Archive for the 'Bundesliga' Category

Apr 27 2011

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

Published by under Bundesliga

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!





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Sep 26 2010

Werder v HSV

Published by under Bundesliga

After a few weeks watching my football from a distance, what better way for me to get over the withdrawal symptoms than with a trip to the North German derby?  While regular readers may wonder why the change of tact from the usual Slovak stuff, as mentioned in my “About” page, I am more than partial to the experiences offered by both the Bundesliga and the Eredivisie. Being based in Holland this is often a much more practical undertaking.

I really love the passion on the terraces so once posted to Holland I decided to pick and stick with a team from both Holland & Germany.  Living in Den Haag, ADO was the obvious choice in Holland, but more on them later.  This post is all about Werder and my love for the Gruenn-Weiss was born one day in Dusseldorf in 2009.  We’d bought tickets to Leverkusen v Werder (Leverkusen were playing in Dusseldorf while their stadium was under construction) and even though we were in ‘home’ seats, we were surrounded by thousands of Werder fans.  Being part of a travelling army of over 5,000 was quite an experience, and from that day on I was hooked on Werder.  Werder are a genuinely popular team, they play exciting, attacking football and have a large and passionate following.

There are several stadiums in Germany within 3 hours drive of Den Haag so until this weekend I’d only ever seen Werder away.  Last season I got to Bochum, Cologne, Hamburg, Monchengladbach & Austria Wien, all with Werder, but I still hadn’t been to the Weser Stadion in Bremen.  When I discovered that through work we had the possibility to get VIP seats, I had the perfect opportunity to put that right.  Not that I would have a problem getting my own tickets, through my membership I can usually get tickets without many problems.  This time I had also applied for my own tickets and did receive 2 standing places in the specially designated ‘singing area’.  As we’d already arranged to do this work trip, I begrudgingly handed over the €16 standing places to my mate @2_bundesliga and his girlfriend, and waited to see what the Werder VIP experience was all about.

First impression was as always in Germany, the general good natured atmosphere in town before the match, with Werder & HSV fans mixing without any issues.  We had the same experience last year in Hamburg and how refreshing a change this is when compared to the ridiculously restricted away travel rules in Holland.  It’s quite common to see a couple walking hand in hand one wearing Werder colours and the other with HSV.  If only I’d not stupidly forgotten the battery to my camera!

After a few beers in town & the obligatory Bratwurst, we got the boat to the stadium.  Yes, the boat!  This was one of the most civilised ways to arrive at a stadium.  With Werder’s ground located literally on the banks of the river, a boat runs through town bringing fans to the stadium 1 hour before kick-off.  Obviously the boat had a bar and beer was in plentiful supply.  Werder fans sat with HSV fans in the sunshine on a river cruise approaching the “highest-risk category” North German derby.  My Dutch colleagues were impressed.

The walk from the river banks to the VIP entrance took us past the “Gasteingang” and thousands of HSV fans were queuing up to get in.  There was the usual exchange of banter between fans but the heavy police presence appeared to have things under control.  I really didn’t expect what was to come from the VIP experience.  Normally I’m much happier on the terraces than in the atmosphere-lacking world of the corporate high-fliers.  However I can’t say a negative word about how this was organised at Werder.  Even though it was just 30 minutes before kick-off, we could help ourselves to the hot buffet and had our reserved table available for a good feed.  Free beer of course.  Leaflets circulated with all the latest scores from the days’ earlier matches, excellent service, you really didn’t feel like you were in a football stadium.

I was adamant I’d be in my (cushioned) seat at least 10 minutes before kick off to soak up the atmosphere and that didn’t disappoint.  Well it disappoint in the way that the HSV fans were exceptionally loud & totally overwhelmed any chants from the Werder end.  HSV must have had a full allocation of around 4,000 fans and they were right up the back of the stand under a heavy roof.  Their singing and the acoustics in that part of the stadium were phenomenal,  these were some serious decibels reverberating from my right.  Werder fans were trying of course, but they were on an open terrace with a tower crane for company.  That end of the stadium is being reconstructed and it’s the poor home fans who have to suffer at the moment.  No worries, the volume picked up soon enough!  Amazing atmosphere, real Bundesliga and an experience to savour.

Players enter the arena. Serious noise from the away end.

The match got off to a slow start, and the main focus of attention was the incessant singing from the HSV end.  However it did come to life in the 25th minute, Marko Marin, the liveliest Werder player, ran through and put a shot in which with quite a lot of luck, ended up in the back of the net courtesy of a slightly unfortunate Guy Demel own goal.  3 minutes later the home fans joy was enhanced with a long range free kick from Aaron Hunt powered in by the head of Hugo Almeida!  2-0 for Werder at half time.  Time for Bier & Currywurst.

The 2nd half produced the inevitable HSV comeback, a lucky goal by Van Nistelrooy from a dodgy back-heel which somehow went in and shortly after the away end nearly exploded after a great strike from substitute Jonathan Pitroipa.  2-2.  After Werder’s poor start to the season things didn’t look good.  However they held their nerve, Schaaf got his tactics right and the winning goal came 5 minutes from time through Almeida.  This sent the home fans into raptures, myself included.  Hopefully this is the result which will kick-start Werder’s season and if Marin can continue this form he will be one of the players of the season.  A player who I hadn’t seen before also impressed, Brazilian Wesley was all over the field and a really energetic and skilful player.

We enjoyed a bit more of the hospitality and eventually made our way out of the ground at around the same time as the HSV fans who had been kept behind for 40 minutes after the final whistle.  There was an extreme police presence which we skirted relatively easily and made our way on into town.  A nice atmosphere in town gave us a great end to a great day.  I didn’t witness any crowd problems whatsoever, as is usually the case with my trips to football in Germany.

However I have read this morning that several HSV fans were badly injured in a stampeded around their exit point of the stadium.  The police were determined to keep the HSV fans segregated and the delay in letting them out led to a lot of panic amongst some of the fans.  Only 2 trains were left to take the fans back to Hamburg and they’d missed the first one due to the delay.  I think there will be a full enquiry into these events, especially after the recent tragedy at the Duisburg Love Parade.  Perhaps the police didn’t handle things quite as well as I thought ..

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