By Ian Bradshaw.
Since my two live quite a distance away with their mum and only spend every-other weekend with their dad, I get the chance to follow football pretty much when and where I please these days – albeit, I’d rather that wasn’t the case.
As a Liverpool season ticket holder since 1984, my allegiances are obvious, but I don’t mind taking in other fixtures to chalk off a few grounds in the process.
My birthday weekend in early February 2016 was throwing up some promising opportunities for a weekend away in Europe – although the Bundesliga fixture generator had still to spit out the most opportune of weekends that suited my needs best.
Düsseldorf looked the place to best locate myself, and with home fixtures at Borussia Monchengladbach, Schalke 04, Bayer Leverkusen and Fortuna Düsseldorf up for grabs, it seemed a sensible choice to consider booking flights prior to the games being announced.
I also chanced a look at the Dutch fixtures. They threw up the prospect of Ajax v Feyenoord – already confirmed as Sunday 7th February.
Then came the German fixture confirmation – it read:
- Friday 5th February – Borussia Monchengladbach v Werder Bremen
- Saturday 6th February – Schalke 04 v Wolfsburg.
My weekend was well and truly made.
Outward flights were booked from Manchester to Düsseldorf and inward back from Amsterdam to Manchester, with 2-nights accommodation in the Düsseldorf Hauptbahnhof Ibis to facilitate an early start to Amsterdam on the Sunday morning.
Match tickets were eventually secured for all three, with fantastic value for money compared to the current pricing strategies of English top tier football.
Goal Frenzy Greens
Borussia Monchengaldbach 5 – 1 Werder Bremen
Borussia Park, Friday 5th February 2016 k.o. 20.30
Ticket: €44,50 (circa. £34)
This was to be a new ground for me and I jumped a train from Düsseldorf Hbf over to Monchengladbach Hbf, and then buses are laid on up to Borussia Park.
Borussia Park is quite the sight as you approach in the dark, with the modern concrete structure and roof under lit with the green of BMG.
Memories came flooding back of being allowed to stay up as an eight year old to watch the 1977 European Cup Final in Rome on the telly, as I watched my idol Kevin Keegan and the rest of the mighty reds pit their wits against the strength of the Bundesliga in the form of Bertie Vogts, Rainer Bonhof and Wolfgang Knieb among others.
Having purchased a bratwurst outside the ground for €2,90, I had a mooch round the fan shop. I’d already purchased a memento scarf and pin badge online, however, to save lugging it around Europe.
A bier in the ground was €4,10, and it went down well given the wind’s occasional icy slap in the face.
The game finished 5-1 to the home side as they produced some scintillating form to record their first points following the Bundesliga winter break, following a 3-1 home defeat by Borussia Dortmund and a 1-0 loss away at Mainz.
I’d expected a little more from Bremen, who’d recently impressed me on TV with a 3-1 away win at Schalke 04. Nevertheless, the entire game was played out in the usual entertaining atmosphere of German football, chants and fans bouncing up and down for a ninety-minutes solid.
Post-match, I caught the bus back into Monchengladbach and the connecting return train to Düsseldorf saw me arrive the hotel bar for 23.30.
Highlight: Apart from the game with 6 goals? A drunken German with more than a 90% passing resemblance to Joe Jordan, entertaining passengers with an impressive stumble and fall flat onto his face on the platform at Neuss on the return journey to Düsseldorf.
Taming of the Wolf
FC Schalke 04 3 – 0 Wolfsburg
Veltins Arena, Saturday 6th February 2016 k.o. 15.30
Ticket: €41,50 (circa. £32)
It was a mid-morning start on Saturday, as I jumped the train to Heinrich Halle Strasse. A brisk walk through the Aldstadt down to the Rhein, and a walk along one of the main water arteries of Central Europe followed it.
I made the journey back to Düsseldorf Hbf for a train to Gelsenkirchen, which is free with a match ticket, if you travel on a regional train.
Having already attended a game at Schalke, the prospect of going again was a real attraction for me. As a stadium, from the outside it resembles an out of town office building, clad in reflected glass, which actually belies the fact that a truly magnificent football stadium is housed inside.
The concourse outside offers bratwurst at €2,95, though concessions inside the turnstiles – unlike BMG – require the purchase of a fan card.
My seat was up with the Gods, back row of Block 55 – which seems to be the area of the ground set aside for day visitors, having sat in the vicinity previously.
An entertaining start saw Julian Draxler roundly booed following his recent defection to Wolfsburg and not before long business as usual was restored as Klaas-Jan Huntelaar notched the hosts ahead. A second was added ten minutes later from a sweetly hit direct free-kick by their industrious midfielder, Jonathan Geis.
I’ll own up now, given Schalke was a pig to get away from last time, I chose to leave with five minutes still on the clock. And, without knowing the German for Sods Law – Schalke netted a third before I’d got down the steps through Alessandro Schopf strike.
To compound matters, back at Gelsenkirchen I foolishly boarded an Inter City train to Düsseldorf and was clobbered for a €23,00 for a single ticket.
Once back at the hotel, I had a few biers, quick wash and set out into the Aldstadt for a few of the local altbiers.
Highlight: seeing glimpses of the old 1973 built Parkstadion behind the hotel complex between that and the new stadium – with an immaculate pitch it is still used for training matches nd then watching the Nordkurve in full cry before and during the game.
Ajax 2 – 1 Feyenoord
Amsterdam ArenA, Sunday 7th February k.o. 12.30
Ticket: €59,00 (circa. £45)
Early start for this as I caught the 06.56 ICE train to Amsterdam Centraal, which was €19 in advance on the DB website.
Arriving in Amsterdam, I threw my bag in a day locker for €10 and had a brief walk around, before jumping the train up to Biljmer for the ArenA. I had to collect the ticket I purchased in advance from the main entrance adjacent to Gate E – with which I received a complimentary Ajax scarf.
Once in my seat, there was a pre-match presentation to Johnny Heitinga who’d recently retired. He received a silver club platter and an F-Side baseball jacket before making the walk around the pitch with his two children.
The notorious F-Side, located behind the goal, showed their appreciation by lighting fireworks to honour the former Everton player.
Whilst away fans are prohibited for this fixture, this didn’t translate onto the pitch with the early exchanges a real blood and thunder affair, the type associated with a fierce derby where commitment to the cause takes precedent over footballing competencies.
When Feyenoord scored first through Jens Toornstra, an eerie silence fell around the ground. Ajax quickly restored the balance with a fine move concluded by some deft footwork by Amin Younes who slipped two defenders in shimmies to slot the ball into the far corner, out of reach of the keeper, and in off the base of the post.
The second half saw Ajax take, and ultimately retain the lead, through a fine long-range strike by their highly rated box-to-box midfielder, Riechedly Bazoer.
The scenes at the end left you in no doubt that Ajax thoroughly revelled in finally beating the staunchest rivals for the first time in four meetings – following two draws and a defeat in the preceding fixtures.
Highlight: an impressive pyro / smoke bomb display by Block 404 Check, saw black smoke hang over the pitch for a good 10 minutes, despite the roof being wide open.
All in all, a great trip and one that will live in the memory for a good while. Work took some doing on the Monday, though.