Friday afternoon T.M, Grondhopper's brother and a serious groundhopper himself, came to pick me up in Antwerp for a weekend of serious fun. At the program for that evening was a game of the famous yet fallen Stade de Reims (nothing more beautiful than a once great club fallen on hard times). Unfortunately, the traffic between Brussels and Charleroi was so terrible that we soon realized that we were not going to make Reims. Fortunately my brother has a better memory than me and he remembered that there was also a game in Amiens that night, so we changed directions.
Amiens SC - Niort (29-10-2004)
After a serious detour and search we made it to the remarkable Stade de la Licorne, since 1999 the home of the local Amiens SC, which holds 11.900 supporters. We bought a ticket for 7.50 euro for the Tribune Nord, behind one of the goals. When we took our place we noticed that Amiens SC was already 1-0 up against Niort. Having established that all was well, I ran for the food stand and dug into the Merguez sausages; which I would regret soon after. :-(
In the second half we and the roughly 3.000 others (minus the ca. 25 away supporters) were seriously entertained. Amiens was clearly the better side (they were also 4th in the second division) and they combined well. Up front was a (French?) Yugoslav who ran on every single ball, what led to many throw-ins and corners for Amiens. In the end all his work was also rewarded as he scored one of Amiens' 4 goals. Niort, which was also reduced to 10 men, could save its honor by scoring one consolation goal. It remained on the second from last spot in the league.
Fife goals for 7.5 euro, if that isn't a good price/quality relation I don't know anymore. And on top of that an exceptional stadium. Only the sausages were a disappointment. In short, the French Ligue 2 is definitely worth a visit!
After the game we had to drive a serious distance to get back on schedule. This notwithstanding, we were back in the car relatively early again on Saturday, making our way to the 'top game' between FC Wohlen and FC Baulmes in the Swiss Challenge League (= second division).
FC Wohlen - FC Baulmes (30-10-2004)
Around 17.00, half and hour before the beginning of the game, we parked in front of the brand new Stadion Niedermatten, comparable to a (brand new) home of a top amateur team in the Netherlands. For 7.50 Swiss Francs (ca. 5 euro) we bought a ticket for the whole area around the pitch except of the main strand.
According to the officiele website of FC Wohlen that one stand holds seats for 624 people, and 10 journalists (!), and the whole stadium can hold 3.034. For the game only some 550 fans had made their way to the stadium -- despite, or maybe because, the nice weather.
Despite the amateuristic setting, the biting cold, and the fact that it was a duel between the numbers 12 and 15 of the Swiss second division, the football was very entertaining. The ball handling of most players -- primarily French and Italian speaking Swiss -- was very good and they combined a lot. Without many chances, both teams could have won, but it was Baulmes that in the end won 0-1 (a bit against the game of play).
After a concert that evening at the border of Italy, and a long drive back to a hotel just above Zurich, we went to bed only at 5 am. The next day at 10.00 we were back in the car, on our way to Kaiserslautern.
1. FC Kaiserslautern - Arminia Bielefeld (31-10-2004)
Although I had been to the 1.FCK before (in the season 1995-96), I had no problem going back (and help my brother score another groundhop point). Der Betzenberg is an absolute football temple and I was also curious to see how the rebuilding of the stadium for the WC 2006 had turned out. As far as I'm concerned, the stadium hadn't changed for the better.
Anyway, well in time we parked close to the stadium, and after the traditional climb of the Betze it was time to get a ticket. As the game was on a Sunday, and the opponent was Arminia Bielefeld, the game was not sold out. Nevertheless, it took a long time to get a ticket: for 29.00 euro we had a seat fairly high up on the Tribune Süd.
After having surveyed the various eating facilities, and having scored a Bratwurst, and having bought a shawl for a friend of mine (a Kaisi fan), we took our place and soon enjoyed our view of the fanatic fans at the Westribune.
At the beginning of the game the 1.FCK was at the bottom of the 1. Bundesliga, against Arminia Bielefeld at the surprising 6th spot -- together with Mainz 05 and VFL Wolfsburg they were the surprise team of the start of the new season. There was almost no well-known player on the pitch, let alone a particularly talented one. I am quite charmed by the Albanian international Vata, who is very clever and technical (but also a bit lazy).
The game was a a rather low level, especially the 1.FCK. What a lack of talent. Bielefeld created several chances, but as the number 11 was set on not scoring that day, it remained 0-0 for a very long time. Only deep in the second half (79th minute) Bielefeld scored the deserved 0-1, which led to much dissatisfaction around us. Even though none seemed to believe in a victory, the fans kept supporting their team loudly. And not without success, because one minute later the 1.FCK had already scored 1-1 and in the 90th minute they even scored the winner (2-1), both by substitute Teber.
And so everyone (except for the few hundred Arminen ;-) left happily, despite the fact that they must relegate at the end of the season (which is good for BMG :-). As said, I wasn't enthusiastic about the rebuilding of the Fritz-Walter-Stadion. Another classic stadium has bitten the dust. But the !.FCK crowd remains one of the best, and even when the Westtribune has become an all-seater too, I'm sure the atmosphere will still be great and the Betzenberg will remain a football temple!