The rain in Mainz falls mainly on me

Every year in early December I head off to Germany to catch a match in some proper winter weather, visit a Christmas Market and generally enjoy the opportunity to drink some decent beer, eat some decent sausage and pay a visit to my friend Beate. In the past I have taken in Hamburg, Stuttgart and last year Bremen. As I was rapidly running out of grounds to visit in the top flight of German football I cast my net to some of the more “obscure” destinations, and as luck would have it I saw the chance for a 2 day 2 game trip, taking in a Friday night match in Mainz, south east of Frankfurt and on the Saturday head down south for Karlsruher against my favourites Werder Bremen. Ryanair provided the cheap flights to Frankfurt Hahn, and after a snowy landing in Germany/France/Luxembourg I boarded the coach for the transfer to Frankfurt itself. The initial flight took 57minutes from north of London, yet this airport is a 100 minute journey from the city it takes its name from. How Ryanair can still call it Frankfurt is a mystery to everyone. If crab sticks cant be called crab sticks anymore then someone should petition for the renaming of this airport to one of the closest major towns – Worms!

I spent the rest of the day having a look at some of the other stadiums in the area. First a visit to the home of FSV Frankfurt who are currently in the Bundesliga 2 for the first time in their history. They are currently rebuilding their old stadium into a very smart looking 12,000 arena and so are currently filling less than a 10th of the Commerzbank Arena every other week. Next up was a visit to the very old-English style stadium in Offenbach, home of the Offenbach Kickers who are also in the 2nd division before finally heading west to Wiesbaden for a sneak at the Brita Arena, one of the newest stadiums in the 2nd tier.

It is amazing how tiring it is walking around all day but there was no time to rest as I had a packed evening, starting with a trip to see FSV Mainz. It wasnt all work work work though as I did find time for a very pleasant lunch in Frankfurt in one of my old haunts in Romer. You see dear reader you may not know that I used to spend a day a week in Frankfurt for work purposes. Well, ok a bit of an exageration – it wasn’t quite Frankfurt itself, more like a small suburb called Morfelden which is know for its huge US Air Force base but I was here nearly every Monday for a year and spending so long in one place means you get to know the places where the locals eat and drink. My pepper steak was washed down by a few glasses of Frankfurt’s famous Afpleweiss – similar to cider but much more potent. After lunch it was time to put the walking shoes back on and burn some calories.

The city centre is impressive though. It is not called Mainhatten for nothing as the huge towers of Commerzbank and the Messeturn combine to give most American cities a run for their money in terms of sky scrapers. It is also home to more sex shops that I have ever seen. All around the central station you can find a shop to cater for all tastes, including Football Jo’s. There are shops with “cruising lounges”, “relax bars”, “non stop video cabins”, “Erotik experience rooms” and my favourite (in terms of name I hasten to add for CMF’s purposes!) “titty wank parlour” – I am sure they apply the Ronsil marketing principle here.

So after a quitck trip to the hotel I was off again in the pouring rain up the steep hill overlooking the town to the Bruchweg Stadion. This game was only going to be a warm up for the feature event later in the evening as the surprise leaders (still) of the Bundesliga, 1899 Hoffenheim, were travelling to Munich to take on a resurgent Bayern who had all of a sudden leapfrogged Leverkusen and Hertha to sit in second place.

FSV Mainz 05 0 SpVgg Greuther Furth 1 – The Bruchweg Stadion – Friday 5th December 2008

After the party in Mainz
After the party in Mainz

FSV Mainz came into this match riding high on top of the Bundesligsa 2nd division, after some excellent showings at the Bruchweg so far in 2008. It had in fact only been a short time ago that not only were enjoying local derbies against Eintract Frankfurt, instead of FSV Frasnkfurt in the Bundesliga but also had a UEFA Cup run.

The stadium bounced with noise from thirty minutes before kick off. An early evening start on a Friday night was an excellent way to start the weekend for the home fans and then had again turned out in force on a wet night. With this being the final game before Christmas the fans had got into the festive mood by wearing twinkling red Mainz hats which gave the impression of thousands of little devils winking at you.

The stadium has the feeling of being built by an over enthusiastic child from his mechano set at Christmas. Four covered stands have been pieced rather than built, and two corners temporary structures had added to the capacity. However, for what it lacked in aesthetic appeal it was compensated for by the sheer noise and passion of the home fans.

They nearly had something to cheer about early into the game as midfielder Srdjan Baljak appeared to have beaten the flat Fuerth back line but his smart volleyed finish was in vein as a very late flag ruled the 5th minute strike out, Ten minutes later and Aristide Bance the strange haired centre forward side footed wide after another incise break by Baljak down the left. Why do black footballers think it is trendy to dye their hair, like Bance, blonde? In a word they look stupid. Personally I think the reason Roy Keane walked out on Sunderland was that he could not cope with seeing Cisse’s ridiculous hair on a daily basis. These players would not last 5 minutes in park football, let alone someone such as that idiot who plays up front for Arsenal, Bendtnor with his pink books. When I eventually reach the top of the tree in the Football Association then I will outlaw three things from the game immediately. Firstly, out would go the ability for a defender to blatantly obstruct a forward chasing the ball into touch. Secondly, variable kick off times – stick to the model used in Germany and Italy – set times for games each weekend and no variation. Finally, coloured boots. I wouldn’t ban them totally, but you could only wear them if you get a certain amount of international caps, and then on a sliding scale – perhaps Red if you played 10 times, Blue for 20 etc.

Mainz did not make it easy for themselves in the first half. They frequently lost possession in the final third, although the three bookings for Fuerth in the first twenty minutes does also explain away some of their tactics for a game which was important to them to push up towards the play off spot. Chances came and went but it was to no avail in the first half as they wasted them without actually calling the goalkeeper into action.

Apologies for the sidetrack here but what is it with Germany and V’s? Why eliminate this vital letter from the alphabet? Did they never see the 1980’s alien thriller or was it called something different here? How can they respectably advertise “Wodka” in their stadiums? Come on guys, adopt the V, it will make life so much easier for you in the long run.
As the half wound down I engaged in some conversation with my neighbour who it appeared was a bit of a local celebrity. Apparently Mr Siegfried Melzig was quite big in the 1970’s and 1980’s, learning his trade in East Germany before going on to manage the likes of Kaiserslautern and the great Lokomotiv Leipzig side. He was very engaging with his stories and was as pleased as punch when he realised that I knew a little bit about the game, as well as that I had once visited Hastings, where his wife served a rich man (it later transpired he meant she was an Au Pair and not a Concubine, although I am sure most men who have the idea of employing an Au Pair would secretly rather they also provided a few value add’s).

Obviously the team had quite rocket at half time as the first thing they did was shoot from kick off. It amazes me that in training modern players can do such amazing things as hit the bar on purpose from a corner four times in a row, yet in a match situation it all goes to pieces. Whilst this effort was on target it was hit as a lob and so the keeper had enough time to go and get a hot dog before comfortably catching the ball. Neither team could get into a rythem after the break though and the first twenty minutes were littered with wasted passes and needless fouls as both teams traded yellow cards.

What struck me was despite the pace of the game, neither side had a player who could put their foot on the ball, slow down the play and bring others in. For want of a better player, the game lacked a Michael Carrick or a Scottie Parker. Both defences moved the ball quickly, and the wide midfielders were energetic but there was no cutting edge. The Mainz midfielder Karhan did get the fans on their feet with a lovely curling shot that bounced off the top of the bar on the hour mark but I think it was more luck than judgement. Bance went even closer with his headed effort in the 70th minute but again the bar stopped him putting the home team into the lead.

This was going to be one of those typical West Ham performances from Mainz. No lack of heart or energy but no real quality where they needed it, What made it so amazing as the game edged towards a nil nil draw was that both of these teams were the joint leading scorers in the league, averaging over two goals a game, so we were due goals…….and finally we got one. With the 4th official putting up his board to signify the start of injury time, Fuerth exploited a gap down the right hand side, a low cross beat the defenders and there was a Fuerth player unmarked to drill the ball home. At last Mainz were stirred into life and immediately they stepped up a gear – too little too late though, and although they did have the ball in the net from a corner, Bance had impeded the keeper and it was ruled out to the howls of derision from the home fans, which soon turned into whistles aimed at the offiicals as the referee brought the game to an end.

At least Mainz would stay top irrespective of other results, but with a tricky tie away at Oberhausen to close the first half of the season with, it was Fuerth who went home with their tails up, knowing that they were once again back in the play off hunt. I stayed for a quick coffee to warm my fingers before heading off back down the hill. When I eventually left the stadium about 40 minutes after the end of the game it was amazing to still see thousands of home fans outside, drinking and eating from the refreshment stands. There seemed to be no rush in going home, again something very alien to us in England.

After a brief check in with CMF and the Little Fullers I found a very hospitable hostelry and settled back for “Super Friday” on the TV which of course failed to live up to the hype, as they always do with Bayern winning thanks to some generous refereeing again. Still it was a pleasant evening. Mainz is an attractive little town, with lots of old buildings and secret alleyways, lined with shops and restaurants. They had tastefully decorated the old town for Christmas and it certainly was an appealling place to spend an hour or two before I returned to my room.

I managed a decent nine hours sleep and immediately grabbed my Ipod that had been charging overnight. Fatal mistake number two (number one had been assuming that my coat pocket was waterproof and leaving my passport in there in the heavy rain the day before) as it appeared that my laptop had somehow managed to convert all of my audio and video files to an unreadable format. So I could see that they were on the Ipod but couldnt listen or watch them – fatal. When I am away my Ipod is my life support system and carries me through moments of boredom, of which there are plenty. It is also essential for blocking out the bollocks that you are often forced to lisetn to as a train, bus or airline traveller from other passengers. I frantically searched the internet for an answer, but only managed to salvage the contacts file – what consolation that would be to view on my long trip back to the airport in the middle of nowhere later.

So I headed off into the old town again, wandering around the small Christmas market and having a cup of Gluewine for breakfast – perfectly nutritionally balanced I am sure, before heading on my first train of the day to Mannheim, temporary home to the phenomeon that is 1899 Hoffenheim. Whilst they are building their new stadum in the village of Hoffenheim some ten miles to the south, the team have been playing at the Carl Benz Stadion, home of Mannheim 07 from the newly created Bundesliga 3. The stadium is easily reached from the city centre by tram, unless of course you do what I did and get on a Saturday special that ran to the industrial estate. Eventually I realised and called up my trusty Google Maps for some directions. I could go the indirect way, back the way I came but what the hell – cross country, traversing what looked like a big car park. Sometimes it pays to pan out a little bit more because that car park turned out to be Mannheim Airport. So back I went again and chose the less dangerous route across a motorway and the railway line.

As unluck would have it Mannheim were actually playing at 2pm versus Ulm, which meant that there was no way I could sneak into the stadium, but instead had to buy a ticket for the game, irrespective of the fact that I would be long gone by the time it kicked off. Still it did give me the option to have a chat with a few of the Mannheim ultras who were setting up their flags and banners on the Subtribune. They did try and convince me the atmosphere here would be better than at Karlsruhe but when he revealed the average gate was less than a third of the stadium capacity I declined. The stadium itself is similar in a way to Hillsborough with three equally tall covered stands that rise up sharply from the pitch, and one single stand on its own at the far end. I could imagine that on its day it is a very atmospheric stadium. If all is on plan with their new stadium, Hoffenheim will play their last game here in February 2009.

I had a train to catch so I was off back to the station, and having given over another 20 Euros for my lightening quick train I was off again, to the seat of the German Federal appeal court, Karlsruher about 50 miles, yet only 23 minutes to the south of Mannheim.

Karlsruhe is a strange place. There seems to be a major lack of public transport for such a big place. The station is quite a way out of town with a single S-Bahn line running up to the old town, but nothing remotely close to the stadium. The centre point of the town is the huge Schloss, or Palace for those who do not understand German (me!). From this central point the roads fan out, southwards into the modern town and in every other direction into the woods. Conveniently, the Wildpark stadium is not to the south where all of the bars, restaurants and pubic transport are. No, it is located on the north east curve of the outer ring road, which means you either have to hike through some pretty trecherous woodland to get to the ground or take a taxi, which on a day when the Christmas markets were in full swing meant a 20 minute 20 Euro trip.

The stadium is a real odd affair. Once upon a time it had an athletics track, but this has now been partly replaced by the building of a huge main stand. The three other “sides” of the track still remain, meaning the fans in the uncovered curves behind the goal would not only get cold and wet for this one, but also had appalling views – especially those in the front row where a high fence also added to the view. The older of the two side stands was where the bulk of the Karlsruher fans congregated. This stand looked like a remnant of Landsdowne Road with a lower tier split into two , with standing room at the front in a paddock, then a small upper tier covering the upper part of the lower tier. Bremen had almost filled their corner of the stadium,and it was noticeable before the game how much of a friendly banter there was between the two sets of fans.

My seat was at the top of the main stand which was not only a climb in itself but had the narrowest of rows, which make passing along the line almost impossible, especially with those not so slim German journalists. Obviously built for functionality and not comfort!

Karlsruher SC 1 Werder Bremen 0 – Wildpark Stadion – Saturday 6th December 2008

Its a bit open on the away terrace
Its a bit open on the away terrace

Werder Bremen have been my favourite German team for quite a while. Its a combination of the great coloured kits, including my all time favourite chocolate and lime green, or their attacking style. They have been perennial top scorers in the league, often conceding as many as they score, and year after year they seem unable to keep hold of their best players yet still they are there or there abouts under the attack-mad coach Thomas Schaaf.

Today was no exeption and after a rousing reception for both teams Werder almost caught Karlsruher on the hop when ex-Chelsea flop Claudio Pizarro lobbed the ball over the keeper and onto the post before the twenty second mark had passed. Ten minutes later it was the turn of Karlsruher to come close as Sebastain Freis firstly lobbed over when clean throughand then seconds later decided to dive instead of staying on his feet when he only had the keeper to beat.

Sorry – just a thought here. Why is vodka, wodka when Volkswagon is Volkswagon and Volksbank is Volksbank? What is wrong with those “v”‘s? No sense whatsoever. Sorry to interrupt the flow at this point but it had been bugging me since yesterday.

Both teams continued to create chances. First the Brazilian midfielder Diego volleyed wide for Bremen after an excellent Frings cross and then Karlsruher’s own South American Antonio da Silva curled a shot inches wide. Surely we couldnt be in for another game like last nights?

Werder’s attacking style was always going to give Karlsruher a chance on the counter attack but they simply could not get the final ball right, time after time seeing crosses overhit or through balls not played hard enough. Whilst the game could never be described as physical in the first half, referee Winkmann took every opportunity to spoil play with his very strict interpretation of anything deemed to be a shoulder charge or a slight push meaning the score as level at half time.

Karlsruher had the first chance in the second half to take the lead as Edmond Kapllani was able to rise unchallenged on the edge of the six yard box from a free kick but his header rolled wide of the post. Two minutes later Freis diverted a shot narrowly over the bar as the home team looked to grab the advantage from a Bremen team which had lost the will to fight.

Yet still the game remained goal less. The referee further endeared himself to the home fans by brandishing a couple of yellow cards for challenges that could have quite easily gone the other way. And there was me thinking that such a display is reserved for the visit of Bayern Munich. Still at least Kapllani can be thankful for the linesman after he was flagged offside before he tapped wide from 3 yards on the seventy minute mark, although he was unaware of the flag at the time.

Both teams continued to create chances in an entertaining second half but neither had a player who had remembered their shooting boots. In an almost repeat of the game last night the deadlock was broken on 85 minutes when a drilled shot across the goal struck Stefan Buck and the ball spun over the line via the keepers hand to give Karlsruher the lead.Bremen threw everything at Karlsruher, knowing that they could ill afford to lose the game. Pizarro decided it would be an apt time to lose his head and struck out at the Karlsruher goalkeeper as they tussled for a ball on the goal line. With their main striking option Almeida already in the changing room due to injury, the Peruvian (or is it Peruwian?) joined him and Werder were down to ten men. Karlsuher hang on and the noise at the final whistle was certainly more than a sense of relief rather as results elsewhere lifted Karlsruher from bottom to 4th from bottom, leapfrogging Energie Cottbus, Bochum and Borussia Monchengladbach in the process and end their nine game winless run.

So that was it for me. I decided to walk back to the station, following the crowds around the Schloss gardens and into Marktplatz where the Christmas festivities were in full flow. I still had a seven hour journey ahead before I was back in my comfy bed, and with no Ipod it was sure to be a long and tiring trip. Still I can’t complain. I’d had a beer or two, a couple of sausages and some football and avoided the perils of Beate so I was happy. Planning for Christmas 2009 starts tomorrow!

About the Stadion am Bruchweg
One of the major factors that have resulted in success for the club has been the intimidating atmosphere the fans generate at the compact Bruchweg stadium. It is the smallest stadium in the top division, but like Leverkusen and their small and compact BayArena, tickets are like gold dust and the match day atmosphere is very noisy. In fact the club have recognised that the fans are the team’s 12th man. The ground is made up of four separate stands, all single tiers and very close to the action. It has the feel of some of the smaller English grounds such as Northampton Town’s Sixfields.

The Bruchweg has been home to the club since 1950, and stayed the same for over 50 years until the clubs ambitions were set above the Bundesliga 2nd division. A programme of redevelopment started in early 2003 which saw all of the stands increased in size, plus new roofing sections for two of the stands. A history of the ground can be found in German on the club’s website

How to get a ticket for the Stadium Am Bruchweg
In their last Bundesliga season every single match was a complete sell out at the small Stadion am Bruchweg. Only Bayern Leverkusen can match this achievement in the Bundesliga. However, you may be able to secure a ticket in advance from the ticket office in Dr Martin Luther King Weg (+49 6131 905190 or by clicking on Tickets range from €18 to €33 if you are lucky enough to be offered a ticket.

How to get to the Stadion am Bruchweg
The stadium can be reached by bus from the town centre on lines 6, 54, 55, 56, 57 and 58 on matchdays. Travel is free for match ticket holders. Close to the ground there are a number of car parks including the University of Mainz, close to the A60 Autobahn and the multi storey car park on Albert Schweitzer Strasse on the K3 road from the town centre.

About the Wildparkstadion
The Wildparkstadion is a classic “old school” football stadium, very much in the mould of the old Volksparkstadion in Hamburg, or the Parkstadion in Gelsenkirchen. It retains many of its original features today such as the running track, banked seats behind the goal and the huge floodlights.

The stadium has been home to the club since March 1922 when a merger between two local clubs (FC Phoenix and VfB Muehlburg) necessitated a bigger arena. In the mid 1950’s the stadium was expanded to hold over 50,000 fans. A further redevelopment in 1978 saw the Gegentribune increased in size to 17,000 places, and the overall capacity to 60,000. The passion of the local fans saw the national team play games here on occasions, and still they have remained unbeaten on eleven occasions since their first game here in the 1950’s.

The main grandstand was redeveloped in the early 1990’s, and a move to all seater reduced the capacity to its current level. There have been plans drawn up for a significant redevelop again, with the end curves being brought closer to the action, and roofed although at this stage there are no concrete plans.

How to get to the Wildpark Stadion
The stadium is located north of the main city centre on the other side of the beautiful Schlossgarten. The most direct way to reach the stadium is to walk through the park, around the right hand side of the lake and the ground will be in view. There are no real public transport options close by, although taxi’s do wait on the edge of the ring road after the match.

Getting a ticket for the Wildpark stadion
With the club back in the Bundesliga again, tickets are very rare indeed for most games and you should try and obtain your ticket before you travel. For the bigger games against the likes of Bayern Munich, Stuttgart, Schalke and Leverkusen expect tickets to be sold out long in advance. For the lower profile games, tickets in the Kurve start from €15. If you are lucky enough to be offered a ticket in the main Haupttribune then you will pay €40. A standing place on the Genegtribune is €12. Tickets, if available, can be purchased from or from the stadium itself.

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