Saturday, 26 March 2016

Germany v England. 26/03/16

"In England when they say there is no beer in the ground, they mean there is no beer in the ground. Here when they say there is no beer in the ground, they mean there is a 2.5% beer in the ground but we're not counting that."

Germany 2-3 England. Olympiastadion.
Saturday 26/03/16
The cycle that English football goes through every two years is a gloriously predictable thing. Not aware of what I am talking about? Well, it goes something like this:

Stage One: Abject performance in a tournament.

Stage Two: Talk of needing to build a young side for the future to gain experience in the next tournament.

Stage Three: Several young players emerge and England sail through qualification, beating several substandard teams.

Stage Four: Qualification assured, there is an encouraging friendly win against one of the best sides in the world.

Stage Five: Just before the next tournament, optimism is rife as people talk about winning a first trophy since 1966.

Then you go back to Stage One and repeat. Ladies and Gentleman, welcome to Berlin on March 26th 2016 for Stage Four.

This was one of the best England trips of recent memory and it still would be even if there wasn’t such a stirring comeback in a stadium as iconic as the Olympiastadion. Berlin is simply a fantastic city that lives and breathes history. It seems like every time you turn a corner you are greeted by something historic, whether it be a remnant of the wall that divided the western and eastern worlds, the massive television tower at Alexanderplatz lavishly built by the DDR or one of the many sites that played a part in the administration of the Nazi’s.

Berlin Television Tower
Of course, that means there is plenty of sightseeing to do which would at least delay arrival in the pub on Friday until dinner time. Having arrived in Berlin at approximately 4pm, that was around four hours – FOUR HOURS - in which no beer was taken. Unheard of on a trip to the Fatherland. 

Checkpoint Charlie - where America met Russia
No weapons off duty please
How can somebody spend FOUR HOURS sightseeing I hear you cry. This is how: Firstly, there was the most famous border crossing of the Berlin Wall at Checkpoint Charlie where American’s and Russian’s would stare each other down. Second, the Wall itself which features an excellent exhibition entitled Topography of Terror which details the rise and fall of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party on the site of the now demolished SS building. That was an hour alone gone there on a 100 metre strip of fascinating and harrowing wall.

Topography of Terror dealing with the rise of the Nazi's -
Goebbels, Goering and Hitler
Berlin Wall
Then you have the Fuehrerbunker which must be the most visited residential carpark in the world,the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, the Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag Building and the aforementioned television tower. It’s thirsty work, which is where The Pub came in. Just when you think The Pub With No Name in Tallinn is the most imaginatively named venue in Europe, Berlin tops it with The Pub. It is such a German name - straightforward and efficient. And just like the country we were in, it encouraged beer and plenty of it.

Site of the Fueherbunker - now just a car park
The Reichstag
The Pub had a simple premise. Each table had its own set of beer taps from which you poured your own beer. On a big screen, there was a league table which showed how many litres of beer each table had consumed. The basic challenge was drink as much as you can as quickly as you can to get to the top of the league. Table 14 made a slow start to proceedings before coming from nowhere to look like European qualification was on. And with The Pub about to shut, we had our own “AGUEEEERRROOOOOOOOOO” moment to steal top spot with a late necking of several pints. We’re table 14, we’re top of the league!

Table 14 sitting in a play off spot before that late surge to the top
We're table 14, we're top of the league!
Game day was no less a subdued affair. There were England fans all over Berlin in places varying from the Irish Bars (why go to Germany and drink in a bloody Irish pub?) to the many pop up bars that you stumble across in squares. It was in one such square that we came across a green beer that looked like it had been made by sticking Bruce Banner in one of those smoothie maker contraptions that are all the rage with health freaks, waiting for him to transform into the Hulk and then blending him down into an alcoholic liquid.

Never drink green beer
Indeed it did taste a bit like drinking a gamma ray induced mutant that had subsequently been turned into a beer. The first few sips were decent but after that it was akin to drinking nuclear waste. One pint of that was enough so naturally several more pints were needed to cleanse the pallet and then it was onto the Olympiastadion.

There was plenty to do in Olympischer Platz just outside the stadium with bars, a strange double decker bus which had Die Mannschaft’s squad painted on the side and a penalty shootout game whereby lots of young German children had four attempts to get a ball through one of two holes into a goal. Given their panache from spot kicks, it will come as little surprise to hear that most of the children partaking all managed to score with at least one of their efforts. 

McCarthy and Alastair join Die Mannschaft

What will astound, shock and even amaze you is that yours truly having joined the queue also managed to bend one into the bottom corner with his third effort. Target achieved, the fourth penalty was a case of lean back and send it as far away into the crowds as possible which was greeted with lots of “ooooh”, “aaaaaaah” and one excellent cry of “What ze f**k”. With an English man taking it, the gathered masses probably thought it was just another shocking English penalty and not deliberate. But just to confirm that some of us can take penalties, Alastair also slotted one of his efforts into the top corner. We’re both free this summer if you need us, Roy.

"What ze fuck" - McCarthy's penalty disappears into the crowd
In the late 90s with Berlin reunified, there was quite a debate about what to do with the Olympiastadion and the legacy it had from, in particular, the 1936 Olympics when Jesse Owens won four medals in what was supposed to be a games that demonstrated the dominance of the Aryan race. (Interesting fact learnt at the Topography of Terror – Hitler did not refuse to celebrate Owens’ medals, he was asked by the IOC to show neutrality throughout the Games.) Some favoured tearing it down and building a new stadium from scratch, others wanted to slowly let it decay while there was also a strong argument for renovation. 

In the end, renovation won the day – all the seats in the stadium are now grey to remind visitors of its dark past - and for this writer this was clearly the right decision as it is now a superb modern arena with a fantastic atmosphere. It hasn’t lost its soul, you can feel history oozing out of the magnificent outer stone walls and great feats are still being recorded there to this day with the current 100m world record from Usain Bolt set in 2009 at the very top of that list. It is a glowing vindication of the theory that old stadiums are always the best, certainly in comparison to the sort of soulless corporate bowl that Wembley has become since it’s own rebuild.

Team Spirit is the name of the game for Die Mannschaft
The England section next to the Marathon Arch
You expect England fans to be in fine voice wherever they travel but a whole day on the beer, a 9pm local time kick off and a packed away end ensured that this was good even by the Three Lions travelling supports high standards. One particular highlight was at the end of the game when some genius decided to play Monty Python’s ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’ over the tannoy with both away and home fans singing along in unison, no one wanting to leave.

Olympiastadion as England produce a mighty comeback
As for the game, well it was a classic. 2-0 down to goals from Toni Kroos and Mario Gomez, goals from Harry Kane, Jamie Vardy and Eric Dier right at the death secured a huge win. Each goal was greeted with wilder celebrations, more beer going flying as pints were launched in joy and so much noise that by the time Dier struck the third you half expected the Olympic Bell just through the Marathon Arch adjacent to the England section to start ringing as a result.

3-2 to the England!
When we did eventually manage to drag ourselves away into the Berlin night it was time for more beer and to thank this wonderful place for being an outstanding city before talk somewhat predictably rolled round to Stage Five of the England cycle. Firstly we had to explain to Lauren who was making her away debut that not every trip - in fact, probably one every 15 years - has that sort of excitement packed into it. But then even us hardened followers of England began to wonder. If we can beat the world champions like that in their own backyard, could we do it again in Paris on July 10th?

Don’t worry, we’ll be back to Stage One by then.

Germany: Manuel Neuer, Emre Can, Antonio Rudiger, Mats Hummels (Jonathan Tah), Jonas Hector, Toni Kroos 1, Sami Khedira, Thomas Muller (Lukas Podolski), Mesut Ozil, Marco Reuss (Andre Schurrle, Mario Gomez 1 (Mario Gotze).

England: Jack Butland (Fraser Forster), Nathaniel Clyne, Gary Cahill, Chris Smalling, Danny Rose, Eric Dier 1, Jordan Henderson, Adam Lallana (Ross Barkley), Dele Alli, Danny Welbeck (Jamie Vardy 1), Harry Kane 1.

Attendance: 71,413

Thursday, 24 March 2016

SC Victoria Hamburg v Condor Hamburg

"I've been watching Victoria for years. Make sure you enjoy the currywurst and beer as it will be a miracle if you enjoy the football."

SC Victoria Hamburg 3-3 Condor Hamburg. Stadion Hoheluft.
Thursday 24/03/16
No less an authority on debaucherous behaviour than John Lennon once said “I didn’t grow up in Liverpool, I grew up in Hamburg”. Before they were famous, The Beatles spent a lot of their time there, largely on the cities Reeperbahn which is known across Germany as the most sinful mile.

Sinful is the right way to describe it. It features a red light district, restaurants, back street bars, live music venues, theatres, brothels, strip clubs and sex shops. It isn’t hard to see why John, Paul George, Pete Best and Stuart Sutcliffe – this was pre-Ringo when the Fab Four were the Not-So-Fab-Five – had such a good time in Hamburg.

Hamburg Razvan Rathaus. A splendid building
The city isn’t just good for those looking for pursuits that would require a three figure number of Hail Marys in the confession booth on the return home. It is also a cracking place if you are on the lookout for football and it isn’t just about the cities two big teams, Hamburger SV and St Pauli. Dive into the fifth tier of the German pyramid and you find Oberliga Hamburg, a regional league based around Hamburg that feeds into the Regionalliga Nord.

That means you can go to Hamburg on virtually any weekend of the year and be able to find some form of football to watch. And on this particular Thursday night, that meant a trip to Stadion Hoheluft in a north eastern suburb of the city to catch a Hamburg derby between Victoria Hamburg and Condor Hamburg.

Herbertstrasse - part of that sinful mile
Victoria Hamburg have been going since 1895 with little success of note, bouncing between the fourth, fifth and sixth tiers. They do have some pedigree in the German Cup in the last decade however, having qualified and faced Bundesliga sides FC Nuremberg, Vfl Wolfsburg and Freiburg as well as pulling off a massive shock by defeating second tier Rot-Weiss Oberhausen in 2010.

But there was plenty to do in Hamburg prior to heading off to Stadion Hoheluft which naturally involved that most sinful mile for “cultural purposes”. Those cultural purposes were namely visiting St Pauli’s famous home, Millerntor-Stadion which is handily placed at one end of the Reeperbhan.

Some wonderful St Pauli grafitti
Last time I visited Millerntor-Stadion was in 2010 when St Pauli were a Bundesliga side and Wolfsburg were in town. Back in those not-so-glory days when Steve McClaren was leading Die Wolfe, the Millerntor was halfway through a redevelopment with two shiny new stands featuring corporate boxes down one side and behind a goal. In the intervening five and a half years, the rest of the stadium has been completed and with it has gone the character of the crumbling terraces and old school stands. I am afraid that not even the famous anti-capitalist St Pauli have been able to avoid the lure of the corporate world and the money it brings in.

There wasn’t a lot going on at Millerntor on this quiet afternoon bar the bar being open and so after a hearty pint of Jever it was onto the Reeperbahn to sample a few (or seven) of the pubs this fantastic area of the city has to offer. Best of these was Zum Anker where, despite it being just 3pm on a Thursday a party was in full swing with loud 1980s music blaring out and women dancing as if it was 11pm on a Saturday.

That was too much for me, especially with a huge Hamburg derby to come and so it was off to Stadion Hoheluft. A 40 minute journey from the Reeperbhan via U-bahn and walk with the obligatory 10 minutes thrown in for getting lost left me arriving at the gates a matter of minutes before kick off. Or so I thought.

Stadion Hoheluft and it's old school turnstiles
Welcome to SC Victoria Hamburg 

If the man on the gate thought it was strange that someone was running up to him in an attempt to not miss the start despite there still being over an hour until kick off, then goodness knows what he thought when it turned out this man who was clearly unable to tell the time turned out to be English and wanting to part with an absolute bargain €9 to watch a German fifth tier game.

Arriving just the hour before kick off...
Standard German urinal fun and games
The communication breakdown that had made me one of the first people through the Hoheluft gates did have one upside however and that came in the shape of the stadium bar. Situated under the main (and only) stand, it was almost a pub in itself serving food, doing fantastic beer and featuring those wonderful gents urinals with a miniature football and goal which you can try and use your urine stream to score with. If the FA are genuinely looking for a way to mirror the German’s ruthlessness from six yards, then installing a set of these in every football ground in the country could be the way to go about it.

The Victoria ultras gathered in force behind the goal
There are far worse places to mistakenly arrive over an hour before kick-off and after putting away several more pints it was time to join the 203 other hardy souls on the terraces. Among those 203 were the ultras of both sides making as much of a racket as groups of approximately 15 people each can do. The Victoria hard-core support took their position on a small terrace behind one of the goals while the visiting Condor fans were on another small standing block next to the large main stand.

That main stand was elevated above a flat area and was home to everyone else in attendance bar a handful of folk who, like me, took up a tactical placing in front of it that allowed, a) quick and easy access back to the bar at half time, and b) a handy position next to the food cabin that was doing a roaring trade in excellent plates of currywurst. Just the two of those for me.

The wonderful old school main stand
Currywurst for €3? That's going straight in my basket
Opposite that was another uncovered terrace that ran the length of pitch but is only ever used when one of the big Bundesliga sides was in town. And judging from the comments of those around me, it will be some time before that happens again as despite Victoria sitting pretty in third spot in the league prior to this game, I was warned by one home supporter clearly channelling the spirit of Victor Meldrew that the game was likely to be schiesse as he questioned my sanity at being in attendance when there was plenty of other things to be getting on with in Hamburg. It wasn’t explicitly stated, but we both knew it was another reference to that mile of sin.

He’d dampened expectations nicely and it certainly looked like he had summed up his sides ability when after only four minutes that old maxim of “keep it tight in the opening exchanges” was thrown completely out of the window as Victoria’s perfectly named Torben Wacker decided to whack someone in the box, conceding a superb unnecessary penalty and allowing Alexander Krohn to give Condor the lead.

Victoria giving away a penalty after four minutes was a wonderful
start to proceedings
Needless to say, this didn’t please the German Mr Meldrew and neither did his side missing a succession of easy chances. The best thing about sinking to this level of football is that it is often punctuated by all manner of hilarious cock ups and after that ridiculous challenge to concede a spot kick inside five minutes, the bloopers kept coming, particularly from Victoria’s strikers who didn’t appear as if they’d be able to hit the posterior of a milk bearing animal with a string instrument.

You can imagine the surprise then as after a succession of chances that you suspect a bedridden grandmother would have done better with, Victoria not only equalised through Marcos Rabenhorst but then took the lead through Julian Schmid with only five minutes of the first half remaining. Quite the turn around and a defining moment if Victoria could get to the break with the lead intact. Of course they couldn’t as three minutes later Emre Coskun equalised. “Ich glaube nicht es!!!” cried my new friend.

Excellent use of garden furniture going on in the home dugout

German Meldrew may have been right in his assessment of the standard but he was certainly wide of the mark when it came to the entertainment levels on offer. But surely the second half couldn’t match the breath-taking pace of the first? Condor clearly felt it could as they took the mantra of “anything Victoria can do, we can do better” and subsequently gave away a ludicrous penalty of their own, this one inside three minutes of the restart thanks to the antics of Benjamin Kruk in goal. Marcel Rodrigues converted for the home side.

Not to be outdone with their fine efforts of throwing away a lead within three minutes of taking it in the first half, Victoria went one better this time as they allowed Condor to draw level within 90 seconds as Ibrahim Ozalp netted the sixth and final goal of a ridiculously enjoyable game.

There could and should have been more goals but again both sides finishing let them down but this was a wonderful advert for Oberliga Hamburg and the only way to celebrate and calm the nerves after an end-to-end encounter was by naturally heading back to the sanctuary of the bar.

Post game shot anyone?
The mystical ceramic bull
Here, the party was kicking up a notch with trays of shots going round and a strange green ceramic bull in full Victoria kit sat on the bar which nobody was able to suitably explain the purpose of. Had the option existed, I could have happily stayed at Stadion Hoheluft all evening talking football and taking selfies with the locals but unfortunately at some point the bar had to shut with McCarthy as one of the last people to crawl out of it and into the Hamburg night, significantly lighter in wallet but happy to have donated a large number of euros to such a superb club.

My new Victoria Hamburg friend poses for his first ever selfie
A "you've got a Jogi Loew jumper on" selfie
And where did that Hamburg night take me? Back to the Reeperbahn of course and that is I am afraid to say where the brilliant story of Victoria Hamburg versus Condor Hamburg must come to an end. For legal reasons, I am unable to report on what happened back on the Beatles favourite street.

All I can say about the nights activities is this: Hail Mary. Hail Mary...Hail Mary...Hail Mary...Hail Mary...Hail Mary...Hail Mary...Hail Mary...Hail Mary...Hail Mary...Hail Mary...Hail Mary….

SC Victoria Hambug: Tobias Grubba, Tarek Abdalla, Marcel Rodrigues 1, Vincent Boock, Jan-Ove Edeling (Mats Neumann), Torben Wacker, Matthias Ribeau (Luis Hacker), Len Stromer, Julian Schmid 1 (Kevin Zschimmer), Benik Carolus, Marcus Rabenhorst 1.

Condor Hamburg: Benjamin Kruk, Adam Hamdan, Alexander Krohn 1, Isaak Hoeling, Emre Coskun 1, Kevin Mellmann (Lars Ludemann), Mike Theis, Till Daudert, Max Anders, Ibrahim Ozalp 1, Stefan Klaes (Julian Kunkel).

Attendance: 203