Monday, 29 November 2010

James Richardson

We belong to Jimbo

Cast your eyes skywards on a clear night and, if you're lucky, you might just catch a glimpse of a small pod circulating in near earth orbit. Contained within that small capsule is a group of people who - twice weekly - produce a master-class in football punditry, namely, The Football Weekly.

Rallying those troops together in an attempt to reawaken Blighty with some European footie news interspersed with the odd welcoming pun is James Richardson, AC Jimbo to his mates. He brought us gold with Football Italia in our teens, delivered frankincense with the aforementioned podcast and European football newspaper round-ups, and completed the hat-trick with a long overdue presenting stint on Match of the Day ITV4 darts.

I wanted to do something special for this: the holy of holies. So, in a nod to Cash for Question in Q Magazine, but without the cash bit, I asked some friends of EFW to pitch the great man a question. Ladies and gentlemen, it gives me no greater pleasure to welcome James Richardson to European Football Weekends:

Sir, as a young(ish) journalist, I was once deployed to ask you questions about the forthcoming World Cup. Instead, we ended up nattering about Serie A for 45 mins and I ended up with a tape full of fascinating, but ultimately useless material. Firstly, does this happen a lot and secondly, how do you maintain your passion for Italian football in the face of so many scandals? (Iain Macintosh,football writer and author) First question; not as often as it should. Second question; if football leagues are like girls, Serie A was, back in the 90’s, the one we all desired but thought was way out of our class. That she then turned out to be a bit of a tart underneath made her, for some of us, all the more intriguing.

How did you pitch up at Football Italia for Channel 4? (Footie and Music)
Funnily enough there was an actual girl involved. I met a young lady from Rome, as the old limerick goes. This lead to me learning Italian, which led to a desperate tv exec calling me in a couple of weeks before the show launched to have a go at being a football reporter. Doesn’t scan very well, does it?

I've heard that you didn't care for football until you got the Football Italia gig, is there any truth in this? How long did it take for you to fall in love with the game, if at all? (Rocco Cammisola, The Football Express) I’m not sure I am ‘in love’ with the game. Sometimes its unpredictability can take your breath away, sometimes it can feel like history unfolding before your eyes, but sometimes it’s FIFA world cup 2010. So I like it - love it on occasions - but not always.

From your time covering Italian football, what was your most memorable match? (Swiss Ramble) Sadly, Genoa – Milan in 1995. A Genoa supporter was murdered, the game was suspended and an angry mob took over the streets around the Marassi. After we filmed a bit of the disturbances we were surrounded by Ultras, causing my film crew to drive off at high speed and me to get a genuine black eye. Jimbo on the front line! However, so abject did I look to the burly fellows responsible that one of them was delegated to escort me out of the area, which he did, conversationally pointing out the fleeing police cars and burning vehicles as we passed. A very singular afternoon.

For on the pitch business, I remember doing a Sampdoria Milan game with Ruud Gullit turning out for ‘Doria that was a bit of a cracker. Then that Milan – Verona match in 90-something when George Weah went off on his pitch-long scoring run, and Inter Brescia at the start of Ronaldo’s first season there, when Alvaro Recoba made his scene-stealing debut in. Plus Roma – Parma, when Roma won the title and Channel 4 cut to a black and white film before the match ended.

In recognition of your legendary "duet" with Elvis Costello on Football Italia, what is your favourite Costello album? Elvis Costello’s Greatest Hits. Failing that, Armed Forces or This Year’s Model.

Is there any chance of a reunion with Elvis Costello on the Football Weekly pod? Elvis, I’m ready to ditch our current grumpy irishman whenever you give the word.

When Gazza moved back to the UK did you think "Well that's the end of this cushy number?" (Stuart Fuller, The Ball is Round) Actually no; Paul hadn’t been involved too much in the show anyway through his injury-ravaged final season at Lazio. Plus Paul Ince was just arriving.

There are huge cultural differences across Italy, so when you had to present the show outside the northern "heartlands" were you treated with suspicion like us southerners are when we go up north? Not in the least. Almost everyone was very welcoming.

Do you see Serie A having a renaissance period in the UK? Similar to the one we saw from '92 onwards. Or, what's stopping that from happening? (Tim Hill, Talking About Football) Not in the next decade. Why? Money.

What's your favourite cake? (Andrew Gibney, Gib Football Show) A proper home-made Panettone, or anything with chocolate.

Do you ever actually eat the cake/ice cream? (Jacob Steinberg, Guardian, Football Weekly) Do I ever!

What one lesson could the English Premier League learn from Serie A? (Ollie Irish,Who Ate All The Pies) Oh dear. At last a huge opportunity to answer back all those jingoistic premier-centric English clichés about the Italian game. Open net! Must. Not. Miss… Er, home grown owners?

Who are your favourite group of fans in Italy and what sets them apart from English fans? (Andy Hudson, Gannin' Away) I don’t have one to be sincere. Perugia supporters are a decent bunch, as can Neapolitans. Any support with a healthy dose of self irony, basically.

Do you still get a Christmas card from Gigi Casiraghi after eulogising him on Football Italia? (Andy Brassell, All or Nothing TV) Gigi was my love that dare not speak its name. The time I asked him to rub my face in a plate of cold spaghetti, and he complied! Do it again, Gigi! Do it!

During your time as anchor of Football Italia did you interview anyone who was visibly inebriated? Or did you encounter any particularly annoying/awkward guests? (Rocco Cammisola, The Football Express) In answer to your first question; visibly, no. But I worked with gazza for 3 years. Annoying guests were few and far between, although I remember Alen Boksic being rather difficult. And Christian Vieri used to refuse to speak English to me.

Italy were effectively eliminated from the World Cup by a Marek Hamsik-led Slovakia. I was wondering what that result did to enhance Hamsik's reputation in Italy and what effect did it have on his popularity throughout the country? And how is he doing at Napoli this season? (Dan Richardson, Britski Belasi) There was no Ahn-type backlash at all that I’m aware of (the south Korean who scored the penalty that put Italy out in ’02). Still, it was an entirely different set of circumstances; Italy were so abject this time that they barely noticed who put them out of their misery. Wasn’t that the best 10 minutes of the Cup though – when Italy suddenly decided to go for it at the end of that game and Quagliarella scored that blinder? Frustrating.

Just how bad is the violence and racism in Italian football? (James Boyes, Lewes Football Club) Ugh. Bad enough. Still waiting for the happy ending on this one.

You continue to be a big influence on The Football Ramble. We all remember your Gazzetta Football Italia stint with great fondness. What we'd most like to know is, which player from your time reporting on Serie A would you most like to share an ice-cream with, and why? (Luke Moore, Football Ramble) Beppe Signori. Just an all-round star, on and off the pitch.

In your opinion who was the better side - Arrigo Sacchi's Milan 'Immortals' of 1989 & 1990, Fabio Capello's Milan 'Invincibles' of 1991 to 1994, or Jose Mourinho's treble winning Internazionale of last season? Oh, and could you have a look at this? (David Hartrick, I Know Who Cyrille Makanaky Was) Sacchi’s side! Woof!

Why do we see so little of you? Does being so well know as the Football Italia man hamstring you in terms of mainstream presenting gigs? (Dan Brennan; World Soccer magazine, Libero Language Lab) It must be that. It’s really putting my Hollywood career back too.

For many years I've considered it one of life's travesties that you don't present Match of the Day, and I know I'm not alone in thinking that. Have you been offered the chance to present the show and is it something you'd like to do? (Jeff,In Bed With Maradona) I would absolutely love it. LOVE it!!!

If you got the *whispers* MOTD gig, how would you change it and who would be your wingmen? (Damon Threadgold, The Real FA Cup) Adebayor and Shearer. And it would be all about Serie A.

Were you flattered by the Internet campaign to get you the MotD2 gig earlier this year? (James Maw, Four Four Two magazine) I was very flattered.

What were you thinking letting me in the pod bay doors that time James? Anyway, would you consider giving up waiting on British TV and coming overseas to host a North American targeted show on ESPN? (Richard Whittall, A More Splendid Life) Come back Villasupportgroup, by night known as Richard; you were excellent. All well in Toronto? Give me a bell when this ESPN thing is sorted, it sounds like fun.

Have you ever considered going into radio? Have 5Live or the geezers on Talk Sport ever come knocking? Ok, let’s just simplify this: I’m available and will often work for cake.

You sing (arf!) the praises of some 80's bands on the pod. Did you ever want to be a music journalist or is football your first and only passion? When I was little, I very much wanted to be a Dee Jay.

Do you have a favourite football league team or any fond memories of watching any football outside of the Premier League? (David Bevan, The Seventy Two) I remember going to see Swansea City at Spurs on – I think – boxing day in 198-whatever it would have been for Swansea to be in the First Division. Not a particularly fond memory though, compared to some I could mention.

The thick end of 10,000 people sign up for your monthly tweet. Twitter is not really for you is it? I genuinely would like to tweet more but I have the twitter version of stage fright.

How do you keep Barry Glendenning awake during your Serie A round-up on the pod and what was it like sharing a room with the 'rebels choice' at Euro 2008? Electrical currents. Far be it from me to shatter illusions, but Barry is no rebel in the domestic environment. Despite his punishing schedule of bar-frequenting in Vienna he would squeeze time in between hangovers to keep our apartment spick and span. Until I destroyed the place by accident on our final night, that is.

Have you ever actually seen/met Sid Lowe or does he exist in your world solely as a voice from yonder like Holly (the computer) from Red Dwarf? What a silly idea. That’s Jonathan Wilson.

Why do fingers and toes wrinkle when left in water? (Beat The First Man) Time actually passes faster in water than it does in air, so what you’re actually witnessing is old age in preview. Fact.

Do you?

You'd be mad as a box of frogs not to download the Football Weekly podcast from The Guardian.

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Like this? Then you'll probably like other EFW interviews with; Barry Glendenning, Sid Lowe, John Ashdown, Sean Ingle, Jacob Steinberg and Raphael Honigstein.

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Sunday, 28 November 2010

Brighton v FC United of Manchester

Category C, You're Havin' a Laugh

Brighton 1-1 FC United of Manchester (27:11:10)

Brighton and Hove Albion have three options when it comes to attracting the eye of the national press; Flirt with extinction - and be rescued by tireless efforts of its supporters, race clear at the top of League One with a colourful boss at the helm - and a shiny new stadium to move into, or draw FC United of Manchester in the FA Cup.

One argument levelled against FC United is that they get a disproportionate amount of press coverage considering they ply their trade in the Northern Premier Division. This is undoubtedly true, but it's because they're so newsworthy. And their fans have certainly struck a chord with us here at European Football Weekends.

Unfortunately, the hype and hoopla of this match got the better of the Safety Advisory Group (SAG) who - in their infinite wisdom - decided to grade this a Category C match, meaning that, in their view, it carried the highest risk of disorder. This was the first time this had occurred in five years, since Crystal Palace rocked up to Withdean. That I could understand. This, less so.

Initially, on internet forums (I know), both fans went in swinging virtual windmills and accusing each other of all sorts of nonsense. A resemblance of calm was eventually restored when those fans took a step back and realised they had a lot of common ground; neither of these two clubs would exist if it wasn't their supporters - two of the best sets of fans in the country when it comes to campaigning and tackling the issues of mod£rn football.

The FC United fans arrive. Did they rampage through the streets of Brighton beforehand? Did they 'eck as like.

Up for the cup.

When the seagull follows the trawler......

Ultimately, this fixture was drawn out of the hat a year early. Had it arrived 12 months later, then FC United would have been afforded the luxury of a 3,500 away allocation - instead of the derisory 845 - and we'd have all been moaning about ticket prices instead. £10-12 for this game by the way - no own goal there. Incidentally, a ticket to football in 2010 shouldn't cost more than £15. If you think that's bonkers, then tap 'Germany + football + supporters not customers' into Google.

So, what should have been a football fiesta celebrating FCUM's biggest game in their short history had kicked off on a sour note. In my view, what puts the magic in the FA Cup is the fact that grounds can teem with away fans on days like these. Football without fans is well worn cliche, and with good reason. Those empty seats at Withdean on Saturday should have been filled with the FC United fans whom had to be content with a seat back at the Flixton Cricket Club, where the game was beamed back to.

There is some good news though; FCUM can rejoice in one decision this week, that of Manchester Council City's Council Committee (MCCCC!) whom approved planning permission for the club to build a new 5,000 ground and community sports complex at Ten Acres Lane, Newton Heath (Newton Heath!). Brighton fans, for their part, have enjoyed a season in which the Gus Bus has chugged through the gears nicely, and arrived at the top of League One. Thousands of Seagulls have flocked to recent away games; 3,394 at Charlton, 2,519 at Peterborough and 3,105 at Southampton. Woof!

Time for a beer I think don't you? I met up with a few old faces in the pubs of Brighton prior to the match. A few pangs of guilt about not attending Withdean for a while were dispatched with every passing pint of Harvey's, and anecdotes of following the blue and white wizards home and away for over 20 years: we were up for the cup - and ready to witness some tippy-tappy football in the Albion's (not quite) Olympic stadium. £10 for a waft of magic from Elliot 'Benno' Bennett's boot anyone? - rather.

Cries of "Bring on United" rang out across the ground for five minutes or more before the match kicked off. Part of the appeal of FCUM is their vociferous supporters. Karl Marginson - the clubs one, and only manager - described FC United as a 90/90 club, where 90% of fans sing for 90 minutes. Today, they were a 100/96 club. To the tune of Anarchy in the UK then: I am an FC fan, I am mancunian, I know what I want, And I know how to get it, I wanna destroy Glazer and Sky, Cos I wanna be at FC. The songs came thick, fast and loud. The only ditties I didn't quite get were ones related to Eric Cantona. Yes, he endorsed the club, but why not sing about the players in your own team now?

The Theatre of Trees.

The ultra club.

Keep of the pitch IN THOSE TRAINERS.

Sorry, I couldn't resist this snap.

For new readers: this isn't really the site to head to for an actual match report. Others do that much better than I ever could. I will say that FCUM stopper Sam Ashton chose arguably the biggest day in the clubs history to play an absolute blinder between the sticks. A performance in which he added the icing to his cake by saving a last minute penalty, thus securing an unlikely draw for the away team - who were positioned 120 places further down the football pyramid than their table-topping opponents.

It was also so cold that the Albion substitute, Spaniard Franciso Sandaza, took to the field of play sporting a pair of black tights. That wasn't the worst fashion faux pas though; one of the linesmen had a pair of trainers (trainers!) on. Letter of complaint to the FA on it's way as I type, obviously.

At half time I met with Andy Walsh, FC United Chief Executive. Earlier in the week, he was afforded just four minutes to put forward the club's case for that new stadium in Newton Heath. "Everybody took the piss" he said "It normally takes me four minutes to say my name." We all laughed. I was particularly interested to talk to Walsh, because he'd helped sell the notion of a community club - and gave a morale boosting leg up in the process - to Lewes FC. This community, co-operative club football lark could well catch on you know.

I ended up tapping my foot to the ground, not only to keep warm, but - along with a bit of hum - also to join in with the songs of the travelling support. "I wish I was in their end" said my good friend Mr Cherry. We're both Brighton fans, but it was hard not to get swept up in the mood emanating from the away seats - seemingly several hundred yards behind one of the goals. Best and loudest song of the day (to the tune of the Beach Boys, Sloop John B): Hoist up the John B sail, see how the mainsail sets, call for the captain ashore, Let me go home, I wanna go home, I wanna go hooo-oo-ome, this is the worst trip I've ever been on, Doo doo doo dooo (repeat to fade).

So, the mockery of the Category C grading had been turned on its head. Best away fans we've had at the Withdean? Probably. Certainly, they were the loudest since Stoke City came to town around six years or so ago. There will be better days for the Albion. Promotion would be rich reward for the Brighton fans whom have fought tooth and nail to keep their club afloat in more trying circumstances. A final thought to the Safety Advisory Committee: Football is nothing without fans.

Cat C - unfair. Tick.

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Thursday, 25 November 2010

FC St Pauli / Rot-Weiss Oberhausen

That's The Way I Like It

Rot-Weiss Oberhausen 3-0 Arminia Bielefeld (19:11:10)
FC St Pauli 1-1 Wolfsburg (21:11:10)

Andy Hudson and Ed Barrett continue their European Football Weekend in Germany by popping into a game at Oberhausen coupled with a trip to see the Rebels Choice, FC St Pauli. Pull up a chair as we enter Huddo's world:

Saturday evening and after Bochum we arrived back in Dortmund in time to watch Leverkusen v Bayern. At last, the first part of the weekend that hadn’t seen me rushing about. I had arrived at Weeze airport on Friday afternoon and knew that if I was quick then I’d make the Rot-Weiss Oberhausen match. A snap decision to jump off the bus in Duisburg was rewarded with a 5 minute train ride to Oberhausen instead of the 25 minute journey if I’d remained sitting to the next stop in Essen. With time against me and no research being undertaken other than a quick Twitter message to our EFW Editor, I bypassed the fans drinking outside of the train station and jumped into a taxi enquiring “fussball stadion bitte” of the driver who struggled to understand my accent.

Jumping out at the Niederrheinstadion I bought my ticket (only €9.50 for a German Bundesliga.2 team; when will English clubs halt their greedy ticket pricing policy?), entered the stadium, grabbed a beer and took my place on the terracing behind the goal just in time to hear “Who Let The Dogs Out?” accompanied by the club mascot, an oversized mutt, lapping up a lap of honour. The Oberhausen and Arminia Bielefeld players emerged from the tunnel and the home Ultra’ group turned their section into a blanket of red with their flares. Unfortunately for me, this appeared to be merely a flirtation with a great atmosphere. The stadium is quite old school in English terms apart from one thing: an athletics track which runs around the pitch, which in German terms makes it very old school as many stadiums have since removed the offending athletics aid. Any singing from either set of fans failed to make it across the lanes and despite the efforts of two drunken fans in front of me, who continuously tried to start singing but failed to co-ordinate their songs together, the noise remained on the wrong side of quiet for me. Even as the home side took the lead, after only two minutes, the celebrations were slightly muted despite the goal being cleverly worked and hammered in from just outside of the box. Oberhausen piled on the pressure against a very poor Bielefeld team and had a two goal cushion after twenty minutes when the Bielefeld defence decided that they couldn’t be bothered with any of that marking malarkey and allowed a free header in the six yard box.

Flares: yes. Flags: yes. Terracing: yes, yes. Athletics track: oh.

Fussball bitte

Grabbing another beer from the stall just behind me, and politely accepting another cigarette from the steaming-drunk guy on my left, I settled for the second half which continued with Oberhausen well on top. Their danger man, the once highly rated Nigerian Moses Lamidi, captured a well deserved third goal with minutes remaining, catching the static away defence out of position again to roll the ball across the ‘keeper into the net. One person missed this goal. A few minutes earlier I heard raised voices at the beer stand and two guys were arguing over who was first in the queue. Both then got served at the same time, off two different girls, and proceeded to throw their beer over the other and follow up with a few punches. The watching Polizei were straight in and after fending off advances from friends of the protagonists they deposited one back on the terraces and the other outside the stadium.

Bielefeld were involved in the 1971 Bundesliga bribery scandal; they might have to summon the ‘spirit’ of that season if they are to avoid relegation this year. Oberhausen, seemingly the brother of Cliftonville FC if their club badge and kit is anything to go by, could start looking up the table and not down after this performance. My immediate future was in a Dortmund pub, which is where we also headed after the Bochum match on Saturday before joining some of Ed’s friends at a party.

Who could get bored of this wonderful old scoreboard though? If only the individual bulbs lit up to to reveal a players face (imagine that - Ed.).

There is a God.

Knowing that we had to catch a train at 7am on Sunday in order to meet up with the Sankt Pauli Mafia fans’ coach, we really should have started drinking a little later on Saturday evening. But then we would have looked out of place when everyone was chucking back bottle after bottle of pilsner lager. I went as Eddie Murphy by virtue of that being the first name appearing in my head when I was asked what my fancy dress was supposed to be (I turned up in a grey hoody and a leather jacket alongside Ed who is obviously well versed in wearing fancy dress and arrived as The Dude from The Big Lebowski). After a long discussion with He-Man about Borussia Dortmund, and a promise to go to a future match with him, we staggered off some time after 6am for the long journey north to Hamburg.

Being both drunk and tired the journey was arduous. Even with bottles of beer available for €1 I found drinking them to be difficult and I wasn’t alone with my slow drinking. I’ve travelled on supporter club coaches in England before and the mantra is smuggle as much beer on as you can, drink it as quickly as you can and then dump the evidence as soon as possible. With such a relaxed vibe onboard, and talk of politics and football, the drinking took a back seat all round with the only activity completed with any speed being a smoke whenever the coach stopped anywhere.

We arrived at Millerntor with just over two hours to go until kick-off. I had expected to be heading straight to a bar like my previous pre-match St Pauli experience but today was different. The St Pauli fans are a special bunch, as most German fans are, and with their promotion to the Bundesliga, coupled with a relatively low stadium capacity of around 24,000, a new problem has been presented: ticket touts exploiting the normal fan in order to make some cash. Tickets are at a premium in Hamburg and everyone is eager to watch the boys in brown. Why should others make money off these fans? A demonstration against the touts was organised and this seemed a much better use of my time than getting destroying my newly acquired soberness in the Jolly Roger. With a stack of pre-prepared signs provided, one side displaying ‘tickets for sale’ and the other displaying ‘I need a ticket’, we set off through the funfair that sits alongside the stadium and headed for the touts’ favoured stamping ground. Leaflets were distributed to passers-by and cars navigating through the throng found leaflets attached to their back windscreen wipers. I never did see any touts before the match but I was assured that they would have been there; too embarrassed to pop their heads up and exploit the fan who just wanted to watch some football.

Our tickets were in the area popular with the Ultra’ Sankt Pauli, behind the goal in the Südkurve. In order to get a decent spot you have to get in early and so we made our way in an hour before kick-off and entered the already packed section of terracing. The Capos started just before the teams emerged for the start of the match, their megaphones gently directing the enthusiastic crowd towards another song. Any individual let-up in singing was noticed by our Capo who would fix an encouraging stare on that person and drive them into a roar. As I pogoed around the terraces, focused on any German songs so that I didn’t let down any of my neighbours with a lack of noise, I found my throat begin to strain under the vocal pressure. But I didn’t care – standing on that piece of concrete I had proper football. The flags lapped across the top of my head; arms on either side linked mine; the songs came, varied and quickly; the whole stadium was singing; and then Markus Thorandt scored for FC St Pauli from a corner. We went wild.

A quick snap, and then a pogo and a hundred songs and our work here is done.

The hand of God.

Wolfsburg, under Steve McClaren, haven’t set the Bundesliga alight this year, despite having one of the world’s most sought after forwards in Edin Dzeko. They were unimaginative and lacked any spark for vast periods of the match. They equalised after 54 minutes when Dzeko, receiving a pass from ex-Werder and Juve player Diego, scored from close-range with his only clear chance of the day. The Bosnian superstar said afterwards that the team “have higher ambitions, we have 15 points from 13 games. We will have to fight on” and McClaren will surely hope that he can motivate his players to perform much better if they are to avoid a lower table finish this season.

The St Pauli crowd sensed that they were more likely to grab a winner than the visitors and the noise increased during the final quarter of the game. Fabian Boll, perhaps the only player in one of Europe’s elite leagues who combines a playing career with a job as a police officer, almost scored a St Pauli winner but amidst a huge “ooooooh” from the crowd the ‘keeper grabbed the ball at the second opportunity. Afterwards we made our way back to the coach and caught up with the main organiser of Football Supporters Europe who summed up the mood of everyone onboard when she asked “we should have won that; how didn’t we win that?”. A film dubbed in German was playing loudly on the bus as we headed back to the Ruhr and I struggled to sleep due to one song playing over-and-over in my head: “’cause we support Sankt Pauli, Sankt Pauli, Sankt Pauli and that’s the way we like it, we like it, we like it”.

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VfL Bochum v FC Ingolstadt

Die Unabsteigbaren (The Unrelegatables), oh.

Bochum 1-4 FC Ingolstadt (20/11/10)

EFW regular Andy Hudson spent last weekend with Ed Barrett immersing themselves in some German ultra culture. Ed - from the FCUM A.D. blog - kicks us off with a trip to VfL Bochum, who, it would be fair to say, are at a low ebb:

Saturday and my first match of the weekend, my friend Andy’s second, and still feeling pretty sleepy, we caught the train down to Bochum. The Ruhrpott, for those who haven't been, has (or had) the industry of the North East (steel and coal) but the footballing make up of North West England i.e. a football club steeped in history, everywhere you turn. This of course brings its problems, as just like say Blackburn Rovers or Wigan Athletic might have to compete with Manchester United or Liverpool for fans, clubs such as VfL Bochum or RW Essen also struggle with their bigger rivals pinching fans from within their own town boundaries. The issue was highlighted when I spotted a couple of fans in blue and white on our train. Great I thought, now we can simply follow them to the ground. Who needs research or a smart phone! However, on closer inspection the fans were wearing Schalke badges and would be staying on a few extra stops to make the match later on that day in Gelsenkirchen.

After a quick stop at the Bakery to pick up much needed supplies of water, food and strong black coffee, we continued on our extremely smooth, journey with public transport with the tram to the ground. A moment to stop in wonderment at a public transport system given proper investment. We travelled from Dortmund to Bochum, then got on Bochums tram system (a tram system for a population of less than 400k!), all of which ran regularly and, had we been organised enough to buy the tickets in advance, this would all have been included for the price of our €11 match ticket!

The tram eventually spat us and another hundred or so Bochum fans out onto the roadside and we were immediately presented with the Ruhrstadion. Or, in line with the sponsorship of most ground names in Germany, as its now called, The REWIRPOWER Stadium. The ground is a wonderful structure inside and out. There are no glass facades, no escalators to executive lounges, it’s an angular Eastern European looking structure from the outside , somehow creating beauty from concrete. Inside its 3 quarters seated, has around 4 VIP boxes and then one big terrace behind the goal. It would appear lack of recent success does have some upsides, as your stadium remains unmeddled with!

Having polished off our food and coffee, we took a little wander around. As with most Ultra’ groups in German football, Ultras Bochum have made their own little additions to the ground with various examples of street-art dotted around the place from sprayed stencils to home made stickers. Perhaps this was why, having paid in on the gate, the security were wise to my game and took so many of my own English team’s ones off me. Damn!

Collecting a beer which I gingerly sipped at for about 40 minutes thereafter, we climbed up the steps onto the home terrace. The angle of the terrace, older style crush barriers and low roof caused immediate excitement. Relegation to the 2nd division and the success of neighbouring BVB Dortmund and Schalke 04, means the 9k or so fans who attended had no hope of filling the 31k capacity ground. This meant that even arriving relatively late by German standards, a mere 30 minutes before kick off, we found our way up the steps and to plenty of space towards the back of the terrace with great ease.

Angular terrace + beer = cheesy grin.

Art. Or is it?

Block A give us a song, Block A, Block A give us a song.

In terms of fans, I was disappointed to witness a Ruhrpott based club with so few “kutten” (the jeans jackets covered in badges, still so popular in the region). Instead we had a relatively boisterous seated section to our left (Block A), the seemingly Italian-style orientated Ultras Bochum below us, a few normal fans around us and then a little corner of about 10 fans perched up behind the corner flag and a rather dubious looking banner. Ive always wondered about this corner, as whenever I see it on television, it always appears to be a banner with the sort of straight winged bird you'd expect on a German WWII uniform. On closer inspection there was a little curl to the wings, suggesting that perhaps that Bochum don’t have any knuckledraggers present.

After a small amount of soft-rock, including a club anthem written by famous German pop singer Herbert Grönemeyer, the match kicked off. Having a vested interest, my eyes were however on the Ultras below us rather than “World Cup Star” Jong Tae-se (his appearance on the team sheet had to be pointed out by Andy, who had bothered to watch the World Cup). Bochum probably have a hundred or so ultras. Their main logo is a cartoon chap wearing a bar-scarf, a sort of cross between the Ultra’ Sankt Pauli cartoon figure often featured on stickers and the main logo of Ultras Tito of Sampdoria. A good mix of large flags, were accompanied by one “capo” who was conducting the group. He did this without the usual megaphone and with no help from his mate on the fence, who just sat there with his hood over his head. On the pitch, a truly wretched Bochum went a goal down and unrest started to trickle in to the atmosphere. The lad on the fence, began to pull on the net between him and the goal making the masts holding it swing violently. No steward came across to ask him to get down.

A second goal came for Ingolstadt (the opponents for the afternoon) and something bizarre happened, the home fans cheered it! This was probably just as well, as approximately 20 Ingolstadt fans had bothered to make the journey, and despite two rather animated teenagers, they needed Bochums ironic cheers to help register the goal vocally.

Cheers of irony roll out across the stadium*. *Use your imagination dear reader.

Time passed by and with a backdrop of abuse, a few of the Bochum players began to wake up and make a bit of effort. Midway through the second half, Tae-se pulled a scrappy goal back for the home side. Belief started to return and Bochum had a couple more chances to get an equaliser. This however did not save them from a chorus of boos as the halftime whistle came.
In the second half Bochum started brightly and would have deservedly made it 2-2 about 10 minutes in when they forced the Ingolstadt keeper into a full stretch save. That was however as close as they came. A breakaway goal on 60 minutes for Ingolstadt finished off the fightback and produced more ironic cheers. The Bochum ultras who had been the only ones left singing and waving their flags, now stopped and for the remainder of the game all that was witnessed was sadness at the plight of their side and anger towards its management.

The lad on the fence had now been joined by a further 3, all of whom were pulling on the net in front of them. A further goal went in for the away side, which was met with an almighty roar from the home side as if it were their own goal. Some fans began making their way to the exit, some even making the detour to throw their scarf onto the pitch in disgust. Every Ingolstadt pass was ole’d, whilst chants such as “Wir haben die Schnauze voll” (We’ve had it up to here!), “Wir sind Bochumer, wer seid Ihr” (We are Bochumers, who are you?) and “AB-STEIG-ER!” (Relegation fodder!”) were directed at the pitch and directors box. I cant stand the booing of your own team, but it was quite painful standing there watching so many people sad and angry, their week ruined by the lack of effort of a team and seeming misdirection of a club.

Ingolstadt? They've got the power.

The match came to a close. The Ingolstadt team climbed up the fence in front of the away block to thank their fans. They were also applauded off by the Bochum fans. A few of the Bochum team ventured bravely to the home end to convey apologies and thank the fans, but were greeted with only abuse. They returned to the dressing room, replaced by stewards and truncheon bearing police, no doubt fearful of a repeat of last seasons pitch invasion.

We made our way outside. A group of Bochum fans and visiting fans from Bayern Munich (they have a friendship with Bochum and were playing nearby in Leverkusen later that day) had congregated and were getting ready to march back into town. A few bangers were thrown, meaning the police in attendance reached for their cameras. A march back to the city centre followed. Roads were closed, police vans milled around, further officers on foot ran alongside and filming frantically. It’s a familiar scene on a matchday in Germany, where an often mutual hatred between many fans and the police is stronger than perhaps in England. Fearing being kettled, myself and Andy, slipped off the back of the group and headed for the train station, thankful to have witnessed the match as mere neutrals.

A sign of the times at the Ruhrstadion.

You can follow Ed, Andy and European Football Weekends on Twitter.

For more of Ed's work, head to his FCUM A.D. blog.

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Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Manisaspor v Bursaspor

Me Tarzan, you Jane

Manisaspor 0-2 Bursaspor (20:11:10)

Ulas Gürsat continues his new weekly column for EFW. Ulas is a football reporter for the Turkish daily Haberturk Newspaper:

If you fancy a trip to watch Manisaspor, one of Turkey's oldest clubs, then bare in mind that you don't need to hang around in the city of Manisa for too long - it's very dull. Just 45 minutes away by car is Izmir, and that's where you want to be staying. Izmir: party capital, Manisa: probably not.

But don't let that put you off completely, because their football team, brilliantly, are nicknamed The Tarzanlar (Tarzans). They may not be famous for their partying, but they are rightly celebrated for their Tarzan, seriously. His real name is Ahmet Bedevi, and he fought in the Independence war of Turkey. After retiring from the army, he dedicated his life to planting trees, and took residence in the Sipil Mountains - wearing just his shorts. When the Tarzan movie showed in Manisa, locals thought it mirrored the life of Bedevi. He died in 1963 and became known as Manisa Tarzani (Tarzan of Manisa) - a famous cult hero. Statues of him adorn the city, and ceremonies are held for him each year on the anniversary of his death.

Manisaspor Megastore open for business.

A pre-match Simit bread with sesame anyone?

The Sipil Mountains overlook the stadium. On a quiet day you can make out the screeches and calls of Tarzan, Jane and little Cheetah.

This Manisaspor v Bursaspor match attracted the biggest crowd of the season to the Manisa 19 Mayis Stadium. After their spectacular win against Galatasaray, Manisaspor fans fancied a repeat of that success, and the thick end of 17,000 fans turned up. Bursaspor fans, for their part, also packed their section arriving in a dozen or so buses.

Planning isn't quite what it should be at Turkish football matches. There wasn't enough room for the away fans, and so some of them adopted a 'Trojan tactic'. They purchased tickets in the home sections and 15 minutes into the game they broke through the line of security and tried to gain access to the visitors pen. It's a common tactic at busy matches in Turkey.
Unfortunately, the jungle instinct came out in the local Tarzans, and there was sporadic violence in pockets of the stadium. Hooliganism at Turkish league matches still occurs on a regular basis, actually. You can see a fight nearly every 3 or 4 games.

A small fight breaks out in the stands. Luckily, Tarazan was later seen swinging through the trees to put a stop to it.

The Bursa fans using their 'Trojan tactic'.

Locals respond with a bit of a sing-song and some pointy arm action.

Bursaspor won the game with an own goal from Ömer Aysan Baris, and a Pablo Batalla effort in the last minute of the first half. Manisaspor's performance failed to reach the dizzy heights of that victory away to Galatasaray last week. They seemed over confident after that win. And Bursaspor returned to winning ways after losing against Trabzonspor. Normal service resumed.

In terms of food, Manisa is not so different to many other Turkish towns. Sunflower seeds, rice with chickpeas, meatballs are the things you can try. But there are some specialities of Manisa. The Manisa kebab isn't too special, consisting of a spicy meatballs on pita. But for something different, how about the Mesir Macunu. It's a paste made up of 41 varieties of spices, herbs and roots. And furthermore, it is believed to be a natural form of Viagra. Perfect for 'getting you up' after a 0-2 home defeat no?

We are top of the league, say, we are top of the league.

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Sunday, 21 November 2010


Welcome to hell! Anyone?

Galatasaray 0-2 Manisaspor (14:11:10)

Ulas Gürsat continues his new weekly column for EFW. Ulas is a football reporter for the Turkish daily Haberturk Newspaper:

Welcome to hell? If only. They'd roll out the red carpet to greet anyone from overseas to Galatasaray next season. Right here, right now, they are in a very bad place, and - possibly not for the first time - their fans are a little unhappy with life.

After serving Gala and Turkish football for 46 years well-ish for 46 years, the infamous Ali Sami Yen Stadium is soon to be no more. In January, the club will move into their new Seyrantepe Stadium, and the two stadiums couldn't be any more contrasting.

Ali Sami Yen was the founder of the club.

A corporate new world of mod€rn football awaits.

So, this match was one of the last to be played in the old ground. And fans of the Cim bom would have preferred for this to be remembered as a celebration, ah.

Galatasaray are having one of their worst seasons in recent memory. After 12 rounds of the Turkish league, they sit in tenth position. The board reacted by sacking Frank Rijkaaard and called back the legendary Gheorghe Hagi, but things have not improved.

During this game, the fans let their thoughts about the board be known. They turned their back to the pitch and chanted names of past heroes; Metin Oktay, Hakan Şükür and the like, to remind the current regime of just how big this club is. At the end of the match, they refused to leave the stadium for over an hour and continued chanting obscenities against the current owners.

Who turned out the lights? Fans remain behind to voice their anger.

Don't look back in anger.

Manisaspor won this game with ease by utilising their pacey wingers to good effect. Gala barely had a shot worthy of note. Last years top scorer Aziza Makukula and Simpson's penalty secured the points for the, ahem, Tarzanlar (Tarzans).

Just three more home games left until the bulldozers demolish the Ali Sami Yen, and turn it - rather like Highbury - into a block of flats. The fans are hoping that the new stadium will bring with it some fresh optimism and new hope.

Istanbul is a huge metropolitan city and the Ali Sami Yen was smack bang in the middle of that city. It was easy to come and go from the stadium. And with all the buildings and stuff surrounding the ground, you are spoilt for choice in terms of food. Sultanahmet Koftecisi (Sultanahmet Meatballs) are always popular with the fans, as are the kebab, but good luck with getting a kebab, because the queues are always enormous.

Misir (corn) is maybe not the normal thing you'd think of eating before a match, but these are very popular in Istanbul. And you have to finish eating them before you get to the stadium, because the Turkish police won't allow you take a corn cob inside, bizarre eh? If it's cold then opt for Kestane (chestnuts), they are sure to warm your cockles - and no mistake.

Pre-match Turkish style.

Salad with that Sir?

Offensive weapons?

Next up on these pages will be a trip to see Manisaspor v Bursaspor, until then Sağlığınıza!

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Wednesday, 17 November 2010

FC United of Manchester

This badge is your badge, this badge is my badge

Andy Hudson describes the joys of following a community, co-operative football club - and travels with FC United of Manchester fans to experience one of the greatest nights in their short history:

A curry house in Rusholme sounds an unlikely setting for a revolution, but over chapattis came final consensus that modern football was out of touch with its fans. The story of what happened in 2005 when Malcolm Glazer knocked on the door of Old Trafford and demanded the richest club in the world be saddled with huge debts has been well documented, especially during the week that FC United of Manchester introduced themselves to the nation by defeating Rochdale, who currently play a whole four divisions above them, live on TV in the FA Cup. Suddenly the media and football fans were either queuing up to love them or lining up to run them down.

We live in a time where football fans have less say than ever in how their football club is managed but over in Manchester it is the fans of FC United that make their own decisions. All members have an equal say in what happens and if they don't agree then they will display that first through debate and then through a 'one member one vote' system.

The decision to move the Rochdale game for television caused debate across the members' base - many were in favour of the move while there were those who refused to attend due to the change from a 3pm kick-off on Saturday. For a club that sinks every spare penny they have into the development fund for their new stadium, the £67,500 TV money makes a significant contribution towards running costs after yearly losses. Make no mistake, FC United are far from flush with money, and still refuse to consider a shirt sponsor. Being without their own ground brings many problems, such as paying rent to Bury FC for the use of Gigg Lane and fixture clashes with their landlords resulting in home games already having to be moved to other dates. Agreeing to move a game so that it can be televised on a Friday night, 5 miles from where they usually play, is different to a forced change when the game is in London for example; something that fans of 'big' clubs have experienced on a regular basis in the past.

Where FCUM really lead the way in how football clubs conduct themselves is through their community schemes. The club is a co-operative and their groundbreaking initiative to raise funds for the stadium development at Ten Acres Lane, Newton Heath offers fans a chance to buy community shares and own a part of their community's regeneration. As General Manager Andy Walsh stated, "This is a landmark opportunity to invest in a club bringing football back to the heart of its communities and leave a lasting legacy for future generations". Newton Heath suffers from a number of problems, such as education, skills and employment issues, activity provision and crime. Football can play a role within communities as part of a broader regeneration strategy and FCUM have prioritised developing projects with socially excluded young people, providing positive and healthy activities and providing education and skills development. FC Community Coach Steve Bennett explains that "working within the community of Manchester is an integral part of the work that FC provides. We work in inner city schools with every age group and support multi-sports, nutrition and out of school activities. FC encourage parents to bring their children to the games and we often put transport on to get them to Bury, in the hope that when the move is made to Newton Heath there is a strong fan-base of young kids."

FCUM were one of the first clubs in the country to offer a pay-what-you-can-afford season ticket, which raised more money than charging a set price the previous season, and as part of the TV agreement with Rochdale they managed to agree on a reduced ticket price for the match so that attendance was more affordable to both sets of fans.

The fans actively participate in anti-racism projects and are one of the few teams to be invited to play in the annual Antira football tournament, organised by the fans of the German club FC St Pauli, where anti-fascist and anti-racism ideas are discussed and networks and friendships forged with fans from teams such as Sampdoria, FC Winterthur and Fortuna Düsseldorf. To many FCUM fans the politics are of utmost importance, this being a club that for some time have actively encouraged gay and unwaged supporters to attend their matches.

Fans of FC United and St Pauli unite following a game at the Antira Tournament.

Under the direction of Robin Pye, FCUM have recently launched a 16 week apprentice scheme aimed at 16-19 year olds, of either gender, who are out of employment and not in further education. The focus is not on personal football ability but on developing skills that one can use on a personal level and within the community. There are a number of FCUM volunteers working on their coaching badges, which the apprentices will also work towards, and sessions are regularly arranged for kids across all areas of Manchester. Manager Karl Maginson, who sold asparagus as a fruit and veg man when he first became manager of FCUM, now spends his week travelling around Manchester with Roy Soule, another member of the FC management team, coaching in schools, youth offenders institutes and prisons as two of ten community coaches who also run FC's Community Sports Leaders Award.

This volunteer sense strongly prevails at FCUM. Not only do members help out on match days but you'll often find the office staffed by folk doing a few hours of work here and there. It was estimated that 200 volunteer hours managed to get FCUM Radio ( on-air during October 2010 and along with live radio commentary of every match there is also streamed 'television' coverage available online.

The atmosphere so loved by the watching television audience for the Rochdale match wasn't a show for the cameras. Karl Marginson once described FCUM as a 90/90 club, where "90% of the fans sing for 90 minutes". I've been to the glamour grounds of Rochdale, FC St Pauli and Ramsbottom United and Margy is wrong: it's more like 99% of the fans singing for over 90 minutes. Before the teams make their way out for kick-off there's the chant of "bring on United" which reaches a crescendo just as the teams emerge from the tunnel. The noise then continues unabated for the rest of the match. The difference between attending a Premier League match and going to watch FCUM is simple: the atmosphere is vastly improved watching FC; whereas most Premier League grounds struggle to produce 6 different songs during a match, you are likely to witness over 15 at FC; and you get flags at FC. Lots of them. For those with any experience of German football, the fan culture is more aligned to our Teutonic cousins than to our fellow countrymen.

And what specifically of that Rochdale match? I joined the Stockport branch for the day, meeting up at a pub for a 5.30pm coach departure time. I arrived at 2pm expecting the pub to be quiet. Giddiness had gotten the better of some of the members (I mean when was the last time you were able to watch the team you co-own make their FA Cup First Round debut?) who were already flowing with beer. A packed pub then embarked on a slow coach journey, Manchester's traffic allowing us to progress at a speed similar to that of the Cup winners on their open-top bus trip in May, before ditching us outside of Spotland and the Krypton Factor like challenge of getting served inside the Church Pub, just along from the Willbutts Lane stand which had been given over in it's entirety to FC for the evening.

Standing just to the right of the ESPN commentary team, Jon Champion (who had made a special appearance on the live FCUM Radio commentary the week before against Ossett Town) and Craig Burley (who had been making a brew for the FCUM Radio team prior to kick-off), at the back of the stand I witnessed a tornado of red, black and white cascade down below me. The night was freezing and the steam rising from 3,200 voices singing in unison could have powered Stephenson's Rocket to far flung destinations such as Vancouver and Sydney where official supporters' clubs were watching live. Nicky Platt scored just before half-time and the guy in-front had me in a massive bear hug. Jake Cottrell scored a tremendous goal just after half-time, a goal that would be analysed over-and-over again if it were scored in the Premier League, and the noise volume of the crowd seemed to double. Whereas most fans would be subdued if their team were then pegged back to 2-2, the Punk Football that The Red Rebels sing about was displayed; defiance, a "you've equalised, so what?" attitude prevalent and the singing continued. And then there was Mike Norton bundling the ball from the 'keeper to score with seconds left. Voices eventually started to crack; throats would be sore.

Joyous scenes greet the final whistle at Spotland.

FCUM will play Brighton & Hove Albion in the FA Cup Second Round. Many FC fans immediately cast their mind back to the 1983 FA Cup Final. That year they supported the overwhelming favourites; this year they support the overwhelming underdogs. Steve Bennett, who is also the radio commentator for FC told me, "I fond memories of that game as it is my first FA Cup memory, but now we are FC United of Manchester. The spirit and camaraderie between the two groups of fans is already apparent as a number of Brighton fans have been up to FC. This is an opportunity to express ourselves and show that community, co-operative football is the way forward. We're still on a high after beating Rochdale and the management of FC will be going into the game feeling they can win. From the fans perspective it's all about the weekend, meeting new fans and flying the flag for co-operative football clubs. The more we can achieve the better it will be for the co-operative movement within football."

The FA Cup party continues but the real one began over 5 years ago when these fans started something that every football fan wants: a club that appreciates their love.

You can follow Andy Hudson and FC United on Twitter.

To read more of Andy's work, make a beeline for his splendid Gannin' Away blog.

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Rhineland derby with added Karlsruher.

Fußball Kommt Nach Hause*

Karlsruher SC 1-1 FC Erzebirge Aue (12:11:10)
FC Köln 0-4 Borussia Mönchengladbach (13:11:10)

by Garreth Cummins

In the latest instalment of 'readers lives', Garreth Cummins talks us through his European Football Weekend in Germany. Garreth - a Liverpool supporter - works for the Football Supporters' Federation (FSF) as an International Officer:

Three travelling companions and I eschewed our usual weekend spot, which would have seen us on the away terrace of one of our least-favourite Premier League grounds this weekend past, to head to Germany. For us, the excuse of avoiding a disliked away trip coupled by paying a visit to our friend Al, who is spending the year working in Germany, and sampling some of their world-renowned fan-friendly experience was too good to turn down.

After landing in Munich we headed first west to Karlsruhe to watch the home team, currently languishing near the foot of Bundesliga 2, entertain high-flying Erzgebirge Aue on the Friday evening. For some of our band the highlight of the trip was to be the following day's trip to Köln for the Rhein Derby against hated neighbours Borussia Mönchengladbach, but for my money (all €11 odd of it), the Karlsruhe game was the pick of the weekend's action. Standing tickets? Beer in the ground? Walking to the stadium from the city centre? Some misguided sense of obscure, non-top flight cachet? Former Intertoto Cup Winners? It had it all.

Friday night at the Wildparkstadion. What's not to like?

We positioned ourselves on the north terrace, just to the side of the main band of KSC ultras, the majority of whom had the protection of the roof that we sadly did not – still, it’s not proper standing on an open terrace unless you get a little bit wet, is it? They provided much of the entertainment in a very poor first half, aside from one of the more bizarre goals we're likely to see all season - the visitors opened the scoring from the edge of the box early on, after a block tackle from the home centre half rebounded in off the advancing centre forward and flew past the keeper. Their fans reacted in the only way possible - hurling their plastic beer containers over the perimeter fence and onto the running track in disgust. No small act of defiance when it means you lose your €1 deposit.

Karlsruhe's opponents Erzgebirge Aue [Urts-gi-burger Owa] surely ranks as the most German sounding team of all-time?

Karlsruhe's equaliser, when it eventually came some time into the second half, was a 20-yarder of real class: the only recognisable name on the teamsheet (to us, anyway) Alexander Iashvili driving home a half volley from the edge of the box with the outside of his right foot. More beer cups rained down on the track - it appears that any extreme of emotion is enough to bring a Karlsruher to flagrant disregard for his or her deposit. Were it not for the referee bottling a late penalty decision, Karlsruhe would have taken their first win in 5 at home, and the stewards would've been even more handsomely rewarded for their night’s work stood out on the running track.

KSC Fan-tastic

Warmed by our new found love of KSC and their flag-waving fanatics (that, and the excellent Feuerwurst on offer at the Wildparkstadion), we absented ourselves to a downtown hostelry. In finding a table in the packed post-match throng, Al introduced us to a fellow Köln supporter, Marius, who had the misfortune to be missing the biggest game of the season the following day owing to a lack of funds. His friends had offered him a ticket, but just before payday he couldn't afford both the ticket and to travel the few hundred kilometres north. A quick whip-round later, and Marius was frantically on the phone to his friend to ensure the offer of a ticket still stood. For a small price each we'd nabbed ourselves a personal guide to Köln, which we thought was excellent value, and a rather friendly gesture to boot.

Travelling at over 300 km/h with a hangover doesn't sound like the best of experiences, but the excellent German ICE train sped the six of us to Köln early (too early for my liking) the following morning. Marius negotiated us through the city's S-Bahn system, arriving at the ground a few hours ahead of kick-off to sample the atmosphere. Despite being early, the tram to the ground was packed, and rocking with a number of derby day songs as we made our way to the Rhein Energie Stadion. My personal favourite (and fast becoming my favourite football chant of any side anywhere) was the rather choice 'Gladbach pigs, Gladbach pigs, Gladbach pigs; we'll fuck you all up the arse, you wankers'.

It doesn't rhyme in German, either, for the record, but it still gets the point across.

The welcoming committee at the Rhineland derby.

Our greeting at our matchday pub of choice, around 500 yards from the ground was not what we could call warm - the police were out in force, and pointed out to Marius that were he to cross the road as he was requesting, to get to another pub, that they would arrest him. That being the case, we decided where we were was probably alright for now. So we drank our Kölsch, and marvelled at the passing effigies of horses being hanged on mocked up 6 foot tall gallows that we were assured by our hosts were perfectly normal for derby day am Rhein.

Relax - it's derby day. This is all perfectly normal, apparently.

Soon after, the presence of the police was both expanded, and explained. The first of 4 trams of visiting fans was being escorted up the main road, and past our drinking den, accompanied by at least 20 police vans. It was as they reached the pub that we heard the first firecrackers explode, and saw the first of the number of fans who'd gathered at the front of the pub returning towards us with their eyes streaming from the tear-gas. The Köln fans' efforts were repeated a subsequent 3 times, and only some time after the final tram had passed (and not long before kick-off) we were allowed to make our way to the stadium.

Unfortunately our band of five were split into three separate areas of the ground, and although I drew the shorter straw of being on my own (my half-time conversation with my neighbour was interesting, albeit brief) that didn't detract from my enjoyment of the whole experience. If you think that You'll Never Walk Alone is a great pre-match anthem, you want to try taking in the full 6 verses and choruses of De Höhner - the words are up on the big screens for tourists such as ourselves, even if they do make it slightly difficult by putting them up in the Kölsch dialect rather than in German (although I suppose if you don't speak German the fact they are in a dialect rather than 'normal' German is probably lost on you anyway).

Flares are still trendy in Germany.

The impressive pre-match rendition, alongside the flares and smoke-bombs in the away end sadly gave way to something of a tepid first half, not helped by the deluge in the days preceding the game which led to players sliding all over, and the ball stopping mid-dribble and mid-pass in puddles on the pitch. The second half, however, was as surprising as the first had been uninspiring - Gladbach, much to Marius' doubtless chagrin, and that of the majority of those in attendance, ended up worthy 4-0 winners, largely courtesy of Köln’s very accommodating (or abject) defence.

By the time we met up on the tram afterwards, we think Marius was silently cursing our generous act in getting him to the game. He probably wished he’d stayed at home, and when we saw our team’s performance that evening in a Köln bar we were glad we hadn’t.

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(*Football's Coming Home)

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