In praise of Nena and her big balloons

“Ninety nine decisions treat, Ninety nine ministers meet
To worry, worry, super scurry, Call the troops out in a hurry
This is what we’ve been waiting for…This is it boys, this is war….”

If there has ever been a finer verse of German music written then I’m a Dutchman. Nena’s seminal 99 Red Balloons was a lesson in life, love, war and peace. When you’re 14 any older woman wearing a short leather dress, knee-high boots and fishnet tights on Top of the Pops looks good, even is she is singing a load of tosh and sounds like a strangled cat. Even my Dad remarked upon it back in the summer of 1984. “Remarkable set of lungs on her, young Stuart”…”She’s German, Dad”….”Really? I met a German Girl once. I was in Düsseldorf back in 1952. Hair everywhere. Piece of advice for you son. When you start courting, make sure the girl knows how to use a razor. And with that my Dad sent me out into the big bad world.

Fast forward near thirty years and I was back in Dussers, and Mr Last is fond of calling it. This is fast turning into our new European HQ for Continental operations. From here German footballing missions can be marshalled, with the borders of Holland and Belgium within striking distance if we ever get bored with German football (i.e never). We also had (mid)Field Commander Legg on patrols in the area at the behest of her Majesty (not in a bad way I should add just in case Mrs Legg is reading) and it was at his request that we dropped tools and headed to the land of Beat Uhre and leather trousers.  After August’s visit (see here, here and here), poor Kenny had run out of PG Tips, Marmite and Immac (obviously his Dad gave him similar advice to mine about German girls) so he sent out a distress call.

“Chaps…low on essentials. Please arrange air drop. P.S got tickets for Fortuna Düsseldorf v Bayern München and Paderborn v St Pauli if you fancy hanging around for a day or two.”

How could we resist?

Gatwick may have gone through a multi-million face lift but at 5am it is a soulless depressing place. The thought of people queueing to get a beer at Weatherspoons so early in the morning turns my stomach. But we were on holiday, albeit for 72 hours and so make mine a pint of JW Lees Chocoholic please. Big Deaksy (He’d been able to keep his “Big” title for this trip as even bigger Stephen Deacon wasn’t present) had joined Danny and I for the very short hop over the Channel, down the A1 and then throwing a right over Strasbourg to land at the heart of NordRhein Westfalen before most people back in Blighty had turned off their alarm clock.

It would be tempting to have simply parked our bums in the nearest Brauhaus, sinking litres of Alt beer whilst waiting for Kenny to finish work. Unfortunately, the work of the British Government isn’t a 9 to 5pm role here in Germany. Oh, no on a Friday they finish at 4pm. So we didn’t want to be gibbering wrecks by the time he changed out of his Derndl (well, no more than normal). Therefore a plan emerged thanks to the combined brains of Fuller and Last.

“What about a tour around Borussia Dortmund’s ground? Biggest stand in Europe, most passionate fans, best football tack in Europe?” Said Danny.

“What about a tour around the DAB brewery? 30 minutes of chat followed by two free litres of Dortmund’s Awesome Beer?” I retorted.

“Can we do both?” Of course we could. Add in an evening visit to Bochum versus Hertha Berlin and you have one of the best days ever – well since as a 15-year-old I found a copy of Mayfair featuring Grange Hill’s Claire Scott in the buff on a bus home from Gravesend (the magazine was on the bus, not Paula Ann Bland unfortunately).  God knows what StuPot must have felt when he saw a copy back in the day! Continue reading

All’s square in love, war and Leverkusen

Aldershot or Leverkusen?  Hampshire or NordRhein Westfalon?  The Recreation Ground or the BayerArena?  Questions we all ask ourselves.  But how many of us who choose the latter answers?  Hands up the Daggers Diary team.  Brian Parish reports on a Saturday well spent in Germany.

Let me ask you a question. How long do you reckon it takes to organise one of these trips? Our February jaunt to four different countries was about ten months from the original idea to actually going, while the regular trips to Spain are normally around three to four months from start to finish.

I only bring this up, as on Maundy Thursday, I was sitting in work, minding my own business when Dagenham Dan phoned up, saying that Neil had been on the phone, asking what was occurring the following weekend. Now, with the Daggers playing away at Aldershot, we had already made alternative arrangements to visit Southend Manor in the Essex Senior League. However, Neil’s idea was to go slightly further than the Essex coast. At this point, my thoughts instantly turned to how much this was going to cost, without even considering where we were going. The plan, as it transpired, was to go to Leverkusen.

Remember, this was late on the Thursday afternoon. By Friday lunchtime, as we were sitting in the club house prior to the Daggers game against Burton, all the bookings were done and sorted, and we were on our way. Apparently, Neil would have done it sooner, had he not been going out on the Thursday night.

So, having thought that the passports were now locked away for the remainder of the season, three of us (which would be Dagenham Dan, Liam and I) set out from Thurrock at 4am on the Saturday morning, on our way to meet Neil at Folkestone services, and our scheduled train crossing at 6.20am. Given the choice of Aldershot, Southend Manor or Leverkusen, I think we all know what we would have chosen. Continue reading

Over the Berlin Wall

A big welcome to these pages for Michael Miles who recent traveled to Berlin to see Hertha beat FC Köln.

This was my first visit to the Olympiastadion to see Hertha BSC (Berliner Sport-Club) since 2003. On that occasion I sat with about 40,000 other shivering souls marvelling at how the Germans could continue to put on a football match while much of the stadium was a building site preparatory to the 2006 World Cup.

Over four years the whole of the inside of the stadium was demolished and replaced, literally piece by piece. The redevelopment work included the removal of every limestone block to be cleaned, and then replaced, a task compared to completing a huge jigsaw puzzle. The colour of the running track which runs around the pitch (the stadium is a regular venue for athletics events) was changed to blue to match Hertha’s colours.

Thoughts drifted toward our own beloved “stadium of legends”, Wembley. That had closed in October 2000, with a new stadium due to open in 2003. With all the disputes and wrangling, the old Wembley was not even demolished until 2003, and as many a travelling fan can testify, did not properly open for business until the 2007 FA Cup Final. Continue reading

Pure genuis

I consider myself quite clever and switched on when it comes to financial reporting.  A few years ago I went through a very painful experience of watching my global employer literally meltdown in a multi-million dollar collapse.  I felt that if I had been able to understand the signs from the information I had access to I could have avoided the day when I left the building with my cardboard box under my arm and signing on with the DSS.  So I enrolled in the ACCA Financial Management course, a two-year part-time study that took in elements of Risk Management and Regulatory requirements (go on just ask me about the finer details of Sarbanes-Oxley Act 2002, section 404) so next time I would be older and wiser.

I scraped through the exams and coursework, gaining 51% overall, with a pass mark required of 50% and thus gained one of the highest financial qualifications you could get without being an auditor or an account. Never again would I be embarrassed in picking up a financial statement or annual report and not knowing what unliquidated damages were, or the difference between amortization and depreciation.  That was until I met Kieron O’Connor.

Kieron is possibly the most influential writer in the world of football on its finances.  To the thousands (18,216 to be precise as of 10am today) he is better known as The Swiss Ramble.  He is an award winning writer (as opposed to a blogger) who has been mentioned as one of the most authoritative sources of financial analysis by none other than Liverpool owner John W Henry, who described him via his Twitter feed as “Consistently remarkable, excellent analyses on the business of football”.  He is frequently featured in the Independent and The Guardian Football Weekly and to top off a fine year last weekend he was voted the Best Blogger of the Year by the Football Supporters Federation at their annual awards.

What relevance does this all have.  Well, Kieron is also a top chap and great company.  Living in Zürich sort of precludes him from our normal regular meet ups but when the opportunity arises he is as keen as mustard for a game in a random part of the countryside.  As luck would have it (and I genuinely mean that) a work trip to Zürich coincided with the Uhren Cup.  What do you mean you have never heard of it?  It is in its 50th year and includes two Swiss teams and two from elsewhere in Europe.  Each team plays two games and the winner is the one with the best record.  This year the teams invited were Young Boys Berne, FC Basel, Hertha Berlin and West Ham United.  Unbelievable Jeff.  My club playing just short hop on a train from Zürich. Continue reading

A Teutonic Treble – As told by Kevin….

A guest report this week as I have been effectively been serving a week football ban from CMF. Just because I cannot have fun abroad doesn’t mean the rest of you have to suffer….so its over to Kevin for his trip to Germany…

“For the European football traveller who doesn’t want to miss too many of his own teams domestic games, the Champions League and UEFA Cup scheduling is an ideal opportunity for an overseas trip or two during the season. It is announced far in advance and it doesn’t tend to move at short notice on a TV company’s demand. This time last week, I was off to Germany again for three new grounds for me.

Stuttgart 1Tuesday started with a trip to Stuttgart. Armed with the best of European stadium literature (European Football – A Fans Guide by an chance – ED), we boarded an early morning flight from Stansted with the stereotypically efficient Germanwings. They are fast becoming my favourite airline, they never seem to be too busy, they are incredibly reliable, pleasant and comfortable and they are always reasonably priced (£35 single). With time on our side, we took the easy to navigate local rail service from the Airport to the central station and then a local tram to our hotel near the Gottlieb Daimler Stadion. The stadium is undergoing renovations which will see the end of the running track so it is only 3 sided at present. This made tickets difficult to get hold of, but not impossible. What was more troublesome was that Stuttgart had Glasgow Rangers in their group so the club would not sell tickets to UK residents until after the Rangers game had passed. We also experienced something similar to this at Wolfsburg. It was inconvenient for a traveller trying to arrange flights etc in advance but tickets eventually became available on the official website, as well as on and Seatwave. When we arrived at the ground, they were also available on the night.

After a few beers in the City, we made our way closer to the stadium and there were a couple of reasonable sized bars, well populated, near the club shop and Porsche Arena.  The match programme was free and piled up on the floor inside the stadium. Our seats cost 35 Euro and were in the back row of the upper tier, about level with the goal line. As one side of the stadium was completely open, it was about now that we first spotted the temperature difference between Germany and UK, it was a touch chilly.  As for the game, Seville ran out easy 3-1 winners and it featured some comedy goal keeping from Jens Lehman.

Wolfsburg 1A reasonably early start was needed on Wed am as we had a train to catch to Wolfsburg for our 2nd game, VFL Wolfsburg v Besiktas. German trains are superb but they are not cheap, this journey took 3 ½ hours (1 change) and cost £60 single. On arriving in Wolfsburg, there appeared to be a vast number of Besiktas fans displaying their colours proudly. A quiet afternoon in the bars kept us out of the dropping temperatures. In one bar, we got talking with a couple of locals who couldn’t quite believe what we were doing there and were even more surprised when I told them that European football travelling is popular in the UK and people go to more obscure games than I had chosen. These gents showed us where to get the bus to the ground from, although the ground was only a 20 min walk from the train station.

As mentioned earlier, tickets for this game were not easy to get hold of, it was Wolfsburg’s first ever season in the Champions League, the stadium only held 30,000 and they had a well supported Turkish team and Manchester United in their group. This meant Wolfsburg were only selling tickets in packages for all three games and initially, they would not issue tickets to a UK address or someone without a booking history. Again, they eventually relented on this, once tickets went on sale for individual matches and they realised that we didn’t want tickets for the United game.

The game itself was pretty terrible. I had been looking forward to this one as I’d seen a fair bit of Wolfsburg on TV last season and they had a great centre forward pairing (Dzeko and Grafite) but Grafite is currently off form and got himself sent off. The game finished 0-0. Much more entertaining were the Besiktas supporters, I had been fortunate to visit their stadium with Tottenham in the UEFA Cup and it was a superb experience. You end up watching them as much as you do the action on the pitch, (this wasn’t so much of a problem today!), they had travelled in good numbers and were prominent in 3 of the stands with no hint of trouble. Their vocal backing is excellent.The match programme cost 1 Euro and was available from vendors outside of the stadium.

Berlin 1Thursday, it was back on the train to Berlin for a couple of days. Hertha Berlin were at home to Heerenveen in the Europa League. Berlin was an excellent venue, easy to get around and obviously plenty of history to keep you busy, the Olympic site itself was enough to take up the best part of a day, I’d recommend a visit up the Bell Tower. Berlin has a vibrant nightlife in the East and you are never going to be short of a midnight kebab. It was really, really cold though. Tickets for this game were easy to come by on Hertha’s official website although they would not send tickets to the UK so we had to collect them on the match day.

There is a U-Bahn and a S-Bahn station at the Olympic Stadium. If you use the S-Bahn as you leave the station, on your left, there is a programme vendor selling a vast array of programmes from many clubs and dates, this is something you very rarely see in the UK nowadays. There is also a huge bar in front of you and you have to cross Jesse Owens Strasse. If you use the U-Bahn, the route to the stadium is more photographic as it brings you up on an approach where the Olympic rings are displayed.

The ground obviously has a running track and due to the low attendance, the upper tiers were not open. The game finished 1-0 to the visitors, Hertha are not having a good season with just 2 points and being bottom of the table at present. The stadium does present some excellent photo opportunities. There was a programme available but it was in the form of a free 8 page miniature card, it was disappointing.

I very much enjoy my visits to Germany, I find the people hospitable and the diet of sausages and lager is much to my liking. The atmosphere the supporters generate is better than anything you will experience in the Premier League. I’ll be back over in November for Fortuna Dusseldorf v Energie Cottbus and Eintracht Frankfurt v Borussia Monchengladbach.”