Mainz 05 v Werder Bremen

Mainz 05 v Werder Bremen:  Bundesliga

Opel Arena, Saturday 18th February 2017

Is that the carcinogens from a 3G pitch?

Set in the backdrop of multi-coloured student accommodation, nondescript ploughed fields and a couple of busy roads, Mainz’s red Duplo-esque stadium is like an urban Siren with TARDIS-like capacity.  It has been the home of Mainz ‘null funf’ since 2011 and was previously known as the “Coface Arena.”  Five-year naming rights seems a bit too short for me; the sponsor on a shirt is one thing but the name of the footballing temple that fans visit every two weeks should have a little more permanence.  It is perhaps an undesirable side effect of commerce in modern football that the name of a stadium can change as often Cheryl, formerly of Girls Aloud, changes her name.   Perhaps it should be renamed the Tattooine Stadium, as the surrounding barrenness is somewhat reminiscent of Luke Skywalker’s adopted planet.

Shoebox in a well-ploughed field

Getting There

Driving from Brussels took a little under four hours and looked the simplest and cheapest way to get there.  Otherwise, the next best option looked to be taking the ICE train to Frankfurt and a subsequent commuter train thereafter, given the proximity of Mainz to Frankfurt (about 20km).  It remind me of my ‘tourist route’ path to Stuttgart from Köln on the day of a Deutsche Bahn strike and I ended up on a Swiss train to Zurich, which stopped at Mainz.

Did you know you can still smoke in German Stadia?

The drive to Mainz via the high-altitude autobahn from just outside Köln, through the Mosel valley, towards Mainz is relatively enjoyable and offers some pleasant views.  International visitors would almost certainly be best flying into nearby Frankfurt Hahn Airport and taking a regional train thereafter.  We parked in the Parkhaus Kupferberg, which was 15€ for 24 hours, and located 10 minutes walk from the hotel.

Mainz Null Funf

Tickets and Accommodation 

While tickets were being sold on the day, I always prefer to pre-book where possible, avoiding the risk that you turn up and nothing is available other than premium seats, or your accomplice cannot sit next to you etc.  Tickets can be bought and printed at home, stored on a mobile or collected at the ground after ordering from https://www.eventimsports.de/ols/mainz05/.  We were located in section S, and for 13.50€ (adult) and 10.50€ (child) including regional transport to the stadium, nobody can complain.

This is my seat number, but I don’t see my seat…

Last season, Mainz’s average attendance was 31000 in a stadium with a capacity of 34000, so these cheaper tickets are regularly available and are not just  for members, as is often the case for these eye-catchingly low prices.  The next home match, against Wolfsburg, is the ‘family day’ and standing tickets are being sold at 8€ for adults and 5€ for kids.  This is brilliant and deserves to be congratulated.

Opel Arena

We stayed in the Advena Europa Hotel, which was near the train station.  While it wasn’t particularly aesthetically attractive, it was more than adequate for our needs and also included a good buffet breakfast in the room rate.

Mainz

All too often in large towns, the area around the train station is a little grubby and Mainz is no exception.  A few bars, phonecard vendors, numerous recently opened haunts all claiming to sell the “best falafel in town’ and purveyors of erotic paraphernalia punctuate the pavements, permeating an aroma of smoke and sweat.

Nobody ever seems to walk alone, yet everybody seems to sing it.

However, venture a 10-minute stroll past this end of town towards the Altstadt and you’ll find a charming, well-kept and intriguing town; characterful, vibrant and with just the right amount of bustle.

For lunch, my daughter and I wanted some traditional Bratwurst or Currywurst  which, generally speaking, is not difficult to source in Germany.  It seems we didn’t go quite close enough to the river.  So, with the hunger cloud of rage descending ever more quickly, we decided to go into the café at the Gutenberg Museum (home of the original printing press).  The advertised sausage platter, describing three different sausages with some artisanal bread, was the clear favourite.  Ten minutes later, this…creation, appeared on a log (I’ve never understood the need to deviate from plates – they do a good job) surrounded by pickle, lettuce and bread.  Underneath this salad jungle, placed with surgical precision, were various cold sausages: had the air been distilled around us at that moment then concentrated disappointment would have trickled out into a musty bottle.

Party time, excellent!

Opel Arena

The stadium can be reached from Mainz Hauptbahnhof by taking the shuttle bus ‘E’, which is free with the match ticket, although I have never known this to be controlled nor, in this case, can I see how one would control it.  This takes about ten minutes and is hassle-free, dropping you off about 400 metres from the ground.  There is also a tram stop near the stadium should this be more convenient.

As the stadium seems to have been plonked into a nuclear desert, there is insufficient parking in the environs of the stadium, although many people took to abandoning their vehicle on the verge of a side street adjacent to the stadium.  Given the prevalence of muck in the area, I would not recommend doing this when it’s raining.

View upon arrival

The walk to the stadium from the bus was pleasant and humorous, as the proximity of Carnival has tempted some to adorn and show off their costumes a week early.  The wonderful symbiotic relationship between beer-drinking fans finishing their bottles near the stadium and the bottle collectors filling those wheelie shoppers with 25-cent glass cheques seems to exist in the ecosystem of every German football stadium, and Mainz is no exception.

The stadium is unmissable, clad in a colour that lipstick manufacturers would call ‘hooker red’, and feels smaller from the outside than it does once inside.  We made our way round to the terrace behind the goal and scanned our printed tickets without a hitch.  It is well advertised that one cannot bring one’s drink into the stadium, even if purchased in the shadow of the stands, so I was gasping for a cool pils by the time we were through.

Mainz has one of these card systems that, frankly, are a pain in the arse.  A ten euro deposit is required for the card, that you buy at a separate counter from your food and drink, and you add the appropriate amount of credit.  A pils was 3.90€ and sausage varieties were priced between 2€ and 3€.  At the end of the game, you return your card to a separate ‘Kassa’ outside the ground and unused credit and the ten euro deposit are refunded.

The atmosphere was almost non-existent before the game to be honest, with the majority of the noise coming from the Green and White fans in the opposite corner.  The Mainz fans did get better once the game kicked off though, despite having relatively little to get excited about.  That said, this was a very family-friendly stadium and there was a positive, non-hostile ambience.  The balance between edginess and atmosphere against how welcoming and friendly a stadium and its fans are can vary greatly, just like peoples preferences do, but I like a little more chilli than was on offer here.

Mainz 05 v Werder Bremen

Mainz always seem to find themselves in the Stoke position (perhaps appropriate that Bojan joined) of not challenging for anything but being clear of relegation.  Werder Bremen have been living on the edge a little more and only a late goal against Frankfurt saved them from relegation last year and hadn’t won a game in 2017 before this match.

The match itself boiled down to a tale of two strikers: Jhon Cordoba (autocorrect really dislikes this guy) and Nutella-fiend Max Kruse.  Kruse always looks a little unfit, has problems with injuries, doesn’t score as many as you’d want from striker and comes with off-field baggage.  However, he does have great awareness, vision and plays with his head up.  While he didn’t score in this match, he was a constant thorn in the end of Bell.

Cordoba’s qualities contrast with those of Kruse in that he’s exceptionally athletic, strong, fast, has excellent close control and always looks to be the finisher.  He is, however, a ‘head down’ player, and won’t drop deep to bring others into play.  He really missed the guile of Malli in behind him and Bojan was far too quiet and easily policed.  In fact, the Bremen defence were excellent on the day and they were comfortably giving Mainz possession and hitting on the counter-attack.

Since Gnabry headed Bremen into the lead early in the first half, they looked very comfortable and, while Mainz had a few chances, Bremen were worthy winners on the day.

Once the game was over, a queue of buses awaited the fans.  Word of warning here – it is not clearly indicated which buses go to Mainz Hbf and which go to Mainz Messe (which is a commercial and industrial estate on the outskirts of town).  Be careful to take the bus that is furthest right for Hbf, that is all.  The bus back was a noisy experience, with some drunk Bremen fans ingratiating themselves to the nullfunfers with some “Scheisse Has-ess-vow” songs.  The fans were then deposited at Mainz Hbf with some other away fans who were a little battle-weary and whose long journey home may have involved sleep and/or sickness.

Conclusion

The Opel Arena is a friendly, mid-sized stadium on the outskirts of a mid-sized town who regularly finish mid-table in the Bundesliga.  However, the football and the experience represented excellent value for money and the club give off an infectious likeability.

Stadium Ratings

  • Quality of match:  ***.5
  • Stadium character: ****
  • Stadium atmosphere:  ***
  • Hospitality: ****
  • Ease of access: ****
  • Things to do around the stadium: ***
  • Overall: ***.5

 

 

1.FC Köln v Schalke 04

Köln v Schalke,  Bundesliga 

Sunday 19th February at Rhein Energie Stadion

Köln is an interesting city that means different things to different people.  For some, it is the Cathedral City, with Köln Dom dominating the skyline.  Others consider it to be Carnival City, with seemingly half of the German adult population getting dressed up and parading its streets next weekend.  However, in footballing terms, Köln are probably best known for providing a platform for the likes of Podolski, Littbarski and Toni Polster.  The presence of club mascot, a real goat named Hennes VIII, at every home match, chomping fruit, is also a humorous pre-match ritual, as much as it is a rather pointless and bizarre oddity.

Behind the Sudtribune, after the match.

In recent years, Köln have been consolidating their position in the Bundesliga, following years of yo-yoing to and from the Bundesliga 2.  Under the stewardship of Peter Stöger they have stabilised and look like an outside shout for a Europa League place, largely thanks to the goalscoring of Anthony Modeste.

Rhein Energie Stadium, in the Ost Tribune

Getting There and Tickets

Köln is well served by public transport and is something of a hub in the  West of Germany.  Köln-Bonn Airport lies just to the south of the city and both Köln Hbf and Köln Messe-Deutz train stations handle a large volume of national and international trains; both the ICE and Thalys from Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam serve Köln although there are cheaper and slower rail alternatives as well as Flixbus cheap bus travel.

I was travelling by car from Mainz, which is itself an interesting motorway journey, traversing wine valleys and offering up some decent views.  This takes just under two hours to drive (roadworks included).  There is parking available next to the stadium as well as a car park next to the stadium tram stop although, if you’re early enough, there is on-street parking in the nearby Müngersdorf residential area.  The biggest difficulty this presented, in our case, was getting out of this area towards Aachener Strasse, as all roads seem to funnel into one and the person with the biggest BMW X5 pushes their way through.

Entrance from Aachener Strasse

The stadium is served by the line 1 tram.  From central Köln, you can get on at Neumarkt and Heumarkt (sounds like the German Jedward) and return transport is included in your matchday ticket.  The ‘Rhein Energie Stadion’ stop is, as the name suggests, right at the front of the stadium and the journey takes about 20 minutes.

Köln home matches generally sell out, especially against nearby teams (Gladbach, Leverkusen, Dortmund and Schalke are all fairly close by) or Bayern.  Tickets can be bought online at https://www.fc-koeln.de/en/fc-tickets/single-match-tickets/matchday-overview/heimspiele/ and either collected at the stadium or printed at home.  If you print at home (as I did – I’m not hugely enthused by ticket collecting) then you must give the name of all ticket holders at the time of booking for the public transport, although I have never seen this checked and cannot see how one could on jammed metropolitan transport.

Approach to Rhein Energie Stadium

Köln

Despite having passed through Köln several times, I’ve never taken the time to properly appreciate the city.  My first ever Bundesliga match was at Bayer Leverkusen and I spent the night in Köln and that day, by quite some distance, rates top of the “we drank far too much” charts of any football outing.  This time, however, I had my twelve-year-old daughter in accompaniment and I was driving home so drunken debauchery was out of the question.  This did mean that I was able to appreciate the Köln Altstadt better than before, with its vibrancy and eclecticism.  There are a plethora of Brauhauses and Gelateria dotted around the place and the city feels lived-in and non-ornamental.

The Rhein Energie Stadion

Most stadiums don’t make breeze block an architectural feature in the way that this one does.  Yet, for all that is ugly about it, there are some points of real character and functionality.

The pillars and cabling are eye-catching: I can just hear the architect now, gesticulating wildly about the “industrial retro” theme.  However, the way they illuminate as darkness approaches is decidedly funky.

While the stadium looks like four discrete stand-alone tribunes, they are all interconnected in the bottom tier.  The roof resembles four perfectly interlocking trapezia and lets in some light during the day.  Depending on the source, the stadium’s capacity seems variable but on this day, the official attendance was 50000 (which is a sell-out).

The pre-atmosphere within the ground was all generated by the Schalke fans, who marched in gesticulating defiantly towards the Köln fans.  Schalke do always bring an excellent travelling support and add volume and colour to the occasion.  However, shortly before kick-off, Köln fans found their places and their voices at the same time and a rousing cacophony ensued for the rest of the match.

The security check was more for show than to actively look for anything, at the Ost tribune entrances anyway.  The Schalke fans were searched, presumably for missiles or pyro, upon entering the terracing as well as when they approached the turnstiles.  In terms of catering, the standard sweet and savoury pretzels in addition to regular beer and bratwurst is available inside the ground and there is no need to fart about with topping up cards: you can hand just hand over 7 euros for a beer and sausage costing 7 euros!  However, one negative, albeit a pet hate of mine, is the presence of the ubiquitous ‘pulled pork’.  This hipster meat is one facet of globalisation German Football could do without.  Boiling cheap cuts of meat, smothering them in sticky gloop and charging a premium for the privilege might be fine for shopping mall dwellers but it really is the Millennial prawn cocktail.

So, faces fed and watered, we took up our chilly seats (far too soon before kick-off thanks to the impatience of my daughter who thought walking off our ice cream with a stroll beside the Rhein was a terrible way to pass the time).  Köln’s other major misdemeanour, along with providing a platform for pulled pork, is the anaemic cheerleader performance beforehand.  I’m sure there’s a time and a place, but a freezing pitch in February in Köln really isn’t it, in front of a largely ambivalent audience.  I’ve played music in pubs before and you know when you’re no longer providing entertainment and are nothing more than a hindrance to conversation.  I felt sorry for the cheerleaders in a way as their performance may have been amazing but it seemed nobody cared. Sack the agent!

Köln’s pre-match anthem is to the tune I know as “Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond” but I’m sure it was probably written by some medieval German composer.  This seemed to wake the fans up and, to be fair, they were brilliant from this point on.  There was plenty of banter flying between the fans and it was charged enough to matter but not some kind of hate fest.

Sudtribune Prematch Rhein Energie Stadion
Pre-match Rhein Energie

There is a lot of “Scheiss-ing” in German football these days and this match was no exception: “Cologne, Cologne, die scheisse vom Dom”; “Scheisse null vier” etc etc.  All that was missing was the “Scheisse RB” banner, although there were wordier complaints about the can sellers emanating from the South Stand.

1.FC Köln v Schalke 04

The match itself was a fairly entertaining spectacle.  Köln are not normally a team who excite but are decent defensively and have an excellent centre-forward.  Their performance this season has exceeded expectations although they have stuttered a little in recent weeks.

Schalke, on the other hand, seem to be the team of perpetual disappointment, given their income stream.  Markus Weinzerl has now found a 3-1-4-2 system that he seems to like but he is populating it with lesser but hungrier players in many cases.  While they have been unlucky with some injuries e.g. Embolo, they have found the habit of turning leading players from “smaller” clubs into journeymen.  This year Schopf, Burgstaller, Caligiuri amongst others have taken the place of more gifted individuals to improve the net output of the team.

Anybody who turned up to this match late would have missed the first goal as Schalke exploited a weakness down Köln’s right and crossed for Schopf to score within the first minute.  Schalke’s passing was generally crisper and more dangerous looking, despite them having less possession.  Goretzka, in particular, was a constant threat with his pace, control and running ability from the centre and, to me, he looks wasted playing so deep.  If ever there was a player ripe for a transfer to a club with a coach who’ll use him more effectively, it’s him.

Schalke also dominated in wider positions, with professional whinger Konstantin Rausch having a hard time, and Kolasinac dominating down Schalke’s left.  However, Köln were knocking at the door as the half evolved and, but for some poor final passes from Osako, could have created far more.  Then, within a few minutes, Modeste (who hadn’t received a decent pass all day) picked up the ball outside the box and curled an effort into the bottom corner.  The Köln fans were delirious, partly from joy and partly from surprise as the goal hadn’t looked likely.  Modeste then received a perfect pass from Osako two minutes later that he really should have buried in the back of the net but delayed his shot and the chance was gone.

While there were no more goals, there was plenty of incident during the second half.  Standout players for Köln were Subotic, who oozed class in defence, and Modeste, who will surely go to a Champions League club next season (or an English or Chinese club waving their chequebook) and plunder more goals.

For Schalke, the aforementioned Goretzka shone. Not a fan of Bentaleb who was alongside him and would much prefer to see the guile of Meyer in there, assuming Weinzerl persists with his current system.  The Schalke back three exuded experience and, while they may have been fortunate a few times, they caught Köln offside a ridiculous number of times.

A draw was a fair result by the final whistle and both sets of fans will have gone home content. I say gone home, but should add the word eventually as where the Ost and Sud tribune meet there is bottleneck preventing the rapid evacuation of fans.  This, coupled with the kamikaze manoeuvres in attempting to leave the environs of the stadium, slightly shadowed the positivity of the match and the whole experience.

Conclusion

The Rhein Energie Stadion is one that needs ticked off: it has interesting architecture, an underrated atmosphere and is situated in a city overflowing with things to see and do.  I would return to see them play another team in Nord Rhein Westphalia, as the heightened atmosphere is worth the slightly inflated ticket price.

Stadium Ratings

  • Quality of match:  ****
  • Stadium character: ****.5
  • Stadium atmosphere:  ****.5
  • Hospitality: ****
  • Ease of access: *****
  • Things to do around the stadium: *****
  • Overall: ****.5

 

 

Borussia Beehive has a sting in the tail

“Borussia Dortmund seem to see themselves as some sort of custodians of the pure; ‘verein’ of the commoner; the Jedi battling against the Empire.”

The debate regarding the legitimacy and compliance of RB Leipzig’s membership within the construct of the Bundesliga has been done to death.  I’ve addressed this in more depth in my review of RB Leipzig v Schalke.  To summarise, the complicity of the football-starved people of Leipzig (Lok and Chemie have their place and their attraction, but you can’t blame fans for wanting some ‘big-time’ football) should not be taken as sinful; they have not provided the fertile ground for the ascension of RB Leipzig – the Bundesliga and DfL have.  If anything, they are being exploited as part of a marketing vehicle; satiated in the way that the UK population are placated with Strictly and X-Factor.  RB Leipzig may be exploiting that fizzy beverages and football are the bread and circuses of the day.

The Best of the Sudtribune

Borussia Dortmund seem to see themselves as some sort of custodians of the pure; ‘verein’ of the commoner; the Jedi battling against the Empire.  However, while Borussia Dortmund fans rightly win plaudits for their vibrancy and the club clearly respects them reciprocally, it is impossible to ignore the hypocrisy that tinges some of these ‘protests’.

A word about these ‘protests’ first of all; it is important to separate hooliganism from making a statement.  The former act of protest, the belligerent reception gifted by some fans, was a bunch of silly little boys  using RB Leipzig’s loopholed compliance of the ’50+1′ rule as justification to act like thugs.  They filmed themselves throwing beer and flares, taking a few steps forward with that starfish body language that says ‘come and have a go’, then, when the police moved in their direction, they hid their acne-riddled, bum-fluffed little faces with scarves and hoodies, trying to earn their stripes as a bona-fide ultra.  Yawn, yawn.  Would they have been so “courageous” had it been a team like Dresden, Rostock, Magdeburg or Halle?  I think not.

The actual protests with any significance or meaning – those inside the ground – were brilliantly done.  The whole world sees the messages that adorn the Südtribune every two weeks and this way millions can see and discuss the view of the fans without the club’s reputation being stained by these idiots.  It may be coincidence, but the last time I attended a Dortmund game, there was also a disturbance involving hooligans and police, although Eintracht Frankfurt were the visitors in town that day and this mindless act of violence took place next to Reinoldikirche.

That German Football fans seem united in their disapproval of RB Leipzig is evident and, by all means, have an opinion on them as a club.  However the real problem is that the Bundesliga have allowed them to participate in the competition having only 17 members (with voting rights), whilst actively discouraging, via prohibitive costs and not allowing any voting rights, any fan participation on how the club is run.  Outside Germany, this is not uncommon but the Bundesliga, perhaps to the chagrin of certain clubs, have stood by the ’50+1′ rule, in principle anyway.

Borussia Dortmund, like other clubs in the Bundesliga, have corporate links – surely it’s what helps keep them competitive? Without the corporate involvement of Evonik, Signal Iduna, Puma etc, they would be accompanying the nobility of their principles with mediocre football: Mario Götze et al are not social revolutionaries.  Nor do they claim to be.  But Borussia Dortmund fans seem to have the piety to claim great levels of integrity as a club that simply do not withstand scrutiny.

The club has well over 100000 members who have first refusal on tickets, that they can procure via a horrendous call centre (online free sales only occur, on occasion, for cup games).  This protectionism, rightly or wrongly, does make it difficult for the football fan from elsewhere to attend their games, providing fertile ground for the enormous numbers of black market Dortmund tickets exchanging hands for exorbitant amounts on viagogo and other resale sites.  Some of these members are fleecing people on a fortnightly basis.  Dortmund has become a football tourism temple – nothing wrong with that per se – but this is being exploited by its members to the extent that they are making a hefty markup on tickets.  Are these the same fans that claim the moral high ground over RB Leipzig fans?

The irony of the retro scoreboard being used (one assumes, to mock the lack of history of their opponents), being sponsored by Brinkhoff’s, may be lost on some but corporate participation also takes place at the corporately-renamed Signal Iduna Park.  The Dortmund fans should protest against the DFL for not clamping down on Red Bull by all means, but those throwing the stones (some literally) may find that they need to get their own glass house in order first.

Football clubs can be a great vehicle for good when their fans support them properly.  However, fans should remember that the opposition fans are really just people, like them, who enjoy football and enjoy all that surrounds it.  Banter and friendly rivalry is part of that, but violence never should be.  If RB Leipzig are the Voldemort of the footballing world, BVB are certainly not the Harry Potter or Dumbledore they claim to be.