The German region of Nord Rhine Westphalia may not be known to many people outside of the country, but it is one of the most important in the whole of Europe for a number of reasons. It was famous during the Second World War as the most important industrial conurbation in Germany, and was consequently heavily targeted by Allied bombers. The reason for this was the presence of coal, and thus steel foundries in the area on the Ruhr river. Towns in this area basically merge into one for around 40 miles, following the course of the river westwards until it meets the Rhine near Dusseldorf. Whilst the towns of Gelsenkirchen, Bochum, Essen and Duisburg hardly roll off the tongue of those into culture, talk to any football fan who knows his salt about German football and they will wax lyrical about the history of the beautiful game in this region.
In the relatively short distance from Cologne to Dortmund you will pass through the homes to five current Bundesliga 1 clubs as well as a host of lower division teams. This almost guarantees that on a typical matchday you will have three or four clubs at home and a great opportunity to see a couple of games. There are few areas in Europe that can boast the attendance levels of Borussia Dortmund (average 74,800), Schalke 04, (61,350) and FC Koln (50,000), and add into the mix the more intimate Bayer Arena where every home game for over 5 years has sold out and you can start building the picture that the region is football mad.
Two of the smaller top clubs are VfL Bochum and MSV Duisburg. Separated by a 25 minute train ride, the recent fortunes of the clubs has been very similar. Both have been seen as yoyo clubs, spending between them nine years in the second division – in fact in the past ten years they have only been in the same division on three occasions. MSV Duisburg have been relegated on each of their three last seasons in the top league so fans have got used to season after season of “boom and bust”. Bochum on the other hand have managed to stabilise their position and last season’s 12th place finish was seen as quite a good result for the club.
I love German football. West Ham apart, I would happily spent most of my weekends watching games over there. It is well organised (TV revenues are important, but do not dictate the fixtures), very well supported with an average attendance of over 33,000 (vying in top position with the English Premier League) and more importantly with a stadium utilisation rate of close to 85% (i.e 85% of all seats in the Bundesliga are filled each week), cheap to watch (a ticket for Werder Bremen can cost as little as €10), and passionately followed. Every season I will come over for a day or so to take in a game. Thanks to a scheduling of a mid week set of fixtures, and West Ham due to lose heavily away to Manchester United, I took advantage of a €20 tax included flight with Ryanair to Dusseldorf Weeze to take in a couple of games.
Dusseldorf Weeze. Now there is an interesting place. Originally a RAF base known as Laarbruch, it is actually closer to Nijmegen in the Netherlands than it is to Dusseldorf. Yet Ryanair still get away with calling it after the major German city, despite the fact that three other airports (including Cologne-Bonn) are actually nearer to Dusseldorf than Weeze is! My plan was after landing here on my 40 minute flight from Stansted (Weeze is actually nearer to Stansted than Torquay is) to head to Duisburg and then onto Bochum. Things looked like they would go wrong when the night before I travelled, blizzard-like conditions took a grip on parts of the home counties. Football League games at Northampton, Wycombe and Luton were either postponed or abandoned yet in our pocket of tropical sunshine in SE9 we stayed clear. At 4am when I left for Stansted the temperature was hovering just above freezing. After all what do you expect from the weather in October?
The short flight was a bit hairy to say the least. As we were only at cuising altitude for no more than 10 minutes the ride was bumpy all the way, especially when we descended through the clouds to suddenly hit the tarmac of the runway – it was impossible to see the ground out of the window, let alone anything else, the fog was so bad.
After waiting over an hour for my bus I was told, on approaching the information desk inside the airport that they had had to close the runway and so they had cancelled the buses as “there would be no passengers arriving”. Great idea – but what about the dozen or so who had already arrived and wanted to be transfered out of the back of beyond! Finally a small mini-bus was summoned from the stores and the driver rattled down the autobahn to the home of pig-iron.
I had been to Duisburg once before, on a short overnight stop during the World Cup in 2006. It had the feeling of Woolwich – a long high street populated by pound (sorry, Euro) shops, fast food joints and lots of common people. But it had been given a make over that Kerry Katona would have been proud of. Two huge shopping centres had been built, full of bars and restaurants and this had attracted the beautiful people out of their hiding places. I enjoyed a good hearty meat-filled German lunch before heading back to the hotel for a short afternoon siesta.
For some reason, the Bundesliga 2 games were due to kick off at 5.30pm which made it perfect for catching a second game at 8pm and on this particular Wednesday Bochum were also at home, to surprise Bundesliga leaders 1899 Hoffenheim. MSV Duisburg were actually one of the sixteen original clubs that were invited to play in the first professional Bundesliga in 1964. That first season was actually the club’s high point as they finished runners up to FC Koln. Since then they have reached the German Cup final three times, losing on each occasion. Their finest moments in Europe came in a run to the UEFA Cup semi-final in 1979 where they lost to local rivals Borussia Monchengladbach. The “zebras” as they are known were back in the 2nd level of German football after finishing in 18th place last season. The MSV Stadion was opened in 2004 after the old stadium the Wedaustadion was demolished.
A short train ride away from Duisburg is the industrial city of Bochum. This is really in the heart of industrial Germany and you can hardly see where Bochum ends and Gelsenkirchen and Essen start. The club have fought their way up the hard way. They are still awaiting their first Bundesliga title, or German Cup but at least seem to have stablised a position in the top flight.
So it was going to be an interesting double bill of football, made all the more pleasurable by the fact I could escape the hiding that the Hammers were due to receive at Old Trafford.
I can never get my head around the supporters matchday rituals in Germany. Whilst us English like a beer, the Germans go at it hammer and tongue from as soon as the bars open. As the first game of the day was due to kick off at 5.30pm this meant 10am was when I first saw some of the fans drinking in the centre of Duisburg. All dressed in their denim jackets with hundreds of patches on like some reject from a Monsters of Rock festival, and sporting not only the requisite mullet but also a fair few scarves tied around the wrist. They also all drink strong half litre lager from the bottle, and are very careful about recycling it when they have finished.
Of course if you drink this much all day, the need to urinate becomes a necessity. So it is not unusual to see lines of men on the side of the road having a quick “slash”, irrespective of the traffic passing by, or the housewife whose roses they are watering. And of course as soon as they reach the stadium entrance they have to get rid of any undrunk beer, so that they can pass through the turnstiles and go to the bar inside!
The stadium in Duisburg is certainly fit for top level football. In fact I have to say that the “public” areas were some of the smartest I have seen anywhere. I visited the stadium in the summer of 2006 when Italy used the facilities for their training ground, and if you are to believe the staff at the MSV Arena, it was the help they received that powered them to the World Cup, and not the dubious last minute penalty they got versus Australia, or Zidane’s attack on Matterazzi.
The stadium is two tiers, very similar in design to the Volkswagen Arena in Wolfsburg, or a modern up to date Loftus Road for those not so continental. In the north stand lower tier (The Nord Tribune to those fluent in Deutsch), is the home end, with the fans packed on the only terraced area of the ground (that is apart from the away fans in the south east corner). Views from all seats are excellent, and it does take some getting used to to see drinking and smoking still allowed in the stadium.
After my five minute walk from the rude sounding Schlenk station, I was in the ground, and enjoying some of the media facilities. The game promised to be an interesting one. Duisburg hadn’t set the league alight yet, but with fifteen points from nine games they were within spitting distance of the top. St Pauli were only a few positions below the home side, enjoying life again in the second tier after a spell in the regional leagues. Despite the three hour journey from Hamburg, and the early kick off, they completely filled their allocation in the corner of the stadium and didn’t let up in their vocal support of the team.
MSV Duisburg v FC St. Pauli – MSV Arena – Wednesday 29th October 2008 5.30pm
The first game of the day threw up two of the more unusual kits in German football. St Pauli must lay claim to be the biggest named club in Europe who play in an all brown kit, whilst from the front Duisburg’s blue and white hoops look like Reading or QPR, but when they turn around the kit is all white, meaning confusion when you look up and see three different kits on the pitch.
The upper tiers of the stadium were sparsely filled, but your eyes kept being drawn to the huge video screens that hung down from the roof at either end. Every time there was a corner a klaxon would sound and the number of corners would be displayed, ditto cautions, meaning someone entering the arena late, and forgetting how to read German may need to rub their eyes that after 17 minutes Duibsurg did indeed lead St Pauli 5-4.
The first half was pretty poor considering the scoring records of both teams. MSV Duisburg used the flanks well and tried a few shots from distance, but apart from an early slip, Mathias Hain in the St Pauli goal was hardly troubled. Duisburg could also boast the man with the worst hair in the league – and coming from a country that still reveres David Hasselhoff for his locks that is saying something. Step forward full back Serge Branco who had a blonde mohican – perfect on his african skin colouring. They could also boast a real Messiah in midfield with Gregory Christ no less. The son of God could do nothing though to enliven the first half which ended goal less in sub zero temperatures.
Fortunately the second half lived up to the billing. Duisburg took the lead in the 55th minute when a defensive mistake allowed Kouemeha to open the scoring. Instead of kicking on and trying to build their lead, Duisburg sat back and invited the visitors to attack, and they were soon level when Bruns scored for St Pauli. Seconds after the restart our friend Branco got his second yellow for crimes against hair fashion and the game was all but over for Duisburg. Hennings scored a deserved winner with fifteen minutes left on the clock and it was in the end a deserved 3 points from the brown shirted team from the capital of German sin.
VfL Bochum v 1899 Hoffenheim – Rewirpower Stadion – Wednesday 29th October 2008 8pm
So after a swift change from S-Bahn to U-Bahn at Bochum Hauptbahnhof I was back in the press tribune in time for the emergence of the teams at the strange sounding Rewirpower (apparently it has nothing to do with dodgy electricians). This game promised to be a completely different affair, as the relatively unknown visitors (well at least from outside Germany) 1899 Hoffenheim arrived top of the Bundesliga.
Whilst you would think that many neutrals would support the plucky little team who were obviously punching above their weight, such as Hull City in the Premier League, not so here in Germany. 1899 Hoffenheim were becoming as hated as Bayern Munich in some quarters, simply because of the vast amounts of money that had been poured into the club by their owner, and former player, Dietmar Hopp
Hopp had overseen a lightening charge up the table, with hardly a season passing without another title captured until they won the Bundesliga 2 last season and took their place in the top flight. Not bad considering they hail from the village of Hoffenheim which is between Mannheim and Stuttgart in south west Germany, and only has a population of 3,000 people.
The quality of the football from the first minute was so different here and it is obvious why the Zebras of Duisburg have struggled in the top league in the past. The noise was also turned up a notch as the Bochum fans in the East stand whistled, drummed, boo’d, cheered and sang their way through 90 minutes of action.
Bochum certainly started as if they were top of the Bundesliga and after going close in the opening 45 seconds, took the lead on two minutes when midfielder Dennis Grote fired home from just inside the penalty area. The home fans thought they had a penalty on thirteen minutes when centre forward Kaloglu went down in the area, but he was judged by the referee to have dived and was booked for his sins. Worse should have befallen Hoffenheim’s Carlos Eduardo who aimed a headbutt at a Bochum player after he had gone in with his foot high on a defender. To make matters worse, from the resulting throw in (after Bochum had put the ball out to get their player treated) Hoffenheim carried on going forward and had a shot on goal.
Chances went begging at either end in the first half as the game was played out with a certain level of animosity between the teams, yet this was their first meeting ever. A touch of envy creeping in from Bochum maybe? It was with some surprise that the score remained one-nil at the break.
With the temperature falling at the interval what better way to heat things up with some AC/DC and dancing girls. As the chimes from Hells Bells rang out in the stadium, past my shoulder ran twenty four (In the words of the famous Falklands War correspondent Brian Hanrahan “I counted them all out and I counted them all back”) dancing girls, all dressed completely inappropriately for a very cold October night. They gyrated their way through the classic song, cheering everyone up in the stadium. If only CMF was here – she would have loved it as she is a big AC/DC fan as she will tell you to her hearts content (and she is not exactly impartial to a dancing girl or two either!
So the second half had a lot to live up to in terms of action. Bochum started off where they left off by clattering into any Hoffenheim player they could catch, and the referee continued to take little action to protect them. But everything changed on the hour mark as Hoffenheim showed the reason why they are top of the pile. First centre forward Demba Ba turned in a low cross from a free kick after they had a great shout for a penalty turned down. Four minutes later they got their spot kick as Obasi out paced the defence and was sent sprawling and the kick was duly converted. And to rub salt into the wounds a third was scored on seventy minutes by Salihovic as he raced onto a great through ball.
Bochum immediately went on the offensive but their cause was hardly helped by Christoph Dabrowski getting two yellow cards in the space of as many minutes reducing the home team down to ten men and basically killed the game as neither team was interested in going forward, and they all seemed to just want to be back inside in the warm – a fact not lost on me as the finall whistle blew.
About the Rewirpower Stadium
The previously named Ruhr Stadium was originally opened 1919, although the current ground was redeveloped in 1979 with a capacity of over 50,000. Through the years this has been reduced due to changes to seating has seen this number reduce over the years. This season the capacity has been set at just over 32,600 by the local authorities. The stadium is very British in design with four stands close to the pitch and excellent views from all areas. The atmosphere on a match day is excellent – especially if the visitors are local.
How to get to the Rewirpower Stadium
The Rewirpower stadium is located on the eastside of the town centre. Opposite the stadium is the S-Bahn stop of Ruhrstadion which is just 4 minutes journey time from the Hauptbahnhof on line 308 or 318. Alternatively you can walk from the town centre – simply following the signs towards the Planetarium and then carrying on for around 150 yards.
How to get a ticket for the Rewirpower Stadium
The club have a loyal following of around 20,000 fans which means that most games are not sold out at the stadium. The exception to this are the games versus Dortmund, Schalke and Bayern Munich. Tickets can be bought from the online shop around 10 days before a game. The cheapest tickets are for the standing sections behind the goal which are €10, whilst €30 will get you a decent seat in the main stand. You can also ring in advance to secure a ticket on +49 18 05 95 18 48.
About The MSV Arena
The original Wedau stadium was built for the 1922 German Athletics championships, and at the time was the second largest stadium in Germany. However, facilities were very basic for spectators, with very little cover and bench like seating. In fact it wasn’t until the start of the 1960’s that any serious investment was made available for the stadium.
The finance allowed the club to build a new main stand and a new roof was constructed to cover all of the stands. A few more changes were made to the stadium during the next two decades, but the promise of a new stadium from the regional government never materialised.
At last in November 2002 the club gained the commitment from the North Rhine Westphalia government of the required funding, and building redevelopment began after the end of the 2002/03 season. The team continued to play in the stadium as it was rebuilt, stand by stand.
How to get a ticket for the MSV Arena
The club sells tickets online, at the ground or over the telephone. Tickets are available for most matches, although games against teams from the surrounding areas such as Bayer Leverkusen, Köln, Bayern Munich and Schalke 04 will sell out in advance. Ticket prices range from €8 in the North and South terracing areas, to €33 for the most expensive seats in the East and West upper tiers. You can purchase tickets from the Zebra club shops in Margaretenstrasse 5 or Wesender Strasse 36 close to the stadium, by telephone on +49 1805 678007 or via the internet at http://www.sportfivetixx.com.
How to get to the MSV Arena
The stadium is located between the A59 and A3 Autobahn’s, just to the south of the town centre. he easiest way to reach the stadium from the town centre is to catch either Bus number 934 from the Hauptbahnhof to Stadion Wacholdestrasse or Bus 923 from the Hauptbahnhof to Stadion Kruppstrasse. The nearest S-Bahn station is at Schlenk which is a 10 minute walk away.