Sunday, 6 April 2014

Vitesse Arnhem v Ajax Amsterdam. 06/04/14

"So in this country you can legally consume mind altering drugs and pay a woman to have sex with you, but you can't drink a can of beer on the street without risking arrest."

Vitesse Arnhem 1-1 Ajax Amsterdam. GelreDome.
Sunday 06/04/14
The Netherlands is weird. Weird in a good, Lady Gaga way as opposed to a strange, creepy Max Moseley way. We'd been in Arnhem for little more than five minutes when I was pulled over by a police officer and brutally informed it was illegal to drink a beer on the streets.

Claim it's not open was the first thought that ran through my mind. And so I told said officer. He seemed to believe it, and then asked me to turn the can upside down. Damn. This one was on the ball, as beer leaked onto the street. "DO NOT TRY AND FOOL ME" came the shout. Explaining that it was simply unfathomable that I could walk around the corner and have a joint and sex with a woman for money legally but not consume one can of beer, he told me to pour it away and be on my way. A lucky escape.

Arnhem's very own Diagon Alley. With it's own magic Coffee
By the time we'd arrived in Arnhem, I felt like I'd been punished enough for any future misdemeanours as it was. After two solid days on the drink, the two and a half hour train journey that stopped at what felt like every single village from Essen across the German-Dutch border and into Arnhem had been hell. Trying to stay awake and not be violently sick at the same time is the sort of multi-tasking only a woman can do.

A few beers in Bloopers with the locals
Excellent work from this chap to be in this state before midday
The natural course to feeling better was a beer. A legally purchased one from a bar this time. That bar was Bloopers, in a small square called the Corn Market a short distance from the station where the local fans had gathered for a protest about the civil war that had broken out between former Vitesse owner Merab Jordania and current owner Alexander Chigrinsky. I say gathered, but some were clearly a bit worse for wear with one chap doubled over in a seat with his head in his hands. A bloody good effort before midday so fair play to the man.

Vitesse is ours
Among the allegations launched by Jordania earlier in the week were claims that Chelsea had told Vitesse not to qualify for the Champions League due to the close relationship between the clubs with the Blues sending a multitude of players to Arnhem each season. Whatever the ins and outs, the locals were far from happy and gathered at 11am with a banner stating Vitesse is Ours before marching to the GelreDome.

That march is about two miles over the Nederrijn River and the stadium itself is completely and utterly bizarre. From the outside, it looks more like a giant Nissan factory which is explained away by the fact that the two bloody great half cylinder things on the roof can close to turn the stadium into an actual dome. Not only that, but the pitch can also be manouvered out leaving it to host some of the biggest names in music when Vitesse haven't got a game on.

GelreDome - not a Nissan Car Factory as first appears
How's that for a sustainable transport plan?
With 90% of the crowd arriving 20 minutes before kick off on bicycle (not wearing clogs or carrying Edam to complete the stereotype), it left a right crush to get in. Once inside, there is a scenario that every single person in Greece wishes was existent in their country - the Euro does not exist. The official currency of GelreDome is Munt, which you can purchase in exchange for money at a Munter Machine. One Heineken is two Munt - an absolute steal.

Roll up, roll up - exchange your Euro for Munts
Munts - the official currency of GelreDome
The stadium itself features four stands, all of the same height and all seated. The corners are walled off which means if you are stuck in a corner as we were, you can't actually see what is going on in the stands around you. The Ajax fans, potentially able to see their side crowned league champions, were tucked away opposite us.

Before the game, the biggest flag I've ever seen in my life was hoisted into position in front of us to create an intimidating scene for the visitors. Thankfully, it was taken down before kick off, otherwise there would be no hope of seeing the game which would have represented a waste of Munts on the tickets. What did greet the teams onto the pitch however was the sort of firework display you'd consider over the top at the Superbowl, let alone an Eredivisie clash.

The inside of the Nissan Factory
A firework display that would make the Superbowl blush
Given the near arrest for Beercangate earlier in the day, it was particularly galling then to see one bald man jump from our stand onto the perimeter track, fight three stewards, square up to a further three and then be allowed to simply return to his seat. You can add "Wolverine from X Men impression fighting half a dozen security figures" to things you can seemingly do in the Netherlands over drink a beer on the streets.

Topless man fights gang of steward before returning to
his seat
The game itself was rather exciting. Chelsea man Bertrand Traore put Vitesse 1-0 ahead, Ajax goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen kept his side in it in the the first half (or were Arnhem deliberately missing to not qualify for the Champions League?!) with Kolbeinn Sigthorsson grabbing an equaliser in the second 45. That wasn't enough to give Ajax the title with a point from their next game now needed to secure it. And for any fans of Chelsea reading this, all four of your current loanees featured - Traore, Patrick van Aanholt and Christian Atsu all starting with Lucas Piazon coming on from the bench.

The Chelsea Reserves Supporters section
With the majority of spectators hitting the cycle lanes on their bikes, getting back to the city centre via bus was extremely straightforward and within ten minutes of the final whistle we had a beer ordered in a bar which soon filled up with locals to dance the night away. We unfortunately couldn't join them, having instead to face a train journey back to Dusseldorf and a flight home. Being extremely careful not to be seen with our train beers on the street by any local police, obviously.

Vitesse Arnhem - Munts well spent.

Vitesse Arnhem: Piet Velthuizen, Guram Kashia, Patrick van Aanholt, Marko Vejinovic, Davy Propper, Zakaria Labyad (Valeri Kazaishvili), Jan-Arie van der Heijden, Bertrand Traore 1 (Mike Havenaar), Renato Ibarra (Lucas Piazon), Christian Atsu.

Ajax Amsterdam: Jasper Cillessen, Ricardo van Rhijn, Joel Veltman, Nicolai Boilesen (Christian Poulsen), Stefano Denswil, Lerin Duarte (Ricardo Kishna), Daley Blind, Lasse Shone, Kolbeinn Sigthorsson 1 (Lesley de Sa), Bojan Krkic, Davy Klaasen.

Attendance: 25,500

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Borussia Dortmund v VfL Wolfsburg. 05/04/14

"Ich leibe Phil Collins, Easy Lover ja ja ja"

Borussia Dortmund 2-1 VfL Wolfsburg. Signal Iduna Park.
Saturday 05/04/14
Having spent the previous evening sleeping in a doorway after losing a hotel key, it takes something special to convince you to do anything but lie in bed for the entire day. And it has to be something really special to convince you to drag yourself onto public transport, be sick on a tram full of people (Andy) and make an hour journey across Germany while attempting to get back in the beer game. That something really special? Westfalenstadion, Dortmund.

The first rule of three day football trips is don't go all out on the first night. Something that was hopelessly ignored at Rot-Weiss Essen v SC Verl and the resulting night of partying with the Essen support. It left two slightly (or in Andy's case, very) broken Englishmen to head to Dortmund to see Borussia take on VfL Wolfsburg.

One man's recovery is sleeping on the floor of a train...
And the others is a can of Veltins
On another day, to another ground, for two other teams we might have considered sacking this off. But Signal Iduna Park to give it it's official title is like very few others in Europe and this was our team, Wolfsburg, taking on one of the biggest in Germany.

The best way to battle through feelings of suicide brought about by consuming far too much beer is the simple hair of the dog technique. That meant consuming a can as soon as was humanly possible, in this case at 11am on the train from Essen to Dortmund. For Andy, this took slightly longer until we found a bar called Pfefferkorn with him deciding to use the train journey to take a little nap in the middle of the floor.

Bergmann Bier kiosk
Zwei Bergmann bitte
It was far too hot in Pfefferkorn for two hungover men despite the fact they were serving the excellent Brinkhoffs so we did what all good Dortmunder's do and began outside street drinking thanks to a little kiosk selling home brewed bottles of Bergmann Bier at an absolute steal of 2. This represented the only place in the city you can buy that particular beer and as such proved very popular with the locals.

Of course, this also meant explaining the story about how two Englishmen have ended up becoming VfL Wolfsburg supporters, a very long and sad tale involving the words "Steve", "McClaren", "FC Twente", "Wolfsburg", "umbrella" and of course "I short of knew" said in a ridiculous Dutch accent.

A Bratwurst induced mustard
Signal Iduna Park is well served by public transport and it was a quick train hop to the stadium where tickets were collected and beers and sausage from the many street vendors around the ground were bought and consumed outside of the stadium while mingling with others heading to the game. And what a big game it was, with Wolfsburg chasing a Champions League spot and Dortmund trying to cling onto second with the title already heading to the Allianz.

Fit women who like Marco Reus? Perfect wife material.
The stadium itself is fantastic. You get some grounds which you enter for the first time and they take your breath away. It's unusual to find anywhere that does it for a second time, the novelty normally having worn off but Signal Iduna Park managed it. We were in the complete opposition corner from our last visit, this time tucked high away opposite the Yellow Wall up with the Gods looking down at this tiny patch of green surrounded by towering blocks of yellow, black and noise. 

You'll Never Walk Alone
The famous Yellow Wall celebrates the stadiums 40th birthday
The scale of the place is massive and what makes it appear even bigger is that every stand is different, meaning none of it appears as though it is meant to fit together. The steepness and vastness just adds to the atmosphere and when You'll Never Walk Alone gets going before kick off it is a spine tingling moment as scarves, flags and banners are hoisted into the air before the teams enter the arena.

To our surprise, there were Wolfsburg fans everywhere none of whom were being very subtle about their allegiances. I had had the good grace to hide my green scarf and that lasted until 34 minutes when a combination of beer and Ivica Olic giving the visitors the lead brought it into play, swiftly followed by a high five from the chap next to me who also turned out to be a Die Wolfe fan.

Dortmund v Wolfsburg
Dortmund aren't one of the finest teams in Europe for no reason though and two second half goals from Robert Lewadowski and Marco Reus ensured it was they who took the three points. We watched the stadium empty afterwards, eventually being the last two in the top tier which led to arguably one of the best games of hide and seek you are ever likely to encounter with my good self hiding high at the top of the stand, only to be caught by one alert female steward, quashing any hopes of managing to remain unfound until the midweek Champions League semi final with Real Madrid. 

Playing hide and seek with the
stewards  inside Signal Iduna Park
Steward wins and get's a Hassocks Fatboys
FC pennant for her victory
After the traditional post game dicking around inside the stadium that seems to take place every time we visit Dortmund, it was time to catch the train and head straight back to Essen. This was sensible given the early start to head to Holland the following day, or at least it would have been had we not been lured into a bar outside the hotel on our return.

This bar wench was happy with out custom until Easy Lover
was played for the 12th time
What made two strong minded individuals deviate from their planned course of a relatively early night? Beer and Jagermesiter obviously, but also the prospect of the self-DJing venue whereby patrons were allowed to pick their own music from the laptop.

It was only when we were asked to leave that we realised that German's perhaps don't share our love of Phil Collins and Easy Lover. Certainly not enough to hear it a dozen times, anyway.

Borussia Dortmund: Mitchell Langerak, Mats Hummels, Sokratis Papastathopoulos, Lukasz Piszczek, Sebastian Kehl, Henrikh Mkhitaryan (Oliver Kirch), Marco Reus 1, Nuri Sahin (Erik Durm), Kevin Grosskreutz, Robert Lewandowski 1, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Milos Jojic).

VfL Wolfsburg: Max Grun, Naldo, Robin Knoche, Ricardo Rodriguez, Ivan Perisic, Kevin De Bruyne, Christian Trasch (Patrick Ochs), Bernard Malanda Adje (Daniel Caligiuri), Luiz Gustavo, Maximilian Arnold, Ivica Olic 1.

Attendance: 80,000.

Friday, 4 April 2014

Rot-Weiss Essen v SC Verl. 04/04/14

"Jan, wo ist meine babygrow?"

Rot-Weiss Essen 2-0 SC Verl. Stadion Essen.
Friday 04/04/14
If it wasn't for the photographic evidence, you could easily file the surreal evening that was Rot-Weiss Essen v SC Verl as some sort of cheese induced dream.

How else could you explain being given a pitch side photography pass as your matchday ticket, attending the post game press conference and interviewing the visiting manager who turned out to be a German version of Neil Warnock, drinking with a man in a bar who carries around a toy dog in a Liverpool hat, losing a signed Rot-Weiss babygrow as well as the hotel room key leaving you to sleep in a doorway until it was retrieved 45 minutes later?

Willy doing what all great press officers do and being
completely impartial, celebrating as Essen go 2-0 up
Yes, Essen certainly had it all. The man to thank for setting the ball in motion was Willy, the wonderful Essen press officer who lived up to his name sake Wonka by giving us the equivalent of a footballing golden ticket. Or to be more precise, complementary seats in the press box and pitch side access. This fine looking young Russian man even gave us a tour of the ground and hospitality areas before the game.

Ending up with a photographers pass.... 
Not looking out of place with the professionals at all...
Of course, the trouble with being gifted a photographers pass meant actually taking some photos. Leading to the ridiculous sight of Scott McCarthy, complete with Cannon Digital Camera retail price around £79 but now worth significantly less after a year of drunken use, joining a gabble of professionals as the teams entered the arena. Realising very quickly it was unlikely I was ever going to make it look like I had any idea what I was doing, the focus quickly switched to taking photos of the Rot-Weiss cheerleaders.

Positives of press pass - getting close to the cheerleaders
Having seats in the press box caused another dilemma. Half the fun of going to German football is to drink while the game is on. But how would this go down with our fellow journalists if we sat down and put two pints each on our workstations? Can you imagine Oliver Kay of The Times or Shaun Custis of The Sun plonking themselves down in the press box at Old Trafford with a couple of beers for the first half? Thankfully, we had our answer very quickly as another writer took his seat with a pint.

Andy tries to blend into the press box by taking notes
The game itself was a Regionalliga West encounter, which being the fourth tier made it the equivalent of England's League Two. The standard however was far worse and the only entertainment in the first half came from the ridiculous Verl manager, Andreas Golombek. Comparisons to Warnock were well founded as he spent most of the game going mental, turning around and gesturing at the home fans and at one point making a glasses sign at them. His hair was a thing of beauty as well, blonde and well groomed which when you look at how quickly managers in England tend to grey or even worse go bald suggests the pressure isn't quite the same in the mid table of Germany's fourth division.

Verl manager Andreas Golombek enjoys another row with
members of the home crowd
Rot-Weiss did manage two goals in the second half, coming from Holger Lemke and Marcel Platzek with the visitors Sam Salehi completing an interesting evenings work after being sent off for a ridiculous challenge with the last kick of the game a mere five minutes after coming off the bench. Of more concern to the home fans was the following Tuesday nights game against MSV Duisburg, their fierce rivals from only a few miles up the road. If any indication of the importance of that one was needed, then the banner displayed on the home terrace after the game was it.

Stadion Essen
The floodlight pylon from Essen's former home was moved
to their new one
That home terrace itself was a decent sized structure and the centrepiece of where their fans were based in the relatively new Stadion Essen. A large seated stand was opposite the main stand where we were with ours featuring executive boxes at the back. The other goal had a stand split in half between seating and a terrace and was given to the visiting Verl fans - all 50 of them. Bless. The home side more than made up for that with a decent atmosphere. One nice touch was a floodlight from their former ground having been moved to the new one and plonked in the middle of the car park. Think the Stadium of Light with a Roker Park floodlight outside. Connecting the past and the present as Willy so elegantly put it.

The teams enter Stadion Essen
The Verl players thank their traveling support...
As do the Essen team, complete with MSV Duisburg banner
Needing more beer after the game, we found our way into the post match press conference which is where the real surreality of things began to kick off. We carried out an interview with Herr Golombek via Willy - now in a role as translator - in which he seemed genuinely baffled as to why we were there. Beer and football didn't seem to be a justifiable answer to the Germanic Warnock.

Joining the post match press conference
And meeting the great Herr Golombek
Having dicked about at the ground for so long afterwards, the only option back into town was taxi after which we visited a bar that brewed its own beer and had a tree growing through the middle of it and then committed the ultimate sin - going to an Irish Bar. This one as it happened was not too bad and we spent most of the night in Fitzpatrick's talking to a Rot-Weiss fan by the name of Jan who was a local police officer and carried around a toy dog in a Liverpool hat with him. He seemed like a nice enough chap until we discovered that Andy had lost a signed Essen babygrow - the sort of gift that his recently born son Bobby would have no doubt cherished down the line/resulted in him being taken away for having an unstable father - with Jan bearing the brunt of the accusations despite his work as a law enforcement officer.

Meeting our new found friend Jan
The last sighting of the fabled
signed Rot-Weiss Essen babygrow
Not even writing on his Facebook wall the extremely impressively translated line of "Wo ist meine babygrow" could find the stolen garment. And that wasn't the only thing that Andy misplaced on this evening, with the room key going missing as well leaving us to sleep in the hotel doorway.

Thankfully, unlike the babygrow that key was traced back to Fitzpatricks and after two taxi journeys at 3am in the morning to retrieve it, we woke up in bed to wonder just how much cheese you'd have to consume to dream the previous 24 hours activities. Essen - you simply couldn't make it up.

An outside bar next to a level crossing would be asking for
trouble in England...

Rot-Weiss Essen: Daniel Schwabke, Michael Laletin, Max Dombrowka, Jerome Propheter, Konstantin Fring, Kevin Grund (Benedikt Koep), Tim Hermes, Kai Nakowitsch, Marcel Platzek 1, Holger Lemke 1 (Alexander Langlitz), Samuel Limbasan (Roberto Guirino).

SC Verl: Sebastian Lange, Julian Schmidt, Daniel Mikic (Sam Salehi), Patryk Plucinski, Robert Mainka (Anton Safonov), Marco Kaminski, Phillip Semlits, Friedrich Bomer-Schulte (Sabastian Gaube), Jannik Schroder, Simon Engelmann, Matthias Haeder.

Attendance: 6382