Breaking records is one of the thrills offered by professional sports. Bayern Munich are no strangers to the experience, but few records have been as significant as the one they broke on Wednesday night against Barcelona.
As the Allianz Arena opened its doors for only the second time to Bayern’s women, no less than 24,000 fans filed in to see a meeting of two European heavyweights in the UEFA Women’s Champions League. It set a new nationwide record in women’s football, breaking the mark set when 23,200 attended Bayern’s Bundesliga season opener at Eintracht Frankfurt.
“With this record attendance, our women’s footballers are writing another chapter in their success story,” a prematch statement from President Herbert Hainer posted on Bayern’s website read.
“Barcelona are regarded by many as the best women’s team in the world at the moment – anyone coming to the Allianz Arena will see a top match at the highest level.”
That they did, thanks to Bayern’s first-ever win at the Allianz Arena — one that will live long in the memory.
However, it was a different matchday experience compared to attending a Bayern men’s match. Munich’s U6 line on the underground wasn’t heaving and the foot traffic was easier to navigate, but the unmistakable buzz that you get prior to the men’s games was still present when striding up the Allianz Arena’s tangled paths.
“This is our first time to see the FC Bayern women,” self-professed Frankfurt fan Rudi told DW. “But we come from where Klara Bühl was born and we’re here to see her in action. It’s her birthday today and her mum is in our traveling fan group,” he exclaimed gesturing to a woman sat two rows down.
Part of a crowd that was a mix of Bayern loyalists, families with young children and football fans boycotting a corrupt World Cup, the explosion of emotion from Rudi and Co. when Bühl opened the scoring after three minutes was palpable.
“I think the early goal packed in even more hype and euphoria,” the birthday girl admitted afterwards.
“It was incredible to play here. We felt the presence of every person who made the trip here and it gave us energy to produce a performance like tonight’s.”
In a blistering start by Bayern, Lina Magull added a second inside 10 minutes before Lea Schüller put the game beyond reach early in the second half. It meant that even a glaring error from an otherwise flawless Maria-Louisa Grohs didn’t put the result at risk.
Bayern’s record-breaking attendance figure is part of a growing trend in Germany. One that has seen women’s football capitalize on both the hype generated by the national team’s run to the EURO 2022 final and the disenchantment surrounding events in Qatar.
Whatever their motivations, people are being captured up and down the country as they become more open to the women’s game. In the Women’s Bundesliga, a staggering 173,438 fans have helped set a new single-season attendance record through nine matchdays, while Bayern beating a Barcelona side, who have reached the Women’s Champions League final in three of the last four seasons, will only add more traction.
“It was an incredible atmosphere. These are the games that we play football for. It’s just great to see that we’ve now gained support like this in Munich,” said Bayern midfielder Sarah Zadrazil, highlighting the progress made by both her club and the women’s game in general.
Inspired by the home support, Bayern’s progress on the pitch was just as impressive. Head coach Alexander Straus underlined before the game that “Barcelona are one of the best teams in the world,” but “that’s the level” the two-time Women’s Champions League semifinalists are striving for.
In his debut season at the helm, the Norwegian has brought in a high-press approach geared towards sharp vertical play, but a lack of consistency, conviction and a clinical touch in front of goal had cost them in their biggest games.
While Straus preaches about dominating games domestically, a more nuanced approach was needed to beat the reigning Spanish champions.
“We had to adapt,” Straus said. “We talk about survival of the fittest, I believe the ones who survive are the ones who can be responsive and adapt. We knew we had to adapt to Barcelona and we knew what we had to do to hurt them.”
They did that by hitting the “level” Straus had referenced and he knew who to credit for that.
“The support pushed the girls to run those extra miles, to cover the spaces, to block the shots. The atmosphere and the spectators were enormously important.”
Bayern have every right to revel in a record-breaking night that underlined their progress as well as that of the women’s game. If they want to be considered amongst Europe’s elite though, the true test will be whether they can do that consistently even when the Allianz Arena doesn’t open its doors to 24,000 – or more — fans.
Edited by Chuck Penfold.