Beer, Bratwurst and bloody penalties…part 1

If Korea was my best World Cup trip then four years later in Germany provided a series of episodes, some good, some bad that underlined why we all love football.  There has never been a more accessible major tournament for England fans with literally dozens of potential entrance points, fantastic transport links and huge stadiums that should have catered for all of the fans who wanted to go.

The awarding of Germany as hosts was shrouded in controversy.  Sepp Blatter won another term in office on the back of promising to bring the World Cup to Africa in 2006.  However, when his cohorts came to the voting process, it all went tits up.  The FA had done themselves no favours by rescinding on a “gentlemen’s” agreement with Germany that in return for support to host Euro96, the FA would support a Germany 2006 bid.  Instead they themselves submitted a bid, conveniently forgetting that any such conversations ever took place.  July 2000 in Zurich was the date set aside to decide who got the tournament.

England still had the cheek to turn up for the voting, along with Morocco, Germany and South Africa.  Brazil had for some reason pulled out 3 days prior to the vote – quite a waste considering all their money was already spent.  Round one of the electoral vote saw Morocco eliminated with just 3 votes.  Interestingly enough, South Africa scored just one more than England with 6 and Germany were the clear winners with 10 votes, interestingly all but one from other European nations.  Round two saw England gain just two votes with eleven each going to Germany and South Africa so not for the first time in a World Cup competition, England left in embarrassment.

Each confederation had sent their delegates with clear voting instructions.  On the other side of the world sits New Zealand, and their Scottish ex-pat Charles Dempsey had been sent with instructions to vote England, and if they were eliminated, South Africa.  On that final day, Dempsey abstained, citing “intolerable pressure” meaning that the vote was 12 v 11 in favour of Germany.  Had Dempsey voted, then Blatter would have cast the final vote in favour of South Africa.  But he couldn’t so the tournament was heading for Germany.

Tickets went on sale in January 2005 on an internet platform that was supposed to be able to cope with the demand.  Of course it couldn’t and from day one until the day the last ticket was sold it strained at the seams, often falling over through the huge demands put on it.  The number of computer keyboards that had to be replaced during the next fifteen months due to over use of the F5 key only helped swell the coffers of PC World and Currys in a practice known as “fishing” where refreshing the ticket availability screen often “hooked” a game, such as the day I managed to land a ticket for Jonnie for Australia v Brazil in Munich.  Some games were available every day – Angola v Iraq in Leipzig was one such example although on the day it was better attended than most games in South Africa.

I planned a series of short trips, taking advantage of the regional airports and thus maximising both tournament and family time.  I had a “follow us to the final” ticket for England – although none of us really expected Ericsson’s tepid management style, and overhyped under performing players to go further than the quarter finals.  Around these games were a couple of longer trips, one of which was bizarre in itself.

In 2005 I had been paid off by another telecoms company and decided to see if “everyone has a book in them”.  So I used my time off wisely, headed off to Germany for a month to watch the Confederations Cup and started research into a travel guide for the fans by the fan.  I touted it around a number of publishers, but as any aspiring author will know for every 10 letters you send, you will get 1 reply.  And that will be a No.  So I decided to go down the self-publishing route and in October 2005 the first copies of “Fuller’s Fans Guide to Germany 2006” rolled off the printing presses and into the shops.  Well, not in every shop – you see to get onto the shelves of the likes of WH Smiths you have to be a published author – so essentially they will not take a risk themselves.  So as well as self-publishing, I self-promoted.  It didn’t help that I was not allowed to use words like World Cup, Germany 2006 and FIFA in the title.  But the book sold well, and I was spending an hour a day fulfilling orders to all over the world.

One such query came from the US where one of their travel agencies wanted the licence to print 2,500 copies, with some modifications.  They wanted the book for the fans who were booked on their trips out to Germany.  As a side question I was asked “I don’t suppose you fancy being one of our hosts do you?”.  All I had to do was to turn up at the hotels they were using, shepherded some Americans onto a coach, sit on the coach to the match, make sure they get back on afterwards and that they get off at the right hotel.  And my payment?  $100 per day plus a free match ticket and hotel…Where do I sign up!

I had also arranged a trip with Football Jo.  As regular readers know, trips involving Football Jo are normally eventful, and this was no exception, taking in three games, in three days in three cities with a host of cameo appearances along the way.

England  had qualified with relative ease, finishing top of a group featuring Poland, Austria, Northern Ireland, Wales and Azerbaijan.  Their prize was a group featuring Paraguay, Sweden and newcomers Trinidad and Tobago.  Good old FIFA as when the draw took place England’s games ended up being in the smaller stadiums of Frankfurt, Cologne and Nuremberg whilst other group games took place in the much bigger stadiums of Dortmund and Berlin.

So day one and the tradition of the World Champions playing in the opening game had been changed to allow the host nation to have the honour.  I had tickets for the 2nd match, between Poland and Ecuador in Gelsenkirchen.  This was one of the rare occasions when tickets could be purchased on the day of the game, thanks to a last minute “release” by FIFA – for this read they couldn’t sell them at inflated prices as part of a hospitality packages to far eastern tourists.  Gelsenkirchen.  That was the first “interesting” challenge for the event organisers.  The Veltins Arena had to be renamed for a start as Veltins is a beer not on the “approved” FIFA list and thus the whole ground had to be renamed as WC Stadium Gelsenkirchen.  Second problem – the stadium, being a state of the art stadium used smart card technology.  Brilliant concept but FIFA is twenty years behind the rest of the world and so they had to re-install old fashion turnstiles.  Stadium cards which are used to purchase food and drink?  Not likely, good old fashion Euros here please so Football’s Family could have their cut…

With the German game kicking off earlier, for once we saw a bit of sense – the game was being shown on the huge TV console that sits high above the centre spot in the arena (apparently the biggest TV’s in the world according to the stadium pr machine).  The Poles obviously took the side of the Costa Ricans, the Ecuadorians on the German’s side.  After the hosts 4-2 win, the expectations were on a Poland win, after they had qualified with relative ease.  But it was the South Americans who pulled off a surprise 2-0.  Twelve hours later my train pulled into Frankfurt Main station.  I had purchased a month long rail pass and planned to use it to good effect so after the game in Gelsenkirchen I headed down to Essen and enjoyed a night out provincial German industrial town style – think Barnsley with no culture.

And what a site greeted me in Frankfurt.  Thousands, tens of thousand, England fans enjoying the strong German beer and the June sunshine.  Opposite the main station is an Irish bar and the fans had taken it over.  Now here is the bad part of following England.  Fans waving their St George’s Crosses, drinking Guinness singing “No Surrender to the IRA, scum” in an Irish Bar.  Why? Why? Why? Why?  Do they not know we have been “at war” with the Taliban or Al-Qaeda for the past 10 years?  Surely someone could have updated the song?

Inside the stadium and it was clear where all the tickets had gone.  Three quarters of the stadium was red and white, although there were also the colours of Paraguay.  One exception to the busy areas were the corporate seats which were, unsurprisingly empty at kick off.  A story that we would see repeated at all grounds for all games across the tournament.  Three minutes gone and England had opened their World Cup account.  A brief header from Paraguay’s Gamarra from Beckham’s freekick had eluded the Paraguayan keeper and it was 1-0.  England then went into Ericsson mode – worried that they had scored so early they were unconvincing at the back and lacked penetration going forward and a 1-0 was only just deserved.

I flew home for a few days afterwards, returning a few days later with Football Jo.  Our trip started and ended in Stuttgart where we had hired a car for the next few days.  This is Germany, the home of the automobile and the unrestricted autobahn so when you hire an “Executive” car, you get something a bit better than a Mondeo.  We took delivery of a 2 week old Mercedes CLK.  Whilst Football Jo had paid for the car, I took control of the driving – after all we wanted to test this beast not caress it on the fast wide motorways.  Day one saw us drive to Munich to pick up our tickets for the big game – Saudia Arabia v Tunisia, only surely bettered in the tournament for glitz by Angola v Iran.

The following day we were heading up to Nuremburg where I had a ticket for the England v Trinidad & Tobago game.  Note me, not her.  But as we were driving around the edge of the magnificent Allianz Arena at 100mph I got a call on the mobile.  Careful not to drop the camera I was holding to film said stadial masterpiece I wedge the phone between my ears, and the steering wheel between my knees.  “Hello Mr Fuller, FIFA here.  We have you down on the shortlist for England v Trinidad.  We have two spares – do you want them?”  I looked at Jo, making puppy eyes at me and was so tempted to say “wrong number” but instead I said “YES”.  Bit what would we do with the spare.

Jo came up with the idea to taunt Greek George back in Harpenden with the news.  No sooner than we said we had a spare than he said he was off.  He would drive through the night if necessary to be at the game (and true to his word as you will see, he did).

Our hotel was a typical Premier Inn style of affair. as usual we had to answer the same “yes we want separate rooms, and no we are not married” questions. We had passed a traditional German beer garden on the way to the hotel so headed back up there to watch France’s bore draw with Switzerland complete with a huge pork knuckle and lashings of beer, all served by traditional Bavarian buxom waitresses. This was no tourist place – we were in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by fields well off the tourist beaten track. However, it was an eye opener to see the locals let their hair down. The following morning we set off early, travelling up to the fantastic fan park at the Olympia Park. Here they had built a huge screen, floating on the lake which later would host over 70,000 Germans to watch the game between the hosts and Poland.

First up was the tie between Spain and Ukraine which we enjoyed relaxing in the sunshine before heading north west to the Allianz Arena for the game between Tunisia and Saudi Arabia. As games go it wasn’t bad. Well over 55,000 in the 63,000 seater stadium and a decent 2-2 draw. Our plan was then to head back to the fan park for the Germany game, and finally a drive home. All of the announcements on the U-Bahn were to avoid the Fanpark area as it was full to capacity. But we had a car to collect so we simply ignored the advice and when others were being turned away at the gate, we were welcomed in when we showed our car park ticket and enjoyed the patriotic locals secure their place in round two in a crowd bigger than that in the actual stadium.

I was late getting up the next morning but Jo was already up and had found two new friends. A couple of young England chaps, complete with red and white face paint and St George’s capes. They didn’t have tickets for the game but Jo had offered them a lift in the Merc to Nuremburg where we would try and get them tickets. We parked on the outskirts of the town centre, within walking distance of the stadium and no more than a mile from the autobahn for a swift exit afterwards. You see – forward thinking and hence why some of my more educated friends refer to me as “The General”. Fifteen minutes later we had met Greek George who “apparently” had stayed in a house of ill repute in Strasbourg overnight and then left his car in Stuttgart and got the train in.

The main square in Nuremburg was packed, and the temperature was rising as the Weather Girls would. According to all sources the streets were indeed the place to go to get your ticket although it would cost you over €400. Good old Jack Warner, bezzie mates with Sepp Blatter had got his hands on all of the Trinidad and Tobago tickets and had then sold them only as part of a tour package to the finals at hugely inflated prices, but get this, only available through a travel agent which was owned by…..himself. And where did most of these tickets end up? On the streets of Nuremburg and eventually in the hands of the England Fans.

Less said about the game the better. It took over 75 minutes for England to beat potentially the poorest team in the World Cup, although ex-West Ham goalkeeper Shaka Hislop had a blinder. Hardly the most convincing win, but it was two wins out of two.  One funny moment was when a pissed up England fan staggered into the row behind me and proceeded to tell everyone who would listen he had just paid £400 for his ticket…and then approximately 5 minutes later he was asleep, and stayed that way throughout the whole game and past the final whistle when we had to climb over him to get out.  What a good use of £400!

After the game we headed back to the car.  Nuremburg is a fantastic city with so much history (see here for our last visit here, complete with OAP Window hookers galore) and the area around the stadium is quite rustic as it is surrounded by fields and lakes.  Many of the England fans had set up their tents in this area, and on a sweltering June afternoon the waters looked very tempting indeed.  Apart from one thing – the signs posted around the lake with a big skull and crossbones on.  A couple of England fans, obviously thinking this was some kind of pirate themed water attraction, took a huge run and jump into the water.  Queue police and medics arriving en masse within seconds to pull them out and start hosing them down.

We headed back down the autobahn to Stuttgart, at one point hitting a legal speed of 150mph in our silly fast car where we would be making our way back to England for err…one day before I was back, this time with CMF to celebrate our new jobs as American tour guides.  We flew into Karlsruhe/Baden Baden which was home to the WAGS as opposed to the England squad.  The whole WAG situation had taken over the media, becoming more important that the team themselves and requiring a whole plane full of additional journalists to sit at the gates.  We travelled out in first class comfort of Ryanair with a couple of members of the scum press who were hoping to find some dirt on the team to “support the boys” from back home.  We drove up to the fantastic city of Heidelberg, sitting astride the banks of the Neckar where we would be babysitting our cousins from across the pond for their game versus Italy.

Kaiserslautern was a strange choice for the tournament.  The stadium redevelopment had run into serious structural issues and the town itself was too small to really host the level of fans arriving.  The ground is also located on top of the hill, meaning that we had to supply oxygen for our US fans on the climb.  The US were entertaining Italy for this one who had failed to set the tournament alight – a sure sign that they would eventually get to the final whilst the Americans had been stuffed by the Czech’s in their first game.  So it was a must win for them otherwise they would be the first team to be eliminated.

You’d be hard pushed to find a more dramatic opening 45 minutes in the tournament with two goals, one an own goal and two red cards.  Italy took the lead through Gilardino, but just five minutes later it was all level with an own goal from Italy’s Cristian Zaccardo.  A minute later the Italians were down to ten men when Daniele de Rossi was sent off for an off the ball incident.  In the last minute of the half it became 10 v 10 when the USA’s Pablo Mastroeni was red carded.  The American next to us started telling everyone around us about the 10 minute “sin bin”.  Two minutes into the second half they were down to nine as Eddie Pope got a second yellow.

With all of the Americans collected after the draw we headed back to Heidelberg, dropped them off, collect our “money for old rope” and then continued on our World Cup adventure…Next stop Hamburg.

To be continued…

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