Sunday 12th December 2009

2. Bundesliga

DSC Arminia Bielefeld 1
Kucera 57

1.FC Union Berlin 1
Peitz 76

Bielefelder Alm, Bielefeld. Attendance: 16,900. Ticket: €12. Travel: €13

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Football in Germany is strange for those living in the East of the country. The only eastern teams currently playing in the nation-wide top three tiers are Hertha Berlin (top tier, but soon to be second tier) , Union Berlin, Hansa Rostock and Energie Cottbus (second tier) and Erzgebirge Aue, Rot-Weiß Erfurt, Carl-Zeiss Jena and Dynamo Dresden (all third tier). So that’s a total of 8 out of the 56 teams in the top three levels. This brings quite a few problems along with it. Firstly, kids growing up need to see successful football teams in their city or surrounding area, otherwise most will start supporting Bayern Munich. Secondly, any team that does get up to the national leagues has a season of monstrous away trips almost every other weekend. Case in point, have a look at Union Berlin/Cottbus/Rostock’s away trips this season:

2. Bundesliga 2009/10 Teams

To put it in perspective, that’s 14 away trips that each total more than a 700km round-trip. That clutch of teams in the Ruhr valley really ruins things. It’s like being a Plymouth fan I suppose. Then again, let’s see Plymouth take 2k to each away day.

I shouldn’t really complain though, long away trips are what makes football great. I love the looks on peoples’ faces when I say I’m travelling 6 hours each way to go and watch a game of second tier football – half of the fun is in the travel. This is why Fergal, Chris and I decided that going to see Union Berlin’s away game in Bielefeld would be a fantastic way to spend a Sunday in mid-December. Our train was leaving Leipzig at 05:05 and would go via Halle, Hannover and Minden to reach the final destination in time for the 13:30 kick off. Then it would be another 6 hours back, getting into Leipzig at past 22:00. The game was at least attractive on paper – at the time it was 3rd vs. 7th with only a few points separating them both. However, Arminia Bielefeld were coming into the match on the back of 3 straight defeats and Union hadn’t won in four. Something had to give right?

On arrival at Bielefeld after sleeping most of the way, the city seemed quiet. A few Union fans were about but not too many. It was a couple of hours till kick off though, so there was still time to kill. We wandered leisurely in the direction of the stadium through an extremely quiet residential area. From afar, the Bielefelder Alm (or Schüco Arena if you’re one of those people who prefers calling St James’ Park the sportsdirect @ St James’ Park Stadium) did look impressive. From our vantage point the stands seemed to have a bit of charm about them which was definitely a good thing.

Chris and I arriving at the Bielefelder Alm

After dropping off my bag, we walked through to the away end and promptly bought two tickets for the standing section (cheaper than the seated area too). We then embarked upon scaling the steps of the huge stand to get to the terracing entrance right at the top. The view from the top of the stand over Bielfeld was spectactular, but that was eclipse once we turned the corner into the standing section. It looked fantastic. Hemmed in right to the left-hand side of the stand behind the goal, we were facing the stand alongside the pitch and had to look right to get a view of the pitch.

Our view from the terracing

Even though it was empty at that time, it was obvious to us that once the Union fans had filled it, the atmosphere was going to be fantastic. And sure enough, once the Sonderzug had arrived at the main station and the fans had made their way to the stadium, the noise started to rise and rise. The Bielfeld ultras opposite us looked impressive with their banners and scarves, but we couldn’t really hear them (probably due to the fact that we were making so much noise). Just before kick-off, the atmosphere was building nicely and flags and banners were being unfurled. Then suddenly things took a turn. A middle-aged man (say 40?) and an older guy appeared in the stand in front of us (kind of a neutral area) and the middle-aged man preceded to unfurl a banner reading Berliner FC Dynamo – DDR Rekordmeister (Dynamo Berlin – Record GDR champions). To say this didn’t go down well with the Union fans was certainly an understatement – Dynamo Berlin being their sworn and vehemently hated enemies. He was instantly hit with a rain of missiles and Union fans started scaling the fron barrier to get to him. A Union fan in the neutral end thankfully went up to him and asked him what the hell he was doing (and then kicked over his beer, amazing), but it was too late. I would say around 25 Union fans got over and went looking for him, although I’ve no idea where he got too. The riot police turned up and arrested a few of them, which was a shame. In the end it died down, but it would never have happened if that idiot hadn’t provoked everyone. I hope he got arrested for his troubles.

To the match itself! It was an even first half I would say, but nothing really happened to be honest and it seemed a bit lifeless. Fortunately, we did not stop singing (see video below) and the boring match was almost a side issue. After the break, Arminia were definitely on top and duly scored from a corner after Union’s keeper came out but didn’t get to the ball. The goal seemed to be a bit of a sucker punch for Union’s players who didn’t really seem to know how to react. But on 65 minutes, a Bielefeld player was sent off after getting booked twice in 3 minutes (Germans call this an Ampelkarte, a traffic-light card, which I quite like!). Five minutes later, it kicked off.

Union fans near the front of the terracing block let off what the Germans call a bengalisches Feuerwerk (Bengal firework) and I’m not sure what they’re called in English. Anyway, the thing was huge and within seconds the entire stand, and then the entire stadium, was filled with smoke. White ash started raining down on us and I was just transfixed by it. I heard some announcements over the tannoy asking them to put it out, but I didn’t realise (partly because I couldn’t see a thing) that the game itself had been stopped. They waited for 4 or 5 minutes until it had all cleared before re-starting. Interestingly, some older fans near the back were not happy at all with the fact that the younger lads had let off a firework, saying that it would only cost them money (in fines) and that there was no need and they were damaging the club by doing it. They had a point to be honest. The stoppage seemed to give Union time to regroup and take a breather, as afterwards they looked much more likely to score. Bielefeld looked like they had had their rhythm disrupted and started giving away lots of needless fouls. It was from one of these free kicks that Union got their equaliser. The ball was floated in from the left and 6’5″ midfielder Dominic Peitz rose highest to nod the ball into the back of the net. The terracing shook. I started hugging people I’d didn’t know. It was great. Interestingly, the older guys behind us who had been complaining about the flare didn’t celebrate the goal. Perhaps they knew that the interruption had aided Union…

THAT flare

The final 10 minutes petered out without much to be honest, and both teams seemed happy enough with a point, although, it did neither any good for the chasing of the promotion places. Thankfully, Greuther Fürth came back from 2 down to nick a point off St. Pauli so it could have been worse. The journey back was non-eventful to be honest, although the train between Hannover and Halle was probably the longest three hours of my life…

EQUALISER!

Next up: Hansa Rostock – Union Berlin 30/01/10 *rubs hands*

Friday 4th December 2009

2. Bundesliga

1.FC Union Berlin 1
Mattuschka 25

Energie Cottbus 1
Kweuke 62

Stadion an der Alten Försterei, Berlin. Attendance: 18,212


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1.FC Union Berlin were formed in 1906 in Berlin and became famous (and East Berlin’s most popular side) during the time of the GDR. Despite their popularity, the team was not largely succesful. It could be said that this was because the team was not supported by any govenmental department like, for instance, their bitter rivals Berliner Dynamo, who were sponsored by the Stasi. Due to this, their stadium, the Alte Försterei, was often the place where disguised anti-establishment chants were sung, a very dangerous thing to do in the time of the GDR. This already gives the history of the club an interesting angle, and indeed they are seen in Germany as one of the ‘Kult’ clubs similar to St Pauli from Hamburg.

To be honest, I have been ‘looking’ for a team to really get behind and support ever since I came to Germany. I really hate to say that, as I believe that people should either support the team of their family/parents or the local side. For me, that’s quite impossible here in Germany – a) my family are all in England, b) my girlfriend/her family don’t follow football and c) the clubs and most of the fans in Leipzig are horrible and racists (see below). To be honest, I think I may have found one – before I even stepped into the Alte Försterei I could tell that the atmosphere was different. It is hard to explain, but everything felt more relaxed and friendly – even for this ‘Ostderby’ between two teams who don’t really like each other. An example: on the S-Bahn from central Berlin to the stadium, there were Cottbus fans milling around without much of a hint of trouble. There was also a group of Danish lads who had set off at 6am that morning from Copenhagen to be at the game. I’m not saying that the fans are angels, because that’s far from the case, but they just seemed to be a lot nicer.

Now, to the day itself. I was delighted to hear that Fergal had won tickets for the sold-out game on ebay, and it only remained for me to get the day off work (at very short notice). Fortunately, it was granted so we found ourselves on the train from Leipzig to Berlin with plenty of beer on Friday at 11am. I should explain about the trains really. German intercity trains are expensive, but there are railcards to reduce the fairs to make them reasonable. The German national rail system also offers cheap group travel on what are called Regional Trains. You can search for travel from anywhere to anywhere in German just using regional trains, which go via random towns. This excites me a little, I don’t know why. I must admit there is a little, tiny, miniscule bit of trainspotter in me. So, we went from Leipzig to Lutherstadt Wittemberg to Berlin on the way there, and Berlin Südkreuz to Lutherstadt Wittemberg to Bitterfeld to Leipzig on the way back. This cost me and Fergal and very reasonable €39 using the Quer-durchs-Land ticket (an offer which is unfortunately ending at the end of January – it allows travel anywhere in Germany for one day using only RE trains).

We arrived in Berlin at just after two and I was kind of feeling the beer. We walked outside the station at Alexanderplatz and the freezing cold soon woke us up. It was a noticeable 3/4/5 degrees colder than in Leipzig. We then met Ciara (and a random Kazakh) so that Fergal could drop his bag off with her, and after a beer, we headed to the ground. Once we got to the Köpernick S-Bahn station, there were Union fans everywhere, including aforementioned Dänische Faktion. The man who was selling us the tickets seemed incredulous that two lads from the UK and Ireland living in Leipzig wanted to come to Berlin to support Union. I probably would be the same if two Bulgarians from Leeds wanted to buy tickets to a Vale game off me. So, tickets in hand, we then made the walk with the rest of the fans to the stadium. From quite a way away we could see the floodlights, aided by the fact it was now dark. The walk took us through a very nice looking sports complex where youngsters were finishing up with their training, presumably to go to the game. There weren’t many people heading into the stadium, and it was still 45 minutes till the scheduled KO time of 6pm, so we stopped outside for a beer and soaked up the atmosphere. It was probably a mistake to not go straight in because when we did decide to get through the turnstiles, there were thousands of others trying to do the same. After a brief crush though, we were in.

Ultras from Union Berlin right behind us

Immediately we realised we were in the Union Ultras end, the standing block behind one of the goals, and this caused great excitement. We ended up to quite near the front which didn’t provide us with an amazing view, but meant that we were right in front of the Ultras. The chants started going and they were certainly catchy – Fergal and I found ourselves singing along pretty easily. The Ultras were brilliant and did not stop for the entire game. In the second half, something curious happened though. Someone let off a firework in the Union end and then everyone turned round and seemed to try to identify whoever did it. I certainly got the impression that the rest of the Ultras didn’t want any fireworks being let off. Strange really, because usually Ultras in Germany love their fireworks. In terms of the game itself, I thought it was pretty even and both teams had their own good spells. The Union goal looked amazing from where I was stood, although I’m yet to check out a TV replay. A free kick curled into the right hand corner of the net, giving the Cottbus keeper no chance. Personally, I think Union should have pressed home their advantage at the end of the first half and score another, but they didn’t and they paid the price. In the second half, Cottbus came out looking much more purposeful and duly scored an equaliser (which I missed because I was having a piss). Fergal told me it was a bit of a scramble, maybe a deflection, but it had definitely been coming. Both teams had chances to win it, but in the end each settled with a point. Union will have been pleased to have been able to stop their recent run of defeats but frustrated at not having beaten mid-table Cottbus. They will need a good result at Bielefeld next weekend (a match I will be attending) to keep in touch. All-in-all, a great first experience at the Alte Försterei and I’ll definitely be back.

Our view from right behind the goal

Highlights from the first half (and the fantastic free kick from Mattuschka

The Magic Of The Cup

November 8, 2009

Lok Leipzig Erzgebirge Aue

On the 14th November something rather exciting is going to happen in Leipzig. 1.FC Lokomotive Leipzig are to play a Round of 16 game in the Saxony Cup against third-tier Erzgebirge Aue. This match-up is itself exciting, a real chance for Lok to test themselves against higher opposition (2 tiers higher), but what makes it even more so is the fact that the game has been given the go-ahead to be played at Lok’s spiritual home, the dilapidated Bruno-Plache-Stadion. Normally, this kind of high-profile game would be played at the Zentral Stadion to allow easier fan segregation and control, as did happen when Sachsen Leipzig played Dynamo Dresden in the cup a couple of years ago. However, the police have agreed with both clubs that the game can take place in Probstheida.

This will be the first time that the BPS has staged a large-scale game for some time, indeed probably since the Zentralstadion was actually built. Capacity will be limited to 5000, with 300 tickets available for away fans. To put that in perpective, I’ve been to the BPS quite a few times and I’ve never ever seen away fans there. I know that there were some there near the end of last season for the game against ZFC Meuselwitz (who were top at the time, won 4-0 and pretty much secured promotion). But as far as I’m aware, there was no particular rivalry or hatred between those two clubs, which is definitely NOT the case between Aue and Lok. It all kicked off when Lok met Aue’s reserve side at the same stage of the same competition in 2007.

The Saxony Cup (Sachsenpokal) is one of the most prestigious competitions for the lower league teams in Saxony, and pretty much their only chance of winning any silverware. It is open to all Saxony teams from the 3.Bundesliga, Regionalliga, NOFV-Oberliga Sued and Sachsenliga (3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th tiers), as well as the three winners of the previous season’s ‘Bezirkspokal’, or local cup, in the Leipzig, Chemnitz and Dresden areas. The prize of winning the Sachsenpokal is not only local bragging rights, but also a ticket to the main DFB Pokal (German Cup) where you can draw the big boys from the 1.Bundesliga, like in 06/07 when Chemnitz played then-Bundesliga side Alemannia Aachen.

Let’s hope this game passes without any major incidents, as this is the last thing that is needed – especially in this part of the world. Last week, Hansa Rostock and St. Pauli fans rioted during their 2. Bundesliga match, and two weeks ago, 54 ‘fans’ were arrested during the game between FC Zwickau and Erzgebirge Aue II.

Leipzig football

October 4, 2009

I thought I’d post something explaining the football situation in Leipzig, because it’s not really something that many people know much about and it is definitely interesting.

First of all, there are two clubs based in Leipzig itself, 1.FC Lokomotive Leipzig and FC Sachsen Leipzig. Lok play in the south-west of the city in the rather outdated and crumbling Bruno-Plache Stadion (see a few posts below), whereas FC Sachsen play in Leutzch, in the north-west of the city. Both grounds are a good 20 minute tram journey from the city centre. Lok fans are notorious for their extreme right-wing stance, and FC Sachsen are very left-wing. The word ‘notorious’ is the right one really because, even though the club plays at a low level and hasn’t been up in the Bundesliga since 1994, most people in Germany have the same reaction when hearing the words Lok Leipzig. The fans are violent and are frequently involved in riots with the police and fans of rival teams like FC Sachsen, Hallescher FC (from Halle), FC Magdeburg and Dynamo Dresden. In fact, the whole league programme was suspended last year for one week after Lok fans rioted in Zwickau. In fact, in that video, you can see the chairman and manager of Lok coming over to the fan block and pleading with them to stop. Absolutely mental.

Now the real spanner in the works is the emergence of FC RasenballSport Leipzig. This team has only existed since the summer after Red Bull took over the team SSV Makranstaedt who were about to go under. Makranstaedt is a small town just outside Leipzig. Red Bull pumped in the money to save the team and changed the name to RB Leipzig (German FA rules say that companies can no longer have their names in the name of a football club). Now RB Leipzig have by far the biggest budget in the league and have acquired players with a wealth of experience, some having played in the Bundesliga as little as 3 seasons ago. They should (are currently doing so) walk the league this season and be up in the 2nd or 3rd Bundesliga within a few years. This has obviously created quite a lot of resentment among fans in Leipzig. This has been worsened by quotes from Dietrecht Mateschitz (Red Bull owner) and the owner and manager of RB Leipzig. They have said that they want to move the team into the currently tenant-less Zentralstadion, which was used for the World Cup, and rename it the Red Bull Arena. They have also said that within a decade, the whole of eastern Germany will have a succesful team to support (there are currently no teams from the former east in the Bundesliga, Cottbus being the highest in Bundesliga 2). I’m not sure if that will really be the case to be honest, and I hope either Lok or Sachsen can follow them up the leagues and be succesful in their own right.

Sunday 13th September 2009

NOFV-Oberliga-Süd

FC Sachsen Leipzig 2
Ganda 82
Köckeritz 90

1.FC Gera 03 1
Moses 42

Alfred-Kunze-Sportpark. Attendance: 1078

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I haven’t updated this for a while, but to be honest I haven’t been going to much football recently – far too much going on. I now live in a place called Leipzig in eastern Germany.

On the day I arrived here, Sunday 13th September, I gave my friend Fergal a call and asked him what he was up to. We decided to go grab some lunch and then head off to see a football match. FC Sachsen Leipzig, one of the ‘two’ teams in Leipzig (reason for inverted commas will be cleared up in the next post), have played in the north-west of the city for all of their existence. Even though I’ve lived in Leipzig before, I had never been up that end of the city but nevetheless, we jumped on a tram and headed towards the Alfred-Kunze-Sportpark. Even though we’d checked on google maps before we left, we were still kind of unsure about the location and this wasn’t helped when we arrived at the correct tram stop and didn’t really see any evidence of a football match in the vicinity, despite the fact it was only 10 minutes until kick-off. We saw two Sachsen fans heading towards what we thought was the right direction so we just went for it and carried on walking. After walking through a sleepy housing estate, we eventually heard the tannoy and then caught sight of the stadium.

Once we reached it, I immediately fell in love with the stadium even though it belongs to the arch-rivals of the team I ‘support’ here in Leipzig. Behind the goal there was a massive terrace which, even though it wasn’t full by any means, was very impressive indeed.

We immediately decided that we wanted to stand here and watch the match, and we were also encouraged to see a few away fans had made the journey from Gera (which is quite rare at this level in Germany).

Home terrace at the Alfred Kunze Sportpark

The game itself was kinda turgid, not helped at all by the awful weather. This level (5th tier) doesn’t really provide entertaining football and I guess it’s not really a surprise. But you kind of expect to see a better level of football considering the amount of people at the games and their passionate support. I do feel a little sorry for them having to watch this week in week out.

View from the home terrace. Away fans in the distance

Gera took the lead just before half-time and really should have been further in front given their domination of the half. However, Sachsen came out after the break with renewed vigour and certainly looked the better team. They deservedly got an equaliser with 10 minutes left and pushed and pushed for the winner. In stoppage time they got a corner and their big number 9 was left unmarked to head the winner. It was probably just deserved…just.

Saturday 21st March 2009

Coca-Cola League Two

Bradford City 0

Port Vale 1
Howland 49

Valley Parade, Bradford. Attendance: 12,436

Match details

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The main point of this (epic) trip was to meet up with Frank and Andy, who were some good friends from when I lived in Germany. Frank is a Bradford City supporter and has a season ticket (poor bastard), and Andy is from Leeds. I took the train on Saturday morning from Edinburgh, arriving in Leeds to meet Andy. We then headed to Bradford to meet up with Frank who was travelling from Manchester. Still following? Good. Basically, we then preceded to head to a boozer and catch up on everything, as we hadn’t seen each other seen July 2008. I was in Vale colours in the pub and there wasn’t any trouble at all, in fact, one guy stopped me in the toilets and we had a 5 minute conversation about the match and what was in store. He was sure that we’d get a result and I was sure we’d get humped, hmmm. According to him, Bradford had been utter shite for the past few weeks (losing at Notts County for example), and he did have a point. After a few beers, we headed towards the ground and Andy headed home for the Farsley Celtic game. After paying £20(!!!!!) to get in, I took my seat halfway up the away end, which was situated alongside the pitch and at one end of the ground. It was a decent view, and from my vantage point the home end looked really impressive.

PICS SOON

The game was OK. We were shite and somehow got to the break at 0-0. Second half was more of the same, Bradford onslaught, but they couldn’t finish the numerous chances they were presented. But on 49 minutes, the ball broke forward and it was 3 on 3, with Marc Richards playing a through ball to Dave Howland, who slotted it past the keeper for what turned out to be the winner. Much gloating was had with Frank post-match, he was pretty depressed the poor lad – Bradford were stuttering towards the playoffs and we had seriously dented their chances.

4.5 hour train journey home was boring as fuck. Somehow or other, I found myself on the same train as Amy who was heading back from Belgium. Didn’t see her though and spent the train journey sleeping. Finally got home at 11. Good times.

Saturday 21st February 2009

Coca-Cola Championship

Coventry City 1
Dann 2

Birmingham City 0

Ricoh Arena, Coventry. Attendance: 22,637

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As I was back home for the weekend, and Coventry City were at home, I suggested to my step-dad that we should head along. It turns out that a couple of my mates were planning to head up too, so it was all good. It was a lovely sunny day so we headed to The Tiltyard pre-match for a few sneaky ones, meeting JB and Jon in the process. We discussed the match ahead, seeing as Coventry were playing local rivals Birmingham City – it was to be an interesting affair, certainly after Coventry possibly playing Chelsea in the Cup, if they beat Blackburn in the replay. Some dude (proper chav) came out the pub for a ‘bense’ (his words, not mine) and recounted the story of him being arrested after going ‘fucking off my tits’ when Aron Gunnarson made the score 2-1 to Coventry in said Cup game at Blackburn the previous week (City went on to draw 2-2, Samba last minute equaliser, which he missed because he was in the cells).

Sunny Ricoh Arena

Sunny Ricoh Arena

We headed towards the ground once we’d parked up and tried to decipher Coventry’s card system for buying food and drink. You had to buy a card (with a deposit) and then top it up with funds when you wanted something. I still don’t really understand the fucking thing. Stupid system. I suppose they don’t want to idiots behind the counter nicking money. Few beers later, things were shaping up well. Then my step-dad meets a friend and starts chatting – sod’s law, we miss the goal. Great. Was a good game on the whole and Coventry could and probably should have made it more. Birmingham looked poor. Although they had the ball in the back of the net, the referee disallowed it, then went over to speak to the lino who appeared to say it was a goal. Cue the Brum fans going mental again, only to realise the ref was signalling a goal-kick. It was terrible officiating.

Upset Brummoiz head home

Upset Brummoiz head home

Overall, a great win for Coventry to restore some pride in a pretty disappointing season. They went on to beat Blackburn in the replay and play Chelsea in the Fifth Round – the biggest game at the Ricoh since it opened in ’05.