It is daytime, and this is a shame. For while the afternoon is undeniably pleasant and unusually warm for October, the Allianz Arena is not at its best in the sunlight. At night, when Bayern Munich play, the red lighting turns the stadium into a wonderful and ridiculous thing, a gargantuan, livid, alien raspberry.
With the lights out, however, and the sunshine gleaming back off the white cladding, it still looks big and strange and striking but it also looks ... tiled. Vaguely sanitary. Wipe-clean, even. Unsettlingly so. Fortunately, once you get a bit closer, the general faff of a football match takes over, and the sense of approaching the Great Temple of God of Grouting recedes.
On this particular Saturday afternoon, Bayern, defending Bundesliga champions and current league leaders, are entertaining FC Köln. Though Bayern had slipped up just a few days earlier, losing 1-0 away to Atlético Madrid in the Champions League, the pregame atmosphere is relaxed and convivial. It reflects not only Bayern's perfect start to the domestic season and unarguable status as the strongest team in the Germany, but also the fact that this game comes towards the end of Oktoberfest.
The very air of Munich is about 6 percent alcohol by volume. There are lederhosen everywhere. Over the past few seasons it has become commonplace to valorize German football as a kind of counterpoint to the swollen monstrosity of the English game. Day trips from the latter to the former are common: one travel booking company estimates that 2,000 Brits attend Borussia Dortmund home games, with 1,500 going to St. Pauli and another 1,000 to Union Berlin. Which seems, admittedly, exceptionally high.
A few committed and conveniently located Brits even purchase a Bundesliga season ticket, popping over once every week or so. The major comparison is ticket prices, which are generally and sometimes comically lower in Germany than the Premier League, but advocates also point to the generally attacking football, frequently lively atmosphere and the fact that the money saved can be spent on beer which can then be drunk in sight of the pitch. While standing.
It is, in short, a decision to reject one football experience in favor of another that is both cheaper and in some ways better. It ties in to a certain extent with the Against Modern Football tendency, a collection of sentiments that encompasses much that is undeniably positive or benign. For example, the disquiet with bloated ticket prices and rampant, exploitative commercialism, but is nevertheless fundamentally reactionary. So, at times, one cannot help but shade over into something more unpleasant, even chauvinistic.
For while it is true that not everybody can afford modern football, it is equally true that — in Britain, at least — not everybody was welcome back when it was cheap. Perhaps seeking relief in Germany is a convenient way for the British dissenter to avoid navigating that tension.
As a dominant super club in a modern super stadium, Bayern lack the countercultural underdog appeal of St. Pauli or the famous atmosphere of Dortmund's Yellow Wall. But much of what brings Brits to Germany is present and correct: permitted standing, persistent singing, convivial drinking. There is even a tifo: Bayern and Köln's starting XIs are welcomed to the pitch by the sight of the head, shoulders, and baseball bat of A Clockwork Orange's Alex DeLarge, draped in banner form across the Bayern ultras.
Quite how Bayern's fans connect themselves to Kubrick's rampaging droogs isn't exactly clear. Perhaps they're just really into their Beethoven. But this moment of incongruity can't undermine what is otherwise as smooth and slick a football-watching experience as is available anywhere. The atmosphere is energetic and pleasant without ever threatening to become edgy. Security is extremely light, fans appear to be entirely unsegregated, and the noise, though never febrile, is persistent from the Bayern ultras and the Köln end and occasionally spreads around the rest of the ground.
Even the call-and-response from the stadium PA that greets Bayern's first goal — "Joshua!" "KIMMICH!" "Joshua!" "KIMMICH!" "Joshua!" "KIMMICH!" — concludes with the frankly adorable sound of the announcer shouting "Danke!" and tens of thousands of people roaring back "BITTE!" It all rolls along so frictionlessly that it threatens to become anodyne.
Credit: Lennart Preiss/Getty Images
Experiencing football outside of one's ordinary routine should, in theory, be a pleasant series of discombobulatory moments, a process of snagging oneself against a series of tiny differences and taking pleasure each time. The game is the same everywhere, but the game is different everywhere, and the joy of football tourism comes in the reconciliation of those two notional opposites.
Here, though, there's almost nothing to snag against at all, and it's hard to avoid the feeling that the Bayern matchday experience is not so much another way of watching the game — better or otherwise — so much as precisely the experience that modern football, in the worryingly commercialized sense, aspires to. This doesn't necessarily mean sitting in one's seat and hoping for a fight to break out; that would be pointless and trite.
But it is hard to bask in your principled rejection of das perfide Albion when you know that if Ed Woodward and Richard Scudamore were in your place, they'd be smiling just as broadly and taking approving notes. Noisy, but not too noisy. Lots and lots of new replica shirts. Smiles everywhere. The purchasing experience made smoother thanks to dedicated ArenaCards; no cash means a quicker turnover. Good mustard.
Perhaps this shouldn't be too surprising; perhaps experienced Bundesliga watchers are shaking their heads and laughing at the idea of finding anything too remarkable or peculiar at a Bayern game. Particularly at this precise moment in football history, where European football is becoming a network of super clubs, where teams that regularly dominate at home and compete in the Champions League begin to dislocate, at least partially, from their domestic context, even as they distort that same context with their financial power and cachet.
They have their minds turned towards bigger things, which is why people were able to wonder if Pep Guardiola's spell in Munich, which brought three straight titles but no Champions League, amounted to a certain kind of rarified failure. And as the mind turns, so does the aspect, the presentation. Maybe the business of being a team as big as Bayern just doesn't allow for the little snags and wrinkles. Maybe personality is a consolation prize.
Certainly, the game showed every sign of heading that way. Though Carlo Ancelotti's initial team selection was a little peculiar and didn't quite gel, and though his attacking line of Arjen Robben, Robert Lewandowski, and Kingsley Coman weren't always in tune with one another, the energy and class of Renato Sanches and Joshua Kimmich kept Bayern in control for the first half.
The latter scored the opener five minutes before half-time, when he stooped to meet a flat, hard cross from the overlapping Juan Bernat. The Köln fans kept singing, the rest of the Arena relaxed. That state of relaxation lasted through the break, and had Javi Martínez not directed a header against the post shortly after the restart, might well have won the day.
But it was clear that while the score remained 1-0, Köln fancied their chances of getting something from their afternoon. The visitors started to focus their efforts down Bayern's left and Yuya Osako, dropping deep from his forward position, started to find some space in front of the Bayern defence.
More from our Bayern blog
More from our Bayern blog
The equalizer came just after the hour, when former Blackburn Rovers legend Anthony Modeste rose in the middle of the box to meet a Marcel Risse cross. Perhaps anticipating a glanced finish, Manuel Neuer started to move to his right, then had to torque back on himself as the ball looped down the middle. He ended up twisting himself almost fully around on the spot as the ball, like a particularly impish salmon, evaded his swiping paws and escaped beyond.
You wouldn't necessarily call it a goalkeeping error. But it certainly looked very funny. Ancelotti, having introduced Thomas Müller at halftime, threw on Arturo Vidal and then David Alaba, and the game locked into a pattern of Bayern pressure interspersed with occasional Köln breaks. But though the home team dominated the ball, the chances fell just about evenly. The visitors even had the ball in the net at one point, only for the linesman's flag to rudely interrupt.
Up the other end, Timo Horn deflected one rattling drive onto his crossbar and watched another clip the outside of the post. The last real chance for either side came deep into stoppage time, but with an unmarked Modeste screaming for the ball in the middle of the area, Simon Zoller, having sprinted two-thirds of the length of the pitch, slid the ball a couple of feet past the outside of the post.
Köln's unexpected and hard-won point perhaps comes as some consolation when set against the general perfection of the Bayern experience: all it takes is a little defensive laxity, some wasteful finishing, and one of the best goalkeepers in the world ends up contorted like a pretzel, watching the ball and the result sail past just out of reach.
Whatever else happens around the football, there's always the game to reassure you of the fundamental unmanageability of this most important, least important thing. Even even here, at the wipe-clean pinnacle of the modern super club, there is still just a little space for chaos.