WORDS AND PHOTOGRAPHY: PRZEMEK NICIEJEWSKI
Following away supporters on the road in European competition can be a colourful hobby for a photographer, so when the hordes of Gladbach travelling fans showed up in sleepy Villarreal, the resulting culture clash was always likely to make for some vibrant images, as our album shows…
For a football photographer, following supporters to an away match in European competition is a type of feast, a nice contrast to what you might observe on ordinary weekends.
Every time I take photos of football fans going overseas, I have a feeling of something out of the ordinary. It is as if someone suddenly closed the curtain and changed the decorations, totally reshaping the football landscape. Those very things haunted me last month when I visited Villarreal to witness the Spanish club host Borussia Mönchengladbach.
Villarreal is a sleepy town, famous for oranges and its local football club; a town that during the siesta seems to pose questions about the sense of its own existence. In such scenery, I followed thousands of visiting Gladbach fans whose behaviour intensified the extraordinary character of the whole spectacle.
In their presence, the silence filling every nook and canny of the city walls was broken by the uniform, increasingly loud singing of the fans from western Germany.
However, in Estadio El Madrigal everything was brought back to the origin of the game. Emotions, feelings of being lost, permanent stress, all of these things totally dominated the supporters’ thoughts.
The invasion of the football fans of this German club was something inexplicable for an average dweller of the Castellon province. Gladbach is a club that has not enjoyed any success over the past 30 years, and which has twice been relegated in that time, yet every home match is watched by more than 50,000 fans. Even away matches in the middle of the week can attract more than 10,000 Gladbach fans.
Hansi Kupper, a football commentator, best characterised the phenomenon of Gladbach’s remarkable support, when he said: “If in the Seventies the club, by their play, gained the sympathy of fans throughout Germany and then for dozens of years did not win any trophies, yet still, after that, more than 10,000 fans appeared to see them play in Rome, there is only one explanation: this is what tradition is.”