“One night in Bangkok and the world’s your oyster. The bars are temples but the pearls ain’t free. You’ll find a god in every golden cloister, and if you’re lucky then the god’s a she”
The setting wasn’t Thailand, but Munich. The bars weren’t temples but Brauhäus’s and the pearls had taken on a strange sausage shape. The god in question was of course football. I am sure that was what Tim Rice meant when he wrote this song for the musical Chess back in 1984. How was he to know that nearly 30 years later that would be the song spinning around my head as I sat on the S3 train heading towards Fasenenpark in the southern suburbs of München, capital of Bavaria.
Work had seen me having to spend a few days in the home of BMW, Siemens and Allianz in the world’s most livable city according to Monocle. It was certainly up there with my favourites – the architecture, the beer, the food, the people, the nude sunbathing in the Englischer Garten as well as the football. Some of my best EFW’s had been in Germany and it was in the outskirts of Munich where I had been based during the 2006 World Cup with Football Jo (bit of gossip here but she’s only gone ad bagged a new boyfriend 17 years her junior!!!). I had seen games in the new Allianz Arena, without a doubt one of the finest stadiums ever built as well as some great games at the old Olympiastadion, including Lothar Mattäus’s last game for Bayern against Real Madrid in the Champions League back in 2000. But there was one club I had never had a chance to see in the city and that was the plucky upstarts in the south of the city SpVgg Unterhaching.
Spielvereinigung Unterhaching to give them their full name are currently plying their trade in the third tier of German football, but for a couple of seasons at the turn of the last millennium they were the talk of the Bundesliga for basically punching above their weight and giving a couple of teams the footballing equivalent of a bloody nose.
I had nearly made a game at the Generali Sportpark twice before. Back in 2000 when I was in Munich with my mate Pete. It was our first trip to Munich and we had taken in all of the sights and sites – Hofbräuhus, Augustiner Keller, Hackerhaus, etc – before we decided to take in a game. As luck would have it Underhaching were at home on our final evening so we set out from our hotel close to the central station. We walked down a road and mesmerised by the flashing neon signs for “Sexyland”. Apparently, according to an English chap standing outside, this was the Alton Towers of sin with rides for all shapes and sizes. Football or Sexyland. That was the choice facing us to Brits. Actually there was a third choice, and that was the Augustiner Bräustuben just 100 yards away. We would go there to flip a beer mat and decide what to do and if necessary down some Dutch courage. Our one turned into five or six, mainly thanks to the outfits of the waitresses and the band who had us up on the benches in no time, rolling up our trousers to make pretend leiderhosen and tying our hair in pigtails. I do not know to this day which one I regret missing most.
Eighteen months later and we were back in the city. This time for Grumpy Joel’s thirtieth birthday. It was Ocktoberfest and due to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Americans had cancelled their trips en-masse meaning accommodation in the city was plentiful and prices of everything were slashed. Again plans were made to travel out to Unterhaching but like before we were weighlaid by that darn Umpah band, the buxom wenches serving the beer and the vast numbers of very drunk New Zealand tourists who somehow believed we were all underwater firemen and wanted to “see our uniform and diving bells”.
So this was to be third time lucky. Unlike the other two occasions which had been planned with military precision, this one came about completely by chance. In fact just five days before the game was due to take place I had no idea that there was any football on in Munich. I was looking forward to an early night after a hard days work with a copy of David Hartrick’s 50 Teams that Mattered and a DVD box set of Rising Damp. CMF even asked me if I was to take in a game when I was there and I said alas no, as Bayern’s Champions League game was on the night before I arrived.
Thank the Lord for the Soccerway app on my iPhone. A quick press of a few keys and there in front of me, calling out to me like a siren off the coast of Gibraltar was one fixture. Wednesday 14th March 2012 – 7pm kick off – SpVgg Unterhaching v Rot-Weiss Oberhausen. This was fate. I had to be there. And so that was why I was on the S3 train, heading for the Generali Sportpark.
It wasn’t going to be a full house that was for sure. It was a Wednesday night and this was Bundesliga 3 football. But twelve years ago when the team made their debut in the top tier of German football, every game was a sell out. In that season they surprised everyone (apart from themselves) by finishing in tenth place. Their defining moment though came on the final day when they hosted Champions-elect Bayer Leverkusen. The visitors came into the game with a three-point lead over Bayern Munich and thus only needed a draw to claim their first ever title. However, an own goal my skipper Michael Ballack and a second from Oberleitner saw them fall 2-0 and Bayern won 3-1 to snatch the title on goal difference. Such was the shock to German football that some betting companies had already paid out on a Leverkusen title.
A season later they could have again won the title for local “rivals” Bayern Munich by beating 2nd place Schalke 04 in the final game. Despite twice taking the lead they eventually lost 5-3 but Bayern’s injury time equaliser was enough to give them their title again, although not before some Schalke fans (and players) had been dancing on the Sportpark pitch in belief that the title was theirs already.
This season has seen the club for the most part in the upper reaches of the table, hoping for a return to the second tier of German football. Just six points off top spot, this was their game in hand against an Oberhausen team who were flirting a bit too close with the bottom of the table. They had never been the same since the death of their most famous resident, Paul the Octopus in 2010. However, with ex-German international Mario Basler now in charge there is a more positive outlook for the future I am sure.
SpVgg Unterhaching 1 Rot-Weiss Oberhausen 2 – Generali Sportpark – Wednesday 14th March 2012
Unterhaching is certainly remote. Getting off the S-Bahn train the floodlights were visible in the distance – quite a way in the distance and with a rail line in between. Oh, and a police van with men with guns and dogs standing around, looking hungry (the dogs not the men). I simply followed the few other people who got off the train, assuming they were heading to the game. The walk took in a housing estate, a foot tunnel and a park that during the day would have been pleasant, but at night was ill-lit and contained a number of water hazards that would have been too tempting for the likes of Dave Richards. But it appeared I was nearing my target.
Press pass in hand I headed inside, collected my obligatory beer and sausage (or two) and took my seat at the top of the stand. With just five minutes to kick off it wasn’t exactly rocking. A group of twenty or so Oberhausen fans were caged in the corner and watched over by a dozen policemen. It would be a quiet evening for them.
A familiar, yet long forgotten rift started to drift over the speakers. Fans turned their attention to the tunnel at the far end. A large chap with a huge flag seemed to be losing a battle with it, eventually giving up and laying it on the ground. The teams walked out through a guard of honour to Status Quo “Whatever you want”, sending a group of home fans into some kind of mental mullet meltdown.
Within five minutes of kick off we had our first goal. It was a comedy of errors on the Oberhausen side as they missed at least three opportunities to close down the home team, failed then gave the ball away instead of clearing it. The ball was crossed and Amachaibo easily slotted it home. The away coach and assistant jumped up from their plastic picnic chairs in rage, kicking them over in the process before shamefully going back and putting them right.
The PA announcer read out the score, finishing his sentence with a “Dankeshane” before the crowd replied with a collective “Bitte” – how very polite and something you almost expect from an English cricket green crowd.
Unterhaching were completely on top in the game and it was hard to see how Oberhausen could get back into it. The Oberhausen board were sitting behind me and a swift call down to the bench saw a substitution on the half hour mark which changed the game. In 40th minute a fantastic cross from the right was met perfectly by Terranova at the near post to draw the scores level. You couldn’t get a better headed goal than that one.
After a top up of German hospitality at half time (beer and sausages) it was time to put the gloves on as the temperature fell. The crowd also appeared as if they wanted to be somewhere else judging by the muted applause that welcomed the two teams back. Oberhausen continued their strong finish to the half and were unlucky not to take the lead in the opening minutes. But they didn’t have to wait long – fifteen minutes to be precise when Grant Forbes scored from close range. I knew it was Forbes who scored because the chap from the Oberhausen board then started calling everyone in his phone to tell them. He even called two wrong numbers and told them (my O-Level German coming back into play).
There were no further goals in the game and with five minutes to go most of the fans had disappeared, on their way home to watch the Champions League games on TV. For me it was a trek across the park and then a beer or two in the hotel, avoiding the temptation for a return to Sexyland. After all, as CMF reminded me, just because it was “Steak & BJ Day” I didn’t have to indulge in both. I assumed she already knew I had had sausage for tea. I love Germany.