Apr 27 2011

FC Nuremberg v FSV Mainz [with a hint of Slovakia]

Published by at 1:24 pm under Bundesliga and tagged: , , ,

FC Nuremberg v FSV Mainz would not normally leap out of the Bundesliga calendar screaming ‘I’m the season’s must-see fixture’ but the league table in the week ahead of it, and the fact that only three rounds of games were to follow, suggested that it was effectively going to be a shoot-out to decide which of the two sides would take Germany’s final Europa League place.

Every game is a big game in the Bundesliga

Also, with Marek Mintal and Róbert Mak in the home ranks, and Radoslav Zabavník and Miroslav Karhan contracted to Mainz, there was potential interest for those who hold Slovak football close to their hearts. It had been clear for a while, however, that we might have to be content with only one Slovak making an appearance. Zabavník and Karhan have been injured and the latter, contracted to Spartak Trnava for the 2011/2012 season, has fallen out with FSV coach Thomas Tuchel. Mintal is still a hero at Nuremberg – he was recently voted by fans into the club’s all-time best XI and, of the current squad, his name appears most frequently on replica shirts – but he makes only rare substitute appearances these days. So it was Mak, an exciting young attacking player who has figured in Slovakia’s Under-21 side, who offered hope that we would, after all, see a Slovak in action.

This was my first ever experience of German football and it would be remiss to launch into a description of on-field events without at least trying to convey a sense of the overall ‘experience’. Nuremburg’s ground is out of town. On hearing those words, anyone familiar with modern English grounds would be conjuring up images of a faceless industrial park or placeless shopping-centre. Instead, the Frankenstadion is in an area of huge historical significance. It is close to the Nazi Party’s old congress-hall and rally grounds, large parts of which returned, after the war, to their original use as recreational parkland. The Volkfest, a cross between a fair and a food and beer festival, was taking place there on the day of the Mainz game and huge numbers of fans were already enjoying the festivities by the time we arrived, a full four hours before kick-off.

"we love you Volksfest, we do, we love you Volksfest we do..."

The stadium itself is not one of Germany’s most spectacular. With its apparently light building materials and sleek but rather bland floodlights, it looks as if it was constructed with a careful eye on the budget. But it is interesting nonetheless. Its octagonal shape is unusual and the vast outdoor (but largely shaded) concourse is an ideal place to enjoy more food and beer, if by some strange oversight, you didn’t get enough of either at the Volkfest.

The Approach

Inside, you realise, partly due to the sunken level of the pitch, that the initially modest look of the ground is deceptive. And once the place fills up – all 48,548 tickets had sold out well in advance of this fixture – you know that the running-track round the pitch is not going to negatively affect the atmosphere. The noise and flag-waving of the home fans as the players took the field were simply magnificent and never let up during the game, even though the 90 minutes were to prove rather frustrating. Mainz had been given a fairly small allocation – it would be interesting to know if visiting clubs are ever offered bigger ones – but their supporters, many of whom appeared to be making an Easter weekend away of it, were also in decent voice.

Feel the buzz

It was obvious before the game that Nuremberg, two points behind their opponents and with harder fixtures ahead, needed to go for the win, while Mainz’s principle aim would be to avoid defeat. Once the action had started, it was also clear that the visitors knew how to best fulfil their aims and that the home team didn’t have what was required to break them down. The closest Nuremberg came to a goal was when Mehmet Ekici hit the post with a curling shot direct from a free-kick. For their part, Mainz had two clear opportunities, both of which resulted from mistakes by the hosts but Elkin Soto (in the first-half) and the otherwise impressive André Schurrle (late on) missed them.

As we’d anticipated, Mak came on for the final 15 minutes and showed that he has both considerable potential and also a few things to learn. His pace gave Nuremberg a dimension they’d been missing but it was his loss of possession, in failing to anticipate a pass, that led to Schurrle’s chance. He was also involved in a moment of high controversy in the very last minute of the match. The Mainz centre-backs inexplicably allowed a long ball to sail over their heads and, as it bounced behind them, goalkeeper Christian Wetklo, racing from his goal, scooped it away from the advancing Mak with his hand. The keeper himself was clearly outside his penalty area when he made contact with the ball, the question was where the ball was. TV replays later confirmed initial impressions that it had not crossed the 18-yard line and that Nuremberg should thus have had a free-kick and Wetklo shown a red card. Dodgy last minute decisions in a tight, important game? Where else, I wonder, have we heard that recently?

I don’t want to labour the Slovakia comparison too much. The packed S-Bahn train to Nuremberg city-centre afterwards certainly bore no similarities to the experience of getting away from a Žilina, Slovan or Dubnica match. What I will say is that the relative dullness of  Nuremberg v Mainz didn’t detract at all from one of the best football days out I’m ever likely to have. Premier League chief exceutive (or whatever his title is) Richard Scudamore ought to be dragged along to a Bundesliga match (by the hair if necessary). He should experience the beer-drinking, the conviviality, the atmosphere in the stadium, the fact that the 90 minutes forms just one part of a day of fun and enjoyment and then try to tell us, with his face straight, that he still believes the English top division offers the best all-round entertainment in the world.

Meanwhile, I will try to get my excitement up for Žilina v Senica on Friday evening. If it has to be a draw, and I fear it will be, I hope there will at least be some goals. I’m happy to forgive the 0-0 in Germany but could do without seeing another one back on home soil.

James Baxter

Souvenir t-shirt, tick. Pint of German beer, tick. Happy James Baxter, tick!





7 responses so far

7 Responses to “FC Nuremberg v FSV Mainz [with a hint of Slovakia]”

  1.   britskibelasion 27 Apr 2011 at 9:40 pm

    Great story James, I think a lot of readers of this blog and on the Twitter network also appreciate the Bundesliga for a lot of the reasons you allude to in your report !

    Certainly I can vouch that a first taste of this league after watching Slovak domestic football week-in week-out must have been quite a [pleasant] shock to the system! Top choice for an Easter weekend away.

    I would imagine that Mainz have a relatively modest away following by Bundesliga standards and other teams would be allocated more tickets relative to their demand, anything up to 5,000 away tickets are usually available if the visiting team requests that many, especially in these big stadiums.

    @HuddoHudson was asking if you’ve got any pictures I can add to the report?!

  2.   James Baxteron 28 Apr 2011 at 1:51 pm

    Cheers Dan. Re the away allocations, I’m sure you’re right. I gathered from the programme that Nuremberg had had four sell-outs before the Mainz game – for Schalke, Dortmund, Bayern and Bremen. The first three would almost certainly have had bigger allocations and Bremen probably would have (though Nuremberg were in their purple patch at the time of that game), which means Sunday’s home turnout was the best all season.

    I’ve enjoyed a lot of what I’ve read on the German football experience – by you about trips to Bremen, by Danny and others on EFW etc – and it always comes across how much fun it is from the fan’s point of view. Once I’d seen it for myself, however, I felt I had to add my voice, however unoriginal it probably seems.

    We were nominally supporting Nuremberg on Sunday but if, as seems likely, Mainz make it into Europe, I’ll be looking out for them. The team was quietly impressive and the fans seemed a good bunch. They move into a new ground (33,000 capacity) next season too.

  3.   James Baxteron 29 Apr 2011 at 12:29 pm

    Not my pics, by the way. Lenka was in control of both me and the camera!

  4.   Anneon 29 Apr 2011 at 4:00 pm

    Hi James! Thanks for this lovely report! As an American fan of Mainz and the whole Bundesliga I always love first-hand reports and of course the fact that this one included my team made it even better. I’m sorry it wasn’t a spectacular game, but given our usual frantic pressing style and tendency for silly mistakes at the back (like Wetklo’s – should have been punished for that one) I was impressed at how effectively Tuchel got the squad to shut up shop. I’m tentatively hopeful that Europa is on the cards!

    Overall it sounds like such a lovely experience, which is what I gather every time someone writes about it, as you mention. I’ll be in Germany for my own Bundesliga action in August so I really look forward to experiencing this for myself. Thanks for the great report!

  5.   James Baxteron 30 Apr 2011 at 1:23 am

    Anne, Thanks a lot for reading and for the comment. Hope you enjoy the Bundesliga as much as I did when you go in August and that you see a better game. One thing I’ll say about our game, though, is that it was good to see one that meant something, as opposed to a pointless end of season kickabout.

    As I hope I at least implied, Mainz quite impressed me. Schurrle especially looks a good player. They should make the Europa League now, though they need a couple of home wins to be sure – and those have been hard to come by since that incredible start to the season.

    If it’s not too personal question, do you have a particular connection with Mainz or did you choose them for some reason?
    It’s just that it’s nice to hear of someone supporting a club like that from afar rather than the usual Chelsea, Man Utd, Barcelona etc

  6.   Todon 30 Apr 2011 at 1:43 am

    James, I wish I could have been there with you enjoying a pint or three! Looks like you had a great time

  7.   John Wilcoxon 01 May 2011 at 3:36 pm

    Glad you had such a positive experience of German football, James. With ticketing prices being around half of what one would expect to pay in England and the emphasis on having a good day out it is little wonder that attendances are so high out there. Hope you see a goal soon!

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