Hannover 96 v Mainz 05: Bundesliga 1
Saturday 6th February 2016
Hannover was the heading. It was an express journey, meaning I didn’t get to alight at the usual stops along the way like ‘Merry’, ‘Tipsy’, ‘Arrogant and loud’ or ‘Steaming’. That is the normal route to a Hannover. I’m sure that won’t be the last playful use of this name. ‘Who are you going to see?’ the traveller asked. ‘Hannover’ I reply. ‘Sechs und Neunzig?’ he proposes. ‘Just the Neunzig please, I’m very tired.’ I could, and probably will, go on. The numbers embedded in the club names are seldom omitted and commentators refer to clubs by their number e.g. Hannover 96, Mainz 05, Schalke 04 and so on. Today’s game, therefore, was ‘96 v ‘05. Relegation-threatened Hannover against mid-table Mainz.
Health Warning: This part is wildly self-indulgent and long-winded. If you want the ‘radio edit’ about the stadium and match, scroll down.
The hours between 0330 and 0530 bring to the fore the extremities of humanity. In daily life, the ‘normal’ masses dilute these polarities. However, at this time of day, instead of ‘Where’s Wally?’, it’s more of a ‘There’s Wally!’ From the deliriously drunk to the seriously shady, lovers’ quarrels to ‘couldn’t-care-less caretakers’, the night amplifies the diversity of life.
I discovered that I can cycle from my house to Gare du Midi in Brussels quicker than the disrupted tram service can take me there so, on a crisp but dry morning, this seemed like a pleasant option, especially given the very small margin for error in the tram schedule. I ended up allowing much more time than required for two reasons: my ‘lateness paranoia’ and because my health hadn’t been good all week and I wasn’t sure my of my capacity to cycle. If anyone ever tells you they have gall bladder problems, sympathise. It hurts! I had contemplated not coming to this game despite having paid for my train and hotel because of this and my absence from work. However, I asked myself ‘What would Jesus do?’ and decided to walk amongst the sinners.
‘Sometimes you don’t know a person until you walk in their shoes’ it is said. Well, modify ‘walk in their shoes’ to ‘ride their bike’ and I got to know my son a little better. I know that he needs a new saddle, that’s for sure, if he ever wants to father children. My barse was, and still is, reminding me that this is a prioirity upon my return. I won’t let what happened to the bike afterwards cloud my experience, merely inform and influence future bike parking solutions.
I waited twenty minutes for the cafés to open at the station (0545, for future reference). Having tried to remain inconspicuous among the ‘characters’ of the station, I was glad of the coffee. My feeling of self-assurance, bordering on smugness, brought on by my punctuality, quickly evaporated. The platform was like having to navigate an assault course of suitcases, snowboards and excited travellers. Not paying the five euro supplement for a seat reservation didn’t seem so clever now. It is the Saturday at the start of the Carnival week after all: the busiest holiday of the year for snow-seekers. I did notice the ticket prices rise rapidly after I spent 58€ on mine. I got mine via this link: https://www.b-europe.com/Voyager
So, the ‘fun fun fun of the Deutsche Bahn’ had started. Realising everybody else had reserved a seat (probably worth the 5€ in hindsight), I scoped around for a seat that wasn’t reserved from Brussels. I found a seat that was reserved from Aachen to Frankfurt and, despite a few suspicious sideways glances, I got comfortable. I didn’t matter that the seat wasn’t ‘Mainz’ (search engine optimisation subtlety at its best). This would do until Aachen, which isn’t far from Koln, and I could tolerate standing for a short while: it’s not like my feet were ‘Aachen’. Some poor lady, with her family, had reserved the seat next to me (I’m sure she didn’t stipulate the seat next to the eurofootballstadium guy, but you follow). With the train this busy, I wasn’t going to head to the toilet for a Clark Kent change out of my trackies and hoodie and into, well, jeans and a hoodie, as this seemed somewhat inconsiderate to my fellow passengers, not to mention the risk of losing my seat.
So, as the train pulled into Aachen, I decided to go to the canteen car, order a coffee and then change in the toilets into my slightly less homeless-looking outfit that I would wear for the rest of the day.
The train arrived at Koln on time – I only had a thirteen minute layover so I needed this level of punctuality – and the Berlin train was on the adjacent platform, waiting to whisk me to Hannover. Upon boarding, I found what looked like it must be the only unreserved double seat on the train. Bingo! The idea of having a beer crept into my head, despite my relative physical fragility and the hour, just because I was in Germany and wasn’t driving. It wouldn’t be the first time.
I glanced out of the window, admiring the uniformity of the pylons, juxtaposed with the diversity of graffiti seldom seen outside the proximity of train tracks, on the canvas of well kept grass. The ICE trains are cool – they are very quiet, smooth, comfortable and even tell you how fast they are going. I am imagining how I would make their advert, with Vanilla Ice (as the middle-aged man he is now) giving you a tour of the train, rapping out its features and occasionally nodding along approvingly to ‘Ice Ice Baby.’
It’s the sense of discovery and adventure that excites me and keeps me young. New places, new events, always learning. Our rate of learning decays with age. When you are a small child, everything is new, you are always learning and every step is a discovery. We lose this as we ‘settle down’. Some people call it ‘growing up’ but I prefer the term ‘growing old’. I don’t want to ever grow old, even as I age.
A lady tells me I’m in her seat in Dusseldorf but then she sits elsewhere noticing a free ‘table seat’. Despite the awkwardness, this could work out well for me as nobody else will ask for my seat. I continue to peer out of the window like a diligent sentry in the hope that I catch sight of the occasional stadium from the train. I was one of those kids who went on car journeys with their parents who actually enjoyed ‘looking out of the window’ as an activity and the only time I got bored was when it was dark.
At Duisburg, the other available seat is taken but I cannot complain. So far, I have seen three people in Dortmund colours get on at various stops, including one who came from Belgium who I saw on the first train. They are away to Hertha Berlin today. Should be a good game, I noted, in advance of the bore draw.
There is a big drama in Hamm – someone has made a pig of the reservations. The lady whose seat I have asks for it back – turns out the table seat wasn’t free – and I am without a seat from Hamm to Hannover. I really should’ve reserved a seat. The train is swarming with Dortmund fans going to Berlin (I say ‘swarming’ as they look like wasps, not with the David Cameron-esque connotations). I have a friendly chat with the server in the catering car, who is over-complimentary about my level of German and we discuss what languages are learned in school and for how long etc… By my reckoning, I need to make this beer last just under one hour. Actually, leaning on these leather bolsters is helping my back, which gets sore when I am seated in the one position for too long.
I just saw a plate leave the catering car: sausage, egg and cucumber! File that under the ‘stuff left over in the fridge’ section of the menu. Why cucumber?
Upon exiting the station at Hannover, I came out into a wide square, a main shopping street and the ice rink and ‘Wurst’ hut. It’s cleverly designed, with the high street on two levels, a bit like Covent Garden for those who have been there. It’s quite unusual, for me anyway, to see this outdoors. I locate my hotel within ten minutes. With it being too early to check in, I head to a nearby bar, called the Barvarian (in Lower Saxony, fittingly) that looks welcoming for some food and a drink. It’s charming and rustic but not so unauthentic that it looks like a chain pub. They do that thing that some Irish bars do where they use non-standard words for the male and female toilets, leaving me lost. I go in and spot the urinals, validating my guess. It’s not clever – just show the universal male and female signs and embarrassment will be avoided.
Lunch was a burger in a pretzel instead of a regular bun and some sauerkraut prepared three ways. I checked into the Cityhotel Thuringer Hof, which was perfect for my needs. A single room with en-suite toilet and shower for 39€. A stroll through the park, past a parade and some beautiful buildings, and the stadium was in sight. The city has a nice feel to it and, while I wouldn’t come here on holiday, it’s a nice place to spend the day.
The HDI Arena
While the HDI Arena is situated about twenty minutes walk from the main train station (unusual nowadays), it is in the middle of a park next to a river and a lake so you don’t feel like you are in the city at all. There are plenty of food and beer stands around the stadium before you go in, as well the excellent looking Nordkurve bar: with its massive screens and plentiful bench seating, it reminds me of some bars on the ski slopes.
Picking up my accreditation was easy enough – thanks again to the club’s media department for this – and after being subjected to a fairly thorough search (I wasn’t being complemented on my German this time), I went through to the Press room. Tickets can be bought at https://ticketing27.cld.ondemand.com/online/index.php3?shopid=104&wes=empty_session_104&language=1&nextstate=2
Or, at least, I tried to to go to the Press Room. The security dude told me, politely yet assertively, to put my camera away. Maybe he was concerned about me taking photos in the press room. While there were snacks on offer, I had just eaten so I proceeded directly to my seat in the press tribune. I am reassured by the fact that I’m assigned an actual seat, knowing that I’m in the right place, and not having to find a space.
Leaving the press room takes you out into the the food and beverage concourse behind the stand where various beer and pretzel combinations are on offer. They operate a system, like Munich, where you collect a card which you top up from a stall. It’s better than tokens, put it that way. Four euros for a half litre of beer is reasonable although I didn’t sample it myself so cannot vouch for the quality although I expect it will be excellent.
It’s fairly steep and I had to get the old legs pumping to get up to the back row. The stadium is without doubt an interesting one. While it has the cauldron look, there isn’t too much distance between fans behind the goals and the goals themselves. It’s not that up close and personal, but it certainly isn’t Roma. Sneaking a few photos in, in case I’m told to put the camera away, I scope the safe standing on the bottom of the Nordkurve and a small pocket of unsafe standing at the top, with some reassuring red and white tape around it, where I’m guessing the band will be situated. The seats all have plenty of leg space and the rail in front for leaning, which I like.
It was a schoolboy error leaving the hat in the hotel. I’m torn between just tolerating it (like a man, grrr) or putting my hood up like a homeless Jedi. Not sure I’m won over by the seat colours. Trivial, I know, but with the team playing in red, green, black and white, why have predominantly blue, some red and white on the seats. Just cheapens the look a little.
The club media representative, Oliver, has just come up to me and welcomed me, which is very nice. He apologises that the ground won’t be full. The 52000 capacity stadium is nevertheless about 80% full. Oh well, doesn’t mean it won’t be a good day. You get the sense that the club are trying to do everything correctly and by the book as though they are being watched and someone is waiting for them to slip up.
The goalies come out to some loud music and to the almost ubiquitous (in Germany anyway) applause and adulation. Interestingly, all of the fans seemed to be coming in and out of only two entrances, behind either goal. I was curious to see how that works at the end. There was also a large ant-army of fans on the top of the West Stand – you do get a fabulous view of the city from up there. People ended up not evacuating en masse at the end but milled around a little. Perhaps the central location of the stadium means that less people drive and are concerned about ‘missing the traffic’.
Twelve minutes before kick-off, the fans have woken up at both ends. The Hannover boys are making a decent racket. ‘Sechs und Neunzig: Alte liebe’ plays and the scarves go up, ready for battle. I swear some of these flag wavers must find a mechanical arm: it’s relentless.
Hannover 96 v Mainz 05: The Match
This was the third time I have seen Mainz in a year but I’ve never been to their ground. I’ll need to correct that soon. I find them a team who are well suited to the counter attack for the most part. I had, however, never seen Hannover so I was looking forward to seeing how they play. Badly, is the best answer to that based on today’s performance.
A yellow card in the second minute for a deliberate foul by Bell got us under way. Neither of Hannover’s newly acquired forwards looks the slimmest: Almeida and Szalai should have strength on the ball. Hannover have some tidy looking players in midfield but look lightweight defensively and Mainz exploited this.
Twenty minutes in, neither keeper had a save to make. Hannover looked weak down their right with Mainz making ground easily there. And then, Mainz scored a beautifully worked goal with Jairo rolling it into the corner after some good work down the Hannover right. Muto did fabulously well to pick out Clemens when it looked lost and brought shame on the house of Sakai, before Clemens poked the ball into the box set up Jairo.
On ’32, Mainz nearly doubled their lead with Latza, who was excellent throughout, volleying wide. Then, two Hannover players tackled each other, like schoolboys. Mainz kept causing problems down the Hannover right every time. The two Japanese boys were passengers. The Home Bears are not happy. Mainz kept drifting right then moving the ball to their left where Hannover were absent.
To address this, Salif Sané came on after only 35 minutes to the Hannover right midfield and immediately won the ball. Sané’s positional nous however seems counterbalanced by his passing ability. That said, he plugged the hole well. The Mainz front four are all skilled players who are constantly moving. Hannover’s three attacking players are not so dynamic. Sané’s introduction has made it less easy for Mainz though. Hannover lack quality and look like relegation candidates based on this performance.
In the second half, Hannover had clearly been told to play the long ball. However, after 52 minutes, Szalai got a shot on target. Granted, it was a lethargic daisy cutter, but more than was managed during the first half. Muto then had a thirty second spell where he beat 2 players, played a fabulous pass and then was booked for a rash tackle. He is a tidy player.
After an hour, Hannover looked down an out and beaten. The brought on number 9 to play at 10 but the rest of the team were still at sixes and sevens. On ’67, when the ball fell to Szalai in the box he looked surprised and was too slow to react. Then on ’70, a chance fell to Almeida but he hooked wide. However, it did give the quality starved home fans something to shout about.
The changes opened the play up and it became an exciting end to end game. Mainz nearly doubled their lead on ’73 but the scramble was cleared. Sub Jhon (no typo) Cordoba played through Frei delightfully but again Jairo’s final touch eluded him.
On ’79, Karius made a very good save from Almeida – his first real contribution to the game. A minute later, Cordoba broke away and was scythed down on the edge of the box but then a sand wedge of a free kick ensured that the opportunity was spurned. Mainz continued to look superior and on 89th minute no 27 ratted the crossbar with a delightful curling shot that had Zieler watching. Corner at the last – could Hannover’s giants equalise? Straight into Karius’s hands. Summed up Hannover’s match really. Scramble at the death also went unconverted leaving the home fans discontented but the result itself was about right.
I was able to stroll back to my hotel and dump by bag to head out and watch Scotland lose at rugby. After this, I went to bed. Well, I was up very early that day. And it was worth it. Some vocal fans in an excellent stadium watching their struggling team. It’s what being a football fan is all about.
- Quality of match: ***
- Stadium character: ****
- Stadium atmosphere: ****
- Hospitality: ****
- Ease of access: *****
- Things to do around the stadium: ****
- Overall: A very solid ****