Tag Archives: Bundesliga

RB Leipzig and AK Berliner 07

Leipzig and Berlin Weekend: 3-5th November 2017

RB Leipzig v Hannover 96 and Berliner AK 07 v Chemie Leipzig 

It had been, without doubt, our best laid plan.  Unlike previous excursions, dreamt up between copy-paste “report writing” and semi-lucid lesson planning, this idea was conceived in the height of summer: long days, long sleeps and longing for some football.  Since swapping the cultural void of the West Midlands for the empathy void of Budapest, Szug Tszemples was ready for another kaleidoscope of kultur in Eastern Germany, a central destination for both of us, with a strong gravitational pull enhanced by very cheap air fares.

We had identified Union Berlin v St Pauli as our focal point for the weekend and would base any other matches around this. However, with 2. Bundesliga, the match could have been any time between the Friday at 1800 or late on the Monday, so we had to be flexible.  With the Union match selling out during the members pre-sale, we had to choose between risking getting a ticket at the last minute, possibly seeing nothing or paying exorbitant prices, or taking in another game in Leipzig. We examined our priorities, which were taking in a game or two and having a good scoop, meaning we bit the bullet and ordered the RB Leipzig v Hannover tickets.  I had visited the Zentralstadion once before (on a press pass) and was keen to sample what was on offer as a fan.

I can feel the cloud of disappointment of the beer-bellied, double-denimed “Scheisse-clan”, sweating out their Krombacher saying “you should go to Lok or Chemie Leipzig and avoid this Scheisse.” Yes. OK. That argument has been done. You go and see who you like and I’ll do the same. I respect your stance, but I don’t have to adopt it.

So, with Leipzig sorted for the Saturday and Berliner AK 07 on the Sunday (thanks Groundhopper app), we would meet for a few beers on the Friday night in Berlin. Or so we thought.  Air Berlin’s demise only a couple of weeks beforehand meant that my trusted sidekick would need to find an alternative means of transport, and the most affordable was a sleeper train from Budapest to Dresden.  This meant that, while I was having pork done twelve ways and Weissbier denser than osmium in the Alt Berliner Bier Salon on the Friday, intrepid Szug was bunking up with some deaf pensioners and a few crusty travellers for the night.

Expecting to be regaled with romanticised tales of the discovering the iron tracks behind the Iron Curtain, my weary accomplice sought only to anaesthetise his sleep-deprivation and aftertaste of pish, Twiglets and body odour with some cool Pils.  It may only have been 0850, but we had both been awake for hours, so it felt like going for a lunchtime beer.  We found a little bar, seven minutes walk from Leipzig Hbf called Kneipencafe Optiker, open from 6am.  This place was a find: 1.30€ for a half litre of unidentified but very decent Pilsner, comfy chairs and a convivial, if smoky, atmosphere.  A couple here and we were in severe need of food.  My bladder had decided that it was full for the rest of the day, and our planned bar route became more of a “this place’ll do, it must have a toilet” navigation system.

Our next stop was Dhillon’s Irish Bar – surely it would be serving breakfast – where we were served the most repugnant Staropramen.  Whether it was poorly rinsed cleaner or simply stagnant beer, the barman’s explanation that Staropramen has herby notes wasn’t swallowed, and neither was the corrosive liquid in my glass.  To be fair to him, he replaced it with some generic Pils which was less contaminated before we moved on to Prime Burger, which was a very good feed for a reasonable price.

We checked into our B+B Hotel at this point.  It was very centrally located and cheap enough (33 euros each) and Szug had to wash off the smell that had diffused from his bunk buddies in the communist-chic compartment from the night before.  Armed with our tickets, we strolled the fifteen minutes or so out to the ground, stopping off for a quick beer en route at a street-corner pop-up bar, before making our way towards the perimeter of the stadium.

Having both been raised in a country with puritanical views towards alcohol, the openness with which people were drinking, around children, and not becoming the abusive bigoted misogynists that we are told alcohol brings out, was reassuring.  A bigoted misogynist forms his views in sobriety and that is where and when the re-education must take place. That they are more likely to share these views after drinking is not the root of the problem, and is analogous to building bricks over weeds, without uprooting the weeds, and expecting the weeds not to come through. This is the same country that tolerates mass expressions of bigotry (Orange Walks) under the guise of free speech, allows (and almost promotes)  segregation of kids on the basis of their parents’ religion for their schooling, yet prohibits alcohol being sold at football (but not rugby) matches. I wonder which is more regressive?

The ground itself is one of my favourites, with the exterior walls, main gate, obelisk and embankments from the old ground still very present.  The walk across the bridge from top of the old terracing to the new stand inside the bowl is pretty cool.  Our seats were right up the back of the upper tier, which was excellent as we had a fantastic view of both the pitch and the city of Leipzig, as well as being able to stand up and not obstruct anybody’s view.

The beer in the ground isn’t too expensive, with 0.5litres being 4€, +1€ deposit for the handled drinking vessel.  At half-time we indulged in some of the Glühwein, which was surprisingly wonderful and was like a big fermented cuddle in the cold.

The atmosphere in the stadium ranged from okay to decent, but certainly didn’t hit the levels of my previous visit here against Schalke.  That said, Hannover didn’t bring a huge support in spite of their relative proximity, and the “Kind must go” banner away from home shows that things are going better on the pitch than off it for Hannover just now.

The match itself was interesting, although was defence-dominated until Hannover made the breakthrough through Jonathas after 56 minutes.  Leipzig, having played away in Porto during the week, brought on Forsberg and Keita around this point, and their attack started to look far more multi-faceted.  Goals from Poulsen and Werner ensured that the hosts squeezed out a deserved victory. Discovery of the game for me was Ilhas Bebou, Hannover’s number 13, who threatened the Leipzig match throughout the match and was unlucky not to score himself.

A strategic decision to eat soon after the match may have been ill-conceived, as our very nice but very heavy dinner from Auerbach’s Keller expanded into every available space in our stomachs, meaning the beer wasn’t going down quite so easily.  After a stroll out of the centre towards KillyWilly’s to watch the rest of the BVB v Bayern game, the refreshing abrasion of the cool air was having a diminishing affect on Szug, who started doing the head-nodding one and a half pints in.  Well, he had barely slept the night before and we’d been drinking since 9am.

Like two old men that couldn’t hack it, we jumped on a tram back to the Hauptbahnhof and were in bed before 10 o’clock.  I have, however, discovered that the “start early, finish early” strategy tends to work best for me and brings forth all kinds of benefits: easy getting ‘home’, most acute arseholery takes place after midnight and, in terms of hangovers, late drinking always makes me feel worse the next day than heavy drinking.

Feeling quite refreshed the next morning, we had booked two tickets on the early train to Berlin as tickets were cheaper and had a similar, although less intense day ahead.  Szug’s scepticism about not booking a seat and sitting in the restaurant carriage was quickly alleviated when he saw that, for the price of a seat reservation and a Starbucks, he could have a cooked breakfast and beverage on the train.  It is a pleasant way to spend 75 minutes on a train, coupled with searching for “bars open near Berlin Hbf”.

This search proved none too fruitful, and after dumping our bags in a locker at the train station (where we would return for our train to the airport), we found a nice bar near the Brandenburg Gate on Unter den Linten serving a Berliner Kindl at around 10am.  From here, we saw a bizarre commemoration of the Russian Revolution en route to the Augustiner Keller, where we blindly ordered some sausage and cabbage with a decidedly average beer before heading off to the Poststadion.

This stadium is located around ten minutes walk from the Hauptbahnhof, although you really need to know where it is or you’d never find it.  The ground is in the middle of a residential area, next to some trees and astroturf pitches (used by the public). The ‘main’ stand has some wonderful Art Deco features and the tiny hut selling the tickets, adjacent to the ground, made me inexplicably happy.

All amenities, such as food, drinks and toilets, are located outside the stadium, so if you need once you’re in, keep hold of your ticket if you’re planning a pit stop.  There seemed  more toilets at the end of this stand, incidentally, than in the whole stadium at Anderlecht.  Ten euros seemed a reasonable price to watch some Regionalliga football.  I was told, by Wikipedia, that Berliner AK 07 have attracted a large Turkish following and, while I don’t know what constitutes large, the ‘young team’ certainly matched that description.

In opposition were Chemie Leipzig, and I was curious to see what their following would be like and how the event would unfold.  The atmosphere had the kind of community feel that I associate with Junior Football (semi-pro) and it was rather warming.  We took our seats so as to minimise pillar obstruction at the goals, as it was free seating, and sat down with our beers, like pigs in poo.  The match featured some moments of skill and crudity in equal measure – just what you’re looking for from a match at this level.  Berliner AK 07 were, however, well worth their win and cruised to a three goal victory without much reply from the Sachsen visitors.

A leisurely beer at an anodyne motel opposite the Hauptbahnhof was had, before a mad dash to print off tickets and get our ridiculously busy train out to Schoenefeld Airport, for our journeys home.  This weekend was more of a triumph of adaptability than excellent planning, and demonstrated Germany’s general hospitality towards the football fan as opposed to the increasingly frequent presumption of criminality and suspicion today’s fan endures elsewhere.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

RB Leipzig v Schalke 04

RasenBallsport Leipzig v FC Schalke 04: Bundesliga 1

Red Bull Arena, Leipzig, 3rd December 2016

“going to watch RB Leipzig was a little like watching someone try haggis for the first time: you’re not sure you like the idea but the product is far better than you expect”

It seems that everybody has an opinion on RB (that’s ‘RasenBallsport’; or ‘Lawn ball sports’ – nothing to do with an Austrian beverage company associated with aviation) Leipzig: many complain about how the club is run, its absence of heritage and ‘soul’ and its franchise-like nature whereas others sprinkle terms like ‘a breath of fresh air’ or ‘refreshing’ – an accusation that certainly couldn’t be levelled at the sponsor’s signature beverage.

First view of Red Bull Arena
First view of Red Bull Arena

It really depends what you look for in a football club.  For every person that is wowed by West-End Musical ‘Wicked’, there is somebody who disdainfully comments on how far from Frank L. Baum’s vision this aberration is.  Either way, you can’t argue about the entertainment provided.  Same goes with RB Leipzig.

Beautiful Riverside View
Beautiful Riverside View

Let me oversimplify the RB Leipzig history and you can make up your  own mind about them, if you’re one of the few who hasn’t already.  Think of the Oberliga (Fifth Tier of German Football) and RB Leipzig’s “origins” as a baked potato contest.  RB Leipzig bought over a baked potato, scooped out the filling and kept the skin, filling it with lardons, spices, steroids, some of the original potato and expensive ingredients and competed against some humble potatoes.  Their potatoes were unsurprisingly superior and then the process was repeated in each subsequent league.

However, when you steal the ingredients from a fellow competitor – let’s say, your sister (RB Salzburg) – then resentment can breed and other competitors may complain that the competition is not fair.  RB Leipzig’s rise to the Bundesliga has been expected, even if this season’s early form has caught many off guard.  I remember as ( newly promoted to Bundesliga 2.) Leipzig threw money, 8 million euros, at Anderlecht for Massimo Bruno, who went from playing Champions League football to being a loanee to Salzburg and a bench-warmer at Leipzig last season.  None of their rivals could take such an expensive punt in this way at the time.

RB Leipzig Sektor B Fankurve filling up
RB Leipzig Sektor B Fankurve filling up
RBL fans arriving
RBL fans arriving
Lothar and chums about to melt beside those heaters
Lothar and chums about to melt beside those heaters
Geis and Balls
Geis and Balls
RB Leipzig warming up
RB Leipzig warming up
Schal shakers
Schal shakers

However, perhaps the best people to ask about RB Leipzig would be the inhabitants of this beautiful city, starved of success for so long until recently.  They didn’t seem overly concerned by the big teams coming to their city, bringing armies of fans and trade.  I cannot speak for the people of Leipzig, but it doesn’t look like they are being taken for walking wallets to me (although they can buy their tickets from http://www.dierotenbullen.com/eintrittskarten.html.)

Getting There

While I could have taken a train to Leipzig, taking seven hours and one change from Brussels, flying to Berlin proved to be the cheapest option by some distance.  Due to the early take-off, I had to take a taxi to the airport (through Uber). When my driver appeared, the taxi registration plate, Audi badge and thick glasses suggested I was in for a quick, aggressively-piloted passage.  I’m not convinced his glasses didn’t have filters in them to block out ‘Give Way’ signs and solid white lines.  As predicted, I arrived at the airport before you could say ‘get out of my way’ and in plenty of time for the flight.

However, the tardiness of my outbound flight meant that my well-laid plans were ruined.  The lateness seemed to be caused by the washing and oiling of the wings, which I presume was to prevent the accumulation of ice.  However, the extent of the lateness and the lack of communication was wholly unacceptable and the cheap Irish flight provider disappointed here.  Add to that the pointless standing outside, in sub-zero temperatures, before the aircraft is even there and you have a disgruntled passenger.  No-frills is one thing but no-sense is another.

Main Entrance to the Stadium
Main Entrance to the Stadium
Love an evening kick off
Love an evening kick off

Arriving at Berlin Schoenfeld airport belatedly meant that my ticket to see Hallescher FC v Werder Bremen II would go unused as I would never get there on time.  So, in the meantime, I checked the Deutsche Bahn website to find alternative connections and decided to head to Leipzig around 1430 and spend some time in Berlin.  During this deviation, I took in 45 minutes of action at SV Lichtenburg, in East Berlin, at the Hans Zoschke Stadion.  With a capacity of 10000, the 142 fans in the stadium enjoyed some agricultural football with a community ambience.  This was, however, a little too Hipster for me if I’m honest and I took the S-Bahn to Berlin Sudkreuz for the ICE train to Leipzig.

My old trick of not booking a seat and having a beer in the buffet car for less money worked again and the journey was painless and smooth.

Leipzig

Whilst almost all of my preparation had focused on the stadia, the football and sorting out transport, it had slipped my mind that German cities undergo a transformation in December thanks to the Christmas Market.  Disembarking in Leipzig is a fairly grand experience: the station (apparently the world’s largest by floor area) is elegantly maintained while maintaining the multi-storey functionality one finds in many a Hauptbahnhof.  After crossing the road and the tram lines, you enter a city that is a stylish delight and perhaps hasn’t exploited tourism as much as it could.

The architecture reminded me of Hanover in many ways although I would say Leipzig is a prettier city.  There are several references to Leipzig’s pride of place in Saxony, which always reminds me of being called ‘Anglo-Saxon’ in France, ignoring the inconvenient truth that most Scots do not have these origins.  The city is one I would revisit for a city break with my wife, even in the absence of a football match, and is characterful and generally intriguing.

Schalke always take a sizeable and vocal support and they were both visible and audible throughout the city centre.  However, the biggest assault on the senses was surely perpetrated by the cloud of aromas produced by glühwein and pork.  For anyone looking for indoor festivities, the Auerbachs Keller is a delight and serves pork and potato 27 different ways.  While vegetarians may end up disappointed, this place is where Faust, by Goethe, is set and there is a certain grandeur about it and the food and drink were of excellent quality whilst remaining moderately priced.

My hotel for the night was located west of both the city centre and the stadium.  It was the kind of area that had ‘slum’ bars, and graffiti, tattoos and piercings were the accessories du jour.  I moseyed on in my Parka jacket, Soviet-style winter hat, looking like a fish on a bike, until I found the Hotel Merseburger (merseburger hof leipzig). My single room was perfectly adequate, if unspectacular, and was a little pricey at 57€, but I think Schalke fans had booked all the best affordable spots beforehand.

The Red Bull Arena

This stadium in many ways was characteristic of the whole visit in that I was surprised by just how much I liked it.  The setting beside the river and set back a little behind the indoor arena is inviting and once lit up, the stadium looks spectacular in the distance.  Formerly known as the Zentralstadion (until 2010), it has a capacity of 44959 although it feels much bigger than this.

Upon arriving at the stadium, the number of people hanging around outside, drinking beer on the steps was notable. I slalomed between them and the strategically placed Kaufmann bags that were receptacles for empty beer bottles towards the main gates and the media entrance.  Bizarrely, upon going through this gate, there is a road with a large queue of traffic (turns out they park under the ground) and a big wall to enter the stadium grounds that screams communist architecture.

Upon being given my pass, the lift  to the left ascends to level 5, the upper-tier path that is set back a little from the perimeter of the stadium itself and is a thoroughfare for the upper-tier fans.  Crossing a bridge takes you into the stadium concourse where the food and drink is sold.  Walking through to section 19, you do get a genuine wow moment at the view.  Being in the back row was perfect and, while some will be reaching for the oxygen masks, the elevation offers a fabulous perspective of the whole stadium.

The snacks and drinks range was fairly good and a beer and currywurst would set you back 7 euros.  The arching long side stands  offer a pillar-free view while the behind-the-goal stands only have a single tier: expect expansion in this regard in the not too distant future.  The Leipzig fankurve is being the goal in Sektor B. For all the talk of a plastic club, these fans made a decent racket all game.  No, they didn’t throw pyro, their flags were a little ambiguous and they didn’t intimidate.  The stadium, like the town (as mentioned earlier), reminded me of Hannover’s HDI Arena in some ways.

The players coming out to music from the Rocky films is rather twee, but each to their own – it isn’t 2 Unlimited or Die Elf vom Niederrhein though.  The RB Leipzig fans produced a glittering tifo, which looked a little ‘Eurovision’, and probably emptied the local stationary store’s stock of shiny paper.  It did seem a little like it was devised by somebody ‘corporate’, whereas Schalke’s fans bounced and sung ‘Schalke null vier’ to most recognisable melodies.  Although my favourite of the day was ‘auf geht’s Leipzig gies a goal, gies a goal, gies a go-oh-oal’; well, that’s what it sounded like to my Scottish ear.

Looking back towards the stadium
Looking back towards the stadium
Stadium at night
Stadium at night

RB Leipzig v Schalke ’04

You can say what you like about the administration of the club, but Leipzig’s fans come to see football; and it’s excellent, entertaining football.  After the abbreviated minute of silence (although the Gelsenkirchen word for silence must be ‘applause’), the match got under way and within twenty seconds, Leipzig had a penalty.  It looked like a foul in real time from up in the gods but the TV replay beside me showed that Werner tumbled into Fahrmann in the Schalke goal and the keeper was furious.

RBL XI
RBL XI
Schalke XI
Schalke XI

Werner recovered from his momentary loss of balance to coolly slot the penalty in the corner.  Leipzig could then have had a couple more before five minutes had been played.  Schalke were all over the place and the pace, power and directness of Leipzig was too much for Naldo and Howedes in particular.  The brought a few chants of ‘Lawn  ball olé’ and the stadium was noisy and charged with excitement.  The atmosphere would be lauded elsewhere, and it’s certainly no worse than the likes of Frankfurt, Munich or Bremen.

Make no mistake: Leipzig are not going away.  They may not maintain their current form all season but they have some real gems in their squad in players like Keita, Werner, Poulsen, Forsberg and Burke.  For all of the ‘buy young players to sell them on’ articles I’ve read, I have yet to see any acknowledge that maybe Leipzig are buying young players to develop and keep so that they can challenge for the league.  Even the most cynical fan has to admit the advertising provided by Leipzig reaching the Champions League is more lucrative in the long term than cashing in on players.

Thereafter, the game evened out and Schalke probably deserved their equaliser when it came, with Kolasinac tapping home a rebound after Gulacsi spilled the ball.  The sprinklings of Schalke fans outwith the ‘away section’ was very noticeable at this point.  The Schalke fans contributed massively to the occasion and ensured that the atmosphere remained lively, even during lulls in the match.

A talking point during the match had to be the conduct of Timo Werner.  He caused the Schalke defence all kinds of problems with his pace and power but has a cynical and cheating edge to his game.  It’s not OK and his manager needs to sort him out.  The second half kicked off in much the same way as the first and RB Leipzig were ahead within a couple of minutes.  Forsberg’s inswinging free kick was met by Schalke’s goalscorer, Kolasinac, who had now scored past both ‘keepers.

After retaking the lead, Leipzig continued to make most of the play and looked more likely to score – Schalke’s impotence up front (Max Meyer is never a striker) meant attacks seldom had a focal point.

The 42558 (ausverkauft!) capacity crowd was announced but some seats were empty between the Schalke fans and the home support, presumably some kind of fresh-air force field.  Those aquamarine seats look like leftovers from a communist swimming pool and the stadium would be given a lift if they were replaced.  However, one wonders what kind of advert would replace them?  I’d expect it would be a load of bull.

Leipzig continued to create most of the chances and the game opened up in the latter stages as Schalke chased for an equaliser. However, the Royal Blues remained second best for most of the encounter and when the whistle was blown, few would argue that it was not deserved.  Not even the most ardent anti-RB Leipziger.  For all the accusations of being an advertising construct, the team are hungry, well-drilled and able and the fans are far livelier and more engaged than they are given credit for.

To summarise, going to watch RB Leipzig was a little like watching someone try haggis for the first time: you’re not sure you like the idea but the product is far better than you expect and, even though you know what’s in it, you can’t help enjoying it.

Stadium Ratings

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

Verdict: Fabulous stadium, great team, underrated fans and beautiful city. 

 

 

Borussia Mönchengladbach v Bayer Leverkusen

Saturday 27th August 2016

Borussia Mönchengladbach v Bayer Leverkusen – Bundesliga

The first league match of the season is the most keenly anticipated moment of the year for many football fans. It is the singularity, the point at which everything is possible. The habitual grumbles of a few months ago fade into the distance to be replaced by excitement and intrigue and cold, hard realism is temporarily suspended.  How will the new players (if your team has made any signings) complement the existing side? How will the team cope without their captain, seduced by the ‘new challenge’ of earning a telephone number salary in England?

B+W
B+W view from 6A

If ever it was needed, this match embodied everything that’s great about the Bundesliga and reignited my love of live football.   I was more intrigued than excited in advance of the match, expecting an interesting contrast of styles and formations and a few goals. Borussia Park is not a new venue for me, although I’d never been  with my daughter in accompaniment, but I’ve never left thinking “that wasn’t worth the effort.”  No review or write-up of the match was planned: this was simply meant to be a day out.  All photographic credits go to my daughter. More pictures of the stadium and its environs can be found here.

Borussia have spruced up the area around the stadium to include a beer garden and more food and drink outlets, bringing it more in line with similarly sized grounds in Germany.  This is especially welcome given the distance from central Monchengladbach to the stadium.  It was a challenge for those guys who wear those denim gilets with all of the patches sewn on to keep them on with the temperatures soaring well above 30°C.

I had arrived around ninety minutes before the match, and pulled into parking P5, which I had learned from previous visits was a good compromise between distance from the motorway and the post-match march back to the car. Having been in parking P3 once before, when it had taken around an hour to get away from the stadium, I was wise to the traffic situation.

It takes around 10 minutes to stroll from the parking, past the hockey stadium, towards the Nordkurve area via a few sausage and beer stalls. A quick perusal of the club shop followed this, where we discovered that most household items can be branded and packaged as club merchandise. Sadly, the famous musical bottle openers playing ‘Die Elf vom Niederrhein’ were nowhere to be seen.

There is a cash machine around the West Stand, which is convenient as the food and drink trade seems very much a ‘cash only’ system.  We decided to get a bratwurst and a drink once we were in the stadium so that we could take it to our seats in the shade.  This turned out to be a schoolboy error.  In the upper tier of the South-East corner of the stadium, there is one food and one drinks stall. Unsurprisingly on such a hot day, people were in need of liquid refreshments. The food area was almost empty, with staff loitering around, whereas the drinks bar had a queue of at least fifteen frustrating minutes length (queues should be measured in time, not length) from one hour before the game, throughout the game and  shortly thereafter. Really somebody ought to have reassigned some of the food minions to assist the beverage buccaneers who were the personification of hot and bothered.   They should consider investing in the ‘Beermaster’, which dispenses six beers at once (St Pauli Review).

So, alcohol-free Pils and cola in hand, we marched up to the oxygen-sparse seats in section 6A, above the travelling support (who were relentless in their rhythmic backing). It’s easy to forget just how good the atmosphere can be in Germany and a certain 12 year-old loved it.

When the teams were announced, I was left slightly perplexed by the Borussia selection whereas I could’ve named Leverkusen’s XI beforehand. Opinion will continue to remain divided on Andre Schubert when the bench looks stronger than the starting eleven. Add to that the omission of Hazard, who scored a hat-trick in midweek in a Champions League qualifier and a few furrowed brows were to be seen.  However, as ever, if the team wins then the selection is always more justifiable.

BMG XI
BMG XI
Leverkusen XI
Leverkusen XI

Schubert seems to favour what I’m going to call the “3-5-2 pentagon” and, on paper, it doesn’t look like it should work. The midfield pentagon consisted of two defensive midfielders in Strobl and Kramer (who didn’t look particularly fit), two wide players in Traore and Wendt and Stindl as an attacking midfielder. Mo Dahoud hasn’t had much of a look in so far.  Leverkusen look like they should play 4-2-3-1 but are shoehorning players into a 4-4-2, despite Chicarito’s injury-enforced absence.

The pre-match proceedings at Borussia are always entertaining and the scarf waving today actually had the desirable side-effect of circulating some cooler air around.  The obligatory mascot – a foal – must have sweated his or her body weight into that furry suit in the relentless heat, which had led to people bringing towels to the game. This was new to me but the wisdom and foresight involved in taking this measure is undeniable.

The Match

The heat was always going to be a factor but both teams dealt with its oppressiveness fairly well. Leverkusen’s pressing high up the pitch left huge gaps in between Tah and Leno that looked ripe for exploitation with Leicester-style balls over the top.  However, this isn’t really Borussia’s way although selecting Hahn to play centrally suggested that exploiting the high line with his pace was always an option.

Leverkusen strangled possession but there was a stodginess to their play.  For all the pace of Bellarbi, Kampl and Volland, they couldn’t find the space to capitalise on it. Perhaps Schubert’s nous has been underestimated.  For all that the home side had less of the ball, there was far more fluidity and pace about their attacks and these yielded the majority of the best chances throughout the match.

Leverkusen seemed to miss having a bona fide centre-forward like Kiessling (or even Drmic) to provide an outlet for their wingers.  Volland disappointed and, with the plethora of wingers in the Leverkusen squad, he was clearly signed as a supporting striker.

I missed nearly fifteen minutes of the first half, taking my daughter to the toilet and getting us drinks. Yes, even during the match, the queues were enormous. People really do drink more when it’s hot! However, we were back in plenty of time to see Andre Hahn’s opener which, unsurprisingly, came about due to the Leverkusen high line. To be honest, it looked like he just put his head down and struck the ball and wasn’t concerned too much with placement.  For Gladbach though, to go into half-time one up was a bonus given that they had spent most of the match in their own half. Döp Döp Döp…..

The second half became a feistier affair, with stray tackles flying in here and there and the “needle factor” ramped up.  Gladbach and Leverkusen both had opportunities to score although the home team’s fluidity and movement remained superior.  Leverkusen’s substitutes seemed to offer more of the same, with Mehmedi and Brandt unable to provide the required spark. Pohjanpalo was then thrown on for the injured Aranguiz, and two minutes later, after a frenetic scramble, the Finn equalised. It was not entirely undeserved.

Ghostbusters Green
Ghostbusters Green

With the scores level and the players tiring, surely now Schubert was going to bring on a fresh-legged attacker? The biggest surprise was that he waited another five minutes before removing the tenacious, but exhausted, Hahn for Thorgan Hazard.  Within a minute, the Belgian had threaded through a perfectly weighted pass for Lars Stindl to dispatch beyond Leno. 2-1 Gladbach, the Ghostbusters Green stadium absolutely rocking.  Noise levels reached a new high.  Again, a through pass between the defence and keeper did Leverkusen.

Borussia then had chances to further extend their lead before suffocating the match, ensuring that they took all three points from a very tricky fixture.  The quality of movement, touch and passing was, at times, outstanding.  The atmosphere came and went in waves  but even during its troughs, it remained miles better than anything I’ve experienced in other countries.  I’ve missed the Bundesliga and a 12 year-old girl has discovered it. Good times.

 

 

Werder Bremen v Eintracht Frankfurt

Werder Bremen v Eintracht Frankfurt: Bundesliga

Saturday 14th May

This game was a winner-takes-all relegation battle.  The winner was guaranteed Bundesliga survival.  The loser, a place in the playoff against Nuremberg, or worse.  For Werder Bremen fans, this victory was their reward for their loyalty in the face of their team’s stuttering and inconsistent season and they celebrated it as though it was the league title itself.

Non-relegation celebrations
Non-relegation celebrations

I had already booked my travel to Hamburg, via Bremen, to go and see St Pauli on the Sunday before I considered going to this game.  It seemed that it might be important, and it fitted nicely into my travel plans, so I ordered a ticket and made this ‘part 1’ of a weekend double-header.  Just how important this match would turn out to be would become apparent over the coming weeks.

In the matches before this match, Bremen had won 6-2 at home to VfB Stuttgart and picked up a point in Koln with their first clean sheet of the season.  Frankfurt had won three matches in a row, including an away derby victory in Darmstadt and an impressive home victory over Dortmund.  The Kovac brothers have picked up some decent results since taking over at Eintracht since Armin Veh’s departure back in March.

Add to the mix Hoffenheim’s rebirth since Julian Nagelsmann took over from Huub Stevens and Stuttgart’s sudden capitulation, and the only constant down near the bottom of the league this season has been the inadequacy of Hannover.

Getting There

Trains for this weekend were more expensive than usual, even booking well in advance, so it was either risking the night bus or paying a fortune for the train.  The lucky recipients of my money were Flixbus (https://www.flixbus.de) – a new experience for me – and they took 21€ for my passage to Bremen from Brussels.  That’s about a Euro for every minute of sleep achieved!

The bus left from Gare du Midi at 0115.  It’s not the most pleasant area to pass time during the day so lurking with the pimps, crims and homeless was not unexpected at that time of night.  Of course, since the security clampdown, just about every (legal) facility in the area is shut down at that time of night.  I managed to look efficient and get on the bus quickly.  I had hoped Brussels would be the origin of the bus but, alas, it had started out in Paris so was already two-thirds full  by the time of my ascension.  Although I found a double seat to myself, the aisle chair was populated seconds thereafter and the gentleman in the seat in front, who smelled of last night’s ashtrays, decided to recline.  I was cramped in, whilst nursing sciatic nerve pain from a herniated disc and a recently impacted patella, and incredibly grumpy and tired.

Arrival at Bremen Hauptbahnhof couldn’t have come any sooner.  I quickly found a toilet, got some sugary things from the Kamps bäckstube and a strong coffee before leaving my bag in the left luggage lockers.  It felt good to be off of that bus.

Tickets and Accommodation

For just 14€ plus delivery, I was able to get a ticket in section 2a+4, which translates as the Ostkurve.  Tickets can be bought from the club at http://www.werder.de/tickets/heimspiele/.  When the ticket arrived, I do remember thinking ‘Why is it so long?’  I was staying in Hamburg that night in the Ibis City hotel; not because there’s nothing to see or do in Bremen I might add but because of the match the next day.

Bremen

Knowing that I wouldn’t have a huge amount of time to be touristy, I decided to just stroll around the centre of Bremen in the morning, get some lunch by midday and then walk out to the stadium.  Leaving the train station, crossing the wide road and strolling past the ubiquitous Irish pub and associated doorway dwellers, it takes around ten minutes before you reach the old town.  After strolling around Böttcherstrasse, the area around the Markt, the Rathaus and the Schnoor, it was time to recharge my batteries with a draught Beck’s from the Beck’s café in the Bremen Markt.  Whilst enjoying this beer outside, it hadn’t escaped my notice that the day seemed to be getting colder and the sky, greyer.

I had a sausage platter and a weissbier in the Hofbrauhaus before walking down to the river, via the Schnoor, for the walk to the stadium.  You can spot it in the distance almost immediately.  It is worthy of note that the Werder flag was flying from just about every landmark, balcony and shop window in Bremen.  This is a one-club city and the unity and support was unanimous and, for a visitor, actually quite up-lifting.

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The Weserstadion

The stadium is situated about 20-30 minutes walk away from the centre of Bremen and the station and the stroll along the river is very pleasant.  There are vendors of bog-standard beer sprinkled along the route, incase you get thirsty, as well as some Trolley Trolls looking for your empty bottles to refund – it’s like a codependent deregulated industry in itself.

As I approached the stadium, I was aghast to hear a Bremen fan bar playing what sounded like ‘Three Lions’, by the Shitening Seeds.  It turns out that Werder have adopted this as a fan song, with German lyrics of course.  This, along with the adaptations of ‘Daydream Believer’ and, of course, ‘WunderWand’ by die Oase.

The Dog Bowl
The Dog Bowl
Why don't more clubs do this with solar panels?
Why don’t more clubs do this with solar panels?

I absolutely love the look of this stadium from the outside.  It was renovated between 2008 and 2011, removing the running track and adding the photovoltaic panels over the exterior chassis in a shape that looks like an upside-down dog bowl.  Sci-fi writers from the 1950’s would recognise this as some kind of Alien Mothership.

View from the banking after the game
View from the banking after the game

The area immediately outside the ground comprises of a decent selection of snacks and drinks, although the further east you go, the less you can buy without a Werder Card.  Yes, those bloody pre-paid efforts that you can only charge up with a round number of euros, thereby limiting, or dictating, your purchases to around that amount.     As I’ve ranted before, these initiatives are fine for season-ticket holders but for the occasional fan, it’s an acutely neuralgic rectum.

Anyway, fresh with my beer, I sauntered over to the Ostkurve area, where there is a small fan area, with a barn-type structure for when it rains.  There’s also a banking which the fans gathered on for a sing-song pre-match.  It made for an exciting and enjoyable pre-match atmosphere.  The club shop was very busy and there was a promotion on the ‘This is Osterdeich’ T-Shirts for under 10€.  Given my lack of club colours, and the fact I was going to be on the Ostkurve, I felt that one of these T-shirts would provide an extra layer to keep out the chill and, coupled with a scarf, I’d blend in, for not much financial outlay.

Going into the stadium was easy.  An electronic scan, up a few stairs before a quick pat-down, and I was in the food and drink area at the Ostkurve.  The selection was reasonably good although there was one very long queue.  And no, it wasn’t for the toilets.  The one girl responsible for loading money onto these Werder cards was undoubtedly the rate-limiting step in the club’s match day takings for food and beverages.  So I queued for one of these and was willing to spend 14€ as I saw this would get me two beers, a Bratwurst and a Pretzel (over 90 minutes).  However, I got to the front and was told I could only load 10 or 15.  As the only other cash I had was a 50€ note, and I didn’t trust my German enough to tell her to take ‘funfzehn and not funfzig’, I loaded a tenner on and it was one beer, a bratwurst and a pretzel.

In a way, that may not have been a bad thing because once your onto the fankurve, you’re going to struggle to get out and you’re certainly not getting your place back without a large friend to look after it for you.

Given the space-age nature of the outside of the stadium, the inside is a bit conventional and underwhelming.  It’s good, but at the same time, fairly regular.   It does, however, possess some top quality oldskool floodlights.  Interestingly, the corporate boxes are at the top of the stadium and not in a little mid-height ring between tiers, as has become more of the norm.

Weserstadion from my spot
Weserstadion from my spot

Werder Bremen V Eintracht Frankfurt

The match, in isolation, was a fairly one-paced and repetitive event.  Werder Bremen completely dominated possession and Eintracht were happy to let them.  They had clearly come for the draw that would ensure their safety.  For Werder, a draw would guarantee a relegation playoff place and a defeat, if Stuttgart won, would have resulted in automatic relegation.  The circumstances, therefore, really did dictate the pattern of play.

Werder continued to make nearly all the play.  Eintracht counters were generally well-read and intercepted by Vestergaard, who was colossal and kept the wayward Djilobodji in check.  Werder struggled to find any penetration and Eggestein, Oztunali and Junuzovic were providing Pizarro with scraps.  The build up, while controlled, was painfully slow and Frankfurt were executing their game plan well.

This general pattern continued for most of the match.  Occasionally Wiedwald had to be wakened up by the occasional Frankfurt foray upfield and, for all Werder’s possession, Hradecky in the Frankfurt goal wasn’t actually all that busy.  Clemens Fritz demonstrated an excellent passing range throughout the game but Werder’s wide men were unable to create.

Then, finally, on 87 minutes, the breakthrough came.  Werder had forced a number of corners throughout the match and with two giant centre backs and Ujah now on the pitch, a good cross had to spell danger.  While the goal was messy, it went in.  In the stadium, Utah was credited as having scored but it was subsequently, post-match, attributed to the modern-day Carlton Palmer that is Papy Djilobodji.  The goal-celebrations went on  for what seemed like an eternity and Frankfurt’s players had a hollow, empty look about them.

Werder held on for the remainder of the match provoking mass celebrations, before the net at the Ostkurve that holds the fans in was ripped and a deluge of delirious supporters poured onto the pitch to celebrate.  From my personal memory bank, the only similar thing I can remember is when Anderlecht won the title on the last day in 2014.  This wasn’t a title win but to Werder’s fans, it felt like it.  The Green White Wonderwall had, just, kept Bremen in the league.  Bremen’s fans, while not the most vociferously vocal in the kurve, were supportive from all four stands, all 42000 fans, and not just from the cheap seats.  It made for an interesting and excellent atmosphere.  I would say that they’ll need to improve for next season or the same fate, or worse, may befall Bremen as their over-reliance on the ageing Pizarro is very apparent.

Now I left before most fans but I was still in the stadium at least 25 minutes after the final whistle and fans started to trickle out thereafter.  I’d say about half of the stadium had spilled onto the pitch.  Because they could.  And why not?  They had just saved their season.  It says something about the closeness at the bottom of the league that Bremen finished the day in 13th position after starting in 16th.  As for Frankfurt, if you’d said to them at the start of March that they’d finish 16th, I think they might have taken their chances.  It’s going to be a big week for them in the playoff.

On the way back from the stadium to the station, the police had blocked off the riverside road so the fans walked down a busy shopping street, with trams, instead.  One fan stopped me and asked me if he could buy my T-Shirt and how much I wanted.  I thought for a second and said, ‘Well, I paid 15 euros for it, so you can have it for that.’ He handed over the money and I took off my T-shirt, which I had essentially hired for the match at a 5€ profit.  The only other time anything like that has happened was when a cheeky Moroccan offered to give me his flag for my kilt after Morocco had just pumped Scotland 3-0 in St Etienne in the 1998 World Cup.  That time, I refused.

There was drunken delirium in the streets of Bremen – it really meant a lot to people.  I got the feeling the police would have a busy night and, while I was partially disappointed at not staying in Bremen to share the celebrations, I was so tired that all I could think about was falling asleep in my hotel bed.

Stadium Ratings

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

Conclusion: A weirdly wonderful stadium, pleasant town and supportive fans make this a great day out.  The importance of the game undoubtedly heightened everything.

 

Kruse-ing in a Taxi

Kruse-ing in a Taxi

Kruse

“It seems that all Kruse is guilty of is a moment of forgetfulness. Yet his club have seen fit to appease public indignation by acting as guardians of some kind of implicit moral code.”

I once left a pair of Doc Martens’ boots on the train on my way home from Glasgow.  Once I realised what I’d done, the weight of frustration, guilt and stupidity was far more punitive then any sanction my parents could impose.  As a hat-wearer, I have lost countless hats over the years.  I think I even once left a beanie in a taxi.  Should I have been punished for my misdemeanours?  Grounded by my parents or banished by my wife for my crimes to hair growth? Well, that’s exactly what has happened to Wolfsburg’s Max Kruse.

Within 24 hours, Kruse, a German International, scored a hat-trick and lost 75000€ in a taxi.  A day in the life of a footballer, it seems.

Kruse is reported to have alighted a taxi at 6am and to have called the Berlin Police shortly afterwards to tell them he had left 75000€, in cash, in the taxi.  Now if that was you or I, we would probably be threatened with prosecution for wasting police time.  However, that’s the equivalent of a week’s wage for Kruse so it is entirely plausible.  His reason for having the money is that he was playing poker through the night.  The ‘legality’ of him having this money is implicit in his defence and one must assume that Max Kruse is not ‘Der Don’ of the German Mafia.

Kruse has had to suffer not only the widespread ignominy of having his absent-mindedness reported by international media but also the not-so-insignificant loss of 75000€.  So, while the story may induce self-righteous sniggers and he has been a bit of a spanner, has he actually done anything wrong?

Well, according to his club, VfL Wolfsburg, he must have done as he has been fined another 25000€.  That’s an expensive night out. However, it seems to be underpinned by a rather perverse logic.  At Wolfsburg, if someone trips up during a game, do the management trip them up at training?  I’d be bit annoyed if I lost my car keys and my employer took my house keys as punishment.

What is Wolfsburg’s Problem with it?

Some will agree with Wolfsburg’s stance that he has brought the club into disrepute in a day where sponsorship money and image rights are so valuable.  However, I am still trying to ascertain what aspect of the story was so unacceptable to them and how, exactly, did he bring the club into disrepute?

Was it the time of day?

Kruse is said to have got out of the taxi at 6am.  I sometimes go out for a run before that time.  While my employer may prefer that I spend more time in bed, it is my free time and, provided I turn up for work on time and do my job effectively, it’s none of their business.  Wolfsburg had no game that day – they had, in fact, been victorious hours earlier with Kruse scoring a hat-trick – and he turned up on time at the club later that day. You could say he merited a night out.

Was it the nature of the activity?

If Wolfsburg are concerned about the ‘image’ surrounding poker and gambling in general, then their puritanical approach is laden with hypocrisy.  Over the past ten years, the money that the Gambling industry has invested exponential amounts in football (not for philanthropic purposes, but still…) from which Wolfsburg will have indirectly profited so, assuming the legality of the poker, he has done nothing wrong.

How is it any different from sitting up playing League of Legends or Football Manager until 6am?  Or binge-watching an entire series of House of Cards?  Or getting to the end of the New Testament?  All of these activities are legal, do not place him physical well-being at risk and none of them compromise the interests of the football club.

Was it the ‘losing the money’?

Some people, in their piety, will be disgusted at the sheer amount he left in the taxi. Fair enough. However, top footballers earn ‘disgusting’ amounts of money.  Would it have been more disgusting had he not contacted the police?  I think so.  Or was the club’s annoyance brought about by his absent-mindedness?  Occasionally, I have arrived at work having forgotten a USB drive or some kid’s homework who was absent previous lesson.  While these are temporary moments of incompetence, I’d be working to rule if I were to be fined.

It seems that all Kruse is guilty of is a moment of forgetfulness.  Had he left his house keys in the taxi, we wouldn’t even have heard the story.  Yet his club have seen fit to appease public indignation by acting as guardians of some kind of implicit moral code.  Surely he’s embarrassed enough? The irony of the club being bankrolled by a company synonymous with dishonesty and financial irregularity makes this all the more intriguing. I really hope the taxi wasn’t a Volkswagen.

 

Eintracht Frankfurt

Eintracht Frankfurt v FC Ingolstadt: Bundesliga 1

Saturday 5th March 2016

Growing up around Glasgow, the name ‘Eintracht Frankfurt’ was synonymous with their 7-3 defeat in the 1960 European Cup Final against Real Madrid at Hampden Park.  My parents’ generation frequently brought it up as a moment of crowning glory for Glasgow.  The name, however, invokes images of defeat for me.  I saw Eintracht play last May but they were outclassed by Borussia Dortmund and they struggled again today against less illustrious opposition.  Without the goal threat of the talismanic man-bun that is Alex Meier (Bundesliga top scorer last season), Eintracht had set their phasers to stun.  No goals in the past two Bundesliga games did not augur well either.

It turns out, as I prepare to upload this the morning after the match, Eintracht manager Armin Veh has just been sacked. The fans got what they wanted: ‘Armin Out’ was their chant, before shaking all about, doing the Hokey Cokey and turning around.

Arena Walkway
Arena Walkway
Full time
Full time

Getting There

I was given a press ticket for this game so I didn’t need to worry about buying one.  However, the club website for tickets is: https://tickets.eintracht.de/default.php. I had arrived at Brussels Midi Station earlier than I needed to, giving me time to grab coffee and a pastry.  I walked up to the platform to take the Thalys train to Koln, my intermediate destination before changing train for Frankfurt.  My return fare for the whole journey was 77 euros, booked through Belgian Rail, SNCB as usual.  You can take the Megabus as well if you don’t mind arriving and departing in the middle of the night but, in this case, the bus was only about 10 euros cheaper.   Then, an announcement came over saying there was an 11 minute delay.  I had a 17 minute window for the connection in Koln, so was beginning to feel nervous.  These 11 minutes became 15, which became ‘about 20, which, in reality was 45 minutes.  They really should have managed my expectations better: I could’ve gone for a coffee instead of pacing back and forth like a metronome on the cold platform.  The Thalys train ride itself was fine and comfortable although I still think the Deutsche Bahn ICE trains are better.

Having clearly missed my connecting train, and not having a flex-ticket, I went to the ticket people to ask what to do.  I was told that, because Thalys is a private company and nothing to do with Deutsche Bahn, I’d need to buy a new ticket but that I should write to Thalys to ask for the difference to be refunded.  I was also told that, had I missed my connection because a Deutsche Bahn train was running late, my ticket would still have been valid.  Raging.  So, I paid for my single to Frankfurt, which I’ll be contacting Thalys to reimburse me for.

Not having reserved a seat on this new connection, I spent the hour and ten minutes on the ICE train in the café car.  So, instead of paying to reserve a seat, I got a ‘breakfast burger’ containing omelette, bacon and cheese (which was far better than anticipated), and a small beer for just over 5€, guaranteeing my seat to Frankfurt.

My plan of taking a quick tourist bus around Frankfurt to get an overview of the city was abandoned due to my lateness so I went straight to my accommodation, the Pension Alpha – the perfect place for the Beta male (http://www.pensionalpha.de).  I arrived to be told that my room had suffered from water damage and wasn’t available but that I could have another room, with a toilet (on another floor!) instead for a 25% discount, meaning my room was only 30€.  The omens weren’t promising.  The hotel ‘manager’ showed me to my room which was so far underground, the room didn’t need central heating due to its proximity to the Earth’s molten core.  I was basically in staff digs that had had a spray of polish and a quick vacuum.  Well, I wasn’t going to start trawling Frankfurt for better for the sake of one night and it was only 200m from the train station.  Sigh.

View from my seat
View from my seat
The 'floating' TV
The ‘floating’ TV
Teams coming out
Teams coming out

Frankfurt

The area around train station is often the ‘earthier’ part of town and Frankfurt is no exception.  I went for a quick stroll to the ‘Romer’ area, which is an ‘out of place’ square that time forgot in the middle of a modern Metropolis.  After a hearty serving of bratwurst, pommes and weissbier, I was ready to head to the stadium.  It was noteworthy that a small lady at an adjacent table had ordered the equivalent of a Frankfurt mixed grill, containing schweinshaxe, bratwurst and schnitzel.  The nearby abattoir must be a large local employer. The city has U-Bahn, S-Bahn and trams so it is easy, in principle, to get around.

The Commerzbank Arena

Flag Fans of the Curve
Flag Fans of the Curve
Pre-match optimism
Pre-match optimism
The Ingolstadt Loyal (since 2004)
The Ingolstadt Loyal (since 2004)
In the distance, between the trees and skyscrapers, is the main entrance
In the distance, between the trees and skyscrapers, is the main entrance
Commerzbank Arena roof, from the gangway
Commerzbank Arena roof, from the gangway
The cable guy
The cable guy

From Frankfurt Hbf, the stadium is less than 10 minutes away via the S-Bahn (S7,8 or 9).  Finding the platform, via the network of urine-scented tunnels, can take a few minutes as it isn’t well signposted.  The short journey is actually a rather frustrating experience.  The stadium has a designated stop – Stadion – but it is nearly a kilometre past the stadium so you watch the stadium disappear out of view as the train trundles by, before alighting.  There are no barriers as such so I consider the ticket I bought (having no match ticket at this point) to be a superfluous 3 euro splurge.

Upon alighting the train there are some beer and sausage stalls – I recommend getting one here as it’s a bit of a hike to the stadium and this may make it more pleasurable.  These facilities are found at regular intervals down the forested path, liberally sprinkled with urinating men around the periphery.  I arrived at what looked like the ticket office and main entrance.  I was to collect my ticket here.  I was told by the ticket office worker that she didn’t have a ticket in my name and that I should go to the main entrance.  ‘Great, where is that?’ I replied.  I was told to ‘ask the man in the yellow jacket’ as she was busy. So, like a good boy, I asked the man (steward) in the yellow jacket where the main entrance was.  Of all the possible answers I had considered, ‘I don’t know’ was not one.  Surely that’s in day one of steward-training?

I then found a diagram that suggested that the main entrance was miles away.  That couldn’t be right, could it?  I was starting to panic.  I like to arrive at geek-o-clock, early enough to photograph the place almost empty and scope out what’s on offer.  I wouldn’t get to do this now.  I asked another steward where the main entrance was and he said ‘about 5 minutes to the right after the tunnel.’ He lied, managing my expectations as well as the guy at the train station.  It was about 30 minutes walk.  I turns out the Commerzbank Arena has  huge boundaries and grounds with an area almost as diffuse as the nearby airport.  Having marched against the flow of people to get to the main entrance (it is now 15:10), I collect my ticket and join the massive queue at the turnstiles.  Between getting through the turnstiles and getting to the stadium is a good ten minutes of forest walk as well.  I jog along, a little painfully due to my dodgy hamstring, and arrive in my seat at 1525, exasperated but relieved.

The 51500 capacity arena looks rather like a concrete bowl from the outside but is far more impressive once you’re in.  The roof structure is unusual.  The club describe it as a ‘steel-rope-membrane-inner-roof’. There are pillars supporting a yellow disc, covering the circumference, and what looks like a semi-opaque canvas-like roof extending from it.  Inside this, above the pitch, there is a scaffold, supported by pillars from the top of the stand.  This scaffold is joined to the suspended TV via cables.  This can give the impression that the whole pitch is covered but it is not.

The stadium reminds me a little of the HDI Arena in Hannover and is a bit like an upgraded version of something similar.  There is only a small band of away supporters but given Ingolstadt’s rapid rise from obscurity, that’s not surprising.

The toilets were in plentiful supply and was all rapid and efficient.  The queues at the snack outlets are pretty intimidating and entropic.  They operate a card system but there are floating beer and cola suppliers for card holders to reduce the queues.  That said, there was no way I could have bought a card, topped it up, queued for food and got back to my seat within 15 minutes.  I could have hob-nobbed in with the press but I’d rather experience these things as a fan, not staff.

Eintracht fans making a good noise behind the goals – it’s a ‘beery’ atmosphere around the ground here: like T in the Park but with better beer.

Eintracht Frankfurt v FC Ingolstadt

Seferovic with a spring in his step.
Seferovic with a spring in his step.
Free kick to Eintracht
Free kick to Eintracht
What happened next?
What happened next?
Corner for Eintracht
Corner for Eintracht
Corner for Ingolstadt
Corner for Ingolstadt

The match itself was interestingly competitive, if not beautiful.  Marco Fabian established himself as a go-to player early on for Frankfurt and he does have a good touch.   He is not, however, the 20 goal per season striker they need.  Frankfurt started brightly but on the 7th minute, the referee blew for a penalty for Ingolstadt after an accidental handball in the box.  It was unlucky, but probably correct.  Hartmann dispatched the penalty confidently despite the wild howling of the home fans.  Their small band of supporters looked delighted.

I think I’ve worked out why Eintracht are struggling in the league – they’re not very good and do lack ‘next level’ quality everywhere! Hradecky just kept them alive with a save on 32 minutes and Ingolstadt looked the better team in the first half.  They were simply more composed and threatening.

My notes from the rest of the match are largely composed of criticisms of Haris Seferovic, Eintracht’s Swiss centre forward.  Continually being caught offside, heavy on his feet, blowing several chances at goal and then blaming his teammates or shouting at the linesman, he epitomised everything that was wrong with Eintracht.

Marc Stendera, the Football Manager ‘wonderkid’,  left me wondering what the kid was all about and he was substituted at half time.  Only Fabian ever showed an guile or creative spark and the narrowness  made it easier for Ingolstadt to defend.  Eintracht looked like the newly promoted side for much of the match.

On the 64th minute, Hradecky made a fabulous save from a header at a corner down low, which I would cite as the catalyst for the Eintracht revival.  Ingolstadt were weakened by their substitutions and the expulsion of Pascal Gross, whereas Eintracht grew and grew and finished the match camped in Ingolstadt’s half.  Marco Russ headed home a deserved equaliser and the home side continued to press.

 

 

When the 40000 attendance at the match was announced, there were boos echoing around the stadium.  Perhaps a more regular Eintracht watcher could explain that – I’ve never heard the attendance figure booed before.

In the end, Eintracht couldn’t find their way past Ingolstadt thanks to a combination of attacking ineptitude and defensive resilience from the visitors.  The final whistle is greeted with jeers, howls and choruses of ‘Armin Out!’

Upon leaving at full time, I march purposefully to the train station via the direct route, and upon hearing the station announcer saying that the train at platform 10 goes directly to Frankfurt Hbf, I gleefully hop on, only to sit there for nearly twenty minutes.  I do, however, arrive on time in central Frankfurt to eat a quick Burger Kaiser before hitting the pub to watch Dortmund v Bayern play out a goalless draw.

What did I learn?  It’s an interesting stadium but, if you need to get your ticket from the main-entrance, don’t take the train as the station is miles away.  The Eintracht fans seem like they have the potential to be excellent given a more entertaining spectacle on the field. However, the current team look a long way away from this objective.

Stadium Ratings

  • Quality of match:  ***
  • Stadium character: ****
  • Stadium atmosphere:  ****
  • Hospitality: ****
  • Ease of access: ****
  • Things to do around the stadium: **** (if drinking and eating counts)
  • Overall: ****
 

Hertha Berlin

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.

Getting There 

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.

Berlin

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 Olympiastadion  

Zum Olympia Stadion
Zum Olympia Stadion
Die Alte Dame
Die Alte Dame
Die Twin Tauers
Die Twin Tauers

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!

A capacious oval
A capacious oval

DSCN0878 DSCN0880 DSCN0881 DSCN0882 DSCN0887 DSCN0892 DSCN0893 DSCN0894 DSCN0895

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.

Food and toilet area
Food and toilet area

 

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.

Stadium Ratings

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