Friday, 19 September 2014

SC Freiburg v Hertha Berlin. 19/09/14

"Have I seen this man? Yes. It is Jogi Loew. He was enjoying himself in a pub three streets away last week."

SC Freiburg 2-2 Hertha Berlin. Mage Solar Stadion.
Friday 19/09/14.
Whoever decided to construct Dreisamstadion, the home of SC Freiburg, on the edge of the Black Forest deserves a medal. In fact, whoever decided to build the city of Freiburg itself is worthy of the highest honours that mankind can throw at them.

Gothic cathedral? Check. Warmest city in Germany? Check. City walls? Check. Little open air gutters called Bachle that run water through the pedestrianised streets and which cool the air? Check. Urban legend that if you unintentionally step in a Bachle, you are destined to marry a Freiburger? Check. City that gave Jogi Loew his break in football? Big check.

City Gates/Home of Rapunzel
This was just a one night stay but with hindsight it should have been longer. The little corner of south west Germany that Freiburg occupies is a stunning place full of forests, mountains, friendly people and most importantly of all of course, good beer.

A Freiburg street, complete with bachle on the right
We arrived at Basel-Mulhouse-Freiburg airport on Friday morning, totally bamboozled by separate exits from the arrivals lounge into France and Switzerland. Where did those of us wanting to go to Germany go? This sort of puzzlement wouldn't have happened in the early 1940s. We picked Switzerland but needless to say that was wrong and so we had the torturous task of crossing the border into France (a set of double doors in the airport) to begin the hour long bus journey to Freiburg.

Once there, we unfortunately avoided any Bachle's and stumbled across a delightful pub called Schlappen. Three pints later and we lured in a typically fit barmaid to bombard with questions. One of these included the whereabouts of Herr Loew, who we were reliably informed by our contact at SC Freiburg was a regular in the city. Just in case anybody in Germany didn't know who the coach that led them to the World Cup two months ago was, Andy had decided to print out a photo to show them. So had she seen him? Loew and behold (I've waited ages to use that), she bloody well had! Last week, he was in a pub three streets away.

Haben sie diesen Mann gesehen?
Now I don't care how fit a girl is - and this one was very - if Jogi Loew is the vicinity, you go and find Jogi Loew. The only thing for it was to visit every pub in the next three streets. Fortunately, we didn't know in which direction she meant either so that would mean every pub in the next three streets in every direction. The best of which was Martins, brewing its own stuff on the premises.

Several pints later and we had neither found Jogi or were in possession of the photo, it having been drunkenly lost. We had however tried some of the local speciality beer, a cloudy offering that tasted distinctively of lemons. Horrible at first, it seemed to grow on you after a few pints although that could of course have been due to a numbing of the tastebuds.

Who goes to Freiburg to buy a Millllllllllllllll scarf?
And so onto Dresiamstadion, or Mage Solar Stadion as it is known for sponsorship purposes. A quick tram ride took us to the foot of the Black Forest and we wandered down residential streets set up with your normal beer stands and scarf stalls - including one selling some of the greats of the English game along with Millwall. Are Millllllllllllll popular in this part of Germany? Answers on a postcode.

Being members of the fourth estate once again for this massive visit of Hertha Berlin meant we had press passes waiting for us courtesy of the excellent Andrew at SC. That of course meant we had enough time for more pre-match beer, this time in a tented area just outside the ground where we enjoyed pints and schnapps with Hertha and Freiburg fans and some traditional Swiss snuff with a group of Swiss chaps who make the journey to home games at Dresiam due to Swiss football being "shit". Well, if you can't even beat England at home guys...

Schnapps with the traveling Hertha army
The stadium itself looked exactly like a football ground in Lord of the Rings would if the Fellowship had have taken on the armies of Mordor in a kick about rather than a war for Middle Earth. With towering hills and trees aplenty in the background, it was the epitome of an old style English ground. Tall floodlight pylons, big one tiered stands littered with poles holding up the roof. Fans loitered around outside the stands before the game, enjoying a beer and the view into the Black Forest in the distance and once inside the atmosphere was electric.

A football ground at the foot of the Black Forest? We like
Given the distance to come on a Friday, Hertha had traveled in numbers and they weren't to be disappointed. Neither were we, our press box seats being next to the official Tweeters of the visiting club. In an all too familiar set of circumstances, we were the only people in the press box munching on sausage and drinking beer but the more professionals around us were too engrossed in the spectacle unfurling on the pitch to notice the growing inebriated state of two of their fellow journalists.

It looks and feels VERY English
The locals go wild as Marc Oliver-Kempf  makes it 1-0
The homesters went 1-0 ahead in the first half through a Marc Oliver-Kempf header, the wonderfully named Ronny - not O'Sullivan, or Biggs, or Rocket, just Ronny - equalised with a free kick before the break and Felix Kraus made it 2-1 Freiburg with 79 minutes to go. And then, with 93 on the club Hertha's Nico Schulz was shown red for a beautifully rash and unnecessary tackle.

Game over? Well no. Ronny had other ideas and in the 96th minute Hertha got a free kick on the edge of the box. Quite incredibly, their goalkeeper Thomas Kraft came rampaging forward, got involved in a bit of pushing and shoving with some defenders and then started getting involved in the Freiburg wall. Told in no uncertain terms by the referee to get back in his goal and stop clowning around, he duly did so but before he could make it all the way back to the other end Ronny had bent the set piece into the top corner to cue mental celebrations from the away fans.

Hertha goalkeeper Thomas Kraft starts organising Freiburg's
defensive wall in surreal scenes
And the confusion caused allows Ronny to net a 96th minute
leveller from the free kick. Boom.
And how do you top that for a game of football? Why, by going to a closed shopping centre that is now selling beer and is packed to the rafters for a live bands performance. And then back to Schlappen for more lemon beer. And then to a discotheque that is actually called Discothek where Andy promptly fell asleep ten minutes after we entered and spent the night totally unaware that groups of German girls were posing for photos with this strange Englishman asleep in the corner of their nightclub. He will no doubt be in hundreds of German's Facebook photo albums and we'll never even know about it.

Partying in a shopping centre
Andy becomes immortalised in a hundered Freiburger's Facebook
albums as the queue up to have a photo with drunk Englishman
asleep in corner of night club
And did any of those girls end up marrying yours truly? No. Next time we go back to Freiburg I'll have to try harder to fall into a Bachle.

Proper floodlights
Freiburg and Hertha line up for this big clash
An impressive show of support from the traveling Hertha army
"Cheers for coming guys - sorry about the 96th minute equaliser"
SC Freiburg: Roman Burki, Oliver Sorg (Mensur Mujdza), Pavel Krmas, Marc Oliver-Kempf 1, Christian Gunter, Jonathan Schmid, Vladimir Darida (Nicolas Hoffler), Julian Schuster, Felix Klaus 1, Karim Guede, Max Phillipp (Mike Frantz.

Hertha Berlin: Thomas Kraft, Peter Pekarik, Fabian Lustenberger (John Heitinga), John Anthony Brooks, Nico Schulz, Roy Beerens, Ronny 2, Hajime Hosogai, Jens Hegeler, Genki Haraguchi (Valentin Stocker), Julian Schieber (Salomon Kalou).

Attendance: 23,600

Monday, 8 September 2014

Switzerland v England. 08/09/14

"You know who Fernando Alonso is? €100 if you can get me to Central Station quicker than he could. 20 minutes."

Switzerland 0-2 England. St Jakobs Park..
Monday 08/09/14.
For a country that never enters wars and for whom excitement is the birth of a new calf on a hill somewhere, trips to Switzerland always seem to be eventful and they always seem to involve what is more commonly known in the trade as a travel cock up.

England last played there in 2010, when the French were striking over something - I suspect having to work more than twice a week - which meant a near fatal four hour delay in getting a train from Paris to Basel for the game. No such problems this time, we'll avoid France on the way there and avoid it in the main on the way home. Famous last words.

What should have been a nice, early flight from Gatwick to Milan and then a delightful train journey through the Alps from Italy to Switzerland descended into farce as the crew of the EasyJet flight decided to turn up late meaning an hour delay. Be ten seconds late for a flight and Sir Stelios is rubbing his hands with glee, turning you away for this disgusting lack of punctuality and forcing you onto a far more expensive flight for your troubles. So the irony and anger at this turn of events was understandable.

Italian lakes
This delay meant that from getting out of Milan's Malpensa airport, there was just 30 minutes to get to Central Station - a journey that according to the even the most optimistic timings would take at least 40 minutes. God bless the Italians then and their lack of care for speed limits. Having tracked down a taxi driver who looked suspiciously like Flavio Briatore, €100 was waved under his nose if he could drive like Ferrari hero Fernando Alonso and get to the station in 25 minutes. Whether it was the money, the encouragement to break the law and do 200kph at one point or the fact this ragged looking gent was inspired by the previous days grand prix at Monza a few miles up the road, he achieved his aim and after a sprint that Usain Bolt would have been proud of through the station the train to Basel was made with 30 seconds to spare.

High on a hill sits a lonely goat
The end of the travel problems? Don't be silly, but more on that later. The train journey took five hours but it was a spectacular one. Criminally, this was my first ever visit to Italy and what a stunning place. We wound our way past lakes overlooked by massive hills, through forests, mountainsides with little houses and huts scattered all over them that made you want to burst into a Julie Andrews number. It was tempting to send a tweet to Taylor Swift comparing the beauty of it all to her, but then again that may have been the cans of Eickhoff talking.

Swiss fan complete with cow bell
Basel was eventually reached with the England fans gathering pre-game in Steinenvorstadt. This long, pedestrianised street had everything you need for drinking in Switzerland - a Spar where cans of Quollfrish were £1.50 as opposed to the £12 (TWELVE) a pint in a pub and plenty of places to hang flags. A good old fashioned sing song erupted, the police posed for photos, Swiss fans wandered past with cow bells and cheese and Toblerone themed hats. As you do.

This bloke had seen better days...
St Jakobs Park is a short tram ride away and from the outside you could be mistaken for thinking you'd turned up at Nelson Mandela House, Peckham rather than an international football ground. Once inside - which took half an hour due to hundreds of England fans trying to cram in through four turnstiles prior to kick off - there was little danger of seeing Del Boy and Rodney.

Nelson Mandela House, Basel
England were housed in two tiers in a corner behind the goal, exactly the same place as on our last visit. There did seem to be less this time around which, given the drop off in performances recently and the much publicised and sung about decision to award just one loyalty cap for away games as opposed to two for going to Wembley, was hardly surprising. Opposite the away end is a similar stand and down both sides two large, three tiered stands. It's a funny old ground but one that works and I'd love to get back for an FC Basel game at some point.

"2 caps for Wembley, you're having a laugh"
Given the dirge served up against the powerhouse of football that is Norway five days earlier and the fact Switzerland had a decent World Cup, most England fans agreed that they'd Suarez your arm off for a draw before the game. The fact we won, playing decent attacking football led by Raheem Sterling and the brace scoring Danny Welbeck was particularly pleasing. It did owe more credit than appears to be given though to a great first half save at 0-0 from Joe Hart with his legs and then an excellent late clearance from Gary Cahill. Still, no complaints here - the extension of Euro 2016 to 24 teams meaning with that result in the bag it will take a cock up of the sort of size of Easyjet staff being late to mean we don't qualify.

Post game and drinking in the street was obviously out of the question so that meant biting the bullet and paying the £8 (EIGHT) for a pint of Wadenswiller. Firstly that meant Bar Rio which unfortunately shut at 1am which neccesitated the move to Papa Joes. This was the second visit in succession I'd decided to sleep rough in Switzerland and Joes once again fully encouraged this scenario, allowing people to just doze off in their bar with none of the sort of hot headed treatment such behaviour can garner in England.

Stuntman shots = not a good idea

How do you know if you've had too many tequilas? Why, when it reaches 4am and you are sick of course, at which point it is time to retire to bed or in this case a bench in the main station. At 6am it was off to catch a train to Strasbourg from where Luxembourg and a flight home would be reached. Or so I thought...

This doesn't look like Luxembourg
Except of course, I'd got away with the first travel cock up and the Gods of the European rail system weren't going to be so kind a second time. No, this train was delayed thanks predictably to some French peasant,  arriving at Strasbourg 20 minutes late meaning a missed connection to Luxembourg City and as a result a trip to Paris. From there? A £200 ticket for the EuroStar to get back to England, a decent Parisian breakfast from a cafe that was surprisingly not shut due to a strike and a quick visit to the Eiffel Tower to try and find a woman to propose to.

How's that for a cock up? Thank Christ England won

Switzerland: Yann Sommer, Steve von Bergen, Stephan Lichtsteiner, Johan Djourou, Ricardo Rodriguez, Gokhan Inler, Xherdan Shaqiri, Granit Xhaka, Valon Behrami, Haris Seferovic, Admir Mehmedi (Josip Drmic).

England: Joe Hart, John Stones, Phil Jones, Gary Cahill, Leighton Baines, Jack Wilshere, Fabian Delph, Jordan Henderson, Raheem Sterling, Danny Welbeck 2, Wayne Rooney (Rickie Lambert)

Attendance: 35,500