Beer, Bratwurst and bloody penalties – part 2

So five games down and still going strong.  I waived CMF off at Karlsruhe/Baden Baden and continued my journey north, to the sinful city of Hamburg.  Hamburg is one of my favourite places in Germany, ney Europe.  At Christmas the city is transformed into a massive market with stalls selling beer, food, beer, Christmas gifts, beer and of course beer.  It is a prosperous city, with locals looking down their noses at you unless your BMW is less than a year old, or your Hugo Boss suit only has one crease in it.

I had originally tried to get to see a game in each of the twelve stadiums being used in the tournament but initially logistics deemed that I would miss out on games in Leipzig and Hamburg. Dortmund and Berlin were obviously sorted as England would reach the final right? So when I turned up in Hamburg for the game between Ukraine and Saudi Arabia I didn’t have a ticket for the game, or even a hotel room.

The latter was sorted with relative ease – the second hotel on my travels, the Maritim had rooms available for just €90 per night. Apparently, FIFA’s block booking had been cancelled the day before – hope for getting a ticket yet. There were no ATM Style machines dispensing tickets for games as we had seen in Korea, but what there was instead was a big buffet breakfast. And breakfast is the best place to secure a ticket at these tournaments. Corporate businessmen, let down by colleagues or customers rarely fancy taking their chances of trying to sell their spares outside the stadium, but in the confines of a secure room us men bond over bratwurst and black bread. A simple polite “excuse me, do you know of anyone who may have a spare for the game today” turned up trumps on my second go. Yes, the French businessman said and he would accept face value for the ticket. Sorted – now for a morning of culture. And what better place to start in Hamburg than the Reeperbahn.

Anyone who hasn’t “done” Hamburg is missing a real treat. Reeperbahn is a long street lined with bars and clubs promising a more adult version of what you will find in the red light district of Amsterdam. The street also boasts the “World’s biggest sex shop” which is as big as your local Tesco’s, including its own dungeon (the shop not Tescos). The city prospered thanks to its port status, and today it is second only to Rotterdam in terms of “tonnage” in Europe. And where there are boats docking, you will also get lots of opportunities for sex and beer. One of Hamburg’s most famous shops, just off Reeperbahn is a pawn shop. Yes, that is spelt right in this sense. This is where sailors, wanting their pleasures on land will trade literally anything as they disembark.

The Germans can be a bit shy though, and so Hamburg doesn’t thrust its naked women down your throat in such a way as Amsterdam does. You have to go looking for it, and all for the sake of research, that is exactly what I did. The street in question is sat back from the Reeperbahn, and is called Herbertsrasse. You can easily find it – it has a huge concrete barrier at each end stopping any casual voyeurs and packs of Balkan prostitutes trying to stop you walking down it, offering their “World Cup special” or “Hatrick of pleasure” at establishments round the corner. One such young lass offered me “double anal” which was a bit worrying as unless she had two such orifices, or she mistook my camera in my pocket for something out of a freakshow I assumed I would be joined by another chap, which wasn’t a good thought. When you eventually pass the picket line, round the concrete curtain you are met with a line of windows and girls of all persuasions…apparently.

So onwards to the AOL Aren..sorry..Hamburg World Cup Stadium. Located on the edge of town it has one of the most scenic approaches to a ground in Europe as if you decide to walk from the S-Bahn you wind your way through the woods, lined with blokes pissing against trees and plenty of illegal food, drink and merchandise salesmen. The stadium was hardly rocking, and for another FIFA declared “full house” there were large blocks empty. The Ukrainian team had promised much coming into the tournament and fancied their chances of progressing being placed in the same group as minnows Tunisia and Saudi Arabia.  A 4-0 drubbing though at the hands of Spain in the opening game made this a must win game but with a forward line of Shevchenko and Rebrov they didn’t disappoint for this one, scoring four goals without reply from the Saudi’s in a game that was always destined to be a one sided affair.

Next up on the agenda was an ambitious double header, taking in Poland versus Costa Rica and then onwards to Cologne for the group decider between England and Sweden.   I headed down on the early morning train from Hamburg.  Again, I turned up in Hanover without a ticket, and simply walked into the Renaissance hotel on the lake beside the ground some 2 hours before kick off and picked up a ticket from a businessman who didn’t want to risk arrest outside. So I became Herr Fuchs for the afternoon. I had been to the AWD Arena on a number of occasions both before and after the redevelopment work carried out for the weekend and it was a firm favourite. With Germany and Ecuador both winning their opening two games this was a “dead rubber” with only pride to play for.  However the fans were out in force with although the sunshine was the highlight of the first half as 43,000 saw Poland come from a goal down to win 2-1 in a game with ten yellow cards dished out by an over eager referee.

With ten minutes to go until full time I was on a train heading westwards in first class comfort towards the Rhine, and England’s trip with destiny. Two wins out of two for Ericsson’s had rubber stamped qualification, but they needed to avoid defeat to avoid the Germans in the next round. Cologne is a mere few hours south east of the English Channel ports and so the city was expecting nearly 50,000 ticketless England fans. The regional government had initially announced there would be no room in the fan zones, but faced with such numbers hastily built two more to cope with demand. Tickets for this one were exchanging hands at over €500 but I had no intention of missing it.

I was travelling in a carriage full of ticketless fans who were heading for the big screens. They asked me about my plans and I foolishly said I had a ticket. They didn’t believe me until I showed them, not letting off the plastic pouch that was under my shirt and tied around my neck. For the next ten minutes all of them took it in turns to be photographed with the ticket as a “I was there moment”. They all got off at the main station, whilst I stayed on. Realising that with just 30 minutes to go until kick off that the public transport routes to the stadium would be rammed full I decided to take the lesser known route to Cologne Technologiepark which is 1.5km to the north of the ground and get a bus from there. Great plan, especially when the train passed the station at 70mph! Eventually it stopped in the middle of nowhere and I got off sheepishly, cursing myself. I was at a park and ride stop – i.e people drive to here before getting the train to the city centre, which meant there was no buses or taxi’s to be seen. Ten minutes to kick off.

But then I saw a taxi come into the car park. It had a full load but I flagged it down. The driver was a Turk and explained he was parking here to head into the city centre himself with his family. I waved a €50 at him and he threw them out and sped off with me towards the stadium.

I got to the turnstiles with the game just kicking off. This was my eighth game in the tournament, and despite frequent “warnings” had never been asked for my ID when entering. Today was the exception and thank fuck that they picked a game where I had a legitimate ticket with my name on it.  Still the delay was enough for me to miss Michael Owen saying goodbye to his England career as he was stretchered off with knee ligament damage.

A close game, one which showed our defensive frailties with Robinson in goal, especially defending set pieces.  Joe Cole’s fantastic goal was the highlight of the 90 minutes but the stadium almost equally split between the red and white of England, and the yellow and blue of Sweden summed up what the World Cup should have been all about.

So a 2-2 draw meant that England had avoided Germany and it would be Ecuador in Stuttgart in five days time.  I hadn’t booked a hotel for the night, instead using the floor at Frankfurt Hahn as my pillow for the night along with a few hundred other fans.  For once the Germans missed out on a trip, deciding to not keep the Sex shop and XXX Cinema at the airport – they would have made a bomb!

Five days later and after my almost weekly flight into Frankfurt Hahn I spent an hour and a half on an empty bus down to Mannheim, smug in the knowledge I had outwitted and under spent my England Fan colleagues who had flown to Stuttgart and were in the fan park already.  Fools!  Everyone knows that to be a “loyal” fan you need to take at least four different modes of transport and travel in two countries.  But I had the last laugh as my 6 hour trip had only cost £50!!!

I met up with West Ham Phil who had managed to blag a ticket through one of the official sponsors.  As we walked to the stadium we saw a guy reading my Fans Guide book. A proud moment for me indeed along side the moment I first saw one for sale in a shop.  I decided not to stop in and ask if he wanted me to sign it after I head him say “Well that bar was utter shite”, referring to the food and drink section.

My seat was in row 2.  In most stadiums this is a good seat.  In Gelsenkirchen for instance row 2 is about 6 foot above the pitch level.  Here in Stuttgart row two was essentially at pitch level.  In between me and the goal were half of the world’s media, TV crews, advertising hoardings and the occasional substitute warming up – good job for the big screens then as David Beckham’s early free kick sent through a very nervy England.

I travelled back with Phil and his mate Andy to Walldorf where they assured me that there was the “best pub ever” to watch the Netherlands versus Portugal game later in the evening.  “It had loads of fit women, a huge screen and the atmosphere had been brilliant” they told me after watching the Argentina game in there.  Of course when someone tells you that you should be prepared for disappointment.  The bar was, of course, empty and wasn’t even showing the football – it had a repeat of the European Grand Prix on.

Reluctantly the barman changed the channel and we sat in stunned disbelief at the events on the pitch.  Portugal’s one goal was overshadowed by a remarkable 4 red cards and 16 yellows in a game that looked like it could be a repeat of the War of Restoration (o-level History reference thank you very much) and meant that they would be playing England in Gelsenkirchen in just under a week.

So my World Cup had started some three weeks previously in Gelsenkirchen, and it could possibly end there too.  Unsurprisingly everyone and their ex-wife wanted a slice of this action, so travel plans were problematic.  I ended up flying to Frankfurt Hahn again, then a bus to Koblenz where I would get a train up to the Ruhr valley.  Another easy 6 hour trip just to prove my loyalty.  We had to collect our tickets from the official FA ticket centre, which in this case was a portakabin in the middle of a car park.  temperatures touched the high 90’s and with no shade, organisation of opportunity to buy refreshments, tempers became fraid.  The FA, decided to have just one person on duty to dish out over 5,000 tickets and as usual had no idea of the consequences.

I got chatting to a couple of chaps in the queue, who as it turned out, had driven over in the morning, and would be going back straight after.  They were “scouts” for Charlton Athletic, and the club had paid for their trip, hired them a car and provided them tickets.  I saw a glimmer of an opportunity and as luck would have it I was “invited” to have a lift back after the game all the way to TBIR towers, and the driver lived but a mile away from SE9.  Could the day get any better?

In a nutshell, no.  Spineless, gutless, lack of ambition and motivation are words I normally reserve for West Ham, but four years ago I could easily apply them to England’s performance.  Sod the fact that Rooney got himself sent off (note to English media – Rooney stamped on someone bollocks – that is violent conduct), sod the fact we had no invention going forward, and sod the fact we cannot take penalties for toffee.  We were shite.  We deserved to go out, the only disappointment is that it took over 2 1/2 hours for it to happen.

So the end of my World Cup for four more years.  A rollercoaster of emotion it wasn’t.  There was an air of predictability about England’s performance and even today I struggle to think of a passage of play where I could say we were “good”.  Ericsson had been given the keys to the “golden generation” and had simply stood there and watch them pay more attention to their wives and girlfriends (and each others in the case of John Terry).  But Germany is a wonderful place, and I do not think there could be a better organised World Cup.

So my 10 highlights?

1. The stadiums – Twelve stadiums, all either new of rebuilt, holding at least 41,000 and invariably full set this World Cup apart from all others.  Whilst the “FIFA Family” took the lions share of tickets in the form of sponsorship and freebies, real fans somehow managed to get their hands on a ticket for the games that mattered.  Our favourites?  Köln’s RheinEnergie Stadion and the awesome Westfalonstadion in Dortmund.

2. The fan parks – Not everyone’s cup of tea but by placing them in the centre of the cities, making them big enough to cope with tens of thousands of fans, providing loads of places to buy beer they did more to cater for fans without tickets than at every other tournament.

3. Stadium names – You have to admire FIFA for their attempts to remove anything that was in contravention of their official list of sponsors.  Allianz who part funded the building of the new stadium in Munich must have been so chuffed when their signage was covered with a makeshift banner for games at the FIFA World Cup Stadium Munich, likewise Veltins not only were booted out of Gelsenkirchen, but their beer removed too…talking of which..

4. Beer in the stadium – English fans turning up for the games could not believe that you could buy your beer and take it to your seat to enjoy it whilst games went on – an arrestable offence at the same grounds in any UEFA competition.  We didn’t repeat the trick once we discovered it was watered down Budweiser though.

5. Oh dear Graham Poll – England’s refereeing representative had successfully handled two games in the tournament and was being talked up as a potential final candidate.  Then came the events of 22 June when he officiated between Croatia and Australia.  Having already yellow carded Croatia’s Šimunic, he then gave him a second one in the 90th minute.  For some reason Poll failed to spot he had already booked him in, and five minutes later when he committed another foul he finally red carded him.  Poll then retired from International Football a laughing stock.

6. Serbian hype – Dark horses for the tournament“, “Watch out these guys could surprise a few people” and “Europe’s newest hope” were some of the things written about Serbia (and Montenegro at the time) pre-tournament.  They had qualified ahead of Spain without losing a game and in the process only conceded one goal.  Sure, they were drawn in a difficult group but did anyone think they would cave in so badly to Argentina 6-0?  Three games, three defeats and 10 goals conceded….who believes the media anyway!

7. The Battle of Nuremberg – Surely the best game of the tournament, not for the football but for the wanton violence on the pitch.  Russian referee Ivanov issued sixteen yellow cards and four reds in a game where every passage of play ended with a violent assault.  Each tournament should have one of these!

8. Top touting – Demand was so big for all games that touts made a mint.  Doesn’t matter what the game was, they were there in force outside the stadium gates, flaunting the rules, demanding €300 for Iran v Angola in Leipzig and not willing to budge even 10 minutes into the game, and even in one instance we saw setting fire to the ticket as opposed to selling it.  Why?  Because they all came gratis from the official sponsors who simply didn’t want their share of Tunisia v Saudi Arabia or Togo v South Korea.  Well done FIFA.

9. The Adidas World Cup Stadium – It had scam written all over it but if you looked carefully you would see the truth.  Ebay was full of tickets available for the FIFA World Cup Final in Berlin for less than €100.  “Great seats”, “Once in a lifetime offer”.  So what were they?  Well those good chaps at Adidas had constructed a 10,000 seater replica OlympiaStadion in front of the German Parliament, and then gave away the tickets.  So those thinking they would be there in person for the final would only be watching it on TV.  It’s like buying a ticket for Wembley to watch England and finding out you were watching the fans team at Vale Farm, home of Wembley FC.  Gutted.

10. What you are remembered for – The biggest stage for your final game.  The World Cup final, with a global audience of 100billion people (or something like that).  What a way to go out.  France’s captain Zinedine Zidane had already put the French in the lead from a controversial penalty, only for Italy’s Materazzi to equalise in the 19th minute.  Extra time followed and with the game heading for penalties the two goal scorers became involved in a war of words as the ball headed upfield.  Materazzi obviously pressed all the right buttons as Zidane turned and launched a headbutt straight into the Italians chest. Queue a red card, a defeat on penalties and years of asking…Why?

More photos from our trip to the tournament can be seen here.

twitter / theballisround

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