Long weekend trips to visit Christmas markets in Germany have become something of a tradition for my wife and I, plus both sets of parents, in recent years. In 2010 we all went to Köln (and some of us to 1.FC Koln vs Eintracht Frankfurt) and last December we all went to Hannover (unfortunately, my Dad and I were denied any live football action as Hannover 96 vs Hamburg was sold out, and no other local sides - e.g. VfL Wolfsburg, Eintracht Braunschweig - were at home).
There was some doubt, however, that we would go anywhere this year as my parents are jetting off, in early December, to spend Christmas with my sister in Australia. Both sets of parents were seemingly very keen, though (remarkable in itself, as we had to persuade them to partake in the original jaunt to Köln), and so a November trip was booked. Düsseldorf was to be the destination, as the Christmas market there seemingly opens earlier than all others (probably something to do with their continuous game of one-upmanship with Köln!).
Fortuna Düsseldorf would be at home, against Hamburg, on the Friday night but I wasn't particularly interested in that fixture (it was unlikely we'd get tickets, if the Hannover experience was anything to go by, and I thought - correctly as it turns out - that watching the local side on TV, in one of the many Altstadt bars, would be good fun in itself). No, of far more interest to me was the fact that Wuppertaler SV Borussia would be at home, at the Stadion am Zoo, on the Saturday afternoon ... against hated rivals Rot-Weiss Essen, no less!
I had been to Düsseldorf before, in April 2009, for my Stag weekend. The destination was Craig's idea and he also suggested we visit nearby Wuppertal, taking a ride on the world's oldest
monorail electric elevated railway with hanging cars - as Michael Portillo did, in last week's episode of Great Continental Railway Journeys - to a game at the Zoo (to be clear, Portillo did take the monorail, but not to a game at the Zoo!). An excellent weekend also saw us attend Bayer Leverkusen vs Werder Bremen at Fortuna's ground (then called the LTU Arena, now the Esprit Arena) where, incidentally, we would chat with some Rot-Weiss Essen fans outside.
However, standing in the sunshine on an open terrace, as WSV lost 1-0 to SC Paderborn 07 in front of a sub 5k crowd (and then being taught to chant in Turkish, by my mate Timur, outside a delightful little bar close to the central monorail station) is perhaps my favourite memory of the weekend (one of many good uns - Scouse Willie T's crowd-pleasing rendition of Don't Look Back In Anger, in a gay karaoke bar on the Bolkerstraße, remains a definitive 'I was there' moment ... )
^^^ Arsenal (a), Carlisle (a), Fenerbahce, Italy (a), Togo, Rangers, Reading, Exeter, Dortmund (a), Maidenhead ... in case you were wondering!
Macleod (M) kindly bought me a WSV scarf, after the game, as an early wedding present. I would wear this as we visited SE11's excellent German pub Zeitgeist, ahead of a Conference South forum meet-up at the Wheatsheaf in Southwark, earlier this month. The scarf was the catalyst for some German youngsters, spending a weekend in London and an afternoon in Zeitgeist, to come over and chat with us. As Macleod (M) and Craig regaled them with stories of KSG visits to Lübeck, Chemnitz, Jena and the like, I proudly informed them that I would be at Wuppertaler SV vs Rot-Weiss Essen the following Saturday. Their incredulity - manifested by guffaws and open-mouths - was matched by my excitement.
^^^ Can you guess the three Conference South scarves?
As aforementioned, Düsseldorf's 2012 Christmas market was apparently the first in the country to open. Wuppertal's, in contrast, was still in the throes of erection (ooh err!). This, plus the rather drab weather and the lack of welcoming cafés around the stadium - after our journey on the monorail from the town centre - meant that the in-laws would be joining the wife and I, plus my Mum and Dad, at the game. My father-in-law is not a football man. Not a sport man, full stop, really. The F1 highlights on TV - and the very occasional egg-chasing corporate freebie at the Millennium Stadium - is usually the extent of his sporting engagement. Now he was to experience a live football match for the first time ... and a Regionalliga West (German Div 4) football match at that! He must love me ...
^^^ Bring out your riot gear!
TBF, the game wasn't a bad one (the second half, in particular, was action-packed). Furthermore, the standard appeared higher than the last time I'd seen WSV (then playing at the nationalised third level, rather than the regionalised fourth tier that they'd subsequently been relegated to). And if the match action wasn't of interest, then both sets of supporters proved to be eminently watchable! The game was obviously a big deal; both uncovered ends were significantly fuller than my last visit (although the announced crowd of 5,480 was only 636 more than the attendance against Paderborn in 2009), while TV cameras and crew were also prevalent (certainly more prevalent than I'd expect for a typical Regionalliga game).
UPDATE: It transpires that the game was shown live on TV!
UPDATE: It transpires that the game was shown live on TV!
The away fans took the early initiative, pre kick-off, with loud chanting and choreographed flag-waving. In stark contrast, WSV were almost silent. Then, very strangely, both sets of supporters went rather quiet, once the match had gotten underway. A Guardian Sportblog post by the always enlightening Raphael Honigstein, which I read shortly after my return to the UK, shed light on this (and helped explain the flyers that we were handed, upon paying our EUR 15.00 each to enter the impressive - and reasonably full - main stand). More on Honigstein's article later ...
^^^ 12 Minutes. 12 Seconds. Silence.
My Dad and I had spent the small hours of the previous night drinking Altbier at the bar, and listening to Die Toten Hosen (mainly) on the jukebox, in the FC St. Pauli pub (bizarre, I know) close to our hotel. As such, both of us were suffering greatly and, rather shamefully, gave beers at the football a miss (the sausages were excellent, though). I was genuinely struggling to keep my eyes open during half-time. Thankfully, the game exploded (almost literally) into life during the second period ... both on and off the pitch!
^^^ Too much of this ...
^^^ ... equals head in hands!
WSV took a two-goal lead, largely thanks to the contributions of, IMO, the game's two standout performers: the No 8, captain and clearly influential midfielder Tom Moosmayer had two assists while the hulking, bald-headed No 9 Christian Knappmann would have had two goals, but for a RWE defender diverting the game's opening strike past his own keeper. The WSV supporters behind the goal would replace their rather bizarre and inexplicable (to me, anyway) cardboard banners with flares. Certain, no-colour and largely cap-wearing RWE fans would attempt to scale the fences, separating them from the WSV fans in the stand, only to be repelled by brief squirts of a police water cannon.
Despite being two down, my Mum and Dad thought RWE to have been the better team. I would strongly disagree with that assessment (they're Chelsea fans after all, so what do they know?!). However, as stated by the WSV-supporting American author of the excellent Abseits blog, WSV looked golden ... But you knew they would start sucking. Seemingly out-of-nothing, yet still somewhat inevitably, RWE pulled a goal back. They were soon level, with a little over ten minutes left, thanks to the enterprising Konstantin Sawin. With RWE bringing on the lively Marvin Ellmann, and WSV replacing the seemingly exhausted Knappmann (Danny Cornelius - who had caught our eye during VfB Lübeck vs VfL Wolfsburg II in October 2010 - was, incidentally, one of the WSV subs), the away side looked the (more than) likely winners. Much to the relief of the home fans, WSV appeared to have weathered the storm, though, as goalkeeper Christoph Semmler pushed a last-minute, bundled effort past the post ... only for the youthful referee to point to the spot!
I still don't know what for.
WSV fans all around the
world ground (virtually every one of them a chain-smoker, it would seem) went mad. Some - to our far right (no pun intended) - climbed fences to remonstrate. The away end, in contrast, prepared to erupt with joy ... only for Ellmann's kick to be well-saved by Semmler! The referee immediately blew for full-time and hurried down the tunnel, as a torrent of abuse rained down from the stand. Neither side seemed happy with the result, although the giant Knappmann punched the air (making the wife swoon?) as he prepared to be interviewed, in front of us, by the attractive, blonde TV reporter.
Rather than head back into Wuppertal town centre, on the monorail, we walked to the nearby main-line station. Here we would (eventually) catch a train for the 30 minute journey back to Düsseldorf. Thanks, I presume, to the sizeable contingent from Essen being herded to their own train(s) elsewhere, all others were running (slightly) late ... which, in Germany, felt rather strange! Something else that would, I'm sure, feel rather strange in Germany? Attending a professional football match without a reasonable entry price, large area(s) for standing and excitable fans creating a great atmosphere. Worryingly, however, after I had linked on Facebook to the aforementioned Honigstein article - commenting that I hoped any upcoming German 'safety' reforms wouldn't go "too English, too family club" - a friend, who attends more German football than I, replied to say that "the party is over". A real shame, if that turns out to be the case.
Clearly there were flares, ultras, and passions running high at the Zoo on Saturday (while we also witnessed, live on TV, the Fortuna vs Hamburg game being delayed due to an HSV ultras' flag catching fire) but I'd much rather that than the sanitised, over-priced, elf n safety-obsessed 'entertainment for the masses' often served up in England. I'm sure the father-in-law would now vouch for that as well ... OK, maybe not! Seriously, I hope a sensible compromise can be agreed upon. Flares (hidden within flags and banners, hopefully, rather than certain bodily orifices ... ) are obviously dangerous. But stewards (at W@nky Wanderers, for example) not allowing flags in (non-smoking) grounds unless accompanied by fire certificates? Fick Dich!
^^^ ... AND YOU?
< PS >
^^^ The KSG's contribution to the awe-inspiring scarf collection decorating the ceiling of
< ADDENDUM >
It would seem that the pyrotechnics and offensive banners at the Zoo last Saturday caused some rancour, if a selection of recent (Google translated) articles on the official WSV site are anything to go by:
*** President Friedhelm Runge complained only about their own fans (ultras), who had insulted the TV channel Sport 1 and the DFB with prominent vulgar banners.
*** On the flag ban, which Wuppertal SV imposed after the events at home against Rot-Weiss Essen (burning of flares, offensive posters against DFB and Sport 1) for the last two home games in 2012, now the fan base reacts. The Ultras Wuppertal has announced tomorrow, on Saturday against Verl (14.00 clock) and a week later against 1.FC Köln II, that it does not come to the stadium.
*** The flag ban for the WSV-home games against SC Verl (Saturday, 14.00 clock) and 1.FC Köln II (December 8, 14.00 clock) is partially lifted. Reason is a statement of the "ultras Wuppertal" in which the group has admitted responsibility for the burning of pyrotechnics in the derby against Rot-Weiss Essen. With the perpetrators of this misconduct now determined, the association sees no need to maintain the prohibition to other fan groups. This leaves exclusively forbidden the carrying of "ultras Wuppertal" flags of any kind.
This rather bizarre snippet also caught my attention:
*** Saturday at the Regional SV Wuppertal game against RW Essen. On the way to the stadium 13 sheep heads were impaled, apparently to insult the fans of RW Essen. The animal heads were bought by two young men from a butcher. In addition, according to the GdP (Trade Union of the Police), rail traffic was temporarily paralyzed.