Where’s the rest of the stadium??

It is rare these days that CMF and myself have an opportunity for a bit of high jinx in a foreign land. With the mini-Fullers growing up fast it is difficult to get anyone to look after them for more than a couple of hours, let alone a couple of days. My parents have this pathological fear of children staying overnight in the museum and so we have to rely on favours of friends and neighbours. However, I can sometimes swing favour based on principals like “It’s for Bridget’s birthday”, and so I had put a date in the diary some 6 months before that we would be away for 2 days in mid-October. The original plan was to head east to Moscow for the England game, but with spiraling costs, plus the fact I could not guarantee CMF a ticket with her 12 caps I agreed to forfeit my chance to become a Top Capper and miss the one game that would have given me a 100% record in this membership campaign. Instead I found out that Austria would be playing Ivory Coast in the inaugural game at the newly developed Innsbruck stadium. This ticked off three objectives.

1. It was somewhere relatively cheap to get to
2. It was a stadium I had never been to before
3. It was located a few miles from the Swarovski factory – a must for any man who needs to earn some brownie points

I put in a call early doors to my friends at the Austrian FA (no legal or moral request has been denied by these fantastic ladies who put the work to our FA to shame) and soon had sorted a magic pass for CMF and myself (They are called Magic passes as they open all locked doors without a key and get you everywhere). Easyjet were not due to start their Gatwick to Innsbruck route until a few days after we had returned and so I booked flights into Munich instead, with a car waiting our arrival for the 90 mile drive through some of Europe’s most beautiful alpine scenery.

A couple of days before we left I checked some details on the Swarovski factory and saw that it was closed for re-furbishment…Now as this was one of the reasons how I had managed to sell the trip to CMF I decided to not say a word and plead disappointment when we got there.

The outbound trip was as smooth as we could have expected. We were in the car at Munich airport (a nice little Seat turbo number) within 30 minutes of landing, and soon hitting the three digits in terms of speed on the autobahns. At some point, which we couldn’t quite fathom we passed into Austria and were soon traveling alongside huge snowy peaks, babbling brooks and onion shaped church domes. We passed the town of Kurfstein – immortalised by my mother from our 1st family holiday abroad in 1975 in a small alpine village nearby. Every attempt by brothers and I made to buy something in the village (sweets, toys, guns, drugs – the staple needs of a 5, 10 and 12 year old) we were told to wait, as it would be “cheaper in Kurfstein”. Of course on arriving at said town, shops were either closed for the afternoon, or the prices were double that for the village. And so now , at any family gathering when my mother mentions anything about shopping we retort with “It will be cheaper in Kurfstein”…I am sure you can see how those long winter nights just fly by.

We arrived at the village of Wartens, just 5km outside Innsbruck just after lunch and quickly found the factory. But on arrival we saw it was closed. “Oh no – to come all this way”…Bridget was gutted and I told it to lay it on thick as we approached an information post with an old Austrian lady (wearing tight leather trousers – very weird!). We explained we had come as a surprise for a 10th wedding anniversary present for my wife as she was a keen collector and that we were going home again tomorrow. The kind Sadist took pity on Bridget’s crocodile tears and gave her a voucher for a free gift at the main store in Innsbruck, plus a book (worth €50) and a “rain check” for any time in next 2 years….and I did not have to spend 2 hours wandering around a factory nor spend £00’s on any more crystal!

After a couple of laps around the centre of the town, first looking for our hotel, and then for a car park, we eventually parked up and walked through the historic centre to find The Golden Adler, one of the most famous inns in Austria. The reputation of hospitality was certainly well deserved, and once we had checked into our room we were away into the thick of the action looking for hostelry. Sightseeing was concluded with a brief look at the Golden House – home of the old royal family and dominating the old town square, and we even had time for a shop in the Swarovski factory (I’ll buy this – no I insist, bring the free voucher out of the pocket) before we hit a bar or two for a few Steigl’s.

With kick off time fast approaching in Moscow we headed back to the hotel for a “snooze”…now here was a dilemma that faces us blokes once in a while – do we take advantage of a quick bout of passion or do we watch the football?? I had a couple of tricks up my sleeve, but the Steigl’s had reached tipping point for CMF and she was soon asleep, leaving me free to watch the horror unfold in Moscow as England threw away any real chance of qualifying for Euro2008, and with it any remote chance of me selling any guide books to Euro2008 – well thank you Mr McClaren – just tell me who to invoice for all of my work!

And then came the dawning….With very little hope of being in Euro2008 I would almost certainly get as many media tickets as I wanted, and flights and hotels! I could take the family away on holiday…I could not spend £000’s watching us lose on penalties in the quarter finals again and I could actually enjoy some unbiased media attention for once! With a spring in my step, I woke Bridget with a cup of tea, a shag and then it was time to go to the football.

It is not often the Austrian’s come to play in the regions, and with the opening of the newly renovated stadium I expected a bumper crowd. The bus from opposite the Golden Adler was certainly cozy, and dropped us outside the stadium 15 minutes later. There were hundreds of people outside the stadium in what I thought was the queue for the ticket office, but no…The stadium on one side had a gym and a rock climbing wall inside and with huge glass windows displaying the action many fans had decided not to enter the stadium yet but to watch the action on the running machines – and what a treat it was too….in fact with “something for the ladies” on the rock climbing wall we could have spent all evening just here, but we did have some free media passes to get.

The stadium was originally a 12,000 relatively new affair, built in a similar style to Salzburg’s Bullen Arena with four identical adjoining stands. In order to meet the 30,000 limit set by UEFA the club decided to simply add second tiers on three of the stands, leaving the east stand open, and offering some amazing views of the mountains behind to everyone in the south and west stands. The media lounge certainly needs a bit of work before next summer’s tournament – it held 30 at the most, and with at least 40 trying to help themselves to refreshments it wasn’t exactly comfy. If that was bad, then our seats were even worse. Cramped in the back row between the TV crews and a part of the stairwell we were shoehorned into our seats. Once the ball went down to the south of the stadium we could see very little as the TV camera platform was in the way. At least we had a TV monitor in front of us to show what was going on in that corner.

Ivory Coast had agreed to be the opponents in this historic game, and true to their word they had put out a full strength side in what was to be their last warm up game before the African Nations. This meant a host of Premiership players including the Arsenal pair Kolo Toure and Emmanuale Eboue started along with captain Didier Drogba. The game was played in an excellent spirit with both sides throwing players forward at every opportunity. Austria took the lead against the run of play when Sanel Kuljic converted a penalty in the 30th minute and this was how it stayed until half time. With the temperature dropping faster than Steve McClaren’s salary prospects we retreated back to our half time sanctuary where Kalie (American student who wanted to be a journalist and who seemed keen to get some private tips on how to succeed in the industry) served us some Gluwine which in theory was off limits to us journalists just in case we get pissed and write nasty things about the Sacher Torte!

The second half started with Ivory Coast dominating play, and it was no surprise when Drogba slotted home an equalizer just before the hour mark. The turning point however came a few minutes later when an Austrian player decided to shepherd the ball out of play in front of his own bench. Ivory Coast midfielder Steve Gohuri was getting bored with the blatant obstruction so he did what all of us want to see in this situation – he kicked the Austrian up the backside. Queue all sorts of mayhem on the side lines as Gohuri got his marching orders, much to his amazement. Fifteen minutes later it was 3-1 as Austria took advantage of the extra man (why do managers who fail to score against a team with one player less always complain how hard it is to break down a team who have had a player sent off – its simple – you have one extra man – just pass the ball to each other!), and seemed to be coasting to victory before a dubious last minute penalty by Drogba brought the final score back to 3-2.

After the game we listened to former Real Madrid fullback Ulli Stielike explain why the team would never win the African Nations due to “too many individuals” – obviously referring to messers Drogba and Toure, and then we listened in translated French awe as Drogba then gave a warts and all interview with the journalists who sat next to me throughout the game (from France Football magazine) about how something was broken at Chelsea after the special one had left, and how he couldn’t wait to join Barcelona in the summer. Although my French studies did not even get as far as an O-Level, my knowledge of the language is on a par with my cockney and I can understand most things – I am sure to this day he said “I want to leave Chelsea as something is broken”….either that or I translated it wrong and it should have been “I want to go home to Chelsea in case my thing (TV, Video, DVD etc) is broken”….hmmm.

So after the game we headed back to the buses and within 30 minutes we were back in the Adler ready for some Austrian Pay TV and a night (well 30 minutes) of high class action….Even if I say so myself..

About the Tivoli Neu
As part of the plans to host Euro 2008, Innsbruck’s modest Tivoli Neu stadium is having a major face lift which will take the capacity up from its current 17,100 to just over 30,000 in time for the for big kick off in June 2008. The current stadium will be developed stand by stand, resulting in a smart uniform stadium similar to the Stade de Geneva, with some of the best views of any grounds in Europe.

Four identical stands decked out in grey seats will offer 30,000 unobstructed views of the action on the pitch, and those in the south and east stands will also get an amazing view of the snow capped Tirol Mountains behind. The stadium will also feature a number of restaurants, a fitness centre and a conference centre. Quite what the club will do with 30,000 seats after the tournament is finished is unsure as currently FC Wacker only average around 5,500 for their home games.

The new stadium is due to host the Austrian national team in a friendly in October 2007 in a game versus Ivory Coast in a game that will officially open the redeveloped ground.

Who plays there?
The Tivoli Neu is the current home of FC Wacker Innsbruck. The were actually only formed in June 2002, rising out of the ashes of the bankrupt FC Tirol Innsbruck. However, due to the legal complexities of the situation, the new club basically have no history prior to June 2002.

The club started in the regional leagues of the Tirol region for 2002/03 season, but soon moved up into the Red Zac Erste Liga, the second level of Austrian football. At the end of the season the club merged with Wattens who had finished 3rd in the league, and thus were allowed to take their place in the Austrian Bundesliga – a situation that would not be allowed to happen in most other European leagues. In 2004/05 the club finished 6th in the 10 team league. The following season they didn’t fair much better, whilst last season they nervously looked over their shoulders for long periods before a decision was made only to relegate one team at the end of the season.

Wacker were bottom for periods of the season until Grazer AK went into administration and were docked 28 points, thus condemning them to relegation with a dozen games left to play. Therefore a 9th place finish wasn’t impressive but was enough to ensure another season of top flight football for the club. The current squad is dominated by Austrians, with a sprinkling of overseas players including Nigerian top scorer Olushola Olumuyiwa Aganum.

Whilst the club have not ever had the opportunity to compete for any major honours, their previous entity FC Tirol Innsbruck won the Austrian Championship for three consecutive years from 2000, although this history has been erased from the records.

How to get there
Innsbruck is only a small city and so the easiest way to reach the stadium is on foot. It is located next to the ice hockey stadium alongside the A12 Autobahn. It is less than one kilometre from the main Hauptbahnhof.

If you are walking from here, come out of the station, turn left and follow Sterzinger Strasse southwards until it becomes Sudbahnstrasse. After 200metres it will join Olympiastrasse. Turn left here and follow this road over the railway and the river. After 300metres turn right into Stadionstrasse. If you want to use public transport then bus lines B, K and J run to the Tivoli stop from the old town and train station every few minutes. For the Euro 2008 tournament when the stadium will host a number of games, special buses will run in the build up to games, and after the matches at regular intervals. These will be free for match ticket holders.

Getting a ticket
Tickets for every match at Euro 2008 have been sold out for many months, and the only way now of getting tickets is by applying through one of the nations football associations once they have qualified. Whilst tickets for matches may become available after the draw is made on the 2nd December, it is unlikely that a further sale to the public will yield more than a few hundred tickets per venues.

If you are here to watch an Austrian Bundesliga game then you should have no issues turning up on the day to watch a game. FC Wacker Innsbruck do sell tickets in advance via http://www.oeticket.com or by calling +43 512 588877-86. Tickets cost €14 for a place in the Nord or Sud Tribune and €18 for a seat in the Ost or West stands. Views are good from any spot although head for the Nord tribune to get a great view of the Tirol Mountains on a clear day.

Getting around
Innsbruck is a small city, and with a unique location almost sandwiched between the Tirol Mountains. Public transport is a mixture of buses and trams. The tram lines run through the old town and out to the surrounding villages. The Innsbruck card, available from the Tourist Information Centre in Burggraben 3 covers all public transport as well as entry into the city’s main attractions and in the winter months the ski lifts, and costs €23. Alternatively a single ticket for the tram or bus will cost €1.60.

Local Hotels & Bars
During the late spring and early autumn when the days are full of blue sky Innsbruck is a fabulous place to visit. The whole town seems relaxed and people head for the hills for clean fresh mountain air. Consequently at this quiet time, hotels are barely half full and so you can get some bargains. However, come winter time and they are full to the brim. Also, expect most rooms to have been taken come 3rd December 2007 once the draw for the finals of Euro 2008 has been made. The Tourist Information Office in Burggraben 3 (http://www.innsbruck-tourismus.at) may have some ideas if you are stuck. The following hotels are very popular all year round.

Goldener Adler – Herzog Freidrich Strasse 6
Tel: +43 571 111 http://www.goldeneradler.com
The Penz – Adolf Pichler Platz 3
Tel: +43 575 6570 http://www.the-penz.com
Ibis Innsbruck Hauptbahnhof – Sterzinger Strasse 1
Tel: +43 570 3000 http://www.accor.com

Tyrolean food is both hearty and cheap, meaning that your Euro will go quite along way here. Expect to find plenty of veal and pork on the menus as well as some heavy dishes influenced from Hungary. The following restaurants are popular all year round.

Ottoburg – Herzog Freidsrich Strasse 1 (Tel: +43 584 338)
Villa Blanka – Weiherburggasse 8 (Tel: +43 276 070)
Weisses Rössel – Kiebachgasse 8 (Tel: +583 0570)

The old town’s cobbled streets are full of excellent bars and cafes, including the area around Penz and the railway arches behind the station. Good places to head during the evening include:-

Leo Kino – Anichstrasse 36
Café Hofgarten – Hofgarten
Theresianbräu – Maria Theresian Strasse 51

The city also has a couple of Irish Bars where you can catch a Premiership match from England during the season. These include:-

The Galway Bay – Kaiserjägerstrasse 4
Limerick Bills – Maria Theresien Strasse 9

Nearest Airport – Kranebitten Airport (INN)
Telephone: +43 225 250
Website: http://www.innsbruck-airport.com

Innsbruck’s small airport comes alive in the winter when dozens of flights will arrive daily, bringing thousands of winter sports fanatics. As Innsbruck is one of the few places in the world where you can step off a plane and be on the slopes in less than an hour, it is a very popular destination. It is the main base for a couple of Austria’s regional airlines such as Welcome Air and Austrian Arrows. The only airline that flies direct into Innsbruck from the UK is British Airways from London Gatwick.

Bus route F connects the airport to the central station every 15 minutes and the journey takes less than 20 minutes. The central station has some excellent fast routes to other destinations such as Munich (1hour 45mins), Vienna (2hours) and Venice (4hours).

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