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Jacob Sweetman: Five is the magic number

Saturday saw the third annual FlexStrom Cup, the successful indoor "legends" tournament at the Max-Schmeling-Halle. Sceptical Englander, Jacob Sweetman, was won over. It's not real football, just entertainment.

Image for Jacob Sweetman: Five is the magic number
Photo courtesy of the Deutsche Fotothek

There’s a guy called Simon something. The only reason that the Sportsdesk isn’t keenly googling it right now is because it doesn’t really care. Simon briefly had a vague spell in charge of Southampton FC alongside Clive Woodward (we do remember his name, but will refuse to use the title bestowed upon him by the Queen, in all her knowledge).

Clive had won the World Cup as England’s rugby union manager. It was a sporting feat as exceptional as the reaction across the country was hideous. A month followed when seemingly an entire country didn’t stop going on about how great it was to have got out of bed on that Sunday morning, and just how much they love rugby and, actually, always had.

Simon and Clive, Clive and Simon. It was dream team. A World Cup winner and Simon, the man who tried to stop English fathers exhorting their God-forsaken offspring on a Saturday morning to “just lump it“ while simultaneously making the wanker sign at the referee for not understanding the offside law.

I digress, sorry. Simon thought that if the English played more futsal as kids, then within a generation they would be able to harness the benefits of footballers who could, you know, actually play football like everyone else in the world seems to play it. It remains a beautiful idea, but it is only really flawed in England where five-a-side will always be just that. Five-a-side. The English don’t like to jazz it up.

In Germany though, Hallenfußball tournaments were played during the long, bleak winter break for many years – they just faded away slightly as players became expensive objects to be looked after, investments to be protected.

In recent years marketing men (and they must be men) have reinvigorated the Hallenfußball tradition by hosting one day tournaments, played out by former players in their former colours. Battling it out in front of a football starved populace like in the old days. It’s horrible in most ways, but stupidly infectious in many others.

Saturday’s FlexStrom Cup, at the Max-Schmeling-Halle was case in point. I don’t really remember the bad beer, or the incessant, desperate music. I remember a roar from the larger end behind one of the goals as an 1. FC Union player in the Under Eights derby match bore down on goal (Hertha won, 1-0), and I remember during Bayer Leverkusen against Mönchengladbach that the bald Peter Wynhoff (one German Cup final) had a right go at the elegantly shabby looking Oliver Neuville (One World Cup final) for not passing when he was in space. It was that kind of a day.

The main derby between Hertha and Union was fun, but suitably enough, lacked the bite of last year as they eyed each other up before their first meeting in the league a couple of weeks later.

Hertha won it 4-3 in the dying seconds, and the fans made a big show, screaming across the arena at each other, the approximation of terraces had the approximation of football crowds. It seemed a form of controlled madness. Hertha’s fans, in particular, seemed to know that this wasn’t real. That there are bigger fights to be won elsewhere this year, but then they were the ones who were also overjoyed to finally have a retort to all those “Stadtmeister” songs that have been sung at them for the last year.

And although the Galatasaray fans of last year were missed (who seemed to think at the time that they were outside at a real football match), they were replaced by Real Madrid – who were like former heavyweight boxer turned wife beating celebrity, Frank Bruno

There’s a lovable face, the nasty side and the ability to do a star turn in the Christmas pantomime when needs must. As former Spanish footballer of the year José Emilio Amavisca yelped when anyone went near him, jutted his elbows out in the challenge, bitched, whined and complained to the referee about everything, he was fulfilling an important role. The whistles grew to a crescendo, and the hall mostly united in support for Bremen’s moustachioed Mannschaft in their semi-final against the Spaniards.

It looked like Günter Hermann was going to punch someone. It was brilliant. A 50-plus-year-old man, getting so outraged at the histrionics of a long-haired, flash Latin in front of a baying crowd of neutrals and kids.

There is a message in this that Simon could heed, if indeed he still carries the torch for indoor football that he used to. Five-aside is great, but we were right about it in the first place. It’s not real football – which it can be proved in that Bayer Leverkusen always wins – and who wants to develop technique?

The Germans have that in spades already, and they just want to see the mascots falling over, the old men almost fighting, and the chance to renew some rivalries and to catch up with the friends they haven’t seen since before their bellies swelled up over Christmas.

It’s okay. It’s just five-a-side.