Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Poland v England. 16/10/12

"We can put a man on the moon and split the atom but we can't shut the roof on a bloody football stadium"

Poland P-P England. Stadion Narodowy.
Tuesday 16/10/13
Thank God for Ryanair. Four words that you are about as likely to hear together as "Ann Widdecombe is hot". But this is a genuinely heartfelt thanks to Michael O'Leary for the fact that he was able to fly me to Lodz and back for less than £60 so that the trip to see the World Cup qualifier between Poland and England wasn't a massive and pointless black hole in the wallet.

It rained so hard that people turned to blurs
Stadion Narodowy from the outside was impressive. It would
be more impressive inside if the roof shut.
You see because of the incompetence of whoever runs Stadion Narodowy in Warsaw - and I suspect it may be Frank Spencer - there was no game to see. Rain that would have had Noah working double time had fallen in the 24 hours before the game and despite that, nobody seemed to have the brainwave of making use of the fact the stadium has a retractable roof.

Oh look, an open roof. That seems sensible
Indeed, there wasn't even any sort of announcement that the game had been called off inside the stadium. Most England fans found out via text messages or calls from home that it had been postponed before Mr Spencer had the good grace to inform those in the ground.

More suited to Tom Daley than Wayne Rooney
It was pretty obvious from the moment you got a glimpse of the Stadion Narodowy pitch that there was going to be no football played. Both goal mouths were covered in surface water and it certainly didn't need the match official to come out and throw a ball around for ten minutes to confirm it. What he should have done is called for more volunteers from the stands to invade the pitch, as two chaps did to act out a penalty shoot out with an invisible ball before aquaplaning away from the chasing stewards in scenes that could have come straight from a Chuckle Brothers show - with Paul and Barry funnily enough being another two men who could have done a better job than the Polish FA.

These pitch invaders stage a penalty shoot out to alleviate
the boredom
Cue the Benny Hill music as the invaders aquaplane away from
the chasing stewards
The stadium itself was very impressive. Built for the recent European Championships, it was due to be packed to capacity for this game and the atmosphere would have been raucous if the flag display before the postponement was anything to go by. The outside of the ground was lit up in red and white which made for a nice spectacle. What didn't was the three security checks England fans had to go through before getting to the turnstile, by which team the weather had turned most peoples tickets to mush making them incompatible with the scanning machines.

Polish fans do their display with it being obvious there will
be no football today
Easily the best thing about the stadium was the toilets and chiefly the fact they featured a large number of those new Dyson airblade hand dryers. It led to the surreal scene of a plethora of England fans stripping off in order to dry their clothes. Not that it made much difference as two minutes after leaving the venue you were soaked to the bone again.

Lack of football aside, it was a very decent trip. Ryanair flew me into Lodz from where an £8, two hour train to Warsaw was taken. Anywhere you can buy pints for £1.20 or drink  flavoured vodka straight is always likely to be a good time and this was no different. The city itself used to be something of a concrete jungle but has shaken off a lot of it's communist past in recent years with western style skyscrapers popping up all over the place. The crown jewel of these tall buildings remains one that was built by the Soviets however in the form of the Palace of Culture and Science - even if the locals don't tend to think so.

Palace of Science and Culture - a great communist building
The Old Town was a beautiful part of the city and the place to drink before the game, which I unfortunately missed having spent most of Tuesday afternoon in bed sleeping off one of the most horrific hangovers ever. That was induced after drinking with a Leeds and a Watford fan in a bar the previous evening and partaking in "White Ghosts" - shots which basically made me into what they are named after.

White Ghosts - the worst drinks in the world
Having walked to the ground for the game - a huge mistake that left my shoes needing three straight days of drying once home - the metro was taken back and a quick search on the internet back at the £9 a night hostel made it pretty apparent that extending the visit by a day to take in the rearranged trip wasn't really on the cards.

The three day trip cost just £150 in total for flights, accommodation and food and drink so even though it ultimately proved to be a total waste of time in footballing terms, it was ultimately not a total waste of an obscene amount of money. It could have been had I been hit with a large fine for not having a valid metro ticket on the way to Warsaw Central Station for the journey back to Lodz, but when the ticket guard realised I was English he kindly let me off due to the football debacle, even offering his appologise on behalf of Poland. Perhaps he knew Mr Spencer? But thank God for him. And most importantly, one last time - thank God for Ryanair.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Alemannia Aachen v Darmstadt 98. 06/10/12

"What the hell is a potato beetle?"

Alemannia Aachen 1-1 Darmstadt 98.
Neue Tivoli. Saturday 06/10/12.
Cologne has it all - a bloody great cathedral, a plethora of great little bierkellers, a river, a chocolate factory and a bridge. It is also very well connected (even by German standards) in terms of trains and that made it the perfect location from where to launch a trip to the 3.Bundesliga game between Alemannia Aachen and Darmstadt 98.

Cologne Cathedral - one of the worlds finest
Aachen have fallen on hard times in recent seasons. They reached the last 16 of the UEFA Cup in 2005 having qualified as runners up in the German Cup the previously season and they spent 2006-07 in the Bundesliga. They moved into Neue Tivoli, a 33,000 stadium in 2009 but since then it's been all downhill with financial mismanagement that would make even Peter Ridsdale blush. For this campaign they find themselves in the third tier with relegation into the regional leagues and bankruptcy a very real possibility.

Needing all the help they can get then, Rumble and I decided to give them some hard earned cash through our attendance and even had the good grace to take along a couple of women with us for their first experience of German football. Who says romance is dead?

Bitburger and a match ticket
It's certainly not dead in Cologne, Germany's unofficial gay capital. On my previous visit in 2010 we spent the majority of it accidentally frequenting the cities gay bars which ultimately led to a huge man putting his hand down my trousers and onto my bare bottom. With two girls on tour this time, that was thankfully avoided.

Fruh Kolsch remains my favourite of the various types of Kolsch you can sample in Cologne which naturally makes Fruh am Dom opposite the cathedral the best place to drink in the city. We spent Friday morning in there, moving onto the cobbled streets between the cathedral and the riverfront in the evening to put away a fair share of varying types of beer which was excellent preparation for the Saturday.

Aachen Town Hall
Aachen itself is about 45 minutes on the train and the German football regulation hangover cure of Jagermeister poured into a beer was very much needed. After arriving in the town we had a cheeky look around the cathedral and the grand town hall before catching a bus straight to the ground. We'd heard good things about the fans bar at the stadium and it was even better than first thought once we arrived at the Neue Tivoli.

Der Neue Tivoli
Just incase you didn't know where you were...
The ground itself is not too dissimilar to new builds in England - in the middle of nowhere with just retail outlets for company. Inside, it's like a German version of Leicester/Southampton/Middlesbrough (delete as appropriate). Stands all of the same size, single tiered with the main stand having a row of executive boxes behind it. The difference of course being that this is the Fatherland and so behind one of the goals you have an 11,000 capacity terrace - the Bitburger Wall - which is where we found ourselves with the raucous home support. No problems if you needed the toilet there, with the gents featuring no less than 25 individual urinals. Yes, I counted them.

Not quite a full house for this huge 3.Bundesliga game
25 urinals - the ultimate football stadium toilet
And now for more on that fans bar. Put simply, imagine the best fans bar you can and then make it ten times better and you have what the Neue Tivoli does. Built into the stadium, you showed your match ticket to go in and after that you didn't have to leave to re-enter the ground via a turnstile - that was it, you were in the stadium. There was merchandise on the walls, Bitburger galore and even table service. We were served by a wonderfully attractive young barmaid with beer after beer and before we knew it it was kick off time. No worries there sir, just go through a set of glass doors and you are straight on the concourse, where you can buy more beer for the game.

Tivoli fans bar - table service all round
Alemannia fans enjoying some pre-game beers in the
wonderful fans bar
The game itself was pretty poor, two second half goals seeing it end in a 1-1 draw in pretty horrific wind and rain. One moment of magic the like of which Sky Sports News would show on loop for two weeks if it happened in the Premier League was the opening goal from Aachen's Denis Podzer after he collected a throw in on his chest, did some keepy uppys and then hit a dipping volley from about 30 yards over the keeper. Wunderbar! Kacper Tatara grabbed a far less glamorous equaliser for Darmstadt.

The Bitburger Wall with the Aachen Ultras far up to the left
With entertainment lacking on the pitch, it allowed plenty of time to admire the atmosphere created despite the fact the stadium was half empty and the visiting supporters were stuck high up in the opposite rafters and to devote towards appreciating what surely is the most bizarre nickname in European football - the potato beetles. After the game, our conversations back in the fans bar (where else?!) led us to discover Aachen are called that because of the yellow and black striped shirts sharing a resemblance to the insect. And that was enough to encourage even more much needed cash into the coffers with the purchasing of a toy potato beetle.

Help save Alemannia Aachen - buy a potato beetle
With each pint being justified as helping to "save" the club after the game, it took us until three hours after the final whistle had blown to finally leave Neue Tivoli for Aachen town centre and the train back to Cologne. Saturday night and Sunday afternoon were spent drinking down by the river and singing "Fog on the Rhine is all mine all mine" much to the confusion of the locals.

The world will be a poorer place without them so fingers very much crossed for the survival of the Potato Beetles - Alemannia Aachen that is, not the insect*

Alemannia Aachen's main stand
Karls Bande
*Just for the clarification of PETA and any other animal lovers out there, I do not wish extinction on the potato beetle. I just prefer Alemannia Aachen.

Alemannia Aachen: Michael Melka, Christian Weber, Thomas Stehle, Seyi Olajengbesi, Fabian Baumgartel, Kai Schwetfeger, Timmy Thiele, Timo Brauer, Marcel Heller, Denis Pozder 1 (Kristoffer Andersen), Oguzhan Kefkir.

Darmstadt 98: Jan Zimmermann, Andreas Gaebler, Cem Islamoglu, Christian Beisel, Michael Stegmayer, Hanno Behrens, Danny Latza (Marcus Steegmann), Preston Zimmermann, Elton da Costa, Uwe Hesse (Sebastian Zielinsky), Kacper Tatara 1 (Marc Schnier).

Attendance: 13,700.