Friday, September 22, 2006

Groundhopweekend September 2006

It had been in the books for months, and the planning had taken a lot of time, but last Friday it was finally time. At 13.00 I met with my brother and fellow-groundhopper T.M. at Schiphol airport from which we made our way to Wolfsburg in the German state of Lower Saxony. Although the distance was ‘only’ 470 km, estimated at just over 4 hours drive, we arrived at the game five minutes late! This despite the fact that the game had been postponed by 15 minutes because of an unbelievable traffic jam of some 30 km (!) between Hannover and Wolfsburg.

VFL Wolfsburg – Hannover 96 (15-09-2006)

At 20.50 we entered the ultramodern Volkswagen Arena, home of VFL Wolfsburg, still shocked by the inefficient way the bus drives people from the parking lot to the stadium. The Volkswagen Arena is a brand new multifunctional stadium, opened in December 2002, with a capacity of 30.000 people for football games. We had bought fairly expensive tickets for 37 euro a piece at Block 19, where we had a great view and were very close to the pitch. However, I didn’t take up my seat before getting a big German sausage, the main German stadium snack.

The game of the night was against Hannover 96, the other major team in the state. 26.479 people had come to see the Niedersachsen Derby, at least 3.000 from Hannover (despite the traffic jam). Both teams had a disappointing start to the season and were in the second half of the table, with Hannover already sacking their coach the week before. Wolfsburg has established itself in the 1. Bundesliga over the past decade, but has not been able to become a serious contender for European football, despite serious investments in the team and stadium.

Against the general expectation, it was
Hannover that had the best of the play from the beginning. This notwithstanding, the game remained scoreless until half time and the overall play was fairly poor. The atmosphere was not bad, although the home fans were not particularly loud. I was particularly interested in seeing two ex-PSV players perform: central defender Kevin Hofland (captain of Wolfsburg) and midfielder Arnold Bruggink (Hannover). Hofland was leading the defense and one of the few Wolfsburg players with a decent performance (except for a stupid yellow card), while Bruggink was fairly invisible in Hannover’s midfield.

The second half started ferociously. In the 51st minute, out of nowhere, Brdaric (former German international) got the ball just outside of the penalty box to put it beautifully in the net with a volley: 0-1. Just one minute later, Krzynowek equalized with a similar beautiful shot: 1-1. Several minutes later Diego “Klimo” Klimowicz had to leave the pitch injured, which was pretty much the end of the Wolfsburg chances at scoring. Two minutes later Brdaric scored his and Hannover’s second: 1-2. This would also be the final score (to the discontent of the home fans).

Although he Volkswagen Arena comes as close to perfection in terms of architecture and comfort as possible, T.M. and I agreed that this was not the ultimate setting for the groundhopper. Fortunately, this would be more than compensated the next morning… but not before we had driven another 400 km to
Szczecin (Stettin) at the Polish-German border, where we crashed in our hotel beds at 3.30.

At 8.30 we were back in our car, heading for the small town of
Trzebiatów in the northwest of Poland. Although the town is only 112 km from Szczecin, it takes almost 2 hours to get there.

GKS Rega-Merida Trzebiatów – Kotwica Kołobrzeg (16-09-2006)

At about 10.15 we drove into the town of Trzebiatów, where we quickly found the ulica Sportowa and the stadium. The game we were about to see was a local derby in the Polish third division group 2. Outside of the ‘stadium’ was a guy behind a small table selling tickets for a couple of Zloty a piece (I forgot how much, but probably the equivalent of 1 euro). It’s difficult to estimate how many (or better: few) people came to see the game, but probably 750 is a fair estimation.

We sat at one of the few benches on the long side of the pitch, having an instant breakfast, when the bus with away supporters arrived. Approximately 50 Kotwica had made the 30 km trip from the harbor town of Kołobrzeg, among them some 30 wannabe-hooligans. They did create quite a good atmosphere, however, in part by singing songs with and against the home supporters on the opposite site of the pitch.

The real hooliganism would take place on the pitch, however. From the beginning the number 10 of Trzebiatów, also the captain, got into a kick and punch struggle with the number 20 of Kołobrzeg. While the football wasn’t particularly good, the game was a true spectacle with many goals but even more serious fouls. After 23 minutes the away team got a soft penalty, and the number 10 a yellow card for complaining. They scored the 0-1, but 10 minutes later the home team equalized: 1-1. Not long after that, and at least 4-5 kicks and punches from each side, the number 10 got his red card, and a little later the away team scored again: 1-2 and half time.

The second half picked up where the first half had left off. In the 51st minute Rega-Merida equalized again, 2-2. After that we saw various chances, tackles, elbows, and fights, culminating into a fight and two red cards, evenly spread over the two teams. With 9 against 10 the home team managed to get ahead, 3-2, with only 10 minutes to go. Heroic defending notwithstanding, Kotwica managed to score the 3-3 in the last minute. How about that for a Saturday morning game?! Polish third division: a must for every groundhopper! (at least group 2 ;-).

Happily we jumped into our car to drive the same 112 km back to Szczecin, where we had half-decent food in some mall, and than made our way to the second game of the day.

MKS Pogoń SzczecinLech Poznań (16-09-2006)

We parked our car just next to the hill which houses the Stadion Florian Kryger and bought a ticket for 30 Złotych (ca. 7.50 euro) for Sector 6 on the long side of the pitch. We were quite early, the game started at 18.00, so we circled the stadium in search for a fan shop – but to no avail. The Stadion Florian Kryger is an old communist-style colossus that houses (only) 17.783; partly because the area behind one of the goals doesn’t have a stand. Despite the northern Polish weather hardly any part of the pitch has a roof.

We were extremely lucky as this was one of the nicest September evenings Szczecin will have seen. Maybe this was also the reason why so many people had made their way to the stadium: 14.000 of whom some 1.500-2.000 away supporters. Pogoń is known as the multicultural team of Poland, although it could better be described as the team of second-rate Brazilians. Seven of the eleven starting players were Brazilian (and later in the game two others would replace two of the seven). But Brazilians or not, there was precious little samba football on the pitch. In fact, as far as we did some decent combinations, they were from Lech Poznań. Moreover, Lech scored already after 6 minutes the 0-1. This was also the half time score. Pogoń had mainly excelled in poor technical and tactical play, while Lech proved to be a mediocre team.

The second half was not much better. Despite the continuing support of the home fans Pogoń played dismally and never looked close to the equalizer. In the 51st minute Lech had scored the 0-2 and some fans started to loose hope. Only the most optimistic got hope from the 71st minute goal of Pogoń, as the 1-2 didn’t lead to a general improvement of the home team’s play. The game did get more feisty, however, which led to a short scrimmage between various players of the two teams. In the 88th minute Lech killed even the hope of the most naïve home supporter by scoring the 1-3. This would also be the final score.

Sure, the football was fairly poor – and one really wonders why a team like Pogoń Szczecin buys some 12 Brazilians who with one or two exceptions seemed poorer than the average Polish player – but Poland is one of he few East European countries where football still draws fairly large and enthusiastic crowds. In addition, the games are cheap and the tickets (at least in Szczecin) are beautiful and original.

Somewhat shivering, as the warm summery weather has been replaced by a chilly autumn evening during the game, we returned to our car to head back to Germany, where we stayed in a hotel just outside of Berlin. This time we not only arrived before midnight, we could also sleep till after 9!

After a quick breakfast at a tank station we drove the 276 km to the mining town of Aue in the state of Saxony, at the border of the Czech Republic. While the weather was still pleasant, it had turned a bit cooler than the days before. During the more than 3.5 hour drive, partly because of the many building sites at the German motorways, we were getting increasingly excited about what was awaiting us, as Erzgebirge Aue, the team we were about so see, is a true Kult-Klub in Germany and one of the teams my brother and I had wanted to visit for some time.

FC Erzgebirge Aue – SpVgg Greuther Fürth (17-09-2006)

Around 13.00 we started to see a growing stream of Aue supporters in their purple outfits walking to the stadium. A few miles later we passed the stadium and entered the town of Aue. We parked relatively close to the stadium and joined the groups of fans walking to the stadium. A bit worried about it being sold-out, we arrived at the Erzgebirgsstadion, bought a pin and banner, and than for 20 euro a ticket for Block M at the long side of the pitch. You enter the stadium through a stairs with also gives you a great view.

As the game was about to start, we didn’t have time to sample some of the local delicacies (such as spirali with sausage). We took our place at the stand, admiring the various purple shirts of the fans. The stadium is truly unique, both in shape and in location. There is no doubt that for most people in Aue the local football team is their key entertainment. As is so often the cased with these teams of working class supporters, their fans are loyal and expect only one thing: hard and honest work!

Few teams will have changed their names as much as Erzgebirge Aue. They were founded in 1945 as SG Aue, changed it to BSG Pneumatik Aue the next year, to Zentra Wismut Aue in 1950, and to BSG Wismut Aue again the next year. However, in 1954 it not only changed its name, but also its location, becoming the SC Wismut Karl-Marx-Stadt. In 1963 the club left Karl-Marx-Stadt (now Chemnitz) and returned to Aue with its old name BSG Wismut Aue. In 1990 it was renamed slightly, to FC Wismut Aue, and in 1993 it got its current name FC Erzgebirge Aue (although this might already have changed when you read this report ;-).

While Erzgebire Aue had a mediocre start to the season, the expectations were high before the game as opponent Greuther Fürth was positioned even worse (12 and 16 in the 2. Bundesliga, respectively). The Erzgebirgsstadion holds a good 16.000 people and for this game some 11.000 fans had turned up, among them a couple hundred from Fürth. As had happened in the last game, the away team scored already in the 6th minute after very poor defending from Aue: 0-1. After that Aue looked extremely clumsy, while Fürth showed some decent counter football. Not surprisingly then, that the away team scored another in the 32nd minute: 0-2. This led to much whistling and booing from the home crowd, who were fearing a second defeat in a row.

After half time the game didn’t change much. Aue played dramatic at times and the fans became increasingly angry and cynical. The main call was “Wir wollen euch kämpfen sehen” (we want to see you fight), which had little effect on the pitch however. In the 63rd minute Fürth scored its third, which was deserved, and people around us got ballistic. After this not much changed, except that every mistake of an Aue player was greeted with cheers and applause by the incensed home crowd. It remained 0-3, the third home defeat in the four games we had seen (are we bad omen?), and we joined the stream of angry and disappointed supporters heading out of the stadium before the final whistle. This notwithstanding, Erzgebirge Aue and the Erzgebigsstadion are truly cult and should be on the wish list of every groundhopper.

At 16.00 we entered the car for the last time, but unfortunately also for the longest drive (720 km to Antwerp). Moreover, as we had to circumvent an 8 km traffic jam and faced increasingly bad weather, we arrived to Antwerp only at midnight (T.M. would safely arrive home two hours later). A seriously tiring groundhop-weekend, not helped by my developing flu and tooth ache, but also a very satisfying trip with four new groundhop points and a visit to the Schachtscheisser of Aue.

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