VfB Stuttgart v Mainz
9th May 2015
The train to Koln was an ICE train and I certainly needed to cool down. Ten minutes later a bedraggled Superman came out of the train toilet as a rejuvenated Clark Kent, ready to report.
For VfB Stuttgart, this was a match that they absolutely had to win. Bottom of the league by 4 points with only 3 games remaining, a defeat today would have sent VfB Stuttgart into unfamiliar territory: Bundesliga 2. That the match would be so significant for the club was not entirely apparent to me when their ‘new media’ director kindly invited me along and provided me with the ticket. The club’s show of faith in this blog is very much appreciated.
Planning and Preparation
As the club had replied to me directly via email and posted the ticket to my house, that was one expense and logistical step I didn’t need to consider. However, tickets can be bought at http://tickets.vfb.de/default.php. Stuttgart is 550km from my house so travel was an important consideration. Rail turned out to be the most reasonable option on the face of it. I booked my tickets via https://www.b-europe.com/Travel. Prices vary considerably depending on what time you travel so getting up early is the way forward. The Classic Central Hotel (a complete misnomer) was booked through booking.com and mostly met my basic needs.
Getting There and Stuttgart City Centre
I had unwittingly made this trip far more complicated than it ought to have been. The German Train Drivers’ Strike also added some unpredictability to the day. My train left Brussels at 0625 and the first tram from where I live was at 0702. Doh! As my wife needed the car that morning, I decided the best option was to cycle to the tram terminus in Brussels (6km away) and take the tram and metro combination that would get me to the station at 0618. Risky, I know, but the only other option was cycling the 15km to the station which, after not much sleep and a busy day ahead, seemed crazy. However, sometimes the crazy option is the right one. I got to Louise tram stop, pacing about like the tortured Stromae, deciding whether to run for the station or take the metro the three stops. With calves on fire and the bright lights of the metro enticing me like an insect to the purple light, metro it was.
It had to happen. I had become too trustworthy and complacent regarding the punctuality of the normally excellent Brussels Public Transport. The metro came tardily limping along – I could see its glow in the distance – five minutes after it was meant to. I didn’t have much margin for error. I hate being late at the best of times but it really mattered today. The train, thankfully, arrived at Gare du Midi at 0623. I propelled myself from the train as quickly as I could, sprinting past inebriated students and dossers, running up the wrong flight of stairs, bounding across a road, into the main station, past 12 platforms, up the steep escalator and saw the train was still there. I heard a whistle blow. I ran to the train door and ascended the four steps in a oner. Woohoo!! The rotund guards looked at me like I was some kind of fugitive. Then I caught my reflection in a glass door. I was scarlet (face) and fluorescent green (my hi-vis vest still on from my cycle) and a sweaty well of lactic acid. But I made it. What a stress!
The train to Koln was an ICE train and I certainly needed to cool down. Ten minutes later a bedraggled Superman came out of the train toilet as a rejuvenated Clark Kent, ready to report. A cup of coffee from the cafe carriage and I was sorted. The train itself was brilliant – smooth, quick, comfortable, quiet and everything worked. As it pulled into Koln, I was ready for some breakfast, especially with a 30 minute wait for my connection and bought this calorific ‘thing’ from Kamps in the station.
From here, I was to take the train to Mannheim. It turned out that this was the Swiss train to Zurich. I didn’t like how busy the platform was looking. When the train pulled up, it certainly wasn’t an ICE train. It was also absolutely packed. It was then that I heard the word ‘Streik’ in the announcements and I subsequently worked out the rest. From Koln to just before Bonn, I stood up in this narrow corridor just outside what I thought was First-Class dining. I could see the clientele peering over their newspapers at me in the way that shop-assistants in high-end shops stare at guys in a tracksuit. Then I thought ‘sack it, I’ll go in and get a seat’ and sat next to some old dude who looked like he’d just read that his shares had lost 7% of their value. The menu was, however, a pleb’s menu. Coffees and beers and ‘Fruhstuck.’ I ordered a pint of Weissbier and watched the train meander around the unexpected beauty of the MittelRhein region. I looked around and saw that most of the carriage were on beer or wine at 10 am which somehow assuaged my British guilt for drinking before ‘the pubs open’. However, that sorted my seat all the way to Mannheim. A couple from a country whose language I don’t recognise also sat across from, speaking at me in Magyar or something, looking for affirmation when they spoke. At first, I nodded politely but they could’ve been asking if I wanted to taste their paté made from toddler liver.
I had to wait an hour at Mannheim for the connection as the train arrived late and their were lots of cancellations. I stood all the way, in the train aisle, to Stuttgart listening to an Australian tourist’s life story which kept anaesthetised my irritation and impatience. When I arrived at Stuttgart, I came across a city which, at first, appeared very ‘un-German’ compared to the industrial bases of the north-west.
This is Mercedes-Benz town, and you discover this as soon as you walk out of the station by simply looking around. I decided I’d walk to my hotel via the Schlossplatz, which is a lovely area to have right in a city centre. The town had an animated film festival on which made for a bustling yet relaxed feel. My hotel, the Central Classic, was not really that central at all and I arrived there completely knackered and inappropriately dressed for the fabulously sunny weather. The room itself was basic but had a bed and an en-suite so a quick freshen-up and a phone charge and I was back on my way to the stadium.
The Underground transport system in Stuttgart is pretty good although to by a ticket, you need to look up the code of your destination station and type it in – surely this could be simplified? It was 10 minutes to Mercedes Strasse, where I changed and took the U11 to NeckerPark. Incidentally, there were loads of people on the train in modified modernised liederhosen-esque summery outfits going to some kind of massively overcrowded funfair near the stadium. It made me smile.
The stadium itself is a belter. No question about it. It is set in amongst the trees giving the whole area a nice general ambience. The trees conceal the size of the stadium though – it is deceptively large. I took a few pictures (it was difficult to get good shots with the trees hindering) and got a beer and a Bratwurst outside the stadium. The cups are great and, had I brought my rucksack, I would have taken one home. The beer, however, had that ‘rabbit-hutch’ taste that I picked up on once my initial thirst was quenched and was subsequently ditched. It’s a 2€ deposit for the cup but I’d say the cup is well worth 2 euros.
I was quite nervous about going in with my press ticket as I didn’t have a clue what I was doing or where to go or how it worked. I went through the turnstiles and showed my ticket to a volunteer steward, who showed me where to go. I took the lift up to level 4 and walked into this nice little room with Sky TV , hot and cold drinks and pretzels. I thought I should go straight to my seat and not abuse my host’s hospitality (although quite a few others were piling in). I got to my seat and this was my view. I spent the whole expecting to be moved and felt completely fraudulent. I had a chair on wheels, a little desk and felt like ‘the man.’
The Stadium has a capacity of 60,449 of which 11,225 are standing places. It was renovated in 2011, removing the running track and increasing the capacity. The Mainz fans were all in and singing away in the corner, despite the fact that their team had little to play for, as they were in that Stoke position of being short of European places but well clear of relegation.
The Cannstatter Kurve, behind the goals, seemed to take a while to fill. At Monchengladbach, Schalke and Dortmund, the fans had piled in very early to the standing areas. There was a more relaxed feeling about this. That said, when they did arrive, the fans made a great noise. I spent the first few minutes there taking photos and making notes and watching the Sky operation taking place. I found it fascinating. A big roar went up just outside the stadium when the news came through that Werder Bremen had just equalised against Stuttgart’s relegation rivals Hannover.
The usual pre-match routine with the animal mascot clowning around and goalies warming up took place. Then a band cranked up and started playing – they could be stars or a pub band, I wouldn’t have known. I was handed the official teamsheet, with an up to date league table included, 45 minutes before kick-off. It was only about 10 minutes until kick-off when stadium started to fill up. The official attendance was 54300, with most of the empty seats in a patch near the away fans.
Firstly, I will say this: there is a reason Stuttgart are bottom of the league. A clinical team would have scored about 8 goals today with the amount of chances Stuttgart had. The fans were now in full swing at the kick-off. The atmosphere was great but the sense of tension and frustration was apparent. Mainz never really looked like having a go until they were losing and a point would have made them mathematically safe.
The opening exchanges were fairly indicative of the rest of the match. Stuttgart making all the play but lacking the killer touch. There were a few loose passes early on, and a couple of shockers from Rudiger who reminded me of Bert Konterman in the early part of the game. Didavi, perhaps Stuttgart’s best player on the day, missed from about 3 metres in the first few minutes. I felt though that they would have benefited from a more defined shape – they were too amorphous at various points of the game. This level of fluidity didn’t seem to suit the team. Mainz sat deep and looked fairly comfortable. Dié was committing too many fouls and the crosses to the Stuttgart centre-forward, Ginczek, were from too deep and he didn’t have the support for all of the hold-up play he was doing.
The frustration continued to grow. Didavi rattled the post with a great long-range strike and then Schwaab missed when it looked easier to score from a cross. A guy, in Mainz colours, a few places along from me, was thumping the desks like a spoiled brat – he didn’t reappear for the second half. So, 0-0 at half time, the highlights were shown on the fabulous big screens. The PA system was fabulous too and belted out some tunes. It’s a long way from the garbled Tannoy message from the police asking the owner of a Ford Cortina to go and park somewhere else.
During the second half, Stuttgart continued to press but started going a bit long ball to Ginczek but he didn’t have the support to make much of it. He is a big unit but is too slow and bulky to do it on his own. He got kicked in the stomach during the game and the Mainz player seemed to hurt his foot more. The game became more and more tense. I thought Stuttgart needed something different in attack. Then, unexpectedly, came the breakthrough in the 66th minute. Didavi hit a hopeful shot from long range which the keeper managed to spill calamitously into his own net. 1-0 Stuttgart.
The game then came to life Mainz started to have a go, most of their play going through Malli. They lacked any real quality on the day though and, to be honest, are the worst team I have seen in the Bundesliga. Stuttgart were now creating good chances and when Harnik’s cut-back was half-cleared in the 78th minute, Kostic buried the rebound. 2-0 Stuttgart.
More chances came but the lack of confidence was apparent as players kept passing when the shot was clearly the best option. When the final whistle came, Stuttgart ran out deserved winners. Two games to go now, including a final match at home to HSV, who are also in trouble, which could prove decisive.
After the Match
Taking the underground back to the city centre took ten minutes and was straightforward. It was now 9pm and the city was bouncing with young people out eating and drinking. The city had, to paraphrase Paul McStay, a real ‘buzz’ about it and on a different night I may well have partaken in festivities. However, I was done in. A quick currywurst mit pommes, Kolsch, and bed was what I needed. I’d been up since 4am.
The next morning, I left the hotel just after 7am and strolled down to Stuttgart Haubtbahnhof. The (N)ICE train to Koln was on time and hassle-free and I was back in Brussels just after 1pm.
Stuttgart is actually worth a visit regardless of the football. It has a friendly but lively, more southern, feel. I hope they are able to stay in the Bundesliga as they feel like a top league club and the stadium definitely belongs in the big time.
Overall Ratings: (out of 5)
- Quality of match: ***
- Stadium character: *****
- Stadium atmosphere: *****
- Hospitality: *****
- Ease of access: *****
- Things to do around the stadium: *****
- Overall: ****1/2