Sunday, 21 November 2010

St Pauli v VfL Wolfsburg. 21/11/10

"Why are Wolfsburg singing about 1945? Do you think it's to do with the end of the war?"

St Pauli 1-1 VfL Wolfsburg. Millerntor-Stadion.
Sunday 21/11/10.
Ask most people why they would go and watch St Pauli and you'll get a multitude of answers - the clubs popularity across Europe for it's unique culture. It's left wing political leanings. It's anti-establishment position. It's link to the punk scene. The brown kit. The red hot atmosphere of the Millerntor-Stadion. It's location in Hamburg's red light district. What you are unlikely to hear is Schteve McClaren's VfL Wolfsburg were in town.

But that was the reason we had. Schteve took over at Wolfsburg in the summer after becoming the first English manager in 20 years to lift a major domestic league title with FC Twente in the Netherlands. And, being the sad case that he is, Rumble had decided to arrange his stag do to Hamburg around seeing Mr McClaren lead out his side at the Millerntor.

"To Andy. Enjoy your trip to Germany 2010. Steve McClaren"
What nobody expected when that decision was made was that in writing to Schteve to tell him we were coming to support his team, he would send back a load of tickets in the away end as well as a signed shirt congratulating Andy on his engagement. Just when you thought you couldn't love the man (Schteve, not Rumble) anymore.

Hamburg - including the Town Hall - from the air
We'd spent two days in Hamburg prior to the game and if you want somewhere to go with a large group of English men who enjoy beer, meat and women then this is it. It's little wonder The Beatles loved the place so much - there were pubs galore on either side of the Reeperbahn which is were we spent most of our time drinking. Of course, St Pauli aren't the cities only football team - we also checked out the stadium of their rivals Hamburger SV. As luck would have it, we got to see the side train on pitches outside the Imetech Arena which included Ruud van Nistelrooy. Every time he netted he was greeted with a big "RUUUUUUDDDDDD" from the gathered masses which didn't go down well if the fact he scarpered as soon as the session was done is anything to go by.

Cheeky look at Hamburger SV's Imtech Arena
Meeting Brazil legend Ze Roberto after stumbling across
 Hamburger SV training
Game day arrived and it was an evening kick off at Millerntor which would make the already intense atmosphere even greater. With St Pauli being the team of the Reeperbahn area of the city, most of the bars play up their association with flags, scarves and shirts all over the place. We drank in several of these before the game, heading to the stadium quite late.

St Pauli bar
The ground isn't quite the old school wreck it used to be, with two new stands built in recent years ahead of their rise into the Bundesliga for 2010-11. One of those is behind the goal and features a terrace with seats behind it, home to the more fanatical of the St Pauli support. Thousands of fans in this stand lit sparklers and held them up when the teams entered the pitch to the pre-game song of Hells Bells by ACDC.

The teams enter to paper, streamers and from the St Pauli
end sparklers
Some nice shiny corporate boxes at St Pauli
A large seated stand now occupies one touchline with executive boxes at the back to show that no matter how left wing or anti-establishment a club you are, you still need the money to be rolling in from the big corporations. Opposite that is the famed Gegengerade - a bank of terracing with a small seated stand perched above it while we were sat amongst the Wolfsburg fans in a corner of the other goal, a small terrace at the front which had had temporary seats added behind it.

The stand was split between the home and away support which was just as well as you got the feeling that if everybody jumped up at once in celebration the thing would come tumbling down. In fact, you could have built it out of Lego and it would have been more secure.

The atmosphere was sensational with the ground filled to it's 25,000 capacity. It really was non stop noise throughout from both supporters and if there is anybody in any doubt at the difference that terracing can make in terms of improving the footballing experience, then the Millerntor is the place to go. St Pauli have adopted a number of English songs for their repetoire which makes them quite unique in Germany in that respect while Wolfsburg's favourite number is about 1945 - a celebration of the year they were founded as opposed to the end of World War II we discovered.

Wolfsburg fans go wild as Edin Dzeko equalises
Both teams were poor but Wolfsburg had a true hero on the pitch in the shape of Danish defender Simon Kjaer. Long blonde hair, alice band, coloured boots - he was everything a centre back shouldn't be and he played like it as well. It was quite incredible to find out after the game then that Schteve forked out over £10m for him.

St Pauli took the lead to deafening roars in the first half through Markus Thorandt's bullet header. That was cancelled out by Edin Dzeko in the second half with a point probably being a fair result come the final whistle. At the end of the game both sides left to the Millerntor belting out You'll Never Walk Alone which was quite the sight.

The teams leave the pitch to You'll Never Walk Alone
After stumbling across a Wolfsburg merchandise van we stocked up on scarves and hats of our new German team proving that even if Schteve isn't having the desired effect on the pitch, he certainly is off it driving sales of supporters knitwear through the roof.  Such is the way modern football is going, those extra euros in the till might keep him in a job for a little longer. Happy to play our part, Schteve.

Football boring? Never mind, there was a bloody huge
funfair behind the ground.
The best was yet to come though as if the football is a letdown like this was, then the addition of a bloody huge funfair behind the Gegengerade provided an hours entertainment long after the final whistle had gone. Only at St Pauli.

St Pauli: Thomas Kessler, Carsten Rothenbach, Carlos Zambrano, Markus Thorandt 1, Bastian Oczipka, Fabian Boll, Max Kruse (Deniz Naki), Gerald Asamoah (Timo Schultz), Matthias Lehmann, Fin Bartels (Florian Bruns), Marius Ebbers.

VfL Wolfsburg: Diego Benaglio, Peter Pekarik, Simon Kjaer, Andrea Barzagli, Marcel Schafer, Mario Mandzukic, Josue (Alexander Madlung), Diego, Sascha Riether, Cicero (Makoto Hasebe), Edin Dzeko 1.

Attendance: 24,000

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Switzerland v England. 07/09/10

"Sam, we've got to get up. This police officer is pointing a gun at us"

Switzerland 1-3 England. St Jakobs Park.
Tuesday 07/09/10.
Traveling on public transport in France is a task full of inherent risk. That risk comes from the communists and peasants who make up the French nation spending 90% of their working lives on strike and it was this cruel fate that so nearly ruined the journey to Basel for England's opening Euro 2012 qualifier against Switzerland.

In an attempt to save money, we decided to let the train take the strain, catching the Eurostar from St Pancras to Paris and then a TGV service from the French capital south to Basel, nicely nestled on Switzerland's borders with France and Germany.

Thanks to a typically French strike, we were able to use two
spare hours in Paris to find the Arc de Triomphe
Yet thanks to a number of work-shy Frogs, our booked train was cancelled meaning we had to catch one two hours later than planned and due to the strike, this train was utterly packed with standing room only. Standing next to a toilet in a small corridor is not the best way to spend a four hour journey, not even when you have a crate of Kronenbourg and are sharing the impossibly tiny space with a very beautiful woman. She unfortunately did not speak English. Either that or she pretended she couldn't to avoid talking to us, which in fairness is more likely and a pretty shrewd move.

Standing up next to a toilet for a four hour train journey.
At least we had some beer.
The one good thing about the strike is that it did give us enough time to wander off and see one of the sights of Paris, the Arc de Triomphe. It was a good six miles round trip which was plentiful exercise for a man of my statue.

Despite worries that it would be incredibly tight to make the game given the delay, TGV went a small way to redeeming their lazy workers by getting us to Basel with just over an hour until kick off. We stumbled across Papa Joe's which was what appeared to be a restaurant but was showing the sort of initiative that would get you a long way on Dragons Den by selling cans of beer from crates through it's windows.

Papa Joe's, Basel
Pre-game beers with some friendly Swiss
This was genius in two ways - they would make a lot of additional profit from the Swiss and England fans mingling outside and it also meant that we didn't have to pay the high price of a pint with cans of Feldschlosschen all around. It weighed in at a hearty 5.5% and led to a brilliant atmosphere at Joe's prior to the game, with the Swiss fans showing just why they haven't been involved in a war by being extremely friendly throughout.

Nelson Mandela House or St Jakob Park?
St Jakob Park with 4,000 England fans
St Jakob Park was a short tram journey from the old town area and from the outside resembled a block of flats in Peckham rather than an international football stadium. England had 4,000 tickets in a two tiered stand behind the goal and if you were stuck at the front, there was one massive issue - the rain that was absolutely hammering down. Now watching regular football at Withdean makes you used to getting drenched, but there was an underlying problem in this particular situation in that we were sleeping rough that night before traveling home the following day. Spending the next 24 hours in wet clothes would not be ideal, and so it proved with the dreaded man flu following a few days after getting back to Blighty.

The stand opposite to where we were based was identical to the away section and down both sides were three tiered efforts. The place was packed for the encounter and with their flags and noise, the Swiss were being anything but their normal neutral selfs. It quietened down after just ten minutes when Wayne Rooney scored on the pitch as opposed to in a pensioners bed to put England ahead with his first international goal in over a year and Adam Johnson made it 2-0 in the second half. The wonderfully named Xherdan Shaqiri scored an absolute screamer to give the home side hope but Darren Bent soon extinguished it for a 3-1 win. Six points out six after beating Bulgaria on Friday, job done.

Swiss flags galore
With the rain relenting after the game, we risked the walk back from Nelson Mandela House to the old town as the trams looked absolutely rammed. The name of the game when sleeping rough is to make as much use of bars and nightclubs as possible and we did just that by returning to Papa Joe's which now seemed to have morphed from a restaurant into a club by opening it's top floor as a pure drinking area. There were a number of England fans in here plainly taking the same approach as us with people asleep at tables and the staff of Joe's doing a fine job in just letting them get on with it. If you fall asleep in a pub in England - and I can talk from years of experiences of doing so - you are likely to get a severe talking to from a bouncer and maybe even a barring. But not in good old Basel.

Papa Joe's was more than happy for it's patrons to fall asleep
Sam get's into the spirit, dozing off mid pint
They do have some rules however and when one man was sick off a balcony onto the terrace below that was deemed to have quite rightly crossed a line. Having been up for approaching 24 hours at that point given our 3am departure from Sussex, that seemed as good a point as any to retire to bed - or in this case a set of steps that linked the central station to a car park.

The nights "accommodation" - a stairwell in the station
We only had an hour and a half worth of peace here before being woken up by the unusual sight of a police officer pointing a gun in our faces. This seemed to indicate we had to move on, namely to the main station for more sleep and then to a Starbucks where one small tea was purchased in exchange for another hours kip in a downstairs corner of the coffee chains outlet. Again, we were undisturbed. Try that in England and see what the results are.

Basel Cathedral
The rain was still pounding down at this point which meant a quick look at the Rhine and the cathedral was as far as the mornings sightseeing went before the train back to Paris and St Pancras. And do you know what? There wasn't one hitch on the return journey. Rooney scoring for England and the French doing a days work - the wonders simply never cease.

Switzerland: Diego Bengalio, Stephan Lichtsteiner, Steve von Bergen, Stephane Grichting, Reto Ziegler, Xavier Margairaz (Xherdan Shaqiri 1), Gokhan Inler, Pirmin Schwegler (Moreno Costanzo), David Degen (Marco Streller), Alexander Frei, Eren Derdiyok. 

England: Joe Hart, Glen Johnson, Phil Jagielka, Joleon Lescott, Ashley Cole, Gareth Barry, Steven Gerrard, Theo Walcott (Adam Johnson 1), Wayne Rooney 1 (Shaun Wright-Phillips), James Milner, Jermaine Defoe (Darren Bent 1).

Attendance: 37,500

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Spartak Moscow v CSKA Moscow. 01/08/10

"That cheer must be for one of two reasons. Either somebody has scored or Vagner Love has broken his leg"

Spartak Moscow 1-2 CSKA Moscow. Luzhniki Stadium.
Sunday 01/08/10
The centrepiece of this eagerly anticipated trip to Russia alongside seeing the surreal sight of Vladimir Lenin's embalmed body was the Moscow derby. Spartak v CSKA at the Luzhniki Stadium. And to think we almost didn't make it!

For those not familiar with the locals vodka drinking technique and it's results, it goes something like this. You are given a bottle of vodka, quite large, which you drink out of shot glasses straight consuming one every two minutes. You can have an accompanying drink with it, such as a coke or lemonade, but to mix the two is heresy along the lines of punching Vladimir Putin in the groin. By the end of the evening, the aim is to have consumed one of these bottles all to yourself. If you aren't used to this it can lead to extreme intoxication which the Russian folk appear to be rather adept at in attempting to convince you you haven't paid for any of your drinks or food.

Drinking the Russian way
The bottle of vodka we consumed one each
of and the accompanying drink - some bizarre
If you argue the point some burly security guards will arrive and attempt to get you to pay again by stopping you from leaving the restaurant. But thankfully the Russian police aren't as corrupt or as useless as they say, and they will often sort out the problem and send you on your way.

At which point you can then complicate things further by getting in a random car mistaking it for a taxi, handing the address of your hotel to the man in the drivers seat and making him take you there. He may stop several times and ask you to get out, but you'll have none of it, insisting he takes you. Being one of the countries hospitable folk, he will do and then look thoroughly confused when you give him a wad of cash for his troubles.

Smog from the forest fires made the city cloudy and even hotter
So that was the Saturday evening before the game. Quite an introduction to the Motherland. Sunday was game day and it was absolutely sweltering. Only we could pick the hottest summer in Russian history to visit Moscow with fires engulfing the countryside around the city and causing a smoke haze in it. Walk for a minute down the road and you were saturated in sweat. Even Rumble - a man who famously urinates once an hour - could go a day without visiting a bathroom as he lost so much fluid. It was so hot that you were really quite grateful for the bottles and cans of beer that were lobbed about on the escalator at the metro station outside the ground for cooling you down with their liquid.

Moscow Metro - a bit grander than the London Underground
You could spend all day on the Moscow Metro quite happily with it's stations covered in gold, marble and fine artwork and we very nearly did not being able to understand a word of cyrillic and there being absolutely no English. It wasn't hard to find the Luzhniki Stadium however - just follow the baying mob of fans with their flags and beers and you were there.

Lenin overlooks the outside of the Luzhniki
The place itself was huge. So big in fact that it wasn't even full for two of the cities four sides facing each other. Lenin remains a popular figure in these parts - I guess you have to be to have your dead body still on display nearly 90 years after you joined the great big Communist Party in the sky - and he has a giant statue outside the stadium. Inside it is pretty basic, a massive Soviet bowl complete with running track and big scoreboards at either end.

CSKA Moscow fans
Spartak Moscow fans
If you don't like fireworks, pyrotechnics or loud bangs then a Moscow derby probably isn't somewhere you should go. If there is one thing the Russians are good at other than vodka drinking and worshipping dictators, then it is being able to set off copious amounts of explosives in any given location. And on this occasion, it included the sort of banger you see over The Thames on New Years Eve in the row behind us.

The teams enter the Luzhniki
Just a few pyrotechnics from the Spartak fans
We were in with the home Spartak fans and they were a jolly bunch. When not letting off fireworks, there were scarves waved in the air, giant flags featuring octopuses, displays with cards and the obligatory monkey noises for CSKA's Vagner Love everytime he touched the ball. The Spartak fans at the other end gave as good as they got with their own displays and banners although they didn't quite manage to reach the racism levels of their opposite numbers.

The atmosphere was unlike anything I have ever experienced with the noise simply incredible. When Spartak took the lead through an own goal from Vasiliy Berezutski in the second half it felt like the ceiling was going to be lifted off the place and that was despite the fact there were just shy of 30,000 empty seats. If it had have been full to capacity, then the roof probably would have been a goner.

Paul the Octopus?
With things getting "pwaper noughtie" as Danny Dyer would have it, we decided the best thing to do was leave with five minutes remaining to avoid being caught up in what would probably have been an almighty scrum after the game. As we left, two loud roars in quick succession that could be heard the five minute walk away at the metro station meant one of two things - either Vagner Love had broken his leg and the fans were celebrating, or somebody had scored. Thankfully it turned out to be the latter as two late goals for CSKA justified the decision to get out of there before the end. Including one for Mr Love himself.

Entrance to the Kremlin
The wonderful Saint Basil's Cathedral
You can't go to Moscow and not see the sights so that is exactly what we did on the Monday after the game, walking around the Kremlin and visiting Saint Basil's Cathedral. The Cathedral is hard to describe, looking like something out of a Roald Dahl book but is absolutely magnificent. It's one of those buildings that you come across every now and again traveling that you could simply stand and look at for hours and not get bored of.

Lenin's Mausoleum
Having a lie down in Red Square
Lenin's Mausoleum is another, but unfortunately you can't stand around, take photos, talk or have your hands in your pockets. It is only open for three hours a day, three days a week but was well worth seeing even if to some people it is simply just walking down some steps, into a freezing cold room and around the body of a dead bloke.

Any country that classifies beer as a food source and so can sell it for 90p a pint in food courts in its large underground shopping centres at any time of day is fine by me. It worked out far cheaper to drink in their versions of Bluewater than it did in actual bars where the beer became overpriced for what it was. Particularly chocolate beer. But despite that, the fact we nearly got conned, arrested and blown up, Moscow was a fantastic place to visit. Just don't mention vodka to me ever again.

That is some impressive water pressure 
Look away Chelsea fans - the spot where your Champions
League dreams ended in 2008
Spartak Moscow: Sergey Ignashevich, Fedor Kudryashov, Sergey Parshivlyuk, Martin Stranzl, Marek Suchy, Jano Ananidze, Ibson, Alex (Cristian Maidana), Aleksandr Zotov, Nikita Bazhenov (Ivan Saenko), Welliton.

CSKA Moscow: Igor Akinfeev, Aleksey Berezutski, Vasili Berezutski, Sergey Ignashevich 1, Georgi Schennikov, Keisuke Honda, Pavel Mamaev, Deividas Semberas, Zoran Tosic (Sekou Oliseh), Vagner Love 1 (Elvir Rahimic), Seydou Doumbia.

Attendance: 65,000