Saturday, June 19, 2021
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The lure of football stats, facts and strange allegiances

Alemannia Aachen badge (courtesy of yikibook)This week the Premier League was big news due to the announcement that Sky and BT Sport have paid £5.1bn for the rights to air live games for the 2016/17-2018/19 seasons. Many reactions emboldened the ongoing and just cause for fans to see lower ticket prices. And no wonder, football is rife with money but as in life the distribution of it tends to be top heavy. Due to this I've often been drawn to the plights and successes of the clubs aiming to punch above their weight, by maximising resources on the pitch and through the coaching staff.


I'm also fascinated by history and statistics, which is probably a part of why football grabbed me from my early teens and will never let me go. So I digress, a few years ago I was on a little road trip that ended up in West Germany, and one of my companions was our erstwhile editor Mr Moftakhar. The last stop we stayed in was a relaxing town called Aachen, and in a square not far from their famous Cathedral built by Charlemagne, was a small sign that proudly described the historical highlights of Alemannia Aachen, the local team.

I thought (without any hint of patronisation) that this was endearingly brilliant. The height of their success was between the 2003/2004 and 2006/2007 seasons. In the former came their solitary DFB-Pokal final appearance. Sadly they came up just short, losing 3-2 to a Werder Bremen side that was completing a league and cup double under the management of club colossus Thomas Schaff.

In 2005-6 they achieved promotion to the Bundesliga, ending a 36 wait for top tier action. Their stay only lasted the one season but clearly the local population are proud of how much was achieved by the Kartoffelkäfer (potato beetles- what a great nickname).

Now, I've developed an occasional habit of buying the scarf of the local team as a souvenir, and this was one of those examples. However, due to time constraints I had to make sure that I was at the official club shop (not far from the square and sign) at around 10am on the morning of our departure..

I had expected there to be one or two fans in the shop having a browse, after all, Aachen has a population of 240,000+ and the Alemannia stadium (New Tivoli) holds almost 33,000. As it transpired, I was waiting outside for about five minutes before the lady who was to open up had arrived. Another few minutes went by before I was let in and needless to say there was no queue behind me. I chose my scarf and wondered if I was perhaps failing to be inconspicuous!

Not long prior to my visit, the club had taken a turn for the worse and been relegated to the third division of German football. Unbelievably the next season (2012/13) saw them go down for the second consecutive campaign, where the standard is classed as semi-professional amongst five regional leagues in the division. Last season Alemannia consolidated in 13th place out of 19 in Regionalliga West. So as you can tell I'm keeping an eye on how they're doing, even though I've only visited Aachen once for 2 days.

As with most clubs that start dropping like a stone through the leagues, there were murky, underlying problems to do with finances. What is clear is that Alemannia filed for bankruptcy in 2012 with liabilities said to be in the region of €50m.

In spite of this, it appears that 2014/15 looks set to be the brightest season for the club in a number of years. After their first 21 league matches they sit atop the table by 3 points having only lost the once. I can't help but feel pleased for them, particularly because it's hard not to like a comeback.

Besides, it transpires that they have an Englishman playing in their defence named Kris Thackray. Strangely enough the Geordie has never played professionally in England. Instead he represented several clubs in the Italian lower leagues, and prior to landing in Aachen, he turned out for the Maltese Premier League team Qormi F.C.

As you may be able to tell, I'm always eager to widen my footballing perspective, and I think most devoted football fans are keen to do the same. At some stage in your life you're bound to have struck up a conversation with a stranger that was solely based upon the sport, and on the rare occasion when you learn something new it makes it all the more worthwhile.

Likewise, many supporters tend to keep a vigil on the results of teams where they used to live, just because you should maintain an inexplicable eye on them. I'm not sure if it's to do with the obsessive nature of supporters or our sentimentality, but either way it demonstrates the way that football can tug at the heart strings and the mind.

Of course we all know that you can only truly support one club, and that those bonds are usually forged at a young age. So on this Valentine's weekend I should emphasise that whilst it's okay to take a look at other football teams and to be there for them in some capacity, don't forget your first love......I mean scarf!

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