Eintracht Frankfurt v FC Ingolstadt: Bundesliga 1
Saturday 5th March 2016
Growing up around Glasgow, the name ‘Eintracht Frankfurt’ was synonymous with their 7-3 defeat in the 1960 European Cup Final against Real Madrid at Hampden Park. My parents’ generation frequently brought it up as a moment of crowning glory for Glasgow. The name, however, invokes images of defeat for me. I saw Eintracht play last May but they were outclassed by Borussia Dortmund and they struggled again today against less illustrious opposition. Without the goal threat of the talismanic man-bun that is Alex Meier (Bundesliga top scorer last season), Eintracht had set their phasers to stun. No goals in the past two Bundesliga games did not augur well either.
It turns out, as I prepare to upload this the morning after the match, Eintracht manager Armin Veh has just been sacked. The fans got what they wanted: ‘Armin Out’ was their chant, before shaking all about, doing the Hokey Cokey and turning around.
I was given a press ticket for this game so I didn’t need to worry about buying one. However, the club website for tickets is: https://tickets.eintracht.de/default.php. I had arrived at Brussels Midi Station earlier than I needed to, giving me time to grab coffee and a pastry. I walked up to the platform to take the Thalys train to Koln, my intermediate destination before changing train for Frankfurt. My return fare for the whole journey was 77 euros, booked through Belgian Rail, SNCB as usual. You can take the Megabus as well if you don’t mind arriving and departing in the middle of the night but, in this case, the bus was only about 10 euros cheaper. Then, an announcement came over saying there was an 11 minute delay. I had a 17 minute window for the connection in Koln, so was beginning to feel nervous. These 11 minutes became 15, which became ‘about 20, which, in reality was 45 minutes. They really should have managed my expectations better: I could’ve gone for a coffee instead of pacing back and forth like a metronome on the cold platform. The Thalys train ride itself was fine and comfortable although I still think the Deutsche Bahn ICE trains are better.
Having clearly missed my connecting train, and not having a flex-ticket, I went to the ticket people to ask what to do. I was told that, because Thalys is a private company and nothing to do with Deutsche Bahn, I’d need to buy a new ticket but that I should write to Thalys to ask for the difference to be refunded. I was also told that, had I missed my connection because a Deutsche Bahn train was running late, my ticket would still have been valid. Raging. So, I paid for my single to Frankfurt, which I’ll be contacting Thalys to reimburse me for.
Not having reserved a seat on this new connection, I spent the hour and ten minutes on the ICE train in the café car. So, instead of paying to reserve a seat, I got a ‘breakfast burger’ containing omelette, bacon and cheese (which was far better than anticipated), and a small beer for just over 5€, guaranteeing my seat to Frankfurt.
My plan of taking a quick tourist bus around Frankfurt to get an overview of the city was abandoned due to my lateness so I went straight to my accommodation, the Pension Alpha – the perfect place for the Beta male (http://www.pensionalpha.de). I arrived to be told that my room had suffered from water damage and wasn’t available but that I could have another room, with a toilet (on another floor!) instead for a 25% discount, meaning my room was only 30€. The omens weren’t promising. The hotel ‘manager’ showed me to my room which was so far underground, the room didn’t need central heating due to its proximity to the Earth’s molten core. I was basically in staff digs that had had a spray of polish and a quick vacuum. Well, I wasn’t going to start trawling Frankfurt for better for the sake of one night and it was only 200m from the train station. Sigh.
The area around train station is often the ‘earthier’ part of town and Frankfurt is no exception. I went for a quick stroll to the ‘Romer’ area, which is an ‘out of place’ square that time forgot in the middle of a modern Metropolis. After a hearty serving of bratwurst, pommes and weissbier, I was ready to head to the stadium. It was noteworthy that a small lady at an adjacent table had ordered the equivalent of a Frankfurt mixed grill, containing schweinshaxe, bratwurst and schnitzel. The nearby abattoir must be a large local employer. The city has U-Bahn, S-Bahn and trams so it is easy, in principle, to get around.
The Commerzbank Arena
From Frankfurt Hbf, the stadium is less than 10 minutes away via the S-Bahn (S7,8 or 9). Finding the platform, via the network of urine-scented tunnels, can take a few minutes as it isn’t well signposted. The short journey is actually a rather frustrating experience. The stadium has a designated stop – Stadion – but it is nearly a kilometre past the stadium so you watch the stadium disappear out of view as the train trundles by, before alighting. There are no barriers as such so I consider the ticket I bought (having no match ticket at this point) to be a superfluous 3 euro splurge.
Upon alighting the train there are some beer and sausage stalls – I recommend getting one here as it’s a bit of a hike to the stadium and this may make it more pleasurable. These facilities are found at regular intervals down the forested path, liberally sprinkled with urinating men around the periphery. I arrived at what looked like the ticket office and main entrance. I was to collect my ticket here. I was told by the ticket office worker that she didn’t have a ticket in my name and that I should go to the main entrance. ‘Great, where is that?’ I replied. I was told to ‘ask the man in the yellow jacket’ as she was busy. So, like a good boy, I asked the man (steward) in the yellow jacket where the main entrance was. Of all the possible answers I had considered, ‘I don’t know’ was not one. Surely that’s in day one of steward-training?
I then found a diagram that suggested that the main entrance was miles away. That couldn’t be right, could it? I was starting to panic. I like to arrive at geek-o-clock, early enough to photograph the place almost empty and scope out what’s on offer. I wouldn’t get to do this now. I asked another steward where the main entrance was and he said ‘about 5 minutes to the right after the tunnel.’ He lied, managing my expectations as well as the guy at the train station. It was about 30 minutes walk. I turns out the Commerzbank Arena has huge boundaries and grounds with an area almost as diffuse as the nearby airport. Having marched against the flow of people to get to the main entrance (it is now 15:10), I collect my ticket and join the massive queue at the turnstiles. Between getting through the turnstiles and getting to the stadium is a good ten minutes of forest walk as well. I jog along, a little painfully due to my dodgy hamstring, and arrive in my seat at 1525, exasperated but relieved.
The 51500 capacity arena looks rather like a concrete bowl from the outside but is far more impressive once you’re in. The roof structure is unusual. The club describe it as a ‘steel-rope-membrane-inner-roof’. There are pillars supporting a yellow disc, covering the circumference, and what looks like a semi-opaque canvas-like roof extending from it. Inside this, above the pitch, there is a scaffold, supported by pillars from the top of the stand. This scaffold is joined to the suspended TV via cables. This can give the impression that the whole pitch is covered but it is not.
The stadium reminds me a little of the HDI Arena in Hannover and is a bit like an upgraded version of something similar. There is only a small band of away supporters but given Ingolstadt’s rapid rise from obscurity, that’s not surprising.
The toilets were in plentiful supply and was all rapid and efficient. The queues at the snack outlets are pretty intimidating and entropic. They operate a card system but there are floating beer and cola suppliers for card holders to reduce the queues. That said, there was no way I could have bought a card, topped it up, queued for food and got back to my seat within 15 minutes. I could have hob-nobbed in with the press but I’d rather experience these things as a fan, not staff.
Eintracht fans making a good noise behind the goals – it’s a ‘beery’ atmosphere around the ground here: like T in the Park but with better beer.
Eintracht Frankfurt v FC Ingolstadt
The match itself was interestingly competitive, if not beautiful. Marco Fabian established himself as a go-to player early on for Frankfurt and he does have a good touch. He is not, however, the 20 goal per season striker they need. Frankfurt started brightly but on the 7th minute, the referee blew for a penalty for Ingolstadt after an accidental handball in the box. It was unlucky, but probably correct. Hartmann dispatched the penalty confidently despite the wild howling of the home fans. Their small band of supporters looked delighted.
I think I’ve worked out why Eintracht are struggling in the league – they’re not very good and do lack ‘next level’ quality everywhere! Hradecky just kept them alive with a save on 32 minutes and Ingolstadt looked the better team in the first half. They were simply more composed and threatening.
My notes from the rest of the match are largely composed of criticisms of Haris Seferovic, Eintracht’s Swiss centre forward. Continually being caught offside, heavy on his feet, blowing several chances at goal and then blaming his teammates or shouting at the linesman, he epitomised everything that was wrong with Eintracht.
Marc Stendera, the Football Manager ‘wonderkid’, left me wondering what the kid was all about and he was substituted at half time. Only Fabian ever showed an guile or creative spark and the narrowness made it easier for Ingolstadt to defend. Eintracht looked like the newly promoted side for much of the match.
On the 64th minute, Hradecky made a fabulous save from a header at a corner down low, which I would cite as the catalyst for the Eintracht revival. Ingolstadt were weakened by their substitutions and the expulsion of Pascal Gross, whereas Eintracht grew and grew and finished the match camped in Ingolstadt’s half. Marco Russ headed home a deserved equaliser and the home side continued to press.
When the 40000 attendance at the match was announced, there were boos echoing around the stadium. Perhaps a more regular Eintracht watcher could explain that – I’ve never heard the attendance figure booed before.
In the end, Eintracht couldn’t find their way past Ingolstadt thanks to a combination of attacking ineptitude and defensive resilience from the visitors. The final whistle is greeted with jeers, howls and choruses of ‘Armin Out!’
Upon leaving at full time, I march purposefully to the train station via the direct route, and upon hearing the station announcer saying that the train at platform 10 goes directly to Frankfurt Hbf, I gleefully hop on, only to sit there for nearly twenty minutes. I do, however, arrive on time in central Frankfurt to eat a quick Burger Kaiser before hitting the pub to watch Dortmund v Bayern play out a goalless draw.
What did I learn? It’s an interesting stadium but, if you need to get your ticket from the main-entrance, don’t take the train as the station is miles away. The Eintracht fans seem like they have the potential to be excellent given a more entertaining spectacle on the field. However, the current team look a long way away from this objective.
- Quality of match: ***
- Stadium character: ****
- Stadium atmosphere: ****
- Hospitality: ****
- Ease of access: ****
- Things to do around the stadium: **** (if drinking and eating counts)
- Overall: ****