Our resident Dutch expert, Paul Whitaker takes us on a tour of Breda.
My ‘Rough Guide to Holland’ says Breda is a pleasant market town located in the province of Noord-Brabant. What the publication does not say, is as with other towns around this southern part of Netherlands, Breda also has a well-supported football club (NAC) and I planned my visit to coincide with their Eredivisie fixture against reigning champions, Ajax.
There are hourly trains from Amsterdam Central Station to Breda via s’ Hertogenbosch. 2nd class day return were €38. There is also a direct line from Amsterdam to Breda, with ‘Fyra’. It’s a few euros more, but you will get to Breda direct in one hour. If you have access to a dutch friend with an OV chipkaart , you should get up to 40% off this ticket price.
The demands of television on modern football dictated the match would not kick off until 20.45pm local time, which meant not getting back to Amsterdam until after 1am. “Against Modern Football/Tegen Het Moderne Voetbal!”. Thankfully, the ever reliable dutch railway system came to the rescue by ensuring regular train services ran into the early hours.
On arrival at Breda train station, head down Willemstraat, picking up a map/guide book from the VVV office (no 17-19, open Saturday). Cross the Valkenberg park and you will find yourself in typical dutch old town. Here the Grote Markt and neighbouring Havermarkt are the centre of Breda life. You will find a castle and moat off Kasteelplein and several surrounding streets full of bars, cafes and restaurants. I worked out the “Het Paviljoen” (Viserstraat 6) to be the most popular football bar on matchday, mainly due to the incessant din of dutch techno music and sprinkling of Stone Island tops amongst its clientele. You will find an NAC fanshop close to the old town called ‘t feesterijke’ (haagdijk 8).
There is no better way of locating NAC’s stadium than climbing the tower of the impressive gothic church (€4.50). The stadium can be seen about a mile to the northwest. You can take the bus no2 (direction Haagse Beemden) from outside Breda train station. There are between 2-4 buses per hour and €5.50 for day ticket. I found it more convenient to miss the post-match queues and do the 20 minute walk back the train station.
NAC’s current home is called Rat Verlegh stadium. Named after one of NAC supporters most popular icon who played for the club between 1912-31, the unremarkable looking modern stadium was built in 1996. Although initial capacity began with 17000 seats, the club introduced safe standing terracing to bring capacity up to 19000. At the time of my visit, NAC was celebrating their 100th anniversary season, during which time they had won one championship in 1921 and one KNVB Cup in 1973.
On the Lunetstraat (where the bus drops you off) side of the stadium, you will find another fanshop to get your NAC souvenirs and the free matchday programme, “De Klok”. Right next door is the ticket/information desk, where you collect your match ticket. Finally, next door to that is the busy ‘Beatrixpub’, which is named after the club’s old stadium located at Beatrixstraat. Above the Beatrixpub is the NAC supporters club, which you are allowed in before the match only.
Here you will also be allowed to buy a club ‘debitcard’ (to purchase food/drinks inside the stadium) at the entrance of the Beatrixpub before the match. You simply pay 2 euro deposit and buy the amount of money you want on the card. After the match,simply hand the card back in and you get the money on the card back as well as your 2 euro deposit. This is a great idea by NAC and as with not needing a club card to purchase a match, I wish some of the ‘bigger’ dutch football clubs (you know who you are!) were as forward thinking and supporter friendly.
The inhabitants of the Beatrixpub are NACs ‘Yellow Army’ and are famous for creating one of the best atmospheres in dutch football. Budi Loonen from the excellent English language NAC fan website http://www.nacbredafc.nl/ , explained the phenomenon ‘Avondje NAC’ or ‘An evening NAC’:
“NAC are supported by two fan groups. We stand on the B-side, Vak G (Block G/G-end located next to the away-end also the hardcore firm is there located) and eretribune (F6 and F7). We’re fanatic but we don’t want to look like any other team in the entire Netherlands. No songs after scoring a goal, no drums, no mascot, no tifo-choreography (maybe a banner if you are lucky). The bottom line is we don’t like advertising stuff around it because it influences the atmopshere. Atmosphere is from the fans not from a stupid drum or whatsoever. We have an impulsive-atmosphere: when the team play some good football, the crowd picks up and take over to sing. Some german football fans say we’re similar like FC Sankt Pauli. But even we think the atmosphere is dissapointing (especially on sunday matches with a lot of hangovers) a lot of football fans don’t agree. NAC is also famous of the ‘avondje NAC’ or ‘evening NAC’.On Saturday night there is a special atmosphere in the Rat Verlegh stadium. A mix of football, fanatism of football, beer, emotion but above all bourgondic culture before a night out. True story: we have a lot of fans from different clubs like Feyenoord and Ajax, but they have a season ticket for NAC because the like the atmosphere and the fans. Even other football-fan opinion agree as well. NAC fans are Fans that do not like modern football in general”
I was pleased to read that NAC were the first dutch football club to form a supporters’ advisory council, that protects NACs culture and looks after their supporters interests. NAC also ensure a supporter representative is also on the club board.
My €15 seat ticket was in neutral section I. Right in front of the away section H and right next to ‘Vak G’ terracing, where the more boisterous elements of NACs ‘Yellow Army’ are located. This put me right in the middle of some intense atmosphere during the match, between the NAC and Ajax supporters. I had been told the best match atmospheres at NAC are against the big three of Ajax, Feyenoord and PSV. Feyenoord matches in particular have a history of violent disorder that goes back to the 1970s. NACs local rivals are Willem II from the nearby town of Tilburg and matches are referred to locally as the derby of Brabant. The best website for NAC supporter photos is http://www.f7breda.nl .
The match kicked off with NAC chasing points to keep away from the relegation scrap, whilst an Ajax win would all but secure them a 32nd Eredivisie title. NAC were the better side in a mediocre first half. Eric Botteghin headed a corner cross against the Ajax crossbar. Most of Ajax attempts were long range shots that sailed high or wide of NAC goal. The second half was a much better Ajax performance. From a Viktor Fischer rebounded shot, Kolbeinn Sigthorrsson slotted home to put the visitors 0-1 up. On 52 minutes, a Christian Eriksen corner saw Siem De Jong’s head in Ajax second goal, via NAC’s Tim Gilissen. De Jong later hit the post, but the match was effectively over. Both myself and Ajax were to leave Breda after a very enjoyable visit.
Getting a ticket
Tickets go on sale about 2/3 weeks before. You can buy tickets from the dutch
language website http://nac.voetbalticket-shop.nl/ . For matches against Ajax, Feyenoord and PSV, I would contact NAC direct. Simply ring the following number (they speak English) +31 76 521 45 00
Tell them you’re from abroad and want visit the match. Let them know your name, nationality and date of birth. The club will give you a reservation number. Take the reservation number and your passport to the Ticket and Information Desk (next to the supporterspub Beatrix and NAC Fanshop) give them the number, you pay and you got the tickets.
For other matches please contact Budi Loonen at the excellent English language NAC fan website http://www.nacbredafc.nl/ ,by emailing email@example.com .Please add in the subject title which football match you want to visit. Maximum 4 tickets each match. Budi can only arrange tickets 2 months in advance or earlier, else it´s not possible. If you make a reservation this way, please note you are buying ticket from NAC Breda supporters. If arrange tickets that means, because of Dutch law, they are responsible for you. Tickets can be picked up 2 – 1 hours in advance in the Beatrixpub at the stadium. They only accept cash.
Thanks to Budi Loonen for kindly answering me questions and NAC for the €15 euro ticket.
The Daggers Diary team have a nose for getting tickets for most big games so it is no surprise that they were heading off to the Europa League final for the fifth consecutive year.
Way back in August, both Benfica and Chelsea would have harboured hopes of progress in the Champions League. Benfica were drawn in a group containing Barcelona and Celtic, while Chelsea would have fancied their chances of progressing from a group containing Juventus, Nordsjaelland and Shaktar Donetsk, especially as they went into the competition as European Champions.
Benfica were undone by some very impressive Celtic performances, but the problems encountered by Chelsea during the first half of the season were many and were the subject of many column inches in the printed media. It cost the coach his job, and the replacement has been the subject of almost as many articles as the failure to get out of the group stage of the Champions League.
As the competition progressed, it became apparent that we were getting dangerously close to an all-English final. For a while, it seemed that Gareth Bale (or Spurs as they are more commonly known) would get to Amsterdam, and in doing so, provide their head coach with the chance to win this competition for a second time in three years.
However, quarter final defeats for both Spurs/Gareth Bale and Newcastle meant that the European Champions were still in with a chance of holding both major European trophies at the same time. So, with the European Champions getting past Basle in their semi final, and Benfica progressing at the expense of Fenerbache, we got a final that promises to be a really good game.
Of course, the idea of having teams that fail in one competition, only for them to turn up in the apparently lesser competition after Christmas is one that provokes much debate. Quite why the powers that be at UEFA felt the need to devalue a competition that already attracts less attention that it should do is open to question, but at the present time, they are the rules, however much they may seem abhorrent.
There are certainly two sides to this. For the teams that started the season in the Europa League, it may seem a bit on the harsh side to have clubs that have essentially mucked up their other competition to be allowed to compete in this one. For the clubs who have “dropped down” into the Europa League, then it presents a chance to retrieve their continental season, although there are plenty out there who feel that having competed in the Champions League at the start of the season, that this is a come down from which there is no glory to be had at all.
For me though, as a bluff old traditionalist, I think its all wrong. The league champions of each country go into the Champions Cup, while the cup winners (and three or four teams via the league) go into the Europa League. None of this “fourth placed team playing in the Champions League” rubbish. And if you muck up in one competition, then that’s it. No second chance.
Wednesday 15th May 2013, SL Benfica v Chelsea FC, Amsterdam ArenA
In the days leading up to the final, the lack of tickets available for the competing teams was an issue. Like all UEFA finals, there are a certain number which are available for neutral fans. These go on sale via a ballot run through the UEFA website, and after the application period has ended, the results are announced a couple of weeks later. This is how Dagenham Dan and I are attending the game. It’s also probably part of the reason why there are some that will miss out on seeing their team playing in a European final.
Which all seems just a bit unfair. Selecting a stadium that can host about fifty thousand fans should be enough for a final like this, but next year, when the final will be staged in Turin, there will be about ten thousand less in the arena. Even for a competition that attracted its fair amount of scorn recently, that’s probably not big enough.
The ticketing allocation for finals has always been a contentious issue. However, and speaking as someone who follows a small club in the nether regions of league two, is it fair that someone who supports a club that is never likely to play in European competition is denied the chance to see a major game like this? Are these events purely to be the preserve of those who attach themselves to a bigger club like Chelsea or Benfica? The allocation for the neutral section could be made a bit smaller, but then there are also sponsors tickets. If you are a company that pays millions of pounds to have your name associated with a tournament, would you not want a certain amount of tickets for the showpiece occasion?
Arrival in Amsterdam is in the gloom, of a grey damp and cold morning. Somewhat unsurprisingly, the plane is full of Chelsea fans, who may or may not have tickets for the game. The beers were already flowing in Southend airport, and it continues on the plane.
We aren’t able to check into the hotel upon arrival, so having left our bags in their storage facility, we head into Amsterdam. Having tried to find out what is going on in the town centre, we stroll away from the central station and find very little, except bars almost full to bursting point, and the chip shop selling the best fries in the Netherlands. Even at this early stage, Dan goes for the large portion of chips, but is soon struggling. My choice of the medium is met with scorn by the vendor, but the splat of mayo is more than enough to compensate for the smaller amount of chips.
Having scoffed the mid morning snack, we make a decision to head out to the stadium to see if we can find our programmes. After nearly missing out in Dublin two years ago, we are determined not to do the same this time. So a fifteen minute train ride is in front of us, and despite the train getting a touch on the cosy side, we arrive at the stadium to find that all of the merchandising and fan parks, so missing from the town centre, are out here instead.
Having purchased the programmes, plus the obligatory mini ball, we were dismayed somewhat to discover that the Ajax fan shop at the stadium is shut. The chance to get the new away kit (a very fetching black and pink number) is thus denied, although the credit card is no doubt breathing a huge sigh of relief.
Having spent enough, we head back to the hotel for a couple of hours, although more important is that we actually check in. The local news is dominated by the game, and one reporter has clearly drawn the short straw, by getting lumbered with interviewing people walking past a bar populated seemingly exclusively by Chelsea fans, none of which want to look at the camera. One interview with a Benfica fan is interrupted by a blue, proclaiming that Arsenal aren’t very good, or at least using words to that effect.
The shuttle bus back to the airport is almost full, but we seem to be the only ones using it as a way of eventually heading back to town as everyone else has a suitcase of some description. After checking which train we should be on we are, for the second time today, heading back to the Amsterdam Arena.
It’s much busier this time around, with both fan park areas full of people. We wonder around and as we stroll, Dan makes a spot; the Amsterdam final ambassador, Patrick Kluivert is heading our way, and Dan is straight in. After a polite enquiry as to whether we can have photo, Patrick agrees, and we get our picture taken. As we get ours completed, others start to head over to do the same thing, ensuring that his path to the stadium entrance is going to be taking longer than planned.
There is time to enter the Chelsea fan park, but aside from the heavy thump of the dance music offered up by the resident d.j. and the smell of something exotic (something that some of the local residents put in their cake apparently), the visit is short, and we complete our lap of the stadium, before entering.
By the time the kick off rolls around, we have been treated to the teams being announced by using the player escorts to show their position on the field, as well as an opening ceremony involving tulips, club crests and Patrick Kluivert parading the trophy. Each club is represented by a fan, and they are asked a series of questions by the two matchday presenters (one of whom sounds rather like the bloke at Wembley stadium) although given their patter, they sound more like each clubs matchday announcer.
The first half isn’t bad. The first chance is only a couple of minutes in coming, although Cardoza heads over. Early on, Chelsea display very little cohesion as a defensive unit, and are fortunate not to concede on a couple of other occasions. Errant shooting, as well as some scrambled clearances save the day for the European champions.
Torres is an isolated figure at times, and a couple of early kicks look to have him in trouble, although he does eventually continue. Frank Lampard has a shot which swerves all over the place, but the Benfica keeper is just about able to stick out his left hand and divert the ball over the bar. From our vantage point, it looks to have crept in, but we soon see that that wasn’t the case.
Benfica have been the better side in the half, and the second starts in the same vein. Gradually, Chelsea do get a bit of a hold, and it is arguably against the run of play that they take the lead on the hour. A throw out by Cech seems to elude the midfield of both teams, and the ball somehow ends up at the feet of Torres. He is able to out run Luisao, and after seemingly taking an age to round the keeper, he slots the ball home. The Chelsea fans in their section go nuts, as does a good portion of the allegedly neutral section.
Their good humour lasts about eight minutes; Azpilicueta is deemed to have handled the ball, and after a few seconds of confusion, a penalty is awarded. The Benfica section away to our right celebrates as Cardoza scores although closer to home, one Chelsea fan in our section takes umbrage with a celebrating Benfica supporter, and for a few minutes is facing away from the game, as he points and looks like he about to clump him one. The Benfica fan is just ignoring him, although it does look a difficult job.
Quite what he would have made of the winner in the last minute of stoppage time is not recorded. Despite Chelsea still not looking the better side, the corner from the right wing is met by Ivanovic, whose looping header takes an age to drop into the net. From the other end of the stadium, it is a second or two before it registers, and when it does, those of the blue persuasion are celebrating once again. As the corner is awarded, we both reckon that a goal for Chelsea would be a bit of a mugging, given the game. This is agreed with by those in front, although a few seconds later, they don’t really care.
Even at this late stage, there is still a chance for Benfica to score again. Another defensive shambles leads to a few “heart in mouth” moments in the seats, but once again, it is scrambled clear. The final whistle brings celebration at the far end of the stadium, and in much of the neutral section, while some of the Portuguese are already on their way. Chelsea become the first team to hold the Champions League and Europa League trophies at the same time, while Benfica stretch their losing run in European finals to seven, covering fifty years.
As soon as the trophy presentations are done, we are on our way back to the station, hoping for a train straight back to Schipol, but although we move as quickly as we can through the plastic cup strewn floor of the stadium surrounds, we miss the train by a minute, and it’s another half hour wait for the next one. Slowly but surely the station fills up although most seem to be heading back to the city centre, probably for just one more beer before bedtime.
Not only do we miss our intended train, but as we reach Schipol, we also miss the airport shuttle bus, which we see leaving just as we get outside the terminal building. Getting a cab proves to be difficult, and we eventually get a highly reluctant driver to take us back to the hotel. Throughout the journey back, we are made to feel that it is our fault for wasting his time driving such a short distance, and although we protest our innocence, he doesn’t seem to want to know. Even when we point out the shuttle bus in the hotel car park, he still complains about the waste of time. We hand over the payment to the grouch, and walk away.
Thursday morning, and the airport is full of fans making their way back home; as we pass through the terminal on our way to the aircraft, there are a few that look as though they slept there, with several lying face down on tables. As we wait at the departure gate, the plane arriving from Southend lets loose its passengers while we stare out of our glass cage, looking like goldfish waiting for the next feed. The plane back is full, although not all are Chelsea fans; there is a sizeable group of excitable Dutch schoolkids, which means that anyone hoping for a short nap on the forty minute flight is to be disappointed. One person a few rows in front is overhead to ask if this is the flight to Southend, which means that it must have been a very good night in town after the game.
Real Madrid v Barcelona? Old skool. PSG v OM? Past its best even with the added “pzzazz of Monsieur Beckham. Celtic v Rangers? Had its day. Lewes v Eastbourne Borough? Getting closer. But none of these currently tick all the boxes as the most anticipated games in recent years. The most talked about domestic game these days in Europe is in Germany. After years of dominance of the Bundesliga, in the past couple of seasons Bayern Munich have had to play second fiddle to Die Schwarzgelben, Borussia Dortmund. The domestic champions for the past two seasons have risen from the financial flames into a majestic young phoenix managed by one of the best young managers in the game, and of course, the biggest average club attendance in Europe.
Under Jürgen Klopp, Dortmund have become one of the most watchable teams of their generation, with an emphasis on counter-attacking play which saw them cruise to the title over the past two seasons. Last season in front of 75,000 in Berlin, and millions watching across the globe, Borussia Dortmund destroyed Bayern in the DFB-Pokal final to take their first domestic double.
That final was a watershed in German football. In fact Ribéry’s goal in the 25th minute of the final was the first that Dortmund had conceded in the whole tournament, and it was a surprise that they only finished with five goals. The King was dead, long live the King. Or were they?
Bayern Munich were a wounded animal, and came out of the blocks firing with aggression. Just one defeat in the league conceding just 8 goals in 23 games (and scoring 60), cruising into the Champions League Quarter Finals and hardly breaking into a sweat in the DFB-Pokal. Who could stop them? Well, how about Dortmund again? The draw for the DFB-Pokal had paired the two titans in a duel to the death in Munich. Surely Dortmund couldn’t slay the Kraken in its own nest? And to add a little bit more spice to the occasion, it was Bayern’s 113th Birthday. No doubt they would put on the best birthday party ever. After all, apart from trousers, what else don’t the Germans do well?
So how can the invincibles become even more immortal? How about snapping up the world’s most in demand coach? Pep Guardiola will hopefully be walking into the Allianz Arena dressing room in July to meet a record-breaking team if current form is anything to go by. Bundesliga champions? Almost certainly. European champions? I think only one or two teams may have a say in that. Perhaps they should already have that title. Once again the huge burden of expectation that goes with hosting the final played heavily on the side’s performance last May against Chelsea.
But for all their dominance this season Dortmund have come back at them again and again. Many saw their heavy home defeat to Hamburg earlier this month as a sign than Jürgen Klopp had not taken the opportunity in the January window to strengthen the side. But just seven days later and after an arduous Champions League game in Ukraine they emphatically bounced back with a win against 4th place Eintracht Frankfurt where the 3-0 score line hardly did justice to their attacking domination.
There are few people who would turn down a chance to see this game, and fortunately I’m not one of them. I know that few of you will believe this but I had been asked to be in the city for work purposes, along with Ben before I even took a glance at Soccerway to see what Kenny Legg would call “tinpot” action was in the agenda. Of course tickets had all been snapped up within minutes of going on sale. It’s hard enough to get tickets for the visit of a club like Hoffenheim or Freiburg, but for a cup quarter-final against Dortmund, well you’d have more chance of a passing game from Allardyce. But sometimes you need to call in those favours that have been in your wallet for years.
“I owe you one” said Bernd, our German regional manager. The date was 7th November 2005. He’d joined the company a few days previously and on a visit to London I’d taken him to the pub after work for a beer. I bought the first round before I had to leave. “I owe you one” he said and I wasn’t going to forget it, saving it up, with interest. I nearly cashed it in a few years ago at Oktoberfest when I needed him to translate the drunken advances of a young Bavarian girl in her Dirndl that had exposed a bit too much German flesh. But Google translate came to my rescue. Now was the time to call in the favour.
After he had laughed at me for a good three minutes on the phone he realised I was serious. I could make life very difficult for him on a weekly basis by putting the wrong exchange rates into his commission sheets (“oh sorry, I thought you were reporting your figures in Belorussian roubles”) but he didn’t need much further encouragement. One hour later he rang and said he had the tickets. We were now quits after 7 years 3 months and 19 days in my book.
I’d been to the Allianz on a number occasions but never to see Bayern. I came in July 2005 when West Ham were the visitors to the newly opened stadium to commemorate the 1965 European Cup Winners Cup Final (kids – ask your Dad) when the Hammers beat 1860 Munich at Wembley.
A few months later I was back to see a Bundesliga game as 1860 once again were the visitors. That was actually the last time CMF was here too. In fact she is still immortalised in a picture to this day as a reminder of her trip. A search in Google for “Big Jugs” (kids don’t try this at work) will throw up a smiling photo of her, resplendently posing in front of two large jugs of beer in the Hofbräuhaus. Filthy minds the lot of you.
In 2006 I was also back with Football Jo for the most eagerly anticipated FIFA World Cup game between Saudi Arabia and Tunisia. Few wanted to miss that, and along with the Iran v Angola game in Frankfurt, it was the ticket nobody really wanted. However, it was actually a great day out in the sunshine with a 2-2 draw played out in almost constant noise of the two sets of fans.
So I was keen to return to the stadium, with the outside pulsing red. It is one of the most stunning stadiums from the outside in the world with its iconic architecture. None of your prefab flat-pack stands here. We are talking about a giant white tyre plonked in the middle of the German flatlands, next to the motorway. A tyre that is lit up at night and must have caused significant accidents on the road by people trying to take a picture whilst driving at 100mph…or was that just me in the World Cup?
So work finished, time to put on my party dress, or to be more precise my leiderhosen and head up to Schwabing-Freimann. Bernd doesn’t normally “do football” and so it was a bit cruel of Ben and I to tell him to expect water cannons, a giant birthday jelly and to bring a toilet roll. In return he procured blankets for the first time. Ben was disgusted. “I may be a southern softie, but I am no way having a fanny blanket”. Suffice to say that by the hour mark he was tucked up under his fleece comforter.
I can try to get you excited by the fact the stadium was constructed with 120,000 metred cubed worth of concrete, 22 000 tonnes of steel or has 2,874 foil panels but you don’t want to hear that. You want to know about the beer, the sausages and of course the crackling atmosphere. Ok, you’ve got it.
Bayern Munich 1 Borussia Dortmund 0 – Allianz Arena – Wednesday 27th February 2013
Did it live up to the hype? Oh yes. The Arena was rocking from the moment we entered the stadium and walked up the 134 (!) steps to our seats. Dying of thirst we tried to get a beer but were faced with the old “Arena Card” issue again. I did try to use my Dortmund one left over from two weeks ago but were met with a “look”. Best move on Stuart. The away team had filled their corner of the stadium and were making a fair racket. At the other end the Bayern fans told us all to stand up, sit down, jump around and basically act like a loon for 90 minutes. As if we needed an excuse!
Weakened teams in the cup? Not in Germany. Bayern didn’t have the French wizard, Ribéry, but apart from that were at full strength. Dortmund had their talisman Lewandoski back in the side, with the impressive Reus, the man who has constantly said no to the overtones from Munich, playing behind him. Sitting on the half way line I could see Dortmund were lining up 3-4-2-1 (Michael Cox will be proud that I paid attention) which Bayern had a more traditional 4-4-1-1 line up, with Arjen Robben floating around in the “false 9″ which basically meant getting the ball and not passing to anyone. I still cannot understand why any coach lets him get away with such selfishness. It’s not as if he is a game changer in big matches after all.
Bayern looked the most likely to break the deadlock early on, with the Dortmund keeper having to be quick on his toes on a number of occasions, as despite playing with three centre-backs and little cover on the flanks, Bayern found the easiest route into the danger zones by simply going straight through the middle, the visitors desperately missing Mats Hummels.
Despite having a soft spot for Dortmund, especially with their style of play being easy on the eye, but you could clearly see why Bayern were having such a fantastic season. Javi Martinez and Schweinsteiger were pulling the strings in midfield, breaking up the Dortmund counter-attacks time and time again. With just two minutes left in the half they finally broke the deadlock. A Bayern corner wasn’t cleared, a very rash challenge was made in the area on Mandzukic and the ball rolled kindly to Robben who took one touch and smashed the ball home from 20 yards (we can say smashed as the speed gun behind the goal registered it at 118kmph). Told you he was a big game player.
The second half saw Dortmund come back into the game, with Neuer being called upon to be quick off his line to deny Reus. Dortmund brought on Schieber and Blaszczykowski, a man who has bankrupted many a family as children have his name put on the back of their shirts but Bayern simply closed the game down. Robben actually tracked back, making a solid 5 across the midfield to stop the counter-attacking threat. Despite three minutes of injury time providing some opportunity for the visitors to attack, Bayern held on, breathing a sigh of relief that they had finally beaten their new rivals for only the second time in the past six meetings.
We stayed for the three cheers, led by their overgrown teddy bear mascot and began the cold and wet walk back to the station. Despite a sell out crowd and a new rivalry, fans from both teams mingled without an issue and the transportation was expertly orchestrated, meaning by 11.30pm we were back in the bar, toasting a happy birthday to Stern des Südens and wishing for more work nights like this. From the luxury of the Allianz Arena to the homely Reachfield Stadium in the space of 72 hours. We know who we are
Whilst Danny Last, Big Deaksy, Kenny Legg, Huddo Hudson, Spencer Webb and myself got familiar with the German beer, sausages and football at the weekend, our paths almost crossed with the Daggers Diary team who made the foray into Düsseldorf territory as part of their four game, three countries road trip.
About a year ago, Neil, Dagenham Dan and I made a trip into Europe to take in a game in four different countries over the course of one weekend. Even as we were making our way back from Oostende to Calais to catch the train back home, there were already plans to repeat (or improve) on the trip in 2013.
Despite the schedule of four games in such a short space of time, the only mad rush between games was between Koln and Venlo, and that was comfortably achieved without too much drama.
So this year, we thought we should try to do it all again. Obviously with different venues (fixtures permitting), but to attempt to repeat our 2012 trip would be great. A weekend was selected, and then we set about going through the games, seeing which ones we could feasibly attend. We selected four games, and unlike last year, they would all be in the top division of the respective leagues. Except that the French league was causing a bit of a problem, and after all of the others were more or less confirmed, we were kind of hoping that Lille would be scheduled for the Sunday evening, so that we could get a fifth game in. Unfortunately, that wasn’t to happen, so we would have to make do with just the four.
Of course, while we have got lucky with the fixtures and kick off times, there have been other things where we (or more specifically Neil), haven’t been so fortunate. Last year, about a week before the trip, Neil had an accident in the car, which meant that we ended up hiring a vehicle for the weekend. This year, the car hasn’t been the problem, but instead over the New Year period, Neil managed to break his wrist. This meant that, for a few days the trip was in the balance before the hospital proclaimed that the break should be healed in about a month’s time, and in plenty of time for the trip.
I say we have been lucky with the fixtures, and to a certain degree, we have. While Dan and I will be attending four new grounds (it’s two for Neil), we have potentially missed out on a couple of other games. For example, Anderlecht have a home game on the Friday of our trip, while Borussia Dortmund are at home on the Saturday night. Having already booked tickets for the other games as well as the hotels, we have decided to stick to the planned games. However, both clubs are ones that we all want to visit, but as we have found out before, getting tickets for Dortmund can be difficult. Continue reading →
Despite having the biggest average home league attendance in the world, Borussia Dortmund surprisingly only generate around £25 million from matchday income each season out of a total of £189 million of total revenue, according to the most recent Football Money League report published annually by Deloitte. Whilst the lead the way in passionate home support, their approach on ticket pricing puts them firmly behind “smaller” clubs such as Arsenal and Chelsea where money is no object for the majority of their fans.
The German footballing philosophy of football for the masses is all well and good in getting ticks in the boxes for affordability, but in terms of the one true global measure of how big a club is, it is a contentious issue. Matchday revenues make up nearly a third of the income sources for Manchester United, and around 40% for Arsenal. If Borussia Dortmund wanted to be mentioned in the same breath as Real Madrid, Barcelona and dare I say it in these parts, Bayern Munich, an increase in ticket prices would need to be put in place. But that’s not how clubs roll here in Germany. For those who have experienced a Bundesliga game or two will know, the fans actually mean more to a club than just a walking €50 note.
You get the feeling that even if Dortmund increased ticket prices by 20-30% then the fans would still flock to the Signal Iduna Park week in, week out. Even such a Greek Debt-busting inflation hike would still make ticket prices cheaper than all but a few Premier League sides. The demand for tickets from visitors and Dortmund virgins far outstrips supply. However, thanks to the contacts of Danny Last, we had four tickets for the game in the bag as our train from Münster eased into the Signal Iduna Park station and a wall of yellow and black hit us as we alighted from the train.
On paper this was a banker home win, with some of the shortest odds I had seen for awhile. Eintracht Frankfurt on the other hand were a tasty 7.25. Similar odds would have been on offer for the visit of Hamburg last weekend but in a coupon-busting result, the ‘Rothosen’ ran out 4-1 winners. With joint Bundesliga top scorer Robert Lewandowski serving a suspension, surely Dortmund would have enough quality to see off the visitors – lightning wouldn’t strike twice in a week, would it?
I made my debut here back in 2001 when the stadium had a capacity of JUST 65,000. It was a chilly night of UEFA Cup football against Slovan Liberec from the Czech Republic. These were dark days for the club on and off the pitch as after the glory years of the late 1990′s investments had failed to return the predicted returns. I paid just €10 for my seat among the 36,500 crowd on the gate, spending treble that on an assortment of German football fayre that included a few sausages, a beer or two and of course a pair of Dortmund socks. In between I had seen the Togo v Switzerland game in the FIFA 2006 World Cup, hot footing it across the country after being given some free tickets.
But today it was a different story. This was the team that everyone was trying to emulate. Whilst it looks like this season they will play second fiddle to Bayern Munich, the team built by Jürgen Klopp is the envy of most. A place in the knock-out stages of the Champions League against Shakhtar Donetsk, coming from a group featuring two of the richest clubs in the world, was seen as a good achievement, such has the level of expectations risen in the past few seasons.
But when is too much enough? That’s a question you are left asking yourself when you finally manage to exit the Signal Iduna Park. Compared to my last visit to Borussia in 2002, this was a whole different ball game. 80,500 fans shoe-horned into an immense cauldron of noise. Thousands locked out. What’s next? 90,000? 100,000? Build it and they will come was the message in Field of Dreams but what will the experience be like?
Rolling up ten minutes prior to kick off, expecting to get in the stadium is not a good idea in Dortmund. Allow at least 45 minutes and be prepared to use those elbows. Once inside if you are in the cheap seats strap in the oxygen pack and start the long climb upwards. Any expansion would have to be upwards meaning you would be closer to Mars than the pitch.
Big Deaksy and I took our places in the North West corner as the wall of noise was whipped into a crescendo. You’ll Never Walk Alone was belted out for the second time in day and the team emerged from the tunnel, each holding a heart-shaped balloon to mark Valentine’s Day. Show time!
Borussia Dortmund 3 Eintracht Frankfurt 0 – Signal Iduna Park – Saturday 16th February 2013
In truth this game was dead and buried before the Frankfurt fans had found their voice. After missing two golden opportunities to take the lead within the first five minutes Borussia finally opened the scoring in the 7th minute when Reus finished off a move that Klopp’s team have become known for. One became two just four minutes later when Reus again finished well after the Eintracht defence had been carved open. This had the potential to be highly embarrassing for the away side.
However, the fans around us didn’t seem to be that enthused. Some years ago I’d been in a guest in the ‘International Lounge’ at Old Trafford. It was actually the game when United keeper Taibi let THAT goal in. Half way through the first half of that game I noticed two “fans” sitting near me. One was reading a book, the other knitting. Whilst nobody was that disengaged here there was an almost uninterested feel from many of the fans. Despite the wall of noise at the far end from the Sud Tribune, the main noise at our end came from those naughty Frankfurt fans way down in the lower tier.
Dortmund lost Julian Schieber on the half hour mark thanks to two harsh yellow cards in just four minutes but even then Frankfurt didn’t step up a gear. Perhaps they had read the Pleat philosophy about playing against ten men, although they would have also noted that 2-0 is the most dangerous scoreline in football to be defending. Dortmund continued to purr, slick quick passing although without Schieber they seemed to over complicate things.
Talking of unnecessary complication Deaksy and I headed down to get a beer as the half wound down. Dortmund use one of those card systems so we queued to get one.
“Can I have a €20 card please?”
“Sure. Here you go” says a young lady “It’s got €18 on now”
“But I gave you €20?”
“You have to pay a deposit for the card. But you can top it up when you come back to visit the ground”
“I’ve been once in ten years”
“Oh. You can give it to a friend then”
Pointless conversation number 1. So we queued for two beers.
“That will be €10.40 please”.
“But they are only €3.70 each?”
“You have to pay a deposit on your limited edition cup of €1.50 each”
“Can I have it in a non-limited edition cup for just €3.70?”
Pointless conversation number 2. With Half-time coming to an end we worked out we had enough cash left after Deaksy’s large sausage for one more beer which we would share. So we returned to said girl at the beer counter.
“One beer please” I said offering her my limited edition cup.
“You do not have enough money on your card”
“I have €5 left – the beer is €3.70?”
“No, it’s €5.20″
“But I have my cup here”
“You can’t re-use them. You have to buy a new one.”
“But you just pour the beer from bottles into them?”
“I’m sorry that’s the rules. It’s unhygienic to pour them into a used cup. It may have germs in”
Pointless conversation number three. So we had to go down two flights of steps to get our €1.50 put back on our card by handing in our used cups then going back upside to get another beer at €5.20. Of course by which time half time is over and we have a card that we will never use again with €4.40 on.
So the second period and we looked forward to the Eintracht manager having given his side a rocket and them racing out of the box. Errr no. Despite the passionate support from the away fans their performance was toothless, almost as if they were suffering from stage fright. Meanwhile Dortmund continued to make a mockery of having an extra man and drove forward. It was inevitable that they would get their third, and Reus completed a hatrick thanks to some unselfish work by Götze. Boom. “That shot, sponsored by Timex, was measured at 78kmph”. Thanks for that. Everything is sponsored at Dortmund.
Despite a second yellow for Frankfurt’s Japanese midfielder Inui there were no more goals. Somehow, despite the goal, the sending off and five substitutions, only one added minute was due to be played. With ninety minutes up the referee went to issue a yellow card, slipped on his arse and as 80,000 fans laughed in unison, he blew the final whistle, picked up the ball and walked off.
We all piled out into the Westfalon night, satisfied that the yellow and black juggernaut was back on the road again. Bayern may be out of sight in the league, but who won bet against Dortmund as an outside bet for the Champions League. Oh, and there is also the small matter of the DFB Pokal game at the Allianz Arena in a couple of weeks (watch this space for a report on that one readers).
We met up with Kenny’s latest lady friend, affectionately known as “Dorty Slippers” (she once bought him a pair of Dortmund slippers – it really is that simple). This young lady’s Dad has his own Borussia themed bar in his basement. Surely that is marriage material? We certainly suggested it should be as we shared a few Hövels before our train home.
Alas this was the last action I would see of the Third leg of our Bundesliga season. However, fear not as Andy “Huddo” Hudson would be bringing me (and you dear reader) all the action from Duisburg and Speldorf. Woof!
I love Germany. After all I am of that age where good value football, good value beer and accessibility to good value hardcor…ah ok, sorry Mum….good value nocturnal entertainment is more important that DJ Jazzy J and a foam-filled dance floor of scantily clad girls off their ti….sorry again Mum…nightclubs, are more important to me. And Germany ticks all of those boxes thrice-times over. But even so there are parts of the country that I have always wanted to visit and never had an opportunity. The former East Germany tech-hub of Jena (obviously home to Carl-Zeiss), the Black Mountains and Wuppertal.
What do you mean, where? Come on! Wuppertal, sitting on the River Wupper slap-bang in the middle of the Bergisches Land to the east of Düsseldorf. Home to the Von der Heydt Museum, the Arboretum Burgholz, which even Wikipedia enthused as an EXTENSIVE arboretum and of course the 18th century Engels house. But put all that excitement to one side when I tell you it is the spiritual home of the Schewbebahn, the home of the Monorail. Not just your run of the mill monorail either. This is the oldest electric elevated railway in the world, having opened in 1901. And catch this. It’s only bloody suspended (not in a close way but in a hanging down, swinging way).
Those clever Germans eh? Well no, let me stop you there. This was invented by the British actually. A man called Henry Robinson Palmer (of course, Henry Robinson Palmer) first suggested the idea of a suspended rail network, pulled along by horses back in 1824. Alas his original route had one flaw that saw him dismissed as a country bumpkin. His proposed network didn’t go as far as reaching the Stadion am Zoo to the west of the city centre. What was the point of that, said the town council, with amazing forethought as football was still nearly 50 years away from becoming a regulated game in Germany. But Palmer was out and so was his horse-drawn plan.
Instead in 1901 the current line was opened to global acclaim, linking Oberbarmen in the east, to Vohwinkel in the west and having a stop at the stadium of Wuppertaler SV Borussia, the Stadium am Zoo. Around 25 million passengers today travel on the railway which travels about 10 metres above the River Wupper in swinging comfort. Back in 1950 so popular was the railway as a way to get from the centre of the city to the Zoo that a passenger decided to bring his baby elephant on board. As any schoolboy knows, baby elephants and suspended monorails do not mix and poor Tufti got a bit concerned on the route, pressed the emergency door release button and promptly fell into the river below. She was fine but hasn’t been back on any railways since.
I could kid you to say that riding on the monorail was the only reason that I, along with Danny Last, Spencer Webb, Kenny Legg, Big Deaksy and Andy Hudson had arrived in Germany some hours before. Football was in the air ladies and gentlemen. Regionalliga West may not have the glamour and glory of the Bundesliga, but it was good enough for us as a warm up act to Borussia Dortmund’s game. What’s not to like about coming to see Jorg Jung’s side anyway?
But the weather had been proving to be as much a pain in the arse in these parts as across the Channel. However, in the knowledge that six Englishmen would be arriving, SV Wuppertaler would surely be up all night with hairdryers to get the pitch playable for the game versus VfB Hüls, right?
But it was not to be. Thursday. 48 hours before kick off. Thursday. Really? Heck, the weather must be really bad out in Germany for our “Big Match” to have already been postponed. Who wasn’t looking forward to the joys of Wuppertaler SV, and of course the trip on the monorail. We still had Dortmund, with the biggest terrace in the world and a guaranteed 80,500 sell out, but this weekend was all about riding that suspended single rail automated railway to the ground, wasn’t it? Oh, and maybe a beer or two.
The scene certainly wasn’t encouraging as we touched down early doors on Friday at Cologne-Bonn, or CGN for those who live their lives in transport codes (for the record the trip from NEH to LGW had been textbook around the M25 and down the M23). Snow lay all around and the mercury was struggling to break the zero barrier. Bugger.
We’d arranged a little private tour around the Bayer Arena, where just 14 hours previously the home side had lost to Benfica in the Europa League, and just 26 hours later they would be taking on Greuther Fürth. Our host, Nick, got very excited as he took us around the stadium, saying it was the first time he’d done it with 5 English boys. He couldn’t understand our excitement at being let into the away end where all the “ultras” stand. “Such bad boys” he said…the worst ones? “Those naughty men from Frankfurt. They fired flares into the home fans.” Something to look forward to at Dortmund then! For some more sneak peaks into the inner workings of the stadium, head over here.
Kenny Legg, of Award nominated AITinpot fame and now working for Her Majesty in Germany, rang as we headed back to Düsseldorf. “Don’t worry lads, I have a plan B, C, D and Z for tomorrow. Meet me in the Legg arms at 5.04pm.”
We’d been in Kenny’s local for a few Alt’s before he arrived with the fruits of a hard day at work. It seemed he printed off every railway timetable in Germany and proceeded to talk us through potential plans for the morning. Plan C was Prueßen Münster v Hallescher in the Bundesliga 3 and that was the vote of the team although after a tour of Düsseldorf’s indie pubs Andy and Spencer decided that bed (not together I hasten to add) was a better option in the morning.
At 10am on Saturday we did what every good German would do. We bought a six-pack of beer, some Fisherman’s Friends (I still think they’ve missed a trick by not using the marketing slogan ‘Sucking on a Fisherman’s Friend is more rewarding than you may think’), a bag of German Frazzles and jumped on the train to Münster. A couple of hours flew by as we laughed at our own jokes and before we know it we eased into Münster station. The place was busy with football fans already tucking into the 75cents beers, although they were in pre-match training for the Dortmund game rather than Prueßen.
One bus ride later and we pulled up at the Preußen Stadion. They cater for all needs in these parts with a casino and an Erotik superstore across the road from the ground if the football didn’t float your boat. €10 for a place on the terrace at a third tier match demonstrates the difference between English and German football. You have to drop down into the 7th tier of England to find a comparable price. Oh, and the ticket of course then allowed free train travel after the game. Once inside the stadium we almost cried with joy. Two words – Old School.
Now here’s a story from the lips of Andy Hudson. Apparently relations had been strained for some time between the Ultras factions at Münster, so much so that three groups now existed, and really didn’t like each other. Our tickets were for Sektor M, where you could find one group, unsurprisingly called “Sektor M”. This group included a drummer who was no more than 8 and a few young girls patiently taping banners up. To our left the more threatening looking group were readying themselves. And then in the middle were the undecided ones, not sure if they should go left or right. With a beer in hand this was the perfect place to watch events on and off the pitch unfold.
Want some more German 3rd tier footballing trivia? Of course you do! Die Adler (the eagles) as they are still known, were one of the founding members of the Bundesliga in 1963. In fact their opening game in August 1963 against Hamburg was the ONLY sell out on that day. They can also lay claim to be the only side included in the original sixteen team league that has never played back at this level, after relegation in that first season.
The teams took to the field with a flourish of activity from the Ultras, with the 500 or so away fans at the far end suddenly pulling their hoods up and deciding to try to leave en-mass. The police were having none of it. “If we have to stay and watch, then so do you” was the message relayed back to the Hallescher fans. So they did what any other respecting fan would do on such a chilly day. They whipped their tops off and starting dancing around like loons.
Preußen Münster 2 Hallescher 0 – PreußenStadion – Saturday 16th February 2013
Despite the brave attempts by the away fans to inspire the former East Germans, it was an easy run out for the promotion-chasing home side. A goal in each half from the Turk Mehmet Kara, his first since returning to Germany from his home country saw the Eagles consolidate third place in the league, and close the gap on the leaders Karlsruher and Osnabrück to just three points.
It was gloves all around, apart from Big Deaksy who wanted to whip his top off in support of the away fans such is his tough guy approach as the game kicked off and our beers were a little too chilled. Despite some early incursions into the home side’s penalty area, Hallescher didn’t look to convinced that they could win the game. With most of the home crowd lost in debate about the quality of the Currywürst, Deaksy spotted an offence in the Hallescher penalty area, told the assistant referee and he flagged for the penalty. Eagle-eyed like an Action Man is Big Deaksy. Kara stepped up and sent the keeper the wrong way.
With so many games off in the area the bumper crowd of over 7,000 who braved the chilly conditions were rewarded with a decent game of football and thus takings across the road at the superstore were down for the afternoon. After the break the away side briefly threatened to equalise but any threat was soon extinguished as Kara scored a well taken second goal. Last season’s Regionaliga Nord champions simply had no answer. It was left to their fans to liven up the afternoon with a brief scuffle with the police before some Poznaning across the terrace.
With a date with 80,496 others in Dortmund we made a swift exit with a few minutes to go, stocking up with our 75cent beers for the hour-long journey, covered by our match tickets of course. An afternoon that had started with such disappointment had ended with a warm glow. As D’ream once sang, things could only get better (well, except for a tense change).
More pictures from a grand afternoon out can be found here.
Whilst the UK huddled under an umbrella last weekend, trying to keep warm with some FA Cup good cheer, the Daggers Diary team headed over to their warm weather retreat in Barcelona where the main event was a city derby with a distinct lack of atmosphere.
Back in November, the population of Catalunya went to the polls on the possibility of independence from Spain. With the economic difficulties affecting much of southern Europe, the issue of going it alone has risen to the forefront again. It is felt in Catalunya that they provide more to Spain that they get back from the central government in Madrid.
The result of the election was the separatists won a majority of the votes cast, although it actually has no legal standing in Spanish law. However, the issue of independence or nationhood for the region has always been simmering under the surface and much of this has been centred around the city’s main football club. Read almost any history of the club, and it will tell you of people going to the stadium during the Franco era, and speaking and chanting in Catalan, when the language had been banned by the central government. The club even had to change its name, from Futbol Club Barcelona, to the more Spanish sounding Club Futbol de Barcelona. It may only be a small change to those looking in, but to those fans at the time, it meant a great deal.
On our trips around the region to various different clubs, there have been more than one banner exclaiming that Cataluyna is about more than Barcelona. Over the last few years, there has a feeling that the club has become more politicized than is probably necessary.
Of course, while the economic issue about independence would have been covered on other sites, the thing for us here is about the football team. Would separation mean that the teams currently playing the Spanish league system be forced to leave, and go into a Catalan league? While the Spanish league has become a bit of a two horse race in recent years, the thought of Barcelona playing in a Catalan league and basically running away with the league title is not going to attract a great deal of interest.
This would also mean that Espanyol, as the second club in the city and region, should be able to secure second place, while Girona and Tarragona would probably be battling out for the next places. Uncompetitive? Probably. Interesting? Um, well, how interesting could it be if you are winning each game by a cricket score?
Then of course there are the finances of each team. Clubs in Spain currently arrange their own television deals, which means that both Real Madrid and Barcelona have much larger financial rewards for their games being televised than all of the other clubs. If Barca were to depart, then would both be able to command such income from the television companies? And in the case of Barcelona and Espanyol at least, would they be able to hold on to their better players, if the league they could find themselves in is not that tough?
Of course, they could apply to stay in the Spanish League. There are other examples of clubs playing in a different league to their own country, with Swansea City playing in the Premier League (not to mention Cardiff City and Wrexham), and Monaco playing in the French system. However, and as much as both might not like to admit it, both Barca and Madrid need each other in the Spanish League. Not just in terms of finances, but also in terms of competition. If one was to disappear, then both would suffer. To be honest, it might affect Barcelona more, but neither of them would come out well.
Saturday 5th January 2013, C.E.Europa v U.E.Olot
As has become the norm on these trips, we have tried to fit in more than one game. Both Dan and I have managed to attend about a dozen different clubs in and around the city of Barcelona. And while there are still plenty to visit, it can start to get difficult to get a new place to visit each time we are here.
As it has worked out, there is more than one game being played on the Saturday, and we’ve chosen this trip to fly in on the Saturday morning, rather the normal Friday night. There is a mid-day kick off at Cornella, which is a short distance from the airport. However, we have about forty minutes from landing to the start of the game, and it eventually proves to be just that little bit too soon, as we don’t quite get from the aircraft to passport control and through in enough time.
So, after heading into town for lunch and wondering around for a short while, we head to our hotel in Les Corts to check in, and then we can begin the journey to our first game of the weekend.
Given that it took us until our fifth trip out here to finally get to watch Europa, there is a small irony in the fact that today they become the first team (aside from Barcelona) that we will have visited twice.
As we get to the stadium, the sun is still shining, and it is a pleasant late afternoon. The home side are doing well this year, and are second in their group of the fourth tier of Spanish football. However, Olot are top, having lost just once this season, and have conceded just eight goals. This could be a tight game.
People are often surprised when I tell them that the lower levels of the Spanish game bear a passing resemblance to our own, in that the ball is up in the air a fair amount. That isn’t really surprising though, when you consider that the third rung of leagues contains eighty eight teams, while the fourth has roughly two hundred. With those figures, it is not entirely surprising that the quality will fluctuate wildly.
The ball is off the deck a lot in the opening fifteen minutes, but the game soon settles down, and the ball now starts to spend less time being aimlessly hoofed backwards and forwards, although there is one visiting defender who seems not to be able to pass the ball less than thirty yards unless someone gets in the way.
The question of who should kick the ball out when a player is injured is revisited just after the half hour. An Olot player is lying on the ground, but while they have possession, the ball doesn’t leave the field. Once Europa gain the ball, they are asked to put the ball out of play, but the home team carry on. Eventually, the Olot captain takes matters in to his own hands, by booting the Europa left winger, prompting a yellow card, and a group of about ten players arguing and pushing about the rights and wrongs of what has gone on.
The home side have the best chance of the half, but it is 0-0 at the interval. At this point, kids are entering the field from all corners, using the goals at each end, but also those attached to the side as well.
The only goal arrives eight minutes into the second half, and it is a well taken tree kick that provides the first and last moment of action for scoreboard operator.
The half continues though, and it is a good contest, although there are a few on both sides that hit the ground far too easily, looking for free kicks. The way that the Europa players celebrate at the final whistle is understandable, given the amount of effort they have put in, and as they celebrate, the visitors troop off and the kids return to take advantage of the fact that the floodlights are still on and that means that they can get on to the pitch.
The trip back into the city centre is busy, and the trains are packed with people heading towards Catalunya station, as well as the Ramblas. With crowds on the pavements four deep, plus with the Christmas decoarations lit up along several roads, we are witness to the Cavalcada de Reis, which is the culmination of the the Epiphany celebrations, and the parade is covered on the local television channels. It’s not easy to escape the vast amount of people, but we are able to eventually enter the nearest station, and head back to the hotel.
Sunday 6th Janaury 2013, U.D.A.Gramenet v A.C.Mannleu
There a few options for us for the Sunday lunchtime game. There is one option that is on the Metro system, one that is just outside the city, and one that is further afield. Although attending the game at Girona is a possibility, it is about an hour’s journey and so that is swiftly ruled out. The next game to come under the microscope was a trip to A.E.Prat, which is just outside the metro network, and so would mean a trip on the mainline trains. Although we have done this before to places like Sabadell and Gava, the gap between trains meant that the game at the other end of the metro system won the day.
From our hotel near the Camp Nou, it is a forty five minute journey from Les Corts to San Peixauet, although luckily the stadium is next door to the station exit. After we have paid our €10 each, we enter the stadium, and are immediately accosted by a home official selling raffle tickets, to win a bottle or red wine. Clearly it would have been nice to win, but the bottle would have been over the liquid allowance on the plane.
This is Dan’s first visit to Santa Colomb, but my second. The previous occasion was back in October 2010, having ventured out here for Barca v Seville. On that occasion, the game ended 0-0, but at least that was an entertaining one to watch, when if it ended goal less.
Today’s game though isn’t as good, and although it is quite nice sitting in the sunshine watching football, the lack of excitement proves to be enough to dampen the spirits. There are half chances for both sides, but there are also a couple of glaring misses which means that a goal is not going to be forthcoming. To be honest having watched this, I doubt that there would have been a problem had I won the wine, as we would have drunk during the game.
There are though a couple of drummers that position themselves behind the shaded end of the stadium prior to the game, and as they bang their respective drums, there is no-one within fifty yards of them. As the teams select the goal to defend in the first half, the two are on their way down to the other end, to stand behind the goal that Gramenet are attacking. They are eventually joined by about a dozen or so fellow home fans and proceed to sing every now and again. However one of the drummers has positioned himself next to a pushchair bound child, who looks as though they spend most of the half with their hands over their ears.
Sunday 6th January 2013, FC Barcelona v RCD Espanyol, Estadi Camp Nou
And so to the final game of the trip. This is our second trip to Spain this season; at the start of December, we attended the game at this very stadium against Athletic Club de Bilbao, and as Barca strolled to a 5-1 win, there were a few chants for independence during the game. However, apart from this (and as we have noted before when attending Barcelona home games), the atmosphere was more than a bit muted. If they were to be winning each game even more comfortably than this, what would it be like then?
During the week, the Catalan nation team played Nigeria in a friendly game at Cornella El-Prat stadium, the recently built stadium of RCD Espanyol. With a team containing the likes of Puyol, Valdes, Pique, Xavi and seemingly half the Spanish national team, the game ended in a 1-1 draw, which may be a surprise with a team containing that lot.
Several regions in Spain have their own national team, and recent games for the Catalan version have been staged at the Camp Nou, as well as the Olympic Stadium, now standing idle after Espanyol moved out. The Basque version played as well, drawing 1-1 with Colombia just before Christmas.
Dan is of the opinion that this is arguably the home team’s toughest game of any season after Real Madrid. Given that Espanyol have recently drawn at the Bernabeu, then he might be right.
For me, the Camp Nou is still a fantastic place to watch football, and although I have been lucky enough to go quite often recently, I still find the place inspiring. It isn’t enough for one English woman though, who upon entering the arena proclaims that she thought it was bigger than this. There is no pleasing some people…
It is a surprising feature of games on Spain that few away fans travel, even if the game is in the same city. There are a few visiting fans present, but at kick off, there are only seven, which is bolstered to a whopping eleven a few minutes in. To their credit, they continue to sing even after Xavi scores the first on nine minutes, and they continue after Pedro gets the second. It does start to drop though when it goes to three, and after Messi scores from the spot to make it 4-0 with less than half an hour played, they are all now sitting down.
Some of the Barca play is brilliant, and is still able to wow a crowd that must have got used to some fantastic football over the last few years.
The second half is often a bit of an anti climax, especially after you have gome a few goals up at the interval. Today is no different, although Barca still manage to two goals disallowed for offside. Ten of the players that start for Barcelona have come through the youth system (Dani Alves being the odd one out), although as the game continues, this is eventually whittled down to eight, which is still a fairly good amount. Substitutions take the flow and momentum out of the game, but unfortunately for an Espanyol side that looks totally forlorn, even a home team barely out of second gear proves to be too strong. Espanyol do have chances, and a great one in the first half, but Sergio Garcia hoists it high and wide. If he had converted, then at 2-1, the result might not have been as convincing as it eventually turned out.
The away support has dwindled to the extent that there are none left with fifteen minutes to go. There is one away fan sitting just a block or so along from us, but even he has put his coat on, presumably to hide his shirt as he makes his way down the stairs to the street below.
We let the crowds dwindle after the final whistle, but Dan wants to get some chips, so we head against the flow of people to a burger stall so that the late night snack can be bought. Then the hotel beckons, so that we can watch Mallorca v Atletico Madird on the box, while getting the packing sorted for the trip back home.
Monday morning is another bright and warm morning, so we head back to the Camp Nou so that we can get a shirt printed, and wonder around before heading out to the airport for the flight back home. If merchandising is reaching saturation point, then top marks must go to the marketing genius that came up with FC Barcelona batteries. Yep, if you thought the singing toaster was brilliant, then batteries are a new high in the attempt by a football club to wrest more money from your wallet. Would you go to your local club and think, as you wander round their store that “I wish they did the batteries for my television remote control?” Well now they do.
We also find out why the away support was so low. Apparently, at the last meeting between the teams at the Montjuic, there was a fight between the two sets of supporters, including fireworks launched into rival areas. Since then, neither club has taken supporters to the other, and thus we learned why there were no Espanyol fans at the game.
It has been another successful weekend, even if we haven’t seen as many goals as we would have liked. The quality of the football has been great (well, some of it), and even the delayed flight, plus a question and answer session at immigration at Southend Airport can’t dampen the trip.
Football, Futbol , Futebol: Travels Around a few Football stadia in Buenos Aires , Montevideo and Rio de Janeiro. February 2009. By Paul Whitaker.
“Two English football supporters, twelve days, three South American countries, seven football matches, eleven stadiums and one Diego Maradona tour”.
Walking up Wembley Way with my mate and fellow England supporter Glenn Hinch, prior to the 2007 European championship qualifier match between England and Estonia, I did not know this would be my last England match attended as a supporter. After 15 years following ‘Ingerland’ to two World Cups, two European championships, Athens, Baku, Glasgow, Warsaw and many more European cities between, I was to sit through just another 60 minutes before coming to the conclusion that my match day experience on and off the pitch with England, was no longer an enjoyable one.
At first I thought I was just going through a sort of football-supporting mid-life crisis that seemed to afflict each generation of my family. My grandfather had apparently bemoaned England getting a footballing lesson from Puskas’ Hungary in 1953 and my father still gets misty eyed over Gunter Netzer’s Germany or Johan Cruyff’s Holland, rather than Kevin Keegan’s England in the 1970s. I thought the late, great Bobby Robson had the best teams and chances to reach a World Cup final, but was thwarted by the Argentinians and Germans in 1986 and 1990 respectively. OK, perhaps that was just misplaced nostalgia, but I was struggling to understand why English football had not moved on since Italia’90. Whilst German, French and Italian supporters had all watched their national teams lift the World Cup in recent years, I was watching the England team of 2007 put in yet another ‘laboured’ performance, this time against a poor Estonia team. We had the full repertoire of English fallibility on display, including poor movement off the ball, losing concentration in defence and my particular favourite, an inability to retain possession of the ball.
Now, bear in mind it was 15 years since the formation of the Premier League (best league in the world so Sky keep telling me!’), whose central aim was improve the technical skills of home grown players and so help the England national team compete more effectively against the French, Germans, Dutch and Italians. Yet, at a time when there has never been so much money in the English game, the pool of technically competent players, eligible to wear an England shirt, was actually diminishing and England seemed destined to continue being tournament quarter-finalists, at best. If that was not depressing enough, the 2007 ‘Golden Generation’ of players were showing that their loyalties were to the Premier League (best league in the world, remember) and club football, rather than the FA and England. They seemed as motivated to play in an England shirt as I was to part with £30 for a cheap seat in the upper tier “just for Estonia”, £5 for a match programme, £5 pound for a pint and £4.50 for a pie.
Events off the Wembley pitch had darkened my mood even further. I watched as stewards ordered the more passionate supporters in our section to sit down and stop rallying the quieter supporters around them into song. The same loud tannoy music that had drowned out any atmosphere before kick-off was also played after each of the three England goals for what I can only assume was to compensate for the lack of match atmosphere, a result in part of the actions of stewards telling supporters to sit down.
When England kicked off for the second half, I surveyed the huge swathes of empty corporate seats in the ‘circle of indifference’ section of the Wembley stadium. I could only conclude their occupants were still inside finishing their desserts of organic biscuit crushed on an expensive bed of strawberry mousse’. The final straw was the sight of a young man entering our section of the stadium, seeking out his seat for the match. A few designer shopping bags in each hand told us where he had spent the first half of an England European Championship qualifying match. This was not how English football should be played or supported.
What could I do though? In the short term, the only option was to vote with my feet and take a sabbatical from watching England matches. In the long term, I needed to rediscover my football-supporting ‘mojo’. There had to be a place in the world seemingly unspoilt by the levels of commercialisation that was afflicting English football. Somewhere, say, where I could pay a ridiculously cheap price to stand on football terrace, amongst a passionate group of supporters and be entertained not only by their choreography off the pitch, but by players on the pitch who could do more than simply retain possession of the ball. Did such a football utopia exist? Thankfully, the answer was yes and that place was South America, or more specifically: Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil.
As another England move broke down in the Estonia half of the pitch, I stood up, turned to Glenn and sombrely announced “B#gger this, I’m off before the Mexican wave starts”.
“Where are you going?” replied Glenn.
“South America. Are you coming?” For the first and probably the last time ever, we left a football match early.
Planning for our “Big Football Trip” began with two weeks being pencilled in for February 2009, when we knew that league and Copa Libertadores (South American version of the Champions League) matches were being played in all three countries. Pennies were saved, girlfriends were told and flights were then booked from UK to Buenos Aires and on to Rio de Janeiro. Finally, backpacks were retrieved from attics and security belts were filled with passports, credit cards and American dollars (the unofficial common currency of South America). We then prayed nightly to the fixtures God, to look kindly upon our forthcoming jollies and deliver us matches to some of the most famous football clubs and iconic stadia in South America.
Our twelve days of ‘football therapy’ began and ended in arguably the best footballing city in the world: Buenos Aires, Argentina. Here we watched five matches at Argentinos Juniors, Boca Juniors in a Primera Division match and a Copa Libertadores match, Racing Club and River Plate. A pilgrimage to a litter strewn football pitch in Buenos Aires’ Villa Fiorito slum, where a boy called Diego Armando Maradona kicked his first football . A look inside Diego’s first professional club Argentinos Juniors and the club Diego has always supported Boca Juniors, just had to be on our itinerary. Yes I know I am English and yes I was f#cked off with Diego for “Hand of God” goal, but I also appreciate good football. YouTube him at his best at Napoli and you will see why I think Diego Maradona is the greatest footballer for my generation.
A ferry ride across the Rio Plata from Buenos Aires is Montevideo, where we visited the iconic Centenario stadium to watch the Uruguayan championship play-off match between Nacional and Danubio. Finally, three hours flight from Argentina was Rio de Janeiro, where Brazil’s most famous football club, Flamengo, played Resende in a Rio state championship fixture at Brazil’s most famous stadium, the Maracana.
Although seven matches and eleven stadiums in three countries is plainly inadequate to do justice to South American football, it was enough to help these two Englishmen find their football supporting ‘mojo’. We returned to England with a renewed love for the game and an acceptance that not only will the England national team ever reach the latter stages of a major tournament, but that the English Premiership is not the best league in the world.
I no longer watch or am concerned England matches or the accompanying media circus until tournament finals and am happy if England get past the group stages. I also now travel regularly to watch football in Germany, where I can stand on a football terrace cheaply (for around €15/£13), amongst a passionate group of supporters and be entertained not only by their choreography off the pitch, but by German players on the pitch who can do more than simply retain possession of the ball. The Germans even share the Argentinian passion for pre-match sausage snacking (choripan/bratwurst) and mullet haircuts.
Finally we decided to put finger to keyboard and write “Football, Futbol , Futebol: Travels Around a few Football stadia in Buenos Aires , Montevideo and Rio de Janeiro” . Partly to give others a snapshot of the joy we had watching football in Buenos Aires, Montevideo and Rio de Janeiro. Partly to find solace in rereading, just in case we begin to find ourselves worrying about whether Liverpool will ever win a title again, question why Robbie Savage is employed as a football television pundit or the biannual post mortem on why England failed in another major tournament. Yes “Football, Futbol , Futebol” is essentially a holiday photo album, but it is also 236 therapeutic pages about some of the biggest south American football clubs, their club histories, their supporter culture, locations of iconic stadiums we visited, how we bought match tickets, some useful vocabulary and all interspersed with 268 photographs of the cities, stadiums, supporters and matches.
The book can be purchased here.
One of the reasons why I love European football Weekenders in Dusseldorf is that the excellent German train transport network means I am merely an Inter City Express (ICE) train journey away from Dutch football. With Vitesse Arnhem riding high in the Eredivisie, their home fixture against Roda JC Kerkrade was an ideal opportunity to cross Vitesse off my Dutch ground hopping list.
Arnhem is located in Gelderland, a province of Holland that stretches from Utrecht east to the German border. With Arnhem being a major transport junction there are direct trains from both Dusseldorf Hbf, every 2 hours and journey lasts 1 hour 10 mins (2nd class day return from €43) and Amsterdam Central Station, every 20 minutes and journey lasts 1hour 10 mins (2nd class day return from €31). On arrival, you will find VVV tourist office (Stationsplein 13) located right next to the train and bus station. As I arrived on a Sunday, the office was closed.
Instead, I jumped on the city bus line 1 for a 20 minute journey to Oosterbeek. Today it is a well-heeled suburb of Arnhem, but in September 1944 was the scene of Operation Market Garden, the failed World War II Allied Airborne operation to capture key river crossings in southeast Gelderland. Getting off the bus at the last stop of Oosterbeek train station, it was a short 5 minute walk to Oosterbeek War Cemetery where nearly 2,000 British and Polish paratroopers are buried. From there it was another 10 minutes walk south , following the many signposts to the Airborne Museum (Utrechtseweg 232). The museum is actually the former Hotel Hartenstein where British 1st Airborne Division withstood superior German forces for 4 days before retreating across the river. Recently refurbished, the museum vivdly recalls the Battle for Arnhem from the perspective of both sides and the Dutch civilians caught in between. Amongst the artefacts was a section of wallpaper salvaged from an Arnhem house, containing the graffiti and a cricket score card tally of Germans killed or wounded, written by an unknown British paratrooper.
The fighting and its aftermath has not surprisingly left an indelible mark with the people of Arnhem, even after all this time. This year, Vitesse were asked by their Supporters Club to change from their usual yellow and black striped home kit, to claret and blue that were the colours of the British 1st Airborne Division. The shirts also bore their ‘winged horse’ logo and the slogan ‘ No Bridge to Far’. The limited edition strip was then worn by the Vitesse players against Heracles Almelo at the weekend to commemorate the 68th Anniversary of the Battle of Arnhem.
Returning to Arnhem bus station, it was a 10 minute walk through its postwar reconstructed centre to the church of St Eusabius. For a couple of euros you can catch a lift to the top of its tower where to the south you can see the modern looking bridge that was the title of the famous war film “A Bridge Too Far”. Today the bridge is named ‘John Frostbrug’ , after the British commander that defended it . Further south you will be able to make out the Gelredome, home to Vitesse Arnhem.
Returning to the bus station via the centre you will be spolit for choice for restaurants, café and bars on and around Korenmarkt and Jansplein. The best football bar in Arnhem is Murphy’s (Varkenstraat 48) and you can pick up Vitesse souvenirs at the fanshop (Jansbinnensingel 19).
From the bus station there is free transport to Gelredome with ‘Breng’ busservice. This service operates from 2 hours prior to kick-off until 1 hour after the match. The journey last 10 minutes and drops you right outside the main entrance to Gelredome. Just to the left you will find the ticket office and fan shop.Vitesse Arnhem (Stichting Betaald Voetbal Vitesse) was founded in 1892 and famous players to have donned the Vitesse colours include Sander Westerveld , Pierre van Hooijdonk and Philip Cocu. In 2010, Georgian businessman and former football Merab Jordania purchased Vitesse, making them the first dutch club to be owned by a foreigner. This caused much controversy in Holland, with some commentators arguing this would open floodgates to English Premier league style foreign ownership of Dutch football clubs and all the problems that come with it. Results on the pitch have silenced the critics for now and in 2012/13 season, Vitesse seem to have a team to finally challenge the big guns of Eredivisie: Ajax, Feyenoord, PSV and Twente. Jordania’s money has attracted some great young players including Wilifred Bony, who is currently the Eredivisie leading goal scorer. Bony and other team players hav inevitably drawn interest from bigger clubs and it will be interesting to see if they leave the Gelredome during transfer window.
Vitesse moved from Nieuw Monnikenhuize to the Gelredome in 1998 and its current home was a template for modern football stadium design across Europe. Its retractable roof (Cardiff’s Millennium stadium), retractable pitch that could be moved outside the stadium (Schalke) and proximity card access (Manchester City) have all been used. The Gelredome capacity is nearly 30,000 but even riding high in Eredivisie there was only 16,000 in attendance for visit of Roda J C. Attendances and match atmospheres increase for visit of Ajax, Feyenoord, PSV, Twente and local rivals NEC Nijmegen in “de Gelderse derby.”To see the Vitesse Arnhem supporter choreography, visit www.Vitesse.org and search for ‘Vitesse in beeld’
As I had been warned the club operates a token system for buying food/drink inside the Gelredome, I picked up the wafer thin 16 page free match programme, ‘Vitesse Vandag’ and retired to their supporters bar, called Supportershome Monnikenhuize. It is located between Oost and Zuid stands. Opening hours are 2 hours prior to kick-off and after the match.
Inside the Gelredome I took my seat in was entertained by some unusual pre-match entertainment, in the form of some falconry display. Shortly before kick-off, an Amercian bald eagle called ‘De Hertog’ (The Duke) is released by its owner to fly a circle over each of the four stands in Gelredome . I am not sure what is dutch for “never work with children or animals”, but sometimes ‘De Hertog’ has a mind of his own and has been known to land amongst supporters.
The match itself was very one sided, with the much stronger Vitesse beating Roda JC 3-0. On 10 minutes Marco van Ginkel’s impeccable shot from just outside the penalty area made it 1-0. Then 3 minutes before half time, a pinpoint pass from Jan-Arie van der Heijden found Jonathan Reis perfectly. The Brazilian striker played around Roda keeper Kurto and simply slid the ball into the net. The second half continued as the first with Vitesse still controlling the match. Although Roda’s Nemeth hit the post in 52nd minute, Vitesse made it 3-0. Patrick van Aanholt’s shot on goal was saved initially by Kurto, but the ball rebounded to Wilfried Bony who hit the bar. Thankfully, Reis put Roda out of their misery by easily sliding the ball in for his second of the afternoon. Vitesse hit the crossbar with a long shot by Van Ginkel and the one-way traffic continued until the final whistle. Vitesse’s victory took them to second place in Eredevisie.
Name: Vitesse Arnhem(Stichting Betaald Voetbal Vitesse)
Address:B.V. Vitesse, Batavierenweg 25, 6841 HN Arnhem,
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org , email@example.com , firstname.lastname@example.org
Supporters website: www.vitesse.org
Vitesse Arnhem is a very football tourist friendly club when it comes to ticketing and I wish other Eredivisie clubs were as hospitable. You do not need to apply for a club members card or expensive tourist package to watch Vitesse. Simply email the club a few weeks in advance and they will confirm that you can buy a ticket on the day of the match. You do not even need to show ID. For the visit of the top clubs, you may well be restricted to four tickets. Tickets go on sale about 2 weeks ahead of match. Tickets can also be purchased at fanshop in Arnhem and online. My ticket for lower tier of Oost stand was €25 and the views were excellent.
Many thanks to Henk Parren at Supportervereniging Vitesse.
Paul Whitaker, Maracana Manor
After a great night out at PSG on Tuesday, how could I possibly arrange an encore? Well how about another slice of Champions League just up the road in Lille? Sigh….if I have to. After seeing just one Champions League gravy train game in nearly two years, two come along within 48 hours. Don’t blame me, blame the Daggers Diary team. They made me do it, it’s all their fault.
“Stu, we are driving over to Lille to watch them play Valencia in their new stadium. Only £65 a head including ticket, Le Shuttle and petrol.”
“Sorry Dan, I’m in Paris for work”
“But what if you get a train after work to Lille and we can give you a lift home?”
Did I really have to answer that? Of course not. He had me at “new stadium”.
So, Lille then. Or Lille Olympique Sporting Club to give them their fighting name. Domestic double winners in 2011, they had had a traumatic and sometimes nomadic existence since formation in 1944. The fact that they have now got their own big stadium is a reward for the years where they probably felt the powers that be in the city didn’t want a football team at all. In fact this would be the FIFTH home stadium I had seen LOSC play in since 2000.
But now they had a stadium fit for a club who have grand ambitions. A 50,186 monster in the Villeneuve-d’Ascq area of the city which UEFA had given a shiny 5 star McDonalds badge. Build it and they will come said the Indian in Waynes World 2, and so far the fans have taken a shine to the Grand Stade Lille Métropole.
It did seem that some of the fans though weren’t too happy with the team’s performance in the gravy train this season. Four defeats in five games prior to the arrival of Valencia including an embarrassing home defeat to the supposedly group whipping boys, BATE Borisov and a 6-1 defeat in Munich had seen the fans fume. Obviously the team lacked that midfield dynamo, the play maker, the fox in the box, the magician since Joe Cole left in May. Oh, and Eden Hazard, son of Mickey, left too. Rumour had it that they would attend the game v Valencia but simply sit in silence.
So after a hard day’s work in Paris (including the obligatory long lunch) I headed for the TGV. Fifty minutes later I was heading towards the world-famous Three Brasseurs pub for a few home-brews. Alas, I was diverted away from temptation by Dan and Brian and taken instead to the LOSC “superstore” in the city centre. I was still on the hunt for a Christmas present for Current Mrs Fuller and lo and behold the perfect present was staring me right in the face. A toaster…but not just any toaster. Sod your Efbe-Schott polka dot toaster – this one not only burnt Lille LOSC on your breakfast BUT played Allez Lille LOSC again and again until you took the toast out. Is that not the best Christmas present EVER? Ipod Mini, Kindle Fire HD, Nexus? What my wife really wants this Christmas is a musical Lille toaster. Hell, in fact Mariah Carey – this is ALL you want for Christmas.
After snapping up every kitchen appliance in the shop we headed down to the stadium. Dan had parked close to the Cantons Metro and after a quick change, we were heading to the stadium. Big tick for having accessible transportation. The plan was to meet a former work colleague, now living the high-life in Lille. Over a beer in the bar outside the ground we heard from Francois about the unhappiness of the LOSC fans who seemed to have it in for the Manager, the Chairman and most of the players.
With the weather forecast predicting rain, wind, sleet and snow, the club had taken the decision to close the roof. You would have thought it would be a tad warmer inside than out, but not at all. Bloody freezing. We tried to head down to the edge of the pitch to take a couple of pictures. As we walked down the aisle (bear in mind this was an hour before kick off) our way was blocked by a female steward.
“Can I just take a photo?”
“Votre siege n’est pas ici. Allez”
“Non. Allez. Il est illegal”
“Taking a picture is illegal?”
“Oui. Je vais vous arreter”
So congratulations LOSC for having the rudest stewards in the world. That takes some doing having been to Stoke a few times.
We headed upstairs to our seats and watched as slowly the spaces began to fill up. Unfortunately we couldn’t see the screens as the TV gantry was in the way (blocking the view at each end – very impressive). As you can tell by now I wasn’t falling in love with the stadium. It was impressive, but relatively standard – think. I loved it from the outside, with the exterior made out of light tubes which lit up the Lille sky, but inside it was quite sterile. Perhaps it was the complete lack of atmosphere (due to the fan boycott), the rude stewards or the fact it was bloody cold. Hopefully the game would warm me up?
Lille OSC 0 Valencia 1 - Grand Stade Lille Métropole – Wednesday 5th December 2012
As the game petered out, with neither team particularly interested in going forward, the Lille fan next to me turned and said “ils ne sont pas digne de porter la chemise” which I believe means that they (the players and not Brian and Dan sitting next to me) weren’t fit to wear the famous red shirt of LOSC. It had been a toothless performance, played out in almost silence. The 40,000 fans had indeed sat silently, bar for the occasional chant which was met with jeers from the other fans. Unfortunately it had no effect on the team who stumbled through the game without ever really testing the Spaniards.
Lille coach Rudi Garcia named young forwards Ronny Rodelin and Gianni Bruno in an experimental lineup and the duo combined in the second minute to create the first chance of the game although Bruno was unable to turn in a cross from the left. Thirty minutes later and the home side had their next chance with little of interest going on in between. Our main excitement was coming from Twitter updates from Stamford Bridge and Sixfield (for betting with Paddy Power outright markets purposes) which was a real disappointment not just for us, but everyone else in the stadium.
The only goal of the game came in the 36th minute when Jonas (the fourth Jonas brother, being the black sheep by not following Nick, Joe and Kevin into the music business) converted a penalty after a soft foul had been conceded in the penalty area. At the other end of the pitch, ex-Chelsea player Salomon Kalou went down in the area. In fact Kalou spent most of the game on his bum, obviously having had some private lessons on how to fall over dramatically from Drogba before the two departed from Chelsea.
The second half didn’t ever get going although Lille did come more into the game. Valencia needed Bayern to stumble against BATE for them to finish top of the table, but that was never going to happen. Their 73 fans (Dan took a picture of them and then counted them) seemed to be enjoying themselves, knowing that this year a runners-up spot could give them an easier tie in the next round.
Full time brought a few boos, although many fans had started departing with around 20 minutes to go. We headed back to the car, tucked into Dan’s girlfriend’s home-made sausage rolls and then I fell asleep. I know how annoying it is to have to drive people home at night and all they do is fall asleep, so sorry Dan. I briefly awoke at Calais when the guy at passport control shone a torch in my face to check I wasn’t an illegal immigrant but then I went back to sleep.
It had been a great few days both in terms of work, but also football. I had looked forward to seeing some passion from the fans, especially in the indoor environment, instead I was left feeling very cold. My bets had gone the same way as the evening for Lille, blown in the first half, meaning that I would have to win back my money by betting on the Premier League weekend games.
Nous sommes venus, nous avons vu, nous avons mouillé.