Hanover, Japan 1 Mexico 2 (Confederations Cup 17/06/2005)
Like the groove in your top lip, I never really understood what the Confederations Cup was for. I was sure it did provide some function, but I couldn’t see what. Its champions weren’t champions of anything and appeared to exist solely to give Sepp Blatter another chance to appear on television with footballers that some people around the world actually liked, as if he was hoping to absorb popularity through osmosis.
In June of 2005 it was held in Germany and suddenly it had a purpose – to provide me with an excuse for a short trip away. I’m sure that was not its exact purpose, but I would be spending enough on three tickets to probably pay for entrées at whichever five star hotel Sepp Blatter had generously booked himself into for the duration, so I was probably along the right lines.
Unlike the world cup a year later there were still plenty of tickets available, at least as long as you weren’t too choosy. I just wanted to see two or three games in different venues in a small number of days so I wasn’t too bothered. True, the games on offer didn’t exactly leap out at me, but Argentina v Australia was enticing enough to cover my not overpowering enthusiasm for Japan v Mexico and Japan v Greece. It also got me five nights spread between Hanover, Nuremburg and Frankfurt – three very different German cities. As luck would have it, within a week of booking, FIFA released the embarrassingly undersubscribed corporate ticket allocations and I could have gone to virtually any game, but I was booked up and settled, so no changing now.
First up was Hanover. Hmm, Hanover – hard to know exactly how to describe the place. “Dull” would perhaps be unkind, but it’s not good that perhaps the most remarkable thing about the city was just how recognisable it was from the scale model of the WWII city ruins in the City Hall, where nigh on every single building in the city had been bombed out. The tourist guides had billed the city as being very green, but greenery was rather at a premium in the centre itself, where everything was very orderly but just lacking any sort of spark. I went in the centre and found what appeared to be a kind of fan zone, suggesting Mexican and Japanese food to try, as well as on-stage entertainment. It looked like it might be up and running in a couple of days time – unfortunately the match was later that evening.
It was a nice place, but also the sort of place where the bars still aren’t open by the middle of the afternoon. All very correct and orderly, which made it all the more surprising to be walking through a shopping district and notice a brash couple of streets of seemingly thriving red-light district just over the road. I suppose when you live somewhere where the shops all shut by midday on Saturday, you need some other form of diversion.
If there was something to commend Hanover for though, it’s having a very central stadium, just on the edge of the city centre, where it does start to get genuinely green. The newly built stadium certainly deserved a more promising opening encounter than Japan v Mexico. The stadium itself was very light two-tiered oval, with roof sheeting so clear it looked as if they hadn’t finished building it yet. The dark blue seats had a kind of drab matt finish, as if they’d been in another stadium for 20 years before being installed here, but was otherwise fine.
I was in the cheap seats behind one goal. I had originally opted for a pricier ticket, but noticed that FIFA, in the kind of generous gesture that’s become their hallmark, were charging an extra 10 euros or so postage on all orders over 75 euros (as mine would have done) even though they clearly were going to post them in exactly the same way, with no additional postage charge. So I opted for the cheap ticket. Sure the view wouldn’t be as good, but I laughed at the knowledge that Sepp, in his suite, would no longer be indulging himself with two drinks from the mini-bar and the packet of peanuts on my money, oh no.
The stadium slowly filled, or half-filled to be exact, as the Mexican and Japanese fans who’d been so elusive around town took their positions, although they could probably have sat more or less where they’d wanted. What was painfully obvious was the almost total absence of people in the expensive executive seating away down the side to my right. Maybe the corporate whores had decided to sample the real thing down those interesting neon-lit streets a mile up the road, instead of the game this evening, and put a different kind of VIP service on their expense accounts.
The Mexican fans easily outnumbered their Japanese counterparts, doing their best to create an atmosphere despite being scattered about like litter on a windy day, and they were to outnumber them in goals as well, but not after being given a fright. Japan took a deserved early lead in the game and it wasn’t until Mexico hit back with a fine long-range chip before half time that they settled. The second half was mainly about whether Mexico would go on to get the win, or if Japan could hold on or maybe sneak one themselves. It went with the form book, with Fonseca heading a winner midway through the second half. It had been a decent game though, better than I’d expected with Mexico looking talented but not quite organised, and Japan looking organised but not quite as talented. Just a shame there weren’t more to see it.
When you have a low crowd you do need everyone doing their bit. The Mexicans had a few horns, which they played with all the style and grace that horns at football matches tend to get played with. The Japanese fans made up for a lack of singing with an infectious enthusiasm. The merest hint of an attack was greeting with excited howls of encouragement, even if they did often have a high-pitched quality which made it sound like they’d all just picked that exact moment to spill a cup of very hot coffee into their laps.
Less welcome was Mr Mexican-Wave, sat just to my left. I would learn during my games in Germany that there are people in this country who are convinced that Mexican waves are, like, you know, the best ever, and nothing will stop them in their quest to get them going. I don’t mind the odd one two, but he and his pals, every few minutes would be up, counting down from five, for everyone to enjoy this fun. He was so thrilled when one worked, it was as if he was nearing orgasm, and it really got on my nerves. In fact if he had just taken out a picture of his favourite teen idol and pleasured himself, no doubt while listening to something like Agadoo on his iPod, I would have found it less offensive. No doubt the woman in the row in front might have had a different opinion, but as she joined in every wave too, I wasn’t bothered.
The match also introduced my to the world cup (or confederations cup in this trial-run case) experience where generic souvenirs, food, scoreboard music and entertainment were part of the package. Most depressing were the souvenir stands, where all mentions of the competing teams (let alone the host club) had been censored by the FIFA thought police. In a country that appears to pride itself on the variety of club scarves on offer, FIFA offered a choice of one, with that one being of a design so insipidly mediocre that I can only assume that in the four minutes the designer used to come up with the design he clearly must have stopped for a coffee break at some stage. And then gone to the toilet.
The food kiosks were a little better. They did at least offer a personal first of being able to eat schnitzel at a football ground, although they did warn me that it wasn’t hot. I took this to mean unintentionally, but hoped that the language barrier wasn’t failing to inform me that they were also raw. They seemed OK. I didn’t go down with food poisoning in any case. A touch of alcoholic poisoning perhaps, a bit later in the evening though as the bars at last filled up. Brazil were mauling Greece 3-0 on the TVs and Hanover was getting as wild as it seems to get on a Thursday night. Maybe Friday would be something special here. I wouldn’t know though, as I’d be in Nuremburg.