Contact

I am always looking for new teams to visit and review.  If you would like to get in touch for any reason, please contact me by:

email:  eurofootballstadium@gmail.com

twitter:  @eurofootstadium

facebook: www.facebook.com/eurofootballstadium.com

I’d be delighted if you were looking to contribute an article or review and even more delighted if you could spare me a ticket to review your club;)

Thanks.

 

Improving Atmosphere

 

5 Steps towards Improving Atmosphere in Stadia without compromising safety or spending a fortune:

  • Safe Standing: Celtic recently applied to be allowed to install a ‘safe standing’ area to improve the atmosphere at Celtic park (and to meet fan demand) and this was shamefully rejected by the city council (http://www.bbc.com/sport/0/football/28777621).  Safe standing, such as rail seats, gives supporters the option of standing up at the football without impeding the view of others and causing annoyance.  It’s not for everyone and should be confined to specific parts of the stadium but ask yourself how often you see a choir performing sitting down.  Standing in seated areas is actually far more dangerous due to the trip hazard of the seat in front.  Manchester United introduced singing areas but they are seated!  I suppose they are less likely to consume the half-time langoustines without a seat!
safe standing
safe standing

Allowing ‘flare areas’: I love seeing flares being set off in the stands or terraces.  It just raises excitement levels.  My proposal would be that fans could buy approved flares from the club and have them set off at pre-arranged times or, say, after the first goal, by a club employee.  The flares could be set off in a confined space within the stand, perhaps at the front.  This could only take place in certain pre-defined parts of the ground but it would prevent the illegality of smuggling pyrotechnics and perhaps prevent incidents like Igor Akinfeev being hit with a flare which caused Montenegro v Russia to be abandoned http://www.bbc.com/sport/0/football/32096292.   That way, a fan can have a flare set off without having to touch it him/herself.

safe
A bit of ‘flare’
  • Encourage flags/banners/tifos: As long as a ‘tifo’ is lifted by kick off, it can help create atmosphere.  The recent ‘Red or Dead’ banner at Standard Liege – love it or loathe it – created an atmosphere that ultimately worked in their favour as Steven Defour became frustrated and was (rather unfortunately) sent off.  Flags and banners give fans a voice and an identity beyond being a paying spectator and add colour and diversity to the spectacle.
red or dead
vulgar but impressive

 

  • Stop booking players for running to the ground/taking their shirt off: Sometimes I feel like the game has been sanitized to the extent that its soul is being ripped out – it is not tennis! We do not wheel out Cliff Richard because it is raining.  We do not ‘tut’ or shake our heads disapprovingly when a player shows genuine emotion, whether it is excitement, frustration or whatever.  These human qualities endear players to the fans and seeing a player run to the fans is an expression of ‘being in it together’, fighting for the same cause.  A connection between players and fans encourages the fans to give their all during the match, creating the atmosphere that can inspire their team.  The continued attempt at gentrifying football via elevated ticket prices is bad enough but expecting footballers to behave like Fred Perry and fans to whet their whistles with strawberries and alcohol-free Pimm’s is not what the fans want!
No Cliff!!
Ooh, I say!

 

Stop criminalising this!
Stop criminalising this!
  • Allow the sale of alcohol at football matches: Firstly, this reduces the need for people to get ‘tanked up’ before the game, reducing binge drinking. It also means people are far more likely to sing – karaoke seldom seems like such a great idea in sobriety – and enhance the stadium atmosphere.  I know this depends on the country having a respectful and liberal view towards alcohol but there is a reason the dance floor fills up at a party.

Passionate and vocal fans should not be criminalized and they are not necessarily more predisposed towards violence or vandalism.  If they are encouraged and given an outlet then, they can be a massive boon to they club.

 

 

Alcohol in Football

It is a gender and inclusivity issue, with situations of ‘expressions of masculine identity’ the culprit

My earliest memories of the notion of alcohol relate to primary school and walking past the pub on the way home from school.  There was always this smell that was a mixture of cheap lager, detergent, stale urine and unwashed gnarly old men.  A local alcoholic was perhaps the town’s best known character; was there a person who lived in Beith (in Ayrshire, Scotland, for those from outside the goldfish bowl) who didn’t know who Amigo was?  I would sometimes walk by and see kids or dogs (actually, dogs were more welcome) standing outside pubs to speak to their Dad, telling him that his dinner was in the dog.

old man pub
old mans pub

What is inescapable is that the place of alcohol in my childhood culture was one of men in dark, seedy, dirty places spending the housekeeping money on making themselves smelly, aggressive and fat, not to mention inflicting misery on their families.  Alcohol was never prominent in my house either.  It’s not that my parents didn’t drink or even pretended they didn’t.  Simply put, it was just something that was kept away from children’s eyes and,consequently, it carried a mysterious and prohibited reputation.  Pubs were not a place for children to be seen – the law forbade it.

Recently, Scottish Labour Leader Jim Murphy made what seemed an uncalculated and almost throwaway remark about it being time that football fans were allowed to have a beer at the game (http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/dec/21/jim-murphy-criticised-lift-ban-alcohol-scottish-football-matches).  They can do it at the rugby, why not the football?  In the days that followed, he was almost universally criticised by politicians, journalists and a variety of women’s groups and domestic abuse charities.  All of the criticisms put forth the image of a country where alcohol and its place in society were identical to that of my childhood.  That we hadn’t moved on.  That we couldn’t help ourselves.  That the state knows best.  That if our team lost, we’d go home and beat ‘the wife’.  That football stadia would resemble the 1980s image of the dirty old man’s pub with a bit of gratuitous violence thrown in for good measure.

All that was suggested was that if fans in many other countries can have a beer while watching football then perhaps the adults in this country could be trusted to do the same.  Sadly, there will always be people who abuse others just as there will always be people who abuse alcohol.  If there was a direct evidence of a correlation between access to alcohol in a football stadium and domestic violence then I’d be interested to see the data.  The following link explores the causes of domestic violence (http://www1.umn.edu/humanrts/svaw/domestic/link/alcohol.htm).  That there is a correlation between alcohol and domestic violence is not up for debate.  But it’s a bit more complicated than it’s made out.  However, those who drink to excess and drink to abuse can do so in a pub or at home – it is not exclusive to football.  That there is a spike in domestic violence around Rangers v Celtic matches is not being disputed either (http://www.scotsman.com/news/education/old-firm-and-domestic-violence-link-confirmed-1-3104303).  However, this occurs in spite of early kick offs and ‘dry’ stadia.  These matches are a magnet for narrow-minded and insular bigots and have been for decades and to suggest that alcohol in the stadium would catalyse a rise in violent crime is to over-simplify and to misunderstand the nature of the occasion.

I have been to countless Anderlecht matches over the past few years.  I will often have a beer or two at one of the many bars in immediate proximity to the stadium beforehand in addition perhaps another couple throughout the match.  At no point have I thought ‘Whoa, this could kick off at any minute with all this beer flying around.’  I would also have a couple of beers if I went to a rock concert as well.  These are also events where people sing, jump around and drink beer.  And yet, nobody ever suggests that you could not serve beer at a Prodigy gig as the clientele are more likely to go home and start a fire or smack somebody up!

I couldn’t quite put my finger on where the difference in environment and attitudes originated until recently, in Monchengladbach, when the penny dropped.  At Borussia Monchengladbach, a lot of beer is sold.  There are also a lot of families at the games.  Parents with young children.  Couples of all ages treating the game as a day out.  An event to be enjoyed.  I look around bars and cafés in Belgium and a similar demographic can be seen.  Women and children are seen and welcomed.  The grotty old man with the piss-soaked trousers who frequented the local hovels of my childhood is almost extinct.  I think back to my days of working in tourist bars in Scotland and having to tell families on holiday that they couldn’t contribute to the economy by coming in and having a coffee or a drink because they had children who were not allowed to be in a place where alcohol was sold.  I received a lot of perplexed looks and distinctly remember one Dutchman, whose two girls looked under ten, saying “I’m not trying to buy them beer!”

kids in a bar
couldn’t have said it better
Beer at Dortmund
Beer at Dortmund

So what lesson can countries with heavily-restrictive licensing laws such as Scotland learn from this?  I would suggest that very few of the people in Monchengladbach that Sunday were ‘bona fide travellers.’  Firstly, relax licensing laws to allow families into places where alcohol is sold.  It is up to the families to decide if the establishment is appropriate for their children and not the other way round.  Secondly, and it is gradually happening, relax the times that alcohol can be sold within an establishment – never have I drunk less from having to “hurry up and get it down me.”  Thirdly, abandon the ridiculous notion that alcohol cannot be sold before 10am on a weekday or 12.30 on a Sunday – making something harder to get makes people want it more.  Fourth on my list would be to lower the age at which alcohol can be purchased to 16.  Again, the same argument applies in that making something out of reach makes it so much more glamourous.  The Belgian model of allowing 16 year olds to buy beer or wine reduces the likelihood of young teenagers having to have their stomach pumped because they stole their parents’ spirits and polished off a bottle.  It may seem counterintuitive but, as a teacher of teenage kids in Belgium, I can honestly say that they are far more indifferent about the notion of getting pissed at the weekend than their Scottish counterparts.  I’m not saying it doesn’t happen or that Belgium doesn’t have its own problems with alcohol, but there are far less kids spewing around park benches here and yet alcohol is much more readily available.  Go figure.

Then, and only in tandem with making football matches a more family friendly event (precipitated by heavily discounted child places and a minimum percentage of family-seats), can the likes of Mr Murphy propose a relaxation on alcohol consumption laws at football matches.  Until football matches are more representative of a more forward-thinking society in terms of their demographics, inclusive to all irrespective of age, gender or race/religion, then they cannot propose to introduce the customs of said society.  A quick look round Murrayfield during a Six Nations match and a colourful picture of men, women and children enjoying the match can be seen.  A glance around Celtic Park or Tynecastle on a Saturday afternoon and a very different image is formed.  So often is this portrayed as a class issue which, while it cannot be ignored, simplifies the issue so much as to miss the point.  It is a gender and inclusivity issue, with situations of ‘expressions of masculine identity’ the culprit. While society has evolved in its attitudes towards alcohol from the days of Amigo, only when football pro-actively reflects society should it benefit from its progressive liberalisms.

Celtic Park crowd
Celtic Park crowd
Ibrox crowd
Ibrox crowd
Kids at the game
Kids at the game

I’d be interested to hear from people who attend matches both in countries where it is allowed and where it isn’t.  Please post your comments below.

 

Sites we like

http://www.just-football.com/  – an excellent all-round football fan site, with articles on tactics, players and teams across Europe and associated fan chat

http://supportersnotcustomers.com/ – Stories of the footballing travels of a Cardiff City/Feyenoord/Wales supporter, as well as some interesting articles on being a supporter.

http://startingeleven.co.uk/  –  Starting Eleven lets you create a formation and a starting lineup for your favourite football team, in 4 easy steps.

http://www.scottishfootballforums.co.uk/   –  Discuss all the hottest topics around Scottish Football and beyond…

http://page302.co.uk/ – Unless you are of a certain age, that site might not make a lot of sense.  A nostalgic look at today’s football.

perennialunderachievers.com – An excellent football blog stuffed full of interesting content

http://thesetpieces.com/ – a slick site with some well-written and humorous features.

http://www.scout.com/stadium-journey/ – An extensive resource reviewing stadiums globally.  I sometimes contribute to them. They’re nice.

If you have suggestions for other sites, including your own if you fancy a shameless plug, please comment below.

 

Borussia Monchengladbach

Borussia Monchengladbach v Paderborn

1st March 2015

Ranging from Happy Hardcore to German Stadium Rock, from Soviet-style anthems to the Pet Shop Boys, the Nordkurve fans bounced along majestically to the lot.

I am a morning person.  I do feel an irrational and unreasonable feeling of superiority when I get up when most people are sleeping. So, getting up so early that I’d have to leave the house before Sunday morning public transport had begun was less of a chore than it would be for others.  The early bird not only catches the worm, but also the cheapest rail fares.  So I drove into Brussels, parked the car near the metro,  and made my way to Gare du Midi.

It is funny the type of people you see on a Sunday morning at 6.30am.  A bizarre mélange of hungry and tired party-goers and clubbers queuing for food or transport home, travellers like me who are setting out early because money is more important than sleep and those who ply their dark arts nocturnally in order to earn a living.

The train itself cost 60€ return to Monchengladbach.  The journey from Brussels to Aachen is smooth, quiet and offers interesting contrasts in scenery between flat Flanders and the hillier Northern Ardennes around Liege.  There is a small shuttle to take from the Welkenraedt in Belgium to Aachen (around 10 minutes).  The train from Aachen to Monchengladbach is quiet and efficient too, reaffirming stereotypes regarding German machinery and infrastructure.

Monchengladbach

I had arrived in Monchengladbach around 11am for a 3.30 kick off so I could look around and “get a feel for the place” for a couple of hours before heading to the stadium.  If you google “things to do/see in Monchengladbach”, the most popular response is “go to a football match.”  There is a reason for that.  As you come out of the train station, you are greeted by an ugly but functional bus station.  I looked around the bus station square and saw no cafés or bars open to welcome the weary traveller.  In fact, the only ‘amenity’ available was a shop named World of Sex.  This, perhaps naively,  made me think I had exited the train station at the ‘wrong’ exit.  A quick wander around the back of the station, which has all the attraction of the decaying industrial estate that it may well be, told me otherwise.

So, with time to kill and a thirst to quench, I had to wander a little beyond Busshelterplatz and found various tributes to the artform known as cuboidal concretism.  There are occasional glimmers of pre-1945 Germany shining from townhouses in the back streets, but Monchengladbach is definitely more functional than pretty.  I stumbled across something that looked open and, to my surprise, discovered that it was a bar.  The Salonika Bar (the owner is Greek) is basically a Borussia fan bar and its walls are adorned with a variety of memorabilia relating to the club and its former and current players.  Oliver Neuville is particularly prominent.  Do not be put off by the bizarre rolling digital display outside; it really is a proper pub.

A couple of Bitburgers later, I decided to have another wander around Monchengladbach and found myself back at Busshelterplatz after about 20 minutes.  There really isn’t a lot to see.  The city has a population of around quarter of a million and they regularly sell out a 54000 capacity stadium suggesting that the football club really is the heart of the community.  Upon returning, there must have been about 80 Borussia fans standing at the platform for bus 17 out to the stadium.  Why are they heading to the ground over 3 hours before kick off?  Clearly, they knew something I didn’t.  With nothing to do in the city itself, I decided to join them.  The bus to the stadium is free if you have a match ticket.  I clutched onto my print-at-home ticket, ready to wave it around like a flag if questioned.  After about 15 minutes, the bus pulled in at the stadium, which is in the middle of nowhere.  It turns out maybe about half of the fans I saw were in fact employed by the club.  The omnipresence of the bright green manager’s jacket (you know what I mean) suggested that these people were obliged to arrive at the stadium early.

Borussia Park

Stadium in the middle of nowhere
Stadium in the middle of nowhere

The stadium itself appears, at first glance, more functional and fit-for-purpose than impressive.  The club shop stands alone just to the side of the stadium.  To be fair, a lot of the merchandise is very nice and is priced correctly.  However, a home team scarf was my planned splurge so I decided to stick to that.  The Borussia fans must spend a significant percentage of their salary on team merchandise as they were all decked out from head to toe in club colours.  So, newly acquired scarf on, I walked round the perimeter of the stadium.  It has the symmetry and neatness of a newish stadium that is appealing, if unremarkable.  There is a massive car park adjacent to the stadium meaning that the “wee guy who looks after your car for a pound” is suing the club for loss of earnings.

Eingang Sud
Eingang Sud

There are a few sausage, pizza and beer stands at the corner of the South Stand, coupled with some picnic benches.  The benches themselves were not monitored and some fans were bringing their own beer and food.  Borussia and Paderborn fans were sitting, eating and drinking together without so much as a raised voice.  Something else that really struck me were the number of women and children there.  Perhaps people from other European countries find this unremarkable but, coming from Scotland (and Belgium to a lesser extent), football crowds have always appeared far more male and less inclusive than this.  Just round the corner, there is a large screen where the Liverpool v Man City game was being shown.  This made so much sense to me.  Fans can have a beer and a sausage (from which the club profits) and get together at the stadium.  There were police in the distance but they were in the background chatting in their car as opposed to looking threatening and confrontational on a horse.  In Scotland, one of the main arguments against reintroducing alcohol sales at the stadium is that domestic violence would increase.    I’d be surprised if this is the case in Monchengladbach as the women and children are at the game.  I will discuss this in more depth in a dedicated article at a later date.

Fans from opposing teams having a pre-match drink
Fans from opposing teams having a pre-match drink

So, having watched the first half of Liverpool v Man City on the screen before the game and a couple of beers better off, I decided that I’d head into the stadium, find my seat, maybe get some more refreshments and take a couple of pictures and notes as the stadium fills.  Once I went through the turnstiles with my printed out ticket (which is hassle-free), I arrived into a little food and beverage area packed with stalls selling drinks, sausages and pretzels.  I always think that pretzels look amazing but end up a disappointment (they taste of salty Polyfilla and smell of incontinent old people),  so I rejected that fleeting notion in favour of another calorumptious bratwurst  (By the time I got home, I had some green beans and a clementine to prevent me from turning into a sausage).  Prices are reasonable though, and I guess that if you don’t fleece the fans, they’re more likely to come back!  At 2.70 for a bratwurst and 3.20 for a beer, nobody is likely to complain.  There is plenty of space for fans to congregate and meet before the game at half-time both in the lower concourse and in the upper level and there are plenty of bars, food stalls and toilets dotted around.  Incidentally, the toilets are clean and there is even warm water and soap (a luxurious commodity in some stadium toilets).

I was up in the Gods in section 12A, row 18.  I was close enough to the Nordkurve which is the standing area and hence, the place to be.  I’d always choose to stand at the football wherever possible although it is clearly not for everybody.

View from seat 1hr before kick off
View from seat 1hr before kick off
Nordkurve Early Doors
Nordkurve Early Doors
These fans queued up 3hrs before kick off for their 'spot'
These fans queued up 3hrs before kick off for their ‘spot’

The stadium itself doesn’t feel like a 54000 capacity stadium.  Yes, the pitch is sunken below the level of the outside concourse but when it’s empty, it feels compact.  The seats give plenty of legroom and people can get past without you having to stand or them having to scrape their shins along the back of the seat in front.  One thing I did see a lot of – and I haven’t made up my mind where I stand on this yet – was club-branded cushions (available for purchase at the club shop) for the seats.  My immediate gut reaction is to say that the seats are made from smooth plastic, not nails or roughcast, and that people should just toughen up and stop being such corporate softies.  Ironically, they seemed to be more popular with those who had the most padded buttocks.  But, then again, who said fans have to be masculine and tough?  Is the presence of women and children not what makes the experience more friendly, welcoming and inclusive?   Such serious issues are clearly what we should be debating.  Cushion prejudice!

Nordkurve in the sun
Nordkurve in the sun

The video links below catch some of the atmosphere immediately prior to kick off.  The quality is not amazing as it was a bit of an afterthought, but you get the general gist.  Ranging from Happy Hardcore to German Stadium Rock, from Soviet-style anthems to the Pet Shop Boys, the Nordkurve fans bounced along majestically to the lot.  They rocked it non-stop for the whole game in a way that you just don’t see in the UK.  In my section, there were a lot of scarf wavers and happy clappers but no real singers so I was unable to pick out many words from the wall of noise.  The game itself was pretty decent.  Borussia had just played in the Europa League on the Thursday so I was hoping they wouldn’t field the stiffs and kids.

Although Borussia were clearly the better team, Paderborn were resolute and dangerous on the break.  A couple of deflected goals was the difference between the teams in the end, with a star turn from Ibrahima Traore out wide for Borussia.  I have signed him on a Bosman before in Football Manager and he did me a turn then too.  Seldom have I seen a player dribble round his opponent so easily.  While the goals were a little unlucky for Paderborn, 2-0 was a fairly accurate reflection of the balance of play.

At full time, the stadium emptied quickly with remarkable efficiency (clichéd, but very true).  I spent 10 minutes trying to get out of Anderlecht at the end of a game only a few days beforehand, so this was a welcome relief.  Borussia have this down to a tee.  A 200m walk away from the stadium towards the road and an army of free buses await to whisk you back to Monchengladbach.  The queue was longer than what you might expect at a theme park yet, because it is so well managed, about 250 people at a time get onto buses.  I waited about 4 minutes to get onto a bus.  Every time the 4 buses are filled, they leave and are almost immediately replaced by 4 more.  This proper treatment of fans, who bring revenue and trade to the local economy, is how it should be.  Well done Borussia Monchengladbach!

Since I returned to Monchengladbach station far earlier than anticipated, I was able to get an earlier train to Aachen and got home 2 hours before I had expected to, which was a result in itself since I had work in the morning and had been up since early o’clock. To summarise, a visit to Monchengladbach is all about the football.  They are a proper club with a proper team who run a slick operation.  Would I go back?  Absolutely.  Not for a city trip, but definitely for the game.

Video clips:

Happy clappers just before kick off

Pet Shop Boys!!!

German Stadium Rock!!!

Overall Ratings: (out of 5)

  • Quality of match:  ****
  • Stadium character: ***
  • Stadium atmosphere:  ****
  • Hospitality: *****
  • Ease of access: ****
  • Things to do around the stadium: **
  • Overall: ****

Useful links:

http://borussia-ticketing.de/ShoppingCart.aspx  – Link for tickets (use google translate as needed)

http://www.bundesliga.com/en/  – German Football Website

https://www.b-europe.com/Travel  –  The Belgian/European train ticket provider.

 

Feyenoord

Feyenoord v NAC Breda

8th March 2015

De Kuip has this feeling about it, in the way that I’d imagine the old Wembley did, that it had seen moments of real history.  It somehow feels special.

It was meant to be 17°C today.  That was cause for optimism.  My football day bag still contained my trusty bunnet and running gloves and I felt like living dangerously and risking the gilet/jumper combo.  It was only a week since my last jaunt so I felt like this was a stolen moment.  However, this would be an experience with a difference as I was ‘treating’ a 10 year old girl to a day in Rotterdam to watch the football.  The kind of Daddy-Daughter days that seem like a karmic return for the endless hours of waiting at drama or Brownies.  Getting to spend the day with Sofia and visiting a new stadium and city was a win-win for me.  Those good people who run the Belgium-Netherlands intercity train clearly had this sort of day in mind when they set their pricing policy.  Yes, the train is slower than the Thalys but for 2.50€ each way for a child, Sofia can look forward to more Dutch excursions (at least until she turns twelve).   That was for first class seat as well.  I wouldn’t normally travel first class but she had homework to do and it was certain to be quieter than the regular carriages which, given the sizes of some of the rucksacks various ‘crusties’ were wielding, were more like cargo containers.

The train itself reminded me of a British Rail diesel chugger on the outside.  Upon boarding, it became clear that the first class carriage was about as first class as a first class stamp.   The seats themselves had the plastic/leather/metal feel that reminded me of a bygone era.  It was perhaps analogous to a high end late 1970s Rover saloon infused with the nostalgic aroma of stale pipe smoke.  After a little searching, I found a plug point for phone charging (worth the additional 4 euro each way in itself) and sunk back into my Parker Knoll buttock receptacle.  Two hours of homework and hangman passed surprisingly quickly and we had to scoop up our belongings and disembark.

Rotterdam Centraal Station is incredibly funky.  I’m no train geek – the two previous paragraphs notwithstanding – but I’d go back to Rotterdam just to look at the station again.  It feels like you have walked into a film set from the 1960s that is supposed to depict the future but has made all the wrong predictions.  It was almost as though a flamboyant architect with the same raw materials as a Soviet or Post-War German designer was showing off and saying ‘look what you can do!’

KFC don’t have any stores in Belgium so, as a down-payment for compliance and tolerance, Sofia was fed some unhealthy but scrumptious fried chicken.  Like me, Sofia does not like to even contemplate being late so we headed to the station and bought some tickets to the stadium.  This seemingly simple task was made far more complicated by poor design and chimpery on my behalf.  The card reader is angled in such a way that you need to bend your card round to insert the chip into the reader.  There seemed no obvious alternative.  Furthermore, the search facility doesn’t tolerate incorrect word order.  You need to search for ‘Rotterdam Stadion.’  Without the word Rotterdam, it cannot find Stadion – feyenoord/feijenoord was also ‘not found.’  Once we finally beat the machine, we took our tickets (which are scanned upon entry and alighting, much like an Oyster card) and boarded the 7 minute shuttle to the stadium.

It was a bit of a faff getting the tickets (25€ each).  They MUST be ordered either in Dutch from Feyenoord’s own website or through viagogo.  The club will direct you, via the FAQ page in English, to viagogo.  It is much better, and generally cheaper, to register an email address and order the tickets directly.

The stadium is literally (please apply non-Essex, traditional meaning) 200 metres from the train station.  Scarf and keyring purchased from the man in a tin can, I took a few photos of Sofia in front of the large ‘feyenoord’ sign.  There were a lot of people milling around, clearly waiting on friends, but not a lot to see or do so we headed to the stadium for a refreshing beverage.

De Kuip Front (and Sofia)
De Kuip Front (and Sofia)
They came down in a flying saucer
They came down in a flying saucer

After we scanned through the turnstile, we had a little nosey around.  The food and drinks system is unneccessarily rigid and complicated.  In order to buy any food or drinks, you need to buy tokens.  However, somebody has decided that they can only be bought in multiples of 5, at 2.70 per token. Therefore, you need to spend 5 tokens worth on food and drink in order to make it worth it.  I understand the logic behind cashless food and beverage stalls within a large event.  But when the token is the unit of currency and the price for a slice of pizza or a 50cl beer is 1.5 tokens, you then end up with a half token (yes, you snap a token in half).  All the food and beverages were on the ground level, as were the only toilets in that section of the stadium. What was on offer was absolutely fine but the system was just nuts!

Armed with a coke and a small beer, in addition to the free match-program that is given out, we made our way to the stairs up to our section.  There was a steward half way up and I’m not convinced her job was not to hand out oxygen masks to those who struggle with the stairs or pass out due to the thinning oxygen.  At the entry to section HH, we had a look around.  De Kuip has this feeling about it, in the way that I’d imagine the old Wembley did, that it had seen moments of real history.  It somehow feels special.  It is not modern or even that comfortable but it feels like it is steeped in some concentrated solution of glorious moments, fading from view like the sun at dusk.  I had perceived this before I had even arrived at our seat.  The view was great although you are quite far away from the action.  We were very close to the away section, which provided some entertainment.

Next to the away fans
Next to the away fans
Does this seat come with binoculars
Does this seat come with binoculars
De Kuip feels like a well crafted grandfather clock whose time is being called
De Kuip feels like a well crafted grandfather clock whose time is being called

The seats themselves were the type that do not fold up which inevitably leads to people treating the them the way that Super Mario (the plumber, not Balotelli) treats mushrooms in order to reach the end of the level.  The Breda fans were lively and armed with inflatable bananas.  I didn’t want to simply assume the worst and thought that this might be because they play in yellow.  Before the game, Feyenoord were 4th in the league and Breda were 15th so the Breda boys were clearly there to enjoy the day more than in expectation of a victory.  Hearing that former Ajax and Anderlecht midfielder Demy de Zeeuw now was playing for Breda, I fancied them even less.  As kick off approached the stadium filled up, although it was not quite sold out.  As the teams emerged from the trap-door tunnel, I expected an eruption of noise.  Instead, a spattering of polite applause like one might hear resonating round Wimbledon when someone serves an ace against the Brit, was heard.  Some kind of anthem interrupted the techno music (what is it with techno in Europe?) and the fans dutifully sang along in the way that a hungover family who attend church out of habit sing hymns.  It was all just a little flat.

Kick off
Kick off
Giant waffle in the penalty box
Giant waffle in the penalty box

I suppose, in a way, it reminded me of the Celtic or Rangers fans when St. Mirren or Dunfermline came to town.  The Feyenoord faithful were clearly not expecting much of a fight and weren’t sufficiently energized as a consequence.  It became apparent within the first couple of minutes that there was only going to be one winner.  If Manu, the Feyenoord striker, had been a little less wasteful, it could’ve been a cricket score.  When Lex Immers finally opened the scoring, the celebrations were a little delayed as the referee and assistant discussed if the ball had crossed the line.  An affirmative refereeing decision (it did look in, even if the ref was a bit of a homer) was rewarded with some green smoke that looked a little like what the Trevi fountain was spewing a few days earlier after Feyenoord visited the Italian capital.

The wicked witch went that way!
The wicked witch went that way!

Maybe an early Breda goal would have livened things up a little.  After that, it just seemed like an inexorable procession towards victory.  To be fair to Feyenoord, they knocked the ball around very nicely, everything going through Jordy Clasie, and te Vrede scored two good goals, especially the team’s third.  3-0 was a fair reflection on Feyenoord’s superiority and their varied play kept Breda guessing right till the end.

Feyenoord have plans to start building a brand new stadium right next to the current one and, to be honest, it could do with it.  The plans look fantastic but I just hope that the stadium doesn’t lose its magic.  I had always planned to come to Feyenoord.  Its proximity and transport links to Belgium made it very straightforward.  Reading the excellent www.supportersnotcustomers.com website only further whetted my appetite.

Sofia and I left two minutes before the end in order to make the 1624 train back into Rotterdam, which we got on before heading back to Brussels.  We scampered across but it left a couple of minutes late anyway to scoop up its capacity of passengers.  It would be unfair to say that the atmosphere inside de Kuip was disappointing.  It’s just that I had expected more.  I would encourage people to visit de Kuip and I’m certain that Rotterdam has plenty of interest.  However, my advice would be to pick the right game, against a genuine rival.  The tickets might be less available but the experience should be augmented by the tension.

Some phone video clips

techno techno techno techno

Feey-en-oooord

clapa clapa handies

Overall Ratings: (out of 5)

  • Quality of match:***
  • Stadium Character: *****
  • Stadium atmosphere: ***
  • Hospitality: ***
  • Ease of access: *****
  • Things to do in the area: ****
  • Overall: ***1/2

Useful Links:

http://www.feyenoord.nl/tickets/in-de-verkoop  –  Feyenoord ticket sales (in Dutch only – use google translate if needed)

https://www.b-europe.com/Travel  – good old Belgian rail

http://supportersnotcustomers.com/  – an excellent blog written by a Cardiff City fan who now follows Feyenoord.

 

Schalke 04

Schalke 04 v Bayer Leverkusen

21/03/2015

They looked massively uneasy with the 5-3-2 and Huntelaar was frequently isolated.  When you have a centre forward like that, 50-yard crosses from left back are not getting the best out of him.

I had been looking forward to this game for weeks.  This stadium was in my ‘top 5’ to visit.  I remember feeling pretty upbeat about it just after I finished my previous article, on the Monday night.  And then it started.  Bit by bit, cell by cell, I became more unwell until on Thursday evening, I fell asleep on the couch about 1830 and that was me for the night.  On Friday, I was too unwell to work.  I felt guilty but nonetheless completely justified as I could barely move thanks to whatever unwelcome pathogen that had infected me.  It was only later that day that it hit me.  What if I’m too ill to go to the football?  Surely not?  Surely a well-timed recovery was around the corner?

Saturday morning came and a decision had to be made.  The fact that I was able to get up and shower and have breakfast said to me that I was fit enough to go.  The easy option would’ve been to watch the Six Nations Super Saturday from the comfort of my couch.  But no, tired or not, the VELTINS-Arena (originally ‘Arena auf-Schalke until naming rights kicked in) it was for the football.  I set the Sat Nav, dropped the kids off, and put the foot down.  That’s right, driving. The evening kick off meant that taking trains would have involved staying over and I really didn’t feel up for that. Geoffrey, my gentrified guide for the journey, swirled the marbles around his molars and informed me that in 2hrs 24 minutes, I would reach my destination.  I derive illogical enjoyment from arriving earlier than Geoffrey’s conservative prediction, so I battered down the motorway past Leuven, Genk, Venlo until I came to Duisburg where the Teutonic tarmac was being freshly applied, resulting in lane closure and massive queues.  However, after much rage, the traffic dispersed until I approached the stadium, despite my relative lateness.

VELTINS Arena

It doesn’t have the character of de Kuip, or the raw nature of Borussia Monchengladbach, and from the outside it is a prism of blandness.  Yet, once inside, in view of the pitch, it has a weird wonderfulness that can’t quite be explained.

Having read that there are 14000 parking spaces at the stadium, I nonchalantly expected to have my pick of spaces 2 hrs before kick off.  Having had to drive past 4 full car parks, my optimism gave way to incredulity.  However, Parking C2 had space (as opposed to spaces) and I pulled up on a muddy patch where there once was grass. In winter, I expect that 4-wheel drive is essential to get back out.  You can’t really see the stadium and it feels more like you’ve come to open your boot and offload some unwanted bric-a-brac.  However, after traversing the field/car park, and navigating an unfeasibly narrow lane, the stadium appears.  It looks more like an off-motorway office building constructed from glass and steel.  Certainly, unlikely to be mistaken for a football stadium.  However, the beer, bratwurst and endless sea of Schalke fans confirmed that I wasn’t here for a seminar on spreadsheets.  There is no nearby ‘community’ or amenities other than those that relate directly to the stadium.

IMG_0223
Is the conference up there? I hope they have croissants
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FC Schalke 04. ‘We love ‘dich” says the sign.
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Oh look, the Schalke caravan?
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Underwhemingly bland
IMG_0226
Concealed turnstiles

Anyway, after bratwursting up at a little stall (no beer today), I went to collect my home team scarf.  Approaching the stall, it occurred to me that I didn’t know the German word for scarf.  Bizarrely, and I put this down to illness, I thought it would be more acceptable to ask for the scarf in English but using a Dutch accent.  So I asked for the ‘shecond shcarf from the right’, handed over my 12 euros, before disappearing in shame towards the turnstile.

There were people frisking beyond the turnstiles in addition to an airportesque metal detector that some people were asked to pass through.  After it became clear that the only thing I could threaten was credibility, I was allowed to advance up to the entrance towards the stairs.  There are loads of cafes, stalls, shops and even a casino that can be entered from the perimeter of the arena.  I decided that it would be prudent to investigate the toilets and find my seat.  The toilets themselves were more than adequate and had clearly been cleaned in the recent past.  There were plenty of food and drink counters in the concourse around the toilets but I didn’t partake, partly because of the token system and also because I wasn’t really up for it.  Anyway, I sauntered up to the door to entrance 29 and walked through.  A genuine wow moment.

On first glance, it really is impressive.  The whole thing is a marvel.  The roof (partially opened), the stands, the terracing, the bizarre TV hanging from above and the floodlit pitch all come together phenomenally.  I found my seat, but went for a nosey to see how many were in the lower section of the Nordkurve, just below me.  The photos below really don’t do it justice.  Except around the corners it was pretty rammed, 70 minutes before kick-off.  The sound quality and the TV are incredible – you can see why AC/DC are playing here in July.  The small things in the back of the chairs in the lower photos are words to some of the songs, and each song has its own QR code that you can scan.

IMG_0230 IMG_0231 Schalke null vier IMG_0233 IMG_0234 IMG_0235 IMG_0236 IMG_0237 IMG_0238

The seats are comfortable enough, and not a cushion cover in sight.  Despite the bar encroaching slightly on your line of vision to the TV for the very back rows, you’d be hard pushed to ever kick a football anywhere near high enough for it to really matter.  I got my ticket for 31€ through the ticket-borse (website below) the club run – it arrived at my house in Belgium 3-4 days after it was ordered.  Again, you need to register as a user, but it is minimal hassle, especially if you set your browser to auto-translate.  I always try to be as high as possible for a vantage point of the fans and the game, yet as close as possible to the noise.

The pre-match warm up ritual was entertaining.  The cameras focus on the amazing ‘mine shaft’ tunnel and, as the players come out, music blasts over the PA.  ‘Ballroom Blitz’ for the goalkeepers and ‘Rockin all over the World’ for the rest of the squad with the team line-up set alongside ‘Back in Black’.  This set off the wavers of oversized flags pitchside and was a cue for the Nordkurve to start singing.  The majority of fans arrived in their seats 15 minutes or so before kick-off and everybody seemed to know everybody else, in spite of the size of the stadium (61,988 capacity).  Warm-up and pre-match photos are just below. The game was a sell-out, as most of the home Schalke games are.

The fans were in good voice but it did feel fairly contained and pessimistic, in spite of winning at Real Madrid just 10 days earlier.  Most of the fans songs are pretty easy to pick up – they all contain the words ‘Schalke’, ‘null’ and ‘vier’.  The official club ‘marches’ can be heard on the video links at the end of the article.

IMG_0240 IMG_0243 IMG_0244 IMG_0249 IMG_0250 IMG_0251

The Match

The fans were very excited to see Jefferson Farfan back in the matchday squad after a long layoff due to injury.  Schalke were missing Howedes, their captain and centre-half, and it’s fair to say they missed him.  Julian Draxler was not in the squad as he had a long-term injury.  Otherwise, Huntelaar was fit – as was Football Manager (and real life) wonderkid Max Meyer, as well as Swiss international Tranquillo Barnetta, who is a descendant of the Native American ‘Peaceful Hairstyle’.  I had seen Leverkusen a year previously, at home, under Sami Hyppia, so I was interested to see how different they would be under current manager Roger Schmidt.  They had just been eliminated from the last 16 of the champions league after 120 minutes against Atletico Madrid, so would they be tired?

Schalke started off very brightly and proceeded to spurn a glorious chance after 3 minutes.  And that was as good as they got.  They looked massively uneasy with the 5-3-2 and Huntelaar was frequently isolated.  When you have a centre forward like that, 50-yard crosses from left back are not getting the best out of him.  On the other hand, Leverkusen as a team were far greater than the sum of their parts and, to be honest, should have won by more.  They played disciplined, drilled and effective counter-attacking football.  In Kiessling and Rolfes, they had the game’s dominant players and were well worth their victory.  Karim Bellarbi’s goal after 35 minutes was the least they deserved.  Schalke only looked dangerous once Farfan came on in the last 15 minutes and played as an out-and-out winger.  Di Matteo will need to find a better formula.  However, with Draxler and Farfan coming back, the discovery of Meyer and a potent goalscorer like Huntelaar, they have plenty of firepower.  That said, the aptly named descendant of Peaceful Hairstyle ought to look a little less Tranquilized if he is to make an impact.

At the end of the game, there were no complaints from the Schalke fans.  They were handed their cushion-less backsides, and most of them toddled off quietly.  Some fans however decided to stay and finish their beers.  And why not?  I can’t imagine there are too many watering holes nearby that can rival the setting or the comfort.  Leaving the stadium itself was very easy but the path to the car parks is mobbed and is essentially a human queue.  All in all, I would say that this is probably the finest stadium I have ever visited.  It doesn’t have the character of de Kuip, or the raw nature of Borussia Monchengladbach, and from the outside it is a prism of blandness.  Yet, once inside, in view of the pitch, it has a weird wonderfulness that can’t quite be explained.

Next time I come to Schalke, and there will be a next time, I will probably take the train, check out Gelsenkirchen, and have a few beers.  If you are planning on making a night of it, staying in the city itself might be better than one of the hotels surrounding the stadium as it isn’t much to look at from the outside and there’s not much else around. But come nevertheless, and enjoy beer and ‘null vier’.

IMG_0253
VELTINS arena at night

Video Links:

Schalke March

Anything more recent?

Overall Ratings: (out of 5)

  • Quality of match:  ****
  • Stadium character: ***** (inside) ** (outside)
  • Stadium atmosphere:  ****
  • Hospitality: *****
  • Ease of access: *****
  • Things to do around the stadium: **
  • Overall: ****

Useful Links:

http://www.s04-ticketboerse.de/fansale/ – where to get your tickets from if you are not a Schalke member.

http://www.schalke04.de/en/stadium-and-tickets/veltins-arena/getting-there/page/69–66–.html  – Useful info for getting there and parking