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!

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The Hangover part 3


Today was a day for sunglasses. Not that I would say it was a late (late, late) night in the fleshpots of downtown Düsseldorf, nor the fact that temperatures were going to hit the big 4-0 later on. The main reason was that we were heading westwards to the town of Aachen, where the New Tivoli was our venue. The new home of Alemannia Aachen is one of the finest new-style stadiums in Germany (and there a quite a few), but its most notable feature is its yellow seats. Bright yellow seats…..nearly 25,000 of them.

Our journey had the word problem written all over it. A train ride from Düsseldorf to Aachen, skirting close to the Dutch border doesn’t sound like anymore difficult than a normal daily commute (well, setting aside the fact that I have to negotiate the joys of service SouthEastern-style). But add in the fact that our journey would take us via Mönchengladbach and you have a receipe for carnage. Borussia Mönchengladbach would be making the 30 minute journey to Aachen for their first game of the new season, a season where optimism hasn’t been as high for well over a decade. Continue reading

Velbert underground


Things have been a bit hectic here at TBIR Towers recently.  Real work (gasp!) has sort of intruded on the mirth and mayhem that goes with reporting from around the world.  So by the time you read this I am sure you will already be familiar with the fact that SSVg Velbert lost at home to SC Verl in the Regionaliga West last Friday night.  After all, the game is hardly off Sky Sports news, and ESPN’s extended highlights are dragging a bit too now.

Well that’s lost half of my usual 10 readers, so for you other 5 who obviously live on Mars (or in Azerbaijan  “Yenə Hello – I gün tutmaq əla ümid edirik. Mən dəniz Bass özümü bir az sevgi”) I will aim to describe events from last week in as few words as possible, painting a picture instead of life in the German non leagues.  To organise such a complex trip you need to call on the German non league footballing equivalent of the A-Team.  Danny Last, Kenny Legg and Michael Stoffl.  In true A-Team style, Danny is “Bad Attitude” Baracus due to his loathing of flying and his love of a glass of milk before bedtime, Kenny is “The Face”, a man who can get a waitresses attention in the blink of an eye, and Stoffers is just Stoffers.

Kenny is obviously famed for his award-nominated blog, Adventures in Tin Pot but has recently relocated to Germany.  We are bound by the official secrets act as to the exact nature of his job but we understand he came within an inch of being in THAT scene from the Olympic Opening Ceremony when Daniel Craig was umming and aarring about his dislike for corgis.  A new habitat hasn’t stopped Kenny’s eye for a non league ground or some club-endorsed slippers, and so he ha cunningly rebranded in true Marathon/Snickers style to “Das Adventures in TinPot” (just click on the link at start of the paragraph, the PR team haven’t quite finished the rebranding work). Continue reading

The real home of sex, drugs and roll n’ roll…..well 1 out of 3 ain’t bad!



The first half of the 2008/09 Bundesliga season undoubtably belonged to the miracle team from the small village of Hoffenheim, who upset the whole form book by going into the winter break at the top of the league. This in itself was a surprise as their form in the last few matches was far from impressive, and the “game of the season” against Bayern Munich on the penultimate set of fixtures saw the team from Bavaria come out on top and close the gap to a single point.If their form in December was worrying, the first two games of the restarted season in late January were a serious cause for concern. An easy looking game away at bottom of the table Borussia Monchengladbach resulted in a hard earnt draw, and in their first game at the new Rhein-Neckar Arena, built with the millions of Euro’s from our friend Dietmar Hopp, against Bayer Leverkusen they were two nil down before the opening ribbon had fallen to the floor. Leverkusen went on to record a 4-1 win to complete an impressive double (they beat 1899 earlier in the season 5-2 in Nordrhein) to really open up the Bundesliga title race. Hertha Berlin’s defeat of Bayern Munich just over 24 hours later sent the team from the capital to the top of the Bundesliga for the first time in over a decade. It also allowed HSV Hamburg to jump into the top three to possibly create the most competitive season in decades with five teams (1899, TSV, Hertha, Bayern and Leverkusen) all in with a shout of glory.

With so many teams competing for top spot, big clashes would be occuring almost every week, and so seven days after Hertha went top, Bayer Leverkusen were due to take on TSV Hamburg, not at their intimate Bayer Arena, but at the 50,000 plus all seater LTU Arena in Dusseldorf.

Bayer had been one of the German teams of the early part of the decade, fighting for the title right up to the last day on a couple of occasions and reaching the 2002 Champions League Final in Glasgow where they lost to Real Madrid. They have one of the best attendance records in European football with their 22,500 capacity stadium sold out for more than 100 consecutive Bundesliga games. Plans had been in place for a number of seasons to redevelop the Bayer Arena to make it fit for their next assault on domestic glory but finances were never in place.

At last at the start of this season a decision was made to start on the necessary redevelopments to increase the capacity to over 30,000. However, this work would mean the stadium would have to be closed for a period of at least 6 months and so arrangements were put in place to move a few miles down the road to Dusseldorf for the second half of the season. Leverkusen as a town is essentially a suburb of Cologne, hanging on the end of the S-Bahn line. It is really only famous for one thing – Bayer AG. The giant pharmaceutical company was founded in the region over one hundred and forty years ago and has now grown to be the third biggest in the world with revenues of over £30billion and employing over 100,000 people. Their most famous brand is Aspirin but few people actually know that they used to market Heroin as a product that was a “sedative for coughs”. The company formed a sports club in 1904 that eventually became the club we know today as Bayer Leverkusen.

So why was a 50,000+ seater stadium just sitting ready and waiting so close? Well let’s go back five years to 2003 when Germany was given the 2006 FIFA World Cup. At that point a number of cities raised their eyebrows and thought – I’d like a bit of that action. The organising committee had a tough choice drawing up a final list of 12 cities and stadiums, so they set stringent criteria, one of which was that a 40,000+ seater stadium had to be either in place or under construction at the time of the bid. Cities such as Stuttgart, Hamburg, Bremen and Berlin were laughing but surprise packages such as Leipzig and Kaiserslautern were given the nod above the likes of Monchengladbach and Dusseldorf who had spent millions building brand new state of the art venues.

The main problem they faced in the choice for suitabel venues was not down to facilities, or even politics. It was simply one of location. Travel less than 20 minutes south from Dusseldorf and you arrive on the doorstep of the 50,0000 capacity RheinEnergie stadium in Cologne. Head just a bit further to the east and you will stumble across the impressive 60,000 seater indoor Veltins Arena, home to Schalke 04 and the awesome 80,000 plus home of Borussia Dortmund, thus underlining the claim in these parts that this is the heart and soul of European Football.

At least Monchengladbach had a relatively successful team who could play in their new stadium. The new arena there co-incided with a return to the Bundesliga and they have since filled it almost to the brim on every occasion. The same cannot be said for Dusseldorf as the club side their, Fortuna, regularly attract crowds of less than 5,000 in a huge stadium modelled on the Millennium Stadium, complete with multi-coloured seats and a retractable roof.

So, when Bayer Leverkusen rang Fortuna and asked if they could come and play every so often, the club were only too keen to agree. The LTU Arena is a superb one for football, having hosted the annual DFB Pokal Cup (the German equivilant of the Community Shield although featuring a few more teams) for the past few seasons.

I had been invited to a supplier workshop in Cologne, to co-incide with one of the major events in the Cologne carnival. I used to live almost on the Notting Hill carnival route so I was used to the incessant whistling noise created by the crowds and sound of tin cans being kicked across the street for two days but the Cologne one is something else. It actually starts on the 11th November at 11.11am, and carries on right through to the end of February each year, with the last biggest hurrah being the last Monday of the month where apparently the Germans get a bit “crazy” which is called Rosenmontag. I have seen German “crazy” before and it is not a pretty sight. Any football fan remembers the awful scene of the German Euro96 winners singing “It’s coming home” on the balcony in Berlin will know what I mean. So everything tied in very well. I got a trip out to Germany, the Bundesliga fixtures kindly delivered a top of the table game near to Cologne in a stadium that I had never been to, and I got to go wild and crazy wearing a silly outfit for a couple of hours. Marvellous. The only down side was Bayer’s flat refusal to issue me a press pass as they only issued them to “full time journalists from Germany”…I tried reasoning but some clubs think that they are more important than they really are…so step forward Bayer Leverkusen for winning the Jobsworth award for 2009 (so far).My plan for the day actually included initially a visit to the MSV Arena to catch Duisburg play at 2pm before I headed down the road to Dusseldorf. This really is an amazing area for football – An hour on an (albeit very fast train) could see you at any one of eight top division teams, and a further six second level ones. However, not for the first time this week I encountered “technical” issues on my plane and so Ryanair had to put their fanfare music on hold for a few more days as we touched down in Weeze an hour behind schedule, and more importantly, putting pay to my game at MSV.

I headed direct to Dusseldorf to take in the sights and sounds of their carnival Sunday, with all sorts of characters wandering around pissed early in the afternoon. My favourite was the Britney (the “Oops I did it again” phase) handcuffed to an angel who had no more on that a towel – a marvellous sight and one to stir the interest in the Cologne carnival I would be attending in less than 24 hours.

The fans making their way to the stadium had got into the spirit of things by dressing up as well, There was no actual theme, with characters such as Batman, Pink Panther, Spice Girls and Sir Alan Sugar (well it my just have been a grumpy middle aged man) making an appearance. The other noticable thing was the number of away fans who had made the three hour journey from Hamburg mingling with the Leverkusen fans. A fifteen minute U-Bahn trip deposited me at the awesome LTU Arena, and after a swift body search by a lovely hands on female steward I was tucking into a currywurst and a Alt beer.

Hamburg certainly had brought a fair number of fans, congrogated behind the north goal, and for most of the build up to the match outsinging the home fans. Hamburg, under Martin Jol had come into the game in third place, but knowing that a win would take them top. This is the team managed by the so-called Spurs reject Martin Jol (interesting that the two best leagues in Europe apart from the English is the Bundesliga and Spain’s La Liga. And the two best coaches based on current form are? Mr Jol and the man who replaced him at Spurs Juande Ramos, now in charge at Real Madrid), who had also sold their best two midfielders in the first half of the season to Manchester City – Nigel De Jong and Vincent Kompany. DeJong’s transfer was laughable as City paid nearly £17m for his services, yet the release clause in his contract due to kick in in June 2009 would see him available for less than £3m.

Bayer Leverkusen 1 HSV Hamburg 2 – LTU Arena, Dusseldorf, Sunday 22nd February 2009

The LTU Arena

The LTU Arena

The game started with a heavy drizzle settling over the stadium, causing a number of early passes to go astray. Hamburg deployed a 4-4-1-1 formation that caused the Leverkusen back four problems from the first few minutes. The first goal, unsurprisingly came from the visitors as a pull back across the penalty area from Guerro was missed by the Croat Olic, and Jansen took one touch before drilling the ball home from the edge of the penalty area with 19 minutes on the clock. A few minutes later Jensen should have added a second when he pulled his shot wide from a similar position.

There was an undercurrent of nastiness on the pitch that led to a number of yellow cards but on the half hour mark a late challenge by Fredericks from Leverksuen went unchallenged and his low cross was brilliantly turned in by Helmes to level the scores. With time running out in the half, the home team at last started taking the game to Hamburg an where a decent centre forward away form going in in the lead.

At half time I headed down onto the concourse to do my bit for the environment by recycling my beer glass and trying to understand the thinking behind some of the customes people had on. A bear outfit – ok…A seventies outfit complete with huge afro – nice touch…A Boris Becker outfit complete with tennis racket – amusing….A Rudi Voller outfit (turned out it actually was Rudi)…and a Ruud Guillet – complete with blacked up face….Is this racist? even if it isn’t, it was a very strange choice of outfit.

The second half started slowly with few chances in the first fifteen minutes until a Leverkusen freekick flashed just wide on the 55th minute mark. A few minutes later it was the visitors turn to nearly take the lead when Olic took the ball around the keeper but his shot was cleared off the line. Five minutes later they did get their goal when Jensen found himself eiht yards out with the ball falling in front of him and he volleyed in to score his second.

Much as Leverkusen toiled they were no match for the hard working Hamburg team. Even when the visitors were reduced to ten men when Jerome Boeteng was sent off for a second yellow Leverkusen could not create a chance.

So with Hamburg sitting top of the pile, and becoming the fourth team to lead the Bundesliga in 2009 I headed back into Koln for a night of relaxation before those crazy Germans got their hands on me on Monday morning.

Anyone who knows me knows that I do not do wacky. I abhore any event that draws attention to myself in any way apart from a professional light. So anyone walking into the offices of a certain German software company at 9.30am on Monday 23rd February would not believe what they say. Mr Stuart Fuller dressed as a clown, complete with clown make up and a big bowtie. I did however have my second Kölsch beer of the day that was a sweetner to this enforced embarrassment. We had reserved seats at the carnival and arrived there just before midday. The streets were full of every conceivable fancy dress, and it was very good to see the young ladies of the city had really made an effort, and the almost artic conditions meant nothing to them based on the amount of flesh on display. Every few minutes a small glass of Kölsch would appear in my hand, a toast would go up and another beer would slip smoothly down. The parade started at one pm with a marching band and a float, on which middle aged men threw chocolate down on the crowd….Fast forward four fours and the last float drifted past, with a brass band and a middle age man throwing chocolate down – a bit of variation wouldn’t go a miss.

The Germans wanted to party harder and the opening bars of “Hey Baby” in the hospitality tent were enough to send them into raptures, and me back to the hotel, grabbing my kisses (If you have a heart on your cheek that means you want a kiss – I had 2!!) as I went. I counted up my sweets – enough to keep the Little Fuller’s happy, and a bonus 3 bottles of Jägermeifter for my nightcap…I am sure Swansea on Saturday will be just as welcoming to us English.

About the LTU Arena
The futuristic home of little Fortuna Dusseldorf has been built on the site of the historic old Rheinstadion, which was used during Euro88. It actually held nearly 56,000 fans and became synonymous not with soccer but American Football as it was home to one of the success stories of the new defunct World League of American Football. The new stadium was constructed initially with a view to becoming a host venue for the 2006 World Cup in 2002, and opened its doors in May 2004 after a €240m rebuild.

It is certainly futuristic with the multi-coloured seats offering an almost perfect view of the action, a retractable roof and heating below the seats to keep everyone’s legs warm. The stadium inside is very similar to the Millennium stadium although it only has two tiers, separated by a line of executive boxes. The stadium has hosted the national team on a number of occasions the last being in February when Norway were the visitors, as well as the annual pre-season Bundesliga tournament – the DFB Pokal. It is also a favourite for some of the biggest names in music in the world such as Coldplay and Oasis who are playing there this year.

How to get to the LTU Arena
The arena is located in the north west area of the city, on the banks of the River Rhine. The easiest way to get there is to take U-Bahn 78 from the Hauptbahnhof which runs every 10 minutes and takes around 15 minutes. The stadium is located just outside the main doors to the arena and travel is free for match ticket holders 3 hours before and after the game. If you are driving then the stadium is well signposted and parking is plentiful.

How to get a ticket for the LTU Arena
For Bayer Leverkusen matches, tickets can be purchased from their online portal via their home page http://www.bayer04.de or by phone on +41 1805 040404. Alternatively you can buy them from http://www.seatwave.com. Tickets start from €22 for a place in the standing area behind the goal to €42 for a top of the range seat. It is not clear yet what sort of attendances Bayer will get in the bigger arena.

Karnevale!


Dusseldorf and Koln

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Welcome to Europe’s home of Pig Iron



The German region of Nord Rhine Westphalia may not be known to many people outside of the country, but it is one of the most important in the whole of Europe for a number of reasons. It was famous during the Second World War as the most important industrial conurbation in Germany, and was consequently heavily targeted by Allied bombers. The reason for this was the presence of coal, and thus steel foundries in the area on the Ruhr river. Towns in this area basically merge into one for around 40 miles, following the course of the river westwards until it meets the Rhine near Dusseldorf. Whilst the towns of Gelsenkirchen, Bochum, Essen and Duisburg hardly roll off the tongue of those into culture, talk to any football fan who knows his salt about German football and they will wax lyrical about the history of the beautiful game in this region.

In the relatively short distance from Cologne to Dortmund you will pass through the homes to five current Bundesliga 1 clubs as well as a host of lower division teams. This almost guarantees that on a typical matchday you will have three or four clubs at home and a great opportunity to see a couple of games. There are few areas in Europe that can boast the attendance levels of Borussia Dortmund (average 74,800), Schalke 04, (61,350) and FC Koln (50,000), and add into the mix the more intimate Bayer Arena where every home game for over 5 years has sold out and you can start building the picture that the region is football mad.

Two of the smaller top clubs are VfL Bochum and MSV Duisburg. Separated by a 25 minute train ride, the recent fortunes of the clubs has been very similar. Both have been seen as yoyo clubs, spending between them nine years in the second division – in fact in the past ten years they have only been in the same division on three occasions. MSV Duisburg have been relegated on each of their three last seasons in the top league so fans have got used to season after season of “boom and bust”. Bochum on the other hand have managed to stabilise their position and last season’s 12th place finish was seen as quite a good result for the club.

I love German football. West Ham apart, I would happily spent most of my weekends watching games over there. It is well organised (TV revenues are important, but do not dictate the fixtures), very well supported with an average attendance of over 33,000 (vying in top position with the English Premier League) and more importantly with a stadium utilisation rate of close to 85% (i.e 85% of all seats in the Bundesliga are filled each week), cheap to watch (a ticket for Werder Bremen can cost as little as €10), and passionately followed. Every season I will come over for a day or so to take in a game. Thanks to a scheduling of a mid week set of fixtures, and West Ham due to lose heavily away to Manchester United, I took advantage of a €20 tax included flight with Ryanair to Dusseldorf Weeze to take in a couple of games.

Dusseldorf Weeze. Now there is an interesting place. Originally a RAF base known as Laarbruch, it is actually closer to Nijmegen in the Netherlands than it is to Dusseldorf. Yet Ryanair still get away with calling it after the major German city, despite the fact that three other airports (including Cologne-Bonn) are actually nearer to Dusseldorf than Weeze is! My plan was after landing here on my 40 minute flight from Stansted (Weeze is actually nearer to Stansted than Torquay is) to head to Duisburg and then onto Bochum. Things looked like they would go wrong when the night before I travelled, blizzard-like conditions took a grip on parts of the home counties. Football League games at Northampton, Wycombe and Luton were either postponed or abandoned yet in our pocket of tropical sunshine in SE9 we stayed clear. At 4am when I left for Stansted the temperature was hovering just above freezing. After all what do you expect from the weather in October?

The short flight was a bit hairy to say the least. As we were only at cuising altitude for no more than 10 minutes the ride was bumpy all the way, especially when we descended through the clouds to suddenly hit the tarmac of the runway – it was impossible to see the ground out of the window, let alone anything else, the fog was so bad.

After waiting over an hour for my bus I was told, on approaching the information desk inside the airport that they had had to close the runway and so they had cancelled the buses as “there would be no passengers arriving”. Great idea – but what about the dozen or so who had already arrived and wanted to be transfered out of the back of beyond! Finally a small mini-bus was summoned from the stores and the driver rattled down the autobahn to the home of pig-iron.

I had been to Duisburg once before, on a short overnight stop during the World Cup in 2006. It had the feeling of Woolwich – a long high street populated by pound (sorry, Euro) shops, fast food joints and lots of common people. But it had been given a make over that Kerry Katona would have been proud of. Two huge shopping centres had been built, full of bars and restaurants and this had attracted the beautiful people out of their hiding places. I enjoyed a good hearty meat-filled German lunch before heading back to the hotel for a short afternoon siesta.

For some reason, the Bundesliga 2 games were due to kick off at 5.30pm which made it perfect for catching a second game at 8pm and on this particular Wednesday Bochum were also at home, to surprise Bundesliga leaders 1899 Hoffenheim. MSV Duisburg were actually one of the sixteen original clubs that were invited to play in the first professional Bundesliga in 1964. That first season was actually the club’s high point as they finished runners up to FC Koln. Since then they have reached the German Cup final three times, losing on each occasion. Their finest moments in Europe came in a run to the UEFA Cup semi-final in 1979 where they lost to local rivals Borussia Monchengladbach. The “zebras” as they are known were back in the 2nd level of German football after finishing in 18th place last season. The MSV Stadion was opened in 2004 after the old stadium the Wedaustadion was demolished.

A short train ride away from Duisburg is the industrial city of Bochum. This is really in the heart of industrial Germany and you can hardly see where Bochum ends and Gelsenkirchen and Essen start. The club have fought their way up the hard way. They are still awaiting their first Bundesliga title, or German Cup but at least seem to have stablised a position in the top flight.

So it was going to be an interesting double bill of football, made all the more pleasurable by the fact I could escape the hiding that the Hammers were due to receive at Old Trafford.

I can never get my head around the supporters matchday rituals in Germany. Whilst us English like a beer, the Germans go at it hammer and tongue from as soon as the bars open. As the first game of the day was due to kick off at 5.30pm this meant 10am was when I first saw some of the fans drinking in the centre of Duisburg. All dressed in their denim jackets with hundreds of patches on like some reject from a Monsters of Rock festival, and sporting not only the requisite mullet but also a fair few scarves tied around the wrist. They also all drink strong half litre lager from the bottle, and are very careful about recycling it when they have finished.

Of course if you drink this much all day, the need to urinate becomes a necessity. So it is not unusual to see lines of men on the side of the road having a quick “slash”, irrespective of the traffic passing by, or the housewife whose roses they are watering. And of course as soon as they reach the stadium entrance they have to get rid of any undrunk beer, so that they can pass through the turnstiles and go to the bar inside!

The stadium in Duisburg is certainly fit for top level football. In fact I have to say that the “public” areas were some of the smartest I have seen anywhere. I visited the stadium in the summer of 2006 when Italy used the facilities for their training ground, and if you are to believe the staff at the MSV Arena, it was the help they received that powered them to the World Cup, and not the dubious last minute penalty they got versus Australia, or Zidane’s attack on Matterazzi.

The stadium is two tiers, very similar in design to the Volkswagen Arena in Wolfsburg, or a modern up to date Loftus Road for those not so continental. In the north stand lower tier (The Nord Tribune to those fluent in Deutsch), is the home end, with the fans packed on the only terraced area of the ground (that is apart from the away fans in the south east corner). Views from all seats are excellent, and it does take some getting used to to see drinking and smoking still allowed in the stadium.

After my five minute walk from the rude sounding Schlenk station, I was in the ground, and enjoying some of the media facilities. The game promised to be an interesting one. Duisburg hadn’t set the league alight yet, but with fifteen points from nine games they were within spitting distance of the top. St Pauli were only a few positions below the home side, enjoying life again in the second tier after a spell in the regional leagues. Despite the three hour journey from Hamburg, and the early kick off, they completely filled their allocation in the corner of the stadium and didn’t let up in their vocal support of the team.

MSV Duisburg v FC St. Pauli – MSV Arena – Wednesday 29th October 2008 5.30pm

Rockin'

Rockin

The first game of the day threw up two of the more unusual kits in German football. St Pauli must lay claim to be the biggest named club in Europe who play in an all brown kit, whilst from the front Duisburg’s blue and white hoops look like Reading or QPR, but when they turn around the kit is all white, meaning confusion when you look up and see three different kits on the pitch.

The upper tiers of the stadium were sparsely filled, but your eyes kept being drawn to the huge video screens that hung down from the roof at either end. Every time there was a corner a klaxon would sound and the number of corners would be displayed, ditto cautions, meaning someone entering the arena late, and forgetting how to read German may need to rub their eyes that after 17 minutes Duibsurg did indeed lead St Pauli 5-4.

The first half was pretty poor considering the scoring records of both teams. MSV Duisburg used the flanks well and tried a few shots from distance, but apart from an early slip, Mathias Hain in the St Pauli goal was hardly troubled. Duisburg could also boast the man with the worst hair in the league – and coming from a country that still reveres David Hasselhoff for his locks that is saying something. Step forward full back Serge Branco who had a blonde mohican – perfect on his african skin colouring. They could also boast a real Messiah in midfield with Gregory Christ no less. The son of God could do nothing though to enliven the first half which ended goal less in sub zero temperatures.

Fortunately the second half lived up to the billing. Duisburg took the lead in the 55th minute when a defensive mistake allowed Kouemeha to open the scoring. Instead of kicking on and trying to build their lead, Duisburg sat back and invited the visitors to attack, and they were soon level when Bruns scored for St Pauli. Seconds after the restart our friend Branco got his second yellow for crimes against hair fashion and the game was all but over for Duisburg. Hennings scored a deserved winner with fifteen minutes left on the clock and it was in the end a deserved 3 points from the brown shirted team from the capital of German sin.

VfL Bochum v 1899 Hoffenheim – Rewirpower Stadion – Wednesday 29th October 2008 8pm

Welcome to the pleasuredome

Welcome to the pleasuredome

So after a swift change from S-Bahn to U-Bahn at Bochum Hauptbahnhof I was back in the press tribune in time for the emergence of the teams at the strange sounding Rewirpower (apparently it has nothing to do with dodgy electricians). This game promised to be a completely different affair, as the relatively unknown visitors (well at least from outside Germany) 1899 Hoffenheim arrived top of the Bundesliga.

Whilst you would think that many neutrals would support the plucky little team who were obviously punching above their weight, such as Hull City in the Premier League, not so here in Germany. 1899 Hoffenheim were becoming as hated as Bayern Munich in some quarters, simply because of the vast amounts of money that had been poured into the club by their owner, and former player, Dietmar Hopp

Hopp had overseen a lightening charge up the table, with hardly a season passing without another title captured until they won the Bundesliga 2 last season and took their place in the top flight. Not bad considering they hail from the village of Hoffenheim which is between Mannheim and Stuttgart in south west Germany, and only has a population of 3,000 people.

The quality of the football from the first minute was so different here and it is obvious why the Zebras of Duisburg have struggled in the top league in the past. The noise was also turned up a notch as the Bochum fans in the East stand whistled, drummed, boo’d, cheered and sang their way through 90 minutes of action.

Bochum certainly started as if they were top of the Bundesliga and after going close in the opening 45 seconds, took the lead on two minutes when midfielder Dennis Grote fired home from just inside the penalty area. The home fans thought they had a penalty on thirteen minutes when centre forward Kaloglu went down in the area, but he was judged by the referee to have dived and was booked for his sins. Worse should have befallen Hoffenheim’s Carlos Eduardo who aimed a headbutt at a Bochum player after he had gone in with his foot high on a defender. To make matters worse, from the resulting throw in (after Bochum had put the ball out to get their player treated) Hoffenheim carried on going forward and had a shot on goal.

Chances went begging at either end in the first half as the game was played out with a certain level of animosity between the teams, yet this was their first meeting ever. A touch of envy creeping in from Bochum maybe? It was with some surprise that the score remained one-nil at the break.

With the temperature falling at the interval what better way to heat things up with some AC/DC and dancing girls. As the chimes from Hells Bells rang out in the stadium, past my shoulder ran twenty four (In the words of the famous Falklands War correspondent Brian Hanrahan “I counted them all out and I counted them all back”) dancing girls, all dressed completely inappropriately for a very cold October night. They gyrated their way through the classic song, cheering everyone up in the stadium. If only CMF was here – she would have loved it as she is a big AC/DC fan as she will tell you to her hearts content (and she is not exactly impartial to a dancing girl or two either!

So the second half had a lot to live up to in terms of action. Bochum started off where they left off by clattering into any Hoffenheim player they could catch, and the referee continued to take little action to protect them. But everything changed on the hour mark as Hoffenheim showed the reason why they are top of the pile. First centre forward Demba Ba turned in a low cross from a free kick after they had a great shout for a penalty turned down. Four minutes later they got their spot kick as Obasi out paced the defence and was sent sprawling and the kick was duly converted. And to rub salt into the wounds a third was scored on seventy minutes by Salihovic as he raced onto a great through ball.

Bochum immediately went on the offensive but their cause was hardly helped by Christoph Dabrowski getting two yellow cards in the space of as many minutes reducing the home team down to ten men and basically killed the game as neither team was interested in going forward, and they all seemed to just want to be back inside in the warm – a fact not lost on me as the finall whistle blew.

About the Rewirpower Stadium
The previously named Ruhr Stadium was originally opened 1919, although the current ground was redeveloped in 1979 with a capacity of over 50,000. Through the years this has been reduced due to changes to seating has seen this number reduce over the years. This season the capacity has been set at just over 32,600 by the local authorities. The stadium is very British in design with four stands close to the pitch and excellent views from all areas. The atmosphere on a match day is excellent – especially if the visitors are local.

How to get to the Rewirpower Stadium
The Rewirpower stadium is located on the eastside of the town centre. Opposite the stadium is the S-Bahn stop of Ruhrstadion which is just 4 minutes journey time from the Hauptbahnhof on line 308 or 318. Alternatively you can walk from the town centre – simply following the signs towards the Planetarium and then carrying on for around 150 yards.

How to get a ticket for the Rewirpower Stadium
The club have a loyal following of around 20,000 fans which means that most games are not sold out at the stadium. The exception to this are the games versus Dortmund, Schalke and Bayern Munich. Tickets can be bought from the online shop around 10 days before a game. The cheapest tickets are for the standing sections behind the goal which are €10, whilst €30 will get you a decent seat in the main stand. You can also ring in advance to secure a ticket on +49 18 05 95 18 48.

About The MSV Arena
The original Wedau stadium was built for the 1922 German Athletics championships, and at the time was the second largest stadium in Germany. However, facilities were very basic for spectators, with very little cover and bench like seating. In fact it wasn’t until the start of the 1960’s that any serious investment was made available for the stadium.

The finance allowed the club to build a new main stand and a new roof was constructed to cover all of the stands. A few more changes were made to the stadium during the next two decades, but the promise of a new stadium from the regional government never materialised.

At last in November 2002 the club gained the commitment from the North Rhine Westphalia government of the required funding, and building redevelopment began after the end of the 2002/03 season. The team continued to play in the stadium as it was rebuilt, stand by stand.

How to get a ticket for the MSV Arena
The club sells tickets online, at the ground or over the telephone. Tickets are available for most matches, although games against teams from the surrounding areas such as Bayer Leverkusen, Köln, Bayern Munich and Schalke 04 will sell out in advance. Ticket prices range from €8 in the North and South terracing areas, to €33 for the most expensive seats in the East and West upper tiers. You can purchase tickets from the Zebra club shops in Margaretenstrasse 5 or Wesender Strasse 36 close to the stadium, by telephone on +49 1805 678007 or via the internet at http://www.sportfivetixx.com.

How to get to the MSV Arena
The stadium is located between the A59 and A3 Autobahn’s, just to the south of the town centre. he easiest way to reach the stadium from the town centre is to catch either Bus number 934 from the Hauptbahnhof to Stadion Wacholdestrasse or Bus 923 from the Hauptbahnhof to Stadion Kruppstrasse. The nearest S-Bahn station is at Schlenk which is a 10 minute walk away.