Friday, 6 May 2011

Hamburger SV v Hannover 96

'You Like Roy Hodgson!?'

Hamburger SV 0-0 Hannover 96 (16:04:11)

You keep sending in brilliant articles about good times watching football abroad, and I'll keep on publishing them. Arriving through the EFW internet letterbox today was this gem typed by the fair hands of Johnny Rudge, Johnny Tripper and Joshua Badger....

As with most great ideas the seed was sown and the germ grown in a public house. Me and my brother in all things football John Tipper (Labour Party top gun and campaigner against white Brazilians oin football) began chinwagging about what matches we'd like to see across Europe. We glossed over the major derbies like Barcelona - Real Madrid the Milan derby for two reasons:  A.) We'd struggle to obtain tickets and even if we did there would be no way our meagre bank balances would cope. 2.) We wanted to experience something a little different. Maybe a match that Sky's evil minions haven't shoved down our throats for three months in advance. I still have the receipt, on the back of which we had jotted down the list of teams we would like to see play. It read like this:

Bundesliga - St. Pauli, Hamburg, Schalke 04
Serie A - Sampdoria, Torino
Ligue 1 - Montpellier, Marseille
La Liga - Bilbao, Real Betis
Eredivisie - Ajax, Heerenveen, AZ Alkmaar

We'd also scribbled down some games in Scandinavia but this section has been rendered illegible by a wave of Guinness at some juncture in the evening. Anyway we had a good time discussing our favourite sides from each nation and painting a mental picture of some of the japes we could enter into on each of the respective journeys. The next morning I had a rummage in my jeans pocket and found the receipt with our scrawlings on the back. Rather than putting it down to the idle banter of a pub session I text Tipper and asked him if he would genuinely consider a trip to our first choice of the Bundesliga.

"Why not?" came the reply. As we did research and found numerous ways to shave money from flights and accommodation this trip began to look feasible. Tipper booked us up for Hamburg vs. Hannover tickets and as he ordered them on the phone, managed to fall wildly in love with the phone operator at the ticket office whose English, unlike his stuttering attempts, was delightfully fluent. So there we were, ready to head to the Imtech Arena and track down my mate's Saxon maiden.

Our bombastic brother, Joshua Badger was recruited to aid us on our quest for Bundesliga satisfaction. With the trio complete we began our journey. Crewe Station was the first stop after we left Birmingham on Friday morning. Not much to report from this stage of the journey, as you would expect, except as we waited for our train to Manchester Airport we attempted to name all of Crewe Alexandra's Youth Academy luminaries, as you do. We also practised our volleying technique using a rolled up Tesco bag and finally we noticed an amusing sign which read 'NO LITTERING or celtic PLEASE'. The first of many amusing graffiti spots we would take in over the course of the trip.

Your next job is to imagine one of those Indiana Jones style maps where the little image of a plane moves across the globe, dashed lines marking it's route. This particular little map animation involves a fairly straight forward trip from Manchester to Hamburg. Upon disembarkation we immediately sought beer, sausage and our accommodation. In that order. We decided to enter the first bar we encountered in order to whet our whistle, our whistle was all dried out from budget airline air conditioning. That's our alibi, and we are sticking to it. The first bar we noted was a classic out of the way, grotty, local tavern. We entered and were faced with a bar that was no bigger than a spare bedroom. At the bar were three characters that clearly hadn't moved from their bar stools for at least thirty five years. We shuffled in and took our seat. As we ordered our three beers in our best English (what?! It was our first day and we 'ain't no bloody fancy dans am we?) we took in our surroundings more carefully. We studied the walls which were plastered with St. Pauli stickers, flags, team photos from the eighties and nineties. Comforted by the presence of football paraphernalia we settled into a delicious lager and discussed some of the more interesting adornments. There were stickers bearing the slogan 'Love St. Pauli, Hate Racism' and 'St. Pauli Anti-Racism Group'. Along with these commendable and let's face it, unusual club stickers we also came across fan club ones from Scotland, England, France and Catalonia.

With some vague instructions we struck out for our hostel. Once we had arrived, got our room and settled in we began to reflect on our short trip from the station to the hostel. The St. Pauli area was drenched in the club's official colours - brown and white and the unofficial black and white of the skull and cross bones. Flags flew from windows, shirts were worn by almost every person we passed in the street and many more amusing graffiti daublings: 'Fuck HSV' and 'USP' which we decided stood for Ultras Saint Pauli rather than Unique Selling Point. It seemed like some odd and delicious dream where football really meant the world to a town, but it seemed to go deeper. It was almost like a religion. I text my dad that last line expecting it to sound profound and powerful. He replied with 'A bit like West Brom then'.

Following a very naughty and boozy night on the Reeperbahn which included one of our party letting our facade of 'likely lads' fall away by sampling many fruity flavoured beers which succeeded to put a wan sort of smile on his face, the realisation that even in it's homeland the Jagermeister tastes like medieval Benylin and finally, befriending the drunkest man in the world ever, whose knowledge of English football was supreme. He was a German Hamburg fan and he was stumbling around the bar, looking like a classic comedy drunk. He was bumping into things, sloshing beer out of his glass as he did so. He crashed onto our table and began speaking in German to us. Chuckling, we tried to tell him we didn't speak the language but no sooner had we uttered our first foreign word than his eyes lit up.


He went on to ask us who we supported. Josh is an Aston Villa fan so he mentioned Villa and the sozzled chap began a kind of elaborate fist-kissing motion as he listed players and former managers. He then turned on Josh, staring him straight in the eyes.

"Chelsea, no! Manchester, no! Arsenal, no! Birmingham City! Birmingham City! League Cup yeah!"
We were dreading his assessment of West Bromwich Albion but also pleasantly intrigued as to how much he knew about our beloved club.

"ROY HODGSON! Great manager! Here in Germany we love Hodgson, he is a good man. With Fulham he did super job! Maybe with Liverpool..." He gesticulated downwards with his thumb and made a raspberry noise with his mouth, perhaps the most succinct summary of Woy's time at Anfield.

"But he is good manager!" He moved away from our table and stumbled across to the next table along where a middle-aged German couple were sitting, minding their own business.

"Do you like Roy Hodgson?!" Needless to say they were a little confused.

We awoke early the next day to go and investigate The Millerntor before heading to the Hamburg - Hannover game. St. Pauli were away to Wolfsburg so we expected the area around the ground to be abandoned. Yet when we arrived, around 9.30 in the morning we found a gathering of people strolling around in front of the ground. Some were taking in the art that covers some concrete structures at the front of the stadium while some were taking pictures of the stadium itself. None of these people were as excited as we were. We were bounding around like exciteable puppies. It felt like we were somewhere that was exceptionally important both in the world of football and in the local community.

After debating the best way to get to the ground, including my ill-advised and possibly (still) drunken suggestion that we cover the five or so miles on foot, we decided to take the excellent subway system which proved a doddle to navigate as long as you could ask directions from the attendants. The one we asked looked remarkably like Tuncay of Blackburn fame. As we exited the subway station at the stop Tuncay had suggested we were in no doubt about whether we had picked the right station to exit. We were immediately swept up in a river of fans, both HSV and Hannover alike streaming towards the Imtech Arena. The best bit about the walk to the ground was the mini-fan camps that were dotted along the route. They were often just two or three garden tables, a stall selling exclusively meat in bread and a van with crates of beer in. We fully exploited the German law allowing us to drink in public and enjoyed a beer or two as we meandered up to the stadium. Every glimpse of which sent Josh (our resident structure fetishist) into another garbled explosion of excitement.

We arrived outside the impressive arena early and we weren't alone, there were queues of fans waiting to enter. Once we'd bundled ourselves inside we headed straight for the HSV club shop. Once inside I began buzzing around (as the resident football merchandise fetishist) hoovering up all of the Hamburg branded items. The oddest thing was that the club shop was rammed to capacity. Now, I can only speak for my experience in the WBA club shop on matchdays but it is never as full as the HSV club shop. We exited, resplendant in our fresh HSV away shirts which, on a sidenote, are blue and black in colour as is the Imtech Arena, the HSV badge and all of the HSV merchandise. The home shirt is white and red which is really quite confusing. Anyway, I'll put the uber-nerd back in his cage and continue with our mini-adventure.

We entered the ground where despite being an hour and a half early we were greeted with hundreds of people socialising, drinking and eating. They were perched watching two guys, presumably, talking about the upcoming match from a small stage. Whereas in English stadia you often find the only entertainment is to moan about the humungous queues for refreshments or the tiny screens showing Sky Sports News. It was quite a shock. It seems the German football fan makes much more of a day of their trip to their team's ground than the average English football fan.

Having located our seats, next to a middle-aged lady bedecked in HSV regalia, including a TOTALLY RADICAL bandana we settled down to await the two teams. We weren't allowed to sit for long as the whole stadium took to it's feet to welcome the twenty two players as the erection-inducing opening strains of the Star Wars theme boomed out of the speakers. As an all-round geek this was simply too much. This couldn't get any better. Yes it could. The Ultras started up. They were located in a standing section beneath us and a seated area in the corner across from us. They swirled flares in the air, their giant flags fluttered, synchronised jumping, dancing and chanting began in earnest and didn't relent for the next hour and a half. It was majestic support.

The match was between a side whose season has been fairly disappointing considering their status as 'The Dinosaur of German Football', Hamburg and a side whose season has been a vast improvent on last season's 15th place finish, Hannover 96. The home side lay in seventh while the visitors were above them in fourth. The game itself was fairly entertaining as 0-0 draws go. Hannover 96 in particular played some impressively elegant football, while the sleeping giants of HSV (who, given that their team includes Ze Roberto and Ruud Van Nistelrooy, must have just been pleased their side survived the winter) stirred to life in the closing stages and saw a couple of potential penalties waved away. As the final whistle blew we were buoyed by our experience with the Hamburg faithful, who were obliging, enthusiastic and very vocal.

We were ready to head back to the hostel and then out for a post-match beer or nine. We made our way back to the St. Pauli area, Josh bounding down the street in his HSV shirt, all of us high on the heady fumes of Hamburger SV's intoxicating grandeur. As we got closer to our hostel we began noticing people looking at us rather strangely. We wondered whether it was because of us chattering loudly in English but it wasn't that. A small girl, no older than four or five got out of a car with her mother and her face was a picture. She stared, wide-eyed at Josh's shirt and pulled a face which was instantly recognisable as "You must be batshit mental mate". We passed a group of twelve year olds on a shop corner who began chanting "SAINT PAULI!" at us.

We rounded another corner, which was overlooked by a restauraunt. The people sitting in the window seat stood up, and with smiles on their faces, shook their fists and shouted at us. Josh looked down and looked back up. In unison we realised what was causing such a ruckus. Josh removed his HSV shirt and completed the journey to our accommodation in a more neutral attire. It was a very unusual experience, we obviously understood the rivalry between the established, successful Hamburg and the anti-establishment, punk football club St. Pauli were but to see children still in primary school as appalled as they were to see us in HSV attire in their streets was an eye-opener. Everything we had gathered about the importance of St. Pauli as a culture and a declaration of a lifestyle had just been confirmed thanks to the wide-eyed disbelief of a five year old girl.

Of the many things that impressed us about Germany, the generally liberal culture that surrounds it's football was the most striking. I suspect there may have been more of an undercurrent of menace had HSV been playing Werder Bremen, rather than a traditionally friendly rival, but both sets of fans drank, sang, and raked the trees lining the approach to the ground with piss together, unmolested by the polizei. Indeed by the Saturday evening itself Hamburg itself was overflowing with visiting vans who were voluble, drunk and extremely friendly; not even our inability to join in with their most basic of chants (although Tipper did manage a verse of 'Stevie Bull's A Tatter') was enough to dampen the mood.

The distinction between English and German football is that it appears that their authorities treat supprters like adults, and so generally they act like them. Despite the gentrification that has changed the game beyond recognition over the last twenty years, there is still the lingering taint of something shameful in being a genuine football fan in Britain, like all of us have the potential to lurch into violence. Personally, I watch football because I love it and the shared sense of identity it gives me - an identity common to everybody who has sat in a freezing cold stand, watching a game ebb away, regardless of who they support or where they are from. For being the living, breathing, semi-submerged ideal, massive kudos to Hannover 96 and HSV. Oh, and the pretzels were good too.

*Ah the photos. Well, the man with the SLR managed to get so drunk he decided climbing a thirty foot tree was a good idea and is currently recovering from a fractured pelvis in hospital so we haven't had access to the photos I'm afraid. But we did manage to cobble together some scappy footage:

Johnny Rudge is the Editor of Ballet of the Masses

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