Wednesday, 14 November 2007

German/Dutch weekend

Old school floodlights - tick.

Alemania Aachen v Kaiserslautern.

A small drop of rain at Aachen.

Nick (left) and I at Rott-Weiss Oberhausen.

An oversized flag makes an appearance at VVV Venlo.

Rot-Weiss Oberhausen 3-2 SV Babelsburg 03 (10:11:07)

VVV Venlo 2-0 Sparta Rotterdam (10:11:07)

Alemannia Aachen 2-1 1. FC Kaiserslautern (11:11:07)

The North Rhine-Westphalia in Germany may be synonymous for being an industrial sprawl but for us it pretty much represents the equivalent of footballing heaven. It’s a region simply chock-a-block with teams and on any given weekend you can easily catch a game or three. Having previously been there to visit the bright lights of Borussia Dortmund, Schalke 04, VfL Bochum, MSV Duisburg and Cologne, we were keen to pay a visit to some of the areas lesser known teams.

Also on this trip we were attempting to do what possibly many others had done before but we had only dreamt of doing; two games in one day, in two different countries. To do this means commitment and by that I mean a 04:50 journey departure time from Hove to Cologne. No pain no gain eh!?

Now between you and I, a month or so ago, I didn’t know the city of Oberhausen or its team Rot-Weiss Oberhausen from a hole in the ground. You can keep your Eiffel Tower; say no to the Statue of Liberty and turn a blind eye to the pyramids because the main attraction in Oberhausen is (no giggling at the back) a gasometer. I know what you’re probably thinking; did I have enough film in my camera!?

Our pre-match consisted of several pints of Gruben Gold, ‘gold’ being the operative word and a small mountain of pork, sauerkraut and brockwursts. With that little lot consumed with vigour we were off to the match – a Regionalliga Nord affair which is the third tier of football in Germany.

The stadium at Oberhausen had two curved open terraces at either end. One of which sported a magnificent giant electronic scoreboard. There were two single tiered seated stands running along side the pitch. One of which contained the RWO ultras and the vocal element of home fans which we were in. Opposite stood a stand containing coughing policemen who were trying to avoid the smoke filling through the stand caused by flares let off by the travelling Babelsburg fans – more of them later.

On a pitch fit only for farming there were enough errors in the game to fill an Own Goals and Gaffes DVD – presented possibly by James Nesbitt. It made for wonderful entertainment. There was a sending off, terrible defending, woeful goalkeeping and five goals and all this for £6. Outstanding value in anyone’s book surely!?

The travelling Babelsburg ultras were a strange bunch. They were few in number but that didn’t stop some of them lighting flares, engaging in frenetic flag waving and at one stage - trying to break out of their section in a comedy attempt at getting at the home fans. They were very animated and yet, when their team scored they didn’t really seem to give a monkeys.

On the bus back to the station, fans of Swap Shop might like to note that my Brighton badge was swapped by a friendly local for a novelty RWO one complete with flashing lights. From Oberhausen we were now off for our second game of the day over the border in Holland in the city of Venlo.

We were wondering how we’d know when we had crossed the border from Germany into Holland. Was there to be any passport control or at the very least a big sign, or would we just notice the change of scenery perhaps. As it was we knew we were in Holland when all the passengers on the trains’ mobile phones went off and roaming texts welcoming us to the Netherlands were received.

Upon arrival at the Seacon Stadium – De Koel we made our way to the plush new offices to collect our tickets and then somehow found ourselves in the players bar. It was very posh, lined with pennants and served very bland beer. I’m not sure we should have been in there and those thoughts were confirmed when suddenly I was standing next to the match referee and his officials. Nobody seemed to mind however so we helped ourselves to some free programmes and a couple more bland beers.

From the salubrious surroundings of the players bar we then headed to the supporters bar. This place was filled with smoke and packed to the rafters. It was like walking into a packet of 20 Benson and Hedges. Holland seems to be one of those countries whereby smoking is compulsory and taught in schools.

For 25 euros our seats were near enough the best in the house. This was an Eredivisie match which is the Dutch equivalent of the Premier League. We were situated near to the half way line, seated in the front row of a single tiered stand running the length of the pitch.

A couple of banners draped around the stands caught our collective eyes just prior to kick off. From the fairly mundane ‘Come on VVV its show time’ to the rather extraordinary ‘Benders Venlo’ – draw your own conclusions.

VVV won the match 2-0 sending Sparta Rotterdam to the bottom of the league in the process. There were two very clear candidates for my man of the match award. Firstly, step forwards VVV Venlo full back Mike Mampuya - who overcame the handicap of a terrible hairdo to produce a match winning performance. He was just pipped to the post however by my good friend, the aforementioned referee. Pieter ‘Vinkers’ Vink who lit up the match with a series of wonderfully elaborate hand signals coupled with some fancy footwork – think Billy Bowden meets Wayne Sleep and I’m sure you’ll agree – we have our winner.

We awoke on Sunday at our base in Cologne to find the city in full on party mode – at 10am! Thousands upon thousands of people had taken to the streets in fancy dress and were already consuming staggering amounts of alcohol. We had arrived in the middle of the 11:11 Cologne Carnival which marks the beginning of the “fifth season of the year”. Evidently, anyone who is not a fool at carnival is foolish for the rest of the year.

Thirsty for more action we headed to Aachen close to the Belgian and Dutch borders for our third game of the weekend. To me this day represented all that football is and should be about. We were met by fan representatives of Alemannia Aachen outside the stadium who afforded us the warmest of welcomes, showering us with gifts as we chatted and sunk a few nice cold beers.

Inside the ground the tannoy was belting out club anthems which were being sung with great gusto. Fans were waving flags, scarves anything they could lay their hands on and this was an hour before kick off. The stadium was the very essence of ‘old skool’ with three steep banks of terracing and a rare old atmosphere to boot. Kaiserslautern had brought 2,000 fans with them who were giving it their all in the corner. There were smiling faces all round though and not a hint of trouble.

The match was a cracking end to end encounter refereed by a lady who commanded maximum respect. The raucous atmosphere spurred Aachen onto a 2-1 victory in conditions that ranged from bright sunshine to a ten minute hailstorm in the second half. It was a splendid advert for the Bundesliga 2 and safe to say we’ll be returning to that particular division for more of the same.

Back in Cologne the revellers had moved in off the streets to occupy every nook and cranny of every bar in the city. They were dancing on the tables and chairs and singing themselves hoarse. Sadly for us, it was time to leave them to it and head back home. Carlsberg don’t do European football weekends………..