The day Leipzig met the Champions League


When my wife Alex and I went to watch RB Leipzig play in the 4th tier of the German football league system, I told her that in a few years they’d play in the Champions League, and that Real Madrid and Manchester United would be coming to play football in Leipzig.

Alex laughed at me. “Delusions of grandeur,” she said. Now here we are.

Rote Buttel Leipzig flag; now in Champions League. (Photo: public domain)
Rote Bullen Leipzig flag; now in Champions League. (Photo: public domain)

Last Wednesday I went to see RB Leipzig’s first match in the Champions League, the world’s most prestigious club football competition.

While AS Monaco may not ring any bells to those unfamiliar with football, the team had played in the semifinal of last season’s Champions League. Moreover, they are the current French champions, and back in 2004, they had reached the CL final.

The game thus promised to be interesting, but given Leipzig’s lack of experience in international matches, I was fairly certain that the evening wasn’t going to end well.

I went to the game with my dad and it was great to see the entirety of Leipzig’s demographic mix represented at the stadium – there were families, workers, businessmen and couples. The crowd also reflected Leipzigers’ increasing ethnic heterogeneity. The atmosphere was cheerful and relaxed, and there was none of the latent aggressiveness I have experienced with some of Leipzig’s other teams.

That is what I love about RB – you can safely take your kids to a game.

Champions League games are particularly peaceful affairs, as alcoholic beverages aren’t sold at the stadium. I didn’t tell my dad, and he drank his 0% beer in blissful ignorance.

The feeling you get when entering the Red Bull Arena is magnificent. The enormous open space, 40,000 people illuminated by bright floodlights, all excited, all eager to see the teams enter the pitch.

And when the 22 men arrived, the moment finally came that everyone had been waiting for – the Champions League anthem.

Die Meister, die Besten, les meilleures équipes, the Champions.

I think pretty much everyone in the stadium had goosebumps at this point.

The game itself was entertaining but not spectacular. Leipzig maintained their usual fast-paced style that is driven particularly by Yussuf Poulsen and Emil Forsberg. This gave Monaco the opportunity to exploit the gaps in Leipzig’s defence.

From my point of view, Timo Werner, who is currently praised as Germany’s best striker, failed to meet expectations. However, Upamecano, who joined RB Leipzig very recently, performed brilliantly as a defender.

The game ended 1-1, which I felt was thoroughly justified, given that neither team was dominant.

Leipzig’s first Champions League game was a success, especially considering that AS Monaco is probably the strongest team in Leipzig’s CL group, which is also composed of FC Porto and Besiktas Istanbul.

All in all, it was a great evening that I’ll probably never forget. By having a team in the Champions League, Leipzig is overcoming some of its provinciality, and soon there will be few Europeans left who haven’t heard of Leipzig.

Cover photo: Red Bull Arena. By Philipp – Flickr; Leipzig von oben, Zentralstadion; CC BY 2.0.

Harald grew up in Großpösna, a village just outside the boundaries of Leipzig, but it is only after living elsewhere for four years that he really came to appreciate the city he was born. He is an idealist, a Christian, a socialist, a Europeanist, and, above all, a true Leipzig-lover. He will write about Leipzig’s history and politics, both of which are rather inaccessible to our English-speaking audience.

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