Kampf der Titanen


Real Madrid v Barcelona? Old skool. PSG v OM? Past its best even with the added “pzzazz of Monsieur Beckham. Celtic v Rangers? Had its day. Lewes v Eastbourne Borough? Getting closer. But none of these currently tick all the boxes as the most anticipated games in recent years. The most talked about domestic game these days in Europe is in Germany. After years of dominance of the Bundesliga, in the past couple of seasons Bayern Munich have had to play second fiddle to Die Schwarzgelben, Borussia Dortmund. The domestic champions for the past two seasons have risen from the financial flames into a majestic young phoenix managed by one of the best young managers in the game, and of course, the biggest average club attendance in Europe.

8481854617_9188ce3131_bUnder Jürgen Klopp, Dortmund have become one of the most watchable teams of their generation, with an emphasis on counter-attacking play which saw them cruise to the title over the past two seasons. Last season in front of 75,000 in Berlin, and millions watching across the globe, Borussia Dortmund destroyed Bayern in the DFB Pokal final to take their first domestic double.

That final was a watershed in German football. In fact Ribéry’s goal in the 25th minute of the final was the first that Dortmund had conceded in the whole tournament, and it was a surprise that they only finished with five goals. The King was dead, long live the King. Or were they?

Bayern Munich were a wounded animal, and came out of the blocks firing with aggression. Just one defeat in the league conceding just 8 goals in 23 games (and scoring 60), cruising into the Champions League Quarter Finals and hardly breaking into a sweat in the DFB Pokal. Who could stop them? Well, how about Dortmund again? The draw for the DFB Pokal had paired the two titans in a duel to the death in Munich. Surely Dortmund couldn’t slay the Kraken in its own nest? And to add a little bit more spice to the occasion, it was Bayern’s 113th Birthday. Cake all round I hoped.

So how can the invincibles become even more immortal? How about snapping up the world’s most in demand coach? Pep Guardiola will hopefully be walking into the Allianz Arena dressing room in July to meet a record-breaking team if current form is anything to go by. Bundesliga champions? Almost certainly. European champions? I think only one or two teams may have a say in that. Perhaps they should already have that title. Once again the huge burden of expectation that goes with hosting the final played heavily on the side’s performance last May against Chelsea.

But for all their dominance this season Dortmund have come back at them again and again. Many saw their heavy home defeat to Hamburg earlier this month as a sign than Jürgen Klopp had not taken the opportunity in the January window to strengthen the side. But just seven days later and after an arduous Champions League game in Ukraine they emphatically bounced back with a win against 4th place Eintracht Frankfurt where the 3-0 score line hardly did justice to their attacking domination. Continue reading

DangeReus


Despite having the biggest average home league attendance in the world, Borussia Dortmund surprisingly only generate around £25 million from matchday income each season out of a total of £189 million of total revenue, according to the most recent Football Money League report published annually by Deloitte. Whilst the lead the way in passionate home support, their approach on ticket pricing puts them firmly behind “smaller” clubs such as Arsenal and Chelsea where money is no object for the majority of their fans.

The German footballing philosophy of football for the masses is all well and good in getting ticks in the boxes for affordability, but in terms of the one true global measure of how big a club is, it is a contentious issue. Matchday revenues make up nearly a third of the income sources for Manchester United, and around 40% for Arsenal. If Borussia Dortmund wanted to be mentioned in the same breath as Real Madrid, Barcelona and dare I say it in these parts, Bayern Munich, an increase in ticket prices would need to be put in place. But that’s not how clubs roll here in Germany. For those who have experienced a Bundesliga game or two will know, the fans actually mean more to a club than just a walking €50 note.

8482530926_5289ec981f_bYou get the feeling that even if Dortmund increased ticket prices by 20-30% then the fans would still flock to the Signal Iduna Park week in, week out. Even such a Greek Debt-busting inflation hike would still make ticket prices cheaper than all but a few Premier League sides. The demand for tickets from visitors and Dortmund virgins far outstrips supply.  However, thanks to the contacts of Danny Last, we had four tickets for the game in the bag as our train from Münster eased into the Signal Iduna Park station and a wall of yellow and black hit us as we alighted from the train.

On paper this was a banker home win, with some of the shortest odds I had seen for awhile.  Eintracht Frankfurt on the other hand were a tasty 7.25.  Similar odds would have been on offer for the visit of Hamburg last weekend but in a coupon-busting result, the ‘Rothosen’ ran out 4-1 winners. With joint Bundesliga top scorer Robert Lewandowski serving a suspension, surely Dortmund would have enough quality to see off the visitors – lightning wouldn’t strike twice in a week, would it? Continue reading

Herman the German Munster


I love Germany. After all I am of that age where good value football, good value beer and accessibility to good value hardcor…ah ok, sorry Mum….good value nocturnal entertainment is more important that DJ Jazzy J and a foam-filled dance floor of scantily clad girls off their ti….sorry again Mum…nightclubs, are more important to me. And Germany ticks all of those boxes thrice-times over. But even so there are parts of the country that I have always wanted to visit and never had an opportunity. The former East Germany tech-hub of Jena (obviously home to Carl-Zeiss), the Black Mountains and Wuppertal.

What do you mean, where? Come on! Wuppertal, sitting on the River Wupper slap-bang in the middle of the Bergisches Land to the east of Düsseldorf. Home to the Von der Heydt Museum, the Arboretum Burgholz, which even Wikipedia enthused as an EXTENSIVE arboretum and of course the 18th century Engels house. But put all that excitement to one side when I tell you it is the spiritual home of the Schewbebahn, the home of the Monorail. Not just your run of the mill monorail either. This is the oldest electric elevated railway in the world, having opened in 1901. And catch this. It’s only bloody suspended (not in a close way but in a hanging down, swinging way).

Those clever Germans eh? Well no, let me stop you there. This was invented by the British actually. A man called Henry Robinson Palmer (of course, Henry Robinson Palmer) first suggested the idea of a suspended rail network, pulled along by horses back in 1824. Alas his original route had one flaw that saw him dismissed as a country bumpkin. His proposed network didn’t go as far as reaching the Stadion am Zoo to the west of the city centre. What was the point of that, said the town council, with amazing forethought as football was still nearly 50 years away from becoming a regulated game in Germany. But Palmer was out and so was his horse-drawn plan.

TuffiInstead in 1901 the current line was opened to global acclaim, linking Oberbarmen in the east, to Vohwinkel in the west and having a stop at the stadium of Wuppertaler SV Borussia, the Stadium am Zoo. Around 25 million passengers today travel on the railway which travels about 10 metres above the River Wupper in swinging comfort. Back in 1950 so popular was the railway as a way to get from the centre of the city to the Zoo that a passenger decided to bring his baby elephant on board. As any schoolboy knows, baby elephants and suspended monorails do not mix and poor Tufti got a bit concerned on the route, pressed the emergency door release button and promptly fell into the river below. She was fine but hasn’t been back on any railways since.

I could kid you to say that riding on the monorail was the only reason that I, along with Danny Last, Spencer Webb, Kenny Legg, Big Deaksy and Andy Hudson had arrived in Germany some hours before.   Football was in the air ladies and gentlemen. Regionalliga West may not have the glamour and glory of the Bundesliga, but it was good enough for us as a warm up act to Borussia Dortmund’s game. What’s not to like about coming to see Jorg Jung’s side anyway? Continue reading

On the ninth day of TBIR Christmas – The best new ground visited


In 2012 we went to 45 new grounds (not new builds, but new to us) on our trek around the European leagues.  Some were good, some were bad (see the fifth day for our worst three) and some were simply in the middle.  But there were a few that were simply outstanding.  These were ground that for one reason or another made us want to buy a season ticket, there and then.  We didn’t of course, as no amount of Petrol Station Flowers could possibly forgive us for owning season tickets for half a dozen teams.  So we tried to come up with our top 3.

These three were for a number of reasons head and shoulders above the rest.  Whilst the new Friends Arena in Stockholm was impressive, warm (a major plus for anywhere in Scandinavia) and ultra modern, we were looking for places with a bit more of a soul.  So without further ado let’s introduce our winners for 2013:-

3rd best new ground visited in 2012 – Arbroath FC’s Gayfield Park
8259709182_29758065c9_bThis had been on my list for years.  The fact that it was slap-bang next to the North Sea, had a nightclub nearby called DeVito’s and was once the scene of a 36-0 world record score line was reason enough.  And then Danny Last came along with a plan to see the Dundee derby.  Fate decreed that Arbroath were also at home that weekend, and the rest is destiny.  So what makes it so special?  Average crowds rarely break the 500 barrier (unless the Old Firm are visiting as they have done in 2012), it is as cold as Posh Spice smile in July, let alone December and the football isn’t much cop.  But it just felt so right being there, on an old fashioned terrace chatting away to the locals, even if they couldn’t understand a word I said, and them vice-versa.  Yes it was minus five, yes it was dark by 3.30pm but oh yes, the sunset was one to die for.  Everyone should experience Arbroath at least once in their footballing lives.

2nd best new ground visited in 2012 – Alemmania Aachen’s New Tivoli
7826305414_68b451846c_bTivoli is Danish for fairground, and based on our visit to the German/Dutch border in ridiculous heat in August I can see why this is the New Playground.  Inside, the sunshine on the yellow seats almost makes your eyes bleed, but when it is full and rocking, it personifies German football to a tie.  Passion, atmosphere and Freundschaf.  The supporters bar is one of the finest known to man, filled with memorabilia, waitresses bringing endless beers and even an appearance by Germany’s number one George Michael impersonater whilst we were there.  The downside is that it is a bit far out and Aachen are currently a long way off a return to the Bundesliga.  I loved it so much I still have my Stadium card, topped up and ready for my next visit.

The best new stadium we visited in 2012 – Maidstone United’s Gallagher Stadium
7570384206_77e6f16d20_bCould there really be any other choice?  After a wait of two decades, this summer the Stones finally came home.  After years of looking for a suitable venue, they found one right under their noses.  Football stadiums should be easily accessible by good transport links, near a variety of good pubs and have a bit of individuality.  The Gallagher Stadium ticks them all.  The owners insistence on a 3G pitch in the face of sanctions from the FA was a brave move but has already reaped rewards as Maidstone have kept on playing during the poor weather, attracting crowds that some nPower League Two sides would be jealous of.  Oh, and it has a decent bar!

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. Continue reading