Ninety minutes from glory


Twenty four hours ago I was in a pub in the heart of Bavaria.  Munich to be precise, talking football with some die-hard Bayern fans from our German office who were telling me in graphic detail how this current Bayern Munich team were the best club side Europe has ever seen.  They could give me plenty reasons to back this up, including a statement around the fact that “Pep”, having broken all records at Barca would only consider joining a club more supreme – and hence why he is coming to Bavaria next season.  But my argument was despite romping to the Bundesliga, and being odds-on favourites to take the DFB-Pokal in a few weeks when they meet Stuttgart in Berlin, a failure to beat Borussia Dortmund in the most anticipated Champions League final for decades will mean this season counts for very little.

8514941579_f28981bde5_bAfter the crushing disappoint of losing out to domestic honours to Borussia Dortmund last season and then losing the Champions League final in their own front garden in Bavaria to Chelsea, this season was seen as a chance for redemption.  Their ruthlessness in winning the Bundesliga title has been breathtaking – currently 22 points clear with one game to go of Dortmund, scoring nearly an average of 3 goals a game, conceding less than half a goal a game, dropping just eleven points so far.  Two defeats in all competitions is certainly a record-breaker but could they really go on their sunbeds around the pool in the summer with a smug feeling of superiority if Klopp’s team win at Wembley.

It would have taken a brave man to bet against Bayern in any domestic game this season (and that brave man would now be significantly poorer) but in a one-off game on neutral soil I think the game could be a lot closer than people think.  An early look at the odds at Unibet shows Bayern are clear favourites to lift the trophy at 1.42 compared to Dortmund’s 2.8.  This season both league games ended 1-1 and their meeting in the Allianz Arena in the German Cup saw an Arjen Robben wonderstrike the only difference between the two sides.

The key for me is the form of Dortmund’s occasional false nine, Marco Reus.  We saw Reus destroy Eintract Frankfurt earlier in the season in the Westfalenstadion, scoring a fantastic hatrick.  When he is on his day he is unstoppable.  So unstoppable that the rumours of a move to Bayern have been circulating since he was voted German Player of the Year in 2012.  With Lewandowski potentially on his way to Real Madrid in the summer, he will also want to go out on a high.

Unsurprisingly, tickets for the game are like gold dust.  As the days tick down to the final we will preview the game more, including a visit to the Champions Park in East London.

Kampf der Titanen


Real Madrid v Barcelona? Old skool. PSG v OM? Past its best even with the added “pzzazz of Monsieur Beckham. Celtic v Rangers? Had its day. Lewes v Eastbourne Borough? Getting closer. But none of these currently tick all the boxes as the most anticipated games in recent years. The most talked about domestic game these days in Europe is in Germany. After years of dominance of the Bundesliga, in the past couple of seasons Bayern Munich have had to play second fiddle to Die Schwarzgelben, Borussia Dortmund. The domestic champions for the past two seasons have risen from the financial flames into a majestic young phoenix managed by one of the best young managers in the game, and of course, the biggest average club attendance in Europe.

8481854617_9188ce3131_bUnder Jürgen Klopp, Dortmund have become one of the most watchable teams of their generation, with an emphasis on counter-attacking play which saw them cruise to the title over the past two seasons. Last season in front of 75,000 in Berlin, and millions watching across the globe, Borussia Dortmund destroyed Bayern in the DFB Pokal final to take their first domestic double.

That final was a watershed in German football. In fact Ribéry’s goal in the 25th minute of the final was the first that Dortmund had conceded in the whole tournament, and it was a surprise that they only finished with five goals. The King was dead, long live the King. Or were they?

Bayern Munich were a wounded animal, and came out of the blocks firing with aggression. Just one defeat in the league conceding just 8 goals in 23 games (and scoring 60), cruising into the Champions League Quarter Finals and hardly breaking into a sweat in the DFB Pokal. Who could stop them? Well, how about Dortmund again? The draw for the DFB Pokal had paired the two titans in a duel to the death in Munich. Surely Dortmund couldn’t slay the Kraken in its own nest? And to add a little bit more spice to the occasion, it was Bayern’s 113th Birthday. Cake all round I hoped.

So how can the invincibles become even more immortal? How about snapping up the world’s most in demand coach? Pep Guardiola will hopefully be walking into the Allianz Arena dressing room in July to meet a record-breaking team if current form is anything to go by. Bundesliga champions? Almost certainly. European champions? I think only one or two teams may have a say in that. Perhaps they should already have that title. Once again the huge burden of expectation that goes with hosting the final played heavily on the side’s performance last May against Chelsea.

But for all their dominance this season Dortmund have come back at them again and again. Many saw their heavy home defeat to Hamburg earlier this month as a sign than Jürgen Klopp had not taken the opportunity in the January window to strengthen the side. But just seven days later and after an arduous Champions League game in Ukraine they emphatically bounced back with a win against 4th place Eintracht Frankfurt where the 3-0 score line hardly did justice to their attacking domination. Continue reading

DangeReus


Despite having the biggest average home league attendance in the world, Borussia Dortmund surprisingly only generate around £25 million from matchday income each season out of a total of £189 million of total revenue, according to the most recent Football Money League report published annually by Deloitte. Whilst the lead the way in passionate home support, their approach on ticket pricing puts them firmly behind “smaller” clubs such as Arsenal and Chelsea where money is no object for the majority of their fans.

The German footballing philosophy of football for the masses is all well and good in getting ticks in the boxes for affordability, but in terms of the one true global measure of how big a club is, it is a contentious issue. Matchday revenues make up nearly a third of the income sources for Manchester United, and around 40% for Arsenal. If Borussia Dortmund wanted to be mentioned in the same breath as Real Madrid, Barcelona and dare I say it in these parts, Bayern Munich, an increase in ticket prices would need to be put in place. But that’s not how clubs roll here in Germany. For those who have experienced a Bundesliga game or two will know, the fans actually mean more to a club than just a walking €50 note.

8482530926_5289ec981f_bYou get the feeling that even if Dortmund increased ticket prices by 20-30% then the fans would still flock to the Signal Iduna Park week in, week out. Even such a Greek Debt-busting inflation hike would still make ticket prices cheaper than all but a few Premier League sides. The demand for tickets from visitors and Dortmund virgins far outstrips supply.  However, thanks to the contacts of Danny Last, we had four tickets for the game in the bag as our train from Münster eased into the Signal Iduna Park station and a wall of yellow and black hit us as we alighted from the train.

On paper this was a banker home win, with some of the shortest odds I had seen for awhile.  Eintracht Frankfurt on the other hand were a tasty 7.25.  Similar odds would have been on offer for the visit of Hamburg last weekend but in a coupon-busting result, the ‘Rothosen’ ran out 4-1 winners. With joint Bundesliga top scorer Robert Lewandowski serving a suspension, surely Dortmund would have enough quality to see off the visitors – lightning wouldn’t strike twice in a week, would it? Continue reading

Herman the German Munster


I love Germany. After all I am of that age where good value football, good value beer and accessibility to good value hardcor…ah ok, sorry Mum….good value nocturnal entertainment is more important that DJ Jazzy J and a foam-filled dance floor of scantily clad girls off their ti….sorry again Mum…nightclubs, are more important to me. And Germany ticks all of those boxes thrice-times over. But even so there are parts of the country that I have always wanted to visit and never had an opportunity. The former East Germany tech-hub of Jena (obviously home to Carl-Zeiss), the Black Mountains and Wuppertal.

What do you mean, where? Come on! Wuppertal, sitting on the River Wupper slap-bang in the middle of the Bergisches Land to the east of Düsseldorf. Home to the Von der Heydt Museum, the Arboretum Burgholz, which even Wikipedia enthused as an EXTENSIVE arboretum and of course the 18th century Engels house. But put all that excitement to one side when I tell you it is the spiritual home of the Schewbebahn, the home of the Monorail. Not just your run of the mill monorail either. This is the oldest electric elevated railway in the world, having opened in 1901. And catch this. It’s only bloody suspended (not in a close way but in a hanging down, swinging way).

Those clever Germans eh? Well no, let me stop you there. This was invented by the British actually. A man called Henry Robinson Palmer (of course, Henry Robinson Palmer) first suggested the idea of a suspended rail network, pulled along by horses back in 1824. Alas his original route had one flaw that saw him dismissed as a country bumpkin. His proposed network didn’t go as far as reaching the Stadion am Zoo to the west of the city centre. What was the point of that, said the town council, with amazing forethought as football was still nearly 50 years away from becoming a regulated game in Germany. But Palmer was out and so was his horse-drawn plan.

TuffiInstead in 1901 the current line was opened to global acclaim, linking Oberbarmen in the east, to Vohwinkel in the west and having a stop at the stadium of Wuppertaler SV Borussia, the Stadium am Zoo. Around 25 million passengers today travel on the railway which travels about 10 metres above the River Wupper in swinging comfort. Back in 1950 so popular was the railway as a way to get from the centre of the city to the Zoo that a passenger decided to bring his baby elephant on board. As any schoolboy knows, baby elephants and suspended monorails do not mix and poor Tufti got a bit concerned on the route, pressed the emergency door release button and promptly fell into the river below. She was fine but hasn’t been back on any railways since.

I could kid you to say that riding on the monorail was the only reason that I, along with Danny Last, Spencer Webb, Kenny Legg, Big Deaksy and Andy Hudson had arrived in Germany some hours before.   Football was in the air ladies and gentlemen. Regionalliga West may not have the glamour and glory of the Bundesliga, but it was good enough for us as a warm up act to Borussia Dortmund’s game. What’s not to like about coming to see Jorg Jung’s side anyway? Continue reading

Long live the European Football Weekend


Whilst Danny Last’s famous site closed its doors just over a year ago, the EFW is still as big as ever.  This weekend Danny himself, Big Deaksy, Kenny Legg, Huddo Hudson, Spencer Webb and myself got familiar with the German beer, sausages and football at the weekend, our paths almost crossed with the Daggers Diary team who made the foray into Düsseldorf territory as part of their four game, three countries road trip.

About a year ago, Neil, Dagenham Dan and I made a trip into Europe to take in a game in four different countries over the course of one weekend. Even as we were making our way back from Oostende to Calais to catch the train back home, there were already plans to repeat (or improve) on the trip in 2013.

Despite the schedule of four games in such a short space of time, the only mad rush between games was between Koln and Venlo, and that was comfortably achieved without too much drama.

So this year, we thought we should try to do it all again. Obviously with different venues (fixtures permitting), but to attempt to repeat our 2012 trip would be great. A weekend was selected, and then we set about going through the games, seeing which ones we could feasibly attend. We selected four games, and unlike last year, they would all be in the top division of the respective leagues. Except that the French league was causing a bit of a problem, and after all of the others were more or less confirmed, we were kind of hoping that Lille would be scheduled for the Sunday evening, so that we could get a fifth game in. Unfortunately, that wasn’t to happen, so we would have to make do with just the four.

Of course, while we have got lucky with the fixtures and kick off times, there have been other things where we (or more specifically Neil), haven’t been so fortunate. Last year, about a week before the trip, Neil had an accident in the car, which meant that we ended up hiring a vehicle for the weekend. This year, the car hasn’t been the problem, but instead over the New Year period, Neil managed to break his wrist. This meant that, for a few days the trip was in the balance before the hospital proclaimed that the break should be healed in about a month’s time, and in plenty of time for the trip.

I say we have been lucky with the fixtures, and to a certain degree, we have. While Dan and I will be attending four new grounds (it’s two for Neil), we have potentially missed out on a couple of other games. For example, Anderlecht have a home game on the Friday of our trip, while Borussia Dortmund are at home on the Saturday night. Having already booked tickets for the other games as well as the hotels, we have decided to stick to the planned games. However, both clubs are ones that we all want to visit, but as we have found out before, getting tickets for Dortmund can be difficult.

So, now that we are half way through February, Neil’s fracture is healed, and we are on our way through the channel tunnel towards our first stop on the trip, Nijmegen.

Meeting Dan at Chafford at just before eight in the morning, we were lucky enough that the Dartford bridge was not too clogged up, and once across, we were able to make good progress on to our meeting point with Neil at Folkestone services. Arriving just after nine, we were able to sort out payment for Dan’s car parking before we carried on towards the Channel Tunnel. Booked on the 10.50 crossing, we were (after having breakfast in the terminal), through and onto a train, earlier than planned.

The trip to Nijmegen takes about three hours, and so once we emerged into the French sunshine at Calais, we hit the motorway and headed east to the Netherlands. Continue reading

On the eleventh day of TBIR Christmas – The Best football Weekend away


Now this may shock you, but we are quite partial to a weekend away once in a while, taking in some local culture, fine foods and wine and even, dare I say it, a football match or two.  No really, we never plan to go anywhere where there is football on – it is complete coincidence that some of the biggest games just happen to be on when we are there for a book festival or art show.

Nah, sod that.  Weekends away are designed for football.  Pure and simple.  It may be the crappiest city in the world, with the worst weather, most awful food and no beer but if it has a football match full of flares, chanting and basically all the things we cannot get at home then it’s great to us.  Well, OK, perhaps not one without any beer then.

In 2012 we ventured far and wide again, but three trips stood out above all others, and these were our winners last year.  So without further ado I give you the top three weekend destinations of 2012:-

3rd place – Belgrade
7006731234_ab9f21046a_bLet’s go to Belgrade and take in the Partizan v Red Star derby he said.  Just like that.  No ifs or buts.  And before you knew it Danny, Kenny Legg, Andy Hudson and I were waking up on the overnight train from Zagreb in Serbia.  What followed was an outstanding weekend.  Four games in two days, including one of the most volatile atmospheres I have ever seen and an exchange rate that made us all Dinar millionaires.  Add in some stunning scenery (both architecturally and otherwise), some amazing history and temperatures in the high 30’s and it was a tip-top weekend.

2nd place – Rome
6956370771_ff6205b731_bGranted we have the inside track on Rome thanks to the legend that is Adam Lloyd.  High up in the hills of Frascatti Mr Lloyd plots world domination, but on his days off he likes nothing better than a trip to the Stadio Olimpico.  He was only too pleased to act as our chauffeur, tour guide and hostess for a weekend that was heavy on the culture, very heavy on the stomach but very pleasing on the eye when it came to the Eternal Derby.  Rome is a brilliant city full stop.  But add in some stunning countryside around Rome, a fantastic atmosphere in the stadium and La Dolce Vita and you have a weekend that should be on every football fans itinerary at least once a season.

Best weekend away – Düsseldorf
8113648940_5f9e96bff7_bWe all love German football – that’s a given.  The food, the drink, the atmosphere, the tickets that cost less than an Emirates Burger, the club slippers.  It’s the whole package.  But in 2012 we discovered Düsseldorf.  Discovered?  Well, OK thanks to Kenny Legg’s secret mission with the British Government, we were invited.  What a place.  Fantastic drinking culture that starts in the High Street no less at 10am on a Saturday, a dozen stadiums holding 30,000 plus within an hour’s (luxury) train ride away and enough sausages to keep even the most ardent meat-eater at bay.  We loved it so much we went twice, and are going again in February.  If you are lucky enough to go then we can thoroughly recommend an afternoon at the Esprit Arena.  50,000 lucky souls in one of the most modern stadiums in Europe AND they serve Alt beer.  It is a must!

On the ninth day of TBIR Christmas – The best new ground visited


In 2012 we went to 45 new grounds (not new builds, but new to us) on our trek around the European leagues.  Some were good, some were bad (see the fifth day for our worst three) and some were simply in the middle.  But there were a few that were simply outstanding.  These were ground that for one reason or another made us want to buy a season ticket, there and then.  We didn’t of course, as no amount of Petrol Station Flowers could possibly forgive us for owning season tickets for half a dozen teams.  So we tried to come up with our top 3.

These three were for a number of reasons head and shoulders above the rest.  Whilst the new Friends Arena in Stockholm was impressive, warm (a major plus for anywhere in Scandinavia) and ultra modern, we were looking for places with a bit more of a soul.  So without further ado let’s introduce our winners for 2013:-

3rd best new ground visited in 2012 – Arbroath FC’s Gayfield Park
8259709182_29758065c9_bThis had been on my list for years.  The fact that it was slap-bang next to the North Sea, had a nightclub nearby called DeVito’s and was once the scene of a 36-0 world record score line was reason enough.  And then Danny Last came along with a plan to see the Dundee derby.  Fate decreed that Arbroath were also at home that weekend, and the rest is destiny.  So what makes it so special?  Average crowds rarely break the 500 barrier (unless the Old Firm are visiting as they have done in 2012), it is as cold as Posh Spice smile in July, let alone December and the football isn’t much cop.  But it just felt so right being there, on an old fashioned terrace chatting away to the locals, even if they couldn’t understand a word I said, and them vice-versa.  Yes it was minus five, yes it was dark by 3.30pm but oh yes, the sunset was one to die for.  Everyone should experience Arbroath at least once in their footballing lives.

2nd best new ground visited in 2012 – Alemmania Aachen’s New Tivoli
7826305414_68b451846c_bTivoli is Danish for fairground, and based on our visit to the German/Dutch border in ridiculous heat in August I can see why this is the New Playground.  Inside, the sunshine on the yellow seats almost makes your eyes bleed, but when it is full and rocking, it personifies German football to a tie.  Passion, atmosphere and Freundschaf.  The supporters bar is one of the finest known to man, filled with memorabilia, waitresses bringing endless beers and even an appearance by Germany’s number one George Michael impersonater whilst we were there.  The downside is that it is a bit far out and Aachen are currently a long way off a return to the Bundesliga.  I loved it so much I still have my Stadium card, topped up and ready for my next visit.

The best new stadium we visited in 2012 – Maidstone United’s Gallagher Stadium
7570384206_77e6f16d20_bCould there really be any other choice?  After a wait of two decades, this summer the Stones finally came home.  After years of looking for a suitable venue, they found one right under their noses.  Football stadiums should be easily accessible by good transport links, near a variety of good pubs and have a bit of individuality.  The Gallagher Stadium ticks them all.  The owners insistence on a 3G pitch in the face of sanctions from the FA was a brave move but has already reaped rewards as Maidstone have kept on playing during the poor weather, attracting crowds that some nPower League Two sides would be jealous of.  Oh, and it has a decent bar!