On an even Kiel

In the grand scheme of things it had been a pretty good weekend. Whilst the rain was lashing it down outside, we were happily snuggled up in , just round the corner from Hamburg’s Altona station.  Whilst thrill seekers had headed for the seedy delights on offer on Reeperbahn for centuries, or the lurid window displays of Herbertstrasse where literally anything can be bought, we had chosen to mingle with the locals.  Bar Botega, obviously a parody name as it couldn’t be any further away from being Spain both geographically or culturally, at 10pm on a Sunday night wasn’t exactly rocking when we arrived but by the time we left at midnight the locals were linking arms, swaying from side to side as Danny led them in a chorus of “No ney never”.  These were our new best friends.

14954398355_d46c482456_zWhy, I hear you think.  Why indeed.  Two words my learned friend. DFB Pokal. The magic of the German Cup. It does funny things in all parts of Germany as our last 36 hours would  attest to.  Life is all about experiencing something new and that was what this weekend was all about. So whilst we flew into Hamburg, the more refined European Capital of Sin, our destination was 100km north, close to the Danish border in Schlosweig-Holstein. The newest, trendiest, fashionable name on the European Football Weekends map, ladies and gentlemen, is Kiel.

Kiel doesn’t rate highly in many of the guide books about Europe, let alone one for the Danish borders region. Comments like “a gritty urban sprawl”, “when brochures flag up the first pedestrian street in Germany, you know tourist authorities are struggling” , “The city centre is unlovable but unavoidable” and finally, “It’s OK” you know the weekend isn’t going to be high on culture.  But who needs museums, architecture and theme parks when you have football, great company and a couple of beers? Kiel would be our new best friend.

Home to the German navy, it can boast a population of around 240,000, a Subway and two breweries.  That’ll do us.  Panama? Suez? Venice? Call those canals? Kiel, my friend is the standard-bearer in this area, boasting the world’s busiest man-made canal in the form of the Nord-Ostsee-Kanal.  Still not enough to convince you?  Then how about this. The German Cup had thrown up a tasty tie, pairing Regionalliga Nord Holstein Kiel against struggling Bundesliga 2 side 1860 Munich.  That was enough to have Stoffers leap into organisation mode and before you could say Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz (a genuine word which would score you over 1.2 million points in Scrabble)  we had booked flights and hotels.  I have no idea how it happens; no sooner have I tentatively agreed to going on one of these trips than the confirmation emails start to appear in my inbox.  With my previous jaunt to Germany two weeks previous still fresh in the memory (and the liver) I had to stretch to a box of Milk Tray as well as the regular Petrol Station Flowers to appease the Current Mrs Fuller.  She knows the bond I have with the German Cup though so she did what every good wife does – made me a packed lunch for the train to the airport, told me to give her three rings when I landed and not to return with:-

a) a crap tattoo with another girl’s name on it
b) a communicable disease other than one that was related to beer; or
c) someone else’s pants (again)

She’s funny about those things.  She was of course heartened to learn that Danny and Kenny would also be coming but was suspicious when I threw in a fourth name alongside Stoffers.  We would be joined by Facebook’s own Ofer Prossner, making his debut on the annual German Cup EFW.  Ofer, Malta’s most famous Larry David look-a-like had been living close to Stoffers and Kenny in Berlin for the last few months and had grown so attached to Kenny’s free Wi-Fi that he couldn’t bear to part with it for the weekend.

The good news, Stoffers triumphed when the draw was made,  was because the game between Holstein Kiel and 1860 was being played on the Sunday, we would have time to grab a game as well on the Saturday.  Really? Do we have to? Sigh..ok then. This was supposed to be a weekend of long meetings, discussing the annual issues of the European Football Weekends company and high on the agenda were items such as “Is it really difficult to get tickets for the Sud Tribune at Dortmund?”, “How do I get to the Bernabau?” and “Where is the best place to sit in the Nou Camp?” Matters like these don’t just answer themselves on the Internet these days and as we took our duties as founders, administrators and general European football experts very seriously, so it was determined to convene our AGM on the train to and from Kiel.  With beer liberally added.

Stoffers was pacing nervously outside the arrivals gate at Hamburg airport when Danny and I arrived.  He is Mr German Efficiency 2011 after all.  He had a whole host of different plans for the day depending on the exact minute of our arrival.  Fortunately, all of his hard work was wasted as Plan A was invoked at 11.04am on the dot.  We would be going to the ball. A swift change of trains at the Central Station, a bag full of beers (when it Germany and all that) and a slice of pizza for breakfast later and we were in Ron’s 22.

14954064122_d9f81fbf1c_zJust forty-five north of Hamburg (so close that there is still some credibility in Ryanair referring to the airport here as “Hamburg”) lays the medieval city of Lübeck, birthplace of marzipan, home to the internationally acclaimed Museum of Theatre Puppets and once capital of the Hanseatic League (the forerunner of the Human League).  A perfect destination for a romantic weekend with the one you love.  In fact I had once brought the Current Mrs Fuller here to enjoy a cup of Glühwein, a nibble on a gingerbread man and a ride up the canal.  The city is full of old buildings, pavement cafes and ringed by waterways – a German Venice if you will (travel writers, please don’t steal that – think up your own original taglines!).  We wouldn’t see any of that though, with the railway station on the edge of the city centre and the Stadion an der Lohmühle even further out. After all, seen one canal, seen them all, right? Whereas football grounds, on the other hand…

VfB Lübeck 1 Goslarer SC 0 – Stadion an der Lohmühle – Saturday 16th August 2014
Two teams struggling for form, with a 100% beaten start to the season.  Never going to be a classic, right?  Absolutely.  It was hard to find one thing to write about in terms of the game itself.  The goal perhaps?  Maybe, although when Finn-Lasse Thomas’s shot hit the back of the net with eight minutes to go, Danny and I were on a bus on our way back to the pub.  Such was the disgust of our actions that Thomas was booked for angrily confronting Stoffers wanting to know where those “Englischers” had gone (that last bit may not be quite true).

14954415645_7158b69938_zHowever, let’s not do the club, the fans or even the stadium any disservice here. Admission was 6 Euro (SIX).  Cheaper than a bag of Emirates popcorn or a nodding bobblehead of David Gold.  For that we got to have a drink with the Ultras in their clubhouse (by mistake), stand with the Ultras on the terraces (another mistake) and enjoy a few beers (definitely no mistake).  The whole Ultras thing was a big mistake but hey, we’d all had a drink so let’s just move on.  Talking of moving on, we were on a tight Stoffers deadline to get a train to Kiel for our big Saturday night out.

We weren’t going to have a traditional Saturday night either.  Oh no. It seemed news of our impending arrival had spread like wildfire through the great and good of Kiel.  Now here was a first.  Someone who not only wanted to meet us, but to cook for us.  Obviously we have EFW groupies who send us saucy messages all the time, with promises of marriage and pots of cash in embargoed African bank accounts belonging to dead despots.  But this one was genuine.  An invite to dinner from Kiel’s most famous Football-loving Chef, Matthæus Arminius Kilius.  Who were we to argue? So after a quick change in our luxury apartment overlooking a tug boat pumping out the toilets of a cruise ship, we jumped into a complete stranger’s car and headed to the Kiel suburbs.

Matthæus loves his football, you couldn’t fail to notice that when you walked into his flat.  Football paraphernalia covered every surface.  His wife, Frauke, didn’t seem to mind sharing her bath with a plastic duck in the colours of every Bundesliga team, or laying on her Holstein Kiel bedspread. He’d cooked us a local dish with smoked bacon, green beans, potatoes and a big pear right in the middle.  German hospitality at its finest.  An hour later and we were sampling some of the delights of the gritty urban sprawl as the guide book had told us to expect.  Who needs baroque buildings when you have three different types of local Flensburger Pilsner.

Sunday morning and we were in the pub again at 11am.  Time for a Full German.  Like a Full English but with a beer it hit the spot perfectly.  The Palenka pub was a stopping off spot for the Kiel fans on their journey to the stadium so it would be rude not to join them, accompanied by a few German riot police to keep us company.

1860 Munich, had brought a few hundred fans and they were doing what German fans love to do on a Sunday lunchtime – standing on a petrol station forecourt drinking beer.  We were immediately singled out as being “foreign” because we were drinking Paderboner beer – the English equivalent of Fosters.  Does anyone really choose Fosters when given a choice of beers?  Really?  Same with Paderboner which made us look a little bit silly.  Then a chap walked passed with a pair of home-made trousers made out of old Kiel football shirts and immediately our street credibility rose.

Holstein Kiel 1 1860 Munich 2 – Holstein Stadion – Sunday 16th August 2014
We took our spot in the away end as the teams emerged.  The game had Pokal upset written all over it, with 1860 not enjoying the best of starts of season so far.  Two defeats in their first games had the fans hopping mad, so they hoped that a win against Liga 3 Holstein Kiel would give the squad a welcome boost before they returned to league action at Heidenheim in a week’s time.  The fans struck up their soundtrack for the afternoon, accompanied by drums and huge flags, all choreographed by a single chap with a megaphone sitting atop the perimeter fence.

For all of the hazards that standing on an open terrace with some hard-core fans brings, during the afternoon we saw the worst of the worst.  Someone had left a programme on the floor.  Not exactly a small, inconspicuous item, weighing in at A4 in size, yet we lost count with the number of people who stepped on it and slipped.  One chap took his humiliation, embarrassment and anger out on it by trying to kick it which led to him slipping again.  Of course we didn’t laugh. Much.

14820048790_7f2e2fa190_zWith just eight minutes on the clock, a great run to the byline saw the ball pulled back to Kiel’s Siedschlag who smashed the ball home.  Instead of groans on the away terrace we all just bounced up and down a bit and sang abusive songs about those bastards in Red (apparently).  1860 simply didn’t look like scoring until just after the hour mark when their Austrian forward Rubin Rafael Okotie equalised.  Ten minutes later and he put 1860 ahead, converting a penalty after he had been brought down from behind. Game over.

The final whistle brought some good-natured thigh slapping, the sound of flesh on Lederhosen filling the air.  A row of blonde female riot police kept the home fans back with minimal effort to let us grab the only taxi in the rank, quite literally, and we headed for the Kieler Braurei, the one tourist attraction that we all wanted to visit in our 24 hours in Kiel.  Craft beer is the home-brew of the 21st century but without having to use your best jumper to keep the beer warm in the airing cupboard.  The brew house was certainly worth the wait and we had soon sampled our way through most of the menu.  Alas, we had a train to catch so we grabbed a takeaway and headed for the station.

15006114692_83aa8797de_zIn the grand scheme of things it had been a pretty good weekend. Whilst the rain was lashing it down outside the bar back in Hamburg, we were happily snuggled up inside.  Whilst thrill seekers had headed for the seedy delights on offer on Reeperbahn for centuries, or the lurid window displays of Herbertstrasse where literally anything can be bought, we had chosen to mingle with the locals.  Bar Bodega at 10pm on a Sunday night wasn’t exactly rocking when we arrived but by the time we left the locals were linking arms, swaying from side to side as Danny led them in a chorus of “No ney never”.  These were our new best friends.

After an emotional farewell at Altona, we headed to the airport where our beds for the night awaited.  By night I obviously mean 4 hours which Danny spent sleeping in his shoes, “just in case there was a fire” Of course at 5am on Monday morning he couldn’t remember any of the events from the night before, the sign of a great night.

Until next season Germany.  Be good, don’t go changing.

“All-to-nah 93 ist Fussball” by Paul Whitaker

Hamburg is one of my favourate “European Football Weekend” destinations  and am never disappointed when exploring Germany’s second city and it’s fussball scene. My last visit was back in November 2010, when as part of a mate’s stag party, we explored St Pauli’s Reeperbahn by night and shook off the Astra hangovers with glühwein and fun fair rides at the Hamburger Dom, each following day. I was designated “Football Entertainments Officer” for that weekend and the fixture gods answered our prayers with a memorable football double header  of an  ‘away day’ with HSV Hamburg to Hannover and watching FC St Pauli from the Sud Tribune of the Millerntor.

We returned to Hamburg this Summer, again timing our visit to coincide with the Hamburger Dom and discovering more about the St Pauli neighbourhood history and bar scene, courtesy of  a guided  tour with a local ‘Paulista’ from the St Pauli Tourist Office (Wohlwillstrasse 1  ). Our “Must Drink/Eat There” directory of St Pauli establishments now included the ‘Komet Musik Bar’ (Erichstrasse 11 ), ‘Backbord’ ( Clemens-Schultz-Strasse 41 ) and the city beach bars like ‘StrandPauli’ (St Pauli- Hafenstrasse 84 ), where we sipped beers against a backdrop huge container ships and cranes of Hamburg dock, opposite. We had had also been tipped off by the invaluable ‘European Football Weekend’ forum to check out the Hamburg district of Altona and their football club, Altonaer FC von 1893 (Altona 93).

Altona was formerly an independent municipality under Danish control and it’s difficult to believe that although just two S-Bahn station stops west of the Reeperbahn, this ‘enclave’ was once the second largest city in Denmark after Copenhagen.  My guidebook confirmed Altona was eventually absorbed by its neighbour Hamburg in 1938 and also described the district today as a  “sort of Hamburg-style Notting Hill”. Although we did not bump into any Herr Grants, the spruced up former working class flats, fisherman houses and off-beat shops give Altona a more gentrified feel than its St Pauli neighbour.

1 AltonaWhen you leave the Altona S-Bahnhof, you will find plenty of restaurants to choose from, especially around the Spritzenplatz and Alma-Wartenberg-Platz. Locals also suggested the ‘Eulenklause’ (Eulenstrasse 57), ‘Marktschanke’ (Bahrenfelder Strasse 77) and ‘Blaues Barhaus’ (Grosse Brunnenstrasse 55) for post match beers. To get to Altona 93, simply get back on the S-Bahn (S1/S11, direction Wedel) for Bahrenfeld stop. When you come out of the station you will find the ground located about a five minute walk down Friesenweg/Griegstrasse.

Altona 93’s ground is the Adolf-Jager-Kampfbahn (AJK) . From the impressive entrance, you enter one corner of the football ground that has an old fashioned look to it . Built in 1908,  AJK is essentially one covered stand (1,500 seating) and two sides of open terracing (6,500 standing). The far terracing is now overgrown with trees, that hide a set of 1950s style turnstiles hidden amongst the undergrowth.

2 altonaThese ‘turnstiles that time forgot’ were apparently last used in the 1950/60s during Altona 93’s second golden era, when the club was one of the most famous clubs in Hamburg and graced  the top division. Wikipedia (and the stadium name) told me their most famous player was Adolf Jäger who was capped 18 times for Germany between 1908-24.  Altona 93 never quite won the league, notching up a couple of third place finishes in the top division in the 1950s. After the formation of Bundesliga in 1963, the rise of both HSV and St Pauli clubs gradually drew crowds away from AJK and Altona 93 has spent the last forty years playing third (Liga), fourth (Regionalliga) and finally fifth (Oberliga) division football.

The last time Altona 93 played Regionalliga football was in the 2008/09 season, but the joy of ‘awaydays’ to the likes of Magdeburg, Chemnitz and Leipzig was tempered by having to play home fixtures at SC Victoria Hamburg’s Stadion Hoheluft. This was due to AJK failing to obtain the stadium safety licence that Altona 93 needed before even kicking a ball in a Regionalliga fixture. Looking at the financial investment needed to pay for installing fences around the pitch, concreting entrances/exits etc. Altona 93 would need to increase crowds from the current 5-600 per fixture and perhaps charge considerably more than €4-9 per person.

Bigger crowds do pass through AJK’s turnstiles, but only to cheer on the Hamburg Blue Devils, the city’s American football team. The unsightly American football posts behind each goal, provided one of the most bizarre goals ever seen in football, during Altona 93’s Oberliga fixture with Vier- und Marschlande. A misplaced shot from one of the Vier- und Marschlande players went out of play, hit the American football frame behind the Altona goal post, rebounded into play. The referee waved play on and Vier- und Marschlande striker Beytullah Atug scored, much to the bewilderment of Altona 93 players and supporters. Fortunately, justice prevailed and Altona 93 won 3-1.

From my somewhat selfish “football tourist seeking an alternative to the sterile modern football experience” perspective, perhaps the introduction of fences and policing, leading to inevitable supporter restrictions may be to the the detriment of the fun one can have watching an Altona 93 Oberliga fixture?. What is more certain is that where Altona 93 supporters lack in numbers to their neighbours FC St Pauli, they more than make up for in creating a genuinely enjoyable football spectating experience, mercifully free of any gumpf associated with modern football.

Ten reasons to watch Altona 93.

1 -The manual scoreboard operated by the punks that congregate on the Zeckenhugel terrace.  I was told some of these punks  were St Pauli supporters who had moved from  the Millerntor as protest to the club commercially selling out. The scourge of ‘Modern Football’ had even changed  their beloved St Pauli with sponsorship advertisements, stadium modernisation, VIP boxes and most controversially in 2000 when the club sold 90% of the merchandising rights of their iconic skull and cross bones logo, to a marketing company for the next 30 years. The logo is on everything from underwear to dog bowls and even a couple of smart t-shirts currently hanging in my wardrobe. But such is the friendship between Altona 93 and St Pauli, that as well as the punk old timers you will also probably see a few younger St Pauli supporters sporting St Pauli colours when attending Altona 93 fixtures. The Altona 93 merchandising ‘industry’ is on a somewhat smaller scale. On matchdays the club shop van is located next to the club house (between the Zeckenhugel and Meckerecke terraces) selling club shirts, t-shirts, hoodies and scarves in red white and black club colours.

3 Altona2-On the Gegengerade terrace, you can watch the Altona 93 from the comfort of couches that have been plonked on the terrace under Jever beer garden brollies. Yes Jever Beer can be consumed (in plastic glasses) on the terraces. Here you will find the bulk of the Altona 93 support standing in front of a range of Altona flags. Some anti-fascist, some in Danish national colours and a huge ‘Black Boc’ anarchist flag. On the Meckerecke terrace opposite, you may see younger elements of Altona support waving ultra-style giant flags.

3- Back on the Gegengerade terrace, you may  bump into “All-To-Nah” Jan, editor/seller of the Altona 93 supporter fanzine “All-To-Nah” . I had not been sold a traditional fanzine since the early 1990s in England and it was great to see fanzine culture thriving in Germany. “All-To-Nah” is published around three or four issues per season and at bargain price of €1 each, it’s not difficult to see 400-500 copies being sold per issue. I understand a match programme is planned to compliment the A4 teamsheet currently available on matchdays. There is also a special Hamburg football paper called “Sport Mikrophon”.

4 Altona4 – Inside the clubhouse or Vereinsheim ( www.achtzehn93.de ), the walls around the bar bear testimony to friendships forged between Altona 93 and visiting supporters groups. These include Arminia Hannover , Vfb Oldenburg , Tennis Borussia Berlin (TeBe), Blau Weib Linz, Dulwich Hamlet and now the Northern Oldtras.  The Vereinsheim is normally open two hours before kick off and on the terrace outside two DJs play Punk, Northern Soul and Ska music before and after each home match.

5 – The walls of the Vereinsheim toilets bear testimony to Sticker Art that is a very important part of football culture in Hamburg and Germany. The latest issue of “All-To-Nah” also had complimentary stickers for me to plaster a  Hamburg bar toilet, lamppost or road sign of my choosing. Any budding Banksys and Citizen Smiths (Google him!) can easily get their own funny/topical/political message across for between €1-2 per 50 stickers.

5 Altona6 – You will also see a few of the younger Altona 93 supporters sporting german football denim or “kutte” – arguably Germany’s unique contributon to football culture. This fashion denim plastered in Altona 93, anti-fascist and music band patches began, partly as a response to right wing german supporters wearing Stone Island clobber and partly tongue-in-cheek take on the older supporters you see wearing Kuttes at German matches. Who says the Germans do not have a sense of humour!.

7- A great example of community and football supporter engagement at Altona 93 can be seen with the ‘AFC Soli-kasse’. This is a scheme where Altona 93 supporters donate money to a social fund, to help pay for supporters who cannot pay the full price for a ticket. The Soli-kasse idea came from a comparable scheme run by their  supporter friends at TeBe , where supporters can give their season tickets for a particular match (when they are unable to go) for other supporters who cannot afford to attend.  If you wish to donate a few euros to the ‘AFC Soli-kasse’, chat to the supporters near this flag at AJK on matchdays.

8 – Football clubs in the Oberliga division are located in or around Hamburg (http://www.europlan-online.de/index.php?s=liga&id=26 ). Getting to AJK and many away fixtures from central Hamburg is cheap and I would advise buying the ‘9-Uhr-Gruppenkarte’ (9 am Group Ticket). The ticket is valid on the date of issue for unlimited travel around Hamburg efficient public transport network. You can obtain these tickets from HVV ticket vending machines in the S-Bahn/train stations. Also keep an eye on www.afc-fanforum.de where Altona 93 supporters arrange meeting times on S Bahn trains when travelling to way fixtures.

9 –  Altona 93’s current squad consist of amateur players who include students, pupils , an Italian restaurant owner, a business man, a management assistant in sports and fitness and even an Afghan national team player. As well as Mustafa Hadid, players like Gian-Pierre Carallo and Dennis Thiessen have impressed the Altona 93 supporters.

7 Altona10- Oberliga fixtures (www.fussball.de ) are not moved due to television, so ‘football tourists’ can book flights around a particular fixture not moving. The fixtures that provide the best atmospheres are Barmbek-Uhlenhorst, Victoria Hamburg (when they are in Oberliga), Bergedorf 85 (again, when they are in Oberliga) and the Northern Oldtras can vouch for a memorable Hamburg summer evening watching Altona 93 at  SV Blankenese.

So, you fancy watching Altona 93 at the Adolf-Jager-Kampfbahn?. Then check out the club basics below for more details and if you bump into “All-to-nah” Jan, please say hello and buy a fanzine.

 

Club Basics

Club Name: Altonaer FC von 1893 (Altona 93).

Address: Griegstrasse 62 , 22763 Hamburg, Germany

Email: altona93-fussballfans@gmx.org

Websites: www.altona93.com (official website) , www.altona93fans.de (match and crowd photos from all Altona 93 fixtures) ,

Thanks to: “All-to-nah” Jan, Dulwich Hamlet Mishi and Neil Hollis for use of photos.

Football finally comes home – Top that Pep

“Football is a religion in Dortmund. Bayern may have won a lot of fans and a lot of trophies because of the incredible number of good decisions they have made, but now there is another story. Along has come another club that is pretty good as well.” It’s hard to disagree with the words of Jürgen Klopp, the miracle worker behind the spectacular rise from the ashes of bankruptcy of Borussia Dortmund. Despite enduring a disappointing domestic season where Bayern had simply been too good for them and the rest of German football, Dortmund arrived en masse in London knowing that all of the pain could be erased in one ninety minute game.

20130526-214507.jpgLondon awoke on Saturday morning awash with yellow and black. Whilst 478,567, to be precise, Dortmund fans had been unlucky in trying to secure one of the 24,000 official tickets for the Wembley showpiece, tens of thousands had headed to the centre of London to party like it was neunzehn neunzig neun. By mid-afternoon Trafalgar Square was a sea of Dortmund fans tucking into traditional English beer (Fosters, Stella and Carlsberg) and traditional English food (Walkers family packs of crisps) soaking up the rare English sunshine.  Lord Nelson was looking down with an approving wink, especially at the girls who made the effort to dress in the full Dortmund kit. Football for life was the motto of the day for the fans. One game, one goal, one glorious night at the venue of legends. There were fans of all shapes and sizes enjoying the sunshine, although if truth be told some looked better in their Dortmund outfits than others.

Dortmund Chairman Hans-Joachim Watzke could barely raise his voice enough over the strains of Wonderwall to explain with immense pride how special this day was. “Ten years ago every member of our club would have had a chance for a ticket.” Today fans sat on the edge of the fountains with signs around their necks pleading for a ticket for the biggest game in German club football history.  Progress.

My mission was to try to document the day through the eyes of a fan with Allianz for their Football For Life campaign. Never an easy job with half a dozen Bitburger’s sloshing around your stomach, but even worse when every time I opened my mouth the German fans broke into a chorus of Football’s Coming Home. Both sets of found laughed at the irony that here they were in the home of “Your Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottingham Hotspurs”. Bayern fans were outnumbered 20 to 1 in Central London but they knew the score. Even a performance at 75% of what they have been capable of this season would see the trophy return to Bavaria. Dortmund needed all the skill of Reus, the fire power of Lewandoski and the sulkiness of Robben to snatch a victory. But if they could, it would be the most famous win in their history, one that would give them bragging rights over their rivals for years to come.  Despite their dominance of the domestic game, Bayern had been the bridesmaid in European football for so long, runners-up five times in the last twenty-five years with just a single trophy in that time against Valencia back in 2001.

On the tube up to Wembley Park we finally found the Bayern fans.   The Bavarian traditional dress of Leiderhosen and Dirndl’s filled our carriage. Alas the wearers of the latter were of the male persuasion but soon the songs were filling our carriage – of course Football’s Coming Home….time and time again.  They didn’t share my concern that a defeat would derail an almost perfect season, in fact they didn’t see a defeat was an option at all. Earlier in the day there had been some minor dust up’s between rival fans at Wembley although you would never had noticed it now with both sets of fans mixing on the famous walk up to the stadium from the tube stadium.

8829838418_3338326725_bThe road was filled with fans without tickets, standing here with the final slivers of hope in her hearts.  Earlier in the week a German TV news outlet had expressed concern at the quality of our sausages that would be on sale at Wembley, urging fans to bring their own.  Here on Wembley Way the “Gourmet Sausage Shop” had been renamed as the German Sausage Shop” (rebranding of four letters isn’t expensive) but few fans were indulging.  The UEFA ban on alcohol around the ground didn’t seem to be bothering the police who kept a watching brief on events without being over bearing.

Fans gathered around the outer concern, respecting the reverence of England’s finest player, Bobby Moore who of course won the 1966 World Cup for West Ham United against West Germany.  Groups of Bayern fans struck up impromptu sing-songs, still thinking Football’s Coming Home was the highpoint in English-German irony.  The atmosphere was relaxed, the sun giving Wembley a holiday feel, albeit one of Blackpool-esque proportions.

Finally inside the stadium and we were greeted with a wall of yellow as the far end of the stadium was full to busting with Dortmund fans.  Our seats were in the middle of the Bayern fans, who not wanting to be out-sung were turning up the volume to eleven.  Of course, Football Was Coming home (again) but we all joined in, waving our flags and joining in the backslapping.

Ten minutes to kick off and the pitch was awash with medieval knights, dress in yellow and red, ritualistic drumming music filling the stadium and confusing the hell out of everyone as to the relevance of the occasion.  All of a sudden the stadium descended into a hush and the teams arrived.  All of the hype, anticipation and speculation was now moribund.  It was showtime.

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Borussia Dortmund 1 Bayern Munich – Wembley Stadium – Saturday 25th May 2013
Major finals rarely live up to the expectations built up in the media.  Like a relationship long ago, we always remember the brief highlights but never the pain of constant disagreement.  Last year’s Champions League final was nearly two hours of uninspiring football, with the late extra-time drama and the excitement of penalties.  And who can really remember much about the finals of the previous few years apart from the winner?  On Saturday a new standard was set by these two sides who produced the best Champions League final in living memory.

Dortmund started the game like a ICE train, trying to expose Bayern down the flanks. For the opening twenty minutes Neuer had to make three or four world-class saves as the yellow and black wall seemed to be advancing down the pitch.  The Bayern fan next to me said “We want to give them a chance, before we murder them”.  And sure enough they seemed to slowly take control of the midfield, pushing the ball quickly up to Thomas Müller who seemed to be the lynch pin in the centre of the field.  Now it was time for Bayern to test Weidenfeller, making three world-class saves in the first period, including one with his chin from Robben.

The stats at half time would have been impressive for a full ninety minutes, let alone just a mere 45.  Eight shots of goal, with only seven free-kicks although Bayern’s 60% possession reflected their dominance as the half wore on. However, the game remained scoreless and that of course gave Dortmund hope.  The second period was announced by the Bayern fans in the upper tier with a fine display of flares.  Of course, those of you watching on TV wouldn’t have seen that, as the Wembley stewards panic was all to plain to see.

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Fifteen minutes into the second period and Robben danced around the Dortmund defence, got to the byline and squared the ball for Mario Mandzukic to tap home.  For all the skill and invention of both sides, it was a simple tap in from six yards that had finally broken the deadlock.  The lead lasted just eight minutes as Dortmund pushed forward, the ball finding Reus as he advanced into the area, his run being stopped by Dante’s raised leg. Penalty. Ilkay Gündogan stepped up and sent Neuer the wrong way to level the scores.

The game seemed to be heading for extra time, with both coaches refusing to make any substitutions.  Bayern were peppering the Dortmund goal, but it seemed their luck wasn’t in.  A fan in front of us offered a silent prayer and with just a minute left on the clock, Ribéry found Robben who seemed to lose the ball in his feet as he progressed towards Weidenfeller before slowly rolling the ball into an empty net.  For what seemed like the umpteenth time this season, a major game had been decided in the dying moments of a major game.

8835373974_5c8e1b56c5_b (1)The moment will live in my memory for many years as I was hugged and kissed by fans all around me.  In all of the celebrating, the 4th official held up his board saying there would be 3 minutes of added time, but it was all over for Dortmund.  They had given it their best shot but had simply fallen once again to the Munchen Machine.

At the final whistle Klopp took his team to the far end, where they stood in a line and simply looked at their fans.  I would image he was telling his side to remember this moment.  To remember the pain, the look on the faces of their fans who had followed them to London and never given up belief.  All around them Bayern celebrated but to a man they showed dignity in defeat.

The celebrations would go on long into the night.  Tears were flowing in both ends of the stadium, in the stands and on the pitch where the Bayern players took it in turns to celebrate with the famous trophy.  As the fireworks shot into the air from the Wembley Arch it was time to leave the Bayern fans to enjoy the moment.  The day had been one to remember for a long time.  Unlike a relationship there were no bad moment, no pointless trips to craft fairs or dinner parties.  This was one day that would be up there with my wedding day.  Football for life?  Absolutely.

Kampf der Titanen

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.

8481854617_9188ce3131_bUnder 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.

photo (3)“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.

Bridget and her big jugsA 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?

8514941579_f28981bde5_bSo 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.

8514861901_7d47d263a7_bBayern 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.

8515977646_a1d0863414_bWe 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

Long live the European Football Weekend

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

DangeReus

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.

8482530926_5289ec981f_bYou 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?

8481846135_2f88012102_bRolling 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.

8481851589_568675d584_bDortmund 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?”
“No”

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.

8481445283_86a4700f81_bDespite 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!

Herman the German Munster

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.

TuffiInstead 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.

8482890336_338f8b7264_bWe’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.

8481824743_030af2efb0_bNow 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.

8481839785_77500a2d91_bIt 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.