Wednesday, March 21, 2007

A.H.’s Farewell Groundhop (10-03-2007)

As announced in an earlier report, my friend and fellow-groundhopper A.H. is returning to Japan at the end of this month. He will be sorely missed, as I know few groundhoppers like him. He can be at Barcelona’s Nou Camp one evening, enjoying the ultimate CL-experience with tens of thousands of passionate fans, and be as happy at a second division game in the middle of Belgium another afternoon, being one of a selected group of people crazy enough to visit a team like SK Ronse or Red Star Waasland without being a supporter or inhabitant of the locality. Obviously, such a man has to be honored with a farewell groundhop, and so J.B. and I had chosen Saturday 10 March 2007 as the day for this event. A.H. had chosen the games to visit and came up with a good combination.

VFL Borussia Mönchengladbach - Hertha BSC

noon the three of us met at the familiar back entrance of Leuven Station, all sporting our PSV-shirt (we are still trying to make A. a PSV-fan ;-), and got on our way to Mönchengladbach. After a relatively short and uneventful drive of 2 hours and 20 minutes we parked at the Borussia-Park. As so many new stadiums on the outskirt of a city, the Borussia-Park is not striking from the outside, but unlike many others it is beautiful from the inside.

I had booked tickets online, so we had more than enough time to sample the different sausages (so nice and so cheap) as well as the Borussia Shop (as long as they have Lotto, I don’t loose much money there). For 23 euro we had a good spot on the Süd Tribune, straight behind the goal, and with a great view on the Nord-Kurve, where the most fanatic Borussia-fans are.

As so often in the past two decades, BMG is having a bad season. While it all started very well, with Gladbach even being on top of the 1. Bundesliga for a couple of hours, it soon turned sour and they dropped to the bottom of the league. Although the difference between the numbers 18 and 11 are not that big, BMG is surrounded by teams like HSV, which will certainly gain enough point to stay in the top flight. So, the home game against Hertha BSC was again a crucial match for BMG and its new Dutch trainer Jos Luhukay. Over 40.000 had turned up to support their team, which led to a great atmosphere, despite a rather disappointing performance of the team.

From the beginning BMG played sloppy and poor, particularly in defense, with Degen and Delura as the worst examples of underperformance. Hertha seemed fresh and combined easily. Fortunately, they failed to score. Although having virtually no decent attacks or set plays, Gladbach made the most out of a little, and went 1-0 up. This would also be the half-time score. Probably as most BMG-supporters, I felt both happy and embarrassed by the lead.

The second half showed much of the same: poor football from two teams struggling, with occasional decent play from Hertha BSC, and some odd chances by BMG. Still, it was Hertha who would equalize, deservedly so. Even at 1-1 the home team played with only one real striker, Nando Rafael (who came from Hertha two seasons ago). Rafael was undoubtedly the man of the match: not only did he score the 1-0, he also managed to gain quite some clearances from the BMG defense (who mostly shot the ball blindly and as far as possible forward), and score the 2-1.

With the weaker home team back in front, and both teams making various exchanges, the game became (even) less structured. Despite Hertha still being a bit better, it was the home team that would profit from Hertha pressuring: Delura, who had been terrible up to this point, played a nice combination and had several seconds before he could put the ball in the corner of the goal: 3-1 and three much needed points to the VFL Borussia Mönchengladbach 1900 e.V. Will we stay in the 1. Bundesliga after all?

Although more than 40.000 people were in the stadium, it took us less than 30 minutes to get back onto the motorway and drive a small hour to our second game of the day. While we were still in a German speaking environment, we had crossed a state border. And this would soon show it’s relevance. If I have ever been confronted with empirical evidence that institutions created culture, rather than the other way around, it was this Saturday night.

KAS Eupen – Excelsior Virton

Some 70 minutes before the start of the game, we parked our car in front of the Kehrweg Stadion of the KAS Eupen, the only team from the German speaking part of Belgium to play in one of the top two divisions. We walked towards the stadium, only to find it closed. But that was not the only cultural shock. When the stadium opened, with only an hour to go until the game started, only one old guy manned the ticket office. It took him 10 minutes to set it up and when I finally asked for a ticket for the standing side of the stadium, he told me in an irritated voice that I had to go to the other booths of the ticket office. When I did, I found them closed. Five minutes later the same man entered the other booth and (unmoved) sold us our tickets (for 10 euro each). Clearly, this was not German(y)!

We made our way to the large cantina, where we had coffee and watched the Bundesliga on television (unfortunately, we had missed the BMG game). Fortunately I had eaten a third sausage before leaving the BMG game, as in the Kehrweg Stadion the only food on sale was hot dogs. Just before the start of the game we walked passed the 25 young hardcore fans of Eupen to take our place on the covered standing stand.

Overall some 450 people had come to see the game between Eupen, from the German part of Belgium, and Virton, from the Luxembourg part of the country. Both teams are somewhere in the middle of the Tweede Klasse (Second Division), with Europe a couple of positions above Virton. The game was quite open, for Belgian standards, and both teams tried to score. While the level of play wasn’t particularly high, the game itself was entertaining and had us ignore the fact that the weather had changed rapidly from mild and sunny into windy and cold.

To be honest, it is now over one week and one game later, and I remember little for the game. I know I was cold and circling the ground, taking pictures and feeling frustrated that they didn’t have anything else to eat than hot dogs. As far as I do remember, the game started poorly, but became better along the way. After some 30 minutes Eupen scored, not undeserved, and that also remained the final score.

I asked my fellow-groundhoppers whether they still remembered something from the game. JB remembered this:

- only hot-dogs

- mixture of Eupen and Virton-hools

- drummers that kept on drumming the whole game (and singing the same song for

more than 15 minutes)

- Belgian efficiency at the ticket-office (in others words; well-integrated Germans ;-)

- Excellent center-left player (at the Eupen-team)

- Virton wore Barcelona-shirts without Unicef on it

- Bilingual in many facets (swearing, announcing the players,…)

- Of the match itself I remember some spoiled open goal opportunities…

AH didn’t get much further than the both of us either:

- Cars with ASE Eupen since 1945 logo

- A beautiful scenery from the canteen

- The stadium had a nice executive room above the tribune (a colleague from Eupen

told me it’s called ‘business class’;)

- The smell of sauerkraut (German influence?)

- Indeed the excellent left back of Eupen (No. 20)

- A nice header by Eupen (1-0)

- A flag of province Luxembourg in the away stand

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