Young Joe Bryant is, in many ways, a typical English young man. The 12 year-old goes to school, lives with his parents Phil and Kirsten, and his older siblings Harry and Avril, plays cricket and fooball in Crawley, Sussex. He loves building with Legos and watching football, especially Bundesliga matches..
But what makes young Joe unique, and something of a celebrity in Germany and around the world, is that he is likely England’s youngest football ambassador to Germany. Combining his love of building with Legos and of German football, Joe lovingly creates masterful, detailed replica German stadiums, which he not only shares on his own YouTube video network (AwayDayJoe) but delivers, with the help of Dad and brother Harry, to enthusiastic Bundesliga fans across Germany.
We recently had the pleasure to learn more about Joe’s Lego mastery and his trips to Germany and are happy to share what we’ve learned below. Follow Joe’s adventures on Twitter at @AwayDayJoe.
Joe, great to have you aboard. When did you begin your interest in building with Legos, and what were some of the first things you built?
Joe: I started playing with Legos when I was about five. I built a few sets and then started building football stands with Lego people in them. I began designing my own stadiums when I was about 7. We had one which even had some old working floodlights from a Subbuteo set, which was quite cool. But all the bricks were multi-coloured so it didn’t really look like any real stadium. I have a few Lego Star Wars set but I prefer coming up with stuff myself.
When did you get the idea of building Lego replicas of stadiums. How long does it take you to build a complete stadium? On average, how many individual Lego pieces do you use? Have you ever had any accidents involving the Door of Doom? And why Bundesliga stadiums in particular?
Joe: I decided to build proper football stadiums when I was about 9. I went on holiday to Turkey and met lots of German fans and became hooked on the Bundesliga. I thought why not combine Lego with football and start making the German stadiums. It used to take about 3 weeks to make a stadium but now it can take up to 2 months. It’s hard to know exactly how many bricks I need until I start building them and because I work from pictures I have to guess a lot of the time and see what looks right. So we always have to order more and that can slow down building. At the moment, with the Coronavirus, the postage is very slow so that hasn’t helped.
I reckon there are between 4000-5000 bricks, plates and parts in my Lego stadiums now. It used to be less but I’m getting better at building them and I now make them more realistic – and more complicated! The Hertha Berlin Olympiastadion had 5,669 parts in it. Hertha actually gave us three shirts with the numbers 5, 6 and 69 printed on them, which was really cool and kind of them. That was the biggest stadium I have built so far.
The Door of Doom is my dad’s biggest fear. The Lego stadiums are around 1 metre wide but the door is much less, so we have to tape them down, take the roofs off and tilt them to get through the door. We always say we drive 13 hours to somewhere like Berlin and the biggest challenge is getting the stadium out of the house! We did have one accident at Bremen where I slipped as we were removing the stadium from the car but two of the Werder guys helped us and we managed to get it fixed in time. That’s the great thing about Lego, it can be rebuilt. My dad tried to fix one brick in the FC Koln stadium once and knocked down half a stand instead. And my mum dropped the vacuum cleaner on one of the stadiums once. I wasn’t very happy.
I build Bundesliga stadiums because I prefer German football to the Premier League. I like watching Ipswich Town, who play in League One now, but we are not very good at the moment. Bundesliga football has a much better atmosphere and the fans make far more noise than in England. The clubs are also far more friendlier. They have been very welcoming and very kind to me and it is very cool to visit them. The stadiums are also more unique than in England. Here, clubs are getting new stadiums but a lot of them look the same. In Germany, they are mostly different. They all have something that is really cool to build in Lego, like FC Köln’s towers or Werder Bremen’s floodlights.
I understand that your goal is to build a Lego stadium for every club in the top two German tiers of fussball… Which clubs have you completed so far?Joe: I have built 12 German clubs and Anderlecht in Belgium.
The 12 German clubs are: Borussia Mönchengladbach, FC Köln, Schalke, Bayer Leverkusen, FC Nürnberg, Mainz, Augsburg, Werder Bremen, VfL Bochum, Hertha BSC, Freiburg and Stuttgart. I am now about to start work on Borussia Dortmund which will be a challenge. I asked my followers on my Twitter, Instagram and YouTube to vote for the stadium they wanted me to build next and Dortmund won. I have a list of all the stadiums that everyone has asked me to build and it’s somewhere near 100 now. I have visited third and fourth division clubs in Germany, so who knows where it will end. I get requests from all over the world, particularly South America. They want me to build big stadiums in Argentina, Brazil, Peru and Chile. I have even been asked to build the national stadium in Iran!
How did you (and your Dad) decide to actually take your replicas to the actual stadiums in Germany to share with fans? DId you get an invite first or did you propose the idea? What was the first stadium you visited that you brought your Lego replica to? Were you nervous?
Joe: We didn’t actually plan to do it but after I built Schalke, the club got in contact with me through Twitter and invited us to the Veltins Arena with my Lego stadium. That was amazing and so kind of them. It was an incredible day and I got to go out on the pitch before the game and be interviewed. They played the video of me building the stadium on the giant screen hanging from the roof. Since then, a lot of clubs have wanted me to bring the Lego stadium to their clubs. So Schalke were the first and, yes, I was very nervous. I was only 9 at the time and I had no idea what was going to happen. But Schalke were brilliant and really looked after me. I still get nervous now if I am being interviewed on the pitch but I am a little more used to it.
How do you actually get your stadiums to the stadiums in Germany?
in Germany?Joe: My dad drives us to Germany, which is a long way in the car. But it is the only way to take the Lego stadium to the real stadium. We take the ferry to Calais and then head to Germany, sometimes seeing stadiums on the way. It took 13 hours to drive from our house in England to Nürnberg and Berlin. Normally my brother Harry comes with us as well, so it is a bit of a squeeze. The only time we can’t fit him in is if the Lego stadium has a running track like Nürnberg and Berlin. It is just too long. Harry missed the Nürnberg trip but he flew to Berlin.
Phil, you’ve obviously made a big commitment, in time, money and effort, to support Joe’s wonderful interest in building and sharing with others. How do you squeeze in the time? Have you always been a big footy fan? What do you get out of these trips to Germany? How have they helped you and Joe bond?
Phil: Joe came up with a great idea and he is very talented, so I am more than happy to help. It does take a lot of time and it is not cheap but it is very rewarding. I have always been passionate about football. I have supported Ipswich for 40 years and when I was growing up they were playing the best teams in Europe. I have a soft spot for FC Köln because Ipswich played them the year we won the UEFA Cup. We try to watch as many Ipswich games as possible but we live 100 miles away so every match is an away day. But I love German football and Joe and Harry have really got addicted to it. Although the driving is long, you do get a chance to talk to your sons because they can’t escape or ignore you while you are in the car! So it is quality time and most of all it is memories we will treasure for ever. I cannot thank the clubs enough for the generosity and kindness they show Joe and Harry and myself. It really is something that doesn’t happen in England. But Joe seems to be getting more and more popular with the fans and it’s a proud moment when you see them applauding him on the pitch.
You’ve donated some of your stadiums to clubs to display? Which clubs have them displayed now?
Joe: It started with Anderlecht who asked if they could keep the Lego stadium for their fanshop. That was very cool because I cannot keep all the Lego stadiums for ever because I run out of bricks and it is too expensive to keep buying more. So it is really sad if I have to knock down a stadium to build another. It is much better if a club wants to keep them. Mainz were the first German club to want to keep their Lego stadium and Werder Bremen, Bochum and Hertha BSC have done the same, which is awesome. Freiburg are keen to keep theirs because this is their last season at the Schwarzwald-Stadion. I was due to take it to Freiburg over Easter but then the Coronavirus stopped that. Hopefully I can do it next season. When we went to Bremen, we met the guys from their stadium sponsor Wohninvest and, because they come from Stuttgart, they wanted me to build the Mercedes-Benz Arena, which I did. I think the plan is for Wohninvest to bring my Lego stadium to Stuttgart in the future, which will be very cool.
What kind of questions do fans ask you when you exhibit your stadiums before the match?
Joe: Lots of things really, my age, how long it took to build and how many bricks. I really need to learn more German because they all speak great English. The fans are really friendly and they sometimes ask for pictures. I have been given badges and scarves, it is very kind of them. I think the trip to Mainz was one of the best days I have ever had because they arranged for me to come on their family day. So I had my own tent with my Lego stadium and the fans could all come and meet me and take pictures. It was really cool and I made a lot of friends that I stay in contact with now. Mainz is a very cool club, one of my favourites.
Joe, what’s it like to be down on the pitch before kick off as the players warm up? Is there anything that you’ve picked up about the players’ skills, the stadium atmosphere, the volume of noise, that surprised you after only watching matches on TV in the past? Do you watch a lot of Bundesliga matches when at home?
Joe: It is absolutely amazing. Most times I present the Lego stadium just before the match starts and the players are warming up. It is awesome, the ultras are all in and you can feel the atmosphere building. You see the players pinging balls around with incredible skills — thankfully none have hit the Lego stadium yet!! The noise is so much louder than in England, the German fans are just incredible. I do watch a lot of the matches at home on TV as my brother and I made my dad get BT Sport! But it is much better when you are there live.
I know the players and coaches are very focused on the upcoming match when you’re down on the pitch before kickoff, but have any said hello or made a comment on your Lego creations?
Joe: When I was at Schalke, Naldo had a look at the stadium and at Nürnberg the goalkeeper Christian Mathenia said hello on the pitch as well as the manager at the time, Michael Kollner. At Mainz and Bochum, I was also interviewed on Sky Sport which was unbelievably cool. One of the best moments came at Werder Bremen when I went on to the pitch at half-time. A lot of the Werder fans wanted the Lego stadium to be kept by Bremen and put in their Museum and they kept tweeting me in the morning asking what was going to happen. But we weren’t sure if the club wanted to do that, so we left it up to them. But Werder and Wohninvest decided they would like to keep the Lego stadium. I was able to reveal the good news during the interview on the pitch, and the reaction of the crowd was just incredible. So much noise, cheering and applause. One of the fans recorded it and sent us a clip which was really cool. That was an amazing moment.
Joe I won’t ask you which club is your favorite…but do you have one, or, are you more like me and just a fan of German football, the fans, the atmosphere, the great athletes and great traditions? Do you support any one English club above all others?
Joe: I get asked a lot who do I support in Germany and it is a really difficult question. So many clubs have been kind to me that it’s difficult to choose one. Now I am building more stadiums, it is getting very hard to avoid rivalries but I think the supporters realise that I am trying to build all the clubs. I just like the Bundesliga because it is far more passionate, the football is exciting and the stadiums are so unique. In England, I support Ipswich because that was my dad’s team. We go to quite a few away games because we like seeing different stadiums around England. We have been as far north as Newcastle and as far west as Swansea.
Joe, what is your favorite stadium food in Germany?
Joe : Definitely bratwurst. We have tried to buy it in England but it isn’t easy to find and it’s not quite the same. The stadium food in Germany is way better than anything at English football grounds. I like the fact there are different foods in different cities. For instance in Nürnberg I had drei im weggla which was three bratwurst in a bun. That was very good.
Joe, what advice would you give others, children and adults, who would like to undertake big Lego building projects? What have you learned and gotten better at as you’ve done more and more stadiums?
Joe: Don’t step on any Lego! It hurts! It’s a fun hobby, it can be quite tricky and you have to be patient because things do fall down but it is great when you create something. Dad says it can get expensive because you don’t realise that 100 bricks doesn’t go very far. I still build the same way I did when I was 5 years old but I have learned how to make the stadiums stronger and also how to make them more realistic with things like stairwells and lettering. A lot of people like the really small details that I include. Freiburg was like that — four individual stands with different details. I had never been there before so I made it entirely from pictures people sent me. One of the Freiburg fans showed me a picture of him holding his phone with my Lego stadium on it while he was standing in the real stadium and it looked exactly the same, so I was very proud of that.
What are your other hobbies or interests, Joe? Do you follow any other sports? Do you have any thoughts to what you want to do when you’re done with school?
Joe: I play football for a local team. I prefer playing on the right wing or up front but I can also play as a full-back or wing-back. I also play cricket and I’m in the county set-up at Sussex which is good. I am not sure what I will be when I leave school, like most kids I’d love to play football. People always say I could be an architect and design football stadiums, and that would be cool. Or maybe I could work for Lego and build models at Legoland.
Great thanks to Joe and his family for sharing his expertise and adventures with Bundesliga fans