The World Cup. Just three words that grabs any football fan’s attention. Your eyes widen, your lips curl, in anticipation of what the next month has in store. And while it’s probably true nowadays that the highest quality of football is to be found at club level in the Champions League, there World Cup still has a magic to it that even FIFA, for all that they seem to be trying to, can’t extinguish.
Watching (e.g.) Brazil against France, or Germany against Argentina, in a real competitive game that matters, in prime time, on proper telly. Or Spain against France, or Germany against Italy, these guys sometimes get lumped into the same WC or Euro qualifying group, that they can both qualify from. And even if one of them has an off-night, they’ve got plenty other games against the other teams in the group to put it right. That safety net isn’t there in the World Cup, the best teams in the world are playing each other and it really matters, that’s what makes it special.
So, with that background, what follows here is the story of a Scotland fan (whose team were in their perpetual “rebuilding phase” and had sadly failed to qualify) and my week in Germany at the opening of the 2006 tournament.
Friday 9th June
It’s a nice sunny day where I live, just to the west of London. I’ve got the day off so I have a lie-in, and then re-pack the bags I had already packed last night. I’m flying British Airways so I get hold luggage included in my fare, but I still want it to be as light as possible. Double-check my carry-on luggage (this is post 9/11, but pre 100ml-liquids-ban), and this time I’m all happy. From memory, my flight to Hamburg was at about tea-time, so I wander down to get the bus in the middle of the afternoon, get to the airport about 4, find a bar in terminal 2 and settle down to hopefully watch most of the first match of the tournament, Germany v Costa Rica. Usually the opening game involves the holders, which has served up delights like the Cameroon player kicking Caniggia so hard he lost his boot in 1990, Ronaldo v Colin Hendry & Colin Calderwood in 1998, and Fabien Barthez’s comedy performance in 2002.
And I get to watch all of it (4-2 Germany, surprisingly good game for the opener) because my flight is delayed. I’m a wee bit concerned that a delay might have an impact on my hotel check-in, I’m staying at a Best Western so I think it should be alright, but I phone Expedia anyway just to see if there’s anything I need to do. The guy I talk to is really helpful, and surprisingly (in a good way) sounds like he’s onshore, reckons it will be okay, but gives me the hotel’s phone number if I want to check with them myself. Not really! Whilst my high-school German is up to the job, and anyway the receptionist I talk to is likely to speak good English, fact is I’ve been in the pub for three hours and I don’t want something to get lost in translation, so I make up an excuse about not being able to dial internationally and the Expedia guy phones up for me. He calls me back ten minutes later, it’s all fine.
The biggest problem, which I didn’t know at the time and which I only found later from the German lady sitting next to me on the plane, was that Hamburg Airport has a strict midnight curfew, and had we been delayed much longer we’d have had to divert to Hann
over, which is the best part of 100 miles to the south of where we needed to be. This probably explains why the Hamburg flight status changed from delayed, to go-to-gate, to boarding, to final call, very quickly. But we got there, which is the important thing.
Taxi to the hotel (with a cabbie who didn’t like football, or didn’t like my attempts to talk to him about it in pidgin German), check-in was a breeze, went up and dumped my bag in the room, then back down to the hotel bar and had the first of many Schneider-Weisse of this trip. I’ve landed on my feet with this choice of hotel, the Best Western St Raphael is less than half a mile from the main train station, and has plenty of decent bars and restaurants within walking distance. The barman gave me a map and marked with a cross a few of the areas that I should head towards, and that first night I ended up in what is best described a the German equivalent of a Brannigan’s. Stereotypically German, singing along to cheesy British and American MOR music (but no Hasselhoff, they had some standards) but an inoffensive place to sink a few beers, exchange a few words with the locals (little more than “where are you from?” and “are you here for the football?”). A good first night.
I’m at The World Cup.
Saturday 10th June
Wake up in my hotel room and it’s smaller than I remember from when I quickly dumped my bag last night (and when I got back later I just crashed and didn’t notice anything). It’s another gorgeous day outside, and that first morning I wandered to the main train station (Hauptbahnhof) to get some brekkie, which I think was KFC or Burger King (junk food will become a feature of this trip). I find a supermarket and get stocked up on essential supplies – bottles of mineral water (closely checking the labels to make sure it’s “ohne Gas” and not “mit Gas” as I absolutely hate carbonated mineral water), some orange juice, chocolate and crisps to snack on. Take this back to my hotel, then go out for a wander.
I end up back in Brannigan’s where they’re showing England’s opening game (against Paraguay), the bar is full of English fans but my Scotland shirt doesn’t cause any problems (I wouldn’t really expect it to). The bar must be used to this, because somehow they’ve managed to put German telly on the big screen (German-language graphics, German talking heads at half-time) but have John Motson’s BBC commentary coming through the loudspeakers. England scored after about four minutes, and they might as well have stopped playing there and then. The rest of the game was dreadful, at one point in the second half I text an English pal back in London “This is like watching Scotland under Craig Brown” (you can’t get much lower than that!). I think that was the day that I changed my opinion of Sven-Goran Eriksson, up till then I had been well-disposed towards him (as much as a Scotland fan can be warm towards England’s manager), looking at the shambles he took over and then consistently got them to quarter-finals, but that day they were just awful, a complete lack of …. anything (passion, hunger, imagination, whatever). Yes it was a hot day, but as a kid I grew up watching Scotland playing World Cup games in Malaga, Seville and Mexico, whereas this game was in Frankfurt. The penny finally dropped with me, the complainers were right.
Next up is Trinidad & Tobago against Sweden, but I want to go back to my hotel and have a lie-down watching the game in my room. Argentina fans seem to be everywhere in the city, and it’s their game against Ivory Coast I’m going to later.
I’m lazy so I catch the train for a couple of stops, it’s already getting busy with fans going to the game. I’m crammed in by the door with a bunch of (obviously) locals, noisy & boisterous but friendly, singing what (I guess) is a HSV or St Pauli song to the tune of “Yellow Submarine”. I’ve always wanted to know what the words are to this, and what it’s about – I know that Hamburg features heavily in The Beatles’ backstory and I’m wondering if that’s something to do with it.
At this point it’s worth mentioning the quality (or lack of) in my photos. In 2006 specialist digital cameras were common but expensive, and low-spec camera-phones were ubiquitous. I took the decision not to spend hundreds on a digital camera in case it got lost or damaged, and instead to rely on my Nokia mobile phone and its VGA camera. Looking back on these images now, I really regret this.
For some reason I duck into a pub on the way from the station to my hotel, and end up standing at the bar next to couple of Scottish guys. They don’t have tickets (they’d like to have) they’re just here for the atmosphere, though one of them keeps offering to buy my ticket off me for an ever-increasing number of Euros.
Finally back at my hotel, not had as much of a chance to rest as I had wanted (or needed). I get changed into my jeans but keep my Scotland shirt on, put my Scotland flag on my back, and head out. Pizza Hut at the Hauptbahnhof for dinner, then on the train to the Volksparkstadion (to give it its proper name) which is known for the duration of the tournament as the FIFA WM (Weltmeister, i.e World Cup) Stadion Hamburg, because its official name in 2006 is the AOL Arena. How did those naming rights work out for them, I wonder?
Inside I’m in row 1 seat 1, which is right over the corner flag. It’s officially a neutral area but there are Argies everywhere.
Ivory Coast are defending the goal at this end for the first half, and Argentina look like they’ve taken the lead early on when the goalie fumbles. But no, the ref doesn’t give it, although I get a text from my brother a few minutes later to say that replays show the ball did cross the line. After all that we’re still waiting for the opening goal, which comes from Hernan Crespo. All the goals come at my end – Saviola gets another one before the interval, and then Didier Drogba pulls one back late in the second half.
Argentina had a young guy called Lionel Messi on the bench – he didn’t get on.
Truth be told, I didn’t enjoy this game much, it didn’t get to me, I didn’t care about who won, and my view of the game was crap. I didn’t go back to my seat for the second half, I spent most of it at the back of the stand near the food outlets, where the view was much better, in as much as I got a much better idea of the shape of the game.
One thing I’ve noticed when writing this blog is that a ticket to see Argentina in the World Cup, in a seat in a brand new 100m euro stadium, cost 27 euros. At the exchange rate on that day, that was 18.50 pounds. Four weeks previously it cost me 17 pounds to stand in the paddock at Griffin Park and watch Brentford v Swansea in English football’s third tier.
Sunday 11th June
The morning after the night before, and it’s already clear that the World Cup has left town. The life has gone out of the city, the streets no longer have the buzz about them that they did yesterday, and it feels unusually quiet for a big city even on a normal Sunday morning.
After lunchtime I go up towards the Reeperbahn but even that’s quiet. I’m the only one in the bar where I watch Netherlands v Serbia which finishes 1-0 (ball over the top that Arjen Robben runs onto, and finishes well), afterwards I have a walk along the Herbertstrasse (famous for its prostitutes in the windows, a la Amsterdam) but there’s only one and, in common with the mood in the rest of the city today, she looks bored as anything. I walk back to my hotel and fall asleep during Mexico v Iran, I wake up and it’s 1-1, then two quick goals and suddenly it’s 3-1 and I start to get interested as I’ve put a bet on 3-3. I’ve bet on every game to finish 3-3, the rationale being that 3-3 is always a 66/1 shot,and there are only 64 games in the World Cup, so if just one of them comes in you’ve broken even; if more than one comes in then it’s pure profit after that. I finish watching it in the hotel bar, as the game goes into injury time I text one of my pals “We could still get 3-3 here” and get the reply “how much have you had to drink?”.
One more game to go this weekend, and Portugal v Angola on a Sunday night is about as much fun as it sounds. Bags packed, and ready for an early start in the morning.
Monday 12th June
Up at the crack of dawn, I have to leave the hotel by 6am at the absolute latest to get to the Hauptbahnhof in time for my train to Mannheim, 4 1/2 hours away. I’m booked to stay in Mannheim but that’ s not where today’s game is, it’s a further hour away in Kaiserslautern (Mannheim was the closest place I could find a hotel). While I got Hamburg all sorted pretty quickly (the ticket ballot was in November 2005, and I booked my flight and hotel the same day), I didn’t get notified of my ticket for today’s game, Australia v Japan, until the end of January.
I had booked my Hamburg-Mannheim train tickets though the Deutsche Bahn website a couple of months previously, but figure I’ll just get Mannheim-Kaiserslautern on the day. At the station I’ve got time to get myself a Burger King (two Whoppers) and the ICE (Inter City Express) train is at the platform waiting for me. I’ve packed a portable DVD player and series 2 of “24” (these are the days before tablets, far less Netflix). That passes the time, and I jump in a taxi at Mannheim station to my hotel, and whereas three days previously I was worried I’d be too late to check-in, today I’m going to be too early. Nope, all good, the room is ready for me, so I get checked in, change out of my jeans and into my shorts, and about turn and back to the station.
Like I mentioned in the previous paragraph, I hadn’t bought my Mannheim-Kaiserslautern ticket in advance. And like I said on Saturday, holding a match ticket gets you on local public transport to & from the game. Which for today apparently extends as far as Mannheim, about 40 miles away (imagine having a ticket for a game at Hampden, and getting a free train to & from Edinburgh), which has saved me a fair bit.
The train pulls into Kaiserslautern station and for a second or two you get a great view right down the main street, and it’s just a sea of gold. I’ve come to support Australia today, I’ve always had a soft spot for the country after a couple of memorable holidays there in 1993 and 2000, it’s struck me as a country that takes the best bits of Britain and the best bits of other countries, and has managed to blend them together and got a great result (note this is me trying to describe my thoughts as they were in 2006, which are not necessarily what they are today).
I’m wearing another Scotland(ish) top today, a navy blue t-shirt with white text “I support two teams – Scotland, and whoever is playing England” which raised a few smiles on the faces of Aussies that saw it on the train. Now I’m down among the fans I can’t help feeling that it’s unnecessarily antagonistic. I’m starting to feel uncomfortable, and there’s such a wonderful, friendly atmosphere around right now that I don’t want to ruin it. The FFA (Football Federation Australia) has a stall selling Socceroos shirts, so I buy one of them and make a quick change, and feel much better in myself, a Socceroos fan draped in a Scotland flag, it feels right. It’s a hot day and I’m conscious that all I’ve had to drink is Coke (from my Burger King) and coffee (from the cart on the train), and I know that caffeine is a diuretic. I can feel it already that I’m starting to dehydrate, so I limit myself to one beer before the game. I also remember that I didn’t enjoy myself at the game on Saturday, and wondered if fatigue and tiredness might have been a factor there, so I want to stay in good shape today.
I get to my seat early, and unlike Saturday’s this one is great, between the halfway line and the penalty area, and really high up with a great view of the pitch. It feels like a proper stadium too, one of these that looks like it’s been expanded piecemeal while keeping the character of the existing stadium, rather than being bulldozed and rebuilt on the same site (like the one in Hamburg). On my way up I pass the corporate hospitality area, but there’s guard on the door, and it’s not worth even trying. I notice a few things on the big screen as the teams etc. come up – Zico is the coach of Japan, which I should have known but didn’t. And there’s now somebody whose official job is Fifth Official (as well as the ref, linesmen and fourth official). What does he do?
I’m officially in a neutral area, but it’s mainly Japanese, with a few Aussies here and there, though their main contingent is behind the goal on the left, with the Japanese having the other end.
The ground wasn’t full, there were more than a few empty seats near me. I was sat next next to a German guy in his 50s, and unusually for a German of his generation he didn’t speak any English. We chatted in German at half time about my trip, the game that I went to a couple of days previously, and the games that I was hoping to go to for the rest of my trip. My plan was to go back to Mannheim after this game, get the train on Tuesday morning to Berlin and go to Brazil v Croatia in the Olympic Stadium. On Wednesday I planned to go to Leipzig for Spain v Ukraine but won’t stay overnight in Leipzig, and instead right after the game get myself back to Hamburg where I’ve got a hotel booked, and would go to Ecuador v Costa Rica on Thursday, before flying back to London. He shook his head as I was telling him this, muttering “nein, nein” and something else which was probably German for “you’re off your head”.
On the park, Japan scored early after a bad mix-up between Mark Schwarzer and one of his defenders. And Australia just weren’t getting into the game at all, and the Japanese fans’ chants of “Nippon! Nippon!” were really getting on my tits. I knew most of the Aussie players, I knew they were paying a fortune to Guus Hiddink to be their manager, and was wondering just why it wasn’t happening for them. Then the subs came on, Tim Cahill (who I had heard of), John Aloisi (who I hadn’t) and Josh Kennedy (whom Wiki says is 6’4″, though he looked even taller that day), and the game started to change. The relief (release?) in the ground when Cahill equalised was something else, and amid all the cheering I was probably the only fan in an Aussie shirt that wasn’t happy, shouting “okay, go and win this now, right!”. And when the second goal went in, a beauty that Cahill curled in from the edge of the box (and still gets a cheer years later any time it was replayed on the big screen in the Walkabout in Shepherd’s Bush) I still wasn’t happy (“right, go and finish them off now!”). Which they did, in injury time, and as I left the ground that was one of the happiest feelings I ever had after a football match. I can’t put my finger on what was so special, I’ve been to games which, you would think, mattered more to me (Old Firm games, Champions League games) with teams that I really cared deeply about, and in whom I had invested so much emotion throughout decades of my life. But the way I felt that day was something I have rarely, if ever, felt after a football match.
The passengers I shared to train back to Mannheim with were predominantly Japanese, they assumed I was an Aussie because of my Socceroos top (and it wasn’t worth telling them) and were polite and magnanimous, and if they only said two words in English to me it would be “well done”.
I got back to Mannheim and the city centre was really quiet, even at 7pm on a Monday you’d expect it to have a bit of life about it. I was dehydrating badly but didn’t want to faff around looking for a shop, the hotel was only ten minutes away and I knew there were complimentary bottles of mineral water in the room (and why I didn’t pick them up when I left at lunchtime I don’t know). I opened them and they were carbonated, and like I said a couple of days ago I hate the stuff, but I downed both bottles without stopping for breath. To this day that remains the only time I’ve ever drank carbonated mineral water.
Tuesday 13th June
Got the ICE to Berlin, got through a few more episodes of “24”, before arriving in its majestic new Hauptbahnhof, which I’d previously seen in a half-finished state on a trip to Berlin in 2003.
It’s a wonderful feat of engineering, built on five levels, from the ICE train platforms at the bottom (where I arrived) through the regional and commuter services, to the U-Bahn and S-Bahn at the top. I got the U-Bahn to Uhlandstrasse, on the Kufuerstendamm, where I had a hotel booked. It was hard to get a hotel in Berlin tonight as Brazil were playing, so the Brazilian diaspora from across Germany (and further) was in town, as was every football hipster (as they weren’t called back then) in their fake retro 1970 tops with “Pele 10” printed on the back. The KuDamm is a nice bit of the city, it’s the main shopping drag in what was formerly West Berlin, I stayed here three years ago in the Kempinski. Tonight’s accommodation isn’t nearly as grand, a single bed in what’s no more than an attic room with a shower.
I think it was on the train from Mannheim that I decided that the guy I spoke to at halftime the day before had been right, I need my head examined to try and squeeze in a trip to Leipzig the following day – I won’t enjoy it, I don’t care much for either team, I’ll spend most of the game thinking about the long train trip I’ve got to do back to Hamburg, it’s best if I just can that idea, have a lazy day and go straight from Berlin to Hamburg in the afternoon. I already had purchased my train tickets for Berlin-Leipzig and Leipzig-Hamburg, so I went back to the Hauptbahnhof to see what could be done. I was expecting this to cost me a lot, to be told that the tickets I held were non-transferrable & non-refundable, and that in effect I’d have to buy a brand new ticket for Berlin-Hamburg, and as this was the next day it would cost me a fortune. So I got the best surprise of the holiday when I was told that the tickets I already held could be used to offset the cost of the new ticket, and I actually ended up getting money back! Whether this is a special rule they had in place for the World Cup, or whether it’s another perk of having a nationalised railway is unclear.
The game I had come for, Brazil v Croatia, kicked off at 9pm and I didn’t have a ticket. I spent the afternoon and early evening at the fan park at the Brandenburg Gate, before getting the U-Bahn up to the Olympic Stadium.
I’ve got to be honest, I wasn’t wise to the ways of the world when it comes to buying tickets from touts at a major tournament. How much scope is there to haggle (it depends), are the tickets genuine (probably), is it legal (definitely not), can you get lifted (possibly – as happened to a pal of mine at another of Brazil’s games, where he spent some time in the cells after Dortmund’s finest thought he was a tout, and weren’t satisfied with his explanation for having 1000 euros in cash and clearly looking to buy tickets outside the ground) so I didn’t put too much effort in to securing a ticket. The place was just heaving with fans, and the flow of people coming from the U-Bahn station was never ending, and I was fighting against the tide to try and get back to the station, and from there back to the KuDamm to watch the game on telly, which I did, in the same bar as I had watched a Champions League game three years previously.
1-0 Brazil, not a great game but they won, this is in the same group as Australia but I can’t read too much into what might happen in their next games. You’ve got to assume that Brazil will beat Oz, so depending on the result of the other game a draw might be enough against Croatia.
One final thing …. in that game were the reigning champions, who had won two out of the last three tournaments (and were beaten finalists in the other one), against a team who went out in the first round this time & last time, and wouldn’t even qualify for the next one, and would go out in the first round the one after that. So which of the two teams do you think would be next to appear in a World Cup Final?
Wednesday 14th June
The train to Hamburg that I booked yesterday isn’t till 2-ish so I have a lie-in, have a stoat around the KuDamm, and end up near the Kaiser Wilhelm Gedaechtniskirche (memorial church). It’s one of very few damaged buildings in Berlin that has been deliberately left as it was after the war.
Right next to it is the department store KaDeWe (which is what everyone calls it, though its full name is Kaufhaus des Westens, literally Shop Of The West). I end up having a wander round there to kill time, and gravitate towards the upper floors where the restaurant is. I’m sick of junk food, sick of having something-and-chips for lunch and dinner (either that or it’s pizza), usually eating in a pub, and so for lunch today I end up sitting down for a plate of pasta and a Sprite, and I feel so much better after it. After this I’m straight back to my hotel to pick up my bags, then get to the Hauptbahnhof for the ICE train to Hamburg. I’ve got the last night of my trip in Hamburg, and then I fly home.
While on the train I remember my bet on every game to finish 3-3 (a 66/1 shot, only 64 games, it’s a dead cert!), and before I left London I placed bets on all of the opening games (which was as far ahead as the bookies would allow). Now we’re into the second round of games in the group stage I need to get my next bets on. Again, this is before smartphones and tablets and apps and free wi-fi, so I find an internet cafe in Hamburg’s main station and get my bets in for the next few days. It’s my first attempt at typing on a German keyboard, and the layout is just subtly different enough to be a real pain – ‘Y’ and ‘Z’ are swapped round, and as my surname contains a ‘Y’ is means when I touch-type my email address & my Betfair login they’re both wrong. And some of the non-alphanumeric characters you get when you press Shift-[number] are switched around, so my fingers’ muscle memory when typing my password lets me down.
Germany play Poland that night (in Dortmund) and score the only goal of the game in injury time. And the fans pour onto the streets of Hamburg afterwards..
Thursday 15th June
I’m in a different hotel this time, about a mile and a half west of where I stayed at the start of the trip. The room is fine, furniture is old and tired, but it will do the job for one night. After checking out and going for some brekkie I have a wander, lots of old architecture (which I hope is authentic, and hasn’t been rebuilt after the war) and I go up the tower at St Michael’s Lutheran Church which offers great view of this bit of the city.
Eventually I wind up down by the harbour area.
Plan for today was to go to Ecuador v Costa Rica, which on paper should be easy enough to pick up a ticket for – neither side has a huge amount of travelling fans, it’s the middle of the afternoon during the working week, but as the clock ticks round and I really should be thinking about going to the stadium and seeing what price the touts are charging …. it’s the same feeling as I had a couple of days ago, I just can’t be bothered. Part of me can’t understand why – I’ve been planning this trip since November last year, and had been looking forward to it for far longer than that. I had got maps and calendars and planned everything out, but now it comes down to it just going to any random game in the World Cup isn’t enough, there has to be something about the match that grabs me.
I end up going to the airport while that game is going on, and when I get there I watch the first half of England v Trinidad & Tobago. It’s still 0-0 as we start to board, and there’s a lot of passengers that have to be chased up to board the plane. We take off more or less ontime and that’s it. The seventh World Cup I can remember, and first – and so far only – one that I’ve been to. It’s been an experience I’ll treasure.
What happened next
Argentina battered Serbia the next day, scoring six goals including the goal of the tournament. They gained admirers throughout the tournament, and most neutrals were unhappy when they lost their quarter-final on penalties to Germany.
Ivory Coast and Japan went out after the group stage.
Australia got the draw they needed against Croatia, and went back to Kaiserslautern to face the eventual winners Italy. Even playing most of the second half with an extra man they still couldn’t make it count, and I still say that Italy were there for the taking in the last 15 minutes, if only Guus Hiddink had been more adventurous and brought on another forward.
No game finished 3-3 in the entire tournament.
Scotland are still in a rebuilding phase.