Last weekend just gone I went on a stag do to Berlin. It meant I missed the QPR game, although I did catch the first 15 mins in an Irish bar.
Whilst there the stag group attended a match between Union berlin and Cologne. Cologne of course is the team we beat in the European Cup Semi Finals of 1979, and like us are dwelling in the wrong division. Unlike us they are flying high at the top and look like going up.
However for the purpose of this day we were Union fans. I had always wanted to go to a foreign game and specifically a German game so this was perfect. The fact it was second tier was better for me as it felt like it was more akin to how Forest would be.
So why am I reporting this. Because there are great many things going on in Germany we can possibly learn from and take from, there are other things they are doing we will never do, and much is the pity maybe that’s just cultural differences.
The first thing I will point out is for one the club has a real local identity. The fans helped build the stadium, and I mean literally. They put in hundreds of thousands of man hours to build it as they club was strapped for cash. This gives more a sense of ownership for a stadium and what’s going on than anything else.
|This is not Paul Anderson|
I'm not suggesting that Forest get the fans to pick up trowels and hammers and start learning how to drive cranes and how best to rivet steel girders or whatever in place. But the involvement in the process and joining in, and helping the club out directly, rather than in England all you get usually is a bit of bucket rattling. But if the fans are involved they respect what they have more.
Next up is the price. A similar level to Forest, with a team in a similar just outside the promotion party, and playing a very well supported away team top of the division cost a very friendly 12 Euros. That’s a pittance in all honesty, and I have seen tickets at poor level non-league football trying to be sold for more. Here we had players who were really quite handy on show.
|Stadium is terraced on 3 sides|
The next two things are things I'm not sure we'll see in England ever again, but it helped. Terracing. It's a sore subject for many, and writing in the 2 days after the 25th Hillsborough anniversary almost feels wrong but it does still offer something if managed and policed properly. Union berlins ground holds in the region of 20,000, and 17,000 of that on 3 sides is all terraced. It was very well done, in almost two levels, with a mini concourse between two levels which were freely open to move between.
|Beer can be openly drank on terraces|
Beer. We could drink in the stand. This will never ever happen again in a ground, but it was part of the match culture there. Get in the ground, and get a beer from many many many beer vendors. They even had mini bars at the back of the stand, and mobile guys with pumps on their back moving round the crowd. Apparently this doesn’t happen at the top level, but only in the divisions below. Yes people drank all game, yes people were clearly not sober (though not obliterated either) but there was zero problems you'd probably see in England, is it a cultural thing?> Maybe. I did see one guy get stopped for pissing in a bush, but if that’s the extent of the problem then its small fry.
Atmosphere. This was a biggy for me. We arrived late, and on a walk through the wods theere was wall of noise hitting us before, it was really stirring. When we got in, we weren’t even in the Ultra's end, but it was still good none the less. Cologne didn’t shut up once for the whole first half even if it was the same tune for 30 mins with differing words. Union for their part sang a lot too, and had we been in the other end with the Ultras it would have been louder. They held up banners (as if that'd be allowed with our stewarding) at each other I assume mocking each other but I don’t know German I'm not sure. What they did seem to be is behind the team, and not on their backs, and even though Union lost, they all stayed, and sang at the end and clapped and applauded. Something we'd barely ever do.
|Union Flags waved all game long|
However refs are the same the world over. This ref was useless and got a lot very wrong. Something’s in football are universal.
What’s my point? Well for one I've been a bit tired with Forest lately in the last few months. It's just not been a happy experience. This was. I know none of the above will make a difference to pretty much anyone, and I know the atmosphere on Saturday will be flat. But what I've seen has rekindled a bit of romanticism for the game in me.
I urge anyone to try and see a game abroad to just compare the experience. The likes of St Pauli and Union are very much community clubs, almost feeling like a cooperative. I think this is something English football needs back. It's soul. Things to consider anyway
|McClaren... Or maybe not|