The stadium also has a quality, built-to-last feel about it: this is no corrugated iron shoebox and, despite its flaws, you can’t help loving its majesty!
Hertha Berlin v Wolfsburg: Bundesliga 1
20th February 2016
Imagine the Colosseum was converted into a fully functional and modern football stadium. Hertha Berlin’s Olympiastadion feels like a useful monument, like you have modern comforts in a classic historical environment. A lively home support camped out into the East end of the stadium and cheered on their team creating a lively yet relaxed atmosphere. It was very different from a typical Bundesliga experience.
Some people place self-imposed, imaginary limits on themselves. ‘All the way to Berlin for a game of football between two teams you don’t support,’ and similar comments echoed around my listening chamber. You can do it folks, and it is much simpler than you might imagine. Although Berlin is further from Brussels than most German destinations, three cheap flights a day to Schoenfeld Airport meant that you can have return flights from Brussels for 24 euros. Upon arriving at Schoenfeld Airport after an easy 80 minute flight, a 20 minute train ride takes you to Alexanderplatz in Central Berlin for 3.30€. The stadium can be reached via the S-Bahn trains or the Underground, line 2, and is about 20 minutes by underground from Central Berlin.
Tickets and Accommodation
Hertha Berlin seldom sell out their home matches and, except for the games against Bayern or Dortmund, you can generally pick up tickets at the stadium on the day, provided you bring ID. Alternatively, print-at-home tickets can be bought from https://www.eventimsports.de/ols/hbsctk/en. This process is very easy and is simpler than most clubs’ ticketing portal. Tickets are available from 15 euros and I paid a whopping 17 euros for mine. All in all, I got flights, transfers and a ticket for less than 50 euros. I hear that gets you a pie and a scarf in the Premier League these days. I also got an amazing deal at the Ramada Hotel (http://www.ramada.com/hotels/germany/berlin/ramada-plaza-berlin-city-centre-hotel-and-suites/hotel-overview) for just under 50 euros, which was uncharacteristically decadent but worth the splurge.
This was my first trip to Berlin and I found it quite a moving and soulful city. While Munich is very victorious, grandiose, elegant and triumphant, Berlin is characterful, melancholy and apologetic. Perhaps the freezing rain accentuated these feelings but it’s a wonderfully interesting and energised city I would like to visit for longer. Everything seems very much laid bare and there is a certain honesty and openness that, given its turbulent 20th Century history, I perhaps wasn’t expecting.
The stadium itself is so simplistic and iconic but is very well laid out. The large tiled area in front of the turnstiles, which also doubles up as a car park of sorts, is lined with stalls with food, drink and Hertha accessories like you’d expect. There’s also the often forgotten bonus of clean toilets next to this facility. Everybody seems to enter via the turnstiles at the front of the stadium which were well staffed. I had problems getting the scanner to read my ticket and the steward was about to send me to a special entrance when a lady, who looked like a mature club-mascot, showed me some folding trick with the ticket that the scanner liked and granted me access.
The area just inside has all kinds of food available, beer can be bought in 300ml, 500ml or 1 litre jugs and there is even some karaoke or cabaret taking place. Half a litre is 4.20€ and a litre is 7.50€. There was a very relaxed feeling to it all and the tension that often accompanies these kind of games seemed absent. A word of warning though: while a one litre serving of beer means less trips to the bar, it doesn’t do anything to decrease the frequency of ‘comfort breaks’. I hadn’t factored this into my ‘time-saving’ purchase. The stadium also has a quality, built-to-last feel about it: this is no corrugated iron shoebox and, despite its flaws, you can’t help loving its majesty!
I was in section 41.1 and had decided, as usual, to get a seat near the back. I could have had my pick to be honest. Like in any stadium that has a running track, if you are behind the goals then you are pretty distant from the pitch. However, from such an elevation, most views are unobscured. That said, the pillars do spoil the vista somewhat (although I’d rather have a roof than no pillar on a day like this).
There are some helpful beer and ‘stadium punch’ minions who come to magically fill up any empty glasses although the kiosks selling beer and sausage are frequent and efficient. Hertha, to their credit, have not abandoned paying for food and drink in cash and have both a club card and cash system, which means infrequent fans don’t have to spend 10 euros to get a drink. The toilets are large and well-maintained as well although I felt like I had done a lap of the track by the time I found them.
A special word of praise has to go to the Hertha fans, who were unflappably supportive and generated an excellent atmosphere despite the stadium only being 60% full and the rather staid match on offer. They made the match for me.
Hertha Berlin v Wolfsburg
The match itself was a fairly forgettable encounter with a draw probably being the correct result. The absence of shots on target was a disappointment although I have to admit to having never watched Hertha play attractively. That said, despite Hertha’s 3rd position in the table, Wolfsburg looked the stronger team throughout and both teams will probably accept the outcome as a decent point. Dardai’s achievements at Hertha this season can be mirrored by Hecking’s underachievement at Wolfsburg. While Hertha have been frugally built and, being honest, looked like possible relegation candidates on paper, Wolfsburg are still trying to fill a Kevin de Bruyne shaped void. Julian Draxler is a very talented player but hasn’t performed as consistently as de Bruyne did and was peripheral throughout this match.
Both Ibisevic for Hertha and Kruse for Wolfsburg looked a little isolated and, while Schafer and Kalou both took their goals well enough, the lack of creativity was frustrating to the fans braving the miserable weather.
At the end of the match, there was no ‘subway scramble’ of fans leaving after 83 minutes to get a quieter train. The normal end-of- match stampede or cramped stairwells are not to be found here. Some people milled around, getting more food and drinks, whereas others headed back for the train or underground. It all had a fluency and ease to it that was added to the laid-back feel of the event.
The underground back to Berlin was busy but not cramped. Upon leaving Alexanderplatz, I stumbled across the Hofbrauhaus. This seemed like the perfect place for a final beer accompanied by a large piece of animal. The beer and food were brought out suspiciously quickly but I was too hungry to care and the fatty Schwein was being devoured. I should’ve gone back to the hotel at this point, but some friendly Arsenal fans visiting friends came and sat at my bench and, all of a sudden, that extra beer or three seems like a good idea. They playfully mocked their own support but assured me that if you like quiet and comfortable football then the Emirates is the place to be.
For my flight, accommodation and match ticket, I could barely have got into the cheap seats in the Emirates. From opening my eyes and ears at the game, it seems like a lot of fans were over from the UK for the match. Makes you wonder, if the Premier League is ‘the best league in the world’ why were so many English fans in Berlin? Hertha Berlin could be the ideal destination to go to for a weekend away: great city, fantastic stadium, an excellent atmosphere and fans are treated like they matter.
While, on paper, Tielemans and Defour look like a complimentary pairing, Defour’s presence diminishes Tielemans to the extent that the latter looks fearful.
In the January transfer window, RSC Anderlecht shored up their midfield with the addition of Badji and Djuricic. Badji seems to have been brought in to provide more defensive solidity and athleticism whereas Djuricic has floated around either as a supporting striker, winger or ‘number 10’. So where does this leave homegrown talent Youri Tielemans?
Tielemans now finds himself the 4th choice central midfielder behind Defour, Dendoncker and Badji. All three of these players offer more defensively than Tielemans but none of them possess his passing range or ability to contribute with goals. He is frequently lauded as one of the most sought after midfielders in the world and yet he is way down the pecking order at an underperforming Anderlecht. He does not have the pace or skill set to play in a more advanced position so what does his future hold?
The disparity between his expected and actual level of performance is unparalleled. This was supposed to be his big season: the year Anderlecht get the best out of him before some big club with more TV money than sense sends a bank transfer to Belgium larger than the Congolese GDP for his services. Last season, Tielemans looked stressed and tired. However, if people looked at the human aspect of his downturn in form, they could have concluded that completing his Baccalaureate in school and managing the expectations of a full time player at Champions League level are major stressors for a seventeen year old.
However, since his eighteenth birthday when he signed a long-term contract and his subsequent graduation, his form has, if anything, declined even further. He clearly feels the pressure and expectation that may have been absent in his breakthrough year when he had the likes of Kouyaté and Gillet alongside him. His performances this season have simply not been good enough to keep his place in the team. The question is ‘why?’
When Steven Defour joined Anderlecht 18 months ago, he seemed like the ideal replacement for Kouyaté despite his Standard Liege past. He is tenacious, determined and works hard on the pitch. This can be seen whenever he is substituted: Anderlecht are much more fragile and vulnerable when he isn’t playing. However, he is not a midfield anchor man who just sits and plays the simple pass. Defour is a dynamic box-to-box battler who provides assists and likes to have a shot himself. While, on paper, Tielemans and Defour looks like a complimentary pairing, Defour’s presence diminishes Tielemans to the extent that the latter looks fearful.
However, watching Anderlecht when Dendoncker and Tielemans play central midfield is very different. Dendoncker does sit and anchor the midfield playing a ‘Makelélé’ role and Tielemans becomes much more free to play. They look happy playing together as a pairing, are complimentary and have come from the same place – Anderlecht’s Neerpede academy – meaning neither has an inflated ego. Egos and personalities seem to be dominating the Anderlecht performances more than team spirit and cohesion. Anthony Vanden Borre has already been ‘banished’ and the balance of the rest of the squad doesn’t seem right. Senior players like Deschacht, Proto, Defour and Okaka don’t look like they are pulling together even if their individual performances have been acceptable.
From the outside looking in, it looks like Head Coach Hasi could do more to encourage Tielemans and support him. Tielemans is the future of Anderlecht, either in terms of playing or financial stability. There is a real lack of cohesion and spirit about the Anderlecht squad just now. Academy graduates like Praet, Tielemans and Lukebakio look unhappy. Why is that? Why are they not progressing as they should?
Hasi has a responsibility primarily to win matches and, as much as I’m not his biggest fan, there is no way he could play Tielemans instead of Defour on current form. However, Hasi and Managing Director Van Holsbeek should bear in mind what has made Anderlecht successful in recent years. It has been the development of players like Kompany, Lukaku, Mbemba, Praet and Tielemans from the academy (not to mention Charly Musonda and Januzaj) far more than speculative punts on well travelled players like Djuricic, Rolando, Marin, Nuytinck and Badji.
So, to those scouts who have read the hype and are wanting to come and see Youri Tielemans play, you’d better pick your match carefully as Hasi isn’t picking him. Instead you will see a head coach whose tactics are incoherent, whose composure is lacking and whose idea of Anderlecht’s future is diametrically opposed to that of a growing number of Mauves fans.
Place of Birth: Asse (Belgium) – yes, ‘Kums from Asse’.
Career Appearances: 308
Career Goals: 40
Career Caps: None yet, 12 at U-21 level
Career to Date
Sven Kums started off his career as an eight year old at RSC Anderlecht and remained there until he turned twenty. During 2007 and 2008, he was loaned to SK Lierse and KV Kortrijk, who would eventually sign him on a permanent basis. Kums would go on to play 116 times for Kortrijk before winning a permanent move to SC Heerenveen in the Eredivisie for a reputed fee in the region of half a million euros. After two relatively successful seasons in the Netherlands, Kums returned to Zulte-Waregem. Zulte had qualified for the Champions league preliminary rounds on the basis of their second placed finish in the Belgian Pro League the season before, losing out to RSC Anderlecht on the last game of the season.
Kums spent one season at Zulte before moving on to his current club, KAA Gent, where he has proven to be a midfield lynchpin displaying the kind of form that has led to international recognition and the Golden Shoe 2015, awarded to the player voted the best in the Belgian Pro League.
Kums even found a place in the ‘UEFA team of the Group Stages’, such was his excellence in Gent’s maiden Champions League adventure. Next week, against Wolfsburg, Kums will carry the hopes of most of Belgium (and perhaps the credibility of the Pro League) on his shoulders. Wolfsburg have been on a bit of a domestic slump and there may not be a better time to play them.
What kind of player is he?
In Football Manager terms, Kums has been performing the DLP-S role in Gent’s midfield. He is always looking for the ball and looks to dictate play. Kums’ development has accelerated within Gent’s 3-4-2-1 formation. Gent Head Coach Hein Vanhaezebrouck has complete confidence in his Club Captain. He is not a big goalscorer but is omnipresent. When Gent’s attack runs into a dead-end, Kums is frequently the recipient of the ‘reset’ pass which allows him to control the game.
In terms of comparisons, he is sometimes known as ‘The Belgian Pirlo.’ While he hasn’t yet reached Pirlo’s level of achievement within the global game, Kums performs the role Pirlo played for Italy and Juventus five years ago, before his legs started to slow up. Stylistically, he is not dissimilar to Michael Carrick or Xabi Alonso.
Will we see him at Euro 2016?
Kums has been called up by Belgium Head Coach Marc Wilmots despite the existing riches to be found in Belgium’s midfield. Wilmots is fond of the 4-3-3 formation with the paradigm of the ‘number 6, number 8 and number 10’ very prevalent in his thoughts. Kums could be considered an outsider for either the 6 or 8, perhaps still behind Nainggolan, Witsel, Dembelé and Fellaini in the pecking order. Wilmots is notoriously loyal but given that he only took Lukaku and Origi as attackers to Brazil and plays with one genuine striker, Kums may find a place on the Belgian bench but is likely to be dependent on injury, suspension or loss of form to usurp one of the aforementioned incumbents.
What does the future hold?
Kums has recently signed a contact extension until 2019 with the Belgian champions and, while his teammate Laurent Depoitre has openly declared that he is looking to leave for a ‘new challenge’, the euphemism of choice for ‘more money’, Kums looks like staying put. Depoitre is a big strong number nine who is having a good season but lacks the class of Kums. Depoitre is an ‘upper-Championship’ or ‘lower-Premier League’ level player whereas Kums could shine in the top league, should he wish to. However, in the short to medium term , he looks like picking up more silverware in Belgium as KAA Gent captain.
I’m currently sitting here watching Peterborough v West Brom on TV and the game is a turgid bore. I look at Pulis on the touchline and the way he has his team playing. I am completely ambivalent towards West Brom but I’m asking myself this question: what does a fan want to see?
Managers like ‘Big’ Sam Allardici and Pulis are known for ‘getting teams organised’ and ‘not getting relegated’. However, the trade-off for this has been dreary, long-ball, hoof-and-hope tactics. Yes, set pieces are well defended but what fan gets up and has dreams of ‘a well-drilled performance where we kept a clean sheet?’
To be honest, my loyalty has changed over the years (partially due to location) a bit like those Global Hypercolor T-Shirts used to change colour in the nineties so perhaps I don’t live one club in the way that other fans do. That said, I love to see good football, or at least, exciting football. When a fan pays the money for their ticket, there are distant dreams of glory. You hope to be there when your ‘luxury player’ curls one into the top corner; when your team scores that amazing team goal; when you come back from two goals down to steal an unlikely victory. I’ve never heard any fan say ‘what I really want to see is a disciplined and hard-working performance.’
Tonight West Brom should be looking to absolutely pummel a team two divisions below them, not ‘remain well organised and hit them on the break because we’re away’. Do fans want their team to have a go at winning or to make sure they don’t lose? I don’t mind teams playing counter-attacking football if they are the weaker team. That’s fair enough, to an extent. However, this is the day when TV deals are pumping exorbitant amounts of money into the game and fans are being asked to pay more than ever. If I’m paying a small fortune to watch a match, I want to be entertained. I don’t want to see a ‘team of Makelélés’. I don’t want to see teams sacrificing their best players because they ‘are selfish’ or ‘don’t track back enough’.
Football needs to remember that the fan is king. Fans pay the wages, via season tickets, merchandise, TV subscriptions and the rest. Those West Brom fans who buy the line of ‘finishing 17th is a success’ or whatever because the chairman’s stock remains high via commercial marketability of the club are being sold a lie. Would you not rather be a yo-yo club but be entertained along the way, daring to dream of victory instead of preventing a dreaded defeat.
When Guardiola brushes his teeth and goes to the dentist, he does so to improve, or maintain his smile. When Pulis brushes his teeth, it’s so that his mouth doesn’t hurt and so that the drilling is minimised. Imagine West Brom get relegated without ever even having had a go at teams. It begs the question, what’s the point? I’m all for genuine success being rewarded, but hanging on to the big time is not living it. Signing big-name players to tell them to ‘work hard, tackle hard and don’t lose’ is not my idea of fun. Football is meant to be fun. It is an industry but when it stops being fun, the money will dry up.
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.
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.