Thursday, 21 September 2017

My night as a corporate fan - a stunning exposé of free beer and shady deals

I have never been a corporate fan, but in the interests of balanced reporting I generously accepted an offer to accompany a friend who is. His firm holds six VIP tickets for every FC Cologne home game, and last night they played my local team, Eintracht Frankfurt. It's the kind of gritty, undercover work that we football bloggers are occasionally forced into when exploring the seedy under-belly of sport's darker side. My only problem would be resisting the lucrative job offers that would no doubt come my way via a shady half-time handshake. I was determined not to become 'one of us'.

Far from the 'wild horde' at
FC Köln's Müngersdorfer Stadium
First, let me tell you about my friend, 'John' (his real name). We met when we were both proper journalists several years ago before our profession died and he crossed to a more generous paymaster to work in something called 'communications' (and I crossed into a cash-free zone called 'freelancing'). His job, however, is not to communicate, but to obfuscate. That's why his firm's web site proclaims that it "provides solutions to propel our customers from start to finish to unlock new insights". Understand?

John has three colleagues along on the corporate tab who are all FC Cologne fans. John himself claims to be a Bayern Munich supporter for some tenuous reason I can't recall, although he's from Chicago and lives near Frankfurt. Let's just say he's a truly global customer in
the football entertainment industry. Tonight, though, he chooses to back Eintracht, which is bad news for the Cologne fans - John is their boss and, being a vocal North American from a culture of deeply embedded but chronically inane trash talk, heartlessly deepens their pain in following a side that is bottom of the Bundesliga and impotent to lift itself out of a crisis in form and confidence.

Approaching Cologne's magnificent Müngersdorfer Stadium, I of course feel like a complete fraud. A little like when I have a media pass. The other fans are behaving like fans (drinking, singing, laughing cynically), and I'm feeling like something much more detached (a freeloading interloper). I have a special entrance, with a special wrist-band, and lots of smiling young hostesses making me feel extra special just for walking up with my VIP ticket. Are they really so pleased to see a balding, bandy-legged, middle-aged man with hearing aids enter the hospitality section? Of course they are - because I'm special!

Free. All night long.
I'm not going to complain, though. Once I find our table, I just sit down and waitresses bring me beer after beer. Admittedly it's Kölsch, so you can drink about 15 glasses and still safely operate a lathe. "What's having sex by the river got in common with Kölsch?" John asks me. "They're both fucking close to water." But it would be rude to quibble when it's flowing free, along with a menu that includes various cuts of pork and chicken, and - probably not available elsewhere in the ground - sushi.

We are by no means alone back here - there are dozens of companies represented by hundreds, possibly thousands, of fans. There's no rarefied atmosphere of exclusivity, no suits whispering about turnover, yields and profit warnings. It's more like a really long and busy beer cellar where everyone's on the lam. Bar the odd Eintracht shirt, they're all Cologne supporters with the same concern as the fans outside - where the hell are the goals going to come from now that Anthony Modeste's gone to China?

I consider asking John if his company could provide FC Cologne with a solution to unlock new insights, but I get distracted by a plate of Currywurst and another round of Kölsch. I could easily get used to this. After all, I'm old enough now that I can stop pretending to care about standing on the open terrace for 90 minutes. Then everyone at the table stands up and I remember - we're here to watch a game. We shuffle to our seats, which are padded, and more comfortable than anything I've ever placed my skinny arse on within the four walls of a football stadium.

What the non-corporate fans
got up to at Cologne station
 on the Amsterdam-Frankfurt ICE.
The less said about the game the better - Frankfurt are dreadful, but Cologne are much, much worse. Frankfurt win 1-0 thanks to a dubious first-half penalty, while Cologne's evening is summed up by a corner they eke out three minutes from time, and which the hopeless Konstantin Rausch slices right into the home support. John stands up and, as he has been doing for most of the night, leeringly taunts his melancholy co-workers.

I decide to try and do some business after all. "I'll have John taken care of for €20,000," I offer to his colleagues after the final whistle. We shake on it immediately, no negotiations required. The deal is done, and now I just need my secretary to draw up the documents and have them sent over in the morning to be signed. We head back up to the restaurant level. Unlike the bar on the concourse, this one's open for another two hours.

I would like to take this opportunity to state that I am available for all future assignments investigating the habits and lifestyle of the corporate fan.

'The Quiet Fan' will be published by Unbound in 2018. Click here to pre-order an e-book or paperback copy.

4 comments:

  1. It reminded me a little of your short story about going to Wembley in For whom the ball rolls.

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    1. I hadn't thought of that - funny that how I imagined a corporate night out at a game was not that different to reality.

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