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Tales from Austria and Bavaria – Part 2

27 Feb

Fürth – SpVgg Greuther Fürth vs FC St. Pauli

Feeling a little worse for wear on Sunday, we were off to watch the St Pauli promotion charge away at Fürth. After milling around in Fürth and drinking beer during the day (as well as finding out Leicester had beaten Middlesborough on the final day of the season), we headed towards the Trolli Arena (formerly the Playmobil Stadion) to get involved once more.

The first half for St Pauli was pretty much a non-event, really. Tremendous support from the home fans, who willed their team on with a constant wall of noise and saw them go in with a 1-0 lead over the visitors at the break. Pauli were not helped by a horrific looking injury to their ‘keeper early in the first half, either, whereby he lay out cold for a minute or two, got up, bled from the mouth and then collapsed in a heap after he tried to move. He did this twice more and didn’t move at all the 3rd time – something extremely concerning to see.

In the second half, however, they were unbelievable. To this day, the second half onwards remains one of, it not my favourite, football-experience of all time. They must have been given a proper volley of verbals because after the break they managed to score 4, have 1 disallowed and generally look a much more dangerous, purposeful, inventive side every time they went forward.

Inevitably, the second half performance lifted spirits in the St Pauli ends (the entire uncovered end behind the goal and half of each side stand – awesome following) also, and I would suggest that the second half atmosphere could only have been improved by having a roof on the away end. There was mass standing in both the seated area and obviously the terrace with a real non-stop party atmosphere, accompanied by a few beer showers after the goals!

At the end of the game, it was clear that barring a miracle, St Pauli were back in the Bundesliga. What followed was a large-scale, completely mental pitch invasion which was not policed in the Nazi-like way it invariably would have been in England. It passed literally without any trouble whatsoever. The Fürth fans were very respectful towards the Pauli lot, and they even applauded the celebrations. The police, of course, were taking pictures and filming the shenanigans… on participants own phones in the goal mouth! Had that been over here, there’d have been riot police and stewards charging at fans with battons and dogs to clear the pitch, with several hundred arrests and banning orders no doubt being issued. Not here. Photos in the goal area were encouraged and the police were chatting away happily to everyone, congratulating them on the win and even having their own pictures taken inside the area.

The Pauli fans stayed on the pitch for a good 45 minutes to an hour after that game, chanting, dancing and singing, hugging each other and generally just celebrating a brilliant achievement. Of course, the players both joined in with and started the songs – most notably Deniz Naki – and there were repeated calls for the manager to make an appearance, which he did. But I do wonder if they’d have taken part in England? Perhaps not, as they’d have been immediately ushered away down the tunnel, and even widespread media condemnation of such scenes later on.

It was a brilliant way to end an awesome weekend’s football. I managed to see 3 games with a total of 12 goals in two different countries, witness a team’s promotion to the top tier, a top-tier title win and take part in a full-scale pitch invasion – all for the price of just ONE Premier League game at Stamford Bridge or Old Trafford, and I know for a fact I had a much better time in doing so. It really is a different culture and a different world on the continent, and it’s one I’d recommend any real football fan take in and experience. I’ll certainly be going back. Repeatedly.

by Jamie Treadwell

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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