Borussia Mönchengladbach 1 Bayer Leverkusen 3

Borussia Mönchengladbach 1 Bayer Leverkusen 3 (06/12/2008)

The second game of a German football weekend saw me head from my base in Köln, up to Mönchengladbach, only a few miles from the Dutch border. Heading to the ground makes you feel near enough to make you wonder if bringing a passport is necessary, so far our to the east of the city does the ground seem.

The new ground could hardly be more of a contrast to their old place, which had three sides of very steeply banked open terracing, right in the heart of a neighbourhood. The new one is out of town and thoroughly modern, rebuilt at the same time as many other stadiums were being rebuilt for the world cup. Surprisingly, despite its 54000 capacity, it didn’t host any world cup games. Perhaps less surprisingly, given the typical high quality of German stadiums, its been very successful, with crowds avering 50,000 typical – despite the team always struggling to grace the surroundings.

I’d arrived just as a day of heavy rain was easing slightly, on a train packed full of supporters of the opposition from Leverkusen. Thankfully Germany has none of the anti-Prawn Sandwich brigade reaction to wearing colours to games that’s crept into the English game, and the trip to the game itself seems part of the event because of it. The habit of travelling fans to indulge in the odd bottle of beer – or even the odd “party 7” keg at times – pre-game also helps.

I don’t think anyone arriving at Borussia Park is going to be overwhelmed by the place. It’s set in a large open space that might be nice in the summer, but is pretty miserable in the rain. The ground, from the outside, couldn’t really be described as anything more than functional. Only the clever addition of green lighting stopped it being mundane. One nice touch was a giant club badge mosaic on the floor outside, made up of hundreds of little metal diamond shaped (like the club badge) plaques set into the floor. It actually looked really good in the wet, becoming almost mirror-like, reflecting those stood upon it.

If not much expense looked to have been spent on the exterior, all is forgiven inside. Two tiers of dark green seats, the lower twice the size of the upper sweep around the ground, all lit to the same good effect by the green lighting used outside. Best of all is the giant packed terrace occupying the bottom tier of one end of the ground, giving the ground a real focus that wouldn’t have been there had it been all-seater. A smaller corner terrace was given over the away fans, who took, or possibly were allowed, only about 1500 fans for what was a local derby.

I did give a second or two’s thought to swapping my usual home “support” for Leverkusen, as Leverkusen is the “twin town” of my home town of Bracknell. It’s hard to think of any benefits, or indeed evidence of this arrangement, athough the Bracknell Town FC match programme does devote a page each week to following the fortunes of its “twin” club. I’ve never been to a Bayer Leverkusen game, so I can’t say if their match programme is equally ethusiastic about the twinning arrangement. Will there be fans in the Bayer Arena reading about how Bracknell Town lost 0-9 at home to North Leigh in the British Gas South & West division in front on 42 fans. Somehow I suspect not.

Regardless, my ticket was bought and I was in the home stands, and if I was not actually in the home end, I could at least appreciate the sight and sound of it from my lofty perch. And they really did make a lot of noise and look spectacular. I love the sight and sound of a packed terrace, and this was no exception. Sometimes it’s hard to remember what the English game is missing. It’s just a much richer experience. It’s not just the singing. There’s just more of the general atmosphere buzz about the place. Then again I watch at the Madejski Stadium, and as fine a job as it does in giving you a good view of the game, it doesn’t get compared to La Bombonera too often.

The Bayer Leverkusen played their party too, with those party sevens putting the fans in a party mood, but they were comprehensively outsung by the green, black and white masses to my right. Just a shame that Borussia were comprehensively outplayed on the pitch. It wasn’t that they were bad, or that Bayer were great, but merely that while Borussia always needed that extra touch, or were reduced to “close, but not quite” moments, Bayer were as clinical as a roof-top sniper, being it playing on the break or being patient and measured when chances came.

At half-time it was 2-0 to the away side, with Kießling scoring twice around half an hour in. When a team 2nd are bottom of the league, as Borussia were, optimism flickers like a candle in a breeze. It was pretty much snuffed out early in the second half with a third goal to the visitors, in most unneighbourly fashion. Borussia did pull one back on the hour, and rallied for a bit, but apart from a forlorn lute flurry from the hosts, the shop was well and truly shut up. Results from elsewhere confirmed that Borussia now occupied 18th, and last place, in the Bundesliga. Not many boos though. This wasn’t some tame submission. There’d been effort, just not enough skill. A crowd of 44,000, one of the lowest a dismal season, shows the potential here, if only the club could ever field a side worthy of gracing such a stadium, and its supporters.

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