"As for Maidenhead, the conga (which was amusing) aside, quite a strange bunch really – some the oddest chants I've ever heard at a football match" ~ localboy86, Amber Planet forum, 26th April 2015

Monday 22 June 2020

Away Day Diary: Berlin (March 2020)

Fat Boy Slim- lookalike N.O'G. - groundhopper royalty - had answered with "Berlin … if we're not including London," when asked by me, in the bar after our 2-2 draw at Halesowen in January, to name the best European city for a football weekender; I was pleased with this response as, unbeknownst to him, the Macleods and I had already booked a trip to the German capital

Rot-Weiß Erfurt sadly going bust in early February meant that plans for a three-game weekender were dead in the water before departure (they had been due to play at BFC Dynamo on Friday night); at least "the game of the weekend" (N.O'G. had agreed), Lokomotive Leipzig vs Berliner AK 07 at the historic Poststadion, was still on …

I'd expressed an interest in visiting the Dorotheenstadt Cemetery after perusing a list of 'favourite venues beyond the tourist haunts' that Kev - Tartan Army veteran and Berlin aficionado - had sent across and, after meeting with him as planned at Tegel Airport (following the obligatory early morning T5 beers and routine BA flight) and checking in at our centrally located hotel, this is where we were going … when it started raining, so we instead ducked into a Brauhaus Lemke (or two)

Disappointingly, Zillemarkt was closed for renovations, and so, after pizzas in a nearby Italian restaurant and beers at "the least hospitable pub in the city" (backhanded compliment that, I think, from Kev), we headed out to Prenzlauer Berg for a mini bar crawl: Lucky's Bier Bar ("Der Club Tropicana"), Badfish (smoke-filled; How Soon Is Now? playing on the jukebox prompting a discussion re our favourite Smiths: "Alan [Arsenal version], Emmitt, Wolfie") and Schwalbe (loads of 1.FC Koln supporters in to watch the Goats on live TV)

After the four of us were inadvertently split up, on the journey back to the hotel, Macleod (M) and I did a quick recce around Alexanderplatz - on the lookout for somewhere to continue the festivities - before a photo with the Fernsehturm; our respective hotel rooms would beckon soon after

Yours truly and Macleod (C) did venture back outside again, but only for a short time; the wind was bitterly cold, and judging by the reviews, the bouncers of the Traffic nightclub did us a huge favour by turning us away!

Silly-coloured drinks are usually consumed at the end of the day rather than at the start, but Berliner Weiße 'rot' went down an absolute treat (as it had done on my previous visit to the city); indeed, time spent in the Bierbar Alkopole (one entrance from the street, another from Alexanderplatz Bahnhof) - post-breakfast, pre-train to the football - was one of my highlights of the entire weekend

A handful of away fans on the train out to Babelsberg; more home fans, understandably, on the straightforward walk from the station, along Karl Liebknecht-Str., to Karl-Liebknecht-Stadion

Ticked off before kick-off: food (currywurst/ bratwurst), a trip to the club shop (Kev was delighted with his pin badge purchase), beers (Astra), plus photos of a floodlight and a graffitied club crest

Underwhelming game of football, but at least there were five goals (the home side cashing in - after the game's standout player, a rotund Lichtenberg midfielder, had been sent off for a professional foul - to record only their third win of the season); I spent some of the second half taking photos of the ground, its surroundings and the fans (the Youth - with a protest banner - behind the goal; Corbynista Ultras down the side) … much to the annoyance of a suspicious local who became pacified, to some degree, only upon learning that I was an English football tourist (and not a member of the Stasi, or the modern-day equivalent)

Rather than head straight to a bar on the outskirts of town, owned by a friend of one of Kev's Aberdeen-supporting mates, we caught a tram into the centre of Potsdam (Kev getting into trouble, presumably for having the wrong ticket, with a female conductor who couldn't speak much English) and ate in a Mexican restaurant close to the picturesque Nauener Tor

Disbelieving looks on the faces of the other passengers as we - four British tourists - then took the tram into the south-eastern outskirts of Potsdam, disembarked at Gaußstr., and proceeded to walk into a housing estate dominated by high-rise tower blocks; I didn't feel particularly enamoured at the prospect myself, TBH, but the next few hours in Sternstübl ("the Berlin equivalent of the Clansman") were most enjoyable as Markus - bar owner and a friend of a friend of Kev's - plied us with free schnapps, regaled us (with the help of Google Translate) of away days with BFC Dynamo and Aberdeen (make of that what you will), introduced us to some of his regular patrons (incl. a local who regularly travels to Moscow to watch Spartak!) and generally helped me and the Macleods get over the news that Maidenhead United had lost for a fourth time on the spin

A taxi straight back to the hotel, rather than to the nearest train station, was an extravagance, but it was also a memorable experience to pass the Großer Stern and Brandenburg Gate, lit up at night, and it did ultimately enable an earlier start to our Friedrichshain bar crawl: The Castle (where we stood on the stairs; some folk wrongly assumed that we were bouncers!), East-West Bridge (absolutely packed; Kev and Macleod [M] went back to the hotel after this), Paule's Metal Eck (conversation at the bar with a drunk, exiled Welshman called Gareth), Himmelreich (I think that we were only heterosexuals in here; one of the patrons - absolutely loving the music - had no arms or legs), and Blechbilderbar (where we were stood regrettably close to a group of annoying trust fund kids with plummy English accents)

Yours truly then bade farewell to Macleod (C) - who jumped in a taxi to the hotel - and, after initially getting lost in and around RAW Gelände, finally found the entrance to Matrix; despite the incredibly loud music, I would ultimately fall asleep in a corner … surrounded by a group of transvestites, all with cheekbones that looked like they could cut glass

Sun was coming up as I, and a fair few other die-hards, were herded out of the club at closing time, and I went with the flow as some made their way down a pathway that ran alongside railway lines; soon I was stood watching - incredulously; it was, after all, approximately 7am on a Sunday - a handful of people queuing outside a large industrial building with splashes of graffiti ...

Ushered inside by a tall, shaven-headed gentleman - after nodding in response to him asking if I was English - I found myself in a dark, cavernous nightclub with a sticky floor and loud techno music blaring; I was reminded of Level One in Reading (not in a good way) and, after inadvertently ripping in half my remaining €5 note, left not long after I'd arrived … with my ears still ringing

Now, the sensible thing to do at this point would've been to head back to the hotel - with the Fernsehturm an excellent indicator of the direction that I should be going - but, as it was such a pleasant morning (and, TBH, I was merry), I decided to cross the Spree into Kreuzberg and go for a wander: past the Köpi 'housing project' and an eye-catching 'hand mural' (opposite what I later learned was the KitKatClub; it was just before 8am on a Sunday and some people were leaving 'Life is a Circus'), up past the Gendarmenmarkt to a near-deserted Pariser Platz (by Brandenburg Gate), back past a memorial to Albrecht von Graefe, the Altes Museum, the Cathedral and, finally, the aforementioned Fernsehturm … I'd covered just shy of 11K in total, according to Google Maps, when 3K would've done it!

Dorotheenstadt Cemetery (we made it!) - following breakfast (I'd bumped into Kev, coming in, as I was leaving), and a quick shower - en route to the Poststadion; the walk was long - the aptly-named (for I was hobbling, due to a painful blister on my right foot) Invalidenstr. seemed to go on forever - and worse, football fans were conspicuous by their absence as we approached the ground

After belatedly finding out that the match was off due to a waterlogged pitch (hugely frustrating, as we could've gone to Tasmania or Viktoria instead), we embarked on another long walk - past the Großer Stern and the Michael Jackson memorial tree in the Tiergarten - to Café am Neuen See (where I'd gone with the wife and in-laws, back in the autumn of 2015); several enjoyable hours here, drinking Löwenbräu in the sunshine, before a bus back into the city centre and dinner (schnitzel for everyone, bar Macleod [M]) at Hackescher Hof

Yours truly - after a trip to the hotel, with Macleod (M), to get plasters for my foot - lasted for only a couple of rounds, in Hackbarth's and then Sharlie Cheen's (I was drinking water in the latter!), before bailing; later I was woken up - startled bolt upright - by the Macleods bounding into the hotel room, in the early hours, after they and Kev had spent the rest of the evening in the company of "the best barmaid in Berlin"

My foot was feeling a bit better in the morning - and I was unsurprisingly (more) refreshed after *some* sleep - and so, as a light rain began to fall, Macleod (C) and I went for a stroll: up past Köpi, across the Oberbaum Bridge, and back past the East Side Gallery

Offices and swish apartment buildings are evidently springing up along both banks of the Spree; a clear indication of the urbanization - and associated gentrification - that the city is dealing with

Nice to see a few bars and clubs still dotted among the remaining warehouses and train sheds, so all is not yet lost; the Holzmarkt 'urban village' - built, I would subsequently learn, on the former site of the legendary Bar25 - was impressive to walk around

Drinks - albeit not silly-coloured ones this time - in Bierbar Alkopole, then a bus ride to Tegel

Airport goodbyes - Kev was returning to Stansted - before an unremarkable flight home; my Dad was our taxi driver

Yours truly would miss Maidenhead's 2-1 defeat to Stockport at York Road the following Saturday - a fifth straight defeat for the Magpies - and football got suspended soon after; as such, SV Babelsberg 03 vs SV Lichtenberg 47 - the one live game we managed during our Berlin weekender - remains, as I write, the last football match that I've attended … which I hope isn't the case for much longer!

Friday 5 June 2020

Away Day Diary: Sunderland 3-0 Bristol Rovers (22/02/20)

Scoffed - I scoffed! - when my Dad asked me, somewhere on the A43, close to Towcester, whether 'this virus in China' had affected the financial markets; in my defence, at the time, it hadn't really … anyway, after a stop-off for lunch at the decent Wetherspoons in Kirkby-in-Ashfield (where there's a statue of Sir Don Bradman, and other cricketers from the Bodyline series, outside a Morrison's superstore), we arrived at our Premier Inn in good time (i.e. the drive took, as it should've, approximately 4.5 hours)

Unexpectedly, Roker was rather charming (perhaps because of the harsh-sounding name, and the fact that the football ground used to be there, I'd assumed it'd be a bit 'L. S. Lowry'); photos with Promotion Close and other football club- related street signs, before a walk along the seafront (cold and windy), and then an excellent Italian meal sandwiched between visits to a couple of top-notch watering holes (Harbour View - which was particularly good - and Poetic Licence)

No chance that I would pass up an opportunity to try Titantic's Black Ice (slightly disappointing although, TBF, expectations were high), during breakfast at the Wetherspoons in Washington, en route to County Durham on Saturday morning; photos followed at the home ground of Annfield Plain FC (my maternal grandfather - who first took me to York Road, when I was a toddler, in the mid-80s - grew up in the village) and, as rain fell, outside the Bird in High Handenhold (my Dad's grandmother lived, for many years, in a house across the street)

Dun Cow for pre-match beers, after a taxi ride from the hotel to the city centre; this was a cracking boozer, and I was a little deflated when it was time to leave and join the massed ranks crossing Wearmouth Bridge

Even - if largely uneventful - first half, with Rovers sitting back and inviting the home side to break them down, as we watched on from our seats on the front row of the upper-tier (away end, obvs.); the ground was OK - 'seen one new ground, seen 'em all' type of thing - with, IMO, the most intriguing facets being (1.) it is closer to the city centre than Roker Park was, and (2.) the name apparently derives from the light on the helmets of the miners who'd worked in the colliery that'd stood previously on the site (with shafts running out for miles under the North Sea)

Referee - Mr Toner of Blackburn - decided the game by first sending off Abu Ogogo, for what the BBC match report describes as an off the ball collision, then ignoring a clash of heads between Alfie Kilgour and his captain ('Millwall Tone') in the build-up to Sunderland's second goal. (3-0 the final score, ergo the majority of the 31,541 attendance went home happy after initially becoming quite restless at 0-0; the Gas would get some form of revenge, only a few weeks later, with a 2-0 win in the reverse fixture.)

Lunch had been conspicuous by its absence, so we headed straight to Motiraj (across the street from the Dun Cow and recommended by my sister, whose best friend - in Sydney - is an exiled Mackem); the Magpies had lost at home to Aldershot Town, so it was good that the food was decent and more so that subsequent pints of Seacider (Blueberry), in the excellent Ship Isis (some Notts County lads in here, seemingly staying over after their defeat at Hartlepool), tasted absolutely divine

According to Google, there should've been a taxi company only a few minutes walk from the pub, but, after this turned out to be fake news, I took us back into the city centre - much to my Mum's obvious annoyance - and the rank outside the train station; we passed some interesting sights en route, as you might imagine, with one place - the Rabbit, close to the Dun Cow - reminiscent, with loud music blaring, and people spilling out into the street, of Faliraki back in the day … and it wasn't even late! (I was freezing - wearing two coats plus a woolly hat, scarf, gloves etc. - but the local females made of sterner stuff: vest tops and ripped jeans seemingly sufficient for them!)

Next day (Sunday): breakfast again at the Sir William de Wessyngton (some of the more youthful patrons had seemingly been up all night to watch the Fury-Wilder fight and, as such, they were a little worse for wear), several hours wiled away at Beamish museum (the mine shaft was a memorable if rather sobering experience, while I particularly enjoyed the public house decked out in Maidenhead United colours), tea and biscuits with my Dad's octogenarian cousin and her affable son (at her flat in Pelton), and pre-dinner drinks in the oldest pub in Sunderland (continuously-used by the same senior club?)

Drive home on Monday (after photos in the 'other' Cox Green; broken up by another pit stop at the Wetherspoons in Kirkby-in-Ashfield) was memorable mainly for two things: (1) initial poor visibility due to sleet (incl. as we were overtaken on the A1[M] by a snowplough) and (2) discussions on 5 Live becoming dominated by talk of 'this virus in China' ...