Footie madness

A bit of a plod as I leave the Deutsch Republic until I reach the flat open plains (if stereotypes are to believed) of the Netherlands. Already I’ve seen a lot of people using bikes. I know this number will increase exponentially the moment I cross the border.

Again I will start with the thank you’s as I do regard them as the most important things. Birte and Jörn in Essen; Antjé, Jana and Niko in Gladbeck – thank you all. The latter group probably a little more simply as they didn’t have the first idea who I was when I arrived. Manfred, my host in Röetgen a short while ago, had called them to say a friend was coming up and in need of a bed. They had no idea about the Walk or where I’d even met him. They thought we’d met in England as he worked there for some time about two years ago! So basically, they didn’t know me from Whatsisname – the guy from chapter one of the the Bible. The guy with the apple fetish who could speak Parseltongue.

Also an additional thank you to my Essen hosts for the books before I left. I now have space in my rucksack as I’ve been dumping novels when I finish them and to finally get hold of some more English texts is a real help. Perhaps it’s rather apt that one of them is Tony Hawks’ Round Ireland With A Fridge – about a guy who takes off on a silly journey for no real reason and wonders how he got himself into it… yet meets wonderful people and does amazing things on the way.

Right, well. My aim was Gelsenkirchen which is twinned with Newcastle. Annoyingly, I didn’t walk past any signs declaring this as I really wanted my photograph with one. As I entered Gladbeck later on I saw copious signs advertising their affiliation with Enfield but this wasn’t really the same.

I did, however, get to do the stadium tour in Gelsenkirchen. The local team are hugely well supported and doing quite well this season. FC Shalke04 have a great history, pretty much dominating the sport in Germany around the 40s and 50s. More recently, they’ve been marginal underdogs yet their fan base is unwavering. All matches sell out, flags and so forth are on display all over the region and pubs fill with those unable to get tickets each match day. A bit like Newcastle under Keegan, really. It’s a wonderful feeling and walking through the area, especially on a match day, does bring those memories and emotions back.

My aims here were to see the stadium on a tour and also to see the game on the Saturday, preferably at the stadium. Unfortunately, I couldn’t do the second one. Well, I could, but it would have cost me around £50 for the cheapest ticket I could get my hands on.

I settled for the £5 (€8.00) stadium tour instead. Birte helped me book it as the staff there don’t speak the best English in the world and prefer non-German speakers to book by email. Details of the tour are on Schalke’s web site. If you can get a German speaker to help you then that’s best – there is a lot more German content on the site than English.

It’s a magnificent ground and one of only two in Europe that store the pitch outside the stadium on non-matchdays. I watched a fair bit of the shifting process when I was there and it takes four hours each way to move the turf in and out on a huge platform. Friday evenings in, Sunday mornings out. This allows more light and rain to reach the entire area and frees the inside of the stadium up for concerts and the like during the week. I’m sure the investment in technology to move the grass will pay for itself very quickly with the added revenue – and they don’t have to replace all the grass all the time like so many stadia in the UK.

I mention that first as I walked past the “externalised” pitch on my way to the museum where my tour was to begin. The staff there were lovely and even kept my rucksack behind the counter while I was guided around. As the tour is in German only – they don’t do other languages unless you book a private tour which is really expensive – I approached what looked like the youngest (and I confess prettiest) member of the group and asked if she spoke English. I, of course, got the usual “a little” response followed by an almost work-perfect translation of the entire tourguide repertoire and a long conversation afterwards. I wonder how much English someone who speaks “a lot” knows?

Regardless, thank you Kathleen – you were a wonderful translator. Best of luck with the studies!

We were taken round the area where the pitch was being “inserted” into the stadium, one of the pump rooms where beer is stored and delivered to the multitude of kiosks, the terraces, the restaurant, the area where people are interviewed immediately after the match, the chapel, the media room, the really posh and expensive seats and pitchside. The only thing I was expecting and didn’t get to see were the changing rooms. You always have those images of tours where they take you in and all the shirts are hanging up, but it wasn’t to be. I think the fans on the trip were a little more disappointed than me!

The figures are amazing. The amount of beer sold each game is typical of what you’d expect of the Germans, but when they clean the beer line they flush out thousands of litres of the stuff and dispose of it! They should just keep it for the next match featuring an English team. We’d drink it regardless.

During matchdays, the really posh seats have a lunch included and it’s always something from the region or country of the opposing team. A nice touch. Mind, for these seats you could be paying 21,000 Euros a season… The boxes run to hundreds of thousands depending on where they are, but can be used for any event at the stadium, not just the footie.

Another thing is that for league games, terracing is allowed. This has been outlawed in the UK for many years now due to the usual nanny state regulations. The same ones that, in very recent years, have had clubs turf fans out of grounds if they don’t sit in the seats they’re allotted and instead choose to stand to voice their support. Lunacy. This terracing is only for league, though. If the ground is used for European or international matches then seats are bolted in place. This makes the capacity float from just over 60,000 to just under 40,000 if my memory serves. A huge difference in income for the club. Having said that, a terrace ticket for a home game is a measly 11 Euros.

For some more bumpth, here’s a link to the stadium’s own portrait page. I’m particularly impressed with them hosting a concert, a football match and a US football match within 96 hours!

The tour round was fascinating and worth the price, especially as it included entry to the museum (itself usually 4 Euros). I wandered around there for some time with Kathleen translating the labels before we both had to set off. Her for a friend’s house and me to my hosts.

I was a little late getting to Gladbeck, but Antjé and the family didn’t mind and I sat and talked with Antjé and Jana for some time. Jana’s hoping to study English at university (good luck – even I would struggle with that!) and filled in the gaps in her mother’s otherwise excellent English. Antjé’s a quick learner. Little phrases and so on that I mentioned one day would be used by her the next!

My bed was a comfy mattress laid down in the loft and was more than adequate. Much better than trying to pitch a tent anywhere in this area anyway – it’s all concrete and houses! Dinner, also was great. And Jana is an excellent baker – I ate far too much of the dessert!

Niko arrived home after we’d had dinner and turned out to be a complete football nut. He plays for a local team and supports Arsenal and Dortmund (I think – my memory is hazy on the German team). I don’t think we talked about anything other than football for my entire stay. Nice collection of pets as well – the geckos are lovely but I’m still not all that keen on tarantulas.

On matchday, Antjé dropped me off at a bar. We shared a quick drink before she had to go (Germans drink a mixture of beer and Coke – weird…) and I sat surrounded by fans in blue and white who went wild as Schalke thumped Arminia Bielefeld 3-0. My schnitzel with pepper steak at half time was absolutely delicious as well.

In the evening, Niko and his girlfriend invited me out clubbing – some of their friends wanted to meet me which was flattering – but I had to make a start in the morning, though I was really tempted. It turned out to be a good decision as he didn’t get back until 4am!

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