This article was originally published on the Adventures in Bundesliga blog.
German efficiency. Rewind to the recent World Cup and take a look at any match report or article on Germany’s triumph and I will wager that nine times out of ten, the word efficiency is in there somewhere. German efficiency. The two words are synonymous with each other.
After seven previous visits to Germany and not the slightest hint of transport trouble, I believed in German efficiency. Clean, comfortable trains, always on time, getting you to your destination with the minimum of fuss. I had even marvelled at the snack machine at the station, which could deliver you your soft drink of choice, via a mechanism which, unlike other such machines, would not drop the bottle from a great height, thereby shaking it up so much that you are forced to take evasive action from the escaping fizzy liquid when opening it up, but would instead carefully collect your desired drink and manoeuvre it to your waiting hands, with the minimum of fuss. Much like the aforementioned trains. Pre-holiday planning for my trip to Frankfurt had shown the Commerzbank Arena to be only two stops and six minutes away on the S-bahn, from our base in the city centre. More German efficiency. So, nearly two hours before kick-off, when the train pulls up to the platform, despite a great many of the carriages being in darkness, we hop on with the rest of the black and red clad supporters, safe in the knowledge we would soon be at the stadium.
Sadly, this isn’t to be the case. After a short wait, an announcement is made, which is greeted with muttered expletives from the football fans, followed by an exodus of half the passengers from the train. With the message being in German, we don’t have a clue what it means. Is there a brief delay? When is the next train? Is the whole line shut? Our carefully laid plans are in ruins. When in doubt though, always follow the fans.
Three of us (Jeff, Chris and I) had arrived in the city the day before, having travelled over from Manchester to watch two derbies during Bundesliga’s English week; the Rhein-Main derby of Eintracht Frankfurt against Mainz in the top division and a Hessen derby between Darmstadt and FSV Frankfurt in Bundesliga 2. We had spent our time leading up to the football exploring the city, balancing the culture of the modern art gallery and the film museum, with the consumption of many varied types of German wheat beer. As Oktoberfest had only begun two days before, a meal at a Bavarian restaurant, with accompanying beers, was an obvious choice. On the evening of the game we had headed to the station in fine spirits, until we heard the fateful announcement.
As we follow the crowd, a helpful supporter overhears us speaking English and shows us the way to the tram stop, making sure we aren’t Mainz fans first. We assure him we are not and thank him for his help. At the tram stop though, there is a large disparity in the number of waiting fans, compared to spaces on the trams. After a quick show of hands, we decide to try a taxi and walk back across the road to the station. One look at the taxi queue though, has us walking back to the tram stop, but once there, it looks busier than ever, so we head back to the taxis and wait. Finally reaching the front of the queue, the taxi driver informs us that, due to rush hour traffic, he can’t guarantee he’ll get us to the stadium on time and that we should take a tram instead. Back across the road to the tram we go. Thankfully, it has quietened down and we manage to get on the next one, but we’re behind schedule.
By the time we arrive at the stadium tram stop, queue up at the gate to be searched and have our ticket scanned, then walk through to the middle of the forest where the Commerzbank Arena is situated, we have about fifteen minutes before the game starts. Unfortunately, perhaps dazzled by the lights of the hugely impressive stadium (looking very much like a modern day coliseum) set against the steadily darkening night sky, we turn left when we should turn right. By the time we’ve bought a stadium card to use inside the ground and then realised we’re on completely the wrong side of the arena, it’s only five minutes to kick-off. Cue a race round to the other side to find our block, then taking the steps two at a time to the upper tier, before finally collapsing into our seats, having missed the first minute of the match. As if by magic, a drinks vendor appears. We buy three beers and can now relax and enjoy the football.
With 5 minutes gone, the home side lose the ball in midfield, leading to the game’s first chance. The resultant Mainz move ends in a shot by Djuricic, which is easily saved by Trapp in the Eintracht goal. This wakes the home side up and soon after they have a great opportunity themselves, but Seferovic puts it narrowly wide and into the side-netting. On 16 minutes, Inui has two chances to score; his first shot is blocked, but the ball comes straight back to him, only for him to snatch at it and fire high and wide. Eintracht are dominating possession and the only chances are theirs. Whenever Mainz do have the ball, they are whistled by the home fans, who then cheer when their side regain possession.
The Commerzbank Arena is just as impressive on the inside as it is on the outside and the fans create a fantastic atmosphere. From our seats we have a great view of the game and an even better view of the Eintracht Ultras, their flags waving and voices dominating the noise in the stadium. Ideally, I would have liked to have been in the standing section in the Westkurve, but by the time tickets went on general sale, all those had sold out. Twice the home supporters sing a song to the tune of ‘stand up, if you love/hate whoever’. We’re not sure of the wording of the song, whether we’re loving Eintracht or hating Mainz, but we stand up and clap with the rest of the fans anyway.
The home side have several more chances to open the scoring, but with half-time rapidly approaching, they lose the ball in midfield and, from a Brosinski through ball, Hofmann beats the last defender for pace and controls the ball, before slotting past the advancing Trapp. From out of nowhere, Mainz are 1-0 up. Make that 2-0! Only minutes later, after a long hopeful clearance from the away side, the Frankfurt defender Russ misjudges the bounce of the ball allowing Okazaki to get the better of him and race into the box, nutmegging the Eintracht goalie who can only manage to get enough of a touch on the ball to slow it down, leaving it to trickle into the net for 2-0. Over in the far corner, the Mainz fans are going crazy. 2-0 up, away from home, in their local derby.
Having been in control for the entire half, it would have been cruel for Frankfurt to go in two goals down. In injury time they manage to pull one back, intercepting a stray pass in the centre of the pitch, before a quick passing move feeds Maier, who sweeps the ball past the Mainz keeper. The home fans around us are on their feet celebrating, the Westkurve is singing louder than ever. Three goals in five minutes to end the first half and Frankfurt are right back in it.
After all the excitement of the last few minutes of the first half, the second is more of a midfield battle, and any chances that are created come the way of the home side, but the score stays 2-1 to Mainz. In the 72nd minute the away side have the ball in the Eintracht area and when Okazaki collides with the home side’s goalkeeper, the referee gives a penalty. The home fans are incensed. At 3-1 down and with less than twenty minutes left, that would probably have been game over, but luckily for the home crowd, after consulting with his linesman, the referee changes his mind and it’s a free-kick to Frankfurt for an earlier foul. There is a collective sigh of relief from the Eintracht fans. In the 82nd minute, Stendara, who has been on the pitch less than ten minutes, lofts a long free-kick into the Mainz box. Remarkably the away side have left Seferovic unmarked and he rises to direct a header into the opposite corner. The home side have levelled in front of the Westkurve, who are suitably jubilant.
Only minutes later, Mainz have a wonderful chance to regain the lead, Hofmann is one-on-one with the keeper after a long ball forward, but Trapp manages to smother it, injuring himself in the process. He tries to carry on, but is replaced by the substitute keeper, Wiedwald, soon after. In the third minute of injury time, Eintracht are on the attack, looking for the winner. Great work from Seferovic finds Maier in the area, the crowd around us stand up expectantly, only for the forward to fire over. He holds his head in his hands, like much of the crowd. The final whistle blows and both sides go home with a point. We aren’t going home just yet though, staying with most of the crowd to applaud the home team, then getting some drinks in with the last of the money on our card, whilst we decide what to do next.
Outside the ground, finishing our drinks, we get talking to a group of fans and who suggest we try an Eintracht fan bar, not far from our hotel. Back in the city centre, we go in search of it and soon spot the sign above the door, St. Tropez Bar – home of football. We walk in and order a drink. It’s not like any football bar I’ve seen before; there are no screens, no scarves, no football paraphernalia whatsoever. You could be forgiven for thinking it isn’t a football bar. That’s because it isn’t a football bar. We only realise our mistake when we pay for our drinks and ask the barman, who tells us we’re in the wrong place, we want the bar upstairs. As soon as we go outside, a head appears from the upstairs window telling us to press the buzzer on the door. Soon enough we’re surrounded by walls covered in Eintracht posters, badges, and scarves. there are screens showing football everywhere you look, a room full of team merchandise and every inch of the toilet walls are covered in football stickers. Much more like it! We watch the highlights, have a beer and chat to the locals, before heading back to our hotel. The first half of our Frankfurt derby double complete.