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More to Munich than just Bayern

25 Apr

Ian Marshall, a Leeds United fan, not the scruffy ex-Oldham and Leicester City icon, tells us about his Matchday 29 trip to Bavaria – taking in games at the Allianz and at SpVgg Unterhaching’s Generali Sportpark – whilst becoming a closet Eintracht Braunschweig fan. Enjoy.

Saturday –  1860 Munich vs Energie Cottbus

I had been to Munich once before on a stag-do – with a group of like-minded people intent on seeing Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena. Imagine our delight then, when their game against Hamburg was moved to the Sunday evening, at exactly the same time as our flight back to the UK.

Surely on our return to Munich we would get to see them.  And indeed, the fixture computer threw up an interesting Bavarian away tie at Nürnberg.

The weekend’s fixtures also offered up 1860 Munich vs Energie Cottbus – a seemingly inferior game but a chance to get to the Allianz nonetheless. The 1860 game kicked off at 1pm, with the Nürnberg – Bayern game at 4.30pm. Unfortunately, a 90 minute train journey between the two meant we couldn’t accommodate both games, so we took the decision to go see Die Löwen.

Nice day at the Allianz

My knowledge of Munich’s second club was limited but dated back to a Champions League qualifier against my club Leeds United in 2000. 1860 fielded a strong team including Thomas Häßler, Paul Agostino and Martin Max, but eventually went down to an Alan Smith goal at the Olympiastadion. Since then, the club has suffered a fall from grace not too dissimilar to that of Leeds, and have played in 2.Bundesliga since relegation in 2004. A scan of the squad list yielded only a few names I had heard of, most notably ex-Palace keeper Gabor Kiraly, and former Germany striker Benjamin Lauth.

The night before the match we stayed at the Marriott München (actually cheaper than most hostels!) and on the Saturday morning we noticed the 1860 squad at the hotel preparing for the game, with one of the trainers hauling a tactics board through the lobby. I recognised a few faces, particularly Gabor (who was kind enough to pose for photos) and Stefan Aigner, the right winger who, despite having a haircut any League Two striker would be proud of, would go on to star later that afternoon. Regrettably, they were unable to offer us a lift to the game on the team bus parked outside!

We travelled to the game on the U-Bahn, with the ground in the north of the city, about 25 minutes from the main railway station and Marienplatz. The Fröttmaning station is around a 15 minute walk from the ground, and it was obvious as we made our way towards the stadium that the crowd was not going to be pushing 60,000. The stadium itself looks surreal and, with the sun beating down, almost inflatable. Built, as it is, on what can only really be described as wasteland there was no option really other than to enter the stadium straight away rather than try to get a beer outside. We purchased €14 stehplatz (standing) tickets, on the advice of some local fans, who were also able to get us in at a discount using their members cards. 1860 occupy the Südtribune (the opposite end to Bayern’s most vocal fans) and they had a good number of fanatical ultras slowly starting to gather behind the goal, already waving flags, banners and scarves.

Once the game eventually got underway, we were able to enjoy a beer and a bratwurst in the stand, a luxury which has been removed at English grounds. Whilst it was clear that most of the ultras had been drinking all morning, there was absolutely no hint of violence and unrest as you might expect at an English game – just a desire to get behind the team and make some noise. Even with my limited knowledge of German, it was still possible to pick up a few of the chants – most including Sechzig or die Sechz’ger(the club’s unofficial nickname).

1860 day at the Allianz

It took 1860 just two minutes to open the scoring – defender Dominik Stahl popping up with a close range header to make it 1-0.  Aside from a few half-chances for Cottbus, 1860 dominated the first half and added a second through Stefan Aigner. With Energie, who were a few places above 1860 at the start of play, 2-0 down, we were expecting a second-half fightback, but one never materialised. Tricky left winger Daniel Halfar laid on a third for Munich, and a second for Stefan Aigner, before turning the full back inside-out and crossing for Benjamin Lauth to make it 4-0. With almost the entire left side of the pitch to play with, Halfar was giving the Cottbus right-back an afternoon to forget.  Ultimately Cottbus’ performance belied their league position, and 1860, roared on by their fanatical supporters, ran out easy winners in front of a crowd of 19,000.

At the final whistle, the 1860 squad came over to celebrate in front of the fans, with a microphone handed to Halfar (presumably man of the match) who orchestrated a few chants before the players started an impromptu moshpit. Whilst I was aware of this and had seen it before at ‘Gladbach, for me the interaction between players and fans is something that is largely and wrongly absent from the English game (certainly the Premier League) at the moment.

Sunday –  SpVgg Unterhaching vs Eintracht Braunschweig 

Sunday in Munich provided us with another intriguing game. With the day’s Bundesliga matches in Mönchengladbach and Leverkusen, and no 2.Bundesliga games in Bavaria, our only option was SpVgg Unterhaching vs Eintracht Braunschweig in the 3.Liga. A relatively newly formed league, 3.Liga joined teams from the Nord and Süd Regionalligas together in 2008. Perhaps the most well known sides in this division are ex-Bundesliga outfit Hansa Rostock, who have just been promoted as I write, Carl Zeiss Jena and Dynamo Dresden, both of whom enjoyed success in the 70s.

Eintracht Braunschweig fans at Unterhaching

The game took on extra relevance when it became apparent that a win for Braunschweig would see them promoted. We boarded the Strasse Bahn at Munich Hbf whilst nursing our hangovers from the previous night. This weekend happened to be the Munich ‘Starkbierzeit’ in early April, or Strong Beer Festival. Each of the large brauhauses in the city brew a special 7%+ beer, and it was Augustiner Maximator, which we had enjoyed with the celebrating 1860 fans, that was making us suffer on this occasion.

Unterhaching play at the Generali Sportpark, a 20 minute ride into the suburbs of Munich. The team enjoyed a two year spell in the Bundesliga around ten years ago, and despite their size enjoyed good results against their city rivals. They even handed Bayern a title by defeating Leverkusen on the last day of the season in 2000. The club has a rich history as described in the book Tor! (Ulrich Hesse) – something I would recommend reading prior to any visit – but local fans told us the club was amongst the smallest in the league, and they were already pleased with their mid-table position for the season.

On the 20 minute walk to the ground, Braunschweig fans outnumbered Unterhaching fans, clearly expecting a big result. Both sets of fans shared a beer in the bars beforehand, which was refreshing to see, and it seemed even the SpVgg fans were wishing their counterparts well before the game. It took only a few minutes for Congolese forward Dominick Kumbela to give the travelling supporters something to cheer. Flares were set off, banners waved and an avalanche of fans towards the pitch gave signs of things to come. Despite the best efforts of Unterhaching, the rest of the game passed with little incident. Argentine playmaker Leandro Grech tried to dictate the play, but any chances created were squandered and Braunschweig were able to hang on to their lead and clinch promotion to the 2.Bundesliga.

There were incredible scenes at the final whistle. Initially the Eintracht fans lit flares on the terraces, before a set of Jürgen Klinsmann-esque dives from the players tempted them down from the stands. Around 2000 supporters spilled on to the pitch, and by quickly exiting our stand and walking round the back of the main stand we joined them, hiding our temporary SpVgg allegiances. Bottles of champagne were handed out, whilst the players took it in turns to drink beer from an oversized glass. The hardcore Braunschweig fans carried the players to the dugout, where coach Thorsten Lieberknecht was given a microphone and led further celebrations.

Thorsten Lieberknecht conducts the celebrations

In the beer garden an hour later, the barbecue was lit, and both sets of fans (albeit some happier than others) celebrated together. A karaoke session of Braunschweig chants was quickly set up, and despite a few brave Unterhaching chants, Braunschweig partied into the evening. We took the opportunity to grab photos with a rather disconsolate SpVgg manager – the 1990 World Cup winning Klaus Augenthaler – before heading back in to Munich.

All in all, despite not seeing Bayern (again), we found the Allianz to be truly stunning, and the promotion party pitch invasion has turned me into an armchair Braunschweig fan. Perhaps next season it will be worth sticking to the German lower leagues, which offer just as much entertainment as the top European leagues, and welcome English supporters with open arms, even if they can’t understand why we are here!

Ian Marshall

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Planning a trip to Germany

13 Apr

More and more people are coming to realise that the Bundesliga experience is one of the best, but how do you go about planning your first trip? As a Bundesliga regular, hopefully I can pass on a few tips to get you started.

WHERE TO GO?

Germany is a large country, so my first recommendation would be to base yourself in one region. While Berlin is the capital city and Munich home of the most famous club, I would recommend the West German region of North-Rhine Westphalia, which sits next to the Belgian and Dutch borders. Here you will find a concentration of many of the countries biggest clubs, including the famous names of Borussia Dortmund, Borussia Mönchengladbach and Schalke 04.

GETTING THERE AND AROUND

There are plenty of budget flights to the region, the main airports being Cologne/Bonn, Düsseldorf Weeze (someway from Düsseldorf!), Düsseldorf Flughafen (somewhat closer) and Dortmund.

An alternative is to take the Eurostar to Brussels, buy some cherry beer and then take the ICE train onto Cologne. The journey from London takes about five hours, print at home tickets start at €49 at http://bahn.de.

Once in Germany, the local transport is excellent. If there are a group of you, a Länder Karten or a Schönes Wochenende is a good investment. These provide budget travel on all local transport for groups of up to five people. Bear in mind that match tickets usually also provide free travel to the game in the local area.

THE FIXTURES

http//www.kicker.de is a good place to check the fixtures. The usual schedule is:

1. Bundesliga – 2 Friday, 6 Saturday, 1 Sunday

2. Bundesliga – 3 Friday, 2 Saturday, 3 Sunday, 1 Monday

3.Liga – 9 Saturday

BUYING TICKETS

How to buy a ticket varies from club to club. Most of the 1st division games sell out so it’s a good idea to buy tickets beforehand, but in the lower leagues you can usually buy them on the day.

As a first bet, I would recommend visiting the club’s website. If you don’t speak German, the Facebook group European Football Weekends has lots of people who can help you out.

Many people who go to Germany want to buy standing (Stehplatz) tickets – though they are usually quite difficult to get for the top clubs because they have modern stadiums where the percentage of standing room is quite small. Smaller clubs like Bochum and Oberhausen have much more standing room, so you should be fine.

IN THE STADIUM

The Ultras usually stand directly behind the goal, at the front. The atmosphere is best among the Ultras, although if you don’t know any of the songs it is perhaps best not to stand right among them. Usually, they will wave flags all game, so if you are right at the front, you don’t actually see much of the game.

Unlike in England, you are allowed to have a beer in the stadium, and because of ancient Germany purity laws, it’s always very good. Vendors will walk around with crates on their back to top you up. Bear in mind, there will often be a deposit of €1 on the cup,  so make sure to take it back, unless you want to take it home as a souvenir.

By Chris Nash

Week 29 Experience – Duisburg, Schalke and Leverkusen

12 Apr

Friday – MSV Duisburg vs Alemannia Aachen

I was stood on the terrace at Duisburg on Friday evening, trying to justify to a bemused English-speaking Duisburg fan why I, like many others, come to Germany to watch football. He was surprised, given that he saw England as the home of football, that so many sought their football elsewhere. He recalled to me the great days of English football in the 80s; the games between Liverpool and ‘Gladbach particularly, and the atmosphere at Anfield – where he has wanted to visit since.

I explained that English fans come to Germany to remember football how it used to be, before commercialism and foreign billionaires changed English football. Football used to be about fan culture, drinking, smoking, having a good time with your mates – oh, and the result. Gone are the terraces, the culture and the freedom, now football in England is no longer a game for the fans, but a playground for the rich and powerful.

Aachen with a tad of pyro at Duisburg

In Germany, despite commercialism in certain aspects the fan culture and identity remains. Whilst Germany also has large seater stadiums, fans still hold power and their opinion matters. It’s for this reason that whilst football has no doubt been modernised in Germany, its fans remain at the centre of it. It’s for this reason that I went to Germany, to experience how football should be, and I wasn’t disappointed.

I stayed in Düsseldorf for my trip, and I’d recommend it for anyone not sure where to go. I don’t think there is any other region in Germany that has so many teams. In the immediate area there is Düsseldorf, ‘Gladbach, Leverkusen, Köln, Dortmund, Schalke, Oberhausen, Duisburg and probably a few more that I’ve forgotten (see this map for more details). All are within easy travelling distance, and it also means that you have a selection of games to choose from. There is also the added bonus that Düsseldorf has a great nightlife for travelling parties and neighbouring Köln is also a good place to visit. Düsseldorf is easily accessible, with very good transport links within the city meaning it’s easy to get where you want to go easily and quickly.

Having arrived Thursday night, and spent Friday morning visiting Köln, I was in need of a footy fix for the evening. Duisburg were at home to Aachen, so I caught the train north to Duisburg who I knew wouldn’t have sold out their 30 000+ stadium and so a ticket would be easily obtainable. From Duisburg Hauptbahnhof it’s a short train journey to Duisburg-Schlenk – from which it is a 10 minute walk to the ground. I picked up a terrace ticket for €9 and got a beer in the ground for another €3.

The ‘ultras’ fangroup sit directly behind the goal, and made a decent noise given the small attendance of around 13 000. Duisburg fans were very friendly, and even bought me several beers once I told them I was a Leeds United fan. They are a good club, who perhaps overachieve given their size. They won 3-2, having taken the lead and then come from 2-1 behind. On the way back, police had closed the local station for a short while whilst the Aachen fans caught their train, so if you visit you may encounter a similar delay, but it’s not a huge problem. Trains from here went straight back to Düsseldorf as well.

Saturday – Schalke 04 vs VfL

Veltins-Arena

For Saturday, I had got lucky and acquired a ticket in the sold-out Veltins-Arena for the game between Schalke and Wolfsburg. Gelsenkirchen is an hour’s journey from Düsseldorf, and costs €11 single fare on the train. If you carry a match ticket, you can use local transport for free also – excluding the fast ICE trains, so check which type of train you are getting on. Unluckily I had to collect my ticket at the ground, and so had to buy a local fare for the journey to the ground. To get to the ground, you simply get a train to the Hauptbahnhof (Hbf) and then get a tram to the Veltins-Arena from the underground station within the main station. There are plenty of trams and I found the ground very easily accessible…there’s a lot to be said for German efficiency. The Veltins-Arena stop is minutes from the ground, so it’s impossible to go wrong to or from the stadium. The arena is simply breathtaking. I’ve been to Old Trafford, Wembley, the Emirates and the Millennium Stadium, but none match the Veltins in my opinion. Perhaps it’s the lack of terracing, but I found the stadium and the football to be exactly how modern football should be. I think many English football fans prefer old stadia to new generic bowls, with the sense of history and retro feel you get at the older grounds in England. Whilst I agree, I also think this feeling comes from the type of modern stadia in England and how it is used, rather than irrational English adoration for piss-soaked toilets at Stockport.

Veltins-Arena around a day before kick off

I got to the Veltins-Arena early to soak up the pre-match atmosphere, and I wasn’t disappointed. I sat above the corner of terracing housing the Wolfsburg fans, in a stand which had a fair mix of both home and away fans. Could you imagine two sets of fans sharing the same stand in England? Probably not.

Yet there was no sign of trouble. Nor was there any hassle from stewards telling you to sit down every two minutes. I was allowed to stand, sing, drink and smoke if I wanted to, without some jobsworth telling me I couldn’t. The only disappointing aspect of the whole thing was that you have to buy a pre-pay card from within the ground to pay for your drink/food – often the case in modern German grounds. Whilst this probably works well for those attending regularly, for ground hoppers like myself it just meant I paid €5 for a card, just to order a beer.

The view in the ground is superb, but more importantly so is the fan culture. Both sets of fans never gave up; they never stopped chanting until sometime after the final whistle. Again, comparing to the dwindling atmosphere in most English grounds, it was a rare sight. I can only wish that such fan culture develops again in England, but the powers that be simply don’t appreciate the benefit of such a crowd. I paid €40 for the ticket in the Veltins-Arena, which, whilst quite expensive, is still relatively cheap given it was a big game and I was sat in the more expensive seats. The game itself was settled by a solitary goal from Jurado – harsh on the travelling Wolfsburg who had been dogged defensively – but the class of Raúl and the genius of Farfán gave Schalke the three points. Whilst I don’t want to review the game, I’ll just say that from a fans point of view, it was a superb game with superb supporters in a superb stadium.

Jurado's goal gave S04 a 1-0 win

Another difference with English football is that fans arrive early to create an atmosphere before kick-off, and stay long after the final whistle to applaud the players and enjoy the party. Whilst I walked away from the Veltins-Arena to catch the tram back to the station, the fans could still be heard in full voice. Again, I enjoyed a flawless journey back to the main station via tram where I boarded the train to Düsseldorf without any trouble.

Sunday – Bayer Leverkusen vs St. Pauli

Sunday was without doubt the most anticipated of my journey. Leverkusen hosted St Pauli, whom I’d followed since I saw them by chance in Oberhausen some 18 months ago. I also saw Köln and Düsseldorf that weekend, but I’d picked St Pauli as my team. Not due to political ideologies, but because it was easier to join in with chanting that’s quite often sung in English. Whilst I enjoyed the two previous games, it was nice to watch a game where I had a biased opinion.

This was a big game in the Bundesliga for both clubs, for different reasons. Leverkusen still hold hopes of catching Dortmund who have stuttered in recent weeks, and Pauli are fighting a huge relegation battle.

It is a 20 minute train journey from Düsseldorf, costing less than €5 to Leverkusen-Mitte station. From here, it’s a short picturesque walk through a park and down the banks of a river to the ground. It is signposted, so again it’s impossible to get lost. The BayArena, whilst not as big or as breathtaking as the Veltins Arena, is a great stadium. The attendance, whilst officially a little over 30 000, wasn’t particularly impressive but the atmosphere was good. My ticket was €22, cheaper than most top-two tier English games. You can also print your ticket for the game at home and take it with you (Print@Home), which makes it easier for those travelling to the game without having to worry about receiving a ticket. Again, you’ll need a pre-paid card to purchase food and drink in the ground. You also pay a €5 deposit on the card and the beer is €3.50. I’d say this pre-paid card idea is the only dislike I have of modern football in Germany.

Players take to the field against the backdrop of the North Stand

Yet again the two sets of fans mingled together without problem, and there wasn’t a steward or police officer in sight. Perhaps if you treat people like adults, they will be inclined to act like adults?

Whilst I’m undoubtedly biased towards St Pauli, it was a good performance despite losing 2-1 and I felt they were unlucky to not leave Leverkusen without a point. I’d estimate that Michael Ballack’s wages are higher than the entire wage bill at Pauli. Whilst at times the skill and ability of Leverkusen showed, they were largely kept quiet by a resolute Pauli defence that was missing many regulars. Leverkusen’s ultras were good, although the North Stand behind the goal wasn’t full and only really joined in with songs after the goals for Leverkusen. Both sets of fans supported their team with constant noise from start to finish, and then after the final whistle. Leverkusen fans didn’t get agitated with their team (even when they went behind) and Pauli fans applauded their team as if they had won at the final whistle, despite relegation now almost a foregone conclusion unless some form is found immediately. A chorus of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ echoed around the stadium from the Pauli fans as the players came over to applaud, many giving their shirts to fans. It is this loyalty that I believe is lacking in England, proven by the stories in the English media about players and managers criticising the fans over the weekend. Fans recognise the effect of a positive atmosphere, and in turn this is recognised by the players and the management of the club.

Pauli celebrate taking the lead

It is this fan culture that attracted me to Germany. The Bundesliga is quickly becoming recognised again as a great league. On the pitch it may not have the players like Torres and Drogba or Messi and Ronaldo, but the quality is increasing and they are able to attract players such as Raúl. German clubs, perhaps excluding Bayern, don’t have the same budget as Premiership clubs, so their focus is on developing young talent. Quite rightly too, in my opinion. It is a sustainable business plan, which allows club to run within their means, rather than at huge losses like the vast majority of English clubs.

German football is a welcome break from the all-seater, quiet stadiums in England, from over-zealous policing and extortionate pricing structures that alienate many families. Next week it’s back to Elland Road – to pay over the odds, to be told to sit down and to be treated like a second class citizen just because I decide to spend my Saturday afternoons watching football rather than shopping in B&Q.

Scott Stubbs (@stubbsylufc)

@DieBundesligaUK