Tuesday, 26 February 2013

1. FC Köln 2, Union Berlin 0: The Land Of Gluvine and Chocolate

Last weekend I travelled to FC Köln v Union Berlin to watch a bit of football and drink beer. Here's how it went.

1. FC Köln striker Stefan Meierhoffer presents the appearance of a World’s Strongest Man contestant performing a Truck Pull only without the truck. He is enormous but slow and the springs in his legs have gone plunk. If the X-Men villain Juggernaut ever lost his powers he’d be just like Stefan Meierhoffer, a man with little or no inertia and despite looking like it, decidedly incapable of running through walls. Quite simply he was probably the worst number nine I have ever seen play professional football.

So needless to say having spent the entire first half and the break at the RheinEnergieStadion slagging him off, he only went and scored in the second half. I managed to mask my embarrassment with the knowledge that everyone I was with had been just as disparaging as me. We were too red faced with our Gluvine induced hysteria to look ashamed and for his part, Meierhoffer, celebrated like a man who had heard every word.

The German football supporter’s relationship with alcohol is different to the English. In Premier League and Football League grounds, booze cannot be consumed within sight of the pitch. Consequently alcohol is binged in the hours leading up to the match in pubs outside of the grounds or in stadium bars facing away from the pitch. Fans live of the fumes for 45 minutes before piling back into the bars at half time and then back to the boozers at the final whistle. In Germany it is possible buy beer without leaving your seat. As an English football tourist, the novelty of drinking beer while watching a game is too compelling and despite the sub zero temperatures I quickly swapped the warming gluvine (a cross between mulled wine and Bovril) for a chilled Kölsch. This is the stuff of dreams for many an Englander. It’s like being Homer Simpson in the Land Of Chocolate.

Despite the oncoming snow, there was no yellow ball. This is another improvement on the game in Germany. Perhaps not up there with supporter ownership and progressive club licensing but all it takes is the ruffle of hair from an unkempt spectator and the snow ball is out in England. You'd think there was some sponsorship deal or something.

There is no doubt that FC Koln are a traditional Bundesliga club. Their modern stadium held 42,000 on Saturday which is mind boggling for a second division match outside Germany. Reasonable ticket prices have contributed to a loyal fan culture that keeps the punters  rocking up. The booming anthem sung by all before the game maintains a big match spectacle despite the football being pretty ordinary.

Koln’s opponents, Union Berlin, played their City rivals Hertha a couple of weeks ago in front of 75,000 at the Olympic Stadium. Union have a reputation for a vociferous support reinforced by their clubs strong commitment to their supporters and a well defined left wing ideology. Union were based in the old east Berlin and identified themselves as an anti-Stasi club, a position that saw their traditional rivals, Dynamo Berlin, profit greatly at Union's expense.

On the field, however, they're not much cop despite being relatively high up the table. However, given their sharp rise through the leagues it would be unkind to be critical and they would be a welcome addition to the top flight should they continue to progress.

Kevin McKenna scored the opener in a 2-0 win that was impressive by being routine. Coach Holger Stanislawski's team may be unspectacular but they have survived a troublesome start to the season after relegation and are now looking to snatch third spot from a faltering Kaiserslautern. Whether they can gain promotion via the play off with the third from bottom team in the first division is another matter. They may need an upgrade on their striker.

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