Felix Tamsut is a sports journalist who writes about supporters’ issues for Duetsche Welle. Last week, FSE spoke to Felix about his footballing backstory, as well as the factors that drove him to focus his attention on the terraces, rather than the pitch.
FSE: Can you recall your first game?
FT: My first game that I can remember going to the stadium for was Irony Ashdod vs. Maccabi Tel Aviv. Think it was in 1994. My aunt who took me says I shouted a lot.
FSE: How would you describe Israeli football culture, both on and off the pitch?
FT: Israeli fan culture is much more interesting than people realize. Five clubs draw bigger attendance numbers than the rest for historical reasons, but even fans of “smaller” clubs are slowly but surely learning how to organize and represent their values. Due to society’s nature, fan culture in Israel is one of the most political you’ll see, to an extent that even the clubs’ names are associated with certain political affiliations within the Zionist movement.
FSE: We’re reliably informed that you are a Manchester United fan—how did that come about, and what has your experience been following them over the past decade or so?
FT: I don’t really remember how it came about, but I’ve been MUFC since I can remember. Cantona and Beckham made me fall in love with the game. I was involved with United’s Israeli fan club (one of the biggest MUFC supporter clubs in the world) for many years, and in the last 7-8 years I’ve been travelling to MUFC matches, first from Israel and now from Germany. I only travel to away matches in Europe nowadays or women’s team games. It’s always great meeting the same group of people that follows your club whatever the circumstances, and I’ve made friends for life through those trips.
FSE: And your thoughts on F.C. United of Manchester?
FT: I’ll admit: When the FC United idea came about, I was vehemently against it. You never leave you club behind, I used to say, you stay and fight on. But as time went by, I realized they were right all along: Repairing the damage done by the club’s current owners will take years, if it’s even possible. The club has been taken away from the hands of the people that made it what it is, the local communities in Greater Manchester, for the purpose of turning it into a multi-billion-pound money-making machine. I’ll be joining FCUM as a member this season for the first time.
FSE: Given your footballing affinities on the Mediterranean Sea and the banks of the River Irwell, what attracted you to Germany?
FT: I got to Germany by complete accident. But once I got here, I fell in love immediately. You won’t find many places in which football fans are so engaged, both on footballing matters and on matters off the pitch. I found a fan culture that encourages democratic values, that supports social and political purposes of different sorts, that’s aware of fans’ rights and fights for it if needed, putting fierce rivalries aside in the process. I’ve been going to football here for more than four years and I’m always learning new things, hearing new perspectives and appreciating the fact that many active supporters trust me with their thoughts. They’ll forever be the story, and I’ll forever be grateful for having the opportunity to tell it.
FSE: It’s quite rare for a sports journalist to focus on fandom—why choose the path less trodden?
Here’s a hot take: Put me as the only fan at a ground where 11 Messis and 11 Neymars play against each other, without any other implication, without any political and social context, and I’ll wholeheartedly give it a pass and go to an average fifth division game with a back story to it. What I always found interesting – first as a fan, but now as a journalist – is this back story. Football is never just football, and there’s enough skilled writers that do a brilliant job covering the professional aspect of the game. So I thought I might as well do things my way and write about the things that interest me: Politics, society, the fight against discrimination and how all those collide with fan culture in Germany. Thankfully, enough people find it just as interesting. And even more thankfully, this is a topic so dynamic that I simply don’t have the time to write about every single story I’d have wanted to report about. The fans are the ones who make football what it is, and they’ll forever be the ones worth focussing on for me, both personally and professionally.
FSE: Does your own fandom help or hinder your reporting?
It certainly helps. Issues such as repression and the crackdown on fan rights affect fans everywhere nowadays, and reporting on issues that affect fans are well and good, but it gives you a completely different perspective to experience these things yourself. There were a few instances that a random conversation on an away day resulted in a story. Of course, covering the fans’ side of things must not come at the expense of journalistic standard.
FSE: What would you say are the main challenges facing German fans at the moment?
The biggest topics in Germany nowadays are police repression, the future of the 50+1 rule and the continuation of the protests against the DFB and DFL when it comes to fairer kickoff times. I don’t think any of those topics is going to disappear anytime soon.
FSE: What about European fans more generally?
Generally speaking, I don’t think there’s much difference between the issues facing fans in Germany and in Europe. They may be different in their language and culture, but the passion remains the same everywhere. Unfortunately, that’s also true for the way the authorities perceive football fans.
FSE: How do you think fans can best meet these challenges?
Supporters could face any challenge they’re facing by using an age-old human technique of dealing with challenges: Organize themselves, create more and more connections with fellow supporters, find common ground despite the fierce footballing rivalries, and create a network of like-minded people and groups to make sure the information gathered by a certain individual or a group is also being used elsewhere.