September 23, 2017

An Englishman’s Early Season Bundesliga Weekend

Since diving head first into Bundesliga football during the autumn of 2011, my brother and I had made regular biannual trips to Germany that at their most chaotic had seen us squeeze as many as 8 games into 10 days.

The subsequent years had seen us cover the full length and breadth of the country as our appetite to seek out new stadia and sample new beer intensified.

However, since the start of 2015 our modus operandi had shifted from ambitious large scale projects to quick “in and out” jobs where any sightseeing activity was a bonus and the priority was simply to see three matches across a long weekend.

It’s usually easier to achieve this feat if you aim for the western regions where the vast density of teams can mean you’re literally tripping over them; hence our most recent excursion in May had seen us jaunt through the lower leagues with visits to Essen, Munster and Bochum.

With the 2015-16 season upon us we were eager to venture forth once more and as usual we had some specific destinations in mind. The first was Heidelberg where we’d had a particularly enjoyable stay during the build-up to Christmas 2013. The second involved making a belated return to Borussia Park which had been the venue of our first ever game on Teutonic soil.

Having devoured the fixture list as soon as it was finalised, I’d instantly honed in on a Friday to Sunday schedule at Sandhausen, Hoffenheim and Gladbach respectively.

Unfortunately, Saturday’s game looked a non-starter with Bayern being the opponents and tickets liable to be difficult to procure. With this in mind I immediately invoked the backup plan and instead plumped for an hour’s journey north to Frankfurt. With all the necessary bookings completed we set off in the knowledge that the weather forecast was gorgeous and some appetising matchups awaited us.

We arrived in Heidelberg late on Friday afternoon and after dumping our bags we took the S-Bahn out to the suburbs to see if Sandhausen could continue their astonishing early season form against Heidenheim. The kick-off was 6.30pm but it was still around 25 degrees when we arrived at the quaintly attractive Hardtwaldstadion and bought our €11 standing tickets.

The match itself was vibrant, tetchy but ultimately goalless as neither side looked remotely capable of scoring. However, the easy access to refreshments and the baking sunshine had made for a thoroughly pleasurable evening.

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We’d also had a good-humoured chat with a couple of like-minded locals who stood nearby and had wondered what a pair of English gentlemen were doing at a random Bundesliga 2 game. We explained our hobby in sufficient enough detail for them to appear both intrigued and mystified in equal measure, after which we indulged in some banter about Kevin Keegan and general 80s/90s football nostalgia. This culminated in one of them repeatedly chanting “Nottingham Forest !!” as some sort of homage to the team I’d told him I followed back home.

Once the proceedings were complete we suffered a rather painstaking trek back to Heidelberg as we’d just missed our connection. Luckily, our favourite Vetter Brauhaus in the Altstadt was open until 1am so we had plenty of time to sink a few ales before taking the long walk down the Hauptstrasse to our hotel.

Saturday required an early start as we had to get the train to Frankfurt for the afternoon clash between Eintracht Frankfurt and FC Augsburg. Our only other visit to the Commerzbank Arena had been for a DFB Pokal tie where the ground had been sparsely populated, so the likelihood of a near capacity crowd for the opening home game of the season was an exciting prospect.

It was a scorching day and we arrived early having hopped onto the S7 for the short trip out of the city. After a couple of pre-match liveners we took our seats in the top tier and endured a frantic yet generally uninspiring game in which Eintracht somehow scratched their way to a late equaliser when Augsburg should have long since put the game to bed.

To avoid the crush to leave afterwards we had a couple more drinks in the fan park before going for a slap up feast in a city centre steakhouse.

We arrived back in Heidelberg just after 9pm and as we headed for the Aldstadt we were accosted by five giggling teenage girls who seemed convinced that my brother was “Richard Kenton” who we soon discovered was some sort of actor from the TV. When they eventually noticed that we were twins it only added confusion to the general atmosphere of hysteria as clearly either of us could have been their aforementioned idol so they didn’t know who to direct their swooning at. It was clear that they were pulling our leg when a proposal of marriage meant slightly over-egging the pudding, but we laughed along with the caper in a typically British trying-not-to-look-embarrassed manner until finally shaking them off.

The sanctuary of the Vetter had never been more welcoming and we spent the next four hours getting sozzled and formulating plans for how we could take advantage of our apparent fame even though we’d long since discovered that our alleged lookalike didn’t exist.

Sunday saw us take the three hour inter-city to Düsseldorf and make a sharp turnaround before taking the local train to Rheydt. From here we took the free shuttle bus to Borussia Park and made an immediate beeline for the Fan shop.

As a supporter of Hannover 96 I’d previously hoped but failed to obtain an authentic Lars Stindl shirt. For reasons I’d struggle to explain to my girlfriend, I’ve had something of a man crush on him since first witnessing his deftly incisive forward play coupled with idiosyncratic elbows-tucked-in T-Rex running style. His summer transfer to Gladbach was gut-wrenching but I was determined to secure the desired polyester purchase even if it was in the colours of a rival team. Unfortunately, the painfully long queues to the checkouts and name-stamping machines made me quickly decide to go for the on-line option and drift off in search of sausage based sustenance.

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The match evolved into a frustrating affair as Gladbach stoically probed away but couldn’t find any penetration while Mainz pinched a deserved 2-1 victory. To cap it all, Lars had been an anonymous peripheral figure in his fish out of water defensive midfield role and was unceremoniously substituted before the end.

I consoled myself back in Düsseldorf with a few glasses of delicious Altbier at the Uerige Brauhaus. We sloped back to the hotel at midnight and in the process received a warning from the local constabulary for crossing a deserted road on a red man signal. “We’re from England, we don’t understand !” was our only defence which was deemed pathetically honest enough to avoid a fine.

It had been a great trip and our reputation as upstanding Bundesliga tourists had just about remained unblemished.

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Jon Godfrey

Jon lives in London and has supported Nottingham Forest since his childhood. He only started following the Bundesliga in 2011 so is busy making up for lost time with regular annual visits. His favourite German team is Hannover 96 who he admires for their ability to be constantly unpredictable.