You can read parts one & three from our German trilogy by following these links :
Part One - HERE
Part Three - HERE
Sunlight is flooding into our room this morning as we both lie in bed, questioning if those extra beers at the hotel were a good idea, following the Friday night frivolities at Rot-Weiss Essen. Although it's our second early kick off in a week, after the antisocial start time at Arsenal the previous Saturday, the altogether more interesting proposition than a FA Cup game against Hull, has us both in by far a better mood.
It’s still cold, I think that is going to be a running theme this weekend, but instead of grey skies, it's a brilliant blue, and to borrow an expression from a certain Northerner, “there is enough blue to make a pair of sailor's trousers”.
Coffee is the order of the day for Tom, although he admits to it “tasting horrible” but at least it “did the job”. As I am still abstaining from caffeine, I opt for a large bottle of water, that I guzzle with all the enthusiasm of a six year old child who has been handed a soft drink in a restaurant.
The same helpful lady in the the ticket office from the previous evening, I hope she has been home to bed, once again provides us with detailed directions, and is far more helpful than Google maps, as she informs us today's ground has it’s very own stop on the U Bahn.
VfL Bochum (VfL) of the 2nd Bundesliga, play in a much more agreeable blue and white, than the red and white offering from the night before, their fans are visible at what is fastly becoming our second home, Dortmund HBF. It would seem everyone and there Mother is waiting for the same train, and is trying to avoid the shouty man with a can of beer in his hand, directing his grievances solely at the elderly.
Tom’s wish of getting a go on one of the double decker trains is granted, he can go home a happy boy, but any hopes of a seat are dashed when we board and are forced to stand cheek to cheek with everyone else, in a cramped section between carriages. Such is the proximity to other passengers, I’m forced to almost take part in a teen couple’s major public display of affection, as they snog each other's faces off about an inch from my right ear.
The sun is warming and life giving at Bochum station, and to avoid any of the issues experienced on the way to our first game Tom has the best idea “follow the man with the flag” and we do, but not too close as to raise suspicions that we are using him as a human TomTom. Once underground the station resembles a painting by Escher, and despite the abundance of blue and white all going in the same direction we end up on the wrong platform. In search of the correct one, we go up stairs, down escalators finally finding where we should have been in first place, just as a train pulls in, we pile on with the fans and a man with a load of fishing rods.
We have not even had breakfast yet, and everyone is on the beer, it’s not even gone midday. Some have even taken it up a notch “he's on the JD and Coke” points out Tom, and I’m sure I saw a woman with a mini bottle of Cava and a straw. Our ever so slightly delicate constitution means food will have to come first, before we can consider a drink.
My eyes take a moment to adjust as we emerge from underground, and into the light. To our left, back dropped by a still cloudless sky, is the rewirpowerSTADION. Its angular, modernist design, it’s square fly swat flood lights reaching upwards are intriguing, we are both keen to explore, but not before we eat.
Next to a garage, opposite the stadium a small white trailer is already doing a good bit of business. What better way to start the day than a heap of chips covering a curry sauce doused sausage, Tom not feeling quite as adventurous goes sans sauce. We both go silent for a moment, perhaps to process exactly what we are about to eat for our first meal of the day, but quickly push all that healthy living bullshit from our minds, and tuck in, ohhhh it's good.
Feeling full of food and self loathing, a walk is in order to burn off some calories. Men in red bibs hand out today's match day newspaper, the 'VfL-Echo' and the bottle men, women and children are out in force, they have mobilised, pacing around, readying themselves for the deluge of recyclables to come.
The gates are yet to open but we quickly find our entrance, thanks to a long low wall with the name of it spelt across it in the clubs colours ‘OSTKURVE BOCHUM’. Further on and walking into what feels like a chilly multi-storey car park, I have to pinch myself when we first cross paths with an expressionless builder, yellow hard hat and all, the mascot of one of the sponsors, and then a large blue mouse in full VfL kit, I wonder for a moment what was in the curry sauce.
A quick nosey in the shop results in no purchases, Tom has already got a pin, but with Easter around the corner the VfL chocolate rabbits catch my eye. The people doing the majority of the buying, seem to be Dads getting woolly hats and scarves for their blue children.
Outside we take a seat by a fleet of beige ambulances and admire what really is an interesting stadium. From behind us, we hear before we can see, what turn out to be a group of away fans being escorted by some serious looking coppers. Not looking for any trouble, despite what their armoured chaperone might imply, they are just seem happy to sing, as they are taken towards the away end.
Our full lap of the ground means the gates are now open, and we can make our way in. Wanting to see what the rewirpowerSTADION is like on the inside, we bypass the many food and drink stalls, and climb the step of block O. The same can not be said for one thirsty fan who is effortlessly carrying four beers in one hand, the cups interlocking handles allowing him to perform this jaw dropping feat.
Fans are tieing up banners to the fence at the front of the terrace, one such banner, that is pointing towards the crowd, instead of out towards the pitch like the rest, has a picture of the Sorting Hat from Harry Potter, “WICKED BOCHUM”.
With just under an hour until kick off the Ostkurve is already tightly packed, we opt for a spot above the entrance we just walked in, which allows us an uninterrupted view of this tight, completely enclosed, very blue ground. Probably the only deviation from this theme are the white seats spelling out VfL at the opposite end. We are quickly put to work, when a fan approaches us, a heap of scrunched up material in his arms. He hands over some rope, and without saying a word, along with the people in our row, we help put up a banner.
As with Rot-Weiss Essen there are notably more young people, teens, youths in the crowd then I’m sure you would see at home, this must have a noticeable impact on the atmosphere. Unlike at home, where the majority of people who can afford to go, are perhaps of an age where singing, dancing and swaying is not high on their agenda, and are perhaps looking for a slightly more sedate experience.
“Boooooooooooooo” is the warm Bochum welcome the away team SV Sandhausen (SV) get as they come out to warm up, I'm sure their handful of fans in the opposite corner are giving them a nice welcome, but I cant hear them. The arrival of the home players, kick starts the drum, flags, one of which has the grounds iconic floodlights on, and cheers. With just over a quarter of an hour now to the start, the stand is almost full, people are walking up and down the gangways looking for somewhere to squeeze in.
Having thought we would only be hearing ‘you'll never walk alone’ once on this trip, when we visit the black and yellow neighbours, we are surprised to hear it here as well. Some fans sing along, but not with near as much gusto as they do the saxophone solo laden club anthem. The ground quickly turns into a sea of outstretched scarves. The only people not holding one above their heads are the ones who don't have one, which are few or those with a flag, a pocket of them directly behind the goal are non stop.
“Der, der, der, der, der Bochum” sounds the drum, which is really ramping up as kick off gets ever closer “la, la, la, la Bochum”.
“Found him” says Tom who's on first watch, as the VfL Capo climbs the fence. No platform or pre made perch here, he is precariously balanced on top the the banner covered fence. It’s as if coloured megaphones are on special offer, because he is holding one that is identical to that of his Essen counterpart, it's just blue instead of red.
“That drum is wicked” comments Tom as he or she shows all the flair and skill of John Bonham, somewhere deep in the crowd, it's a bit more than your normal prehistoric whacking. As the team's huddle, the Capo and his accomplice point to different sections of the crowd, demanding more noise asking them to match those right at the front, who are relentless.
There is of course a game on, this is not ‘Capo Watch with Chris Packham’, and it's the home team who nearly scored in the opening minutes. It was so close to going in that a big chunk of the crowd think it did, and celebrate until they realise otherwise. They are however not waiting for long, with ten minutes gone VfL go ahead, a sweet curling shot following a knock down, the Ostkurve erupts.
When things have simmered down ever so slightly, the stadium announcer reads out the goal scorers first name, and crowd bellow back his second. Having seen the Arsenal crowd do a similar thing when the the team was read out a week before, with all the energy and life of a mouldy pear, it's a real pleasure to see it done properly.
Not long after the goal the VfL keeper prevents the equaliser with a good one on one save, which starts a quick counter attack where VfL almost double their lead.
With Tom doing Spanish at school, and me failing miserably at German, it's unfortunate that we can't decipher what the fans are saying, in any of their chants. We are though able to play ‘name that tune’, recognizing more than one of the universally used backing tracks that accompany so many football songs, like ‘Amarillo’ by Tony Christie and ‘Yellow Submarine’ by the Beatles.
Almost exactly ten minutes after the first goal, “Toorrrrrrr” rings out around the ground for a second time, when VfL score again. This time the attacker rounds the out rushing keeper, looks certain to be clipped and go down, but remains on his feet, finishing powerfully into the roof of the net from a tight angle.
Not happy with one Capo, he has been joined on the fence, he and his companions looking like the crows from Dumbo. They share the duties, one pumps his fist, demanding even more from a crowd that amazingly has more to give. Amongst an overwhelming amount of blue and white flags, banners and scarves, even though it's probably the smallest, the one in the Rastafari green, yellow and red with a black cannabis leaf on it, sticks out like a sore thumb. Such is its prominence one of the three up high has grabbed it, and is using it as a crude conductor's baton.
Not content with being affordable, friendly and having a stand out atmosphere, football in Germany adds another string to its bow, it’s innovative as well. Having spotted a man with a knitted bottle holder around his neck at Essen, one VfL fan has taken it to the next level, like the leap from Sputnik to the Apollo program. The ‘thing to carry your beer in’ race is happening in front of us, we are part of it, as we see a man with a knitted pint carrier. I can just about get my head around the bottle, which just about makes sense with its small opening, and it being naturally a bit more contained, but the balls to wear a full and open container about your person, in a crowded public area, well frankly it’s mind blowing, we have a lot to learn from the Germans.
Although I don't know what they are signing to the tune of ‘Go West’ by the Pet Shop Boys, it has the whole place on its feet, including the most vocal of of the seated blocks, a small pocket to our left, their banner, “block A” hangs from the back of the stand, and their own flags sway at the front. A young boy next to me joins in, but softly, singing along under his breath.
The half ends with VfL completely dominant, SV only having one half chance, and half of the ground bathed in glorious vitamin D rich sunlight, whilst the rest shivers in the shadows.
Those we can understand talking, are a group of English guys behind us looking a little rough, one in particular shares his current state of mind with his friends, and we are lucky enough to overhear, “feeling a bit shaky” and the fact that he almost “shit himself”.
Sadly the boney finger of the advertisers and sponsors has managed to sully the one thing other than a foot and a ball, that is synonymous with this game we love, the goal. As the players walk off, people flood out to get a drink and something to eat, and a team of men hang an advert in each goal, I thought the sponsored substation at Oxford was an all time low, but this might be the new leader.
A fan behind us asks me what I’m doing, “are you writing a football diary?” as most other people chat, smoke, drink, I’m head down scribbling away, trying to recount all the things we have seen and heard. I explain and tell him about the other games we are going to, in the Rurh area “the home of football” as he calls it.
When people return, the over sized cheese covered pretzels, hang over one woman's arm like a giant's bangle. Tom is not empty handed either, after a quick toilet break, he returns with beer and pretzels, and it reconfirms what a good bloke he is.
Once again the away team enter the field to “booo’s” and it’s wonderfully reminiscent of a pantomime. VfL’s arrival on the other hand is quite different, like a returning triumphant Napoleonic army, they are welcomed by a fanfare of trumpets playing over the speakers in the ground, it's a reception befitting a team who have been so in control, and they almost rubber stamp the victory when they a shot from a wide free kick bounces awkwardly in front of the SV keeper, who does well to keep it out, as well as the resulting close range shot, forcing out for a corner.
Maybe complacency has crept in, maybe the lavish welcome at the the start of the half has gone to their heads, but VfL are getting increasing sloppy, and if SV had the wherewithal to capitalise on it, they could well and truly be back in the game by now.
“Beer is flying” comments Tom, a little shell shocked after the barrage at Stadion Essen, as we once again see how people who disagree with a referee decision show their dismay. To be fair to them he should have played advantage, they were bearing down on goal and he called it back, but I’m too tight to lob my drink, so just tut.
With their first clear cut chance of the game, let alone the half, with twenty minutes on the clock, SV get a goal back, “it’s happening again” says Tom, as we both get the feeling we might be seeing a repeat of the comeback from the away team at Essen. The visitors are now well and truly on the front foot, and VfL only have themselves to blame.
The Capo removes his scarf, starts to swing it, urging the crowd to do the same.
Unfortunately things go from bad to worse, the game has gone ‘full Essen’ as less than ten minutes later things are all square. A mixture of good hold up play, bad defending and a bit of luck, allows the big unit up front for SV is to turn in the box and finish from close range. Two fans return from a beer run and are forced into a double take, looking at each other, and looking at the scoreboard with a ‘what the fuck has happened’ look on their faces.
As we all know, a game is not won or lost until the final whistle, this game has one final swing, one final twist when VfL are awarded a penalty.
“Simon Terodde, Simon Terodde” chant the fans as the penalty taker prepares himself, no pressure then. More fans have climbed the fence, one is struggling and is at risk of missing the action if he doesn't get a move on. One is not sitting, but standing directly behind the keeper, leaning up against the large net behind the goal. He turns to the Ostkurve, his finger to his lips, asking for quiet. The crowd oblige and a nervous hush falls over them, they want Simon to have no distractions.
Alan Shearer knew how to take a penalty, now imagine the opposite to one of big Al’s spot kicks, and that might give you a good idea of how Mr Terodde took his, but at least it went in and that's all that counts. The keeper went one way, the scuffed rolled bobbling shot the other.
The air is filled with a mixture of beer, and confetti that someone has pulled from their pocket and tossed skywards. Fans around us hug and celebrate with each other, it's a sudden release after all the tension that preceded the goal. The supporter who asked for quiet is now rocking back and forth, back and forth still grasping the net, as the scorer runs to one corner of the pitch, followed by his teammates,“Simon Terodde, Simon Terodde, Simon Terodde”.
When the stadium announcer reads out the scorers name, “Simon” the crowd reply with all the ferocity and confidence a potential winning goal gives “TERODDE”.
Ten minutes left, and SV pour forward leaving themselves open time and time again to counter attack, after counter attack. The fans start to clap, faster, and faster sounding like an oncoming train, perfectly timed with the on field onslaught. VfL almost get a forth and kill the game, great one touch passing means they transition from defence to attack in the blink of an eye. A lay up is hit, curls towards the back post across the keeper only to be kept out by the post, the rebound God only knows how, is shot wide.
As if the match needed anymore more drama, SV have a late penalty appeal turned down, the bench are on their feet flabbergasted, heads are in hands, some players and staff have even encroached on to the pitch. Thankfully for all concerned, in the home end at least, hearts are spared and the game finishes 3 - 2.
Half a dozen people now sit on top of the fence. The players approach the Ostkurve applauding, and the fans reply. A song breaks out again, driven on by the flawless drummer, scarves again are stretched out in front of people, and the flags continue to whip back and forth. As the song peters out, people start to leave, and Kings Of Leon starts to play over the stadium speakers.
Those fans yet to leave watch the highlights on one of two small screens in opposite corners of the ground, when they see the missed rebound again, they jeer, still wondering how he did not score, luckily there are no need for tears. On the pitch one of the players has a kick about with a young child, presumably his Son in a massive over sized home shirt and woolly hat.
With the crowd now gone, we can't help but make our way down the stairs of the terrace, banners have been taken down and packed away, and once again I have to remember that Tom does not want to spend all day following me as I take pictures of Ultra stickers. We do though attract the attention of an older gent, who inspects our small contribution to the Kurve.
Again my Spurs scarf is the perfect ice breaker and the Bayern Munich/VfL Bochum fan, which going by some of the stickers is not that uncommon, they are two clubs in a 'friendship' if you like, tells me he hopes Tottenham “kill them” motioning with his fist, like he is punching someone in the guts. I ask him how he felt, and where did his allegiance lie after the recent DFB-POKAL game where his two teams were drawn against each other. “I win”, whatever the result he tells me, in fact it was the team from Bavaria who won, which was no great surprise.
We are not quite the last people to leave, what we think are a group of Leicester City fans, who are not an uncommon site at VfL games considering the two clubs 'friendship', they are still going strong singing at the back of the stand, and have drawn a bit of an audience. Outside one home fan, who makes Macy Gray sound softly spoken, is still trying to sing, but is so hoarse, it's painful to hear him straining. A few drinks to the good, his call of nature so strong, in full view of all the people waiting for the U Bahn, he whips out his cock and starts to take a piss.
Chips for breakfast, pretzels for lunch, welcoming fan's and last minute goals. The bench mark was high after our night at Stadion Essen, but VfL did not disappoint, they carried the torch on with out a hitch.
This German football lark, really is a thing of beauty, its addictive. I'm sure their are fans who have their grumbles, them would happily point out the bad points, things they are not happy with, things they wished they did 'like them over there'. I'm sure there would be people who would argue that the quality of the football is better or in fact worst than anywhere else, but for me that would just be splitting hairs. They just seem to do so many things the 'right way', that being the way Tom and I like to enjoy an afternoon at the football.
Next stop is to see the yellow and black lot, and their big bloody wall.