- The International Werder Weekend took place on 13 and 14 April
- Fans from 12 countries flew in and watched their team win
- Fan initiative has been running for eight years
Football fans everywhere know how special it feels to celebrate their team winning – and even more so when they are among like-minded supporters. The participants at this year's International Werder Weekend (IWW) must have experienced something similar when witnessing Werder Bremen beat Freiburg 2-1 in the Bundesliga at a sold out Weser Stadium. It was the eighth time fans from all over the world have come together in northern Germany in order to cheer on their favourite team.
"The International Werder Weekend all started on an international forum on our website," said Jermaine Greene, head of fan services at Werder Bremen. "Lots of people started chatting and arranged to meet up. There was this interaction between German fans and fans from all over the world. They set themselves the objective of visiting a match together so that they could meet in person and get to know the face behind the username.
"That led to a Scottish Werder fan getting in touch with me to ask if they'd be able to get hold of tickets. That was the key question. It would've been pointless if they'd all requested tickets and booked their flights, but for only half of them to actually get match tickets. They wouldn't have got to know each other. As a club we decided that a) we'd allocate tickets to everyone who applied for one and b) we'd offer them something extra on top of that. In concrete terms, that meant giving them the opportunity to see the city, to go on a stadium tour and take some Werder souvenirs back home with them."
In 2012, these Bremen fans got together for the inaugural IWW, an event that has taken place annually between mid-March and mid-April ever since.
"In the first one or two years there were people from 11 or 12 different countries," said Greene. "Now we're up to 27." Several factors are taken into consideration when organising the trip, including the fixture list, national holidays in the participants' home countries and entry restrictions; the club sends an official invitation to any fans who require a visa to enter Germany. Nevertheless, many supporters have still not been able to make it to an IWW.
"We've got a fan in Sierra Leone who wants to come every year, but he's never made it," said Greene. "Either he couldn't get a visa, didn't have enough money or he wasn't allowed to leave the country due to disease; Ebola was an issue one time."
Last weekend Werder supporters from the USA, China PR, Moldova, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan, among others, spent three days in Bremen at the IWW.
"We organise a programme from Friday to Sunday," said Greene. "It always starts with the team's final training session before the weekend. There aren't normally many people there because a lot of them can only arrive during the course of the day. It's become a tradition that we make an international meal the evening before the game. Everyone brings something from their homeland and cooks it at the IWW. We then have a big buffet and eat together. It's always a lovely occasion to get to know each other and to eat delicious food.
"On the morning of the game we go on a tour of the city and then we go to the stadium together, or take the ferry. After the match people usually want to go out and celebrate. On Sunday there's always a stadium tour in English and we try to offer another Werder activity apart from the typical Bundesliga match.
"This year we watched a women's handball game. In the past we've also played blind football with our blind-football coach, played walking football and watched a match of our women's, U-23 or U-19 teams. They're activities that go beyond Bundesliga football but are still specific to Werder, so that our international visitors can see that we're about more than just the Bundesliga."