Friday, 15 April 2011

Manchester United v. Schalke 04, Champions' League.

This is going to be a humdinger. Schalke 04 is the ultimate working-class club, the team of choice of the submariners in Das Boot. Schalke is a suburb of an unlovely, (post-) industrial German city, Gelsenkirchen, the butt of as many teutonic jokes as Coventry or Doncaster are over in Britain. Still, Gelsenkirchen boasts world-class attitude and a Schlagfertigkeit amongst its populace that gives even legendary Berlin a run for its money. Schlagfertigkeit translates best as 'quickness at repartee', a rather clumsy definition and one which gives lie to the claim that German is an unwieldy language. Another wonderful example of the streamlined German language is Treppenwitz. This is the word, the joke, the remark or put-down which occurs to you one second too late i.e. just as you've left the party or gathering and are on your way downstairs (down the Treppe), the host's door having already closed behind you. German has these expressions in abundance; it's such a shame the language gets such a bad press in Britain. Anyhow, I digress.

Schalke 04, despite being located in a poor suburb of a now impoverished city, play in front of 61,000 people every home game. Fan organisations are heavily implicated in the club's decision-making process, ticket prices are a joke compared to the Premier League and the club enjoys the privilege of being everyone's second-favourite team, a bit like Newcastle United before Tony Blair decided to appropriate it for his own ends. Rudi Assauer was nothing like Freddie Shepherd, though, and even though he's gone, the current incumbent/owner (don't know him, sorry) can't have changed the club's direction too much; the fans wouldn't allow it. They're tied in with Gazprom but they're sponsored by a local brewery, Veltins (OK, where isn't there a local brewery in Germany?). Schalke 04 are basically like a working-class behemoth, their lack of trophies only adding credibility to their man-in-the-street credentials. They're a bit like Bayer Neverkusen, as they are cruelly nicknamed by some, but without large pharmaceutical support. Instead they get it from Russian gas, but that's another post in itself.

Manchester United sadly embody what many people feel is the ultimate in corporate sporting domination, but nothing could be further from the truth. You'd be hard-pressed to find another Premier League club where the manager still insists on graft, discipline, playing for the shirt, for one's own self-esteem and the name while countering global branding and Stock Market expectation. Sir Alex Ferguson deserves a medal for retaining the mentality of the Giggs, Scholes and Neville generation and passing on these values to younger players whilst surrounded by the likes of sheikh-powered Manchester City, Oligarch-funded Chelsea, perfidious Liverpool and newly-Americanised Arsenal. Countering the Glazer Family image in Manchester has not been easy, but one sees, year after year, that Ferguson builds teams based on traditional values, values that nullify transient current fashions in football funding. Long may it last, long may he reign. Fergie may have become a champagne socialist but his teams still play with working-class ardour, and that's all the fans want, even if their salary comes from consultancy rather than coal mines. As I said, this will be a humdinger. Passion will be at the core of the encounter. Let's be honest, which would you rather watch: Manchester United v. Schalke 04 or Chelsea v. Manchester City? Thank you.

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