Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Football, Friends, Rock'n'Roll - Tennis Borussia Berlin Vs VSG Altglienicke, Berlin Liga, Mommsenstadion (13/03/15)

Read about the other match we went to during our weekend in Berlin HERE

It’s Friday evening at the base of the famous Berlin TV tower, I climb upon an S5 train at Alexanderplatz to travel to the South West of Berlin, on my way to see a team formed around a ping pong club, who play in a stadium named after a Nobel Prize winner, in the 6th tier of German football, for my first taste of football in Deutschland.

Ever since I decided on a trip to Berlin, after making a bet with my girlfriend to go to the capital of the country of whoever won the World Cup, as well as all the historical and cultural attractions, seeing a live game was top of my priority list! After some asking about on twitter and with the help of @NoDiceMagazine and @BundesligaBrit, the stars aligned and I found that Tennis Borussia Berlin (TeBe) had a home game during our stay.

With what will become a running theme during our exprience, @TennisBorussia were very helpful with advice about tickets, and the best place to stand to enjoy what  had become clear to me in the world of ground hoppers and lower league football fans, the famous TeBe Party Army.

A few days before leaving for Berlin, a mysterious message had appeared in my inbox on Twitter, an invitation to meet some of the Party Army at their “secret” fan base. My first thoughts were ones of slight nervousness, but also of excitement, I felt like perhaps I would have to memorise a hand shake or provide a password to some eyes though a slit in a door, and my GCSE German is abysmal, so I didn’t think that was going to get me very far.

The fan base is “secret” for a reason.  This is football after all, where city rivalries can spill over into all sorts of nonsense. As we approached the fan base, a single person stood outside with a beer bottle in his hand, and I nervously asked, “TeBe?”, he said yes with a smile and we let ourselves in.

We entered the bar first, with low level lighting and purple walls, table, and fridge to represent the clubs colours. We made ourselves comfortable on a small sofa at the back of the room, and I went to the bar for a drink. The other room which makes up the fan base was like a shrine we had only seen a glimpse of on the way in, and it was calling me. After asking if it was ok to take some pictures (they quickly agreed with just one request, that I only take pictures of the inside and not the outside, to aid with the secrecy) I was greeted by a fussball table, and more scarves, flags, pennants and football nick knacks than I had ever seen in one place.
It was not long after entering the shrine that a man in a flat cap approached me, and introduced himself. Alex had noticed my Spurs scarf, and told me he was a Fulham fan, as well as a TeBe fan since the 70’s. His mother was from Putney, and on visiting London found his English family had connections with the rowing club opposite Craven Cottage, he saw the ground as a young boy, and adopted Fulham as his second club.

He was a fountain of knowledge and was more than happy to stand and share about a club he was clearly devoted to. He let me know that I am one of many English fans who have made the pilgrimage over to TeBe, as well as a small group of Brits who live and work in Berlin and have adopted the club. Nothing makes this more apparent than the array of scarves from FC United of Manchester, Nottingham United FC and Whitehawk FC who the club are twinned with, along with scarves from all over Europe. I presented the club with a Spurs scarf, my team, and hope one day it will be hanging in the club house with the rest.

Alex explains that the club are not very popular in Germany, going as far as to suggest they are in fact the most unpopular. A lot of this has to do with the strong political ideals the club and fans have, which they in turn have made part of the DNA of the club. They are seen to have brought politics into football with a strong ethos of anti-hooliganism, anti-homophobia and anti-racism, which in some quarters is considered “boring”.

The club has traditionally been a club of the middle classes, with a very liberal following, popular amongst artists with a large Jewish following. All of these factors, in Germany’s recent history, make them stand out from the crowd.

TeBe have youth development as a key part of the clubs structure, as Alex explains there are at least 30 – 40 players in the world’s top two leagues that are a product of the youth team, one no more impressive than World Champion Jerome Boateng, of Bayern Munich.

We finish our drinks in the club house, and Alex guides us though some woods, only a short walk from the fan base, to the ground, the Mommsenstadion, named after Theodor Mommsen who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1902, which was built in 1930 and was used during the 1936 Olympics. Originally built for 80,000 spectators, it is now only for a more modest 12,000, and has been their home since 1945. TeBe have the highest attendance in the Top League in Berlin, around 400, where the average is around 30 – 40. Most other teams don’t even have a ground, just a field.

There will only be a hand full of away fans from VSG Altglienicke, a club from East Berlin, most of them will be relatives of the players.

The glare of the flood lights, illuminate the stadium as we walk through the woods, I’m growing more and more excited as we get closer, not only has Alex set a fast pace, he wants to make sure we can have a look at the stadium before kick-off, but has also not stopped talking, not in a boorish way, but in the way of some one full of enthusiasm. Especially about one player in particular Micheal Foot, who perhaps has the best footballers name ever, a club legend, who at 38 years old, has scored 19 goals this season, can be found after the match drinking in the pub in the ground, and who was brought back to TeBe thanks to a crowd funding scheme arranged by the fans.

We enter the ground though a small set of turnstiles at one corner of the ground, it’s only 7 Euro to get in, and 1 Euro for a program, and only 40 Euros for a season ticket, we climb a small set of stairs, with the Cures – Friday I’m in Love playing over the stadium PA system. At the top we find ourselves at the base of the original 1936 wooden terrace, which stretches one whole side of the pitch, and the running track and pitch are presented in front of you, all in cased within a metal 8 foot fence that circles the whole pitch.

The group at the top of the stairs is in fact a queue for the beer and sausage hut, manned by 3 or 4 people, cooking over hot coals, and serving up beer. Alex had reminded us to make sure we got our “beer passport” which if stamped with each drink you get the 10th one free. You also get 1 Euro back for each cup you take back to the bar.

The TeBE Party Army who on match days are in section E, directly opposite the main stand and the entrance we have just come in are already in full swing. Their banners “TEBE PARTY ARMY” and “Refuges Welcome” are tied to the fence and chanting can be heard already. So drinks and bratwurst in hand we make our way around the elevated walkway, and past the unmissable dot matrix score board, which is like something from a 70’s Fifa World Cup film, that blinks the club logo, team picture and the message “Keep Calm, and Thank God it’s Friday”

It’s not long after joining the TeBe Party Army that the teams come out to the Breeders. Music is a big part of the club, and seems to be mainly punk and British 90’s indie, and is all driven by the fans. The supporters club is very influential in the running of the club from the music, to the program it’s all run by a group of, die hard volunteers.

The first half of the game itself goes past with little to mention, it seems all is being saved up for the 2nd half. The thing which really keeps me interested, are the fans and their constant singing and support. The group around us is a real mixture from the megaphone led, flag waving group to our right, and the older crowd with one mans, homemade TeBe scarf of purple and white, which is wrapped around his neck so many times, he looks like he is at a Dr Who convention.

The singing is constant, and some in a mixture of English and German, “Come on TeBe, Come on TeBe”, “We Libre TeBe”, and one song to the tune of Auld Lang Syne. Children climb the fence to get a better a view. I can see Alex in the thick of it, at the front of the crowd. Plastic beer cups once finished are unceremoniously tossed to the front, at the foot of the cage, these people are clearly not that fussed about getting their Euro back. Every time the away team get a corner or free kick, the home fans bleat, and produce their house keys and hold them up and jingle them, the man in possession of the megaphone leads them on. Each side of the ground engage in a back and forth chant, each taking turns in giving their call and patiently waiting for a response.

The 1st half ends 0–0. TeBe perhaps going the closest after hitting the woodwork from a direct free kick. The crowd have grown a little frustrated with the referee, and towards the end of the half his decisions are met with sarcastic rounds of applause.

At half time, we make our way back around the pitch to the visit the club shop, which is housed in a tiny room on the first floor of the terrace. We bag a few mementos for home, and by the time we are out of the shop, kick off is close by, so we start the 2nd half on the terrace, which gives you a fantastic view, but minus the atmosphere. The Party Army can be heard loud and clear, and making plenty of noise as ever.

The 2nd half is eventful to the say the least, at some points breaking out into mayhem, and at one point I’m left wondering if the referee has lost all control. It’s less than 10mins in that the excitement begins to ratchet up, as a TeBe player is sent off. You would not know they are down to 10 men, as they are still hunting down the ball, and there seems no sign of them sitting back and playing for a draw.

The call of the Party Army is too great, so we quickly leave the terrace and make our way back to block E. The match is getting heated, and the tackles and fouls are flying in, and it’s not long until the away team take advantage of the extra man, and take a 0–1 lead. A free kick from the right is met by one of the attacking players in the 6 yard box, he connects with his head, it hits the bar flush and ricochets back into play, and on the 2nd attempt he puts it away.

It’s at this point the excitement level climbs another level, when a TeBe player seems to take exception to something the away player has said, hits out, and a full team on team ruckus ensues, mostly in the back of the net itself, as the away player lies poleaxed on the floor. The subs in green bibs warming up behind the goal are quick to join in, and by the time the referee has cooled things down, the away keeper, who seems to be one of the main protagonists ends up with a yellow card.

If this wasn’t enough excitement for one match, things were only going to get more nuts before the final whistle. The tackles are still flying in, and this time it’s a TeBe player right in front of the away dug out, he is already on a yellow so is given his marching orders, and TeBe are now down to 9!!

As he walks off someone on the away bench seems so say something, causing the TeBe player to lash out, and queue team on team ruckus number 2! The subs in the green bibs seem too far away this time to get involved, but sprint over to be in the melee. Once again the referee seems to recover control again, but is getting an ear full from the home coach, who has over stepped the mark and he is also shown a red and sent to the stands. TeBe are now 2 players and a coach down, and there is still a football match to be played.

During all of this the Party Army have not stopped, chants of “Come on TeBe, Come on TeBe” still ring out, and regardless of the situation their team find themselves in, their support has not wavered one bit.

The last moment of madness, the point that takes the game into full scale 11 on the excitement level is when the away team do their bit to equal things up and get one of their players sent off.

TeBe are getting out numbered on the break at the back, and it seems only a matter of time before the Away team get another goal, and secure the 3 points. On one such counter attack the away player jinks and skips though the TeBe defence, to find himself one on one with the keeper. A bad touch gives the keeper the opportunity to rush out, and try and claim the ball, the away player as to not miss out on the chance of a goal, jumps and lunges at the ball, and crunches into the oncoming keeper.
He is already on a yellow, and the referee, who has already shown he is not afraid of dishing out the cards, brandishes the player his 2nd yellow to much delight of the home fans and shouts of “Auf – Wiedersehen” and waving breaks out amongst the Party Army. TeBe have a few last gasp chances to grab a point from the jaws of defeat, but a shot wide at the back post from an unmarked player and a tame shot at the keeper go begging, and the game ends 0–1.

The Party Army stand and clap their team, and most of the rest of the ground leave. Then something I found quiet outstanding happened, the team approached their most ardent of fans and filed down the fence, high fiving the out stretched hands of the supporters, an unequivocal sign of gratitude for their support, and unlike anything I had seen at a game before.

One of the home fans says to us what a shame our first visit from London, and such a horrible game. This was Stephen, or who we later found out was known as Lenin, due to his striking resemblance to the communist leader. He had moved to Berlin 10 years ago, and had come to his first TeBe game 3 years previously. Still a massive supporter of his home town club, Mönchengladbach, he knew after hearing the Dead Kennedys and Ramones playing on his first game at TeBe, and as a punk rocker he identified with their left wing message, he knew they were the team for him.

As Alex had before the game, Lenin after the game escorted us back thought the woods to the club house. Completely without any ulterior motive other than to be friendly, welcoming and to discuss the club, which much like Alex he had a great love for.

Without gushing, and without going on for another 5 pages, I would simply recommend anyone who
has a passion for football, to make an effort to visit TeBe. What a club, what fans, what an atmosphere. I was amazed at how welcoming there were to us, how happy they were to spend their time talking to us. Tebe are currently top of their division, and if all things go to plan, they will get promoted and perhaps one day in the not too distant future will be back at the top, because a club with this much heart and passion, deserves the very best.

A special thank you to Alex, Lenin and Fabian.

Football – Friends – Rock’n’Roll


For all of our photographs from the match, click HERE

Read about the other match we went to during our weekend in Berlin HERE

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