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!

BFC Dynamo –VSG Altglienicke (15-07-2016)

There are few places in Berlin where the East still is alive but Sportforum, home to the Berliner Fussball Club Dynamo, is such a place. It’s situated in a part of East Berlin that is not yet gentrified, although that seems a matter of time, and where the past holds more allure than the present or future.

It is mid-July but the weather is grim: cold, grey and very windy. This is the first test game of the new season that BFC plays at home and some 200 people have come to see the “DDR Rekordmeister” play. BFC was founded (only) in 1966 in the communist German Democratic Republic (GDR; in German DDR) and was the team of the infamous Minister of International Security and its even more feared Stasi intelligence service. Not surprising then that Dynamo was record champion in the GDR.

Those glory days are long gone. Like other GDR teams Dynamo wasn’t able to make the transition to a successful (all-)German team in the Bundesliga. In fact, it suffered even more from the end of communism, in which it had such a privileged position. No longer able to draft the best players, or intimidated opponents and referees, and without a strong commercial and popular basis, BFC has become a minor team in the united Federal Republic of Germany (FRG), now playing in the Regionalliga Nordost (Fourth Division).

This friendly against a local team attracts some 200 people, all hardcore BFC fans, mostly sporting gear and tattoos of the old communist club logo rather than the restyled new one – even though several of them were too young to have known the old club. Almost all supporters are male and white, many look rough. While the younger try to act tough, some of the older have the confident swagger of former hooligans. Dynamo is said to be the favorite team of far right activists in Berlin but I see no far right symbols.

The game is played on a side pitch and not in the dilapidated main stadium (which is a very modest accommodation as it is. I pay 5 and get a “bracelet” rather than a ticket (just like with concerts). The fans stand on one long side of the pitch, at times two-three deep, and seem mostly concerned with catching up with their friends rather than watching the game. Everyone seems to know everyone.

Both teams are very young, mostly in early 20s, and mostly white with several Germans of Turkish origin – very common for Berlin. The BFC players are clearly better, although their pace and technique is not impressive. In the 5th minute a defender of the visitors makes a dumb foul and Dynamo easily converts the penalty: 1-0.

In the 18th minute the Dynamo striker shows nice control, but follows it with a bad shot. The next minute a Dynamo defender almost scores an owl goal through a terrible pass back at the goalie (who has left his goal). Five minutes later a corner is finished with an easy header: 2-0.

Even though the final result is clear, and it is a friendly game, the tackles are at times reckless – perhaps because many players on both sides seem to know each other. The referee stops the game for a bit to speak to the two coaches to tell them to calk down their players. After several minutes the game continues, less edgy, but still with some tough tackles. In the last few minutes of the first half Dynamo scores twice: 4-0 is also the half time score.

The first fifteen minutes of the second half are dominated by the visitors, who seem more inspired than Dynamo. Then the hosts wake up and have some decent chances but the goalkeeper saves them. In terms of football there is little to note, and few supporters seem to be watching it. The most notably moment is when Dynamo has a corner in front of two of the middle-aged (ex?) hooligans and one of them says to the player that he can take it better. The player says “do it” and he does – very badly but the referee, also a local, is smart enough to let it go and then simply repeat the corner.

I left the game 10 minutes early, which I rarely do, but it was cold and neither team seemed particularly determined to score an(other) goal. From the website I learned that the final score was 5-2.

Even though I feel I didn’t get the real Dynamo experience, I enjoyed the visit and at least saw the core of this unique club. I will definitely return to see a regular Regionalliga game. You should too!

Monday, August 08, 2016

Hertha Zehlendorf 03 – Brandenburger SC Süd 05 (05-06-2016)

Hertha Zehlendorf 03 is a small team from a leafy suburb of Berlin, which at times plays in the first or second round of the German Cup (DFB Pokal). Its stadium is tucked away behind the club offices, where it is part of a football complex with several pitches.

Today is the last home game of the regular season in the NOFV-Oberliga Nord. I pay 8 and enter the Ernst-Reuter-Sportfeld, where I find a pretty decent stadium for a team that has never played in the highest divisions. It has one covered and seated stand and one uncovered (standing) stand, both along the long sides of the pitch.

There are 105 people, of which 72 are paying customers (according to an official announcement). This includes some 30 away supporters, who have made the roughly one hour trip to the east.

Just as I arrive it starts to rain hard and it doesn’t stop during the game. It is relentless and complicates the play after a while. The players seem all local and overall young, combination of mostly “native” Germans and Germans of Turkish decent. Given that BSC is better but too egocentric, and the pitch is challenging for the players, the quality of play is not too high.

In the 5th minute the visitors get a good chance. In the 19th minute the Hertha goalie gets injured and has to be changed. Two minutes later BSC has a good attack and the low shot is difficult for the new goalie.

Only after one half hour do the hosts get their first good chance but the finish is weak. But at least the game gets livelier. In the next minutes both teams get more or less good chances. In the 38th minute Hertha has a good counter, including a smart through ball, which is controlled with the right foot and finished with the left: 1-0 Hertha!

The goal strengthens the home team, which creates several more chance before half time. As BSC puts more pressure on the hosts, Hertha counters, but finishes poorly. In the 46th minute a low shot from 20 meters is saved in the low corner by the goalkeeper. The corner is headed over. Half time score: 1-0.

The second half starts where it ended. In the second minute a slow attack by Hertha ends with a low shot in the corner that beats the goalie: 2-0. It takes everyone by surprise. This lowers the pace of the game even more, as both teams seem to have accepted the Hertha win. In the 60th minute a blunder by a BSC defender leads to a short from 5 meter at the crossbar. Six minutes later the visitors finally have a half decent chance but the low shot is stopped by the goalie.

In the 78th minute Hertha has a great counter, which pout two players in front of the poor BSC goalie, who pass and score: 3-0. A couple minutes later BSC pulls off one last attack. A free kick at the edge of the penalty box lands on the crossbar. The final action is for the hosts, however. A great through pass puts the striker alone in front of the goalie, he gets around him, and finishes coolly. 4-0 is also the final score.

Hertha Zehlendorf 03 is a good example of the superior accommodations of German football, even at lower divisions. Its ground would be among the better ones in second divisions of many European countries. They don’t attract many fans though, and mainly from the district. Still, a nice groundhop.