Mainz 05 v Werder Bremen: Bundesliga
Opel Arena, Saturday 18th February 2017
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- Quality of match: ***.5
- Stadium character: ****
- Stadium atmosphere: ***
- Hospitality: ****
- Ease of access: ****
- Things to do around the stadium: ***
- Overall: ***.5