Gladbach it’s all over

Brian Parish, the man being the Daggers Diary swaps the FA Cup 1st Round potential pain with a trip to the home of proper football – Germany.

I recently completed ten years service at my current place of employment. In all that time, I’ve travelled extensively, taking in not only football, but also participating in the odd marathon here and there. One of the good things about the place is that while there are the obvious arrivals and departures in the staff, many stick around for a number of years, and so there is a wealth of experience in not only my department, but all around the company. People don’t tend to just stick for a couple of years and then move on.

Which means that most know my habits when it comes to football. They know, for example, that I will sometimes disappear into Europe for a weekend to take in a game or three. Even when the primary reason for the trip has nothing to do with football, I will try to find a game to get to. It’s the law, isn’t it?

Somehow, and despite the fact that this has happened before, when I casually announced that I was off to Germany for a game, the first question was for how long I would be gone. About twenty-eight hours or so was the reply, which bought on looks of surprise, and why on earth would you travel all that way for one game. Then I was asked what my flight times were. That’s easy, I replied. Neil’s driving.

It’s hard to describe just how much of a legend Neil is. Having driven around much of Germany during the 2006 World Cup watching games, it’s almost taken as a given that Neil will get the car out and pound the autobahn in pursuit of the beautiful game, Bundesliga style.

In fact, this is our third trip to Germany in 2012, having already been to Köln in February, as part of our four games in four countries trip (the sequel to follow soon), and then to Leverkusen in April. On that occasion, it was literally a day trip, as we left early on the Saturday and we were back in Blighty about twenty or so hours later. At least this time, we have an overnight stay, although that’s because today is Neil’s 30th birthday, hence the trip.

With Dagenham Dan proving to be a bit of a whiz when it comes to arranging tickets for our European jaunts, he was left to sort those out, while Neil booked the train, and arranged our overnight stay. As for me, I just sat back, and paid whatever it cost me to go along on the trip.

While Dortmund proved to be frustratingly out of reach once again (Dan couldn’t find three seats together, which given the stadium holds about 80,000, is some going), Monchengladbach proved to be more than an adequate choice with us, and so we were on our way to one of Germany’s more successful clubs.

In his excellent history of German football (Tor!), Ulrich Hesse details the struggle in the 1970’s between Gladbach and Bayern Munich. From 1970 to 1979, the club won the Bundesliga on five occasions, won the German Cup in 1974, and also won two UEFA Cup finals, as well as losing to Liverpool in two other finals, which included the 1977 European Cup final. With teams containing Bertie Vogts, Gunter Netzer and later Allan Simonsen (eventually of Charlton Athletic), Borussia were seen as an attractive side to follow, becoming many peoples second team. In the book, Hesse even likens the two clubs to the Star Wars film, portraying Gladbach as the good guys, while Bayern were the evil empire, although on the pitch, the empire won.

Today’s Gladbach team may not quite be as good as the team of the 70’s, they are at least doing quite well. They didn’t make it through the Champions League qualifying round, but are doing nicely in a tough group in the Europa League, and sit presently in ninth place in the League.

Their opponents today are Sport Club Frieburg, who are just a point and three places behind. Last weekend they lost at home to the champions, Borussia Dortmund 0-2. Gladbach though, were able to come back from two goals down away to Hannover to win 3-2. After watching the highlights on ITV4 last Monday night, I am hoping that the snow is not going to be a feature this weekend. It’s a good job I’ve got the thermals with me for the weekend, just in case.

Saturday 3rd November 2012, Borussia Monchengladbach v SC Frieburg, Borussia Park

Of course, the thing with these trips is the ridiculously early starts. This time, the alarm shattered sleep at 4am, and within thirty minutes Dagenham Dan and I were leaving chez Campbell for our meeting with Neil at Folkestone. As we approached Folkestone, the rain starts to bounce off the bonnet of the car, and doesn’t stop, even following us to welcome us as we emerge in Calais. It soon clears, and as we get to Belgium, the familiar sound of Nostalgie FM fills the car. It’s a Belgian station that just plays eighties stuff. Some of it is quite good, but some of it is a bit weird.

As we pass Brussels, Neil diverts towards Leefdaal, where we had made a pit stop back on our February trip. Once again, we stop at Viv’s bar, and while Neil catches up with Willy, Dan disappears to find the local cash point. He returns with cash, and we finish up our drinks before we continue our journey east.

We arrive at Borussia Park just after mid-day, and with plenty of time until the gates open, we head to the dryness of the club shop. While there is plenty to spend money on, the only purchase made is by Dan, and we kill a bit of time just loitering while waiting for the rain to stop.

As we head in the direction of our entrance, it eases and we see the sun emerge for the first time. It’s quite nice now, although the woolly hat stays on. The gates don’t open until two hours before kick off, but eagle-eyed Dan has already spotted the prices for the food inside the ground. When we finally get in, we head straight to the food, and are first in the queue. Dan orders his and then it is my turn. Whether the tiredness is kicking in, or it is just the hunger I don’t know, but I splutter “curry-wurst and.. er.. chips, bitte”. Unfortunately this is overheard by both Dan and Neil and they speculate that this won’t appear in the write up, once they have stopped laughing. Even the staff have a laugh at my expense. At least I don’t have any knocked any onto the floor this time.

The stadium is quite impressive. The green lights in the roof make it look a bit eerie in the now returned gloom, but it’s a decent arena. The rain resumes as the game kicks off, and the all white Borussia are attacking the main bank of home fans in the North Stand in the first half.

The first noteworthy incident happens in the ninth minute. Despite the protests, the home captain, Martin Stranzl is cautioned for a foul on the Freiburg left winger, Daniel Caliguri. The Freiburg number 40 will be a constant outlet for the visitors, with almost every Freiburg attack in the first half involving him at some point.

Freiburg have the first two decent chances of the game. First up is Max Kruse, but his shot from close range is into the side netting. Then a corner results in a chance for Caliguri; he manages to miss with his header, although the ball will eventually fall to Cedrick Makiadi. His shot is charged down and cleared by a combination of ter Stegen in the Gladbach goal, and one of his defenders.

Freiburg are closing the home side down very quickly, denying them any time to play the ball. Even when it is being played around between the back four, they are hunting the ball down, and causing the home side to mis-place their passes.

Gladbach do eventually start to create some chances. A deep free kick from the left by Arango is met by Stranzl, and although he is clattered by the onrushing Freiburg keeper, his header loops over the bar with his only reward being a couple of minutes on the touchline being treated by the physio. Their other chance is a volley by Dominguez, but this is well saved by Baumann. Although it has started slowly, the half has got better as it has worn on, even though it is scoreless as the half ends.

On our last visit to Germany in April, Dan had said that he couldn’t believe that he had got up at 4am to watch a game that (up until the point he had said it) had been poor. We all mutter more or less the same thing, and as if by magic, within four minutes of the second half starting, we have a goal. Oscar Wendt is allowed to run unchallenged into the inside left channel, and deliver a low cross into the six yard box, where it eludes Baumann, but not Igor de Camargo, who is able to tap home into an empty net from about four yards.

For a while now, it is the home side that do most of the attacking. The impressive (and popular, judging by the number of shirts bearing his name we see during the day) Patrick Herrmann is able to cross from the left, only to see Lukas Rupp volley wide at the back post. Rupp then has another chance, which flies wide of the other post.

With a quarter of an hour to go, Freiburg get a lifeline back into the game. Having missed with a header a few minutes earlier, Caliguri gets another chance from the penalty spot following a foul on, well, we aren’t really sure who, given that it is at the other end of the stadium. He sends the keeper the wrong way, and so the visiting fans celebrate as the equalizer hits the net.

To be honest, once the score goes to 1-1, there aren’t too many more chances afterwards. Caliguri has a mazy run in which he beats three defenders before shooting wide, and then Gladbach have a long throw from which Rupp hits the deck under pressure from a Freiburg defender. The referee, Wolfgang Stark is giving nothing though, which infuriates the home support and coaching staff. A few minutes later, another decision from the referee results in the Moenchengladbach coach, Lucien Favre, complaining a bit too much to one of the officials. Stark wanders over, has a word with his assistant, and ejects the coach from the game. This prompts more vitriol from the home support, and a few missiles being thrown on to the pitch.

There are a couple of last substitutions, but nothing really happens after the dismissal. The three minutes added on don’t produce any kind of clear chance for either team, and when Wolfgang ends the game, there is polite, if not quite enthusiastic applause for the home team. Wolfgang though earns himself a special reception from the home support as he leaves the pitch, and he probably won’t be on many Christmas card lists in this part of Germany this year.

It has been a long day, and we still have to get back to Leuven for our hotel. As is often the way, getting out of the car park can take a while, but this time it takes a bit of time to get onto the motorway as well. Once on the motorway though, we are on our way back to Leuven, and by 7.30 in the evening, we are checked in and on our way back out for dinner.

Sitting in the hotel bar after dinner, and while Dan and Neil taste what they reliably inform me is the worst pint of Stella that they have had for some time (which is weird as the brewery is right across the road from the hotel), we can reflect on another successful trip. Ok, so the game took a bit of time to get going, but in the end it wasn’t too bad. Thoughts are already turning to the February trip and our next trip to the land of the Bundesliga. For now, that’s three grounds done for league games, and just fifteen to go.

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