stopping the chants. A few bemused German faces later, we got through the turnstiles and, despite all the build-up, the game went by in a flash.
We were outnumbered by about 30 to 75,000 but it didn’t matter. We were leaving the issues of Toyota Park, the ownership and the ‘free 101’ movement behind us after showing support for the campaign and, just for one afternoon, truly enjoyed the concept of being Fire fans again.
We made ourselves heard and, above all, were proud to be there. Despite all the dark clouds currently hanging over Bridgeview – the suburban town in which Toyota Park is located- we had a great time.
We drank, we sang and we revelled in the disappointment of supporting our team as the Fire slumped to a 4-0 defeat – albeit better than many of us were expecting. Serge Gnabry opened the scoring before further goals from Sandro Wagner and Arjen Robben paved the way for a perfect ending. The man of the moment – Schweinsteiger, who played 45 minutes for each team – to gracefully place a side footed volley into the top corner on front of the main terrace at the stadium where the most passionate Bayern fans stand their ground. A perfect ending to an incredible day for everyone involved.
The entire day went by quickly – the game in particular – but I wouldn’t change anything. At the end of the day we had a great time being part of something huge for arguably one of the best players in franchise history, supported our team, lost our voices and got drunk in the process – isn’t that what an away day is all about?
Thank you to everyone who made it so special and most of all:
Written by Jason Button – (@JasonB_Journo)
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