Achtung BMG

Thirty years ago Liverpool were the undisputed kings of Europe, having won back to back European Cup Finals.  But few football fans today would believe that one of the other powerhouses of European football could be found very close to the German/Dutch border in a small city called Monchengladbach.  Borussia Monchengladbach had lead a quiet existence up until 1966 when they were invited to take part in the Bundesliga.  During the next fifteen years the club went on to win five Bundesliga titles (including three in a row from 1976 to 1978), two runners up spots and a German Cup in 1973 when they beat Cologne.

However, they saved their best for Europe.  Whilst bitter rivals Bayern Munich won three European Cup’s in a row during the middle of the decade, Borussia complemented the dominance of West Germany on the European football scene by capturing the UEFA Cup in 1975 and 1979, beating Twente and Red Star Belgrade respectively and being runners up in 1973 and 1980 when they lost to Liverpool and Eintract Frankfurt.  They also reached the 1977 European Cup final where again they met Liverpool, this time in Rome.

So five finals in ten years is a hard record to beat.  In fact during the decade only Liverpool came close to this record with four appearances, although they did win all four!  This golden period came to an end in 1980 as in order to chase the European dream they had over committed themselves financially and had to sell a number of their key players. 

The last decade can be classed as a disappointing time for the club, compared with their illustrious history. Since 1996 they have not finished higher in the Bundesliga than 11th, and even spent two seasons in the 2nd division after relegation in 1999. You have to go back to 1996 for the last respectable finish for the club when they finished 4th in the Bundesliga.  The club were formed in 1900, playing in the regional leagues of the Oberliga West, competing against stronger teams such as Köln and Schalke 04. Their only honour before the Bundesliga was formed came in 1960 when they beat Karlsruhe in the German Cup final. A few years later one of the youngest teams in German football gained promotion to the Bundesliga. In that historic 1964/65 season, Mönchengladbach scored over 120 goals in just 40 games to win promotion for the first time in their history. This team, with an average age of under 22 would be the basis of the team that would dominate German football. Their popularity grew amongst the football watching public, and most people had a soft spot for the Greens.

A single German Cup victory over Wolfsburg in 1995 is all the fans have had to celebrate since those heady days and nights of the Seventies. It is even more galling for the fans to think that their traditional rivals Bayern Munich have gone on to achieve so much, despite overshadowing the Bavarians for so long in the 1970’s.

Since they moved into their brand spanking new stadium in 2004 the club have hardly been able to stay in any division for more than a season.  Relegation has been followed by promotion, the last being in 2008 when they won Bundesliga 2 with a couple of games to spare.  Such instability has seen eight coaches come and go in the past eight season, including legends such as Dick Advocaat who has gone onto success as Zenit, Hans Meyer and Jupp Heynckes.  This season the club has struggled again and coming into the local derby with Bochum they sat in the relegation zone with 22 points from their 24 games, level on points with the visitors in a real relegation six pointer.  The defence has been the issue this season, conceding 46 goals – nearly 2 per game, a fact only beaten by Hannover. 

I was still trying to visit all of the Bundesliga stadiums by the end of the season and with four still to go I was relying on a couple of Friday night games to achieve this.  As luck would have it Borussia were given a plum Friday night game and to make it even better for me it was on a day where I was due to be in the region anyway at a conference.  The only downside was that I had to be back in London by midday on Saturday meaning a 6.50am flight from Dusseldorf Weeze (and thus no real point in getting a hotel for the night).  The ever so efficient ticketing system, run by Eventixxx meant that I had my ticket in hand 3 weeks prior to the game so I could set off from Stansted early on the Friday morning for a day of meetings, a night of beer and football and then a post midnight hike across the Ruhr valley to one of Ryanair’s new outposts.

This was going to be a complicated trip, starting off by landing at Köln-Airport and eventually leaving via Dusseldorf Weeze some 22 hours and no sleep later. I had a few hours to kill when I got into the centre of Kön so I headed over to the Rhein Energie Stadium, home of FC Köln around lunchtime. The stadium is possibly my favourite in Europe as it combines a perfect viewing experience with an unique exterior whilst keeping a number of the classical features. What is more impressive is that it was built on the site of the old ugly Mungersdorf stadium whilst games went on around the building work. The stadium rarely has an empty seat on matchdays now but on a Friday afternoon it was peaceful. I headed up to the restaurant, following the signs for the “All you can eat buffet”. Now to my friend Fat Matt (not to be confused with InActive Matt who is not as fat as fat Matt) “All you can eat buffet” is classed as a competition and not a statement and he would have given the chefs a run for their money that is for sure! It was a nice break in an otherwise hectic day that gave me the perfect opportunity to catch up on the goings on with Jack Bauer. I was also acting as lead council in the Essex Claire versus New Man case which saw her explaining at length and in detail over text about the issues she was having in trying to get her new beau interested in all of her (if you see what I mean). He tried his best later in the day to make it up to her with a basket of flowers but then she moaned to me she would have rather had a basket of porn with an assortment of toys, handcuffs and lube – there is no pleasing some people!

After a couple of work meetings (well officially I was over in Germany on business) I headed back to Köln central station for the train to Monchengladbach. Every ticket machine I tried would not accept my Visa or Maestro card. Now I know it’s near payday and funds in the Fuller offshore accounts are running on almost empty but I knew there was enough to cover the 10 Euro fare. So I queued up in the ticket office for ten minutes before Mr Unhelpful *1 told me to go and use the machines. Again I tried but still no luck. I tried cash but I only had a twenty Euro note and the machines only took lower denomination ones. So Mr Unhelpful *2 came over and told me that major credit cards couldn’t be used for “local” journeys and “Didn’t I have an EC Card?” A what? So I told him I couldn’t use my twenty Euro note and his initial response was that I should go and buy something and use the change. Brilliant – as helpful as someone from London Bridge station – obviously they have been to the same railway employee finishing school. A kindly German lady saw my plight and changed my twenty for two tens and I was away.

It’s obvious that a lot of care has gone into building Borussia’s new home as it is in the middle of nowhere! I followed the crowds off the train at a stop just outside the city centre and hopped on one of the free shuttle buses, that then spent a good 20 minutes driving round villages and fields on a journey my parents would have considered a “nice Sunday drive”. With the sun setting in the west in a variety of shades of orange, a new hue was suddenly on the horizon, and lo and behold the stadium emerged, shining green thanks to the clever lighting in the roof. From a distance of 500 yards where the buses dropped me off I thought it looked pretty impressive but once I picked my press ticket up, stopped long enough to have a chat with the VIP hostesses all bedecked in white (I always wonder if they actually get these girls from local clubs as they certainly appear as if they could) and then climbed to the top of the stadium I was in need of oxygen. But the view took what was left of my breath away. It is certainly a stunning stadium once you are inside. Imagine one of the newer English stadiums such as St Mary’s or the Walkers but much much bigger, with the atmospheric green lighting and a crowd as every bit as passionate as you will find anywhere on the continent.

Borussia Monchengladbach 0 VfL Bochum 1 – Borussia Park – Friday 20th March 2009

Celebrating a corner

Celebrating a corner

I took my press seat and had a flick through the programme. Apparently this season the stadium had witnessed more goals per game than any other in the previous five seasons with an average of 2.92 goals per game. There were no clues in the current form either as both teams recent games had been quite impressive – in fact only surprise league leaders Hertha Berlin and perennial underachievers Werder Bremen had a better record. So that meant I was guaranteed a bore draw.

Whilst I know a thing or two about football (according to the little Fullers I know more than Alan Ferguson apparently) I still cannot fathom what dictates which kit a team will play in. I was under the impression that Borussia played in green – after all everything in the stadium is bedecked in green so it was a suitable assumption to make. But here they were at home lining up in white, whilst their opponents Bochum normally sported a fetching blue with white pinstripes but today wore a dark maroon (a la Sparta Prague). Baffling.

Despite the pre-match hype neither team settled well in the first ten minutes but slowly Borussia took control and a great turn and curling shot from Baumjohann in the 13th minute nearly broke the deadlock. The game then picked up in pace and with both teams keen on playing the ball wide at every opportunity it flowed from end to end with half chances for either side. Bochum’s pacey forward Diego Klimowicz came close in the 20th minute when his shot on the turn was well saved by Borussia’s Logan Bailly. From the resulting corner the ball was scrambled off the line after the Belgian keeper had flapped at the cross.

The deadlock was broken though in the 29th minute from one of these wide balls but not by the home team. Bochum broke, Klimowicz held the ball up and played in Dennis Grote who was running into space down the Bochum left and his shot from twenty five yards hardly left the ground but nestled in the corner of the net to give the visitors the lead. A tad harsh on the home team but that’s football for you.

What was surprising during the first half was the noise in the crowd. The lower tier of the Nord tribune was a huge terrace (seats were put down for international games) that could hold nearly 12,000 fans. They were packed in this area but the constant noise was actually coming from a small hardcore of Borussia fans in the upper tier who did not let up during the first half with their drumming, chanting and flag waving. Surely a lesson there for our friends at the FA when they try and think how to generate a noise at Wembley Stadium – sit those fans who want to sing and chant together in the same place for every game. Whilst the rest of the crowd were feeling (and showing) some frustration with the home team, this core of a couple of hundred fans simply carried on regardless until the half time whistle blew.

I resisted the urge at half time to climb down six flights of stairs to the press area despite the temperature dropping and the lure of some free chilli, concentrating instead on some more man advice to Essex Claire. I do not know why I end up acting as this extreme male advice line for women I know. CMF says its because I am so georgous but I like to think it is because I am trustworthy, diplomatic, discreet but above all know my Marc Dorcel from my Maxx Hardcore. And that is what the modern girl wants to talk about – they may seem quiet on the outside but many now know the difference between a rabbit and a dolphin mark my words. So how did I get from a relegation battle in the Ruhr valley to hardcore pornography? One word. Cheerleaders. I will leave it there, but Tim Kring summed it up perfectly when he said – “Save the cheerleader, save the world”, and those on display here certainly did their job.

So back to the reality of the second half of this vital game for both teams after my fifteen minutes of diversions. Borussia started off as badly as they had ended the first with far too many missed passes in areas where they should not be giving away possession. If they were playing a team like Bayern Munich they would have been losing by a cricket score such was the number of wasted final balls. The fans continued to get annoyed and soon objects started being throw from the crowd at the Bochum players especially as they appeared to be time wasting at every opportunity. The referee took the unusual step of sending the Borussia captain over to the bench to relay the message to the PA announcer that any more items thrown would result in the game being abandoned. You can see their frustration in some terms. Bochum took over a minute to be in a position to take the corner in the first place and this is not acceptable and should be punished by the referee. It did seem that Bochum had been watching Hull City in the build up to the game as time and time again Fernandes in goal was allowed to waste time in setting up the ball for goal kicks without any punishment forthcoming. Eventually in the 60th minute the referee had enough and produced the yellow card, although that didnt stop him continuing to time waste over the next ten minutes when the opportunity arose.

Borussia turned up the heat at last and came close in the 63rd minute when a corner almost fell to an unmarked Karim Matmour but he was more interested in trying to fallover to gain a penalty than actually trying to score a goal himself. In an attempt to prise open the Bochum defence Borussia brought on the comically named Bonfim Dante as an attacking full back,more in the hope that he could pass the ball successfully to a team mate more than ten yards away that Tobias Levels had been unable to do for the first sixty eight minutes of the game.

The final five minutes were constant pressure from the home team and desperate defending from Bochum. Borussia threw everything at them and despite a few hairy moments when the goalkeeper Fernandes went missing in action the ball never really came close to the back of the net, and the three points ended up heading off down the Ruhr Valley with the few thousand away fans.

As I had an hour to kill before I started my mammoth journey back to Swanley swimming pool I headed down to the press conference to look as if I understood what was going on rather than a strange Englishman who was there as a free loader. It was obvious that Borussia coach Hans Meyer was under severe pressure simply based on his resigned look. The win had proppelled VfL Bochum up the table and opened up a small gap with the three teams at the bottom who were headed by Borussia. In my limited German I grasped that the “lads had done well but were now sick as a parrot that the final ball wasn’t tasty enough”, or something like that. What I clearly understood was that next week’s away game at Karlsruher KSC who propped up the table for at least 24 hours was now an absolute must win.

Still unsure how I was going to get back to the station and prepared for the hour or so walk in the chilly night I headed outside fortified by strong German coffee. I needn’t have worried as buses were still arriving by the minute to ferry all of the fans back to the city centre. Now this was refreshing to see – a local transport authority working alongside the football club to ensure every fan could get home, and as with most football related public transport in Germany, it was free. I would say “take note” to our clubs but there is no point. Fans, as we have come to know only too well are an irrelevance when planning a new stadium, and even on the kick off times of a game.

To err on the side of caution I got the earlier train back to Köln, arriving at 12.30am and with two hous to kill before the bus arrived. I could have simply gone and sat in McDonalds but I was snoozy and felt the sight of a dribbling English man may be off putting for even the most hardy of all night clubber who were “Lovin’ it”. So I had a wander around the city which was unsurprisingly blissfully silent. The Dom still dominates the whole centre and is lit up through the night, its huge black and white presence brooding over this citizens.

So, 2.30am arrived and I boarded the bus for the two hour journey to Dusseldorf Weeze airport – good ol’ Ryanair making this one up as technically Dusseldorf and Köln are approximately 30 miles apart whilst this outpost of the finest Irish Customer Experience was more like 90 miles away. But it gave me an opportunity to get two hours sleep and a big step nearer home and my big bed.

A word of advice for English football. If you want to see how to create genuine atmosphere at a game hop on a plane for the short trip down to either Borussia Monchengladbach or FC Köln. No gimmicks, no “raise the flags” and no crappy plastic clapping aids. Just thousands of passionate fans who pay sensible prices and get behnd their team irrespective of what division or what position they are in. A real Heineken moment for a football team – refreshes the parts that other leagues simply cannot reach!

About Borussia Park
The stadium is an excellent example of one of the new breed of grounds that are being built throughout Europe. It is a completely enclosed stadium with three tiers offering excellent views of the action free from any obstructions. The new Borussia Park stadium was originally planned over six years, and was to be the jewel in the Rhine Ruhr Valley area for the forthcoming World Cup Finals. However, delays (primarily due to the insolvency of the Kirsch Media Group) meant that the stadium wasn’t started until 2002, by which time decisions had been made to award the honour of hosting matches in the World Cup to neighbouring Dortmund, Gelsenkirchen and Köln. The stadium eventually opened in July 2004 when Borussia hosted Bayern Munich and Ajax in a special champions pre-season friendly. The first league game played there was in August 2004 when Borussia Dortmund were the visitors. In June 2005 the national team played their first match at the new stadium when they drew 2-2 with Russia.

The new stadium replaced the historic Boekelberg Stadium which had been home to Borussia since 1919. Whilst the capacity is over 60,000 with 35,000 seats, for normal Bundesliga matches the South stand has to be used as a seating area only and so the capacity is reduced by 7,000. For International matches, the capacity will be reduced to 45,600. Further details of Borussia Park can be found here

How to get to Borussia Park
The stadium is located in a new business park development to the north of the city centre. It has been built with access as a key feature both in terms of driving and public transport. The stadium is has been built with direct access to and from the A61 Autobahn.  There are a number of official car parks around the ground, all of which are signposted from the Autobahn and the city centre.

The nearest station to the ground is Station Rheyt, where the special football trains terminal on track 4. From here, shuttle buses run every 5 minutes on a match day to the stadium taking approximately 15 minutes. From the main station you would need to take either line 7 or 17 for Rheyt.

How to get a ticket for Borussia Park
A number of high profile matches at Borussia Park sold out this season, including the games versus Dortmund, Kaiserslautern, Schalke and Bayern Munich. However, attendances have been less than 45,000 for at least half a dozen games so it may be possible to get tickets as long as you book them in advance for most matches. Tickets can be purchased in person from the ground, or from the fanshop in Marienhof. Alternatively you can book them online and they will be posted to you in the UK.

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