Paris Saint-Germain head coach Christophe Galtier and star forward Kylian Mbappe recently laughed at the suggestion that the French champions PSG take a two-hour train journey rather than a jet to Nantes for an away game.
While the answer cast the French striker and coach in a light that does little to dispel the disconnected nature of those at the top level of football, it also raised the question as to how are top-level football teams traveling to away games?
While many fans also do their best to protect the environment, their footprint is still considerable. According to a 2020 study conducted by the climate advisory agency C02OL on behalf of German public broadcaster “Deutschlandfunk”, football fans produce around 7,800 tons of harmful emissions per matchday. While much has been made of the emissions generated by the fans’ traveling, what about the clubs themselves?
Plane, bus or train?
DW inquired at each of the 18 Bundesliga clubs about their method of travel for away games. Seven clubs did not respond, three said they were unable to reveal any information as a result of either security issues, data privacy (despite the broad nature of the request) and unknown kickoff times.
Eight clubs did however, release varying amounts of information about their travel patterns.
Borussia Dortmund said they would travel to more than half of their away games (9+ games) this season by bus, while Schalke said that so far this campaign, the club had traveled to three away games by bus and one by plane.
Werder Bremen stated that last season (when Werder were in the second division) they made 10 away trips by bus, five by plane (three on a scheduled flight), and two by train. They added that they always made the return journey with the same mode of transport they used for the outward leg.
Both Bochum and Frankfurt stated that they only fly in “exceptional cases,” with the latter citing midweek European games followed by an away game in Berlin or Munich as an example of such. The graphic below reveals how last season, when Frankfurt won the Europa League, the club traveled to all of their away games in the Bundesliga.
Mainz revealed that last season, they took the bus 11 times and flew the other six trips to away games. The club follows a rough plan of only flying to locations further than 400 kilometers (249 miles) away, and opting for scheduled flights over chartered planes whenever possible.
Cologne said that most of their trips up to four hours were done by bus. Freiburg stated that games in the area around them in the south and southwest of Germany were usually traveled to on the bus, that before the pandemic, games in the west were visited by train and that longer trips, such as Berlin or Bremen, were done by plane.
Indeed, the pandemic has virtually ended train travel for Bundesliga sides as a result of the risk of breaking the hygiene protocols still in place. Some clubs also stated that the unreliability of the train service ruled it out as a method of reliable transport.
Plane travel out of control
Giulio Mattioli, a transport researcher and expert, believes that part of the issue is that flying everywhere has become an expectation rather than a luxury, particularly for people in such affluent circles such as footballers.
“I’ve got this impression air travel is embedded into their life and it’s an expectation. Perhaps that’s the most dangerous aspect, people in certain positions take it for granted and that creates this habit effect,” Mattioli told DW.
That might have to change in the future though. The impact of flights is becoming increasingly hard to ignore. A 2022 paper on greenhouse gas conversion factors by the “UK Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy” found that domestic flights were nine times more polluting per passenger than buses.
According to calculations by Mattioli and his colleagues, Mbappe and co.’s now infamous flight from Paris to Nantes on September 3, lasted 42 minutes and emitted seven to 17 times as much greenhouse gases per traveler than the same journey by coach would have. A direct train from Paris to Nantes takes two hours.
“There has been no deliberate attempt to curb air travel,” Mattioli said. “More could be done by regulating domestic and private flights, and a moratorium on airport expansion would be good. If you constrain supply then demand will have to find a way to adapt.”
Clearly the main reason teams fly is for comfort, and indeed there is a regenerative component at play here.
“A couple things we see very often after long trips are a ‘tight hips, tight back’ feeling and an increased perception of pain around those areas. Considering the lower back and down are a footballer’s bread and butter, it’s so much nicer when time spent in that position is limited,” Julia Eyre, a sports scientist and psychologist who works in football, told DW.
“You can definitely mitigate it [traveling by bus or train] by walking around, but anything longer than two hours is going to be uncomfortable,” continued Eyre, who in addition to being the athletic director at the TSG Wiesek youth academy in central Germany also runs her own business, While Lion Performance.
“Footballers tend to have really tight hamstrings, hips and hips flexors so if you’re getting on the pitch straight afterwards, teams tend to fly because they’re only traveling for a couple of hours.”
In a billion-dollar sport obsessed with fine margins, a couple of hours can make all the difference and so it’s hard to see a future in which football sacrifices regeneration for environmental protection. Clearly there are bigger perpetuators in the field of plane pollution than football clubs, but these wealthy entities with enormous social influence must realize that their choices are no laughing matter.
Edited by Chuck Penfold.