Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Borussia Dortmund v St Pauli

You'll Never Walk Alone

Borussia Dortmund 2-0 St Pauli (19:02:11)

Stepping up to the Readers' Lives plate today is Nick Davidson, author of Modern Football is Rubbish, to regale us with a story of his European Football Weekend in Germany...

Borussia Dortmund v St Pauli at the Westfalenstadion (Signal Iduna Park, if you must) was the first game I looked for when the Bundesliga fixtures were announced last summer. The Westfalenstadion was ‘The Big One’ (© Tony Pulis, probably.) Anyway, it was the one I desperately wanted to tick off my list of German grounds visited. I’d tried a couple of times to combine a trip to Dortmund en-route to watch St Pauli when we were in 2.Liga, and often played on different days to the Bundesliga, but the fixtures had never fallen for me. But to go there with St Pauli – that would be something else.

It still wasn’t that straight forward. The game, part of Spieltag 23, could be played anytime from Friday night to Sunday tea-time and the kick-off wouldn’t be confirmed by the Deutsche Fußball Liga (DFL) until a month or so before. The Friday fixture would be impossible due to work, and Saturday would be pushing it. As a result, I took a keen interest in Dortmund’s Europa League campaign, as BVB negotiating the group stages would guarantee a Sunday slot for our game. Unfortunately a 2-2 draw for Dortmund away at Sevilla wasn’t enough to get them into the Round of 16 and, as a consequence, my trip would rest on the whim of the DFL.
To add to the suspense – in my head at least – the DFL kept me hanging on until mid-January before confirming the kick-off times for Spieltag 23. Dortmund v St Pauli was scheduled for 15.30 on the Saturday – it would take some planning, but it was just about possible.

As I’m not overly keen on flying – don’t worry the Dennis Bergkamp jokes have been done to death already – my trip started on Friday evening at Milton Keynes Central (central to what? Not Milton f@*%ing Keynes that’s for sure.) As I walked towards the station I spotted a young lad in a brown St Pauli hoodie leaning against the wall. I took it as a good omen that, in the land of the concrete cow, anodyne shopping centre and Franchise FC, someone was sporting a Totenkopf – genuine fan or fashionista? I didn’t have time to stop and chat, I had a train (the first of many) to catch. Anyway, my trip appeared to be blessed with much better karma than in August when, on a rare plane journey to Hamburg, some clot in an English Defence League t-shirt was flitting around the platform of Birmingham International station looking for aggro as I was heading for the airport.

After an overnight stop in Brussels and a train ride to Köln, I met some fellow members of the St Pauli messageboard on the platform heading for Dortmund –all Port Vale fans and a sound bunch. In Dortmund, there was time to meet a few more messageboarders in the pub including a long awaited (and much postponed, last time due to the volcanic ash cloud) meet with a fellow Watford fan, before heading off to the ground to meet Justus from the St Pauli Fanladen who’d got my ticket. I can’t praise the Fanladen enough, they always try to sort us out for tickets, something that has become increasingly difficult after our promotion to the Bundesliga last May. Back in August, they’d been fabulous sorting seat tickets out for me and my 8-year old daughter for the game in Freiburg. In the wider scheme of things, helping international fans get to games is just the tip of the Fanladen iceberg, there’s a good summary of their work here.

Ticket in hand, I stood staring at the exterior of the Westfalenstadion thinking profound thoughts like, ‘bloody hell, it’s big.’ However, from the outside despite the vivid yellow roof supports, it does look a tinsy-bit like a lot of other new stadiums, just on a much bigger scale. Once through the ticket and security check – at an entrance shared by both home and away fans, imagine that at Old Trafford or Ashburton Grove? – it’s a different story. I was in Block 8, right at the bottom of the away terrace. As I headed down a short flight of steps, I noticed piles of seats stored neatly ready for the infamous conversion of terrace to seating for international fixtures or European competition. Then it was down some more steps to an entrance that brought me out into the stadium, right at the base of the away fans section – not that I was looking at that, my attention had been diverted to my first glimpse of the ‘Yellow Wall’ at the other end of the stadium. Much has been written about that vast expanse of terrace, so I won’t bang on about it too much, but seeing it pretty much full 30 minutes before kick-off was a sight to behold. In fact, the whole stadium looked huge, turning round looking at our section, the terracing was dwarfed by an upper tier of seated St Pauli fans stretching up to the heavens (and containing somewhere therein, the Port Vale massive.) Cathedral, temple or opera house of football – take your pick, it’s truly breath taking.

Cathedral, temple or opera house of football?

"Cultural magpies"

There was a bit of bother to the left of me, about 20 minutes before kick-off. A few fists went flying and I assumed that a home (or rival) fan had decided to get in amongst the St Pauli hardcore. Apparently, it was more to do with the stewards not letting the fans hang their banners over the advertising hoardings at the front of the stadium. The ‘over-enthusiastic’ police and stewards response, wasn’t the best move after the problems at Wednesday night’s game in the Volksparkstadion.

But things settled down, and it wasn’t long before the St Pauli fans were in full voice. Kick off was preceded by a sing-a-long version of You’ll Never Walk Alone, which, despite the piped-music accompaniment, was ace. Of course, being St Pauli (and YNWA being one of ‘our’ anthems) we managed another verse and chorus once the music had stopped, before launching into my favourite chant of ‘Aux Armes’ which sounded great bouncing between the upper and lower tiers. Cultural magpies them St Pauli fans, appropriating YNWA from Merseyside and ‘Aux Armes’ from the Marseilles…

Sing-a-long a YNWA

We are the ticks’  – can’t see the English translation without launching into a rakishly out-of-tune rendition of Suede’s ‘We are the ticks / we are the swine’ (with apologies to Mr Brett Anderson)

The game itself was unremarkable and the score line fairly predictable. Despite St Pauli’s recent run of form, most fans didn’t expect to be leaving the Westfalenstadion with more than a point, and even that slim hope was ended early in the second-half when Ralph Gunesch diverted a shot into his own net to give the league leaders a 2-0 lead. But I’d not come looking for a win, I’d come to stand and sing with the St Pauli faithful in this grand setting. And I’d come to see and hear the Südtribüne in full flow. In true, away fan fashion, it felt like we were out-singing the home fans for much of the game, especially as we had a new chant of ‘Derbysieger’ that needed a lot of airtime. If the noise coming from the Südtribüne wasn’t especially impressive, the sight of 20,000 fans pogo-ing on the spot sure made up for it, it was then I really appreciated the vast scale of the terrace. In the end it wasn’t the acoustics that blew me away, but the seething mass of bodies. Whether jumping up and down in unison or holding scarves aloft it was a sight that took me back to the great terraces of the 1970s. It was reminiscent of The Kop or The Stretford End as seen on old Match of the Day footage. Great stuff.

It finished 2-0. Fairly respectable considering we were missing derby hero, Gerald Asamoah and midfielder Fabian Boll (I think I’m obliged by European law to mention that Boll is a part-time police officer, even if I’m not 100% sure if it’s still actually true?) and centre-half Carlos Zambrano due to suspension. We also lost left-back Bastian Oczipka due to injury early in the first half, which meant another appearance from former Times columnist, Moritz Volz. As the St Pauli players came to applaud the fans, my mind was starting to wander to the long journey home.

Had it been worth it? Too right it had. I’d stood on the terraces, drinking beer and supporting my team (St Pauli having overtaken Watford in my affections sometime ago – a combination of the politics of the St Pauli fan scene, general disinterest in the English game and not helped by having Lord Ashcroft as club owner – give me the German 50 +1 over a Tory Peer anyday) in one of the greatest stadiums in world football. The only downsides being I didn’t get inside early enough to find a place to hang my handcrafted Sozialromantiker flag (it’ll keep until my next visit to the Millerntor) and trying to steer clear of the currywurst due to an attempt at a health kick!

My first attempt at a banner for football in about 20 years, aaah the distinctive aroma of Dylon fabric paint!

Worth the trip? Too right

Despite the bitter cold, I made all my train connections home, in fact so efficient was the free U-Bahn service from the ground back to the main railway station, I managed to get a train back to Köln an hour ahead of schedule.

Whilst on the subject of trains, over the weekend, I had traversed parts of Germany, Belgium and France without a hitch, yet there was the obligatory 10-minute wait 500m short of Milton Keynes station, as they struggled to find a platform for us. You’d think they’d get the idea by now: a train generally requires a platform on which to deposit it’s passengers. Yet, every time I get to MK it’s the same. Imagine Network Rail, or whoever is responsible for our running train stations this week, trying to transport 80,000 fans efficiently away from a major sporting event. Actually, don’t.

Another great trip, another great stadium, right up there with the Millerntor and Union Berlin’s Alten Försterei as one of my favourites.

Thanks a million to the excellent BVB fanzine for the photos.

- Feel free to comment below - 


Teddy said...

Great read. Here was my own take...

Jimbob said...

Excellent read, Nick.
i'm a fellow Watford fan, and a follower of St Pauli since a trip to Hamburg a couple of years ago, who checked out the other European team in yellow at Dortmund take on Stuttgart a month ago.
I was in the seats in the same stand as you and yep, fans of both sides mingled just fine. It can be done..

Nick said...

@Jimbob - thanks, my next ambition is to make it to Kaiserslautern v St Pauli, so that I can make up for not being allowed to go during our 1983 UEFA Cup campaign (I was only 11, but I'm still bitter!!!)

@Teddy - good report, as always.

Motherwell Partizan said...

The first stamp on my football passport!

Arrived early on matchday, and after following Motherwell I couldn't believe the numbers of both fans in the city centre and around the ground.

Great atmosphere unbelievable, to think you could fit our home crowd in the sudtribune 5x alone!

Unknown said...

Wow always love to hear about BundesFun! Being an American it’s hard to convey to my football loving friends that the German league has so much to offer both on and off the pitch. I've stood in may "sued Eckes" in Austria and sang my heart out to such classics as "steh Aug" und "wir sind...". thought I love English football for the football nothing beats an Austro-German crowed. My goal in life is to do a stadium tour of the Austrian and German 1-2 tiers in a two year span. Until then I will keep reading and living vicariously thought blogs and experiences like this! Well done!

Jimbob said...

23 February 2011 22:04
Anonymous Nick said...

@Jimbob - thanks, my next ambition is to make it to Kaiserslautern v St Pauli, so that I can make up for not being allowed to go during our 1983 UEFA Cup campaign (I was only 11, but I'm still bitter!!!)

Nick: You're doing the same route as i did and for the same reason, i was only 12 and I was naive enough then to think Watford would be back in Europe every year! lucky enough to visit Lautern a year or so ago, good for a night and a cracking atmosphere. I'd recommend staying in the 'prison hotel' there! Check our my review:
I haven't made it to Levski Spartak Sofia or Sparta Prague yet, still time!

Nick said...

Jimbob: Went to Liverpool v Sparta Prague on Thursday (dreadful game) but me and my mate shared a cab to the ground with a Sparta fan - same age as me - who was at the 4-0 drubbing the Junior Hornets (so many injuries in that UEFA cup run) got in Prague. He remembers the frozen pitch and everything.

I only went along on Thursday cos I like the symmetry of Sparta being the last team I saw in Europe 27 years previously!

I'll give your hotel a go if I make it to Kaiserslautern!

Anonymous said...

Great piece! Every time I see the Yellow Wall even on a blurry stream, my jaw drops in awe. I cannot imagine what it must be like in person! I'll be in Germany (I'm American) for two Bundesliga weekends this August. My primary target is the Allianz, but if we can fit in the Westfalenstadion, I would be really chuffed. Seems like quite the experience. (Really, anything's going to be an experience - I've never been to anything but an American college game and a local match in Ireland!) I'll also be seeing Germany-Brazil in Stuttgart, and while I hear that isn't the nicest stadium... it's Germany-Brazil! I can't wait. :)

Gerrit said...

While I lost all (limited) sympathy for St Pauli I had before since the Biermann case, this was very pleasant reading indeed. I have been at the Wastfalenstadion on a non-match day and it looked pretty impressive, I can imagine it must be a great sight when packed with people. "Aux Armes" is originally a Marseille song? I know Standard Liège adopted the song , but never knew where it originated from.