Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Napoli v Manchester City

This Is How It Feels

Napoli 2-1 Manchester City (22:11:11)

What's it like, as an away fan, to visit one of the most famous grounds in world football. One that houses fans so passionate and vociferous that the noise from a goal causes a seismic shift in the city? Lifelong Manchester City fan, David Mayor, reveals all...

Due to the effects of the on-going global financial crisis I hadn’t expected to go to any of Manchester City’s away games in the group stages of the Champions League with the draw approaching. But having rushed from work to a City Centre pub to watch it, there was a certain inevitability that I’d at least look into possible routes of getting to them once the draw had thrown up Bayern, Villareal and, most excitedly for me, Napoli.

Around an hour after getting home that evening I’d seen suitable flights from Manchester to Rome for less than £50. At this point I considered the factors that would decide if I’d purchase these or not. These were the state of my bank balance, my potential danger/safety and the fact that we were playing away in arguably the most atmospheric stadium in Europe. Being the responsible adult that I am, and after deliberating for somewhere in the region of 30 seconds, the latter of those factors won this particular round-robin of clashes with a more than healthy goal-difference.

Fast-forward about three-months and you’d have found myself, Big Chris and Ant in the departures lounge of Manchester Airport at 5.50 on a Monday morning. As you all know, two of the possible explanations for drinking at that time include being in an airport or going to an away game. Fortunately they don’t cancel each other out so we managed a quick pint before boarding the flight which was your usual mix of lads drinking extortionately priced half-cans of Magners and well-dressed Italian businessmen. Personally I took-up a kind-of middle ground here by wearing an Adidas trackie-top whilst catching-up with world affairs by reading The Times. The two hour-flight passed while I pondered such issues as ‘will the incoming Conservative government address Spain’s catastrophic unemployment rate,‘ ‘can sex addiction be considered an illness’ and ‘aren’t Bury doing well.’

As, it seemed most of our fellow Blues on board had planned, I’d decided we’d stay in Rome on the Monday night. I was a little ashamed about this as I’d been to Rome before and felt I was guilty of “believing the hype” regarding Naples reputation for safety by thinking we’d enjoy a more relaxing day drinking exploring the capital’s cultural riches.

So with bags dropped at the hotel and pasta and wine consumed we walked to the nearby Coliseum. Now for all the history associated with the place, one barely mentioned, yet significant, moment was the major huff I had with a tour-guide there in 2004. While hanging around waiting for the tour to begin, she asked us the reason for us being in the Eternal City and I excitedly told her that were going to watch Lazio v Roma the following evening. She proceeded to scoff at the idea that people would travel to Rome with the primary intention of watching a football match.

Deeply embittered by this seven years on, and the fact I don’t get a great deal out of the most recognisable historical landmarks, I decided having a pint in view of the Coliseum was a better use of my time and money than paying €10 to go in there again. With Ant joining me we were soon rewarded for this decision when, on receiving a second beer, we were given the most elaborate-looking cheese and ham toasty. History 0 Mayor 1.

The rest of Monday consisted of a bit of a stroll followed by, at regular intervals, the all-too familiar exchange:

“Shall we go in there for one?”
“Let’s have a walk around, looks nothing special in there”

Ten minutes later

“No let’s see what’s up here”

Five minutes later

“Can we just effin go in there?”

Fortunately (I’d hate to give away which one was me in that exchange) it wasn’t long before we were enjoying many ‘one’s’ in various places and talk inevitably turned to tomorrow and what we were to expect in Naples. The general consensus was things wouldn’t be as bad as they were being made out but we just had to have our sensible heads on and adhere to the safety advice the club had provided. In addition, EFWs good leader, Danny Last, had provided a specially commissioned Napoli/City friendship logo (the shade of blue caused concern he’d actually given us a Real Oviedo/Everton friendship logo by mistake but he deserves the benefit of the doubt here) which would surely diffuse any volatile situation.

With some heavy heads we made our way to Roma Termini station for the 10.49 to Napoli Centrale the following morning and being honest, the regularly asked, hilarious question of ‘are you packing steel underpants,’ was now beginning to haunt us. The area around Termini isn’t the best to settle a few nerves and even the most joyous of activities that is buying cans before boarding a train to a football match felt a little subdued.

Once on the train a couple of other City fans came and sat in the carriage and it was re-assuring that they didn’t look the types to turn the journey into a two-hour banging on windows sing-song but just wanted a chat and a laugh discussing David White, the journey to FC Midtjylland and that kids who watch City now will grow up never having known any different. Bloody kids being young when we’re good!

Upon departing the train in Naples the dreaded ‘welcome party’ didn’t materialise, but a more welcome, welcome party did in the form of the local Carabinieri and my great mate Isra. The Carabinieri met us with smiles and simply wanted to know where we were staying and if we knew how to get there, which was another in the tick column for those of a more nervous disposition, while Isra raised the bar with a handshake and enthusiastic man-hug.

David and Isra with the specially commissioned Napoli/City friendship logo. (Note to self: sort out ink on printer) 

Isra, by the way, is someone who I’m surprised hasn’t made the pages of EFW before as he is, amazingly enough, a big fan of the game we call football who lives in and travels around Europe watching it. An Atletico Madrid fan who now lives in Italy, he was a more than welcome addition to our party mainly because he’s a grade A chap. Additionally he also speaks Italian and had been to Napoli before so his experience and language skills were appreciated.

Having chosen to stay across the road from the station we were surprised at how quiet the area was as it had been categorised by all and sundry as no-go. The hotel also had a bar, which was welcome, but after a quick one we got the taxi down to the Port area Stazione Marittima, as advised, from where we would later be shuttled to the stadium. We were in good spirits at this point. We were now “four-handed” the station area and hotel had been fine and we were about to go to the safe area of the port.

Once at the port we weighed up our options and took the unpredictable decision of going to the first bar we came to. It contained around 20 other Blues and included the bloke who ran the supporters club I went to games with from the mid-nineties to the early-noughties. There was something quite brilliant in sharing a beer and a laugh with someone on route to the Stadio San Paolo in a way that’s no different than when you did it before Upton Park, Filbert Street, Bescot Stadium etc I sensed his satisfaction that he wouldn’t have to add to the couple of hundred thousand times he’d said ‘no cans on the bus please lads’ on this particular away trip as well.

We then headed directly towards the area where we would be transported to the stadium which was a weird sort of tunnel that, again, thankfully had three (that’s three rather than free unfortunately) bars. I could tell this place was going to have quite a relaxed feel as you could hear that our fans were now happy to engage in a song or two. For a couple of hours ditties celebrating heroes of years gone by were intertwined with those about our current range of world-superstars which included the questionable allegation that David Silva gets pissed up on San Miguel.

With everyone in good spirits, we moved onto the heavily guarded buses around two hours before kick-off and were on our way. The singing continued although to my great disappointment no-one seemed to want to join in the praise of Tricky Tricky Ricky Ricky Holden, preferring instead to concentrate on our mercurial little Spanish playmakers (alleged) drinking habits.

I knew the journey to the stadium wasn’t exactly spitting distance but I didn’t expect it to take over an hour and myself and Isra believed they were deliberately delaying our arrival at the stadium. We weren’t complaining though and with just under an hour or so to kick-off we were obviously in the vicinity as you could see various Napoli fans having a pre-match drink of their own. In this way it was very similar to going to a British game as an away fan on the coach. Lots of locals looked at us and there was the occasional exchange of hand-gestures but nothing to write on EFW about.

We all got off the buses and made a short walk to the stadium along a cordoned off street. Up a small, fantastically graffitied, ramp type thing, tickets checked and there it was. Through one of the gang-ways I could make out the stand (opposite the camera on TV) and could see a packed crowd and the NAPOLI CLUB and BLUE TIGRE banners that I have seen on TV and in pictures a hundred times. If 2004 German Tour guide woman could’ve seen me at this point it may have given her some insight into why someone might travel from England to Italy go to a football match.

Blue Moon...

....Now I'm we're no longer alone. (bobble hats off to David for *that* bit of headgear - Ed.)

Once in view of the pitch I was completely awestruck. The players were out warming up but the crowd, as it has at matches for 25 years, fascinated me. Directly to our right was Curva A with Curva B far away in the distance to our left. We had about half an hour to kick-off at this point and there were different things catching my eye every couple of seconds although nothing could prepare for the teams entrance on the pitch.

Having had quite a fascination with Ultras over a number of years I consider myself pretty clued up on all things tifo but no-one could have failed to be impressed by this. The two curva’s produced immense displays but seemingly the whole stadium had something going on. It was everywhere, huge surfer flags, flares, card displays, message banners, sparklers (see http://www.ultras-tifo.net/photo-news/616-napoli-manchester-city-22112011.html) and while I’d seen whole stadiums immersed in colour and flags before, the chaotic nature of this really was on another level.

You shouldn’t be surprised to read it was also the loudest stadium I‘d ever experienced and again it seemed every single Parteponi was getting involved. It was a tough task for the 800 or so of us to make ourselves heard and every time there seemed to be a break in the noise and the first strains of ‘Blue Moon’ or ‘It should’ve been ten’ were belted out, it was soon drowned out by, what sounded like, the whole of the city of Naples whistling.

Now I can’t do justice to, or begin to include, everything that was noteworthy that happened in the stadium. It was an absolute cauldron of noise, colour, smoke etc and for two hours I was in football watching heaven. It was everything I’d ever wanted to get from the experience of going to a match and I was watching the club that I love. Of course we got beat and I felt that anxious urge of wanting us to get that equaliser as I would at any match but while we sat, kept in the stadium after the match, I still felt a strange sense of elation.

Curva A in the distance, just beyond the Bob the Builder stewards in the foreground. 

Napoli fans in the Curva A with their version of the EFW Napoli/City friendship offering. Pretty, pretty good. 

As we watched it slowly empty (and the local fans nick the Champions League banners that cover the perimeters of the stands) I could hear conversations of the “Mancini got it wrong with the full-backs” and “De-jong’s lost it” nature going on behind me. I’ve never been one for this kind of post-match analysis but I found it especially unappealing at this time. Everyone’s different, and I had on this very trip been described as being a ‘bit too much of a glass half-full Blue’ but having just watched Manchester City play at Napoli, sitting five points clear at the top of the league after winning the FA Cup a few months earlier I didn’t think I, or they, had too much to be complaining about.

The bus journey back to the port was understandably more subdued. Well that’s except for the hundreds of local cars that passed us beeping horns and waving their flags and scarfs out of the window. But for us on board, there did seem a bit of relief that things had passed without any major problems and most were looking forward to getting back to their hotel for a night-cap or two.

This was where our only major issue arose. Once dropped off at the port we were left to our own devices to find our way to the hotel. I’m still unsure as to why the Police hadn’t arranged for taxi’s to be on hand as they’d seemed to have everything else tied up in this regard. Anyway, walking in search of a cab around midnight, with no idea where we were going wasn’t ideal and the situation was intimidating as cars would drive past with drivers and passengers glaring at us. Thankfully after 10 minutes we managed to flag one down and were relieved to be on our way to the hotel.

As we entered the hotel bar I was just thinking how well the trip had passed when another City fan came in who looked petrified. Shaking, he ordered a drink and told us how the group he’d been with had just been attacked and one of them stabbed. He said the Police had been on the scene immediately and the victim seemed ok and had gone to hospital. Obviously that situation could have been worse but it was an extremely sobering moment listening to him describe what had happened.

We stayed up for a couple of hours and chatted to our barman who was, naturally, a Napoli fan and a sound bloke. He expressed concern about what had just happened, told us stories of games he’d been to over the years and asked if it was true that everyone in Manchester supports City which, being nothing if not honest, we all nodded vigorously at.

It was an early start in the morning to get the return train/flight, all of which again went smoothly. Personally, I’d had an amazing time. It was certainly different than those who went to Bayern or Villareal would have had but I knew this when booking. The other trips I’ve had abroad to watch a game are as much about the laugh you have with your mates/meeting opposition fans etc as the game you’re going to. This one was always going to be different. It was always going to be about the moment I could see the Stadio San Paolo and the few hours that followed and that, my fellow European Football enthusiasts, was one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life.

You can follow David Mayor and European Football Weekends on Twitter

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Borussia Dortmund v Schalke 04 - photo special


Borussia Dormund 2-0 Schalke 04 (26:11:11)

Yesterday, Nick Coppack went to see surprise package, Borussia Mönchengladbach beat their near neighbours FC Köln to storm to the top of the Bundesliga (click HERE for those photos). What could possibly beat that? How about being in a crowd of over 80,000, a day later, at one of the biggest matches in world football, BVB v Schalke 04.. yes sir.. photo us up, Nick...

You can follow both Nick Coppack and European Football Weekends on Twitter.

FC Köln v Borussia Mönchengladbach - photo special

Supercalifragilistic, Borussia Mönchengladbach

FC Köln 0-3 Borussia Mönchengladbach (25:11:11)

Life couldn't get much better for fans of Borussia Mönchengladbach. Nick Coppack was in the away end as Die Fohlen (the Foals) stormed to the top of the Bundesliga courtesy of a three-nil away win at their rivals, FC Köln. Here's some rather fantastic photos from the match....


You can follow both Nick Coppack and European Football Weekends on Twitter

There'll be an in depth report to follow penned by the fair hand of Paul Whitaker.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Bayern Munich v Hertha Berlin

A hard days night to FC Bayern

Bayern Munich 4-0 Hertha Berlin (15:10:11)

Last month Mr and Mrs Orton took a romantic sleeper train to Germany to see FC Bayern Munich play at the futuristic Allianz Arena. This was their day (and night)...

A couple of weeks ago Mrs O (Debra, as in the Mrs) and I found ourselves with the opportunity to see Bayern Munich play Hertha Berlin at the super sexy Allianz Arena. This was not something we were going to pass up so cometh the day, cometh the football fans, and we nimbly jumped on Eurostar to clickety-clack our way to Paris’ not terribly fragrant Gare du Nord. From there we sprinted around the corner to Gare de L’est to catch the overnight sleeper train to München’s Hauptbahnhof.

In my experience the word ‘sleeper’ doesn’t really bear any resemblance to the long night we endured. If you’ve ever laid down on a stretcher, one that has all the give of a kitchen worktop, whilst four men of Geoff Capes’ stature shake it about as if panning for gold, you’ll get the gist of what it feels like to be lying down on a fast moving train with your eyes closed. Rest, let alone sleep, does not come into it.

Still, the ‘free’ breakfast in the morning was nothing if not, er, nourishing, and a useful aid in denying the inside of my mouth any trace of moisture for the rest of the day.

Breakfast box full of love and yeast

We arrived in Munich so early, about 07:15, that all the grown ups had been replaced by drunk youths staggering about, shouting and eating sausages. Whilst the young people screamed and introduced their bodies to its first traces of gout, we decided to locate our hotel and get some rest. We steamed the receptionist, got a room key, any key, we were beyond caring, and bundled into our room. I was actually asleep before my head hit the pillow. This was just as well as there was no pillow (what can I say? It was a cheap hotel, OK, and we’d spent all our money on train tickets).

When we awoke it was time to leave for the football. We made our way back to München Hauptbahnhof and caught the U-Bahn to Fröttmaning, the stop for the Allianz Arena. As you near Fröttmaning the stadium peeks out to your right teasing you just as the merest of glimpses towards a finely turned ankle upon a lady would. The saucy minx. On leaving the station you stroll along a purpose built walkway that links the station to the ground. And it is here that your senses are really challenged by the sight that beholds you. No, not the stadium as you might expect, but more the sight of many men in leather urinating freely and openly for as far as the eye can see.

Leather men: FC Bayern fans make their way to the Schlauchboot

It would seem that the good burghers of Munich are quite free and easy about all things bodily. Indeed you can add breaking wind without care, embarrassment, or awareness of those walking in their proximity to that list. I’m no nutritionist but this is almost certainly linked to the Bavarian diet of beer and sausages making it impossible to keep it all in, as the Beautiful South once said. The hearty rasp of sausage and beer recently past led me to endure a flashback to my sleeper train bed and the sound of the man in the adjacent cabin emitting wind with such ferocity and frequency, I thought he was going to blow the partition down that divided our respective cabins and jet propel the train back to Paris.

But I digress, back to the matter in hand, as opposed to what was in the hand of the wee wee men, as it were. Finally the true splendour of the Allianz came into view – framed perfectly on this surprisingly warm and sunny October afternoon, by a brilliant blue sky.

Approaching the ground from Fröttmaning station. The whole area, not just the stadium, is landscaped and designed in a way that reminded us of the world the Tellytubbies inhabit

Excitedly we picked up our tickets from the polite and helpful ticket man (there are well over 50 ticket booths so queues are non-existent) and made our way through the digital turnstiles to begin a touristy circuit around the stadium before finding our entrance block. Once inside there are beer and sausage sellers as far as the eye can see. But you can’t purchase them using cash, oh no, that’s far too old fashioned and inefficient. Instead you purchase an Allianz Arena/FC Bayern Munich prepay card. A nifty idea that means you get your hands on the sausages and beer far quicker and also, in the case of football tourists like us, you end up charging the card with far more Euros than you need which I assume sits in their bank accounts accruing interest nicely.

Beer wot I bought with my FC Bayern Munich prepay card. Despite being non-alcoholic it was surprisingly nice

Laden with artery attacking branded produce, we went in search of our seats. The view of the pitch and indeed around the stadium from where we were sitting was excellent. A pleasant surprise was there appeared to be no segregation of supporters. FC Bayern fans surrounded us but there were a lot of FC Hertha fans, resplendent in their blue and white striped shirts, imbibing beer and sausages whilst mingling freely and easily with their Bavarian counterparts. Over in the top tier to our right were the hardcore Berlin fans and they sang and sang and then sang some more. In fact they didn’t stop the whole way though the match; a credit to their club, especially as the game didn’t go their way, to put it mildly.

The noisiest section of FC Bayern fans, the Ultras (I believe), were over the far end behind one of the goals.  They waved flags and gave it back as loudly as they could. It was great. Reminded me a bit of going to English footy matches in the late 70s when you could hear the singing and chanting long before you got near the ground, but without the threat of violence.

About ten minutes before kick off, the pitch side announcer directed everyone’s gaze to the stadium’s screens. A camera shot, deep inside the bowels of the ground where the players were gathering. The roar that went up made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. The camera follows the team as they walk down the tunnel to emerge onto the sunlight pitch. Mrs O and I glanced at each other and exchanged big smiles such was the adrenalin rush.

Now, I’m not totally daft, and I realise we were being manipulated: it was all a bit Disney; a bit stage managed; a bit cheesy even, but we didn’t care. Good theatre is all about manipulating the audience’s emotions which if we approve we’ll happily buy in to. After all, we were attending a modern day drama played out at a splendid theatrical venue.

Anyway, a few minutes later the teams  lined up, did the hand shake thing, everyone sang a song (could have been Stern des Südens, but not sure) and we were pretty much ready to rock ‘n’ roll. This was a little bit like being at Carrow Road although we sing On the Ball City as loudly as possible and our hot dogs are often cold (stick to the pies people/Delia Out!). I’m happy with the City match day experience, or indeed, the UK as a whole (aside from rising ticket prices), but one thing I would like introduced at Norwich is the beer seller system at the Allianz. Once you’re safely tucked into your seat they have staff, identifiable by brightly coloured balloons, moving between seat rows merrily selling you beer so you don’t have to miss a second of the match. Brilliant.

FC Bayern demonstrate to FC Hertha how to play football

The game itself was a total mismatch. FC Hertha were absolutely dreadful and conceded goals from Mario Gomez, Franck Ribery and the splendidly uber sounding German Bastian Schweinsteiger within the first 15 minutes. And it could have been much, much worse for them, and indeed should have been but for a combination of some good keeping and relaxed finishing. As a result only one more goal was added before full time courtesy of a soft penalty award. The penalty was duly tucked away by Gomez for his second.

Gomez scores FC Bayern's fourth from the penalty spot

After the match we hung around and took some more pictures before lazily making out way back to Fröttmaning station. Once at the station itself there was a slight crush with 69k’s worth of supporters all trying to get a train home. As we stood in the middle of this large throng someone, no doubt bloated on beer and sausages ‘popped’, as Mrs O would say, and for a few awkward minutes we stood in a fug of someone else’s dinner before thankfully being swiftly directed onto a waiting train.

The U-Bahn journey back was filled with FC Hertha Berlin supporters singing (I did say they never stopped), and the Munich fans laughing at the chants. All good natured stuff and made for a light hearted end to the day.

In a nutshell, sleep or no sleep, if you get the chance to attend a game at the Allianz Arena then go – it is a great day out for architecture, people watching and football obviously. But do watch out for the beer and sausages as they have a habit of reappearing in one way or another after consumption and often when you least expect it.


No need darling.

Adam is business manager for Debra Orton Illustration www.debraorton.com. You can follow both him and Debra on Twitter: @IamOrtonomous and @DebraOrton