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The Second Tier: Season Preview

13 Jul

Hi everyone, it’s been a while. Thanks to all for being so patient for the last month whilst I’ve been away but as promised, I’m back and ready for the start of the 2.Bundesliga season on Friday. Here we go…

It’s the 13th July. In just two days time, before the extremely successful Women’s World Cup has drawn to a close, Germany’s unified second division will kick off for a 20th time. It seems a bizarre time to be starting a season – in the height of summer – but when voted on, only tiny FSV Frankfurt opposed the motion. (Although Bochum gaffer Friedhelm Funkel didn’t mince his words when more recently slating the ‘shit’ decision.)

Of course then, FSV would be one of the four teams to get the ball rolling. The other three – East German outfits.

Last season was something of a renaissance for former DDR-Oberliga sides. Although 2011/12 will be the third year running that all eighteen sides in the top tier are from the former West, both Hansa Rostock and Dynamo Dresden were promoted from the 3.Liga. With Union Berlin, Energie Cottbus and Erzgebirge Aue also there, the 2.Bundesliga will have five representatives from the former East – the most since the league was unified in 1992/1993.

Eintracht have required well since relegation

So what can we expect from this season, save for some feisty games between these Eastern sides and culture-club St. Pauli? It could be the most competitive promotion race in years. Assuming Eintracht live up to their billing – you can only get around 2/1 on them ending up champions – the fight for second and third could involve any two from around 10 teams.

The relegation battle could be equally as tense. The promoted clubs will be looking to get to around 37 points as quick as possible, and the teams that narrowly avoided the drop last season – Ingolstadt, Paderborn, Karlsruhe and the likes – are all likely to struggle again whilst teams like Union, FSV and even a side like Aachen could be dragged in.

So what do we think will happen? I’ll start with my expectations but please feel free to add to the debate below! It’s always a good laugh come May when we’ve accurately predicted nothing but our own idiocy.

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Vfl Britain – the birth of a fanclub

7 Mar

It all started three years ago. I’d somehow managed to rope five friends into joining me on a trip to Germany to watch some Bundesliga football, our main draw being the clash between Vfl Bochum and VfB Stuttgart.

None of us had been to Bochum before, nor did we have any connection with the place. But soon we  were  hooked.  We’d paid exactly Eur 12.16 to stand (stand!) with 12,000 others on the Ostkurve, the beating hub of the Ruhrstadion.

Within four minutes, Bochum were ahead and though the visitors came back to take the points, the home fans were delighted.  Down the road, Borussia  Dortmund were busy dispatching league leaders and hated rivals Schalke, which meant that with only one game to play, Bochum’s opponents had leapfrogged them into top spot.

This was an excuse for a  massive party, helped no doubt by the end of season Eur 1 beer promotion! All that said, I think the best thing to come out of the day was the friendships that were forged, friendships which have remained and multipled to this day.

From thereon, we started making regular trips to Germany, watching Bochum both in the Ruhrstadion and on the road. We’ve visited some great stadiums along the way in places like Hamburg, Frankfurt and Dortmund, all the time paying less than we would for fourth division football back home.

The away games are particularly fun. At the weekend, the Deutsche Bahn is transformed, everyone turns up with crates of beer and heads off to follow their team.  One of the most memorable trips was that to Arminia Bielefeld. On arrival, we were met by a line of police, who rather pointlessly marched us to the ground. The police like to put on a show of strength at the football which is a complete waste of taxpayers money, but a good laugh nonetheless.

After a couple of years, we felt it was time to take things on to the next level. Fanclubs are big business in German football, the top clubs can have hundreds. And so, on 14th February 2009, Vfl Britain was born. What followed made the day doubly memorable. We had waited two years for our first Bochum win but it was well worth the wait. It was the Derbysieg against Schalke!

British based fanclubs of German clubs are very much a growing phenomenon. More and more people are growing tired of the endless hype around the Premier League being the best league in the world. This is a league where standing is verboten, having a beer in view of the pitch is verboten, flags are verboten and for which you have to pay a fortune just to get a ticket.

The Bundesliga isn’t without its problems, but it doesn’t have the highest attendances in Europe for no reason. It’s a highly competitive and unpreditable league, but here’s one prediction, once bitten, you’ll endlessly be yearning for more.

By Chris Nash

Tales from Austria and Bavaria – Part 1

24 Feb

Austria – Wacker Innsbruck v St Pölten

I arrived in Munich on the Thursday night after flying from Manchester having never witnessed a live football match outside of the UK despite being a keen admirer from afar for a fair length of time. After many huge jugs of good beer in a Sports Bar owned by what can only be described as the biggest and most heroic Rod Stewart lookalike in the world, it’s safe to say I wasn’t exactly feeling great on the Friday morning. Determined to not let a hangover ruin my trip though, I ploughed ahead with a typically English away-game tradition – cans of beer on the train. What was not typically English was the scenery on the train from Munich to Austria through the mountains en route to watch Wacker Innsbruck v St Pölten in the Austrian 1. Liga (their second division); it was absolutely stunning in all fairness. The ground, despite being modern, was unbelievably picturesque ground and the surrounding area with the mountains in the background was just as impressive.

After having a couple of pints (not flat or watered down like in English grounds!) in the stadium, we went onto the terrace to take in the pre-match atmosphere and get ready for the game. Unexpectedly, we were treated like a part of their ultras group – must’ve looked like locals! Needless to say being part of their smoke bomb / flares / flags displays both before and during the game was absolutely amazing, and I reckon I can safely say for everybody it was an awesome experience. What’s more, nobody got injured and there were no ejections by over-zealous stewards or heavy-handed police. Proper football enjoyed by proper football fans. The game itself finished 2-1 to Innsbruck with a goal in each half from Perstaller and Kofler, starting an unbeaten 6 match run, of which 5 were wins, to secure the 1. Liga title and promotion to the Austrian Bundesliga. They’re currently 7th up there thanks to a massive slump in form, losing 8 of their last 14 and picking up just 8 points in that time.

Munich – FC Bayern München vs VfL Bochum

The Saturday game on the trip was of a much more German persuasion – Bayern Munich, champions in waiting, against VfL Bochum, scrapping to stay in the Bundesliga. The tram-style transport towards the ground was literally rocking (I did at one point wonder if it would fall off of the track!) as the Bochum fans we were in with sung and danced around in lively fashion which belied a team of their league position. We were even told we were crazy for travelling all the way from England just to watch Bochum! Very impressed thus far.

More impressive still was the Allianz Arena. A huge, over-corporate, white elephant was what I had expected it to be. In actual fact, it was hugely impressive, a modern stadium done properly in my opinion. Yes it did look like a giant air bubble from the outside. But the sheer size of the thing was insane, and the fact it seemed to have its own character – much unlike the soulless bowl stadia of Modern Football UK – just added to its splendour. The little beer garden outside the ground was good stuff, too. A little bit pricier than in the city at €4 a beer, but still good beer all the same.

Inside the ground brought an extremely long walk to the top of the stairs for the away end. There was a ban on taking alcohol into the stands as well, which was unusual for a German ground from what I was told. In the stand, the place was absolutely massive, and I couldn’t help but notice the large terrace directly behind the goal at the other end of the ground and wonder why it could not be replicated in England. It certainly added to the atmosphere in the ground, and it was sensational stuff from the Bayern fans. They were loving every minute of it and rightly so. The gulf in class was easily visible: Franck Ribery had a storming game and tore the Bochum defence to shreds, and Thomas Müller – who I will admit to knowing little about at that moment in time – gave a sign of what was to come from him at the World Cup by bagging a brilliant and thoroughly deserved hat-trick. Bayern’s defence was rarely troubled due to their midfield smothering everything and anything before it had the chance to develop.

Although Christian Fuchs struck with a long-range freekick late on to give Bochum a consolation goal, the final score was 3-1 to Bayern and really, it could and probably should have been more. Not that this goal mattered at all, seeing as Bayern fans were already in party mood thanks to Bremen beating their nearest title-rivals Schalke 2-0. When news filtered through of each of Bremen’s goals, the noise was deafening – even from the Bochum fans. All in all, a perfect set of results for Bayern effectively guaranteeing them the title. Despite circumstances obviously adding to the atmosphere, I have to admit that in my opinion, the so-called “family stand” in the Allianz that day was louder than any end I have heard in an English football ground at any one time, it really was a joy to behold. And on a personal note for me, I was delighted to see 3 of my favourite players in action live – Miroslav Klose, Anatoliy Tymoschuk and Arjen Robben. Brilliant stuff. All for less than the price of your average Championship game in England. Ludicrously good value.

The police kept well out of the way during the game, despite the away end being unsegregated (yes, Bayern fans DID mix with Bochum fans during the game with NO trouble whatsoever), making their presence known only by standing in a line around the back of the stadium, and there were no people in special hi-viz power jackets to be seen anywhere.

Also, I couldn’t help noticing that at the end of the game, the interaction between the players and the fans far, far surpassed anything that would ever be likely to happen in England. Bayern players starting songs and dancing with the fans was fantastic to see, better than the applause and mooching off we get here. Pretty sure it brings fans closer to their team and makes them feel that little bit more appreciated, too. I know it’s fairly standard procedure in Germany if a team plays well and wins, but it just really hit home at that point just how different the game is over there compared to how it is over here. The fans were quality off the pitch as well as on it, as the Bayern fans even apologised for winning the game and sending Bochum into the relegation zone! They offered their support and said they’d be cheering on Bochum the following weekend as they didn’t want them to go down. No doubt this was due to both sides mutually despising Schalke, but it was still a very nice gesture indeed – nothing like the goading, taunting and general imbecilic behaviour of small-minded individuals at places like at Stoke when they won promotion to the Premier League and my team (Leicester City) were relegated to the third tier of English football for the first time in their history.

Just a quick mention about the night-out which followed this game. One word truly describes it properly: mental. After many, many drinks in a Mexican bar in the middle of Munich, the night was getting on slightly but they were not preparing to close down; instead, the owner of the bar jumped on to the bar, started pouring spirits out of the bottles down everyone’s necks, then proceeded to douse the bar in said spirit and set it on fire! Actually unbelievable. After that had calmed down, everyone bought more drinks and started singing Bayern Munich songs before returning to normal club-like activities. A superb end to a superb day.

Part 2 to come soon… including St. Pauli clinching promotion at Fürth!

By Jamie Treadwell