The Heart of English Football this year is undoubtedly Manchester as both domestic trophies, league title and FA Cup are held by Man United and Man City respectively. Sir Alex’ team can even go a step further in adding a Champions League trophy to their record- breaking nineteenth league title.
London, just like Berlin, Munich or Paris are left empty-handed this season. Instead the German title and the Cup will go to the German equivalent of Lancashire: The Ruhr-Area as Dortmund have won their seventh league title and either Schalke 04 or MSV Duisburg will bring the German Cup to the area. Just like Lancashire, the Ruhr-Area is densely populated and the heart of German football, although many see this at Munich where Bayern sit on their throne as undisputed record champion.
The parallels seem to be plentiful and are ranging from the density of clubs playing in the first and second division and even lower down the league structure to the past of these landscapes. The areas are and were known for their industrial background and heritage. Many players in Dortmund or Schalke were working in one of the near pits or steel works, while the Lancashire footballers were working in mines or textile production. Manchester United started as the team of railway workers in Newton Heath before moving to Old Trafford.
Of course, the industrial dust has long gone and Germany and England are now post-industrial societies. It meant that the North-West of England and the West of Germany had to undergo a hard and difficult transitional period from blue-collar work to white-collar office and service industries. Nonetheless, the past has left its traces and they are visible everywhere.
It is remarkable that other European countries like Spain and France or maybe Italy do not have a similar congested urban area with a big number of football clubs. One has to look to Argentina to find Buenos Aires with even more clubs and fanatic support than England and Germany. Reinaldo Coddou H. went even as far as to say that Buenos Aires is the world capital of football which he underlined with the support and the number of clubs in and around the Argentinian capital. In terms of support this is certainly correct as Argentina is unrivaled when it comes to getting behind a team. But that surely applies to Germany and even more for England. Admittedly the biggest clubs in Lancashire, Greater Manchester and the Ruhr Area get the most support, no doubt about that but it seems somewhat strange to postulate such a thing as a world capital of football. Isn’t the Premier League the most successful in the world when it comes to TV revenue? In return aren’t the German grounds not constantly praised for their atmosphere? In comparison London offers plenty of first and second division clubs, which Berlin cannot, this might have historical reasons. This would put London on a par with Buenos Aires but doesn’t make either of them the world capital of football.
There is a reason why there are football museums in Preston and in Dortmund, ok the latter to highlight the club’s BVB 09 history. Preston’s museum meanwhile focuses on the national history of the game in England.
This for sure makes the English North-West and the German West footballing hotspots. In terms of football the playing style of teams originating from there was that of work hard – play hard, i.e. a physical approach to the game. Whereas clubs such as Arsenal have been considered posh or Bayern playing with flair and style. Working class football was rough and fast. The exception in Germany might be Borussia Mönchengladbach in the 1970s who played a free-flowing football with Günter Netzer at the heart of the team.
Buenos Aires, the Ruhr Area and Lancashire/Greater Manchester are certainly on a par when it comes to density of clubs in a small, highly urbanized region. Yet the latter two have more in common than first meets the eye as has been pointed out above. And, as it is important in this blog, highlight another similarity between Germany and England.