Tuesday, May 13, 2008

GROUNDHOP-MILESTONE: CLUB 300

It had been anticipated for months, and planned for weeks, but this weekend it was finally becoming reality: my 300th hop. Or, to be more precise, my visit to the 300th different professional football club in the world! I was not an easy task to find a club suitable for this occasion, particularly as this trip was in between two longer trips to the US, and I didn’t want to go too far from Antwerp. In the end, I chose right, even if the club disappointed somewhat. Fortunately, my groundhop-buddy JB didn’t!


FSV Frankfurt – Stuttgarter Kickers (10-05-2008)



As I was only at 298 on Saturday, the hunt was on for the 299th club. This was not that easy, as few teams I hadn’t seen played within a 500 km radius on Saturday. After consultation with JB, we decided to skip the semi finals of the Luxemburg Cup and instead drive to Frankfurt am Main… not to see the big Eintracht, but the small FSV!


Because of the many roadworks we arrived to Frankfurt late. Given the lack of signaling, we were lucky to find the stadium (tip for future visitors: it’s behind the Eishalle where the Frankfurt Lions play their hockey games). So, at 14.15, a quarter of an our after kick-off, we paid 8 euro for a standing place and entered the Frankfurter Volksbank Stadion (formerly known as Stadion am Bornheimer Hang), in the city district of Bornheim.


It was immediately clear that the stadium is seriously being rebuilt. It’s original capacity of 24.000 is reduced to 10.300, which seems more realistic given the club’s average crowd. At this moment, only two sides of the pitch were open to the public: the new main stand at the long side, and the emergency standing section (Stahlrohrtribüne) behind one goal. On this very sunny and hot day, 3.400 people had made it to the game, not bad for a game in the Regionalliga Süd (Third Division South). An estimated 500 had driven the approximately 200 km from Stuttgart – including the three members of the Sektion Stadionverbot (Section Stadium Ban ☺).


Given the atmosphere around us, we assumed it was still 0-0. As I found out only later, FSV Frankfurt are second in the league, while the Stuttgarter Kickers are fighting relegation.) Although the football wasn’t very inspiring, we were both happy to see this game between the second team of Frankfurt (am Main) and the second team of Stuttgart; after all, that’s what groundhopping is all about! Moreover, standing in the sun and a pleasant 25 degrees Celsius, what could go wrong?

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Both teams were of equal strength and I actually fancied the Kickers a bit more. They had at least some players who could do something special on the ball. This notwithstanding, the first noteworthy action in the first half, at least from the moment that we had entered the stadium, came from the home team. In the 30th minute they shot from 20 meter at goal and the goalie had to tip it against the crossbar. The only other action worth mentioning was a bizarre walkabout by an Kickers player, who, without any real opposition, decided to shoot at goal from 30 meters: the Frankfurt goalie stopped. Half time: 0-0!


And what does one do at half time in the Frankfurter Volksbank Stadion, I hear you think… well, obviously, one looks for food and drink. Regarding the former, I was left disappointed by a very mediocre Bratwurst. Fortunately, this was fully compensated by the setting of the latter: the Texas American Saloon! For some reason, the bar in the FSV Frankfurt stadium.



The second half started out ok, with a couple of shots at both goals within the first fifteen minutes. After that, the game became very disorganized, with both teams losing possession way too easy. Only in the last ten minutes the game picked up again, with at least some chances.


In the 79th minute the Frankfurt striker turned and shot at goal, at the goalie. After that, it was the visitors who created some three chances, including a weak header from 5 meters and a long attack over many players that was intercepted by the Frankfurt goalie. In the end, it was clear that the game was destined for 0-0; to the delight of the visiting fans, and the chagrin of the home fans.

Despite the poor game, we returned to our car satisfied. Not only the weather had provided us with a nice afternoon, FSV Frankfurt is a true groundhopper destination. The village in the city, so to say. Moreover, the 299th scalp was now in my possession and the only thing behind me and my 300th club was a trip of just under 500 km!


FC St. Pauli – Alemannia Aachen (11-05-2008)



We had arrived in Hamburg around 22.00 the previous day, and had decided to go into the city, despite the Hafen-Feste, if only to see the (in)famous Reeperbahn. Call me a Dutch chauvinist, but I prefer the Wallen in Amsterdam! Anyway, at around 11.30 on Sunday, we left our hotel and, just 15 minutes later, we parked out car at less than a 5 minutes walk from the Millerntor-Stadion (which is smack in the middle of the St. Pauli district). As so many others in the lower German divisions, the stadium is being gentrified and its capacity is raised from 19.800 to 27.000.


After brunch in the city district of St. Pauli, we lined up to visit the official fanshop. Despite the humble housing, it was directly clear that St. Pauli is running a very professional merchandizing operation. In fact, they have commercialized almost everything that is linked to the left-wing image of the club – in part a reflection of the traditionally strong radical left presence in the district of St Pauli – from the pirate symbol (white skull and bones on black flag) to Ché Guevarra. In other words, the club (and fans) is a perfect example of recent the Kommerzialisierung der Anti-Kommerz (commercialization of the anti-commerce).


I had chosen St. Pauli as my 300th club as for decades the team has had a cult status in German, and even international, football. However, having only seen away games of the team, where its fans always came in impressive numbers and with remarkable attires, I had missed the fact that within Hamburg they are fully mainstream, if not even fashionable. Provocatively stated, I guess it’s more cult to be a HSV-fan in Hamburg!


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As all home games of St. Pauli are sold out well in advance, I had been forced me to buy tickets online, at 29 euro per person, through their website, which I almost regretted after seeing the horrific tickets. (In fact, I did my best to exchange it for an original ticket within the stadium, at the end of the game, but could only find people with season or online tickets). Of the 22.717 spectators, at least 2.000 had come from Aachen, almost 500 km to the south! They were greeted by the stadium speaker and they even played the official Alemannia Aachen song for them. Now, that is class!


After having sampled a (nice) sausage, we took our place on the stand, surrounded by a colorful mix of Pauli fans and Alemannen. As both 2. Bundesliga (Second Bundesliga) teams were between promotion and relegation, 8th and 7th respectively, we were hoping for an open match, and that was exactly what we got. However, we got another surprise: a female referee!


Already in the first minute Pauli shot at goal, and a couple of minutes later Alemannia had its first counter-attack, which was save by a defender (after the goalie was already neutralized). In fact, in the first 10 minutes we counted three chances for the visitors and two attacks of the hosts. In the 18th minute the inevitable happened: Alemannia set up another sharp counter attack and scored: 0-1. Four minutes later they did practically the same, with the same result: 0-2. This was even too much for the happy St. Pauli fans, who stopped their singing for a couple of minutes. However, as soon as their team started to attack again, they restarted their chants – including the shouting of “St. Paaaaaaulu” from one stand to another.


The rest of the first half saw an increasingly pressing Pauli, and a continuously sharply countering Alemannia. This provided attractive, if not always necessarily good, football and a lot of excitement. Unfortunately for the home fans, however, it didn’t alter the score. Half time: 0-2.


The second half provided much of the same. Pauli had most of the possession, but Alemannia created the best chances through smart counter-attacking. The atmosphere remained lighthearted and positive, even if the singing seemed to become a bit softer and infrequent. The biggest excitement was provided by a loose fan, who managed to duck one steward, before being caught by an Alemannia defender; who was subsequently whistled with every ball he touched.


After this intermezzo St. Pauli had a couple of half-chances, including two shorts at goal from 20 meters in the 86th and 87th minute, but this didn’t change the overall result. Alemannia Aachen won deservedly with 2-0. This not withstanding, the home team was celebrated extensively by its fans, in this last home game of the season.


Objectively, there is nothing wrong with St. Pauli. In fact, in many ways it is everything a groundhopper wants: the second team of a city that is fully integrated into a specific district with special fans. Still, I was not caught by the Pauli-bug. Somehow, the club has become too popular and popularized. It’s left-wing alternative image looks phony in the light of its extensive commercialization. But maybe I had just expected too much. The fact remains that St. Pauli was a very deserved 300th hop!

The countdown to 400 has officially started! Will I make it in this lifetime?

1 comment:

Sassem said...

Congratulations 'Grondhopper'. You should by now be invited to the Groundhoppers Hall of Fame !!!