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Born to Follow: Bayern Munich
02:28 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

Bayern Munich is one of Europe's most storied teams

Motto is: "We are who we are"

Bayern has won 26 Bundesliga titles; 17 German Cups

Bavarian club has won five European Cups

CNN  — 

What does your football club mean to you?

The chances are, it isn’t the players, manager or stadium: tangible things that come and go with time.

More likely it is the memories acquired, traditions passed down through generations or friendships developed over years of shared emotions.

Often, clubs form the heartbeat of a community and offer their fans a common identity, regardless of age, race, gender or religion.

Perhaps the mottos of two of the world’s biggest clubs sum up these bonds best; Barcelona’s “Mes Que Un Club” – “More than a club” – and Bayern Munich’s “Mia San Mia” – “We are who we are.”

“A former coach started it and it describes everything perfectly,” one Bayern fan told CNN, explaining the motto’s significance. “We just stand for ourselves and we don’t care about the others.”

When asked to describe his club in one word, he replies: “Love.”

“I grew up with it – it’s like my girlfriend,” he adds with a grin.

“It’s passion. I just don’t watch the game like it’s a TV series or something, it’s like I live the game.”

It’s a sentiment echoed across the Bavaria region of Germany, home of the recently crowned Bundesliga champion.

Like other German clubs, it helps, too, that Bayern adheres to the 50+1 ownership rule. This stipulation doesn’t allow commercial partners – Audi or Adidas in Bayern’s case – to gain control, instead ensuring members, often also fans, retain majority ownership of clubs.

“I think it’s a combination of being based in Bavaria and being aware of being Bavarian,” another fan says, exploring Bayern’s identity.

“They are still owned, at least partly, by the people that support them and not only by some rich people.”

Fans constantly return to that motto – “Mia San Mia” – as they search for a way to explain the importance of Bayern in their lives.

“It means one has to trust oneself,” he continues. “Only have your own principles and play after those principles.

“Not look at others but be confident that you will reach, gain and achieve the goals you set.”

It’s noteworthy that former Bayern players Owen Hargreaves, Mark van Bommel and Bixente Lizarazu use the word “family” to describe their own feelings towards the club.

Domestic superiority

However, given Bayern has won a record 26 Bundesliga titles and 17 German Cups, its dominance has made the club a polarizing force.

Its domestic superiority has been achieved thanks in large part to a transfer budget that dwarfs the rest of the league and the ability to poach the best players from rival clubs – most notably Borussia Dortmund in recent years.

“In Germany many people hate Bayern Munich,” one fan openly admits. “But many people love Bayern Munich. There is nothing in between.

“This is what Bayern is; people love it, and people hate it. But the people who love it, we support our club and this is the important thing.”

Read: Jerome Boateng praises departing Pep Guardiola ahead of German Cup final

Often the family ties involved in supporting a club go back decades. Stories of historic nights – both heart-breaking and uplifting – are shared to ignite the passion in younger generations.

“My greatest memory was our biggest losing game; 1999 in Barcelona against Manchester United,” another fan says, painfully recalling the Premier League club’s historic last-minute comeback in the Champions League final.

“And I went through all this emotion when I thought of how the fans of Manchester United felt. But two years later we win the championship (Champions League) and I was so happy!”

One teenager, one of many young Bayern fans fortunate enough to have only known success at the club, has much happier memories.

“It is my childhood,” she explains, kitted out head-to-toe in club memorabilia. “My brother and father are the greatest Bayern fans I’ve ever met! My dad is also here today and we go to every game together.”

For some, words fail to aptly convey the feeling their club gives them.

“YAAAH!” one man exclaims when asked to describe what it likes to support Bayern in one word. “It’s a fantastic feeling. It’s a feeling … it’s like sex.”

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Jerome Boateng's quick-fire questions
01:37 - Source: CNN