Kaiserslautern 0 Gruether Fürth 1 (26/08/2007)
Kaiserslautern are one of those clubs that don’t seem to follow the logical rules. Based in a small town in the middle of nowhere, they ought to, by rights, be spending all their time in the German lower divisions, thinking a cup win v Hamburg in 1974 is as good as it ever gets. Instead they are one of the better supported clubs in Germany, and they even won the league twice in the 1990s, with two cup wins and and run to the champions league quarter finals for good measure. It’s hard to imagine the same happening at Colchester, a slightly bigger town.
Almost equally as illogical, when most clubs picked to host the world cup in 2006 radically rebuilt their stadiums from scratch, Kaiserslautern just decided to have the same again, but twice the size. The result is an old style ground on steroids, modernized and supersized, but still intimate enough to have that all important “you wouldn’t fancy going there on a dark night in November” feel to it for the away team.
Located not far from the main station, the grounds sits high above on a hill, overlooking the town like an ancient Chinese monastery. Even with Kaiserslautern in one of their spells in Bundesliga 2, nearly 30,000 a week were turning out to match their 2007/8 season mediocrity. It’s one of those places that just evoke atmosphere from the moment the first trickle of fans starts to appear. Even appraoching the round, up paths winding round the base, with the stands towering high above, it sets off the tingle of anticipation.
In truth I got there too early, but it was OK. Opting for a seat in the stand opposite the main stand, I also opted for a beer or two pre-match. Unlike in England where drinking pre-game takes place in areas with the charm of a multi-storey car park, here large areas bathed in the light of the plentiful windows in the stand wall contained tables arranged beer hall style. OK, it didn’t quite evoke Oktoberfest, and the beers weren’t served by buxom serving girls carrying one litre glasses to allow tourists to make the obligatory “nice juggs” joke, but it is most definitely more beer hall than bus station, and that’s always a plus.
The other option is to take you beer in with you to your seat, which was my choice during my second pint. With the ground still relatively empty, I took the chance to check out the view from the very back of the stand. It’s only one tier, but the steepness and height made me feel I ought to be making the ascent with crampons and oxygen. It looked a long way down, and woe betide any vertigo sufferers forced into their tickets for Row ZZ.
Despite the height, you still felt quite close to the pitch. Even though three sides of the ground were ultimately just single tier slabs, split at one end for a large terrace, you still got that feeling of it being three distinct stands rather than just a “bowl” of seating. The slightly awkward wedges of seats in the corner just gave it those imperfections that somehow give the place character. The down-sloping roof, a mass of very heavy looking steelwork, also looks more football-ish than a clean modern roof. It adds to that feeling of being “in” the stand.
Had the single tier continued to all four sides it might have not been quite so interesting. Instead the main stand was preserved pretty much as it was, with corner sections of executive boxes, six floors high filling the gaps either side of the stand.
The bulk of the home supporter chose to stand in the large terrace to my left, singing away, scarves held high as used to be the way in England once-upon-a-time, eagerly awaiting the game. The considerably smaller knot of visiting Gruether Fürth fans in a thin terrace at the far corner were rather less conspicuous.
After a rather disappointing visit to Stuttgart the previous day, I was hoping today’s game would be better. It would be quite difficult to be worse. This was to be a day when the difficult would not only be achieved, but surpassed. It was such a bad game that my poor memory of events is something I put down to an act of kindness by the wonders of the human brain. It did at least contain a goal. A penalty was converted by the away team with minimum fuss. You felt that sort of intervention, either by the referee or a higher spiritual power, was the only way a goal would be scored. Needless to say that was the only goal of the game. For all I can remember, it might have even been the only proper shot.
A bit of a shame. Not just because the game was poor, but because I really got a feel that the Kaiserslautern fans would have been terrific if their team was playing well. You can imagine the roar rolling down the stands in waves. Just a shame I was there during a drought.