Van Bommel aims to continue Wolfsburg rise heading into new Bundesliga season

With a promising 2020/21 Bundesliga season behind them and a return to the UEFA Champions League, Die Wölfe will be hoping to put behind them the disappointment of losing manager Oliver Glasner.

Preparation for the new season is nearly complete as VfL Wolfsburg prepare for Mark van Bommel’s first competitive match in charge when they face fourth division Prussia Münster in the DFB Pokal.

With a promising 2020/21 Bundesliga season behind them to build further momentum upon and a return to the UEFA Champions League, Die Wölfe will be hoping to put behind them the disappointment of losing manager Oliver Glasner.

Glasner, having led Wolfsburg to an impressive fourth-placed finish whilst also bringing the best out of Ridle Baku and Wout Weghorst, left for Frankfurt in late May – the side Wolfsburg pipped to the final UEFA Champions League spot.

“Eintracht Frankfurt is an exciting club and has made great development in the past years,” Glasner said upon his departure.

“The passion in the city and region is fantastic and internationally known, not least through great performances in the Europa League in recent years.”

Glasner’s departure will definitely be felt at the Volkswagen Arena. Having arrived back in 2019 from LASK he quickly set about bringing an expansive style to the team, whilst also remaining strong defensively.

Whilst his replacement Mark van Bommel brings much in personality and stature as a world-renowned former player his managerial is yet to take off.

Having started off as assistant manager at both Netherland U17s and then Saudi Arabia, he then moved on to his beloved PSV Eindhoven as manager of the U19s – before quickly being promoted to the first-team manager role.

After only 18-months at the helm Mark van Bommel was sacked as head coach of PSV Eindhoven after a run of two wins in eight games in the Dutch Eredivisie.

At that moment in time, PSV had just lost 3-1 to rivals Feyenoord, were fourth in the league and already 10 points behind leader Ajax.

The ex-Barcelona, AC Milan and FC Bayern player, who also lifted four league titles across two playing spells with PSV, had failed his one and only managerial task to date.

That failed to put off Wolfsburg this summer once Glasner’s Frankfurt intentions became known. The 44-year old quickly joined Die Wölfe on a two-year deal in early June.

“We have dealt intensively with Mark van Bommel and the personal talks have confirmed our impression that he fits perfectly with our philosophy,” said Wolfsburg chief Jörg Schmadtke.

“He is an internationally recognized football professional and knows what to expect in the Bundesliga. He also has enormous ambition, which has already distinguished him in his long playing career.

“Mark van Bommel is our desired solution and we are convinced that together with him and his coaching team we can continue VfL’s successful path.”

Van Bommel himself seemed enticed by the challenge awaiting him.

“I am very much looking forward to working at VfL Wolfsburg and am excited about my new environment, the people and the task that awaits me,” said Van Bommel.

“The ideas and perceptions of those responsible are identical to mine and I can identify very well with the path the club has taken.

“To be allowed to work as a coach in the Bundesliga, where I played for so long, is a great honor and challenge for me, which I will approach with great joy and commitment together with everyone involved.”

Whilst his stature and initial intentions will prove a lure to the Wolfsburg fans, results on the pitch will ultimately prove decisive. However, that’s not to say that van Bommel will do it all himself – as, arguably, the much stronger presence of managing director Jörg Schmadtke, with the help of sporting director Marcel Schäfer, will be there to help guide him.

When Schmadtke arrived in 2018, Wolfsburg had been on the end of two close flirtations with relegation to 2. Bundesliga. Nevertheless he set about his task in fine fashion, redefining the Wolfsburg mantra and ensuring they were best placed to challenge at the upper echelons of the Bundesliga.

This close season Sebastiaan Bornauw , Aster Vranckx, Lukas Nmecha and Maximilian Philip have all arrived for around €30million to further compliment an already talented squad spearheaded by the goals of Wout Weghorst.

However, question marks surround the future of influential Croatia winger Josip Brekalo. Marcel Schafer admitted last week that Brekalo had requested a transfer following interest from La Liga. His talents would be missed having scored seven and laid on three across 29 Bundesliga matches last season.

Another attracting interest is Ridle Baku. Talk remains around the links to FC Bayern following an impressive campaign last time around. Baku hasn’t done much to calm speculation either.

“I definitely have the confidence to take a bigger step at some point. But I don’t have to leave Wolfsburg now, I’m totally satisfied,” Baku said.

Whilst the in-tray at Wolfsburg certainly has more positives than negatives for Mark van Bommel, he’d be wise to not get complacent during his first few months in charge. Wolfsburg are on an upward trajectory, especially if they manage to keep the likes of Ridle Baku for the foreseeable future – however, that could change quickly.

An initial win against lower-league Prussia Münster will do much to calm any jitters, whilst the opening match to Bochum certainly offers an opportunity for a fine start in front of a decent crowd.

It is certain that Van Bommel the player would be relishing the challenge ahead this coming season. We’ll soon find out if the same can be said of Van Bommel the manager.

Main image sourced off VfL Wolfsburg Fans Facebook page.

Safe Standing Roadshow lead talks football stadiums, fans’ future and his beloved Union Berlin

Jon Darch, Safe Standing Roadshow lead operator, talks exclusively to Football Foyer about stadiums, fans’ future and his beloved Union Berlin.

By Danny Wyn Griffith

“Safe standing offers equality with fans of other sports,” says Jon Darch, a leading football safe standing campaigner, in an interview with Football Foyer.

“It will remove the illogical discrimination that says it’s safe to stand, for example, at rugby, but not at football. The ban never made any logical sense. It was always based on a discriminatory view of all football fans as hooligans that was rife in political circles in the 1980s. It was an ill-founded view then and is an anachronism now.

“Safe standing will also, of course, give all fans choice. For those who like to stand, it gives them a dedicated area in which to do so, configured in accordance with strict safety criteria. And for those who want to sit, or simply can’t stand for 90 minutes, it gives them the peace of mind of knowing that all the fans around them will be of a like mind and will also prefer to stay seated. Everyone wins!”

A former radio industry executive, Jon Darch (seen left in the main image) makes his living these days by translating German to English and acting as an agent for a manufacturer of stadium seats, whilst his connection to football has been deeply entrenched from a young age.

“I’ve been a supporter of Bristol City since 1967 and of Union Berlin since 2008,” he starts to explain. “I’ve also been a member of the Football Supporters Federation (now Association) for many years and a card-carrying member in absentia of Wrexham Supporters Trust, owners until any day now of Wrexham FC, having worked in Wrexham in the late eighties and developed a soft spot for the club.”

He recounts his first football memory as hearing on the radio that John Galley had scored a hat-trick on his debut for Bristol City at Huddersfield Town. That was back on 16 December 1967, whilst Jon was at a Bristol Grammar School event with his father. He recalls both being thrilled by their new centre-forward’s instant impact.

On a visit to Hannover.

Jon is the face of the Safe Standing Roadshow campaign spearheading the push for it to be introduced at all levels in English football. His passion for safe standing can be traced right back to when he used to stand on the uncovered terrace at Ashton Gate.

“That goes back to those early days of going to football with my dad,” he says. “We used to stand on the ‘Open End’ at Ashton Gate (i.e., an uncovered terrace). He made a wooden stool for me to stand on so that I could see over the heads of the men in front.

“As a teenager, I then stood on the ‘East End’ with my mates. Twenty years later, when I was taking my nephews to games in what by then was an all-seater stadium, I thought it was a great shame that they couldn’t experience that same rite of passage. And I thought that the standing ban was illogical. And I hate things that are illogical!”

Good examples of safe standing can be seen on the continent, with German football being the prime example, whilst Celtic introduced their own safe standing section in 2016. In the higher-levels of the English pyramid, however, the story is different.

“The Thatcherite all-seater policy is still in force,” he says. “It stipulates that currently some 70-odd grounds must provide only seated accommodation. Since the end of 2018, clubs governed by the policy have been allowed to install “seats incorporating barriers” as a means of enhancing safety in areas where they have an issue with persistent standing, but they are not allowed to operate such areas as formal standing areas.

“The current Government won the last election on a manifesto that included a pledge to bring in safe standing. Had it not been for Covid, that would probably have happened by now. Hopefully, we won’t have to wait too much longer. In fact, what better way for Boris and co. to show their commitment to this than to say now that safe standing will be allowed from as soon as we can have capacity crowds again.

“The safety sector is persuaded of the fact that rail seats have a “positive impact on spectator safety” and have told the Government so. It now just needs the Government to amend the all-seater policy, or permit a more nuanced interpretation of it, for clubs to be allowed to operate formally approved safe standing areas in line with safety guidelines that are ready to be put in place.”

Rail seating concept.

He hopes that as soon as fans are able to return to stadia at full capacity, clubs will be given the green light introduce safe standing. Better still, if they are told now that this will be the case, the clubs can plan ahead so that they are ready for the change.

“There is no team that doesn’t want it,” he states. “Many are actively making plans even now during the pandemic. Once the crowds are back and we’ve got the green light from Westminster, the vast majority will go ahead.

“Spurs have already installed seats incorporating barriers and Manchester United announced their intention last year to do the same. However, until the rules change, neither club is allowed to operate any area of their ground as safe standing. When the rules do change, the areas concerned will also need to be checked for compliance with any new safety regulations for standing areas that may come in.”

The situation at European competition level is slightly different. When clubs play in Europe there has to be a seat available for every fan. UEFA do not stipulate, however, that the fans must sit down.

Yet, are UEFA for or against the concept?

“Agnostic, I guess,” he starts to explain, “Rail seats were invented to satisfy their requirement that their matches be played in all-seater stadia. Rail seats do that, while enabling the areas concerned to be operated as standing areas for domestic games.

“UEFA – and FIFA too for that matter – have had no problem with this and regularly pick stadia with rail seats for some of their most prestigious games. Hamburg, Dortmund, Nuremberg, Hannover and Stuttgart, for example, were all World Cup 2006 venues and all of those grounds have rail seats.”

“Safe standing allows fans a choice,” he goes on to state. “And takes away the stain on our reputation placed there by a standing ban based on the false narrative created around the cause of Hillsborough.

“Five years from now, I would hope that by then there is no longer any such safe standing movement because it has become the accepted norm that all grounds provide a mix of seated and standing accommodation.”

Away from the safe standing campaign, Jon’s beloved Union Berlin are performing above expectation in the Bundesliga, currently placed eighth. Union gained promotion to the German top flight for the first time in the club’s history in time for the 2019–20 season.

“In short, Union’s forerunner club was founded in 1906,” he tells when asked about the history of the club.

“In its current guise, it was founded as the ‘civilian’ club in GDR East Berlin 1966; many years of unfair competition followed against the Stasi-backed other club in the east of the city (who won the league title ten years on the bounce). Then several financial crises happened post reunification, that were followed up with rescue acts by the fans; rebuilding of the stadium by the fans; rise from the 4th tier to the top flight; and next? “International”, perhaps!”

Last year saw the 100th anniversary of the club playing on the site of the current ground. The name of the stadium can be translated as ‘The Stadium next to the Old Forester’s Lodge’, and the ground is indeed on the edge of suburban woodlands, which mean that the walk to the stadium is along a muddy track through a tunnel of dark, overhanging trees.

Having previously visited the Stadion An der Alten Försterei back in 2018, I have some personal knowledge of the club, and the hard work that’s gone on behind the scenes to lift this club to the top-flight.

“Fans came to the rescue and around 2,000 individuals gave some 150,000 hours of free labour to help bring the stadium up to scratch.”

“Until 2009, the stadium was open terracing on three sides, with a puny little grandstand for about 2,000,” he describes. “Weeds were growing up through the terrace concrete, which in turn was crumbling. It was deemed inadequate for the second tier, let alone the Bundesliga.

“So, Union asked the fans – the members – what they wanted from a ‘modernised’ stadium. They said ‘standing’! So, plans were drawn up to tidy up the three terraces, give them a roof and, as phase two, to upgrade the main grandstand.”

Still there was a hitch. The club was once again short of cash. Therefore the fans came to the rescue and around 2,000 individuals gave some 150,000 hours of free labour to help bring the stadium up to scratch.

“Now we have a beautiful ground with three covered terraces and, since phase 2 was completed, a spanking new main stand. Capacity is 22,000-ish, 18,000-ish standing, and – pre-Covid – it was always sold out, so expansion is on the cards. A planning application has been submitted to expand to 37,000, with an upper tier above the three terraces. Again, largely standing. In all, in future it will be 8,000-ish seats and 28,500-ish standing – more even than at the Westfalenstadion!!”

Throughout Germany football fans are well known for achieving change in their domestic game, from kick-off times to the 50+1 rule. Might there be anything UK fans could learn from their equivalents on the continent?

“Organise, organise, organise!” he remarks. “The walk-out in protest against ticket prices on 77 minutes at Anfield a few years back organised by Spirit of Shankly and Spion Kop 1906 shows that fans do have power. But only if they organise themselves and work in unity. That’s what the German fans are so good at, and definitely what we can learn from them.

“Spouting off as a keyboard warrior is futile. Tens of thousands of fans voting with their feet in the real world, however, can move mountains!”

Find out more about Jon’s work with the Safe Standing Roadshow.

Amidst change at BVB, Marco Reus’ resilience still shines

“It is wonderful to see that his loyalty and perseverance from injury after injury is being duly rewarded with a consistent run in the side, culminating in a recent call-up to the German national team.”

What a beautiful sight, isn’t it? The Yellow Wall in the Signal Iduna Park is awash with supporters in brilliant black and yellow harmony, belting out chorus after chorus to the songs of “Heja Heja BvB” and “You’ll Never Walk Alone”, with little thought about the consequences of consistent tampering of the vocal chords.

Against Bayern Munich, it is easy to lose yourself within the euphoria of Der Klassiker, but never easy to cheer in the midst of total destruction, to challenge when the likes of Robert Lewandowski and Mats Hummels depart for greener pastures, and to win – just to have the bragging rights on their side – when all you are used to is constant disappointment. An inferiority complex had surely been created in this derby, but for once, Borussia Dortmund weren’t the team at the receiving end of a Munich shellacking.

It is usually Bayern supporters rubbing it in the faces of their opponents, but this time around, Dortmund’s young guns – featuring a few familiar faces – shot a lethal bullet wound through the thick flesh of a Bayern side struggling to be their dominant self under Nico Kovac.

Dortmund’s 3-2 success in a pulsating encounter was their first win over Bayern in their last four meetings, which included a 6-0 hammering at the Allianz Arena last season. Only three players that started that game started here – Łukasz Piszczek, Mario Götze and Manuel Akanji.

Marco Reus didn’t play, recovering from another frustrating injury, but here he was back to his very best, captaining a young, vibrant adolescent side that’s leading the chasing Bundesliga pack, a picture of familiarity in an ever-changing outfit.

Two goals in this game, and eight in the league so far, reminds us of the better days when “Rolls Reus” was an exhilarating well-oiled machine – here, there and everywhere, his finishing of the highest quality and acclaim in Jurgen Klopp’s hyper-pressing side that finished second in the league and reached the Champions League final in 2013.

It is wonderful to see that his loyalty and perseverance from injury after injury is being duly rewarded with a consistent run in the side, culminating in a recent call-up to the German national team. In an interview with GQ magazine, Reus once said, “I would give away all the money to be healthy again, to be able to do my job. To do what I love: to play football.”

A tear in your eye? There’s nothing to be ashamed of.

Because for Reus, there have been many tears. Playing football is all he has ever wanted to do, this technically gifted, Puma-donning creative hub who has shown us that hard work will always outweigh talent. Adversity, in his eyes, is only a stumbling block, not a lifetime curse: Reus, the Renaissance Man, always re-inventing and reinvigorating a career that has been stop-start.

He missed out on the 2014 World Cup and Euro 2016. He was substituted at halftime in the 2017 DFB Pokal Final. One of the most talented individuals of his generation, yet unable to produce on that talent, injuries stealing from him like a thief at night.

Against Bayern, though, he was the one stealing the headlines. He punished Manuel Neuer for his hesitancy in leaving his goal line with a cheekily won – and well-taken – penalty. He drifted into space and attacked Piszczek’s low delivery with a confidently struck right-footed finish.

He raised his arms in celebration, and tracked back, and ran forward, and encouraged the crowd. All of this with a number of players that had never played in this fixture before, this fun-filled nerve-wracking jingle of a team, rock n’ roll fußball at its naively best. They could’ve folded and reined themselves in as Bayern tried to dictate the tempo, scoring twice through Lewandowski who was bullish against Akanji and Dan-Axel Zagadou. 

But they played, pressed, made mistakes, learning on the job. Axel Witsel, like his afro, was a sight to behold and had Thomas Müller firmly in his pocket. Piszczek, Achraf Hakimi and Jadon Sancho were fearless and relentless in the face of an experienced Bayern.

Speaking of renaissances, it is brilliant to see Paco Alcácer continue his great escape from Barcelona mediocrity, his eighth league goal sealing all three precious points. And to see the Reus-Götze combination, although the latter was playing in a false false-nine position before Alcácer came on, was a sign of the familiarity that has been stolen from Dortmund’s supporters for far too long.

Can Reus somehow lead Lucien Favre’s side to a league title? Early days indeed, but Dortmund have always needed him to be their Steven Gerrard, or Paul Scholes, or Philipp Lahm: the local boy who worked through the system to then shepherd his people to the promised land. Wouldn’t that be befitting for a player who has only one professional title to his name?

Franck Ribery’s haircut was significant: the number “7” engraved in his head, 7 points behind Dortmund. Reus would like it to stay that way, too. For him, this result may mean more to him than just the team collective.

An old head, resilient and productive, shining in amongst the bright future at Favre’s disposal.

The rise of Benjamin Pavard

The former Lille man has achieved what most players never will: winning a World Cup. That’s just one thing crossed off the list on his long journey…

When was the first time you heard the name Benjamin Pavard? Most likely during the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Before the tournament, the right-back wasn’t considered a superstar or even a top defender. All this changed in the course of one summer.

At the start of the 2017/18 season, if someone was asked to list a few top right-backs, what would they say? Most would go with Dani Alves, Joshua Kimmich, Dani Carvajal… but rarely anyone would mention Benjamin Pavard.

Only two years ago, the 22-year-old was hanging out with his friends in the public fan zone while watching the Euro 2016. The question is, how did the full-back rise to the top in such a short period of time?

Pavard has something very special in him that many players don’t have. He is an all-around player, he can attack, defend, and do just about anything. Many great full-backs lack this trait, for example, Marcelo. No doubt he is one of the best in the world when it comes to his position, but he tends to attack more than he defends.

This isn’t the only specialty the player has. Most players take years to prove themselves as top-class players, while Pavard did it in arguably the most difficult tournament of them all. He was one of the most important players in the French squad. His highlight of the tournament was his half-volley against Argentina.

His rise started in France, as he was playing for Lille. He grew up playing with the Ligue 1 side, he featured in their youth team, B team, and later on the first team. At professional level, he appeared for his club 25 times over the course of two seasons, but failed to score a goal or provide the team with any assists.

His not too great time at Lille came to an end in 2016, when he moved to Stuttgart for a fee of around €5 million. The German side saw potential in Pavard and decided to invest in the young talent. He started his time in Germany in the second division. He scored a goal and gave two assists in 21 appearances that season, and he went on to win the league. Believe it or not, the Bundesliga 2 title is the only trophy (though it’s not even considered a major title) Pavard has aside from the World Cup. So it can be said that the first and only major title he has is the World Cup trophy.

His first season playing in the Bundesliga saw him get the attention of the French national team. Although his statistics weren’t crazy, if you watch him on the field, you can tell he makes a huge difference.

Head coach of the French National Team, Didier Deschamps, should be recognized for the amazing plan that he had in mind. Before the World Cup started, if you would ask anyone to pick the squad for France, not many would say Pavard. Deschamps was able to pick out a promising talent and he helped him unlock his full potential.

Imagine Pavard wasn’t called up to the World Cup, who would recognize him as a top defender? The French coach guided him perfectly and set him on the right path to glory. The former Lille man has now achieved what most players never will: winning a World Cup. That’s one thing crossed off the list on his long journey.

Where will his next step be? He is currently still playing with Stuttgart, though a bidding war is expected to take place next summer as a move in January seems unlikely. Many reports claimed that Pavard has agreed to join Bayern at the end of the season, though the player himself confirmed that nothing has been agreed yet.

Mundo Deportivo claims that the Frenchman’s agent has offered him to FC Barcelona, and the move would cost the Blaugrana around €35 million. Some would think that Pavard is overrated, these claims are completely false.

The recent World Cup allowed Benjamin Pavard to discover his true potential which will lead him to a bright future. Be sure to remember the name.

Fußballclub Union Berlin build for the future

Union Berlin, a side usually recognised as the city’s second biggest behind Hertha BSC, have growing ambitions. Ones that will see the Stadion An der Alten Försterei be given yet another face lift.

By Danny Wyn Griffith

There come occasions in life when you plan something to a tee, only for circumstances to change or for something to unexpectedly get in the way. To carry out your plans to the utmost detail, you require determination of the highest order. Compared to others, Union Berlin’s ardent support have the required trait in abundance. They also have the stories to show for it.

Back at the end of February, I visited the sublimely historic city of Berlin. On the cards was Union Berlin’s Saturday outing against SV Sandhausen at Stadion An der Alten Försterei. ‘Special’ is a word banded about too often nowadays, but the Union Berlin fan-base well and truly live up to the adjective’s meaning.

IMG_2247
Union Berlin 2 –  1 SV Sandhausen, Stadion An der Alten Försterei

In 2004, the club faced bankruptcy and required €1.5m to avoid going out of business. Their support rose to the fore by setting up a “Bleed for Union” campaign where fans gave blood and forwarded the money to the club. Another hardened fan, Dirk Zingler, stumped up the rest. He remains their owner to this very day.

Then in 2008, Union were faced with being thrown out of 3. Liga due to their infrastructure being at breaking point. The club couldn’t afford the sums required to bring Stadion An der Alten Försterei to the required standards, yet this is when the Die Eisernen once again showed their determination and backing for the club.

2,400 fans helped modernise the stadium in less than 300 days. Overall, a majestic 140,000 hours was offered by the volunteers and Union had a fresh new home. Regardless of their own areas of expertise, these fans managed to pull off the spectacular and that season, Union Berlin rewarded their support by being crowned champions of 3. Liga and being promoted to the 2. Bundesliga where they’ve stood since.

When standing on the terraces with the Union support, the sense of togetherness is unique. They know the sacrifices they gave to the club made a true difference, as they can see it all around them in the refurbished stadium. Yet, more improvements to the Stadion An der Alten Försterei are in the offing.

Plans were announced in June 2017 to increase the capacity of their alte Forsterei from 22,012 to around 37,000 by 2020. The €38 million reconstruction work, due to begin in 2019, will mean the stadium will hold a standing capacity of 28,692.

Seating capacity, meanwhile, will be increased to more than 8,000 seats to meet German Football League requirements for top-flight football. Union want the alte Forsterei, built in 1920 and set in the mesmerising woods of Kopenick, a Berlin suburb, to “keep its character and remain unique.”

In a statement on the club’s official website at the time, president Dirk Zingler said: “It was important to us that this historic place for our club grows to meet future requirements. We want a tight stadium with standing terraces.”

Union-Fans-Choreographie
FC Union Berlin fans.

Jon Darch, avid Union Berlin fan who heads the Safe Standing Roadshow in the UK, believes the club are preparing for a push for promotion.

“With the stadium currently bursting at the seams,” Jon Darch told Football Foyer, “almost always sold out at 22k and the new rule from the German Football League saying that stadia in the top flight must have at least 8,000 seats (the alte Forsterei currently has only 3,600), this expansion makes a lot of sense – given that Union naturally hope to get promotion one day.

“Given that average crowds have increased from under 10k to over 20k in less than 10 years, I don’t think there will be a problem in growing the average attendances again… at the very least, I can see the 28.5k terraces being sold out regularly, though maybe a few seats will be left unsold (at times).”

Still it’s worth bearing in mind that with extra capacity comes extra noise. This has potential to further strengthen the fortress-like atmosphere for the home side.

“Of course, as Unioner,” Jon Darch explained, “we don’t like being told by the authorities how we should enjoy our football and as standing is a core part of the club culture, the expansion will be almost exclusively additional terracing. From just over 18k standing capacity now, it will increase to 28.5k, which is 500 more than even BVB have in Dortmund!

“With 28,500 Unioner standing, I can’t see the atmosphere suffering. Hopefully we will just be even louder!”

Loudness is something the Union faithful see as the norm and, with the season just underway, they’ve sprung out of the blocks in confident fashion. Now coached by the experienced Urs Fischer, who holds two Swiss league titles and UEFA Champions League experience from his time at Basel, they seem to be laying out their ambition to knock it with the big boys of German football.

Having beaten Erzgebirge Aue 1-0 on the opening day, they earned a respectable 1-1 draw at recently relegated Köln, before disposing of Carl Zeiss Jena 4-2 in the DFB Pokal. Up next at the alte Forsterei is FC St. Pauli, who began the season in even better fashion with consecutive wins against Magdeburg and Darmstadt 98, respectively, before a disappointing exit in the DFB Pokal to Wehen Wiesbaden.

Having visited both the alte Forsterei and St Pauli’s Millerntor-Stadion back in February, I’ll be keeping a close eye on their upcoming clash. Both teams offer unique elements of fandom, bouncing atmospheres, warm welcomes and wealth of character. True patrons of German football. Teams I long to revisit again soon.

The cult of Marco Reus: A marvellous talent robbed by injuries

Had injuries not blighted him over the years, the German international would be regarded as one of the very best. Robbie Chalmers takes a look at his prodigious talent.

By Robbie Chalmers

The German international signed a new contract keeping him at Borussia Dortmund until 2022. Though had his continuous injuries not blighted him over the years, he would be regarded as one of the very best and who knows where he could have gone.

Marco Reus’s football fate was always destined to tie him with Dortmund. He was born there after all. He started his career at local club Post SV Dortmund in 1994 and after two years he joined the youth ranks of Borussia Dortmund in 1996. After playing for Borussia Dortmund for a decade at various youth levels he left for the U-19 team of Rot Weiss Ahlen in the summer of 2006. It’s during his time there that he settled as an attacking midfielder after previously playing as a striker at Dortmund. In his second year there he broke into Ahlen’s first team, who were in the German third division at the time. He started twice and was featured in 14 matches, scoring two goals. One of his goals came on the last day of the season and propelled the team being promoted to the 2. Bundesliga. Reus had a decisive nature to his game even from an early age but yet, his particular talents of slender pacey, skilful play was not the skills demanded by German Football at the time.

In 2008 Reus watched, along with the rest of the world, the German National Team reach the European Championship final. This was seen as a shock by the nation themselves as it was a side full of ageing players headed by the talismanic captain Michael Ballack. The midfielder embodied the typical German player at that time; physical, pragmatic and mentally resilient with touches of technical quality to boot. Spain won 1-0 to begin the Tiki Taka era of diminutive, technical players who dominated possession. It was after this time Reus began to foray into top flight football. In 2008–09, as a 19-year-old, he had his definitive breakthrough as a professional football player, playing 27 games and scoring four goals. Reus was not the only player to emerge on the road to the 2010 World Cup. Thomas Muller and Mesut Ozil were making their names in the Bundesliga with Bayern and Werder Bremen respectively. This new wave of versatile, technical pacey players who excelled in transitional play were a result of total reform to the German Youth system after the failure of the 2004 European Championships in Portugal.

The new German player was born on the stage of the 2010 World Cup as a refreshing and exciting young Manshaft side swatted England and Argentina aside to make it to the Semi-finals before Spain again stopped them in their tracks. Reus was not at the World Cup but he would help lead the new wave of German player. Reus has the ability to dribble at great speed but make it looks like he’s going for a brisk jog. His facileness is matched by his quick change of direction and dazzlingly quick feet. Capable of player on either wing or as a ten his ability to start attacks from deep and sprint into the box is unmatched at the highest level (save for Ronaldo). This was on show in 2012 in his most successful season when, scoring 18 and assisting 8, he helped Borussia Mönchengladbach secure a place in the UEFA Champions League.

And then the time came. To return home. To Jurgen Klopp’s young Dortmund side who upset the Bavarian establishment to clinch consecutive titles in 2011 and 2012. Former Dortmund creator Tomáš Rosický was Reus’s role model and he emulated his playing style to boot. With Dortmund, Reus won the 2013 DFL-Supercup and the German Cup in 2017. He was the Footballer of the Year in Germany in 2012 and was on the UEFA Team of the Year in 2013. In 2012, Franz Beckenbauer spoke about Reus, along with Mario Götze, saying, “As a classic duo there is nobody better than the prolific Reus and Götze.” In 2013, Reus was ranked as the fourth best footballer in Europe by Bloomberg.

Reus’s talents are not his only attribute but his performances in big games and his resilience. He was outstanding in the clubs run to the 2013 Champions League final. Two assists in a classic against Malaga in the quarters were followed up by a Real Madrid thrashing in the semi final first leg. He ran Xabi Alonso was run raged that night. Few players have Reus’s qualities and even fewer players are as good to watch in full flow. He has Rosicky’s close control and technique, the graceful slalom runs of Hazard or Neymar and the predatory finishing of Frank Lampard (one of the best midfield goal scorers). It is just a shame, not just for a fan like myself but also the neutral viewer, that this player could not grace a World Cup or European Championships due to injuries. Reus doesn’t get the credit he deserves not because he doesn’t play but also because who he plays for. Dortmund are now a semi elite club but don’t have the long standing history there storied European neighbours have. Playing for a club that sells its best talent means many observers will wait until he makes the next step before tapping him up amongst the world best players.

Reus has never had that chance and after signing a new deal until 2022 and he may never now. Links to Real Madrid and Man United three years ago would have been the time to move but as the player has said “Dortmund is my home”. The likes of Le Tissier, Shearer and Totti had talent to play elsewhere and stay. They are revered as legends at their clubs. In an age where players are judged too often by the trophies they have won, perhaps some time is needed to savour the players that make this sport such a joy to watch. The very best players make the game look easy, which is Reus’s fortay.

Marco Reus said last October, “I would give all my money just to be healthy and play football again.”. Football is hoping that he doesn’t have to so he can dazzle us with his talent for a good few years to come.

A Visit to FC St. Pauli: The Glastonbury of Football

Welcome all refugees, anti-homophobia flags, festival-like atmosphere and a few U-Bahn mishaps. Welcome to our match day experience at FC. St Pauli’s Millerntor-Stadion.

By Danny Wyn Griffith

Welcome all refugees. Fuck the Nazis. Anti-homophobia flags aplenty. Less caring for the match result, more about the enjoyment that accompanies the occasion. Welcome to match day at FC. St Pauli’s Millerntor-Stadion.

Upon approaching the stadium, graphically trippy images greet you along with the bolded Millerntor-Stadion print. With a polar vortex swallowing most of Europe, snow also surrounds the iconic stadium – increasing the mystical feel.

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Walking towards the Millerntor-Stadion

The Millerntor-Stadion, within a stone’s throw of the docks and renowned Reeperbahn red-light district, houses football’s most ardent left-wing followers.

Three decades ago, a following from St. Pauli’s squatting community were first seen behind the manager’s dugout. There they would chant against fascism and racism. From then on FC St. Pauli’s following became renowned for being punks, embodying left-wing beliefs, stating everyone would be welcomed at the Millerntor.

They adopted the skull and crossbones flag, which remains famously adorned across the club’s world-famous commercial juggernaut to this very day. With this came new supporters, who rejected the neo-Nazi vibes elsewhere in football during that period.

Over the years, the fans have also proven to be their beloved club’s saviours. When facing financial difficulties, they staged fundraising initiatives such as Drink for St. Pauli, where local landlords would donate 50 percent from each beer sold. Here, the club and fans are one – a close-knit community, the perfect hand to fit the glove.

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A club clear in their message. Image: @FootballFoyer

On the cards this particular day was a local derby against Holsten Kiel, a team situated the mere 30km from St. Pauli. I arrived early, a good two hours prior to kick-off. Yet this doesn’t explain the obstacles encountered that very morning.

Catching an early 7am train from Berlin towards Hamburg, all seemed to be going rosily, and as with such occasions – complacency kicked in and a slight bump occurred in my journey. Twenty-seven miles east of Hamburg, a minor accident happened further along the line. My train stopped, everyone was heading out – the train was going no further.

Hoping to step out into civilisation, I soon realised I wasn’t so lucky. Having got on the train in 2018, it felt like we got off in 1978. The place, called Büchen, seemingly had no businesses open. Taxis, with none in sight, felt like a made-up concept. The next train wasn’t due for a few hours and people seemed few and far between.

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A place where time stood still. Image: @FootballFoyer

I spot a little garage around 500 yards from the train station and head towards it. Upon entering, I spot a fellow stranded passenger. I introduce myself, explain the predicament, and to my content he explains he has a taxi booked which I could jump in on, heading towards a little town called Bergedorf. From there I’d be able to take the U-Bahn towards Hamburg. I gladly accept.

The saviour, an ukulele teacher, had a lesson to reach. Upon arriving Bergedorf, the taxi meter reached €80 – split between four, it didn’t seem too bad when accounting for the fact I was in real danger of missing the match.

Out at Bergedorf, into the U-Bahn station. I soon realised the misjudgement. The same German error message as seen at Büchen was showing up against the U-Bahn towards Hamburg. Whatever the incident, it was also affecting this line. Once again threatened by the possibility of missing the match, I call on yet another taxi.

Finally, this journey goes to plan and, in doing so, means I’m dropped in St. Pauli itself, with the Millerntor-Stadion’s rough edges in sight. Having arranged my ticket via FC St. Pauli’s Fanladen initiative, I head straight towards their base.

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The Fanladen base at the stadium. Image: @FootballFoyer

Founded 25 years ago, Fanladen St. Pauli is situated at the Heiligengeistfeld, not far from the middle of Gegengerade-Stand of the Millerntor-Stadium. The Fanladen is responsible for taking care of the fan scene and is the go-to meeting points for St. Pauli fans from across the globe.

They offer special assistance to local and international supporters who want to visit the famous Millerntor-Stadion. With a growing list of more than 200 fan-clubs worldwide, the demand for tickets is increasing.

But what makes this work so smoothly, is the fact they’re independent of the club, which means the Fanladen can represent fans without being under pressure of commercial or political needs.

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Numerous St. Pauli fan-clubs from across the globe. Image: @FootballFoyer

Despite being independent, the representatives and employees of the Fanladen are also members of different club committees in order to take care of fans’ interests. This close cooperation of the independent Fanladen and the club is one of the key structures making FC St. Pauli different from other clubs.

Upon entering their base, you sense the uniqueness. Inside, there’s a small soup kitchen to provide for the homeless. Tables are covered by stickers ranging from different fan clubs, to ones advocating the legalisation of marijuana and a call to arms in the fight against racism.

I receive my ticket, €13.50, and head out to witness the stadium and its surrounding area at close quarters.

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FC St. Pauli emblem on display. Image: @FootballFoyer

A huge stone club emblem stands like a shrine amidst currywurst, USP (ultra group) and Greenpeace stalls. I walk towards the famous Jolly Roger, a punk pub known for celebrating results – whether win, draw or lose – deep into the night. But upon entry I realise the bar is packed to the rafters, therefore I headed back out in search of another establishment to cure my thirst.

I find one just around the corner. A sign faces me upon entering, stating: “No racism, no sexism, no homophobia, no antisemitism; no discussion.”

With the thirst cured, I made my way to the match. Another misjudgement occurred when I walked up a set of packed stairs, only to realise my ticket was at the other end of the ground. Having squeezed my way back down, I found my turnstile at the Nordtribüne end.

Out into the stand, I’m faced by the famous Südkurve. Renowned for their pyro demonstrations, I eagerly awaited what they had up their sleeves.

With the players making their way onto the pitch, the Südkurve kicked into action. Rastafarian colours emerge, accompanied by ‘stay rude, stay rebel’, split in two by the club’s emblem and edged by the revolutionary Cuban leader Che Guevara and a cannabis leaf.

As the match kicks off, I soon realise FC St. Pauli face a tough contest. Holsten Kiel pinged the ball around with confidence, demonstrating why they were placed six places higher up the table compared to their opponents.

Yet, against the early run of play, FC St. Pauli break, get the ball forward and it falls to left-midfielder Richard Neudecker, who finished with aplomb.

Here I realise Blur’s Song 2 is played after each home goal in celebration – whilst prior to the match AC/DC’s Hell’s Bells was also roared through the Millerntor-Stadion’s speakers. Nevertheless, the St. Pauli faithful had another thing coming if they believed this was the start of a positive victory.

Soon after taking the lead, the match turned on its head. In a quick five-minute overhaul, Holsten Kiel went from 1-0 down to 2-1 up, thanks to quick-fire goals by Kingsley Schindler and Marvin Ducksch.

The rapid Holsten Kiel comeback didn’t face the Millerntor-Stadion faithful. Sure, the goals fired up the visiting fans, who were finely orchestrated by three vocal front-men, still the home fans refused to be disheartened and seemed intent on pushing ahead with the festival-like atmosphere.

As half-time approached, a large heart shaped flag was unfurled to the back of our stand. Simple in design, but effective in message. Being an FC St. Pauli follower is all about the love, and certainly no hatred.

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Less of the hatred, more of the love. Image: @FootballFoyer

The visitors’ swift second-half start threatened to turn the match into a Holsten Kiel rout. FC St. Pauli, however, dug deep, holding their own and, in due course, brought about their just reward.

With a quarter of an hour left to play, the home side nicked an equaliser. The ball was flicked over the right-sided Kiel defender, onto the arriving left-footed half volley of Richard Neudecker. The ball rocketed into the net, hit so sweetly that ripples were felt 30km down the road in Kiel. St. Pauli were level. From this point on, you felt there could only be one winner.

As added time approached, FC St. Pauli were awarded a corner. An inswinging near-post ball is met by the head of Christopher Avevor – who had excelled throughout the match – and beats Holsten Kiel goalkeeper, Kenneth Kronholm.

The Millerntor-Stadion erupts as their side completed an emphatic turnaround. Their rivals were dead on their feet.

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Time to celebrate for the St. Pauli faithful. Image: @FootballFoyer

St. Pauli closed out the match. The party atmosphere increased in volume. No hard feelings were seen between both sets of fans – with all seemingly more than content at the footballing feast they’d been a part of.

To my regret, I had to catch a ride back to Berlin, therefore headed from the stadium just after full-time. Although I’m reliably told the St. Pauli faithful saw out the next few hours singing, dancing and celebrating, with David Bowie’s ‘Let’s Dance’ and €3 Riesling a popular favourite at a wine bar adjoined to the stadium.

The Millerntor-Stadion offers a truly alternative footballing experience, with FC St. Pauli and their fans spearheading aims to bring peace to the game, whilst also being a competitive 2. Bundesliga side – and hopefully, a Bundesliga side once more in the near future.

As one fan, who was on his second visit to the Millerntor-Stadion, finely put it: “Everyone needs a home and I’ve found mine.”

Martin Kind and Hannover 96 threaten 50+1 rule

Germany’s 50+1 ownership structure is heralded throughout Europe, but in a football world dominated by money, many threats to the ideology remain, with this particular one coming from the Hannover 96 chairman.

By Danny Wyn Griffith

‘Football is nothing without fans’ the legendary Jock Stein once proclaimed. As evidence of this, over recent weeks, Hannover 96 fans muted their sound levels – a popular type of protest within German fan culture. During the period of relative silence, their results yielded two away draws and a defeat to Wolfsburg at the HDI-arena. Yet this weekend, fans turned up the volume and carried their side over the line in a 2-1 victory against SC Freiburg.

Die Roten were the subject of a takeover bid by chairman of 20 years, Martin Kind. With the takeover attempt came country-wide scrutiny, as it bared threat to the 50+1 ownership structure that fans throughout Europe admire. However, the Hannover 96 faithful disagree with Kind’s intentions. They feel the club is being taken away from them and decided to hold a silent-type protest in response.

What is the 50+1 ownership structure?

This rule guards against the issue of fans being turned into customers. In short, it means that clubs – and, by extension, the fans – hold a majority of their own voting rights. Under German Football League [DFL] rules, football clubs will not be allowed to play in the Bundesliga if commercial investors have more than a 49 percent stake.

The rule is there to prevent funders from assuming decision-making powers. But there are exceptions, such as when a patron supports an association for 20 years. This is where Hannover 96 and Martin Kind come into the picture.

20 years on..

Despite a fair stint at the helm and, therefore, rightfully qualifying to challenge the 50+1 criteria, Martin Kind was bound to fail in his bid for full ownership of Hannover 96. According to widespread reports in Germany, the DFL were ready to deny his bid – which then led to Kind putting his application on hold.

After scouring the club’s accounts, the DFL came to realise that Martin Kind hadn’t actually been funding the club over the past 20 years, with funding being provided mainly through sponsorships. Therefore, this throws up the question of whether he had the capability to bankroll the club in future.

However, by agreeing to pause his request to take over the club, he managed to get the DFL to agree to take a finer look at the 50+1 ownership rules in the coming months. Regardless of his doomed bid, largescale changes may now follow.

What next for 50+1 ownership?

Recently, DFL officials maintained the 50+1 ownership method was a model of success. Nonetheless, they’ve brought the threats to the structure upon themselves. They created exceptions for Bayer Leverkusen, Wolfsburg, Hoffenheim, and – more controversially – when energy drink company, Red Bull, took full control of RB Leipzig.

More threats to the system will undoubtedly follow. In a football world where sheikhs, oligarchs and even countries use football clubs as pawns in a much bigger political game, German football may remain exempt for the time being alone.

Still, the silent protest emphasised fan power. German fans unite like no other. They’re renowned for it, but to stop this threatening juggernaut in the future, fans across the country may need to unify.

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