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!

On the fourth day of TBIR Christmas – The Best football tat


Football clubs are the best in the world at taking any item, sticking a badge on it and selling it at a premium, because they know that like lemmings jumping over a cliff, fans will buy anything.  Back in the day some of the big clubs dipped a toe into true commercialisation by producing curtains, wallpaper and duvet covers.  I even had a West Ham throw on my bed that potentially stopped some “action” when a young girl managed to be persuaded upstairs whilst my parents were at work one summer holiday and as a Spurs fan she said “for God yes; for my country, yes; for my Queen, yes but not bloody likely for Billy Bonds”.

So in the past year we have had our feelers out for this new category of award.  We have seen some belters that didn’t make the final cut.  The rule here was then we had to see the items for ourselves.  So without further ado I give you the top three items of football tat in 2012:-

3rd best football tat – VfL Bochum net curtains
8116079356_ff77f7319a_bImagine the scene.  You are in a bar close to your favourite team’s ground. but you cannot look out of the window because you will not be seen as a fanatical follower of your team.  So what do you do?  What about buying some small net curtains emblazoned with your club badge that both protects your privacy and shows your allegiance.  Well look no further than these beauties being modelled by none other than Kenny “Adventures in Tinpot” Legg on our recent beano to the Ruhr Valley.  Available in home “white” or away “whitish”.

2nd best football tat – The Sullivan and Gold bobbleheads
SugoWe all know that David Sullivan and David Gold have a “bit of an ego” but even by their standards the appearance of these beauties in the West Ham United Christmas catalogue takes some beating.  Why would anyone, outside of the SuGo families want these monstrosities on their desk?  What value do they add to anyone’s life?  Unless you want to take a sledgehammer to them, of course.  And the real impressive part, they cost a “mere” £12.99.

Best football tat 2012 – The Lille signing toaster
8248897452_7e445e92f7_bThe club toaster has been around for a few years now for those fans who cannot live without their cooked bread emblazoned with your club badge on.  These are really old hat but imagine my surprise when browsing the Megastore in Lille when I came across this beauty.  Not only a toaster that burns Lille LOSC on your breakfast but plays a little ditty when it’s ready..”Allez, Allez Lille OSC” goes the toaster until you flick the switch or smashed to smithereens by your partner.