Soccer

Bayern Munich superfan Michael Zeman, on fairytale trip, visits KC to watch team

Soccer superfan travels from Germany to see Bayern Munich in Kansas City

Bayern Munich soccer superfan Michael Zeman traveled from Germany to see the team play in the United States. He stopped in Kansas City to see Bayern take down AC Milan 1-0 at Children's Mercy Park on Tuesday, July 23, 2019.
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Bayern Munich soccer superfan Michael Zeman traveled from Germany to see the team play in the United States. He stopped in Kansas City to see Bayern take down AC Milan 1-0 at Children's Mercy Park on Tuesday, July 23, 2019.

The elaborate coat superfan Michael Zeman wears to every Bayern Munich soccer match has earned him scores of admirers, befitting a jacket that features 120 patches and 20 scarves, but as much as Zeman insists it’s made him realize Bayern fans are “family,” he connected with a member of his biological one six months ago.

It was January, and Bayern Munich’s most famous fan received a notification from his LinkedIn app on his phone. He checked it out. It was a message from a man named Josh Shackleford.

The text: I was working in Germany from ‘62 to ‘65. I think I’m your father.

Zeman wasn’t sure. He thought it was a joke, actually. So he asked his mother, who confirmed. It was true.

Suddenly, the lie that Zeman had believed for so many years — that his father died in the Vietnam War — came tumbling apart. His father was alive, and he lived in Cary, North Carolina. Zeman, 54, had never met him before.

“It’s amazing,” Zeman said. “It’s more than a fairytale. I can’t believe it.”

Zeman couldn’t fly to meet Shackleford in Cary, not right away at least. It had to wait until his July trip to the United States, which Zeman had spent the previous three years saving up for.

That trip is happening now. Zeman finally met Shackleford a month ago. The latest stop: Children’s Mercy Park for Bayern Munich’s match against AC Milan as part of the International Champions Cup.

Which brings us to the topic of Zeman’s scintillating fandom. The coat stands out the most. It started in the 1980s, Zeman said, as nothing more than a jean jacket. Then, as he followed Bayern around to matches around Europe, it began accumulating its current decorations: patches and scarves, all in Bayern red.

A native of Erftstadt, Germany, Zerman has been a Bayern fan for 45 years. He denies any sort of superfandom — “I can’t believe that so many people follow me or say I’m fantastic and all this stuff,” he says — but his backstory suggests just the opposite. He attends every home game. On average, he says he makes around 35 of the 50 matches Bayern plays every year.

He watches the rest on TV, with his wife, Andrea, and two cats, Rusty and Sally.

Zeman may only don the ensemble — hat and all — to games he makes in person, but it’s worth delving into how it came together in the first place.

The decoration process began when Zeman’s fandom did, in the 1980s. When he began attending Bayern’s home matches, he noticed something: Vendors offering Bayern Munich patches. One of the first he bought cost three German Marks.

He’s secured some via eBay, others at fan shops, like the one at Children’s Mercy.

“For me, pins is a big business,” Zeman said. “Everybody wants pins, but nobody produces them.”

His retirement from T-Mobile in 2010 has allowed him to develop the following he has now. Standing outside the entrance of Children’s Mercy Park, Zeman can’t go two minutes without shaking a new fan’s hand. Taking a picture. He’s clearly a celebrity of sorts among Bayern fans.

“Everybody says, ‘You are a legend,’” Zeman said. “I don’t say I am a legend. To me, I am a normal fan.”

Zeman even has a nickname: Bushman. It started in his youth, when he was growing up in Ludwigsburg, Germany, and his hair grew into a long, tall afro.

Bushy, even.

“That’s the reason they called me like that — four days in the sun and I had hair like Jimi Hendrix,” Zeman said with a laugh. “When I’m walking on the street, and people call me Michael, maybe the fourth time I turn around.”

Zeman has a bevy of fond memories. Bayern is the winner of the Cup Winners’ Cup in 1967, the UEFA Cup in 1996, the European Cup consecutively three times from 1974 to 1976 and of the Champions League in 2001 and 2013.

To Zeman, a season-ticket holder, one of his favorite Bayern home matches was one he couldn’t attend. This was in 2010, when Zeman was suffering from what he termed “depression and burnout.”

When Zeman turned into a no-show, his friends took notice. Where’s Bushman?

“Bayern saved my life,” Zeman said.

The most recent memory came Tuesday, when Bayern used a goal from Leon Goretzka in the 45th minute to give his club a narrow 1-0 win.

The match sold out. The final announced attendance number: the capacity 18,467, thousands more than the expected 15,000-16,000. That should encourage fans who are pushing for Kansas City to host the 2026 World Cup.

It didn’t surprise Sporting KC president Jake Reid, who spoke to The Star for an earlier story and added that he didn’t expect Tuesday’s attendance numbers to affect Kansas City’s World Cup bid.

“Zero concern for me,” Reid said. “I don’t think it should affect the World Cup at all. There’s a bunch of data sets that we talk about. Meaningful soccer games, we’ve sold out 95 percent of games — whether it’s Sporting KC, United States national team, it does great. And that’s what the World Cup is — competitive, meaningful games. You look at anything that’s not that category, it’s been a struggle.”

The proof was in the noise, raucous and thundering, even in the absence of the park’s usual occupant.

Back to Zeman, though.

He’s been traveling around via fan bus. He started Tuesday’s festivities at No Other Pub, then, when 6 p.m. rolled around, he rode over to Children’s Mercy Park.

It gave him a chance to see Kansas City, which allowed him to meet his family.

Just not his biological one. He did that earlier this year.

“Bayern,” Zeman said, “is family.”

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