An unlikely friendship – The story of the Fortuna Blues
PUBLISHED: 19:30 15 July 2020 | UPDATED: 19:46 16 July 2020
400 miles away in western Germany, hundreds of Ipswich Town fans meet to cheer on the Blues. Reporter OLIVER SULLIVAN finds out about what makes this bizarre friendship so special.
Club legend Sir Bobby Robson famously captured the feeling of falling love with a football club into words – but it is rare one could ever experience that feeling twice.
And that, is precisely why a group of Germans’ long distance love affair with a club deep in the depths of East Anglia is so special – because that admiration is unquestionable. It has even led to a marriage.
Fans of Fortuna Düsseldorf never expected their first trip to Portman Road would lead to such a friendship – but it did – and now the group of die-hard football fans regularly meet to support the sleeping East Anglian giants, whether that is clutching a stein in a German pub or singing their hearts out in the Sir Bobby Robson stand. More than 1,000 of them have now made the trip.
The story of the unlikely friendship with the once-German champions started in 2006, when former stadium announcer Ulli Münsterberg and his party, desperate to find themselves an English home and it is precisely what they found.
The club share a similar history with Town, having flirted with European competition in the 70s and early 80s, but at the time of Ulli’s first trip to Ipswich, the club found themselves deep in the lower leagues of German football after undergoing crippling administration.
Town on the other hand, had been pre-season favourites for promotion from the Championship, but were destined to finish mid-table. It certainly has not been the football that has kept the love blossoming for all these years.
What made them fell in love, instead, was the town and its people – who gave their surprised visitors a standing ovation at the end of the game.
You could say that is the end of the story – the fans continue to flock in each direction every year – but how could it be in a sport renowned for division that such a rare bond could be made?
The notion of “Fanfreundschaft” or fan friendship, is no oddity in Germany – clubs in the same division form strong bonds with others, while clubs such as Bochum have formed friendships with Leicester City. Norwich on the other hand, have... well, Sunderland.
But the fans of the “Fortuna Blues” will always tell you the connection they have is something different, something special and something football may not have seen before. Ipswich fan Grahame Carter knows this more than most, having married his Düsseldorf sweetheart Ines after they met at a friendly match between the two clubs in 2015.
The match was the first meeting between the two sides, hosted at Fortuna’s smaller second ground the Paul Janes Stadion – but tickets quickly sold out.
Close to 600 Town fans made the trip – and what a welcome they received. A Hawaiian-themed beach party awaited them after the game, with a German beer-fuelled evening making a splash for fans and players. Even, then Blues manager, Mick McCarthy enjoyed a drink with fans on the night.
The friendship between both clubs had already been cemented after almost a decade of annual fan visits to Portman Road, but the game and the welcome secured its future and helped create what we see today.
It is common to see their red and white shirts in Ipswich, while the blue and white of the Tractor Boys can be seen on flags waved in the incredible Merkur-Spiel Arena.
It took four years until the sides matched up again, at a pre-season tournament in northern Germany, where both sets of fans were given their own stand – something almost unheard of in European football.
Both sides have since faced awful seasons, with Town set for another season in the third tier, while Fortuna were relegated to the second division following an unbelievable capitulation by bitter local rivals Cologne.
To the fans – it is just another thing that makes the friendship so special.
Fortuna fan Grüni Mart, who visited Ipswich for the first time in January, said: “It was indescribable.
“The fans, all the people around them, were super friendly. Thank you again for everything.”
Another fan, Markus Schütz, added he is forever grateful for the lasting friendships he has made in the last five years, adding: “We look forward to seeing you all again soon.”
If one thing is for sure in this time of uncertainty, it is true the two sleeping giants of their respective lands are down but not out – and a period of forced isolation will certainly do nothing to slow a bond so deeply ingrained.
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