When I arrived at work in Brussels on Thursday morning, to teach a class of eleven year-olds, I peered through my insufficiently rested eyes at four boys (out of ten) wearing Barcelona tops. They were proudly wearing their team’s colours in celebration of their victory in relatively nearby Monchengladbach. More than ever, this brought home to me the consumerism that drives modern football.
These boys were about as Catalan as me, hailing from Irish and English families living in Belgium. Not that there is any reason that they should not or cannot support Barcelona: it’s just that previous drivers such as where you live (supporting your local team) and familial loyalty seem almost parochial and quaint to many. They couldn’t understand why I had not wanted to support Barcelona and that I went to the match to support “the German team.” They support Barcelona because “Barcelona are amazing and Neymar is Boss(boss?)”.
So, in a way, a clash between a side from a small, working and dare I say it, unglamorous, city in Western Germany whose fans are nearly all local (relatively speaking) against the international juggernauts from Catalonia was a collision of cultures as well as an intriguing football match. That’s not to say that Borussia don’t exploit their commercial potential – the queue to the club shop is testament to the contrary – but their widespread appeal outwith their geographical catchment is more ‘hipster’ than corporate.
The pre-match food and beverage facilities at Borussia Park on Champions’ League evenings have improved and the local businesses were able to resist the enforcement of a Heineken purge and retain some local beers for the fans’ enjoyment. After a mighty fine sausage, and around twenty minutes of queueing at the Eingang Sud – too many fans going in this way for the other stands – I was in my seat fifteen minutes before kick off.
I don’t know if the fans have been unable to raise the funds or lacked the creativity for a tifo or display but the shredder offcuts of white paper that farted out in front of the Nordkurve was below the usual standard.
Gladbach’s Head Coach Andre Schubert has agreed a new contract extension and, for the most part, has evolved Lucien Favre’s 4-4-2 team into his own. He perhaps lacks the experience or gravitas of his peers and under his stewardship, Gladbach travel as well as unpasteurized Guinness. Borussia Park though, has been seen a point famine for visiting teams since his ascension last September. Their 3-4-1-2 formation against Barcelona’s ‘Barca’ formation (now seen in Manchester) provided tactical intrigue and pontificating pre-match. While Schubert is prone to the occasional brow-furrowing selection, tonight’s starting XI was largely as expected, with Hazard preferred to Hahn, Raffael restored up front and Korb selected ahead of Jantschke and Vestergaard in the back three.
Barcelona selected their strongest, on paper, XI in the absence of Messi with Paco Alcacer his replacement. The uncompromising, cynical, slow yet often brilliant Mascherano partnered Piqué in defence.
By kick off, the fans were energised, excited and perhaps cautiously optimistic in that many felt they had little to lose. Barca’s fans made a little noise, and a few had infiltrated the home seats (perhaps through acquiring tickets from unscrupulous vendors).
Borussia’s pressing and shape unsettled Barcelona – they are clearly not used to teams playing in this way – and prevented them from asserting any meaningful dominance in dangerous territory. Borussia’s passing was slick, short and crisp for the most part.
The most impressive part of Gladbach’s first half display though was the movement off the ball. While some players, like Traore and Wendt, made the runs you would expect (although the latter looked overawed and fearful), the attacking trio of Hazard, Raffael – who was outstanding – and Stindl supported each other by remaining fairly close and their angles had Barcelona’s twisting and turning. They could, and perhaps should, have made more of their first half display but for final-pass profligacy.
Barcelona had their chances too via Suarez and Neymar, with the Uruguayan going very close. Neymar made himself into the ‘boo-boy’ for the home fans with a series of theatrics. It’s such a shame that someone so talented frequently displays that unsporting side to his game.
Gladbach’s 1-0 half-time lead, via Thorgan Hazard’s counter-attacking goal, was not undeserved. And yet, from this point on, belief seemed to sap away from them. This transmitted to the fans, whose boisterous support became increasingly lukewarm and fearful.
Whether or not this was a conscious tactical decision taken by Schubert or the instinctive reflex to guard what you have, Borussia regressed into themselves like testicles plunged into the Arctic Ocean. However, Gladbach are not Chelsea, and have neither the nous nor the skill set to park the bus. Their reluctance to press, coupled with Barcelona’s much higher defensive line, meant that Stindl and Hazard spent most of the second half in Busquets’ pocket inside their own half. It was a tactical blunder of the highest order.
Any rays of sunshine glimmering through the clouds of their second half performance came from aggressive and positive play. Barcelona are great at keeping the ball and score five goals past half of the teams in la Liga because they come and try to cling on. Raffael’s injury was a cruel blow as his direct running was causing all sorts of problems. He was replaced up front by a wing-back in Fabian Johnson. He’s a decent full back or even wide midfielder but he’s never, ever a striker.
There was a sense of inevitability about Barcelona’s goals. They could start being more adventurous and controlling as they weren’t being pressed. Arda Turan strengthened the right hand side of Barca’s attack when he replaced Alcacer, and took his goal very well. The winner came from a corner, outswung to the edge of the box where Busquets struck it well, but straight at Sommer. The Swiss keeper spilled the shot and the ball rolled to Piqué, who poked it home. It was certainly a jammy Swiss roll from Piqués perspective, but all in all Gladbach’s retreat allowed Barcelona to take initiative meaning that they ultimately, disappointingly, got what they deserved.
I’ll be back at Borussia Park for the match against Celtic, which already looks like the Europa League playoff. Another club with global appeal (but with a Football Association limits their growth), yet I suspect I’ll hear less 11 year-olds saying “James Forrest is Boss”.
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?
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.
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 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.
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.
In light of the introspective post-mortem regarding the Premier League Clubs’ surprisingly predictably poor performances and results the night before, the interrogation light was burning into the soul of Man City for their trip to Borussia Monchengladbach. It was one of two Bundesliga/Premier League clashes, with City’s quiet (it’s hard to be noisy with a langoustine in your mouth) neighbours and Wolfsburg playing out the other match. Could the Bundesliga boys batter the Manchester boys and rub more salt in the gaping coefficient wound?
Well, no they couldn’t but in Borussia’s case, they were unlucky and Hart-broken by the end. It was a fantastic football match. The notion of going was really only conceived on Monday morning, taking the tram to work at an hour so early that it was almost hallucinogenic. I checked my phone, checked my permission status with my very patient wife, and snapped up one of the last tickets from Borussia’s own website (see earlier Borussia reviews for details).
I’d hasten to point out that this is not a Borussia blog. However, they are my closest Bundesliga team and I’ve grown to really like them; it’s a great club! When Wednesday came (doesn’t have the same ring as Saturday, does it), I hopped into the car, pre-rush hour for a chilled drive and a playlist of Roxette, Roxanne by The Police, Rockin’ Robin and the theme from Rocky III. This was a genuine sequence of songs on the radio. I just couldn’t get the link. Nevertheless, I rocked up to Borussia Park in good time, despite heavy traffic around Leuven hoping to rock out to Granit and Die Elf vom Neiderrhein and really hoping the players were confident and not bricking it.
It was a beautiful evening, if a little breezy: Borussia Park is very much out in the open. Around the stadium – even nearly three hours before the game – fans were hanging out having a UEFA-enforced alcohol-free beer. For what it’s worth, I quite like alcohol-free beer and was driving anyway. It seems tragic though that fans have to change their habits and suppress and sanitise what is part of their pre-match ritual so that the corporate nuggets can drink their free, self-righteous champagne or ‘Heineken’.
Since my last visit (5 weeks ago) to Borussia Park, a lot has changed. I don’t think I’m the only one who thinks Favre should’ve stuck it out a little longer and results would’ve picked up. Seems a shame. However, since Favre left, Borussia – under the guidance of Andre Schubert for now – have started winning. Pivotal to this upturn in form, in my opinion, is the redeployment of Lars Stindl as more a free-roaming trequartista than a holding midfielder with defensive responsibilities. Mo Dahoud has been given a chance and, so far, seems to be improving with every game alongside Xhaka. Raffael has become the main striker, as opposed to Favre’s preference for a partnership.
So, to see only one change in the XI from the last two matches was unsurprising. City, on the other hand, started the season in great form but had a couple of consecutive defeats coinciding with the absence of Vincent Kompany among others. The return of Hart and Silva would also provide Pellegrini with some options.
Having had my bratwurst, pommes und pils (alcohol frei) I made my way to my seat in section 20A. It was the back row. Once I got there I looked and saw something looked different – seats in the Nordkurve. I feared for the effect this may have on the atmosphere – another UEFA ‘put your balls in a Pepsi cup’ sterilising initiative. My fears, however, were unfounded. The atmosphere was, at times, as good as it gets.
One thing that does irritate me though is the liberal attitude to smoking. The spherical lady in front ensured that I had passively smoked about 10 cigarettes throughout the match. She even burned her accomplice on the side of the face with her oral light saber, striking down his dark side as he brought her copious bratwursts.
The constant interruption of UEFA sponsor adverts was a pain. Bloody Gazprom… It did not however, spoil the atmosphere. The scarves were waving and the fists were pumping in time to the music. City fans wont be used to this kind of thing. Then there was the Choreo, which looked fabulous. I held my black rectangle aloft, sneaking a bit of footage before all 46000 pieces were scrunched up and lobbed into the air before kick-off.
The gentleman, and that is the most appropriate word, who did the announcements in English sounded like he was doing overtime from making ‘English as Foreign Language’ videos. In his 1950s BBC voice, he sounded like he had been plucked from a colony to extol the Virtues of Blighty’s Empire.
The statistics do not paint the full picture. In the first half, Borussia were excellent. Xhaka was assured, Hermann very dangerous and they had a guy up front who looked a lot like Raffael but played more like Ronaldo. Pity his finishing wasn’t up to the standard of the now portly Brazilian. Demichelis and Otamendi couldn’t handle him, they played very high up the pitch and were caught out over and over. Joe Hart made a number of outstanding saves from Raffael and Hermann, not to mention a penalty save. He kept City in the match.
City for their part, looked most dangerous whenever Aguero was near. He is a genuine class act and his touch, strength and overall game was excellent. He missed a couple of chances and Sommer made a point blank save from about 2 yards but the first half belonged to the home side. Sterling worked hard, De Bruyne had an off night and Silva looked only half-fit. Yaya Touré was hooked at half time for Fernando, the Ivorian having a ‘nightmare’, according to the stadium announcer. He had been poor.
For all that Borussia were good in the first half, Pellegrini deserves credit. Every substitution he made had a positive effect for City. Fernando’s introduction at half time allowed them to control the match. Yet, Borussia still had attacking intent and, in the 54th minute, Stindl finished a cross from the right low to Hart’s left and Borussia were 1 up. Scenes! Borussia Park was bouncing. Xhaka also had a strike that came off of a City arm in the box but no penalty was given. It was a decent shout from my view.
From this point on, however, City dominated. Borussia worked very hard for the first hour and players were tiring. Passes were looser, tackles less assured, Raffael increasingly not being found. City looked stronger and it wasn’t a great surprise when Otamendi spanked home a half-clearance via Christensen. There was panic and confusion as there was doubt as to whether the Demichelis header was over the line but Otamendi got on with the game instead of hounding the ref and got his reward.
City continued to press and control and Borussia, despite bringing on Hahn and Traore, couldn’t keep possession. The full backs started to really struggle and the back line was stretched. When the penalty came for city in the dying minutes, it seemed so cruel and undeserved. A draw would’ve been a fair result, but Aguero’s fall was rewarded with the penalty. He was never going to do a Raffael. Too good.
When City look back on this rarest of away wins, gratitude to the goalie should be foremost in their minds – Hart was outstanding. It is a group of death but life has been breathed into Man City’s chances of success in the Champions League and resuscitated the much maligned coefficient.
Borussia, for their part, will be disappointed but expectations, especially since the draw, have been more about enhancing reputation and getting the CL experience. A double header with Juventus will be approached with excitement and not fear.
“They look after their fans here. You feel that the club appreciates its symbiotic relationship with them and doesn’t merely milk them like consumers.”
“You don’t look a gift horse in the mouth” is a funny saying. Who or what is a gift horse? Well, the gift horse is like the equine Santa Claus. I don’t think it wears a red and white fluffy saddle nor is it a rotund and hirsute stallion or even more of an apologetic pony. No, the gift horse today was a green, white and black foal and it brought the gift of a press pass into Borussia Park for the match against Mainz 05. Thank you, gift horse. Your support for this project is highly appreciated. Perhaps it should be explained that Borussia are nicknamed the Foals.
Planning and Preparation
There was very little planning actually required for this match. I printed confirmation of my offer of a ticket and parking as I wasn’t too sure how things would operate at the stadium. Tickets can be bought from https://borussia-ticketing.de/Spieltage.aspx?spielserie=2015%2f16x though. The beauty of the Bundesliga, with respect to this at least, is that their central site is generally very useful and contains links to each clubs ticket sales. A word to the wise though; the English language section of these club sites sometimes do not contain as much as the original German ones so if you are looking to buy tickets, the safest option is usually to go to the homepage in German and translate via Google Chrome.
Driving from Brussels to Monchengladbach takes about 1 hour and 40 minutes (yes, taking the car so no beer today) and is very straightforward. My quintessentially English Sat Nav voice guided my Swedish car through the ‘less flat than you’d expect’ motorways of Belgium, the Netherlands and North-West Germany. This meant that I would miss out on the delights of Busshelterplatz in downtown Monchengladbach but, given that next week’s travel to Bavaria will involve sampling the wares of the Artisan Brasseur (and no, that not what rustic ladies wear for chest support), that was something to be forgone for time and frugality.
Borussia Park – Again
My instructions were to go to parking P1 and get my press accreditation. I felt like less of a cowboy this time than I did in Stuttgart. The boy at the booth wanted to see my car-parking pass and we had a circular discussion where I told him that I was to collect my pass at the car park. To which he replied that he needed to see my pass. Luckily, I had printed off an email from the club, which was in English, and he gave me an envelope from his booth. I was about to go and park but he instructed me to open the envelope. Seemed bizarre, but then I saw that my parking space had been allocated in P3 which was just across the road. The numbering system for this car park is quite special. It starts at row 2 then goes up as you’d expect. I had row 1 allocated to me. So,after going the wrong way round a one-way system in the car park, I became unbaffled when I saw that row 1 was the spaces round the perimeter. Bizarre, but eventually, more than satisfactory.
My ticket was a pass that needed a lanyard – I hadn’t foreseen this but luckily I had my work pass in the car so I attached it round my neck, with my camera, and sauntered over to the stadium feeling excited about the match. I arrived at the stadium just after 15.30 for the 17.30 kick off but the place was buzzing. Lots of people hanging around, meeting up for the first time at home this season, enjoying a beer and sausage in the sunshine. A few were doing this while watching the Inglostadt v Dortmund game on the big TV outside the stadium. Looking around reminded me just how much club merchandise people buy here and how decked out in team colours they are – it’s great to see. And then, just as I was thinking that, I saw a queue for the club shop – not for tickets – but to go and and buy merchandise. It must have been at least 50 metres long.
My ticket was for the West Stand so I walked round and bought a Bratwurst (almost obligatory) which satiated my hunger nicely. I wasn’t really sure which entry to take. I tried to go in with the regular fans (which I consider myself to be, it must be re-stated) but my pass wouldn’t fit in the barcode reader so the steward, who looked like he had been stirred from a daydream where he was planning his next murder, opened a gate and I slipped through. I’m pretty sure, with hindsight, that I was actually meant to go through the swanky front doors and not the turnstiles. I went directly to one of the many toilets down at the North-West Corner and did my business before splurging on an alcohol free beer. I was pleased that this option existed as I seldom enjoy fizzy drink (yes, I know beer is fizzy) and it also made me feel like I was getting to have a beer at the game after all.
I walked up the stairs to an elevated and wide concourse offering a view over the training pitches and the adjacent hockey stadium(see photo above). This is a fantastic area to mill around inside the stadium before going to a seat or for meeting at half time. Loads of space as well as food and toilet amenities. They look after their fans here. You feel that the club appreciates its symbiotic relationship with them and doesn’t merely milk them like consumers.
Walking along to section 22A, I was greeted by heavy doors, guarding the press seats it seemed. My view was fantastic. Seat with charging points – I should’ve brought my camera charger – and a stowaway desk like you find in lecture theatres (or you did in my day) as well as a flappy LAN cable for my absent laptop. I think I appreciated the stadium more this time. It felt like a 54000 capacity stadium and like a cauldron. Not a poor seat or pillar in sight. I was excited. I wouldn’t tire of coming here every other week. Monchengladbach has a large army base close to the stadium and the colour of the seats seems like an uneasy tribute to that.
I did my best to take notes and not talk to anybody. I liked that there was an ice cream vendor selling ‘Fohleneis’ just to my left on this hot day. It made me indulge in the reverie of a having a pie at Cappielow and trying to nibble a vent in the pastry casing so that the meaty lava inside didn’t erupt and blister the roof of your mouth.
Mainz had a small travelling support although, given that it was a later kick off on a Sunday, I could appreciate why. Nonetheless, their loyal band of supporters did their best to be heard. As the pre-match ritual was panning out, I remembered the love of Euro-Techno. Should I, as a European, maybe not just call it techno? In the run up to kick off, I noticed the brilliant PA and floodlighting system properly. Is it wrong that I found it slightly exciting?
There was a tension about the stadium as both of these teams were beaten the week before. Borussia were thumped 4-0 by a rampant Dortmund whereas Mainz lost at home to newly-promoted Ingolstadt. Borussia were favourites but you could sense the unease. As the press area filled up, I was sure I saw a bat. The flying type as opposed to cricket or baseball. A bat at 17.20 in August. I saw another shortly afterwards but it was too fast for me to follow it properly for a photo.
The Borussia warm-up seemed to involve all kinds if nonsense, including some line dancing akin to what you would see in under-12 discos.
The wind was picking up just before kick off. Would the storm predicted to arrive later that evening show up before it was forecast? Turns out it didn’t, but the thunderous rendition of the Borussia song – which is a great tune – reminded me about why I was here again. The flags on the Nordkurve were unfurled and we were charged and ready for the match.
And yet, for all the raucousness, the moment of respect for a recently deceased German Football luminary was observed as dutifully as 90 minutes are at the Etihad.
Borussia’s defence had been ripped a new one the week before in Dortmund. What was uncertain was how much of that they could’ve prevented. The line-up today reflected this and there were a few changes.
I was intrigued that Thorgan Hazard seemed to line up as a striker with Raffael. They both seemed similar types of player in my head and I didn’t expect them to be particularly complementary. Borussia dictated the tempo and Mainz were happy to let them do so. Diamonds may be the rock of Antwerp but come east and you’ll find the rock of Borussia is granite, well, Granit Xhaka. He was their enforcer today and everything went through him.
As time passed, Borussia’s formation evolved into a 2-4-4 when they had the ball. Traore and Hermann were the players making things happen for Borussia. Lars Stindl was too peripheral and doesn’t seem to have found his role in the team and Raffael kept coming too deep. Mainz were defending resolutely on their left side as both Hermann and, after swapping wings, Traore continued to look dangerous down their opponents right flank.
The first half reminded me a little of when Pep’s Barça played Heynckes’ Bayern. Borussia passed the ball around but couldn’t profit from possession whereas every time Mainz went upfield, they came close to scoring. Jairo, Malli and Clemens were dangerous on the break and, in the first half, Mainz hit the post, the bar and then in the 41st minute, scored as Malli’s cross was turned in at the back post by Jairo.
Borussia’s central defence continued to look shaky for the entire match. Their marauding full backs, especially Wendt, were often caught upfield leaving space behind for Mainz to exploit and stretching the defence. I can see why they wanted Chancel Mbemba – he’s exactly the type of player they need. Borussia then missed a glorious chance just before half time where Hazard shot wide when he was clean through on goal. Hazard strikes me as a ‘nearly but not quite’ player. While Borussia were creating chances, they missed having a forward in the box and neither Hazard nor Raffael is that type of player. I could see that combination maybe working away from home if playing on the counter but when you dominate possession, a goalscorer is vital and Borussia left theirs on the bench.
It wasn’t long into the second half when Borussia equalised. Patrick Hermann, perhaps Borussia’s best player on the day, side stepped a challenge and spanked the ball across the keeper from the edge of the box. Nicely done. Both Raffael and Thorgan Hazard then spurned excellent chances through on goal but couldn’t find a way past Karius in the Mainz goal.
Mainz continued to focus on defending but looked like hurting Borussia every time they went up the field. In the 79th minute, after a little head tennis, a deflected cross found Clemens at the back post. Against the run of play but not undeserved. Borussia threw on the subs and pressed for an equaliser but Mainz continued to look the more dangerous team and missed three fabulous chances in the last ten minutes to put the game beyond doubt.
Favre will be disappointed. His team were wasteful where Mainz were clinical. It shows how reliant their defence is on veteran Stranzl. Borussia, however, will have better days.
On the way out I walked through a guarded door, where a man asked to see my pass, to access where I presumed were the press toilets. It turns out I had wandered into the press zone and hospitality area. My intrigue was being squashed by my sense of being in the wrong place and a pressing need to go to the toilet. So, I want down the highly polished stairs, admiring the restaurants and artwork but knowing that, while that side of football has to exist, it’s not the domain of the genuine supporter. Not seeing any toilets close by, and not wanting to wander somewhere I shouldn’t (very non-journalistic way of thinking – I’ll need to get over that) I found the front door surrounded by the Borussia Glamour Girls in their screaming green uniforms. Once I found my way past the fog of overpriced scent, I scampered to the car park and proceeded to pee in the bushes next to my car.
It took about 30 minutes to drive the kilometre from the car park to the autobahn – no prisoners are taken here. After pissing off most of the traffic with some lane hopping, I finally managed to put the foot down. I was very grateful for four wheel drive and new tyres on my drive home through some of the heaviest rain I have ever seen. Even the raging bull driving style of the Belgians was extinguished by the intensity of water and 50kmph was the driving speed from Genk to Leuven. That said, I was home by 10 o’clock in time for a cheeky Chimay and some leftovers.
For me, Borussia Park is a fantastic place to watch football. The team play the game properly, the fans are passionate and the club reciprocate by giving them everything they could want. Plenty of noise, family friendly (which doesn’t mean dull) and, while the prawn sandwiches exist, they are discreet and can only be found by those taking a wrong turn looking for the toilets.
Ranging from Happy Hardcore to German Stadium Rock, from Soviet-style anthems to the Pet Shop Boys, the Nordkurve fans bounced along majestically to the lot.
I am a morning person. I do feel an irrational and unreasonable feeling of superiority when I get up when most people are sleeping. So, getting up so early that I’d have to leave the house before Sunday morning public transport had begun was less of a chore than it would be for others. The early bird not only catches the worm, but also the cheapest rail fares. So I drove into Brussels, parked the car near the metro, and made my way to Gare du Midi.
It is funny the type of people you see on a Sunday morning at 6.30am. A bizarre mélange of hungry and tired party-goers and clubbers queuing for food or transport home, travellers like me who are setting out early because money is more important than sleep and those who ply their dark arts nocturnally in order to earn a living.
The train itself cost 60€ return to Monchengladbach. The journey from Brussels to Aachen is smooth, quiet and offers interesting contrasts in scenery between flat Flanders and the hillier Northern Ardennes around Liege. There is a small shuttle to take from the Welkenraedt in Belgium to Aachen (around 10 minutes). The train from Aachen to Monchengladbach is quiet and efficient too, reaffirming stereotypes regarding German machinery and infrastructure.
I had arrived in Monchengladbach around 11am for a 3.30 kick off so I could look around and “get a feel for the place” for a couple of hours before heading to the stadium. If you google “things to do/see in Monchengladbach”, the most popular response is “go to a football match.” There is a reason for that. As you come out of the train station, you are greeted by an ugly but functional bus station. I looked around the bus station square and saw no cafés or bars open to welcome the weary traveller. In fact, the only ‘amenity’ available was a shop named World of Sex. This, perhaps naively, made me think I had exited the train station at the ‘wrong’ exit. A quick wander around the back of the station, which has all the attraction of the decaying industrial estate that it may well be, told me otherwise.
So, with time to kill and a thirst to quench, I had to wander a little beyond Busshelterplatz and found various tributes to the artform known as cuboidal concretism. There are occasional glimmers of pre-1945 Germany shining from townhouses in the back streets, but Monchengladbach is definitely more functional than pretty. I stumbled across something that looked open and, to my surprise, discovered that it was a bar. The Salonika Bar (the owner is Greek) is basically a Borussia fan bar and its walls are adorned with a variety of memorabilia relating to the club and its former and current players. Oliver Neuville is particularly prominent. Do not be put off by the bizarre rolling digital display outside; it really is a proper pub.
A couple of Bitburgers later, I decided to have another wander around Monchengladbach and found myself back at Busshelterplatz after about 20 minutes. There really isn’t a lot to see. The city has a population of around quarter of a million and they regularly sell out a 54000 capacity stadium suggesting that the football club really is the heart of the community. Upon returning, there must have been about 80 Borussia fans standing at the platform for bus 17 out to the stadium. Why are they heading to the ground over 3 hours before kick off? Clearly, they knew something I didn’t. With nothing to do in the city itself, I decided to join them. The bus to the stadium is free if you have a match ticket. I clutched onto my print-at-home ticket, ready to wave it around like a flag if questioned. After about 15 minutes, the bus pulled in at the stadium, which is in the middle of nowhere. It turns out maybe about half of the fans I saw were in fact employed by the club. The omnipresence of the bright green manager’s jacket (you know what I mean) suggested that these people were obliged to arrive at the stadium early.
The stadium itself appears, at first glance, more functional and fit-for-purpose than impressive. The club shop stands alone just to the side of the stadium. To be fair, a lot of the merchandise is very nice and is priced correctly. However, a home team scarf was my planned splurge so I decided to stick to that. The Borussia fans must spend a significant percentage of their salary on team merchandise as they were all decked out from head to toe in club colours. So, newly acquired scarf on, I walked round the perimeter of the stadium. It has the symmetry and neatness of a newish stadium that is appealing, if unremarkable. There is a massive car park adjacent to the stadium meaning that the “wee guy who looks after your car for a pound” is suing the club for loss of earnings.
There are a few sausage, pizza and beer stands at the corner of the South Stand, coupled with some picnic benches. The benches themselves were not monitored and some fans were bringing their own beer and food. Borussia and Paderborn fans were sitting, eating and drinking together without so much as a raised voice. Something else that really struck me were the number of women and children there. Perhaps people from other European countries find this unremarkable but, coming from Scotland (and Belgium to a lesser extent), football crowds have always appeared far more male and less inclusive than this. Just round the corner, there is a large screen where the Liverpool v Man City game was being shown. This made so much sense to me. Fans can have a beer and a sausage (from which the club profits) and get together at the stadium. There were police in the distance but they were in the background chatting in their car as opposed to looking threatening and confrontational on a horse. In Scotland, one of the main arguments against reintroducing alcohol sales at the stadium is that domestic violence would increase. I’d be surprised if this is the case in Monchengladbach as the women and children are at the game. I will discuss this in more depth in a dedicated article at a later date.
So, having watched the first half of Liverpool v Man City on the screen before the game and a couple of beers better off, I decided that I’d head into the stadium, find my seat, maybe get some more refreshments and take a couple of pictures and notes as the stadium fills. Once I went through the turnstiles with my printed out ticket (which is hassle-free), I arrived into a little food and beverage area packed with stalls selling drinks, sausages and pretzels. I always think that pretzels look amazing but end up a disappointment (they taste of salty Polyfilla and smell of incontinent old people), so I rejected that fleeting notion in favour of another calorumptious bratwurst (By the time I got home, I had some green beans and a clementine to prevent me from turning into a sausage). Prices are reasonable though, and I guess that if you don’t fleece the fans, they’re more likely to come back! At 2.70 for a bratwurst and 3.20 for a beer, nobody is likely to complain. There is plenty of space for fans to congregate and meet before the game at half-time both in the lower concourse and in the upper level and there are plenty of bars, food stalls and toilets dotted around. Incidentally, the toilets are clean and there is even warm water and soap (a luxurious commodity in some stadium toilets).
I was up in the Gods in section 12A, row 18. I was close enough to the Nordkurve which is the standing area and hence, the place to be. I’d always choose to stand at the football wherever possible although it is clearly not for everybody.
The stadium itself doesn’t feel like a 54000 capacity stadium. Yes, the pitch is sunken below the level of the outside concourse but when it’s empty, it feels compact. The seats give plenty of legroom and people can get past without you having to stand or them having to scrape their shins along the back of the seat in front. One thing I did see a lot of – and I haven’t made up my mind where I stand on this yet – was club-branded cushions (available for purchase at the club shop) for the seats. My immediate gut reaction is to say that the seats are made from smooth plastic, not nails or roughcast, and that people should just toughen up and stop being such corporate softies. Ironically, they seemed to be more popular with those who had the most padded buttocks. But, then again, who said fans have to be masculine and tough? Is the presence of women and children not what makes the experience more friendly, welcoming and inclusive? Such serious issues are clearly what we should be debating. Cushion prejudice!
The video links below catch some of the atmosphere immediately prior to kick off. The quality is not amazing as it was a bit of an afterthought, but you get the general gist. Ranging from Happy Hardcore to German Stadium Rock, from Soviet-style anthems to the Pet Shop Boys, the Nordkurve fans bounced along majestically to the lot. They rocked it non-stop for the whole game in a way that you just don’t see in the UK. In my section, there were a lot of scarf wavers and happy clappers but no real singers so I was unable to pick out many words from the wall of noise. The game itself was pretty decent. Borussia had just played in the Europa League on the Thursday so I was hoping they wouldn’t field the stiffs and kids.
Although Borussia were clearly the better team, Paderborn were resolute and dangerous on the break. A couple of deflected goals was the difference between the teams in the end, with a star turn from Ibrahima Traore out wide for Borussia. I have signed him on a Bosman before in Football Manager and he did me a turn then too. Seldom have I seen a player dribble round his opponent so easily. While the goals were a little unlucky for Paderborn, 2-0 was a fairly accurate reflection of the balance of play.
At full time, the stadium emptied quickly with remarkable efficiency (clichéd, but very true). I spent 10 minutes trying to get out of Anderlecht at the end of a game only a few days beforehand, so this was a welcome relief. Borussia have this down to a tee. A 200m walk away from the stadium towards the road and an army of free buses await to whisk you back to Monchengladbach. The queue was longer than what you might expect at a theme park yet, because it is so well managed, about 250 people at a time get onto buses. I waited about 4 minutes to get onto a bus. Every time the 4 buses are filled, they leave and are almost immediately replaced by 4 more. This proper treatment of fans, who bring revenue and trade to the local economy, is how it should be. Well done Borussia Monchengladbach!
Since I returned to Monchengladbach station far earlier than anticipated, I was able to get an earlier train to Aachen and got home 2 hours before I had expected to, which was a result in itself since I had work in the morning and had been up since early o’clock. To summarise, a visit to Monchengladbach is all about the football. They are a proper club with a proper team who run a slick operation. Would I go back? Absolutely. Not for a city trip, but definitely for the game.