Schalker International: Connor Cunningham
In our latest edition of our new series ‘Schalker International’, where we’ll meet Schalke fans all over the globe and find out about how they came to love FC Schalke 04, we spoke to Scottish supporter, Connor Cunningham.
How did you become a Schalke fan?
By talking to my good friend Michael Fry on Facebook. He was on a Hearts FC Facebook page and I enquired why someone in Germany cared about my team when they had such better football! We spoke a lot about our teams and he invited me over for a match against Paderborn in 2015 with the fan club IronBlue Heidelberg, which Michael runs. I met many great friends from the start, and fell in love with Schalke instantly.
What’s supporting Schalke like in Scotland?
Bundesliga is quite popular here, but most people follow the two clubs who shall not be named. A lot of Bundesliga is televised here too, so it’s quite easy to watch a lot of Schalke matches. My German needs improving, but I keep in check with everything going on, with my German friends helping me often.
Tell us about your Schalke/Hearts flag.
The roots of this friendship go back to 2004, when Hearts played Schalke in the UEFA Cup. I think both sets of supporters left impressions on each other. I have spoken with Schalke fans in Germany who remember and respect Hearts, and likewise, many Hearts fans who respect Schalke fans (some say the Schalke fans that evening were the best they ever saw). As the IronBlue members are now all made up of Hearts and Schalke fans, we decided to make a banner to show who we are. The banner has been in the VELTINS-Arena, and also at several Hearts matches!
Have you managed to get more Scottish fans on board?
Yes, I’ve managed to bring a few over, and I have more people asking me to come too. They weren’t all Schalke fans to begin with, but I think like me, they were changed very quickly! For Scottish fans, the idea of coming to such an Arena to watch great football is very tempting. Also drinking beer in the stadium is a huge bonus!
Can you remember the first game you watched on TV?
The first match I remember was the 4-3 win vs. Real Madrid. I hadn’t visited yet but had booked the trip to come in May. This match showed me exactly what Michael and I had spoken about, the attitude of Schalke. Never giving up, always fighting. The fans looked incredible too.
Do you have a favourite S04 match?
It would have to be the 4-4 Revierderby. I was at a Hearts match at the same time, and trying to stream the derby on my phone. The Hearts match wasn’t exciting at all, so I got some strange looks for jumping up to cheer when Naldo scored the 04th goal.
What do you love about the club?
It reminds me a lot of my club Hearts. Great history and tradition, with a loyal fanbase, even if we haven’t always been the most successful. But to both sets of fans, football, and our clubs, is everything. Even if we play in the second league (like Hearts now) we will still be there every week to support our club. There is more to football than trophies and money, and at Schalke, you can really feel that.
What makes S04 special?
Again, the history. The connections with the mining industry. The way the club brings everyone together and gives people something in life to belong to. Gelsenkirchen isn’t a rich city, but what Schalke gives the people is more than money can give. My first trip to Gelsenkirchen, I was just blown away by how a city and its people can be so passionate for football. Everywhere I went, there was Schalke. Even the yellow apartment block on the Schalker Meile with blue paint thrown at it amazed me.
What about a favourite player?
My favourite would be Klaas-Jan Huntelaar. Growing up, I liked watching Ajax, so when I got to come and see Schalke play, he was the one I was excited to see. And he scored the winner against Paderborn in my first match! I was also lucky to be in the Arena for his farewell presentation. Singing his name over and over. Even for me it was like a small dream!
One player (past of present) you’d love to see play for Schalke?
If we’re talking ultimate fantasy, I would say Zlatan Ibrahimovic. A player I have just loved watching throughout my life. Even now, I think he would still make a difference.
How many times have you been to the VELTINS-Arena or Germany? How have you found it?
I have been to the Veltins seven times now. I have tried to visit Germany every year since my first trip in 2015. Usually for the Saisonabschluss party, but I also came for two Revierderbies. I even got to speak on the pitch at half time in the last match of 2018 vs. Frankfurt. Me and Michael were invited to talk about our friendship of clubs. Walking down the tunnel, and then speaking to the fans was incredible. I even gained a lot of respect from Schalke fans for my German phrase that I learned, and when I got back to the Nordkurve, I met another Hearts fan!
Why would you recommend supporting Schalke?
I won’t lie, it’s not easy, but if supporting a football club was easy, life would be boring right? The fans are loud and passionate, and they know how to celebrate even the bad times. I can only imagine how great it’s going to be if one day, I witness Schalke becoming Deutscher Meister. One can only dream.