There’s only one Becks and it’s certainly a bit posh

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Opportunities for cheeky day trips are few and far between these days. With CMF(tm) planning a day of Christmas shopping at Lakeside I thought I would consult the European crystal ball to see where I could go that was not already on the Fuller map. Now I have said before about my love for German football. Beer, passionate fans, cheap tickets and normally some decent football all add up to a great match day over there and so I scanned the list for something new…..Amazingly, Bremen popped up – a city and a stadium I had been tardy in not visiting before. A tasty little game with Bayer Leverkusen beckoned – 2nd versus 3rd in the last game before the Christmas break.

Ryanair for once not only had 1p flights available (really £19.41 all in but hey it doesn’t have the same marketing message), but had flights out and back in the same day – very unusual for them. So off I went, armed just with the latest Simon Kernick book on a flight full of middle-aged women with issues – a little tip here for those ladies who feel they have to project their voice….If you do want to tell your friend that up until the age of 9 you used to wet yourself every time your Mum’s friend Wendy looked at you then perhaps try lowering your voice – it was hardly surprising that no one wanted to sit next to her on the short 1 hour flight.

Bremen is under rated as a city….It seemed that at every corner when I had just thought – “Perhaps they have a Kardstadt Sports shop (the best sports shops on the planet for buying football stuff)” there would be one….I tried this all morning and was delighted with the results….The Christmas markets were in town and so food and drink was in abundance, as too were the crowds. But what was impressive was so many locals bedecked in their orange, green and white – not 3 colours you would readily chose for your front room but everyone seemed to be proud of their football club. Interestingly not many fans had chosen to adopt the away colours of chocolate brown and lime green – I cannot think why, but you can never accuse the club of being shy and retiring.

So, on a bitterly cold December day when the UK headed to the cathedrals of Bluewater, Lakeside and the Metro Centre, I headed off for some Gluwine and Brautwurst in one of the best preserved city centres in Europe. The problem with German Christmas markets is that they are all the same – if you have been to one in one city, expect exactly the same elsewhere. And likewise, there only seems to be a dozen or so different stalls – so once you have seen the cute wooden decorations once or the sweet stalls that sell all fo those treats that were banned in the UK along time ago (chocolate coated banana anyone?), you will see then twenty more times.

Bremen is a small yet prosperous city. The main industries today are technology and beer. And is there a more famous German brand than Becks – stronger than BMW, more effective than SAP and liked my more men than a Porsche. Bremen has proudly shown their name across the world on the Becks bottle. As a connoisseur of beer, Bremen also means the opportunity to sample the wonderful, yet rare Becks Gold and Becks Green Lemon.

What is strange about German football culture is the acceptance of the general public on the excessive match day drinking. In the city centre from around 11am you see groups of men standing around a crate of Becks simply drinking. No frills, no fanfare or trouble – just serious drinking and football chat – and of course ensuring that the empties go into the right recycling bin….This ritual carries on right up until kick off where the fans simply finish their bottles (recycling of course), enter the stadium and continue drinking from the bars.

The stadium is located a short journey outside the city centre and most people cram (and I mean cram) on tram number 3 that runs from outside the old cathedral in the city centre. A ten minute journey dropped me at the Weser Stadion stop and immediately I was met with the smell of grilled sausages and enough outside bars serving ice cold Becks to keep me going for days. Most fans get to the stadium early to sample the food and drink around the ground. The stadium is wedged in a bend in the River Weser, and the main entry points are on the north side of the stadium.

Another strange feature of German football is this idea of Fan co-operation – each club has a “favourite” other clubs who when they meet up, share some kind of common enemy (such as Borussia Dortmund) or a common event (a match that saw one team stay up due to a win over the enemy)….Leverkusen were obviously a favourite of Werder Bremen’s as on every corner there was fans mingling and drinking, whilst in the stadium there appeared to be no animosity at all. Hard to see this working at Millwall or Cardiff somehow!

Inside the stadium was impressive. Werder are one of the teams in Germany currently looking at relocating simply to get more people in on a match day. Currently they have room for 42,000 fans but on more occasions than not this is simply not enough. It would be a shame to leave such as stadium though – compact at the sides, traditional curves behind the goal and some strange floodlights certainly give it a unique feel. But money rules the roost in German football, as it does in the rest of Europe and so if opportunities for match day revenue can be made greater by moving away then they will. Currently the club are one of the big five in Germany with Bayern, HSV, Stuttgart and Schalke and any advantage the club can get off the pitch will help on the pitch in the long run.

With the sun setting early in the match, and the temperature barely getting above freezing (yet not one player had gloves on – let alone tights!), expectations of a tight defensive game were blown out of the water after 45 seconds as the Crouch-alike Keissling from Leverkusen went clean through and fluffed his lines. Bremen’s forward line of Rosenborg, the revived Klasnic (he who lost a kidney not too long ago) and the mercurial Diego seem to have adjusted to life after Klose’s pre-season move to arch rivals Bayern very well and Bremen’s amazing home record this season of 13 wins in 14 games (the other was a 4-1 defeat to Bayern with Klose scoring) has not been earnt by defending deep. They soon went on the offensive and how the score stayed at 0-0 for more than 5 minutes was a miracle and it wasn’t. In the 6th minute the deadlock was broken. A 3 on 2 break by Werder was quickly snuffed out and within seconds the ball was in the back of their net as Bayer ruthlessly exposed the Brazilian Naldo.

Their lead should have been doubled soon after when Crouch-alike missed a simple one on one with Werder’s keeper when all of the stadium, TV cameras and most of the city stood still waiting a blatantly obvious linesman’s flag for offside. The legendary Bremen coach Thomas Schaaf acted swiftly and ruthlessly withdrew captain and midfielder Tim Borowski with less than 20 minutes on the clock. He headed straight down the tunnel, not without first seeing Klasnik stab in an equalizer.

At the end of the first half some dreadful play acting (a headbutt that missed and a Bremen forward feigning injury as if he had been hit by Amir Kahn, Joe Calzage and Ricky Hatton all at once) should have led to a Werder penalty and at least one red card, but both teams retreated into the warmth of the bowels of the stadium with the referee explaining to the guilty Bremen player how he should have fallen over to get a penalty and a red card for the opposition. The second half started with a bang, to say the least…46 minutes 2-1 Bremen, 48 minutes 3-1 Bremen, 50 minutes 4-1 Bremen and then 61 minutes 5-1 Bremen….yet the amazing fact was that they seemed to score with every attack, getting every single lucky rebound, every break of the ball and every marginal decision. Leverkusen didn’t give up attacking, knowing that their luk had to change and eventually got one back as Crouch-alike’s misplaced header looped over Bremen’s goalie much to the suprise of the Bremen goalie and 42,000 other people in the stadium.

So a 5-2 win, coupled with Bayern Munich’s draw saw the end of the first half of the Bundesliga draw to a close with Werder level on points at the top with the Bavarian giants. After Werder’s unexpected exit from the Champions League earlier in the week with a 3-0 defeat to Olympiakos there was at least some comfort for a swift return next year to the ultimate European Club Competition.

Less than 30 minutes after the end of the game I was back at the airport, and with efficiency that would have any seasoned Ryanair travellers standing in amazement, I was back in Chez Fuller in time to see Same Difference get kicked off X-Factor at 9pm. Oh, and I had missed another Curbishley inspired West Ham home performance at home with a defeat again to Everton…The cost of my trip was less than £65….The cost of a ticket for Upton Park would have been £5 less…..I know what I’d recommend in future.

About the Weser Stadion

The Weser Stadion has been the home of Werder Bremen for nearly 100 years, although it has gone through a number of major changes during that time. It is now one of the most distinctive looking stadiums in Germany due to its unique floodlights and its oval shape. It was originally used as a general sports field in the early part of the century before being developed for political rallies in the early 1930’s at the time when the Nazi party was on the rise. The stadium was extensively remodelled in the 1970’s with a new roof added as well as the addition of 9,500 seats. During the 2001/02 season the biggest project took place when the pitch was lowered, allowing a further 8,000 seats to be added to the ground. The stadium has a dual capacity depending on the nature of the matches played – for normal Bundesliga matches the capacity is 42,500, but this falls to around 35,000 for Internationals as the terracing has to be converted to seating. In September 2005 the German national team played a friendly international at the stadium against South Africa. The stadium also houses a museum, and holds regular tours of the ground which costs €5 for Adults and €2.50 for Concessions. Plans have been drawn up for a new 50,000 seater stadium a few hundred yards away from the Weser Stadion, and August 2010 has been penciled in as a potential opening date, although construction has not begun as of August 2008.

Who plays there?

Werder Bremen are now established as one of the most consistent teams in German football, after their capture of the domestic double in 2004, and appearances in the Champions League group stages every season since. Their 3-1 victory in the Olympic Stadium in Munich in May 2004 will go down in history as one of the most dramatic games in German football history as it broke Bayern’s seemingly unbreakable hold on the Bundesliga title. The team, led by coach Thomas Schaaf won the title for the fourth time, and the first time since 1993 through the efforts of players like Johan Micoud, the Brazilian Ailton and Miroslav Klose. In the last two Champions League campaigns, the club have made it out of difficult group stages, only to fall against perceived weaker teams in the first knock out rounds. The club were originally formed in 1899, and whilst performing well in the North German leagues, they did not taste any glory until 1961 when they beat Kaiserslautern to win the German Cup in Gelsenkirchen. After failing to be included in the first ever Bundesliga in 1963, the team showed their critics the errors of their ways by winning the Bundesliga title in their first season in the league in 1964/65. Over the next decade the team couldn’t find any consistency and actually fell into the second division in 1980. The appointment of Otto Rehhagel as coach revived the team and under young stars such as Rudi Voller, the team rose again and in 1983 they finished runners up in the league. In 1988 they took their second Bundesliga title, starting a magical period for the club under Rehhagel which saw a further League championship in 1993, German Cup wins in 1991 and 1994 and victory in Europe with the European Cup Winners Cup title in 1992. After Rehhagel left the club in 1995, the club struggled to replace him until they decided to promote Thomas Schaaf in 1999. In his first season Werder took the German Cup after beating Bayern Munich on penalties. His performance during the remaining seasons to date are of legendary status, and the double of 2003/04 has proved to be no fluke after another top two finish last season with Klose, Klasnic and Borowski powering the team forward. Werder are also the highest scorers in German football, as fans have seen the team score four or more goals ten times on average each season, although the loss of Klose to Bayern will be a major issue. Another third place finish in 2007 was fine reward for this exciting side.

How to get there

The Weser Stadium is located to the south east of the city centre on a reclaimed part of land next to the River Weser. The stadium is easily reached by public transport, as well as being close to the A1 Autobahn. From the Hauptbahnhof take tram line 10 in the direction of Sebaldsbrücke and alight at Juergen Strasse, or take line 3 in the direction of Weser. The journey should take less than 10 minutes and the journey is free for match ticket holders.

Getting a ticket

Last season Werder sold out a number of matches, including the games versus Hertha Berlin, Bayern Munich and Hamburg, but the average attendance was around 39,500 meaning that for matches against the majority of opposition tickets are available. Tickets can be purchased from the stadium on match days, as well online at http://www.werder.de. Tickets range in price from €11 behind the goals to €29 in the upper tiers close to the halfway line. Ticket prices tend to be 10% higher for Champions League matches.

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