Saturday, 23rd February: a trip to the northern English town of Oldham had been on the cards for a while. The trip not only coincided with a fine run in the FA Cup for the local team of Oldham Athletic but also with the 30th anniversary of a friendship between fans of the Latics and of German Bundesliga side Eintracht Frankfurt. Although hailing from Liverpool, yours truly is also a fan of Eintracht and have met up on a few occasions with the Eintracht fan group “EFC 11-er Freunde”, about whom I have previously written about regarding trips to Frankfurt, Nuremberg and Dortmund. In Oldham I was helping to commemorate another friendship called “Two Teams One Spirit”, a collection of Oldham fanatics and the Eintracht fan clubs of “Rhönadler” and “Bockenheim”, all of whom I originally met on my away day to Dortmund at the end of the 2010-11 season.
Following an early morning train ride from Liverpool Lime Street to Manchester Victoria followed by a tram ride to Oldham Mumps, the day was still only twelve hours old and with plenty of time left for beer and football events started early in a pub called the Rifle Range. In there the German guys were selling T-shirts commemorating the 30 year friendship between the two sets of fans for £17.50 (20 Euro) so naturally I parted with the necessary money to own one. Oldham’s opponents on the day were Portsmouth FC, a club who had only been in the Premier League as recently as the 2009-10 season but were now rock bottom of the third-tier “League One”. Their most famous supporter, a man called John Westwood, stood out like a sore thumb in his usual matchday regalia of big hat, chequered blue and white clothes and all over body tattoos. One of the locals, Pete, had written to him personally and invited him to the pub before the game and whilst there a German called Bernhard had brought over a copy of the football magazine “11 Freunde” (no relation to the Eintracht fan club mentioned earlier) in which “Mr Portsmouth” himself featured in an article and was only too happy to sign the magazine.
Before long it was time to go to Boundary Park, the home of the Latics, where we arrived with just minutes to spare before kick-off. After downing a pre-match beer we took our seats in the Rochdale Road End and saw a great strike from 25 yards out by Jose Baxter give Oldham the lead after just ten minutes. Sadly, though, the rest of the game was far from a classic with very few clear cut chances for either side. Oldham carved out a couple of decent efforts and the three points gained from the 1-0 win meant that they had won the last three league games in a row, a run which would help them in their fight against relegation. Portsmouth, on the other hand, were dreadful and I personally feel sorry to see the club suffering its current plight. With ownership issues, administration and issues of massive debt the last few years have really taken its toll on Portsmouth Football Club. To make matters worse on the pitch Sam Sodje was sent off after 50 minutes for violent conduct, his reaction to the red card as disagreeable as eating red cabbage after a skinful of beer on a Saturday night.
Following the game there was still plenty of time to enjoy a beer at the Oldham club bar in the Main Stand, with fans mutually exchanging Oldham and Frankfurt songs, before a short bus trip to the Bluebell Inn where Oldham’s match winner Baxter joined the current caretaker manager Tony Philliskirk in a question-and-answer session. One of the fans asked Philliskirk if a friendly match between Oldham and Frankfurt could be arranged in the near future. Needless to say if such a fixture does occur then expect to read about it here. Watch this space………
It has been reported on The Guardian website today that up to 900 away end tickets have been returned by Manchester City to their hosts Arsenal ahead of the forthcoming Premier League clash between the two teams. The reason is suspected to be that, at £62 a ticket, it is simply either too expensive or a case of fans not wanting to pay such an extortionate amount of money out of principle. For fans of the English game this is simply not a surprise anymore; indeed the only surprise is that anybody still puts up with being ripped off.
Since the formation of the English Premier League in the 1992-93 season ticket prices have been rising at an alarming rate. Even in the last year, a survey published by the BBC revealed that the cost of the cheapest adult ticket in the top four divisions had risen by 11.7%. Of course it is Premier League clubs who will be largely responsible for the biggest of price hikes especially as the clubs are finding it more difficult to pay ever increasing wages to top stars, despite the fact that the Premier League is raking in more money than ever before due to increased television revenue. The advent of all-seater stadia was supposed to herald a new era of safety and comfort in English stadiums with the TV money a prime reason to help keep ticket prices as cheap as possible. In recent years, however, it seems that clubs will rip the fans off anyway, a situation which has arguably been a factor in increased calls for the re-introduction of standing areas in English football grounds. Fans simply cannot keep forking out at the current rate for match tickets along with all the usual necessities that going to a football stadium brings such as a match programme, food, drink and transport.
In recent months many English newspapers and football websites have made comparisons between the situation in England and that in Germany and how fans of Bundesliga clubs get such a bargain. Current German champions Borussia Dortmund, for example, charge as little as €190 for a season ticket which allows a fan to see seventeen home league games, an average of €11 a game. When one takes into account that the possession of a match ticket allows free travel on public transport to the stadium and the fact that one can drink beer whilst watching the match (something that ceased to be the case in England years ago where beer must be drank in designated areas away from the seating) and it is clear that fans in Germany have a much better deal. Even when clubs have tried to raise prices for big games in the Bundesliga fans have always been ready to vote with their feet, a most famous example was when fans of Borussia Dortmund boycotted a derby match against arch rivals Schalke 04 due to their hosts raising the ticket price to €20. Speaking from personal experience, I’ve been to watch many games as a fan of Eintracht Frankfurt, the most amazing deal was going to the Olympiastadion in Berlin to watch Eintracht play against Hertha BSC five years ago. The cost of a ticket? Only €9! And in a stadium which has hosted the FIFA World Cup final too.
Such a ticket price, which would work out at £7.30 at the current exchange rate, would be a dream to any English football fan in the current climate. The worst offenders in the English game tend to be clubs from the south of the country, the worst being Chelsea at £41 for the cheapest ticket, perhaps not surprising given that the cost of living is much higher than elsewhere in the country. Even Manchester United, who are the par excellence example in the commercialisation of the game throughout the Premier League era, still keep their cheapest ticket prices to a reasonable £30. Season ticket prices are an even more obvious example in how fans are having to dig deep in their pockets with Arsenal being the most expensive. There wouldn’t be much change given from £2000 if you were to get a season ticket at the Emirates stadium.
The fact is that Premier League clubs will always be prepared to charge what they want as long as people are prepared to keep paying the money. If fan movements in England had any importance, such as they do in Germany, then perhaps there would be no need for clubs to have to send batches of tickets back in the first place for such big games. After all it is the big games which fans want to see but the clubs should know where to draw the line and, in the name of fairness, stop testing the patience of loyal, hard-core fans whose bank balances suffer terribly in order to subsidize those of their heroes.
Hi everybody, I’m back! Yes, it has been a while since I’ve written anything new for the blog and I won’t bore you with the reasons for my prolonged absence. It’s also been a while since I went on an Away Day to Frankfurt am Main and wanted to share with you the joys of celebrating promotion with my favourite German club Eintracht Frankfurt.
Having arrived “on the Main” last Friday, the football action got under way one day later when, as a warm-up to the main event (no pun intended) on Sunday, Eintracht Frankfurt’s Under-19 side played against 1860’s local rivals FC Bayern in the national Under-19 Bundesliga championship (South/South-West division). On a beautiful sunny Saturday morning there must’ve been at least two hundred souls at the Stadion am Riederwald who came out to see a glimpse of German football’s future potential stars in action. Sadly for the home contingent there weren’t too many great chances to shout about but the visitors hardly imposed themselves on the game either. FC Bayern did score the only goal of the game early in the second half; the goalscorer’s identity must however remain anonymous as I’d unprofessionally taken my eye off the game while the ball hit the back of the net.
Following a home defeat to one group of Bavarians I did privately fear that the professional Eintracht team would go on to lose to the other mob in the 2. Bundesliga (second division) game on Sunday. I was very privileged to get a ticket for this match as Eintracht had for many weeks looked likely to gain promotion and, unsurprisingly, this game was the hottest ticket in town. Having ventured with them on previous Away Days (see past reports) to Nuremberg and Dortmund, I express once again my eternal gratitude to the members of Eintracht supporters group “EFC 11-er Freunde” who helped get me into the stadium and make sure I was a part of the promotion party. Only six days earlier had Die Adler (the Eagles) confirmed their top flight status for next season with a convincing 3-0 away win against Alemania Aachen but they still, in theory, had first place to fight for along with SpVgg Greuther Fürth.
Following a fantastic choreography before the start of the game, in which fans held up cards above their heads to produce the slogan “Nie mehr 2. Liga” (Second Division no more), the game got under way in front of a sold out 50.800 crowd. Sadly my earlier fears about losing out to more Bavarians were to come true as the visitors started well and deservedly went two goals up in the first quarter of the match. An unfortunate own goal by Eintracht full-back Sebastian Jung in the 17th minute was followed up with an unchallenged header for Guillermo Vallori from a corner kick just four minutes later. For the remainder of the game the passion of the Eintracht supporters couldn’t be emulated on the pitch by the players who, it seemed, already had their minds on the beach for the summer holidays. Just as well, I guess, that promotion was already sealed but that is not to take anything away from 1860 München, who are the only team to defeat Eintracht home and away this season and who were evidently more up for the game. Despite the result a good natured pitch invasion came about at the end of the game in which the fans could celebrate with the players and look forward to a new season of fighting it out with the big boys such as FC Bayern, Dortmund and Schalke 04, exactly where a traditional club of Frankfurt’s stature should be.
One last shout goes towards a fan group from the English town of Oldham, who I met for the first time in Dortmund last season. Folowing the 1860 match I arranged to meet up with all the lads in the famous Eintracht fans’ bar “Klapper 33” in the district of Sachsenhausen and discovered just how popular they were with some of the regulars. Die Engländer have certainly made an impression over the years, confirmed by the fact that the last thing I expected to hear in a Frankfurt bar was a group of Germans chanting „Come on Oldham!“ at the top of their voices. Having attempted, and failing miserably, to get a similar chorus of Liverpool chants going I took defeat on the chin and realized that there would be a part of Germany that would be forever Oldham and posed with one of their home-made „Two Teams, One Spirit“ scarves. Hopefully it won‘t be long before there’s an away day in Oldham to look forward to and I could just be the latest convert to the „Come on Oldham“ brigade.
Things really have gone from bad to worse for Eintracht Frankfurt since the winter break. Only one win in 16 games going into their final game of the season away to the newly-crowned champions of Germany saw the club who occupied seventh place at the winter break start the day in second bottom and were involved in a real relegation dogfight which hadn’t looked like coming at Christmas.
I set off from Manchester airport on Friday morning and was very surprised to see a group of men wearing T-shirts with the club badges of Oldham Athletic, who currently play in England’s third tier, as well as that of Eintracht. Curiosity got the better of me and so I asked if they were going to the game on Saturday to which they said yes. It was a pleasant surprise, no doubt to the Oldham lads as well as myself, that there were quite so many English who not only wanted to go to the game but were playing an active supporting role in a club not many people in our country probably neither know nor care about. I’ve been following Eintracht since 2006 but these guys had a good 20 years experience on me so I was even more impressed by their love for the club.
I travelled to the game on Saturday morning with a fan group called EFC 11er-Freunde, about whom I wrote a piece in a previous Away Days trip to Nuremberg. With the beer flowing from just before 10am the fans were in good spirits despite the mammoth task which lay before the Eintracht team. We had to beat title winning Borussia Dortmund and hope that VfL Wolfsburg (away at Hoffenheim) and Mönchengladbach (away at Hamburger SV) both got inferior results. Upon arriving at the stadium I was surprised to bump into the Oldham group yet again as I got off the coach and our thoughts turned to the game before we had to separate into our respective areas of the Eintracht fan block. When I got into the stadium the Dortmund fans were preparing a chereography to herald their heroes and it seemed that the famous Yellow Wall, the nickname given to the massive 28,000 capacity Südtribüne which stands behind one of the goals, would generate a cracking atmosphere.
But once the game got under way the Yellow Wall resembled a real wall insofar as it didn’t make any noise for most of the first half. During the first 45 minutes Eintracht keeper Ralf Fährmann saved a penalty from Lucas Barrios whilst, at the other end, Theofanis Gekas hit the crossbar in the last minute, meaning that the game was goalless at half-time. At the same time Wolfsburg were also goalless whilst Gladbach were leading in Hamburg which meant that, if the scores remained the same after 90 minutes, Eintracht would be going down. But, just sixty seconds after the break, Eintracht took the lead through midfielder Sebastian Rode. Almost at the same time came the news that Hoffenheim had taken the lead in their game against Wolfsburg meaning that Eintracht’s destiny looked positive.
Sadly for us the hope began to fade once more in the 68th minute when Dortmund striker Lucas Barrios, following some clever play from Łukasz Piszczek, restored parity. Just four minutes later Eintracht’s world turned upside down as a Marco Russ own goal gave the champions the lead whilst Wolfsburg had turned it around in their game winning 2-1 with fifteen minutes still to play although Hamburger SV had equalized in their game against Gladbach so a bit of luck for Eintracht could still have kept die Adler up in the top flight. The last ten minutes of the game for Eintracht, however, proved to be a nightmare as substitute Marcel Titsch-Rivero, who came on in the 79th minute to replace goal scorer Rode, got himself sent off just 43 seconds later after bringing down Marcel Schmelzer in the box to give away another penalty. But one person who didn’t lose his nerve was Fährmann who, having saved a penalty from Barrios in the first half, then kept out Dede to keep a glimmer of hope alive. This hope would finally be extinguished in the last minute of the game when Barrios headed home a Robert Lewandowski cross from the right flank to secure the three points for Dortmund who could now finally begin their championship celebrations.
Strangely there were many Dortmund fans, acclaimed by the club’s stadium announcer as “the best fans in the world”, who seemed more intent on coming outside to give Eintracht fans grief about their oncoming relegation rather than see captain Roman Weidenfeller lift the Meisterschale inside the Signal Iduna Park stadion. Thankfully the heavy police presence outside ensured that trouble was kept to a minimum around the stadium as emotions ran high on both sides after the game. For the record Mönchengladbach drew 1-1 at Hamburger SV which means that the former will take place in a two-legged Relegation Play-Off match with VfL Bochum, who claimed third place in the 2. Liga on Sunday. VfL Wolfsburg, meanwhile, managed to secure 1. Liga football next season following their eventual 3-1 away win at Hoffenheim.
After nearly 800 minutes without a goal in the Bundesliga Eintracht Frankfurt finally managed to hit the back of the net in Saturday’s game away at Schalke 04. Greek full-back Georgios Tzavellas’ hopeful punt from deep inside his own half was initially looking for his compatriot Theofanis Gekas in the Eintracht attack but the bounce of the ball wrong-footed Schalke keeper Manuel Neuer and the ball found its way into the goal from 73 metres to equalize the game at 1-1. Alas it would be another Greek who would deprive Eintracht of a much-needed point as Angelos Charisteas secured the three points for the home side in the 86th minute, thus adding to the pressure on Frankfurt coach Michael Skibbe.
Skibbe hasn’t always been the most popular figure with Frankfurt fans. Having succeeded Friedhelm Funkel at the start of the 2009-10 season he started off his tenure by taking away the captaincy from fans’ favourite Ioannis Amanatidis. But he hasn’t always been popular with the upper echelons of the club’s staff either; last season Skibbe consistently questioned the future direction and ambition of the club which led many pundits to believe that he wouldn’t see out the season as club coach. After talks with the club chairman Heribert Bruchhagen, Skibbe made peace with the Powers-That-Be and led the team to an respectable 10th place.
At the start of the current campaign Skibbe boasted that his team should be aiming to finish the 2010-11 season on 50 points, four more than the club achieved last term, and perhaps look towards fighting for European club competition. After a dreadful start to the season which saw the club lose four of its first five matches, Eintracht recovered to win seven out of the next twelve including a 1-0 home victory against runaway leaders Borussia Dortmund on Matchday 17. This left the club with 26 points and lying in seventh place in the table at the halfway stage and it seemed that Skibbe’s pre-season points prediction was back on course.
But Eintracht is never an easy club to predict, which is why many of its followers refer to it as “The Moody Diva”. Just when the club appears to doing something right you can (almost) always guarantee that something will go wrong. After the winter break Skibbe went on a collision course with Amanatidis, dropping him from the squad altogether, before the adverse fan reaction and subsequent meeting with Bruchhagen forced him to do a U-turn. In the meantime the club had lost the knack of goalscoring. Theofanis Gekas, who was the Bundesliga’s second highest scorer after Matchday 17 with 14 goals, hasn’t hit the back of the net since but then that’s not totally his fault as the rest of the team hadn’t seen the back of the net either before Tzavellas’ freak goal on Saturday. Whereas last season many of Eintracht’s goals came from midfield players such as Alexander Meier (10), Benjamin Koehler (4), and Caio (4) now there is a drought coming from all areas of the field which has led to the side going 794 minutes without a goal. It says much about the side and its lack of confidence at the moment that the only way it could eventually find the back of the net was not from a shot inside their opponent’s penalty box but from a defensive clearance!!
For many Michael Skibbe has run out of ideas and is looking increasingly isolated in a way which has already affected other coaches at more successful teams in the league such as FC Bayern’s Louis Van Gaal, Hamburger SV coach Armin Veh (who was sacked following their 6-0 defeat to FC Bayern on Saturday) or, ironically, Schalke 04 coach Felix Magath who’s future is in doubt despite reaching the German Cup final and the last eight of the UEFA Champions League. What’s worse for Eintracht is that clubs they finished higher than in the 2009-10 season such as Hannover 96, 1.FC Nuernberg and SC Freiburg are in the midst of successful seasons and are all challenging for Europe with each team lying in 3rd, 6th and 7th places respectively.
Eintracht, on the other hand, have dropped to 15th place and are only above St. Pauli on goal difference before this weekend’s crucial home game against the Hamburg based club. For Skibbe it could well be his last chance to salvage his job and the club’s season, assuming he hasn’t already been sacked by then……………..
Borussia Dortmund are already confirmed as Herbstmeister (Autumn Champions) before their weekend game against 1.FC Nürnberg on Sunday. That’s because their nearest challengers 1.FSV Mainz 05 lost out in their local derby against Eintracht Frankfurt on Saturday.
Both Eintracht and Mainz came into the match in the Frankfurter Waldstadion with contrasting fortunes in their last two games. Whereas Eintracht had lost in consecutive games to FC Bayern München and TSG 1899 Hoffenheim, Mainz had won their previous two against Borussia Mönchengladbach and 1.FC Nürnberg. The game was level at 1-1 at the half-time break following goals from Marco Russ (Eintracht) in the 35th minute with Mainz equalizing from the penalty spot seven minutes later through André Schürrle. The game was ultimately decided in the 82nd minute after another penalty was scored, this time for the home team. Deadly striker Theofanis Gekas scored his 13th league goal of the season to give Eintracht all three points and thus deny Mainz any chance they had of becoming Herbstmeister. Borussia Dortmund have a seven point lead (played 14, points 37) over Mainz with the former having three games left before the winter break whilst Mainz have just two games to play.
The tag of Herbstmeister is a very important one in German football. Since the inception of the Bundesliga in 1963 only on sixteen occasions have the Herbstmeister not gone on to win the Meisterschale (Bundesliga trophy) at the end of the season. Overall history shows that it is better to go into the second half of the season in the favoured first place although recent history shows that it’s not always the case that the Autumn Champions ultimately win the Bundesliga. Three of the last four champions – VfB Stuttgart in 2006-07, VfL Wolfsburg in 2008-09 and FC Bayern last season – were not Herbstmeister before going on to win the title.
Nevertheless for Borussia Dortmund coach Jürgen Klopp the achievement of finishing first at this stage shows just how well the Ruhr side have improved since his reign. Klopp joined the club as head coach in the 2008-09 season when he guided die Schwarzgelben to a respectable sixth place, seven places better than their showing in the previous season under Thomas Doll. Last season Klopp improved Dortmund’s position by one place and he is now gaining the respect of his peers as he sets about bringing Borussia Dortmund a first title triumph since 2002.
No doubt that not a lot of people will know, nor actually care, about what I’m going to write but I shall do it anyway. During the current Bundesliga campaign this season there has been a live game shown every Friday night. FC Bayern v VfL Wolfsburg opened the 2010-11 campaign a little under a month ago and each of the Friday night games to have graced each matchday in the German league has been shown on the sports TV station ESPN in the UK. So why is it that just as my favourite team Eintracht Frankfurt is about to play in its first Friday night match of the season against SC Freiburg has ESPN decided to show live rugby union? Bloody typical!!!
This isn’t the first time that I’ve endured such disappointment amongst the schedules. ESPN’s predecessor as Sky Sports’ chief broadcasting rival, Setanta Sports, also used to show live Friday night German football and they used to make a point of leaving the Eintracht games off the list so long as they could put live rugby or something else supposedly more exciting on in its place. Now, just when I thought that my faith in Friday night sporting TV was restored, ESPN has decided to follow suit in dropping the Friday night game. You may say that I wouldn’t be here slagging off ESPN if they cancelled a game involving any other teams but that would be nonsense. I’ve been following the Bundesliga for a few years now and have come to regard it as preferable to the overblown, over-hyped coverage of England’s Premier League that prevails on Sky Sports. However I just think it’s an amazing coincidence that people in “TV-land” (wherever that is) always seem to drop these games whenever Eintracht Frankfurt are involved. In my opinion all of the teams in the league should be given as much coverage as everybody else, whether it be FC Bayern, Eintracht Frankfurt or whoever.
ESPN: It’s Good To Be Here. Except, of course, when they’re in Frankfurt 😦
PS – A critique and an advertisement in the same piece. That’s quite an achievement from my good self 🙂 However I shall recommend ESPN for Sunday’s live game involving Germany’s biggest derby Schalke 04 and Borussia Dortmund. Schalke 04, the home team, have decided to significantly raise the prices for standing areas for away supporters to €20 which goes against the spirit of cheap ticket prices for people from all sectors of society. Many Borussia Dortmund fans have decided to boycott this fixture and I support such fans who hope to keep the Bundesliga the most affordable and best attended league in the world. Hopefully many other fans will hold their own boycott in the future should other clubs begin to adopt the modern day “English disease” of ripping off the fans.
UPDATE: Since yesterday’s blog was written I’ve since found out that ESPN are only showing the second half of the biggest derby in German football. What will they be showing during the first half? Yes, you’ve guessed it: more rugby!!! Either show 90 minutes of the football or don’t pretend to make the effort. A disappointing show this weekend………
On Wednesday evening there was a grand occasion befitting one of the great stadiums in world football, where two of the game’s fiercest rivals went toe-to-toe in the latest meeting of one of the world’s great football derbies. Real Madrid v Barcelona? Liverpool v Manchester United? River Plate v Boca Juniors? No, it was none of these. The game we’re talking about is the Tehran Derby between Persepolis FC and Esteghlal FC, the heavyweights of Iranian football.
This is a thoroughly modern footballing rivalry with the first encounter between these two great clubs having been played in 1968 (for the record it finished 0-0). The Azadi stadium, home to both clubs, is always full to its 90.000 capacity when these teams meet and Wednesday was no exception. Esteghlal, defending champions of the Persian Gulf Cup (the trophy given to the league champions), have struggled a bit this season but were lying in third place before the game ahead of their arch-rivals on goal difference. With Sepahan FC currently leading the table by a comfortable distance (six points with a game in hand on nearest challengers Zob Ahan FC) the priority for both teams is to finish in the top three which would guarantee them an automatic place for the 2011 AFC Champions League. Fourth place, similar to the UEFA Champions League, will only be good enough to qualify for a play-off round so Wednesday’s game still had plenty of importance to both teams’ seasons.
Esteghlal FC had the upper hand on the overall head-to-heard record before kick-off with 20 wins compared to Persepolis’ 16 wins in 67 matches (31 drawn). Early in the contest it looked as though they would improve on their record when they took the lead after 16 minutes, Fehrad Majidi was put through and got the better of Persepolis’ keeper Haghighi in a one-on-one situation to put the Blues ahead. However Persepolis, record champions in Iran with eight titles compared to Esteghlal’s six, were in no mood for letting their rivals have their own way and with nine minutes of the first half to play had scored the equalizing goal thanks to Hamid Ali-Askar. Typically in any derby match the second half became tense with both teams going all out for three points. After the first derby match of the season had finished 1-1 it was evident that both teams wanted to win the game and secure the local bragging rights for the rest of the season. Just as the game appeared to be heading towards another stalemate the crucial goal was struck three minutes from the end as Karim Bagheri secured the three points for Persepolis with a wonder goal from long-range to give the Reds a 2-1 victory (see video at top of the page).
The win meant that Persepolis replaced their arch-rivals into third place whilst Esteghlal must be wary of the threat posed by Steel Azin FC, for whom Iranian legend Mehdi Mahdavikia signed from Eintracht Frankfurt in the recent transfer window, who lie just a point further behind in the table. With eight games to go in the Iran Pro-League it will prove to be a fascinating fight to the finish.
In the second of an irregular series, “Away Days” looks at my trip last weekend to follow the ‘Adler’ (Eagles) of Eintracht Frankfurt on Matchday 19 of the German Bundesliga against 1.FC Nürnberg:
I arrived on Friday afternoon in Frankfurt am Main, a city which is gradually becoming a second home to me, and after being welcomed into the home of my good friend Christian we went to the “Elfer”, a pub whose mix of people watching football on the TV and of those more interested in playing the table version of the game very much gives the impression that the sport is quite important in this favoured watering-hole. I was here to meet four members of the “EFC 11-er Freunde” – the pub’s own Eintracht Frankfurt supporters’ club – with whom I would embark on an away trip to the Franconian city of Nuremberg the following morning. Following many introductory beers we met up on the Saturday morning with perhaps yours truly being the only person suffering from the previous night’s alcoholic excesses. Thankfully, though, the bus turned up in the famously rowdy Sachsenhausen area at 9:30am which signalled the time when I could sample a “Katerfrühstück” (lit. ‘hangover breakfast’) in the form of a bottle of Beck’s and that was to signal the beginning of the four hour trip to our destination.
The bus comprised members of various other Eintracht fan clubs whose numbers seemed to be larger than our own small but no less passionate quintet of travellers. Fan club chairman Martin, his brother Robert and fellow ‘Adler’ Daniel were all as keen as everybody else who I spoke to that day as to why someone from Liverpool has chosen to follow their beloved Eintracht. For the record I saw my first game in Waldstadion in 2006 (Eintracht 1:1 VfL Wolfsburg) and since then I’ve tried to get back whenever possible. Perhaps the main highlight before this weekend was at my first Eintracht away day in February 2008 in Berlin, a match notable by Martin Fenin’s hat-trick, only the fourth such “Dreierpack” by a player making his debut in the Bundesliga since the league began in 1963. We were hoping that something just as exciting would happen in Nuremberg and, more importantly, that the unbeaten record I had when watching Eintracht live in the stadium would continue. After a booze-fuelled, classic sing-a-long, away trip we arrived at the Easy-Credit-Stadion (perhaps the worst name for a stadium I’ve ever encountered) with all Eintracht fans in good voice as we proudly announced to the world that “die Frankfodder sind da” before proceeding to the odd-shaped concrete stadium we were about to enter.
Inside the ground me and the Elfer lads were joined by around 3,000 travelling ‘Adler’, some of whom at the front provided the colour as the teams walked out on to the field with the smoke of flares drifting in the air. Following this the singing began and was not exactly going to stop with two megaphone-carrying fanatics making sure that the Eintracht faithful kept their lungs busy with songs of gusto. Less than a minute into the game we nearly had an early goal to cheer but, alas, Patrick Ochs shot over the bar with the first chance of the game. After that though the game turned into a laboured midfield battle for both teams as they struggled to break each other down so I guess it was no surprise that the deadlock was broken thanks to a set-piece. After a foul on Charisteas in the Eintracht half a free-kick from Pascal Bieler flew towards a crowd of players in the penalty box and it was Christian Eigler who rose highest to put the hosts in front on 27 minutes, much to the annoyance of our end who thought it was an undeserving way to take the lead. It was to prove the only time we would ever hear the 1.FC Nürnberg supporters all afternoon but one can only guess that Eintracht’s equalizing goal five minutes before half-time had taken the wind out of their sails. A cross from the ever reliable Patrick Ochs on the right-hand side was headed at the far post by Benjamin Köhler before an oncoming Dennis Diekmeier could do anything about it. Our end went berserk and the hoardes of Eintracht fans were happy that the score was level at the half-time break.
Sadly the second half carried on in much the same vein as the first 45 minutes with limited scoring chances and, as a spectacle, was far from a classic. Indeed the rest of the lads from the Elfer fan group were more pre-occupied by the apparent lack of safety being shown by the upper tier above our heads which seemed to move more and more menacingly as the fans above bounced up and down. However this worried us little as the game drew to a close with both sides having at least one good chance each to seal the deal with Illay Gündoğan and Alex Meier missing late chances towards the end for 1.FCN and Eintracht respectively. Nonetheless a 1-1 draw was, on reflection, a fair result and it meant that my unbeaten record when watching Eintracht live was preserved. Both teams were satisfied with the point, Eintracht because it took them to the same number of points as Werder Bremen in sixth place whilst 1.FC Nürnberg ended a run of five consecutive defeats. At the end of the game the Eintracht players saluted the loyal ‘Adler’ with Christoph Preuß leading the singing on one of the megaphones provided by the fanatics. After the match we were back on the road to Frankfurt enjoying the same ritual of songs and beer until we arrived back around 22:00 ready to enjoy the rest of the night in “Klapper 33”, a well-known hangout for Eintracht supporters in the Sachsenhausen district.
The following day I signed a form provided to me by Martin to become an official member of the “EFC 11-er Freunde” (subject to a medical, of course 🙂 whilst aboard the “Ebbelwoi Express”, a tram which takes in all the sights of the city whilst the passengers indulge in the Frankfurt speciality of Apple Wine. It was a fitting way to conclude the weekend as it signified on paper as well as in spirit that I am well and truly “Eintracht für immer” (always Eintracht). Therefore I’d like to take this opportunity to thank everybody involved for a fantastic trip. Freundschaft!
Thankfully, for all fans of Baywatch, FC Bayern have not taken a dislike to cult hero David Hasselhoff. After a shorter than usual winter break the German Bundesliga returns tonight with a modern day rivalry between FC Bayern and nouveau riche club TSG 1899 Hoffenheim.
Since the promotion of the latter into the First League in 2008 there has been no love lost between the two clubs who indulged in public spats last season as both teams were hoping to challenge for the title. Despite winning the unofficial “Herbstmeister” (Autumn champion) title, upstarts Hoffenheim gradually fell away in the second half of the 2008-09 season but, generally, had given the Bundesliga a shot in the arm. Ultimately both clubs had to take a back seat while surprise team VfL Wolfsburg won the title. However, after a slow start this season, both clubs are in a healthy position going into the “Rückrunde” (latter half of the season). The bad blood from last season has been replaced with words of respect from both coaches Louis van Gaal (Bayern) and Ralf Rangnick in a game both teams must win if they’re to build on any hopes of a title challenge. FC Bayern could go top for the first time in 51 matchday rounds (since May 2008) whilst a win for Hoffenheim would see them go into joint sixth with Werder Bremen (seven points behind leaders Leverkusen) before the weekend’s other games.
On Saturday the current “Herbstmeister” Leverkusen will hope to retain the unbeaten record they had at the midway point of the season (Played 17, won 9, drawn 8, points 35) but will have it tough against the league’s surprise package 1.FSV Mainz 05 who have hopes of fighting it out for a European spot. Fourth place Hamburger SV are looking for a third consecutive victory as they face lowly SC Freiburg whilst Werder Bremen will hope to gain revenge for an opening day defeat against Eintracht Frankfurt whose coach, Michael Skibbe, has threatened to quit the club at the end of the season after he accused his employers of lacking ambition due to the lack of funds available for new players during the January transfer window. Ex-Frankfurt coach Friedhelm Funkel has his work cut out at bottom club Hertha BSC who accumulated the lowest number of points ever after 17 games (a measly six) and is up against Hannover 96, a team still suffering from the death of goalkeeper Robert Enke, and who are in danger of being dragged into the “Tabellenkellar” (relegation zone) as they lie in 14th place, five points away from 1.FC Nürnberg in the second automatic relegation spot. Borussia Mönchengladbach will hope to keep up their good form, 13 points from the last seven games, against a VfL Bochum side who currently lie in the relegation play off 16th spot. In the Saturday night game Armin Veh, who has a mixed record since taking over at champions VfL Wolfsburg, will hope for three points at his old stomping ground in Stuttgart, who he led to the 2006-07 championship. Now under new management following the dismissal of Markus Babbel, Stuttgart and their new coach Christian Gross will hope to start ascending up the league to the relative safety of mid-table.
In the Sunday games Felix Magath will hope to keep up the pressure on the top teams as his Schalke 04 side play at home against struggling 1.FC Nürnberg whilst Jürgen Klopp’s Borussia Dortmund travel to 1.FC Köln, for whom local hero Lukas Podolski has only scored one goal in the Bundesliga following his much publicised return from FC Bayern at the start of the season. No wonder then that “Die Geißböcke” (Billy Goats) find themselves as the league’s least prolific team in front of goal having only scored ten times in 17 games.