Saturday, August 27, 2016

Energie Cottbus – FK Teplice (16-07-2016)

In 2000-3 Energie Cottbus was the only team from the East to play in the 1. Bundesliga, the top flight of German football, which is completely dominated by teams from the West. It was not to be. Energie has since been relegated several times and is currently in the Regionalliga Nordost, i.e. the Fourth Division. This notwithstanding, it remain a popular team in this small and sleepy town at the Polish border.

After a train ride of about 1.5 hours from Berlin I arrive at the almost empty main station of Cottbus. It is Saturday afternoon and the shops have already closed. I walk roughly 25 minutes to the most beautifully named Stadion der Freundschaft (Stadium of Friendship). The East is still alive!
The stadium was built in 1930 and has been renovated several times since; most recently it was expanded and renovated with EU money – as is indicated on the building. It has kept its original structure, which means it is one of the few remaining stadiums that both is quite comfortable and has the old-school atmosphere and construction, with the audience being close to the pitch.

Testspiel (test game) on home ground and it is against FK Teplice, who plays in the Czech First Division. A decent crowd of 710 people had made it to the stadium on this sunny Summer day. They are almost local, made, and white; the average age is a bit higher than at other games (many men are 40 or older). I can find one away supporter.

They have only opened the Westtribune (Western Stand) for this game and regular tickets are 9. After getting a sausage and a drink I pick my seat on the stand, regularly moving because people smoking in front of me (which is still allowed in German stadiums). Most people sit in smaller groups of 4-8 people, several wearing club gear. The game starts slow and only in the 7th minute a corner for Energie leads to a couple of headers and a shot high over the goal. The next minute Teplice has a good attack but the header is just over. Despite the rather low pace and poor quality the audience is thankful, oohing and aaahing when something moderately exciting happens and applauding for any good action or hard work. This is a working class crowd!

Teplice is the better team, which has much better passing and technique, but Energie works harder. In the 25th and 37th minute Teplice creates a decent chance but the finish is weak or far over. Hence, the half time score is 0-0.

The second half continues with the same low pace and poor quality, but the atmosphere remains entertaining and friendly. We are all happy to be here! The Energie goalie is an odd combination of bad and good: he often drops the ball after a shot, but makes great saves with his body and hands. In the 54th minute Energie has a good chance but the shot hits the crossbar. Four minutes later a Teplice corner ends up on the post and in the aftermath a player gets alone in front of the goal and scores: 0-1. Deserved lead for the visitors and everyone seems ok with it.

In the 78th minute Teplice has a well-executed attack, which ends with a weak finish, and the next minute they shoot from 16 meter, the Energie goalie drops it, but again saves heroically in the rebound. Although the hosts still attack, this seems to end 0-1. But then, in the 85th minute, a lame foul leads to a penalty for Energy and they equalize: 1-1. The audience is pleasantly surprised and gets ready for a good result. But they have forgotten about their goalie, who makes a terrible blunder in the 89th minute, which a completely surprised Teplice striker easily coverts: 1-2, final score.

It is not often that I go to a game and directly think, I want to go back here, but this was one of them. Energie Cottbus is what football is all about, or perhaps in this era of Champions League, was all about. Local pride, tradition, and a grateful audience. Must visit for any true groundhopper!

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