Saturday, 15 October 2011

Bayern Munich v Hertha Berlin. 15/10/11

"I'm Arjen Robben's brother. Can't you tell, I'm bald. Can we get a beer?"

Bayern Munich 4-0 Hertha Berlin. Allianz Arena.
Saturday 15/10/11.
Munich is one of my favourite cities in the world. It has everything the true redblooded male could want - beer in steins, a plethora of bierkellers and an aversion to any food substance that doesn't feature enough meat to clog an artery in an instant.

It also has the Allianz Arena, from the outside probably the most impressive stadium in the world. The inside doesn't quite live up to that but it is still a vast bowl and remains one of my favourite stadiums. Another reason why Munich is a popular destination.

Last time we were there it was for an absolute cracker of a 2.Bundesliga game between the cities poor relations 1860 Munich and Hansa Rostock. This time around it was to see the big boys and one of the finest teams in Europe, Bayern Munich taking on recently promoted Hertha Berlin.

Munich Town Hall - a wonderful building
Arriving at 9am with kick off not until 3pm is no problem in Bavaria as all the pubs open up for breakfast. The Hofbrauhaus is Munich's most famous establishment through it's world renowned beer and it's connections to Adolf Hitler and the early days of the NAZI party. My favourite bierkeller however is the Augustiner Keller, which is where we spent our pre-game drinking while consuming a large amount of meat, of course.

The Allianz is about a 20 minute U-Bahn journey from the city centre and is basically in the middle of what looks like a zombie wasteland. Linked into the station is a small shopping centre type place which features a couple of bars and it was here we learnt a trick that can only be considered life changing for all the wrong reasons.

Jager in a pint - ingenious from our German friends 
It's probably best described as the ultimate Jagerbomb - a small, shot bottle of Jagermeister dropped into a pint glass. I'm no Albert Einstein so I can't explain to you why the laws of physics means that the Jager stays in the bottle until you reach the end of your pint, we'll just have to accept it does. But when you do get down to the final quarter it is released creating a cocktail of strong German beer and strong German spirit. Ingenius.

Is it a giant tyre or a football stadium? The Allianz in all her glory
From the station you cross the barren wasteland beneath which there are car parks serving the stadium which looks like, depending on your frame of mind, a tyre, an inflatable boat or a huge exotic coiled up snake. It really is a fantastic sight and in an attempt to brighten up the dull location, Bayern have put a variety of activities outside the ground for fans to take part in such as a penalty shoot out and a giant inflatable bear which seemed to achieve nothing other than being a giant inflatable bear.

The former Defence Secretary Liam Fox joins the Bayern team
Everybody - that is home and away fans without any signs of trouble - enters the stadium through one vast turnstile block from which you can walk all the way around the outside exterior of the ground. Inside it's a three tiered effort that appears to be far bigger than it's 70,000 capacity . The majority of the noise comes from a terrace behind the goal which is small in comparison to the rest of the place and with the Hertha fans shoved miles away up with the Gods at the other end of the stadium, it didn't lead to much of an atmosphere given the fact that it was full on the day.

Inside the mighty Allianz
The home fans gathered on the terrace
It was a straight forward 4-0 victory for Bayern as they hammered home their title credentials as well as showing up Hertha's relegation chances. The scoresheet was a who's who of some of the worlds best players with Mario Gomez ,Franck Ribery and Bastian Schweinsteiger all on it within the first 15 minutes and Gomez adding a second half penalty. Manuel Neuer probably could have bought his bed onto the pitch and had a 90 minute nap if he wanted to.

Munich camped in Hertha's half. Pretty much the picture for the entire game
Getting away was surprisingly easy given the 69,000 fans and just one station for those using public transport and before long we were back in the city centre, joining a hen do for the evening after buying biscuits and schnaps attached to the bride-to-be's dress as is German custom, attempting to get free pints by claiming Rumble was Arjen Robben's brother due to them both being bald and ultimately drinking steins and singing songs with some locals in traditional Bavarian style in the Hofbrauhaus. That included lifting a heavy wooden table up with just two fingers from each hand with surprising ease. Must have been something in the beer - Bruce Banner needed a gamma ray to get superhuman strength, the average man can just drink three steins of Hofbrau.

Joining a hen do....
And lifting a table with our German friends in the Hofbrauhaus
Of course, it is not just the Allianz that Munich has as it's sporting venue and no trip would be complete without a visit to the Olympic Park for stunning views over the city and the nearby alps from the top of the Olympic Tower and the 1972 Olympic Stadium - scene of England's last memorable performance when even Heskey scored back in 2001.

The Olympic Stadium
Standard issue Olympic Stadium photo
In fact, it's not just those two venues either as in true/sad ground anoraks we even found time to visit Grunwalder Stadium, former home of Bayern and 1860 before the Olympic Stadium opened and currently used be the two sides reserve teams, making it former Tranmere man Dale Jennings' home ground.

Grunwalder - home of Bayern and 1860's reserves
Wonderful ticket window buying facilities
Three stadiums, Hofbrauhaus, Augustiner Keller and one of the best sides in the world smashing four goals in one of the most comprehensive top flight performances you are likely to see - thats why Ich leibe Munich.

Pint and football
The Allianz from the Olympic tower
The world famous Hofbrauhaus
Bayern Munich: Manuel Neuer, Jerome Boateng, Daniel van Buyten, Holger Badstuber, Philipp Lahm (Diego Conetento), Bastian Schweinsteiger 1, Anatoliy Tymoshchuk, Thomas Muller (David Alaba), Toni Kroos, Franck Ribery 1, Mario Gomez 2 (Ivica Olic).

Hertha Berlin: Thomas Kraft, Christian Lell, Andre Mijatovic, Roman Hubnik, Levan Kobiashvili, Andreas Ottl, Peter Niemeyer, Patrick Ebert (Fabian Lustenberger), Raffael, Anis Ben-Hatira (Alfredo Morales), Pierre-Michel Lasogga (Adrian Ramos).

Attendance: 69,000

Friday, 2 September 2011

Bulgaria v England. 02/09/11

"Why would anybody who looks like Janet Street Porter think their calling in life is to run a fetish club?"

Bulgaria 0-3 England. Vasil Levski Stadium.
Friday 02/09/11.
The first rule of going abroad - always check the weather forecast. Something that was dearly forgotten for this trip to Sofia for England's Euro 2012 qualifier with Bulgaria.

Boiling hot weather and one pair of jeans is a combination that goes about as well together as Nick Griffin being a guest speaker at Martin Luther King day. So when you pack just one pair of hot, stuffy denim jeans for four days away it's pretty much a disaster.

Alexander Nevski Cathedral
Apart from the wardrobe malfunction, this was a wonderful trip. It's doubtful many people would pick Sofia as a holiday destination but when the weather is good, the women are unbelievable, it's dirt cheap, you can fly there with easyJet for £40 and accommodation is £12 a night then you are always onto a winner.

Of course, there was a drawback to that accommodation and that was sharing a double bed. Thankfully, our lovely lady host at the appartment we booked turned out to not be homophobic and was more than happy to allow two strapping gents to bunk up together in her place. Although she may have just tolerated it for the fact she knew we'd go the entire four nights without any hot water. We'll never know.

Soviet Army Monument - rolled up jeans because
of the heat!
Having arrived on the Tuesday and with the game not until the Friday night,we had plenty of time to explore Sofia. Bulgaria is quite a religious country with a number of grand churches including the Alexander Nevski Cathedral which was rather beautiful. We spent our first day checking out the sights which included the cathedral and the wonderful Soviet Army Monument which features a Soviet soldier surrounded by Bulgarian women. There is a lot of debate about whether it should be pulled down but it serves as a great meeting place with people skating around it and was even home to the England Fanzone on the Friday before the game.

Wednesday was another day of looking around including a trip to Sofia Central Station. Why go to the station I hear you cry? Well, we'd heard rumours that on the last England trip to Sofia there had been a bear caged outside of it so we set off in the vain hope that would still be the case. It wasn't but it wasn't a completely wasted journey either as Tom managed to pick up a hideous Barack Obama t-shirt for just £2 from a market stall. Yes we can!

Tom delighted with his £2 Mister President t-shirt
We did eventually get to see a bear by spending Thursday at Sofia Zoo. Now I pride myself on being something of a zoo expert and this was easily the most unsafe place you could go to. The bear enclosures were just slabs of concrete with a little bit of water you could climb into and for the truly adventurous you could stick your hands through the bars into the lion and tiger enclosures.

Bear in his concrete enclosure at Sofia Zoo
Feeling adventerous? Reach through the bars and touch a tiger
The best part about Sofia however has to be the food and drink. Well, maybe not the drink, but certainly the food. And certainly the magnificent chain of restaurants that are aptly known as Happy Grill. At Happy Grill, you could buy an industrial sized plate of varrying meats and a bicycle wheel sized piece of garlic bread for £4.20. Throw in cocktails for £2 and it was very very happy indeed.

Barnsley fans on the Soviet Monument on game day
Unfortunately, the beer was mainly horrific. Among those tried were Zagorka, Wymechko and Astika. At £1.20 a pint we weren't complaining and got through our fair share. The best places to drink were outside bars, set up in tents in the middle of parks. Every bar we found seemed to shut at midnight during the week which at one point forced us into the only open place we could find in an attempt to continue drinking - a fetish club. I say club, it was more like an underground prison, we were the only people who had been brave enough to venture in and didn't even get around to ordering a beer, deciding to bolt before a woman who looked suspiciously like Janet Street Porter managed to get us into what presumably would have been her red room of pain. 

England Fanzone
As for game day, the already mentioned fanzone in the gardens around the Soviet Monument is where we spent our time drinking. At £1 a pint it was the cheapest beer we had all trip yet you had to keep your wits about you with footballs flying through the air, a potential hit at any time. The Monument itself was popular to climb and there was music being played to sing along to with the DJ obviously being a big fan of the Champions League theme tune, playing it every five songs.

Vasil Levski from the outside. Sponsored by Pepsi
Inside the Vasil Levski Stadium
The Vasil Levski Stadium was a short walk through the park and was exactly what you'd expect from an Eastern European multipurpose venue. Running track? Check. Uncovered? Check. One large stand? Check. Fences? Check. Flares? Check. Monkey noises from the home fans for Ashley Cole and Ashley Young? Check.

Bulgarian fans raise the flag
It wouldn't be Eastern Europe without flares and fireworks
The ground was reasonably full and those England fans who had got tickets for the home ends were escorted around the running track and into the away section before kick off, meaning that our section had up to 500 more fans in that it should have done. The game itself was pretty dull - Bulgaria were absolutely awful and England were 3-0 up by half time through Gary Cahill and a Wayne Rooney brace meaning it was game over in 45 minutes. No matter, we still couldn't leave as the police wouldn't let anybody out even at the break which meant the frustration of not only watching a pointless second half but then being held in for an hour afterwards while the home support were cleared.

The teams line up for the national anthems amid the smoke
of the home fans flares
We headed straight back to the apartment after the game with an early flight to come from Sofia to Berlin with Bulgarian Airways. Such was the type of plane we were flying on, you half expected a man like Biggles in World War II fighter pilot gear to stride from the terminal, bottle of whiskey in hand to fly the plane. Incredibly, we made it to Germany in one piece and spent the day mooching around Berlin before flying back to England in the evening.

Where I could finally take those bloody jeans off.
England players at the end of the game
Happy Grill certainly lived up to it's name with all this meat
for £4.20
Home via Berlin and the Brandenburg Gate
Bulgaria: Nikolay Mihaylov, Zhivko Milanov, Ivan Ivanov, Nikolay Bodurov, Ivan Bandolovski (Georgi Sarmov), Petar Zanev, Stiliyan Petrov, Martin Petrov, Blagoy Georgiev, Ivelin Popov (Marquinhos), Tsvetan Genkov (Georgi Bozhilov).

England: Joe Hart, Chris Smalling, John Terry, Gary Cahill 1, Ashley Cole, Gareth Barry (Frank Lampard), Scott Parker, Theo Walcott (Adam Johnson), Ashley Young (James Milner), Stewart Downing, Wayne Rooney 2.

Attendance: 27,230

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Denmark v England. 09/02/11

"If you can't get away with a childs ticket on the metro, it's unlikely you'll be able to get away with a dog one."

Denmark 1-2 England. Parken Stadium.
Wednesday 09/02/14.
If you want to imagine what it was like going to Denmark away, think of the wonderful television programme Supermarket Sweep and reverse it. In that popular show hosted by Dale Winton, competitors had to try and get the priciest items into their trolley. For this two day trip to Copenhagen, it was a case of seeing how cheap you could make a holiday to one of the most expensive countries in Europe.

That meant stripping away what some people would consider essentials on a holiday - things such as accommodation, food and to a certain degree beer. The first was achieved through the lucky coincidence that several friends were in Copenhagen at the same time meaning I could spend the first night on their hostel floor and the second night in the airport. The second was achieved by taking the Russian approach and treating vodka as a food source so one large bottle of it would suffice as meals in the main for this two day visit, and said vodka in turn also covered the third money saving point.

Soldiers parade outside Amalienbrg
My first experience of Norwegian Air was a good one although the landing into Copenhagen was not as the airports precarious location on the coastline had me convinced we were going to land in the sea. The only way to get over that panic - a trip to the Carlsberg factory, of course. Getting there meant taking a metro journey where you could incredibly buy a ticket for a dog. It was half the price of an adult which makes you wonder if buying a dog fancy dress costume and traveling on that ticket could be a financially viable option in the long run.

Could you get away with a dog ticket?!
For somebody who doesn't like Carlsberg, it was a decent experience. Carlsberg in Denmark tastes nothing like the piss poor version we get served in England which was just as well as I think I'd rather have a circumcision carried out with a rusty nail than drink that. As well as Carlsberg, we sampled Tuborg which was nice and the breweries cider Somersby, a concoction dangerous for the fact it taste just like apple juice making it ridiculously easy to drink.

At the Carlsberg Factory
Despite the expense of beer in the country, we did spend Tuesday night drinking in various bars around the city. They included The Viking House which did a fine line in cocktails and Billy Booze, a "discount" bar. They had an interesting take on Jagerbombs, supplying a full can of Red Bull with each one which left us with only one option - ordering two shots of Jager at a time to make it a Double Jagerbomb and balance out the ridiculous amount of energy drink. Not clever, it turned out.

Copenhagen's Little Mermaid Statue
The resulting hangover and hole in the wallet could only be cleared in one manner, and that was getting right into the Danish spirit and hiring a bike. Not only was this an excellent way to clear a Wednesday hangover and see the sights but it also meant staying out of the pub for a large part of the day. The sights were admittedly limited. The famous theme park Tivoli Gardens was shut for the winter so the days visits were mainly restricted to the Kings House, Amalienborg which is the winter residence of the Royal Family and the Little Mermaid Statue.

Probably the highlight of all this was the cycling itself. With every single highway having a cycle lane separated from both road and pavement it meant you didn't spend the majority of the time worrying about being killed or mowing down a child and could actually enjoy being on a bike. The hire scheme was also extremely cheap and a perfect way to see the city.

Knights of the realm
Cycling to Parken Stadium for the evenings game wasn't an option after a few pints in a pub well populated with England fans as well as the controversial choice of dinner - that aforementioned bottle of vodka. Not being a big vodka drinker myself, I shared the final remnants with some knights of the realm met en route on the train to the stadium in exchange for some Carlsberg cans before we headed to a small bar a five minute walk from the ground for some more pre-game drinks.

Parken Stadium appeared to be far bigger than it's 38,000 capacity
Parken itself was pretty empty for the encounter which was a shame as it was an excellent stadium. The roof was shut which gave the odd sensation of it being warm inside when it was absolutely freezing outside. The ground was made up of four stands, all two tiered except for the one the England fans were based in behind one of the goals. There were a couple of huge scaffold poles on either halfway line which would have been a bloody nightmare to sit behind. The stadium looked massive, far bigger than the mere 38,000 it holds.

Wouldn't want a ticket behind this pole
The roof itself was bizarre. It just appeared to be a load of panels placed onto metal supports that had come from nowhere. No England fan in the ground could work out how it worked or where it had come from unlike say the Millennium Stadium roof which is quite obvious in that it slides. At the time you could have put that confusion down to alcohol consumption but even in the cold light of day the photographs still confuse the hell out of me. Answers on a postcard.

The Parken Stadium roof - just where did it come from and
how did it work?!
The game itself was a regulation boring friendly but nonetheless heralded an impressive England win. Daniel Agger gave the Danes the lead with Darren Bent equalising shortly after and Ashley Young hitting a second half winner. A special mention for Christian Eriksen who was excellent for Denmark. A Premier League side looking for a creative midfielder could do a lot worse than take him off Ajax's hands in the summer. And it was a great pleasure to see Wolfsburg legend and Schteve McClaren's finest signingSimon Kjaer playing the second half for the Danes.

Parken Stadium
One of the biggest troubles with international friendlies abroad is you can drink during the game, depriving that vital 90 minutes of sobering up time and this can lead to problems after, such as thinking you know the way to walk back to the city centre but unfortunately wandering into what could be the set of a Copenhagen version of Shameless if there is such a thing.

That is the fate that befell me before doing the one thing a man finds hardest to do - admit he has got himself hopelessly lost and ask for help - and jumping on a bus back to the city centre which was in the opposite direction. The travel dramas weren't over after that either as only the kind actions of a train guard who knew I needed to get off at the airport saved me from ending up in Sweden after he woke me up at the suitable stop.

Copenhagen Airport has a lot to answer for in terms of the comfort of it's seats for a much needed good nights sleep yet it was still improvement on the previous evenings hostel floor. But as I dozed off under an escalator, the main aim of the trip had been achieved - it had been cheap. Somewhere in a parallel universe where Supermarket Sweep is played backwards, I'd like to think that bought a smile to Dale Winton's face.

Talk about being tight - sleeping on a floor
with just a flag for warmth isn't the most
comfortable way to spend a night
Danish Carlsberg- far better than the English version
England and Denmark enter Parken
Denmark: Thomas Sorensen, Daniel Agger 1, Simon Poulsen (Daniel Wass), Lars Jacobsen (Michael Silberbauer), Michael Krohn-Dehli (Nicklas Pedersen), Martin Jorgensen (Simon Kjaer), Christian Poulsen, William Kvist (Martin Vingard), Christian Eriksen, Dennis Romedahl (Thomas Enevoldsen), Nicklas Bendtner.

England: Joe Hart, Glen Johnson, John Terry, Michael Dawson (Gary Cahill), Ashley Cole (Leighton Baines), Frank Lampard (Scott Parker), Jack Wilshere (Gareth Barry), Theo Walcott (Stewart Downing), Wayne Rooney (Ashley Young 1), James Milner, Darren Bent 1.

Attendance: 21,523

Saturday, 22 January 2011

FSV Mainz 05 v VfL Wolfsburg. 22/01/11

"I've heard of plenty of ways to wake somebody up before but brandishing a ten foot machete is a new one"

FSV Mainz 0-1 VfL Wolfsbury. Stadion am Bruchweg.
Saturday 22/01/11
If Manchester United fans can claim to be fans when they've never seen their team play live, then we have real claims to being not just fans, but diehard supporters of VfL Wolfsburg. Hot on the heels of attending their visit to St Pauli back in November, we again found ourselves joining the traveling support to FSV Mainz for a crucial Bundesliga clash.

Now Wolfsburg fans may hate Schteve McClaren with a passion but if things aren't going quite according to plan on the pitch then off it he has been a roaring success, guaranteeing merchandise sales and attendance of matches from this new loyal band of English followers. And to think, we used to mock the Korean's for supporting any team their star players signed for. Little did we know how much fun it could be.

Frankfurt Hahn - nearer Kabul than Frankfurt
Not even Ryanair could spoil this trip. Yes, they flew us into one of their Biggles' airports - Frankfurt Hahn - which, in true Michael O'Leary fashion was nearer to Kabul than Frankfurt - but even with the €25 each taxi journey from the middle of nowhere to the city of Mainz it worked out as cheaper than flying into the main Frankfurt airport and catching a train.

Mainz itself was lovely. An old school German city centre with old buildings, we found a plethora of great little bars to drink in on the Friday night. The speciality food in this area of the Fatherland is Cheese and Music - wonderfully named because it is a cheese board whose potency can leave you with extreme flatulence, hence the music. Needless to say we experienced as much of this as possible. One pub had a fantastic way of encouraging drunk gents to aim into the urinal by placing a plastic goal and a little football in there which you could fire into the back of the net with your urine. Perhaps the secret to Germany being so good at penalties?

Practice penalties while you piss. Is this why the Germans
are so good?
This is Mainz's last season at Stadion am Bruchweg before they move into a brand new purpose built home on the outskirts of the city. The ground was a short hop from the main station and had a large shopping complex opposite it featuring a number of little cafe bars where we had our pre game beers and much needed hangover clearing pizzas.

Stadion am Bruchweg
The ground was absolutely fantastic - a real old school stadium, falling apart and completely bizzare. It's not hard to see why they want to move to a new ground having been an established Bundesliga club for a number of years now but it's hard to escape the conclusion that a certain element of the underdog character of Mainz will be lost when they do so.

The home terrace
You'll Never Walk Alone
Both ends behind the goals were large covered terraces with a seated main stand. We were sat opposite that in a building that had seating at the rear and terracing at the front. Our position in itself was bizarre, being basically in the no mans land segregation between the sitting Mainz and Wolfsburg fans. It was almost like when issuing our tickets they weren't sure where to put us and no doubt that confusion was enhanced when, despite having entered through and use the home areas facilities, I whipped out a Wolfsburg hat for the game with the consequence being my own personal steward sat behind to keep an eye. Even in Germany my reputation seemingly proceeds me.

Recipient of my own personal steward for the afternoon
The best part of the ground though were the corners. In a desperate attempt to increase capacity, Mainz have erected temporary structures in each corner built around their floodlight pylons. Christ knows what the view is like if you get stuck behind one but you have to applaud the ingenuity of whoever came up with the idea.

Need to cram more seats in? Just build them around a floodlight
It's these sort of old ground that for me provide the best atmospheres and that was certainly the case with raucous Mainz fans at both ends and a decent Wolfsburg contingent in the middle. There was the regulation chorus of You'll Never Walk Alone before the game and after that both fans were in fine voice, with the Wolfsburg choruses of their 1945 song sounding particularly impressive.

It was Wolfsburg who got the win to ease a bit of the pressure of Schteve thanks to a second half header from the one and only Simon Kjaer! The man who had looked like an utter clown three months ago at St Pauli turned into the much needed matchwinner with ten minutes to go which was a big boost to everybody given the loss of Edin Dzeko to Man City at the start of the month. There was also a glimpse of Lewis Holtby off the substitutes bench for Mainz who having only played for Germany in one friendly match could yet switch allegiances and represent England in the future.

Wolfsburg celebrate the 1-0 win over Mainz
Afterwards it was back to the shopping centre to watch the rest of the Bundesliga results come in and then a taxi journey back into town where we met up with some Wolfsburg fans who waxed lyrical about how much they hated Schteve much to our disbelief! After one of our number fell asleep in a pub the barman took the extreme move of waking him up by brandishing a machete which was more than enough to convince us to move on with the night ending in a cinema foyer which doubled up as a nightclub.

Post-game beers with fellow Wolfsburg fans - and a single
Mainz lady
The likelihood is that Schteve will be gone from his job within the next few weeks if the Wolfsburg fans we met are to be believed. But after two away games in two months, we no longer need the English connection to justify jetting off to Germany to watch them. We're proper supporters now. After all, if those United fans who've never seen a game can be fans, then so can we. 1945!

FSV Mainz 05: Heinz Muller, Radoslav Zabavnik, Nikolce Noveski, Niko Bungert, Christian Fuchs, Marcel Risse, Elkin Soto (Eugen Polanski), Malik Fathi (Andreas Ivanschitz), Andre Schurrle, Adam Szalai, Sami Allagui (Lewis Holtby).

VfL Wolfsburg: Diego Benaglio, Sascha Riether (Peter Pekarik), Simon Kjaer 1, Arne Friedrich, Marcel Schafer, Ashkan Dejagah, Tolga Cigerci (Thomas Kahlenberg), Diego (Alexander Madlung), Josue, Mario Mandzukic, Grafite.

Attendance: 20,000