The final whistle blows at Bramall Lane on 1st Febuary 2011 (my club Leicester pick up a massive 1-0 win) and it signals a pause in what, for me, has been nearly 300 games in English football. Lying ahead is a football first for me and six others. Football abroad. There is no better place to start than with a league which has been increasingly admired on these shores over the past few years.
The trip started with a drive down to Dover, through France, Belgium, Holland, a stop in Bruges on Thursday night, with Friday being the final leg of travelling – destination Dortmund. That night saw a local derby with league leaders Borussia Dortmund entertaining Schalke 04 at Signal Iduna Park.
The game was obviously high on the priority list, but as many enquiries as we made, tickets just weren’t attainable, understandable for a game of such magnitude. Going to the ground and maybe picking up tickets off a spiv was an option but oversleeping in Bruges after a fantastic night out and horrible Dutch traffic put paid to that idea so we caught the stalemate in our hotel.
Saturday brought a game we were always certain to attend – Borussia Mönchengladbach hosting Stuttgart, a huge relegation six-pointer. We’d bought tickets (in advance) on the terrace in Block 16, hoping to be in the heart of the atmosphere, and at €13 it was already a far cry from the English game. We planned it as we would for a normal Leicester away game – early breakfast, train and plenty of beers – catching a midday train from Dortmund to Mönchengladbach Hbf and then a shuttle bus from behind the station to the ground. The ground from the outside was hugely impressive, though not too different from the new models seen in England. After a trip to the club shop (hoping green and black scarves would see us fit in better) we went inside and everything was different from the norm. Now I’ve stood on terraces in my younger days and always stand at Leicester games but the set-up at Mönchengladbach was something else. A huge, packed-out terrace behind one goal in a fully modern arena was absolutely wonderful to see, especially to an advocate of the introduction of safe standing. We got in a full 90 minutes before kick-off and the place was already buzzing. We found a decent place on the terrace, had a few pre match beers (Jever – absolute treat) and a few too many bratwurst (far superior to any food available inside English grounds.) Early impressions of the German footballing culture then – superb.
As mentioned, the game was huge for both sides. A real relegation 6 pointer. Noting this, I was surprised to see how open it was from the off, with Stuttgart looking the most threatening early on. But it was Mönchengladbach who opened the scoring through centre-half Dante, powering in a header from a corner. Almost immediately after, it was two. Good work down the left combined with little defensive resistance resulted in a tap in for De Camargo, and just as we were recovering following the opener’s celebrations, the terrace went off again, accompanied with Scooter’s I Like it Loud. Stuttgart’s excellent following in the far corner seemed to go very quiet and it seemed there would be only one winner as ‘Gladbach took control of the match. Cheers of the crowd greeted the half-time whistle as we on the terrace took a break.
After the restart, however, the Europa League pretenders seemed a different side. Intentions of a much more forward focused side were clear from the off. It took little more than six minutes before they were right back in the game – Pogrebnyak with a smart finish. Like their hosts in the first half, Stuttgart wasted little time in getting their second as a neat passing move concluded with Martin Harnik netting his 6th of the campaign. Both sides then had chances to win it, including a harshly disallowed third for ‘Gladbach, but ultimately it came down to the final minutes when the excellent Dante was adjudged to have felled Pogrebnyak in the area. At the time we thought it was harsh and replays confirmed that it was a poor decision. To compound ‘Gladbach’s misery, Dante was sent off as the ‘offence’ produced his second yellow card of the afternoon. Gebhart buried the penalty and Stuttgart’s comeback was complete – giving themselves a lifeline in escaping the drop and plunging Mönchengladbach closer to the 2.Bundesliga.
Despite the result (and believe me, we all got really into it and were desperate to see ‘Gladbach claim all three) the experience was magnificent. The stadium was spot on and the club seemed to be all about the fans, which is what football is all about. We were even given a marker pen and allowed to sign the bar on the terrace by fans who had embraced us and made us feel so welcome.
For the journey home we stopped by the local supermarket near the ground, stocked up on beer and headed back to Dortmund via first the bus then the train. That night we went out in Dortmund again, did a few good bars, but it seemed all bouncers at clubs really had it in for us… strange.
The next morning it was time to sample a league lower and we were off to VfL Bochum, aiming for an instant return to the Bundesliga, who played host to strugglers and local rivals Rot-Weiß Oberhausen. The 1.30 kick off wasn’t ideal (we weren’t exactly feeling great after the night before) but we made it with time to spare, purchased tickets at another price we simply are not used to, and got another decent spot on the terrace. The terrace again stretched right behind the goal and holds around 9,000 people at a guess. There was another great atmosphere inside the ground but after only 8 minute the visitors struck through Ronny König – advantage Oberhausen. Bochum, however, hit back swiftly – Ümit Korkmaz with a truly fantastic goal (one which at a greater stage would’ve been talked about for weeks.)
The game seemed to be meandering towards a draw until, just as at Borussia Park the day before, there was more late drama. This time, it favoured the club we were supporting. A dangerous ball entered the area and on the end of it was Giovanni Federico to send the crowd into raptures. VfL hung on to keep up the pressure at the top and we slowly made our way back to get ready for the long journey home, stopping in Gent on the way to grab a few hours kip but mainly a pizza hut buffet.
On reflection the trip was a fantastic experience, one which I’d recommend to anybody. The German football culture and the way the clubs work alongside their fans is spot on and I’m certain we in England have much to learn from their ways. ‘Gladbach and Bochum are now two sides I’ll always look out for and support from afar and I really hope they’ll be meeting in the Bundesliga (rather than a league lower) next season, and I’d hope to get over there again to see it.
by Tom Moore (@TMooreTT)