THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

28 September ~ When I was a lad, I harboured several romantic notions about football that were duly trampled upon over the ensuing decades of shattered expectations. When results first began failing to correspond to my dreams and fantasies, I tried cold mathematical logic instead. If Barrow had beaten Aldershot 2-0, say, and Lincoln had beaten Barrow by the same scoreline, then surely Lincoln would beat Aldershot 4-0. No need to even go to the game. No need to even play it. Well done, lads! The actual result could then be ignored on the grounds that it wasn't scientific.

Anyone using this system to bet the family savings on football games would be advised to avoid the Bundesliga this season, where results have been defying all laws of deduction. Disregard the fact that FSV Mainz are top of the league, with maximum points from six games, including an away win at Bayern Munich. And that financially struggling Dortmund are perched just behind, budget signings and all. Or that Hannover, last season's basket-case team that barely avoided relegation while shipping a league-worst 67 goals, are third. After all, pace-setting underdogs tend to go flat along with the dregs of the Oktoberfest barrels, while Bayern traditionally start to play only once the demands of regional autumn drinking have been put behind them.

No, the remarkable characteristic of the first six rounds of play is that the results make no sense. Stuttgart have beaten Borussia Mönchengladbach 7-0, yet they're bottom of the league. That was the only game they've managed to gain points from, as though they just wanted to show everyone they can do it, but now they're not bothered. On Saturday they lost at home to Leverkusen, 4-1. According to the system of my younger self, Leverkusen should therefore have beaten Mönchengladbach by ten clear goals. But they didn't, they lost 6-3, at home.

You'd think Mönchengladbach would have been buoyed by scoring six goals away from home at one of the championship favourites, but not a chance. They followed it up by losing 4-0 at home to Frankfurt. Frankfurt at that point had zero points. Then Borussia went to Stuttgart for the 7-0 shellacking mentioned above. They might as well be rolling octagonal dice. Dortmund's 5-0 whipping of Kaiserslautern barely seems worthy of a mention in this context. Except that result came just a couple of weeks after Kaiserslautern had beaten reigning champions Bayern 2-0.

There are other strange happenings – Steve McClaren's Wolfsburg (2009 champions) lost their first three games, then won the next three. Gazprom-backed, Champions League-participants Schalke, featuring Raúl, are second from bottom after losing their first four matches. Werder Bremen and Bayern (the other two CL teams) are struggling in mid-table, failing to convince even when they manage to win. Hoffenheim are showing hints of the attacking verve that made them contenders two years ago. Relegation tips like Cologne, St Pauli and Freiburg are refusing to stay where the pundits pencilled them in. It's all gloriously, fascinatingly lop-sided.

There's a tendency right now to idealise German football thanks to its attractive, diva-free national team, the Bundesliga's healthy, noisy crowds, and a strong sense that fans and what they want from the game still really matter above the desires of cash-fixated commercial directors. While many smaller clubs are being slowly shafted by the leading clubs' refusal to exclude their reserve teams from the national pyramid (reserve teams mean no away fans, and so a loss of both revenue and atmosphere for teams from division three downwards), there's a generally healthy resistance to the all-seated, money-sucking homogeneity that blights Europe's other leading leagues.

It could be claimed that the compellingly weird results and the direct, attacking play that have marked the first few weeks of the new season are Germany's unwitting reward for refusing to conform to the conventional wisdom that ridiculous wages, thoughtless debt and cynical exploitation of the fan base are the only way forward for ambitious teams. It's true this may just be an early blip, but the Bundesliga has traditionally offered a healthy variation of winners either side of Bavarian success. In an age of wearisome predictability, a league where all bets are off is simply a joy to follow. Ian Plenderleith

Comments (3)
Comment by The Exploding Vole 2010-09-28 12:39:12

"Steve McLaren's Wolfsburg" ... crikey, it really IS their official name these days.

Comment by Alex Anderson 2010-09-28 15:13:21

Great piece - I finally surrendered and bought ESPN this season, nominally coz I'm not going to most Rangers away games this season, but the Bundesliga coverage - which I used to get on Setanta (RIP) - was as much of a selling point: The highlights programme alone is thoroughly magic.

Comment by Pault43 2010-09-28 15:32:45

Quite right Ian, I was lucky enough to be in Germany last week and was able to see Dortmund thrash Kaiserslauten 5-0. 60,000 odd noisy fans, the biggest terrace in Europe, both teams attacking recklessly; and lots of goals. What's not to like?

The difference is that the Premier League is ruled by fear. The big clubs fear missing out on CL, almost everyone else fears relegation.

Paul Thompson.

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