SEEING his beloved Eintracht Frankfurt lose on penalties to Chelsea in the Europa League semi-final back in 2019 was devastating for uber fan Alex Markert – but it did nothing to deter him from travelling to the final.
He flew the 2,000 miles to Baku in Azerbaijan anyway and cheered on Arsenal against their London rivals inside the Olympic Stadium.
“Nobody likes Chelsea,” said Markert with a smile as he talks animatedly about his marathon journey to Asia to watch a game which the Stamford Bridge club won 4-1.
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Eintracht Frankfurt may not be as successful either domestically or in continental competition as many clubs in Germany. They do not have the same international reputation as Bayern Munich or Borussia Dortmund. Nor do they possess the same riches.
When it comes, though, to the fanaticism of their supporters there are few who can match them. Markert’s passion is typical of so many who follow The Eagles.
The Europa League final mania which has gripped Frankfurt since Eintracht overcame West Ham last week was fully expected here. No fewer than 100,000 applied for tickets to the final and an estimated 50,000 will travel to Seville regardless of whether they have one or not.
Markert tells me he has been a fan since the halcyon days of the great Jurgen Grabowski, the former West Germany internationalist and World Cup winner who passed away back in March, in the early 1970s.
He celebrated when they beat Borussia Monchengladbach to win the UEFA Cup in 1980. He was elated when they defeated they mighty Bayern to lift their fifth DFB-Pokal back in 2018. But their run to the Europa League final this term has topped all of his past experiences.
“Victory over Barcelona in the quarter-final (Eintracht won 3-2 in the Nou Camp last month to prevail 4-3 on aggregate) was bigger than anything,” he said. “But this is the biggest.”
The parallels between Eintracht and Rangers are uncanny; both have large and devoted fanbases, both have managers who are in their debut season, both have defied expectations and overcome far wealthier opponents during improbable Europa League campaigns and both are reeling from the death of a legendary figure.
Hell, Eintracht fans, who traditionally have left wing leanings and often stage anti-fascism demonstrations, even, like their Rangers counterparts, have previous for turning up at matches decked out entirely in orange.
This stems from their ultras group The Droogs – an anti-establishment enclave who are named after the group of thugs in the dystopian Anthony Burgess novel and iconic Stanley Kubrick film A Clockwork Orange.
“We have many ultras groups,” said Markert. “We have Blinding Szene, Bembelraver, Brigade Nassau, Aggrohamster, Inferno and The Droogs. The Droogs used to wear bomber jackets to matches. The inside linings were orange and they turned them inside out. At a Europa League game against Bordeaux in France in 2013 all the fans wore orange.”
Eintracht fans clashed with their West Ham counterparts in Seville in March and again in Frankfurt before their semi-final last week. The Fox and Hound pub in the city was destroyed following an unprovoked attack. Innocent bystanders were injured during the unrest.
With such large numbers set to descend on Andalusia next week, there are concerns of more ugly scenes. Markert concedes that trouble could very well flare. But he is at pains to point out the drug-fuelled louts responsible are a tiny minority who are not representative of him or his fellow supporters.
“There are some who are not there for football, they are there for boxing,” he said. “They drink alcohol and punch faces. When there is no alcohol they do other things. But the problem is not unique to Eintracht. It is a societal problem.”
The management consultant stresses that he and his fellow Eintracht supporters were delighted when Rangers beat their despised German rivals RB Leipzig last week to reach the Europa League final and are excited about facing their old adversaries.
The association between the two clubs goes back to 1960 when the German giants beat their Scottish opponents 12-4 over two legs in the European Cup semi-final.
“We have no Russian oligarchs here,” says Markert. “We just have local money. We are not owned by a lemonade manufacturer from Austria. Leipzig have sold their soul. We were so happy when Rangers beat them. We are so happy to be playing Rangers in the final. They are a proper football club with proper fans.”
Markert is unsure how the final will go. Eintracht’s domestic form has been as erratic as their European displays have been impressive. They will also be missing their talismanic centre half Martin Hinteregger. He believes much depends on how Rangers approach the game.
“Personally I think we have a better team now than when we last got to the semi-final,” he said. “We are a better footballing team. We are at our best when we are against teams who also play football in Europe. In the second half of the season we have played German sides whose players are just stationed in their box.
“Hinty is really necessary in defence. He always takes one for the team, throws himself into tackles. He is very popular. Every time he plays you will hear the fans chanting ‘Hinty! Hinty! Hinty!’ But we won the UEFA Cup without Grabowski. He got injured before the final. He passed away a couple of months ago. It has added to the emotion of this journey.”
WAXY’S, an Irish pub in the Taubenstrasse area of Frankfurt city centre, was a favoured haunt of Eintracht fans long before they were due to play Rangers in the Europa League final. So it seems a logical place to seek out a few diehards to get their take on their impending appearance in Seville.
When it is explained to the gentleman who is sitting at the bar beavering away on his laptop that I am a Scottish newspaper reporter hoping to speak to supporters, he replies: “You’re no’ from the Daily Record are you?”
Ed McCloskey is a Celtic fan from Anderston in Glasgow who has lived and worked as a graphic designer in Frankfurt for the past 12 years. He admits he has not seen anything to match the excitement about the final during his time in Germany.
“It’s massive,” he said. “When Eintracht played Barcelona in the Europa League quarter-final they got 300,000 applications for tickets. They took 40,000 fans to Barcelona and they are taking 50,000 fans to Seville.
“It’s strange for me being in a one club city. But Eintracht are a huge team for the city. They are a great club. There is no sugar daddy. In Germany, there is the 51 per cent rule. Fans have to own 51 per cent of the club. That is why nobody likes RB Leipzig. Red Bull manipulate the 51 rule.
“In the last five or six years Eintracht have very much punched above their weight. They have reached two DFB-Pokal cup finals, a Europa League semi-final and now a final. They are very similar to Rangers. They have both punched above their weight in this competition.”
McCloskey has enjoyed witnessing the Europa League final fever that has gripped the population of Frankfurt – which is the banking capital of Europe – in recent days and can only imagine what the scenes will be like if Eintracht defeat Rangers.
“They are showing the final over here on RTL+ so every bar is able to screen it live,” he said. “Every time you pass an electrical store somebody is walking out with a giant TV under their arms. But Waxy’s will still be rammed to the hilt.
“I actually think this game could have a serious impact on the world economy. There won’t be much work done in Frankfurt next Thursday if Eintracht win in Seville. It will be like Germany winning the World Cup. That is all I can compare it to.”