Nuremberg, Australia 2 Argentina 4 (Confederations Cup, 18/06/2005)
“Don’t mention the war!” implored a slightly addled Basil Fawlty famously in Fawlty Towers, but when the stadium in Nuremberg is sat directly next door to the Nazi parade grounds of grainy newsreel fame, it does fix your gaze like a large hairy facial mole and become almost unavoidable. Even the postcards outside the official tourist office in the city centre have a heavy theme of showing the city in the 1940s, with most of it turned to piles of rubble. That the big pile of rubble in the foreground is the site of the very tourist information centre you are standing in, adds a certain poignancy.
The largely still walled old town itself is vast and a real town within a town as opposed to be merely a tourist enclave. There’s even room for a shabby seedy corner, where the phrase “a fool and his money are easily parted” is no doubt proven on a nightly basis. Definitely a real town rather than a tourist trap, with shops, bars, and loads of the kind of restaurants with close-packed tables designed purely to make the single traveller feel inadequate.
More of a tourist trap is the relatively nearby town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber, thankfully spared night time visits by the allies and is consequently a perfectly preserved medieval village (albeit one with paved roads rather than ones covered in mud & straw, and one where the medieval guilds specialised in making souvenirs rather than more traditional trades). Naturally, with my usual luck for timing trips to sights to correspond perfectly with an additional display of renovation scaffolding around them, I found the classic Rotherburg shot down a Y junction of gingerbread houses to be blessed with the addition feature of sewer works dominating the foreground. Coming from a town mainly built in the 1960s, where people would dismiss without evidence of carbon-dating any building claimed to predate the career of The Beatles, it still seemed wonderful.
Back in Nuremberg, on the trail to the stadium, I took the tram to the previously mentioned parade grounds. There are many ways to describe the area, but “vast” is one that springs to mind. Clearly designed by someone who’d long forgotten a world where he wasn’t chauffered everywhere, he created any area that’s inhumanity was only surpassed by the consequences of the events that unfolded there. In one corner, near the tram stop, was the congress hall. More huge, ugly and useless than Iain Dowie’s less talented big brother, it exists now to house the excellent Nazi (or anti-Nazi to be exact) museum. It’s certainly a chilling reminder of the past, particularly with the location, but at times it’s hard to escape the feeling you are watching a feature night on the History Channel, so familiar are the images. From there you can walk around the lake towards the stadium, on the kind of path that makes you wonder if the floor is moving backwards as you walk along, without seeming to get any nearer.
Before the stadium is the main podium and terrace of the area, looking like the world’s most useless thing. It’s comforting that one of the modern era’s biggest monuments to ego stroking is now treated with suitable irreverence, with the area once reserved for party bigwigs now being the home of skateboarders, and the occasional slightly embarrassed tourist tentatively standing in some historically huge footsteps.
The stadium intended to hold 500,000 on the site was never built, but “The Beautiful Frankenstadium”, as the PA guy would regularly refer to it, certainly was. I’m sure another Franken, stein this time, thought his creation was beautiful too, and although in aesthetic terms it doesn’t quite have bolts through its neck, the stadium does look rather like it was assembled using the stolen body parts of several other stadiums.
Stadiums with a running track are never ideal, but the approach here, not surprisingly not copied too often elsewhere, was to have eight sides to the ground, like an elongated octagon. The roof looks like it was added as an afterthought in two stages. The first stage seemingly abandoned halfway through with only the back half built, and the front half looking like it was taken from the bankruptcy sale of a self-assembly greenhouse specialist, before being joined on to the existing roof in the ill-fitting manner of someone trying to make a DIY wardrobe without the instructions.
Despite that, I quite liked it though. The running track gap wasn’t as bad as I’d feared – at least not from my seat – and it looked light and airy on this summer’s late afternoon. Mind you, it only looked airy. On a very warm day, others may disagree, particularly those sat in the lower tier rotisserie section facing the sun, where paler-skinned fans were rapidly acquiring a chameleon-like ability to blend in with the bright red seats.
Luckily many of those present were either Argentinean or Australian and had enough melanin between them to prevent their exposed flesh cooking like bacon on a hot skillet. The Germans, and myself, took to waiting out the back until the sun dipped.
One of the features of this tournament was the complete lack of, or even attempt at, any kind of segregation. It added to the atmosphere of the tournament where everyone wanted to do well, but didn’t seem overly concerned if they didn’t. It was an attitude the Australians took a step too far, with a leisurely care-free attitude allowing a lively Argentina side to take an early 2-0 lead – all very much appreciated by the Argentina fans who made up the bulk of the committed – as well as adopted – support around the stadium.
A third goal before the hour was enough for the Argentines to declare victory, and the enthusiasm of the fans was a joy to watch, not least of whom the very pretty young woman in front of me who clapped throughout in a curiously delicate but rapid manner, as if her hands were operated by the same mechanism as a set of novelty chattering teeth.
The celebrations were a tad premature though. Aloisi pulled one back from the penalty spot ten minutes later, and narrowed the score to 3-2 ten minutes after that. Suddenly the game changed, as did the support of every neutral, as they urged Australia forward in search of the equaliser.
Australia attacked in the sort of waves that’d have had the Bondi regulars present wishing they’d brought their surfboards, but in the 89th minute Figueroa was like a shark slipping through the defensive nets to complete his hat-trick and end the match in deadly fashion. The groans that had almost drowned out the Argentina cheers rapidly turned to applause though. It had been a good game.