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………
The 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup saw a new name adorn the trophy as Japan completed their epic odyssey in this year’s tournament by defeating two-time champions the United States in a penalty shootout following a 2-2 draw after extra-time.
After a route to the final which saw them get the better of Mexico and New Zealand in the group phase and eliminate Germany and Sweden in the quarter-finals and semi-finals respectively, the Japanese were expected to fall at the final hurdle against a country which had the experience of winning on the big occasion. But the determination and never-say-die spirit of the new champions ensured that they came away from Frankfurt’s Waldstadion with the trophy.
The game was tight in the first half, a fact reflected by the 0-0 score line at the break, but came to life in the second half when Alex Morgan gave the Americans the lead on 69 minutes. Japan equalized with nine minutes of regular time to go with Aya Miyama scoring the goal which took the game into extra-time. Abby Wambach, who has impressed for the Americans throughout the tournament, regained the lead for her team on the edge of half-time in extra-time and the USA needed to hold out for another fifteen minutes to reclaim the trophy for a record breaking third time.
However it was fitting that tournament top scorer Homare Sawa got the crucial second for Japan with just three minutes of extra-time to play to send the game into a penalty shootout. The Americans fluffed their lines from the spot with three of their four penalty takers missing their efforts. The Japanese, on the other hand, only missed once and when Saki Kumagai scored the crucial fourth spot kick to seal the 3-1 victory it sparked mass celebration from the touchline as this most unlikely of winners sealed their maiden FIFA Women’s World Cup triumph in front of a healthy 48,000 crowd.
It proved to be an incredibly rewarding tournament for Homare Sawa who not only won the Golden Boot award for finishing tournament top scorer with five goals but also won the Golden Ball award for player of the tournament. The Japanese team were also rewarded with the FIFA Fair Play trophy to go alongside their World Cup title which they will hope to defend in Canada in 2015 but, similarly to the Men’s version, the Women’s World Cup winners don’t get an automatic place in the next tournament and will have to qualify.
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!