VFL Osnabrück 4 Alemannia Aachen 0 (18th May 2013)
I’ve never been that wild about bratwursts, but the ones at Osnabrück were gorgeous, and not purely because I was absolutely starving. I was starving because the trip to the game from my much-further-away-than-I-realised base of Düsseldorf didn’t quite go to plan.
(this intro is ridiculously long, by the way. I don’t even get to the ground until paragraph 13, so those with less patience might wish to just skip to there)
I’d thought my trip to Osnabrück would be effectively free if I stuck to regional trains, as my hotel offered a weekend ticket free travel within the whole VRR region, and my Osnabrück match ticket should have taken me the remainder of the way. Around 10-15 minutes before catching my train though I was struck with doubt, as I had no idea just how far the VRR network stretched. I asked a guy at the DB information kiosk in the station about my hotel “ticket”. He looked at it with disdain, as if it was a coupon free with a packet of bubble gum, and sniffily said that it was only for use within the city of Düsseldorf itself.
Wandering off to look for a machine to buy a ticket, I saw another info booth. Deciding the the first guy I’d asked seemed to be a bit of an arse, I asked the young woman if she knew if the ticket would get me to Münster, where I thought the VRR network ended. She was a nice girl, very friendly, but her answer of “maybe, I don’t really know” was about at much use as a hatstand is to a jellyfish.
The official station travel centre was a last option, but alas it has a take-a-ticket-and-wait-forever system in place. I swear people go in there to ask about youth rail discounts, and no longer qualify by the time the get to the counter.
Besides, I’d wasted so much time that I had no time to buy a ticket now anyway, as I dashed to the platform knowing departure was imminent. Very imminent in fact, as I reached the platform the train doors were already emitting their “we’re about the shut” warning beep. I dived on, to great relief. That relief lasted about two seconds, when I realised I was on the wrong train. As the doors slammed shut, I could see via the info board that I was on my way to Dortmund.
It actually turned out OK. The ticket guard suddenly appeared, like the shopkeeper in a Mr Benn cartoon, and told me the Dortmund was about as far as I could go on the VRR network anyway, and there were direct trains to Osnabrück from there. It wasn’t the quickest journey, mind. En route this train called in at so many Wuppertal stations, for example, that I begin to think I’d been mislead, and Wuppertal was actually a small Central European province.
I rolled into Dortmund a full hour and twenty minutes later, only to find a train to Osnabrück on the next platform. It was showing as being delayed “approximately 90 minutes” and had been due to leave 93 minutes earlier. I hopped on this one, which promptly pulled away, and relaxed knowing I’d be in Osnabrück with plenty of time to spare.
Or so I thought. Upon arrival in Münster, the train announcer starting talking about which platform to go to for the next train to Osnabrück, which seems a little odd considering this was supposed to be going to Osnabrück. So I jumped off the train, found a DB guy on the platform, and he assured me the train was going to Osnabrück, even if it didn’t show on the boards. Relieved I jumped back on.
One nice touch they have on German inter city trains is electronic screens showing all the stops the train will make. Nice, except this one insisted the next stop is Bremen. Bremen is a full 80 miles past Osnabrück. If Bremen was indeed to the next stop, then despite leaving my hotel a full five and a half hours before kick off, I’d almost certainly miss some of the game.
Now, the fact that this write-up isn’t suffixed “(2nd half only)” or similar, gives away the fact that I got there, and indeed it did stop in Osnabrück, the last leg of the trip was fine, if a bit stressful. OK, some young woman did, I think, take a sneaky picture of me that made me feel somewhat self-conscious, but so pleased was I to arrive in Osnabrück that I could have kissed the ground as I got off the train, but I didn’t as people might have thought me a bit odd, or at least a trainee Pope.
I was still there later than I’d originally planned, but it still allowed me an hour to briskly walk to the old town to see what it had to offer. It took a bit of perseverance, as the walk to the old town took in parts of the centre that were so ugly that it looked like they’d specially drafted in English town planners to do a proper expert job in ruining their city. It was worth the trudge though, as Osnabrück has a small but characterful Aldstadt, full of old and attractive buildings. Not quite the full chocolate box, but still handsome, even on this grey afternoon. A Market added to the charm. Rather than a British market, which these days are usually little more than al fresco pound shops, this sold a range of tasty looking food and drink, and looked a nice place to browse.
I had no time to browse though. After a hectic morning, my game awaited, and I wanted to get there early and relax for a bit. Yes, I know that rushing somewhere so you can relax sounds a bit daft, but it made sense at the time.
Osnabrück’s Osnatel Arena is located, as were three of the four grounds I visited on this trip were, about 1km NE of the railway station. Having lost my bearings slightly, I followed a purple-clad couple clearly off to the match. Unfortunately they were clearly a new couple, often lost in each other’s romantic gaze, as they meandered slowly towards their destination. Not wishing to be considered a gooseberry nor a stalker, I had to hang back about 30 yards while they intertwined in the direction of the stadium, but to be frank I could probably have strolled past with a flashing siren on my head, and they wouldn’t have noticed.
You don’t really see the stadium until you are virtually there, with it seemingly tucked away down a couple of side alleys, surrounded by houses. The feeling of being a bit cramped isn’t helped by the fence surrounding the ground, forcing all access around via a strip a few metres wide. It’s not that narrow, but you wouldn’t want to try and get round the stadium in a rush.
Partly due to the novelty of it, the first thing you really notice about the place is the colour purple. Even a children’s play area next to the ground is decked out in it. The modern exteriors of the two side sides have enough signage – purple obviously – along with dark grey bricks to the facade of the lower floors to avoid the cheap retail park look, and give the place the feel of a club that’s small, but going places.
I opted for the relative luxury of the new(ish) North Stand. At €32 for a third tier game don’t buy into the myth that football is always cheap in Germany, but it did offer the best view, being the back row of a 21 row modern (purple, obviously) seated stand. Although I say the back row, there was actually another row behind, as wide as a gangway, containing a series of “desks” with two or three seats behind each. It was as if these were intended for the press, but seemed to be used by normal fans.
Opposite was the smaller south stand. Another single tier of seats, amazingly not all of them purple. This was, until the completion of the North Stand a few years ago, the only seated part of the ground, but is now the smallest part of the ground.
To my left was a covered terrace known as the east curve (despite being completely straight – traditions die hard in Germany, clearly). Had it not been already almost completely full by the time I walked in, I could have seen how terracing has been painted purple, which is a lot more fetching than it sounds, adding another little bit of identity to the ground.
Less welcome, sadly, are fences at the front of the terrace, and ground to ceiling netting which spanned almost the whole width of the end. The club had even chosen to have a large advert picked out in the mesh, although how much of a difference that makes to those who have to watch through it, only they could say.
Opposite is a near identical end, split in two to house away fans in one half. A tunnel behind the goal, plus a seemingly over-zealous amount of fencing to form a sterile area between the fans rather spoils this end. German fans are no doubt used to it, but to those from England who can remember similar conditions from the past, it always comes as something of a surprise to remember just how dreadful away ends used to be in the “good old days” before Taylor Report renovation.
In that away enclosure were about 300-400 fans of Alemannia Aachen. When I visited their old Tivoli ground in the winter of 2008, in its last season, the new ground was meant to help the club take that next step from being perennial promotion challengers to being a Bundesliga top tier club. Instead, it’s been a complete disaster for them. Crowds didn’t rise as hoped, and the cost of the stadium crippled the club. They were relegated in 2012, and were also rock bottom and bankrupt on this final day of the 2012/2013 season, unsure of not only which division they’d kick off in next season, but also in which country. There had been suggestions they’d have to rent a ground across the border in Holland, so unviable is the New Tivoli. Returning to the old Tivoli, since bulldozed, is sadly not an option.
As much as I loved my trip to their old place, and I hope them all the best for the future, on this day I wanted an Osnabrück victory. When I’d booked my ticket, way back at the start of February, it did look possible that this game would be a promotion-clincher. Since then Osnabrück had been struck with a touch of the promotion jitters, and had looked at one stage likely to miss out completely. However, the ship had been steadied a bit, and they now went into this final day needing to better the result of Heidenheim, who come up on the inside rail almost unnoticed and nicked third spot – the spot giving the right for a two-leg play-off with the 16th place 2 Bundesliga club – with one game to play.
I’d pictured this end-of-season game taking place in brilliant sunshine, not the drizzle that dropped from the grey skies, but the atmosphere built regardless. A singalong to “You’ll Never Walk Alone”, scarves raised in unison, as the teams emerged (rather more footballish than the theme from”The A-Team” that had been played earlier) was impressive. It was also a reminder of when that song (YNWA, not the A-Team theme) would be sung regularly at most English grounds, and fans didn’t regard scarves and wearing colours as somehow “uncool”. To me, it adds to the spectacle. I can get that a season ticket holder at Old Trafford wants to disassociate himself from the once-in-a-lifetime fan who turns up in freshly purchased clobber from the club shop, still with the price tags on, but when a fan at Walsall or Lincoln doesn’t want people to think he’s a day-tripper, it’s a bit stupid.
Putting my sympathies to Alemannia Aachen aside, from an Osnabrück perspective they were ideal opponents, as the home side set about fulfilling their half of the deal as quickly as they could. Aachen weren’t terrible by any means, showing considerable competence in patches, but there were certainly deficiencies. At times their defence couldn’t have been more statuesque if the players had been made of copper and stuck on a granite plinth, and it was no surprise that Osnabrück had built a up 3-0 half-time lead.
All three goals were more or less identical. A through ball past unreactive defenders picked out an attacker just inside the left hand side of the penalty area. He’d cut the ball back across the six yard box, where an Osnabrück player would sticking out an outstretched leg to prod the ball home. Much celebration for each, followed by scarves twirled overhead to the strains of what sounded like the “Laaaaa la la la la la la laaaa”s from Crocodile Rock, but might have been something similar. The only two questions by half time were “how many?” for this game, and would Heidenheim get the win they now need to deny Osnabrück?
It should have been much easier for Osnabrück early in the second half as Aachen’s keeper had a rush of blood to his head and came storming out of his area to take out an attacker who was still a long way from it. Instead it just seemed to make both teams settle for what they’d got, and it took until the 86th minute to add a 4th. A shot from the left of the box seemed to surprise everyone, before crashing in off the inside of the far post.
More cheers, more scarf twirling and more Elton (possibly), but it was really all about events in Heidenheim now. There was still plenty of singing, with all parts of the crowd joining in with “V! F! L!” at regular intervals, but attention was on the large corner scoreboards and their regular score updates. Repeated latest scores of 0-0 from Heidenheim were drawing cheers almost as load as the goals.
The final whistle went to nervous excitement. The players wandered round not knowing what to do. The strain told in their reactions, as well as those in the stands, as the scoreboard showed their were two minutes to play in Heidenheim.
This changed to one minute, and fingers, and anything else possible was crossed. People whistled as if the ref in Heidenheim would hear their call the end the game. With nerves shredding, suddenly the scoreboard changed to the single word “Schluss!!!” and the place erupted. The Osnabrück players ran to the east curve and dived towards them, then the gates from the end were flung open and the fans poured on. Even with my limited smattering of German, it was easy to recognise the PA guy asking people to stay off the pitch, knowing that asking them to defy gravity had about as much chance of happening. OK, they weren’t actually up, but it put them one two-legged tie away from it, and the fans could enjoy their day in the sun – or lightening but still overcast skies, as the case my be.