Wednesday 30 March 2016

Are We There Yet? - Morpeth Town A.F.C. Vs Bowers & Pitsea FC, FA Vase Semi-Final 2nd Leg, Craik Park (19/03/16)

Tom is not much of a morning person, and although I normally find it quite easy to function in the early hours, the fact it's not yet totally light, we went to bed about four hours earlier after drinking Dutch lager Tom had brought as a housewarming gift and watched WWE of all things, it means I’m not really feeling that jovial.

My kitchen is full with thick vape smoke as Tom gathers himself slurping at a cup of tea. I potter about deliberating if I need gloves or not, “you are going to the North East, North of the wall” says my half awake fiancee from beneath the covers of our bed, and she is of course correct, so in go the Fagin's.

Our collective vision for the coach we will be making the long trip on to just outside Newcastle, we hope is something similar to that of the plush German team bus we had seen at the German Football Museum a week or so before, and Tom can't work out if its going to be beers and pyro or nice and genteel so he can get some shut eye. His biggest concern though is if “someone is going to be sick”, and that there “is nothing worse than being on a coach with sick!”

While waiting and shivering, we reminisce about the last time we saw Bowers & Pitsea FC (BP) play, it was their resounding victory in the Essex Senior League Cup last season. Tom’s fondest memory unsurprisingly was the woman dishing out the biscuits and treats on the journey to the match.

Our rendezvous with the BP fan coach is outside a truck stop in Waltham Abbey, it very much has the feel of a 70’s football transfer about it, but once on board a brown envelope secured deal for Martin Chivers is sadly not agreed. We take our seats and receive a warm welcome as ever from Darren the BP social media guru, helper and fixer, who is just as relaxed and friendly as the last time we met, and quickly asks Tom if he is suitably prepared for the trip “got plenty of food Tom?”

Keen to get Darren’s thoughts on the day ahead, and the dramatic events of the first leg of the semi-final, where BP were two goals down against opponents Morpeth Town A.F.C. (MT) only for a last minute equaliser. It seems this perfectly captures BP’s astonishing progression in the competition “we have been out of this Cup so many times”. Although the coach is not even half full, he is expecting a good turnout from the home team, bolstered by the fact that Sunderland and Newcastle are not playing until the following day. Despite the previous weeks initial scare, Darren feels “if we are still in it with 15 minuets to go” they have a good chance, he describes MT as an “old team” who tired in the final moments of the first leg, hence their remarkable comeback.

As we settle down for the many hours ahead, “it would have been quicker to travel to Germany” Darren jokes, I fret about whether the six hours plus of downloaded films are enough to get me through, Tom on the other hand is purring like a kitten, fast asleep, and we have not even been on the road an hour.

Before I get to grips with a documentary about mountain climbing, conversation on the coach is about the players preparations. They had gone up the previous night, and Darren assures all that “the whole team were in bed by 10”, one person perhaps a bit more au fait with some of the players reputations asks “whose bed?”

Such is the amount of time to kill, Paul a Southend fan, and BP committee member, who has arranged the transport, as he does the “rebel coach” for the The Shrimpers fans, has produced a copy of the FA report from the first leg, and proceeds to read it out. It’s received with all the derision and enthusiasm a piece of writing from the aforementioned organisation can expect, and goes as far as to document the compass positioning of the club's toilets, “he is pretty anal”.

Paul reminds one supporter as to the scale of our journey today “Paris is closer”.

With Tom snoozing, Darren and I catch up, “90 minutes from Wembley, wow!” he says, his face absolutely lighting up. “The league is still our focus” he tells me, the FA Vase a unexpected, but most enjoyable side show. I wonder however if the fixture backlog it has created means the Vase could end up being a hinderance, but he insists “it's still in our own hands”. He emphasises the one core value this team possess, the reason they have got this far is “we don't know when we're beaten”.

Darren makes one last point, and it's something I had not even considered “we must be the first team you've seen twice and not been to our home ground”. In fact after today it will the third, and I remind myself that we must get down to the The Len Salmon Stadium.

The same lady who Tom so fondly remembered dishing out the snacks on the coach last time, is Pauls wife, and appears to offer me a cup of tea. On delivering it, she also hands over a couple of bourbons, that go down a treat.

Paul comes over the coaches speakers, in a voice that has a tinge of the air stewardess about it, announcing our first stop at Blyth services “its delightful”, one person at the back is already a little impatient “are we nearly there yet?”

We are not in Blyth long, enough time for Tom to wake up, disappear then reappear with a sausage roll. Daren seems unable to stand still, fidgeting with a nervous anticipation, repeating what he had said earlier “90 minuets to Wembley”. While we stretch our legs, Daren Tom and I, discuss amongst things the BP manager Rob Small’s predicament, the final is the day after his wedding, in Cyprus.

Darren doesn't believe he would miss it, but reckons he is “saying all the right things” to appease his wife to be who I’m sure wished this Vase run would finish already. It would not just be Rob who would be potentially missing, but some of the players as well. For Darren his partners birthday is on the day of the final, and he didn't dare break it to her until she was “in a good mood”, her reply when he did was not overflowing with care, love and devotion, “I hope you lose”.

To pass the time on the coach, someone has cobbled together an accumulator, and for £2 you can pitt yourself against everyone else. Partial to a bit of non-league gambling, I’m in, Tom is awake and not eating his sausage roll, so he is as well. There was no doubt in Tom’s mind that I was never going to do it, “he loves a 50/50” he tells Darren, happy to air my dirty laundry in public.

Having previously been told there was a “buffet waiting for us in Thirsk” which according to Paul is “a lovely market town” in “proper Yorkshire” not long after our first stop, our coach is squeezing round corners pulling up just past a sign pointing to ‘The World Of James Herriot”. The coach empties, and we all head to a local pub owned by a friend of Paul, who is a card carrying member of the “Yorkshire Blues” a Southend supporters group. The Crossed Keys is a regular pit stop on away games in this neck of the woods.

My head barely clears the ceiling of what you might call a ‘proper pub’, no wasabi peas here, just a table of tin foil covered cheese cubes and sandwiches and men drinking pints of John Smihs, Yorkshiremen talking about Yorkshire things. “It's 11.30 on a Saturday and I'm on the wine” says one of the players Mum’s who has taken the day off from cutting hair, to make the trip for her son’s big day.

A pickled onion and corned beef sandwich later, Tom and I go in search of a cash point. Thirsk is pretty enough, sadly we don't have time to explore the museum, but we do notice that for a town this size there seems to be a disproportionate amount of tattoo parlours and a pub on every corner, which can’t be a good combination.

During our search for money we have the pleasure of watching a man eat a yogurt without a spoon, tongue only, and Tom overhears one local’s conversation in the supermarket when he requests some help reading his wife's shopping list. When the worker suggests the scribbled writing might say “pinot” the old man snaps back at her “no I've banned her”.

The combination of the beer, the time of day and the fact our stop was a relatively short one, means that everyone’s good spirits have gone up a notch or two. Paul is keen to emphasise the importance of the occasion and is shouting “history, history” as he finds his seat, another has modified a Southend chant to work for BP “Yorkshire reds, Yorkshire reds”. As we make our way through rolling countryside the occasional shout goes up at the back of the coach “Bowers, Bowers”.

“Two and a half miles” says someone after the umpteenth person asks “are we there yet?”.

A snaking country lane, not much wider than the coach, weaves along the edge of a nearby golf course. We make the tight turn into the car park of a ground that someone quite rightly observes as being “in the middle of nowhere” someone also notices a sign “no fly tipping, don't they know we’re from Essex?”

“You've come a long way” says a local in a thick Northumberland accent. One weary traveler though is not interested in pleasantries, and has his priorities clear in his own mind “bog, beer”.

A small shed at the end of a narrow passage along one side of the club house, is selling tickets. Such are its dimensions the burly men inside are almost bent over double. Not having been in Craik Park for more than a minute I’m quickly feeding my habit, firstly the chance of winning the first goal draw, is to tempting to resist, and secondly the raffle. The seller in his black and yellow striped scarf pounces on me like a creature off the Serengeti “well while you've got your money out”.

‘Happy’ by Pharrell is playing as we wander down towards the pitch, and the first thing we notice is quite what a state it's in, has half of Blackpool beach been dumped on it? Also it’s clearly been widened, perhaps some non-league shenanigans afoot, as Darren says “they clearly think they can get around us”. Nonetheless he is animated, his spidey senses are tingling and he can feel “a little buzz” about the place and it's now just a case of waiting until kick off.

Kids are tearing around kicking footballs, kids who are sporting some of the most quiffed, gelled and slicked haircuts I have ever seen, and it feels like just a matter of the time before I catch a ball in the back of the head. As I make my way around the pitch, past the main stand on the halfway line, people in their black and yellow hats are already picking their a spot. Other than that there are few other permanent fixtures, in what is quite a bare, tall conifer ringed ground. I assume only because of the occasion, a couple of temporary red seated stands have been erected.

Standing next to a St George's cross with the Northumberland colours in one corner and Morpeth Town A.F.C. written across it, Tom returns from taking pictures, and confirms I think what most people are thinking about the pitch, “ it’s very squidgy”.

“Alright chaps” says one of the BP players who are first out to warm up. “Good trip up?” I ask, his face contorts like he is eating a lemon “it was ok, wouldn't say it was good”. One player jogging out comments that the pitch is “like a home, from home” which I hope Darren didn't hear, because other than his much loved girlfriend, I’m not sure there is anything else he is as devoted to than the BP home pitch, which he attends and cares for meticulously.

Watching the BP keeper going through his drills, he stops for a moment, notices us, and takes a quick break to say hello, “I'll even take my gloves off” he says smiling, removing them to reveal his shovel sized mits, that make Tom’s and mine look like those of a child in the hand of the BFG. He is in good spirits, even though he had to work all Thursday night before traveling up, so could be excused for admitting to feeling a little knackered. “You having a beer later?” he asks pointing to the clubhouse, “I'll
see you in there”.

“Come on boys let's focus” shouts one BP player as all the laughs and jokes of piggy in the middle is over, and the serious pre-match gets underway.

“Busy” says Tom, which is a massive understatement, as we try and get in the clubhouse, which has a mirror ball hanging from the ceiling. With just under an hour to kick off, we can barely get in the door, and people are still arriving in droves.

“I’d love it” we hear a MT fan say about potentially getting to Wembley, in a manner I can only describe as that of Kevin Keegan talking about beating Manchester United to the league title, minus the ridiculous headphones.

If Tom could get near it he might have one “ the hot dog smells nice” but admits defeat “it’s crazy busy” he doesn't even make an attempt and we make our way outside. As the MT players leave the pitch, each one shakes the hand of an old chap in a flap cap, “alreet”.

“Six minutes to kick off” says the voice over the tannoy, like someone at mission control before a rocket launch. Almost every seat is taken in the stands, and its three people deep in some places around the pitch, some have even taken to clambering up a large mound of earth, just so they can see.

Rob Small look’s pensive, he’s done his talking and makes his way to the dugout with the substitutes, leaving the first team in the changing room.

“Five minutes to kick off, get your spot on there” says the voice again. People take his advice and start to pour out the bar.

Shouts can be heard from each changing room, the referee’s assistant in their “Britney mics” as Tom describes them, knock on the doors, and there is not a long of wait, both teams appear swiftly. The referee flanked by his colleagues, leads them down the slope on to the pitch. People line the barrier on
each side, offering encouragement to players, one BP player has a message for his team mates “leave nothing”.

“Enjoy the match” says the voice one last time, and we have blast off.

The early stages of this rocket takeoff analogy I'm running with until it burns up, is less than perfect for BP as they go a goal behind after two minutes. “Come on Bowers” shouts one of the few travelling fans behind the MT goal, all led by the blue and white Southend drum we had heard people talking about on the coach. It's a less than ideal start, but the fans do their best, offering their support “come on lads”, “get into them”.

At the opposite end of the ground, the stand seems one half black and yellow, one half red and white. The most noise not unexpectedly is coming from the home fans, in particular a herd of tiny children whose on mass squealing is akin to a superpower for a Marvel character.

The first twenty or so minutes it seems like chance after chance for MT. BP are ponderous and are getting caught out time and time again by the pace and trickery of the number 9, who is making the most of the few extra inches the wider pitch is giving him, and every attack is coming from his side, “good football here” as one home supporter puts it and he is correct, they are really moving the ball around well, especially the diagonal ball from midfield that keeps finding the winger.

BP’s players are getting a little frustrated, MT are swarming all over them, when an attempt to win the ball back is deemed a foul, the MT fan next to me hits the nail on the head “they are getting a little aggy”.

Rob Small is what you might call a quiet manager, unlike one of the MT coaches whose booming voice is constantly dishing out praise or instructions “good football lads”. Rob on the other hand looks to be always thinking, analyzing, considering his next move, waiting for the correct time to talk to his players. When he does, with ten minutes of the half left there is an almost instant impact, coincidence or good management?

Two kids peering over the fence to our right, getting a freebie, have appeared just in time to see B&P equalise. A free kick is launched into the box, the ball is by one of the MT defenders changeling for the ball and is pounced upon and poked in from close range. “Thank fuck for that” says a relieved Darren “we are not in this”. We are both then almost deafened by Paul's wife who has taken over drum duty “well done Bowers”. One of the traveling fans bemoans his poor timing “I go to the bog and they score”.

Darren's assessment is sadly true, and MT almost score again before the half is done, only for the ball to nestle on the roof of the net.

“I love a swap of ends” says Tom as what seems like as many dogs as people are making their way from the opposite end, with us going the other way. Our new spot, just next to the completely see through almost fish tank’esq BP dug out gives us the perfect view of the pitch which resembles a moonscape “they’re like fucking craters”, comments a ever so slightly shocked Tom.

MT are out long before BP, enough so that one of the young ball boys in his orange vest asks a player “where ya been?”. One of his fellow ball boys could be asked the same question, returning to his post a little late. He sprints up the touch line with a hot dog in his hand, “I'm jealous” says Tom.

“Bowers come on!” Shouts one player, it's boom or bust time.

It looks like things are going from bad to worse, after what was a good start by the away team, they have been on the front foot since the kick off, when MT have a penalty shout waved away. Tom reckoned it “looked like a tangle of legs” I’m not sure, the MT players and fans at that end seemed pretty sure, it was really a heart in your mouth moment.

One BP weapon causing problems is the long throw, the thrower uses every available inch of run up, at one point his back is up against the fence, he arches in preparation, and I have to take a step back so as not to get in the way.

Their pressure is slowly paying off, “we have lost our way second half” says an MT supporter, another has a slightly more mystical reason for MT’s fortunes “I think it's the negativity of all the Newcastle fans”. MT have been nowhere near as threatening, perhaps Darren's suggestion of them tiring is coming to fruition, as BP are creating more and more half chances. The best so far is a “rocket shot” as Tom puts it from the edge of the box, that is beaten back into area, but doesn't find a BP player to score from the rebound.

“Come on Bowers, believe!” says Rob Small to the players.

A pacing B&P coach signals to the still beating drum and the supporters, asking for more. Paul is nowhere to be seen, his wife is still in charge, and she is happy to oblige “Rob Small's barmy army”, “Wembley, we're the famous Bowers FC and we’re going to Wembley”.

In the final quarter of an hour MT with some regularity start to find their number 9, who has started to sparkle once more, after being almost absent for the last thirty minutes, ominously for BP “chances are starting to come” for MT, as one fan puts it.

Tom’s Southerness is starting to show “it’s cold up North”, but despite the chill the Southend drum continues, with questionable timing on some occasions, admittedly though not since Paul's wife took over, “Essex, Essex, Essex” you can’t deny the effort.

“It's getting feisty” says Tom after another MT penalty is waved away with five minutes of the game to go, I thought it look dead on. One players over enthusiasm five minutes later turns the game on his head, when he receives a second yellow on the far side of the pitch and gets his marching orders, much to the delight of the home fans, Rob Small though, hands in his pockets, simply shakes his head.

Not surprisingly the MT fans have woken up “la, la, la, la Morpeth” and so have the team, as they nearly steal it in added time after a corner results in a point black chance, which somehow is shot wide from practically under the crossbar, by this point my heart has left my chest via my mouth and is now laying on the grass in front of us.

With MT pouring forward BP get one last chance, a break is on and all of sudden one player is bearing down on goal, unsupported he will have to go at it alone. Now in the box, the MT keeper has charged him, clipped him, but he stays on his feet. The goal is empty, but his momentum has carried him on too far, the angle is impossible, but there is no one to cross to, so from the by line he tries it, he shoots, and hits the post, and it goes wide. His face, his mortified face says it all, that was the chance.

The two BP players in front of us warming up say what I’m sure most people are thinking “he should've dived”, and I must admit that one does not condone such behaviour, but there was clearly enough contact, the referee would have been mad not to give it, but he stayed on his feet and gave it his all, and for that he must be commended.

“Keep switched on all of you” are the fateful words of the BP coach, moments before MT stamp on my heart and that of every BP player and supporter when they go down the other end and get what turns out to be the winner, DOUBLE FUCK!

Tom, me and rollie smoking old bloke in a red and white scarf all share a look, it's over. MT are not known as the Highwayman for nothing, it feels like daylight robbery, as they saddle up Black Bess for the ride down Wembley way.

The child choir is back squealing away, most fans are blowing their imaginary whistle for full time. When is comes, a tidal wave of yellow and black floods the pitch as the MT players a caught up in a swirling ball of people, a football mosh pit on the centre of the pitch.

BP’s players sink, sink to the ground I’m sure they wished would swallow them up, many lie prone, facing the grey sky, hands covering tear filled eyes. Sportingly the MT staff come over and shake the downed players hands, the industry and commitment of BP can't be brought into question, they gave everything they had, they showed fantastic spirit.

Rob Small like any good leader picks his men up, clearly distraught himself, he and the players make the slow walk off the pitch, and are clapped off by the home fans. Darren is not far behind, with an arm full of water bottles “ain't sunk in yet”.

MT’s celebrations continue in the changing rooms, kids now bomb around with outstretched arms shouting “WEMBLEY”. The temporary stands are quickly being dismantled, the BBC Radio Newcastle outside broadcast van is folding away its satellite dishes, and to compound my misery, I've not won the first goal or raffle, TRIPLE FUCK!

Red eyed and beer in hand Rob Small is honest “I tried to talk, but I just cried. I’m not ashamed to say it” but he knows what a great thing his team have done, regardless of falling at the final hurdle, and is already looking forward “once we pick ourselves up we will celebrate”. One BP coach is straight back to business, no time to wallow in defeat “we roll our sleeves up and get on with the league”.

Once the players are showered, most with a drink, they stand talking, dissecting what has just happened, some still clearly more affected than others. BP’s keeper sticks to his word and meets us for a pint, and is even nice enough to get us one, he insists in fact, he reckons it’s the least he can do, “I fucked it up” he says, trying to take the blame for the goal. Such is the adrenaline still coursing around him he tell us he's “had a couple of Brady’s already, my heart is going, I need to calm down”.

It’s got to a point in the day now where everyone is ready to go home, Darren looks almost lost, clearly gutted, as are we. A few people's immediate concern is “where is Paul?” he seems to have got in the spirit of an ‘Away Day’ a little too much, and there is word he might be wondering around nearby woodland.

Our coach arrives first, the players stand in the car park around a pile of kit bags, waiting for theirs, one player has aptly started playing ‘Fog on the Tyne’ on his phone, and a few start to sing along. As we pull away, the whole coach, Paul included, breaks into one last chant “Bowers, Bowers, Bowers”

Before I plug back into my tablet, Tom almost asleep no doubt, I overhear one BP supporter “we didn't get to Wembley, but we got to Morpeth”

For all our photographs from the match, click HERE

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Tuesday 22 March 2016

Südtribüne - Borussia Dortmund Vs TSG 1899 Hoffenheim, Bundesliga, Signal Iduna Park (28/02/16)

You can read the first two parts from our German trilogy by following these links : 

Part One - HERE

Part Two - HERE

Although I am a big fan of the Western themed concluding part of the Back To The Future saga, I can however appreciate that the third part of many trilogies can fall a little short. The Godfather and Star Wars being fine examples, but waking with a fuzzy head again, my feeling is that today is going to be a little bit more time travelling train, than weird shit at the Vatican or tiny furry tree dwelling teddy bears.

Within walking distance of our hotel there is everything you could possibly want, including a sandwich shop that puts any Upper Crust or similar such station eatery horror show you get in England to shame. Freshly made offerings help overcome the countless local beers we guzzled last night, in a pub that looked straight from the pages of a Hans Christian Andersen story after eating a steak the Flintstones might have struggled with.

Opposite the central station and our morning entertainment before heading off to the game is the German Football Museum, its glass fronted, angular design is hard to miss, and far too close to ignore. We are not the only ones who have had the same idea, black and yellow is everywhere, fans of all ages displaying their support every which way they can. One car owner has gone as far as fitting a Borussia Dortmund (BVB) shirt over the driver's seat, to match the BVB seat belt covers.

The Germans eye watering national football history, can justify a museum all of its own, and this is what the first large room is dedicated to, every so often the lights would dim, and a highlight from one of the many finals, would play out on one of the screens dotted around the room. Memorabilia and artifacts of all kinds fill cabinets and cover walls. One favorite of mine was an Oliver Bierhoff shirt, a player I was a huge fan of growing up, watching his exploits on Football Italia on a Saturday morning.

Into the Kino, which is one of the few words of German I remember, it means cinema, a short film is showing the events of the most recent victory in Brazil. As fantastic at football the likes of Thomas Müller, Manuel Neuer, Mats Hummels and Philipp Lahm are, when asked to do a segment to camera or segway between videos, their skills are slightly lacking. One particular bit of ‘World Cup winners banter’ between Hummels and Müller, which I think is along the lines of ‘we are enemies at our clubs, but for our nation we are friends’ breaches the language barrier with its overwhelming awkwardness, and we with everyone else in the darkened room, let out a sigh.

Next along, and perhaps the most impressive are seven uplit cabinets, displaying four World Cups and three European Championships. It really does feel very special to be in the presence of them. Seeing the the 1996 European Championship trophy, I get a flashback to one of the saddest days in my young football life, all with the Lighting Seeds playing in my head.

“A hell of a lot more yellow and black” says Tom as its BVB shirts galore at the station, this time there is no discussion what train we have to get on, and we are lucky to find a seat before it quickly resembles a commuter train from Japan.

We cross paths with two other English guys on a similar trips to ours, also on the way to BVB and who are able to shed a little light on the mystery broken glass on the coach, that followed our near death experience on the first day. Such was the sudden and violent manoeuvre the bus driver had to make to stop us crashing into a wandering car, one passenger ended up putting his elbow through a glass door.

From behind a line of bare trees, running alongside the railway line, we get our first view, from ground level at least of the Signal Iduna Park, its yellow stanchions jutting out from its grey body. Its very clear, that it is not a pretty stadium, it's not going to win any style awards. It’s huge mass is not very inspiring, but you never judge a book by it's cover, unless it's written by Jeffrey Archer. As all our Mothers told us, it's what's on the inside that counts, and there is one specific part of the inside in particular, that we are most excited about seeing.

Before we get off, an older Irish chap we had chatted to, says something I thought only people doing bad impressions of your typical Irishman would say “enjoy the craic!”.

Up a long slope from the station, along a sticker plastered pathway, we arrive at one entrance to the ground, not far from us a noisy group are getting off their coach. A high fence at the end of the approach is closed and heavily manned with people in high viz jackets. On the other hand the food, beer, and merchandise stalls, either side of us, are raring to go.

Being inquisitive sorts, we pass what feels like the obvious options, walk down a short narrow tunnel and on the other side find a table filled courtyard, each one with a yellow and black umbrella. White single storey buildings surround us on three sides, and on the fourth is not quite what we were expecting, a high dive and a couple of murky looking swimming pools. As we look a little closer, studying our surroundings the banks of lockers, the Neptune mural on the wall above our heads, it dawns on us that this is the local outdoor swimming baths, right next to one of Germany's largest football stadiums.

There are two options for food, either the stainless steel trailer, with its vat of bubbling soup, grill with burgers, next to a bucket full of boiling sausages, or chips, endless piles of chips. We opt for the sausage, “buon appetito” says the vendor, the micro bun seems simply there to give you something to hold it with, so you don't look like a total heathen walking around with a huge bratwurst in your hand, but the chips are calling us from their white paper tray, like mayo covered sirens, and I'm sure we'll be seeing them soon.

Fans of BVB will clearly come from far and wide to support their team, going by the jacket of the man in front of us who is a member of the “Dortmund sailors” a Hamburg supporters club. They it seems will also wear anything black and yellow, literally anything. One man is sporting a spiffing pair of yellow trousers which have a hint of the Rupert the Bear about them. With the cold weather there is also an eclectic mix of hats, and we discuss which is our favourite and which we might go and buy on this chilly day. My choice does not go down well with Tom “I hate bobble hats”, his I think “is a little bit too yellow”, one person has a Bert from Bert and Ernie one, and takes the prize for best head wear, but sadly I doubt we can pick one of them up from the official shop.

Having demolished his sausage, Tom decides its “chip time”, encouraged by the two guys who just passed us eating away. The queue is long, the lady a little surly, but that has probably more to do with my poor German, than any disparaging judgement on what I’m sure is normally a gleaming personality. Regardless the wait is well worth it, and despite them being “fucking hot” as Tom learns the hard way after being a little hasty chucking them in his gob, and manages again to get another condiment stain on his jacket, it's worth it, and with the beer, they go down so well.

Eager to move on, we can hear the occasional burst of a horn in the distance, we head off, hoping the gates are now open. They are, and the numbers have swelled, “its a sea of black and yellow” comments Tom, more and more fans with scarves around their wrists are making their way in, men in jean vests covered in patches, and one woman in the same get up is carrying a drum almost as big as her.

Whatever country you are in, whatever football team you are watching, the clubs shops sell all the same tat, just a different colour, with a different badge on. The official BVB trailer is no different, even selling a dog bowl, amongst the flags and shirts. Tom however, adds to his pin collection picking one from the many on offer.

Post pat down, bag search and quizzical look from security when we showed them our flag, our waiting around at this particular entrance has been a little fruitless, because we can't go any further without our ticket, so need to double back, and go for a walk. Thankfully it's not far, and means we get to peek over the fence at BVB’s old ground, with its sweeping banks of terracing and what looks like a wooden grandstand, all in the immediate shadow of its far more modern and younger brother right next door. It also explains the stone arch, and wrought iron gates we had passed earlier, looking like a set piece from Gladiator, beautiful but totally out of place.
Standing outside the club's mega store, a towering club badge hanging on the front, looking calm amongst the throngs of people is Bjorn, who works as a fan liaison at BVB. It is he who we are to collect our tickets from, and after introducing ourselves, he is kind enough to offer a bit of a tour.

Up close now, past the barriers and our second manhandling of the day, the scale of the stadium is astonishing. Walking around the windy concourse, we occasionally get a teasing glimpse of the pitch and the stand inside through wide block entrances. More than once Bjorn stops, exchanges handshakes with passing fans, before we continue, his position means he is very much a face around here.

He is more than just a corporate staff member, someone clocking on and off. Before taking the position he tells us he used to go to all BVB games home and away. I say this must be his “dream job”, but he looks almost sternly at me and replies “but you have to think”, think about turning your passion, your love, your obsession into your job, and what impact that is going to have on your experience. He adds that he can't always watch the games, like he used to because his job now means sometimes he is required elsewhere.

We are even lucky enough to get a look behind the scenes, as he takes us to where not long from now the team coaches will arrive, and the players and staff will disappear down the respective stairs into the changing rooms below, cameras are already set up, in anticipation of their arrival. In a bit of a juxtaposition, only a few feet away from us is the entrance of the club's old ground, that we had passed before, there is something almost poetic about them being so close, one almost merging into the other. I have to admit the stone facade and high metal gate are much more interesting than its new incarnation.

Bjorn is to leave us now, but not before I have our third or fourth Spurs oriented chat of the trip, I guess I can’t be surprised considering the two teams imminent Europa League games. He tells us he will be off to London soon, for a site visit at White Hart Lane, and I ask how the club are feeling about the draw “happy about the city, not the team” surely the mighty BVB are not concerned about little old Spurs.

Tom asks one last question, standing on an open corner of the ground, between two stands the scale of what is behind us is almost hard to fathom “can it get any bigger?” his reply is short, and to the point and
delivered with a smile “we have to have more tickets than Bayern Munich”.

Opportunities for food, drink and merchandise seem to be everywhere, like a shopping centre and food court all mixed into one, but only selling one brand. I succumb and get us both a beer glass, İlkay Gündoğan is smiling back at us on ours. It has a little of the ‘hello I’m a tourist’ about it, but lots of ‘locals’ seem to have them, so I don't feel totally like I have just bought a Union Jack hat, and I’m walking around central London. One of the more boutique shops if you like, is run by one of the three Ultras groups the club has, there is a considerable queue, stickers are the order of the day, as people hand over their money, and get a handful in return.

A small sign at the bottom of what feels like a never ending set of stairs, points to our block. We can also follow the men whose hoodies display their loyalty to one particular block in the stadium. “That was hard work” says Tom, only ever so out of breath, as I drag myself up the last couple of steps, calling out for a oxygen mask.

Once I have composed myself, there is only one thing to do, and that is to see it with our own eyes, that thing we have watched countless YouTube videos about, read about, looked at God only know how many pictures of and read numerous accounts of other people’s experiences, but we now get to see it for ourselves, the ‘Yellow Wall’, the Südtribüne.

There is not an adjective in my vocabulary that can do this living, black and yellow mountain justice. The landing at the top of our entrance, gives us both a moment not just to take it in, but also to comprehend the fact that in less than an hour 26,000 people, us included, will be standing, safely, to watch the game.

We climb a little bit further and find a spot that suits us, and the view is outstanding. The flags down below, are already going, a small child clings onto his father's arm nervously, as they pass us in search of a somewhere to stand. For a 32 year old brute like me this is mind boggling, for a child it must be a mixture of terrifying and life changingly exciting.

The air is thick with cigarette smoke, and Tom and I continue to be slack jawed in awe of where we are. “That's not a handbag” he says to me on one of the few occasions he can pick his chin off the floor. I must admit I do find the timing of what I first think is a catty, fashionista comment about some ladies accessories a little strange, but then realise it's another case, as at Bochum, of giant pretzels, so big you can hang them off your arm.

It’s my turn to do the beer run, only I come up against a bit of a hurdle, they don’t take cash. So I go in search of a man who will take my money, and convert into credit on a yellow pay as you go top up card, which will then allow me to get the drinks in. Interestingly I find as with the “Borusseum” the club museum that Bjorn had told us about, that the same play with words also applies to the ‘bretzels’. Can you see what they did there? As I wait to be served, I’m almost overcome by the noise coming from back inside the ground. Doing as the locals do, carrying our snacks like the latest Hermes, the stand is a mass of whirling scarves, and even more flags as the player start to come out for the warm up.

“Shit got busy” says Tom, in the short amount of time I've been away, it has become chocka block. When the TSG 1899 Hoffenheim (TSG) players come out to the familiar boos and whistles, along with the now familiar German love of a middle finger, one fan in particular gives them both barrels, mounting the railing in front of him, thrusting both digits towards the opposition.

Not content with playing each other on the pitch, the stadium announcer introduces the clubs official FIFA players, who are sitting on a couch in front of a TV on a little stage way down the front.

A drum somewhere in this heaving, living 8th wonder of the world in front of us is quietly thumping away. Now less than a quarter of an hour to go, everything starts to gather more and more momentum, flags seem to be appearing from everywhere, including on the side of the pitch, as people like pikemen get into position, with them rolled up resting on their shoulders.

It feels like one power ballad, after another, every supporter seems to know the words, and belts out the lyrics. The Ultras are clapping above their heads in time with the drummer, who could do a fine job on a Roman Galley.

What always motivated this trip, was not really the football per se, you can watch that anywhere, football’s, football unless you perhaps go to see one of the ‘greats’ who are particularly awesome at it, but it was the supporters and atmosphere that was the biggest draw for us.

As the opening bars of ‘You'll Never Walk Alone’ start, the next few minutes are ones I will have
difficulty ever forgetting. 80,000 people, scarves out above their heads, flawlessly sing a song that is not in their first language, the whole pitch is now covered in people whose choreographed flag flying adds to the spectacle, its hairs up on the back of your neck kind of stuff.

I’m not ashamed to say it, I like a bit of Van Halen, high pitched guitar masturbation at its finest, so when ‘Jump’ starts as the team's appear, well I’m fucking pumped!

I wish I was able to describe quite how much is going on, I think I’m suffering from sensory overload. When the stadium announcer asks for a cheer from each stand, there was never going to be any debate as to which one was going to give the loudest, and I’m almost lifted off my feet.

“Sha, la, la, la Borussia”

For the first time, we spot the lesser spotted Capo, on his perch. He has discarded the megaphone as was
the weapon of choice of his contemporaries at the previous two games. A bigger stand, come more people, your own personal PA system will only do, its yellow and black speakers flank him, as the crowd immediately in front of him pogo.

Oh yeah, there is a game on as well.

Behind the unfurled flags, standing to attention, just itching to be brought to life, BVB are both dominant and wasteful in possession all at the same time, on more than one occasion the whole ground grumbles in unison, like a Godzilla sized Eeyore.

If I thought the keg carrying beer sellers at Essen had a tough job, the “Drink Man” as their badges describes them, are performing a task of biblical proportions, we assist as best we can, lightening his load with a quick tap of our BVB contactless credit card.

With twenty five minutes gone, it's the small pocket of TSG fans at the opposite end, whose flags look so small it's like someone is waving a handkerchief, who are celebrating, when their team finally punishes BVB and score, somewhat against the run of play, but it's not like they have not had a fair bit of possession themselves, with the home team giving the the ball away time after time.

Despite the goal, I think the fan to Tom’s left is more concerned about the fact he is flicking the foamy head off his beer “what are you doing?” than the fact his team have gone behind, “it's the best bit!” he proclaims.

Tom’s neighbour is chatty, and happy to share his opinions. When BVB almost concede again,“this is the Bundesliga, everyone can beat everyone” he tells us and I must admit with BVB second from the top, and TSG flirting with relegation, I think we both thought it was going to be a bit more one sided. At least though in his beer haze he is still able to be philosophical “but it's only a game” he says shrugging and smiling.

If you wanted the ideal voice to charm Tom in going on a date with you, that of the Capo, who he describes as sounding “sexy and gravelly”, would not be a bad choice, Not quite Barry White deep, a bit more Marlboro reds and straight Jack Daniels, he keeps the atmosphere at a constant level regardless of the score or performance.

Marco Reus almost levels the game, just before halftime, with a sweetly hit curling free kick, which is up and over the wall, but just a little too close to the keeper, whose slightly overly theatrical outstretched save, pushes it round the post.

“No toilet break for him” Tom notices, pointing at the Capo, who instead of stopping and taking a chance to rest, he continues to manage the Ultras as both teams leave the pitch. We on the other hand use the stop in play to take advantage of the free Wifi, and check the football scores from home. When we had looked before kick off, both Spurs and Arsenal were losing, but with the full time whistle having gone now, the fortunes of Spurs at least had changed, they have managed to turn things around and win, sadly for Tom, boohoo, Arsenal have lost to Man United.

For a moment I forget where I am, and start to rub salt into Tom's raw Arsene Wenger shaped wound, reconfirming for him how awesome Spurs are, and other such nonsense, all in my Spurs scarf, in the ground of our next Europa League opponents. I received a few looks, nothing aggressive or threatening, just a glance here or there, which has probably more to do with me dancing about, rather than a blue and white scarf, but revert back to the shrinking violet I am, nonetheless.

I’m a big fan of a raffle or 50/50 and nine times out of ten at the non-league games we go to in England you can win a hamper of fudge or a bottle of plonk, but sadly it's not a tradition that continues higher up the pyramid at home, but not here. If we didn't think football in Germany was awesome enough as it is, the half time entertainment is two people guessing the weight of a ham, like two children guessing how many sweets are in the jar at the School Summer fair, to win a mobile phone.

That voice, that rock and roll voice starts up again “Borussia, Borussia” it’s absolutely deafening, and perhaps spurred on by the crowd, BVB hit the post in the opening minutes of the new half. Tom however is contemplating his life where you just sound like everyone else “wish my phone voice sounded like that”.

I think the last thing you would want to do is make ‘The Wall’ angry, 26,000 people baying for your blood, but the referee seems adamant to wind them up, with some very strange decisions.

Another subject covered in our German football masters this weekend is if the crowd disagree, the beers starts to fly. One fan just in front follows suit and launches his drink forwards. Whereas in the last two games this has gone on without even the hint of disapproval from the stewards, a watchful one on our block is squeezing down the line of the beverage hurler, and starts to scold him, it gets quite heated, and it looks like he is going to get chucked out.

If Tom was not in the loo he would have undoubtedly said to me “game on” when TSG get a man sent off with thirty minutes of the game left. The angry wall, is now a happy wall, and its wave, after wave of BVB attack, but they are still unable to shake that sloppy tag from the first half.

A team can have all the possession in the world, but when the one you're up against put ten men behind the ball, it's a tough proposition, along with TSG playing for time, taking just that little bit longer to get up after fouls, taking an age to take throw ins or goal kicks, the clock is slowly ticking down.

You know a fan is committed when their oxygen tank is in the colours of the club they support, and she along with the other 81, 359 here today are willing on the team, and will ten minutes to go there is finaly a breakthrough.

“Toooooorrrrrrr” people are hugging each other, people are hugging the stewards, confetti rains down around us. Every conceivable thing, that can we waved, swung, whirled or swooshed is above people's heads, as TSG’s rear guard is finally broken down. Literally the whole stand is bouncing, not just the hardcore, not just the Ultras, everyone its spread like wild fire, I’m sure I even saw the woman with the oxygen at it.

If you can imagine the atmosphere and excitement of the equalising goal, now try and picture how the place went through the roof, when they went ahead. Once again my vocabulary struggles to express quite how fucking insane it is when this many people, well over double of what Bournemouth get in their whole ground, and not taking into account the rest of the place, celebrate together the goal that now puts them in the lead.

Once Tom has stopped singing along and dancing with his new best friend to his left, “ola, ola BVB, ola, ola, BVB”, he looks us both dead in the eye shouting so he can be heard “home power!”

I’m not sure how much more of this I can take, because BVB only go and grab a third, the man of the moment, African footballer of the year pops up to put the game to bed in extra time. Both of us are now fully caught up in the moment, like the TSG defense we have crumbled, the BVB spirit has enveloped us, and we join all those around us in shouting the scorers name “Aubameyang”.

With the game over, the win confirmed, a giant bee strides around the pitch, it's black and yellow so I guess it counts, and what is perhaps my favourite German football tradition takes places, when the team take the time to applaud the fans. Approaching the Südtribüne they take each other by the hand, and crouch in a line on the edge of the eighteen yard box . The fans serenade the players with a low rumbling song, that then drops into a much livelier number, as both players and fans jump, “sha, la, la, la, la” some supporters multi task, jumping and still managing to wave a flag or swing a scarf, the song fades out and ends with a rousing round of applause, but that's not quite it.

“Ohhhhhhhhhh” fingers wiggle out in front of the fans anticipating what the players are about to do, who are still joined in a line “ohhhhhhhhhhh, la, la, la” the players as one raise their arms offering one last salute to what has been a ceaseless and enduring support.

On the way out, we make sure to thank Bjorn again. We also take the opportunity to explore the foot of the now empty wall, which from up high felt so far away, and now looking at it the other way round, from bottom to top, we have to take a second to try and get to grips with just how colossal it is.

Back at the swimming pool, it's now dark and the ground is illuminated behind us. We take a seat on one of the empty wooden tables, on it a sticker reads “straight out of Dortmund”.

For anyone who has ever been to a Summer festival, the scene adjacent to the diving board, is similar to that of when the music has stopped but the party carries on. The generators of the stalls hum away, people huddle in groups around them, eating, drinking, the air is full of the sound of people chatting, discussing the match. One group chants to the tune of ‘Heaven Is A Place On Earth” which at this precise moment would be just about how we are both feeling.


For all of our photographs from the match, click HERE

You can read the first two parts from our German trilogy by following these links: 

Part One - HERE

Part Two - HERE

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Monday 14 March 2016

‎Ostkurve‬ - VfL Bochum Vs SV Sandhausen, 2. Bundesliga, rewirpowerSTADION (27/02/16)

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.

If leading the crowd in every song and action is not cool enough, he perilously holds court from on top of the fence, in a pair of shades with a Tom Waits husk. When a little parched, he reaches down, a beer appears from the crowd like the sword from the lake, he takes a sip and hands it back down, gaining more points on the ‘I’m awesome” O’Meter by simply having a drink.

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.

He introduces us to his Son, who is positively dashing in his gleaming aviators. They tell us they are off to their second game of the day, about an hour away in the sixth tier of German football. When we show an interest, he tells us not to bother, there will only be about “50” people there, which sounds like most the games we go to in England.

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.

For all our photographs from the match, click HERE

You can read parts one & three from our German trilogy by following these links: 

Part One - HERE

Part Three - HERE

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