Vfl Bochum 1 Union Berlin 2 (19th May 2013)
The last game of my mini tour saw me take the short trip to Bochum for their 2 Bundesliga match with Union Berlin. Bochum isn’t exactly a tourist hotspot, and I’d not really planned to do much there beyond going to the game. However, with sunshine and blue skies returning like an old friend, I decided I had just enough time for the most whistly of whistle-stop tours of the city centre.
The tourist information centre was shut this Sunday though, which was hardly ideal for a place whose attractions are not exactly world famous. Trying to guess from a street map on a sign would have to suffice, and it probably worked. I don’t think I’d recommend the centre of Bochum to any tourist going to the country, but if you set the bar for expectations about as low as you can, it’s a nice sunny day, and you have about 40 minutes spare, it’s OK.
It has a few tidy open squares, just about avoiding the sterile windswept look most modern ones have. A few older, if not genuinely old, buildings. The remnants of church that was no doubt mainly destroyed in the war, and a little old one tucked away between the shops, as if the town planners left a coffee cup on that part of the map when they were planning their post-war rebuild. Maybe I should approach the tourist centre with suggestions for new campaigns – “Bochum! Not as bad as you thought!” or “Bochum! A reasonable place to walk round for a short while!” I’d love to know how the do try to sell the place.
It wasn’t long though before I was heading off up the km of so road to the stadium, eager to get there early. A crowd of around 25000 was expected for the game, so even two hours early there was a steady trickle of fans walking up to the ground. Among them, shadowed every inch of the way by a heavy contingent of police, were the red-clad away fans from Berlin.
You see the floodlights of Bochum’s ground before the ground itself. Unlike traditional floodlights, the ones at Bochum are white and concrete(?) and look like something out of the space age, with the tiny lights almost insignificant inside the giant white boxy frames that hold them. As you get closer you see the stadium, one side jutting out into the street. The concrete ribs that support the seats and the roof stick out at an angle, looking like the cooling fins of a motorbike engine. These are also white, thankfully high enough to avoid the attention of graffiti artists, and look so much better than they would if they been left the natural grey.
Built in the late 1970s, this simple design was carried round all four sides of the stadium, although one side now has the addition of a large corporate block at the rear. The possible monotony is broken by the poles for the four floodlights jutting into the corners of the stadium, with the stadium sections pushed back, as if the poles were squashed into plasticine. The rear windows of the stands are bigger here as a result, and each panel contains a small picture of a bird in flight, like the result of a primary school art project.
Towards the north end of the ground the air was filled not only with expectation, but also a large amount of white fluff. This had come from the trees next door, blown across, turning the area into what looked like the location of the world pillow-fight championship.
Having paid just €11 for my ticket, I walked through to my cheapest professional game for many years, as well as the biggest terrace I’ve stood on for probably as equally as long. Holding probably just over 10000, it takes up the whole end behind one goal, and the corners too. Steep, and with fluffy seeds accumulating at the back, it would be my “home” for the next three hours or so. Except for a 1500 or so corner section of terracing at the far end, the rest of the ground was all seater, but somehow it just works. It’s a million miles away from the one-tier bowls that seem so dull in England. True, the large terrace certainly helps, but the low flat roof also creates a sense of enclosure. It doesn’t feel like a traditional old ground, but it doesn’t feel like a modern dull one either.
I’d booked a terrace ticket back in February on the grounds that with average crowds of only 12000 or so, there’d be plenty of room to take pictures. Back then Bochum were in the dreary zone, below half-way but in no danger of the drop. Things then took a turn for the worse, to the extent that they dropped into the relegation zone. This had ignited the home support though, and this would be the third game in a row that was on course to sell out.
As it turned out, Bochum clinched survival the previous week, so the was nothing hanging on the game. This meant a few thousand empty seats at the far end, but the other three stands were all sold out, including the terrace I was on.
On the one hand that was great. I’d much rather be in a big crowd than a small one, but taking pictures on a crowded terrace, without hugely annoying people around me, would be difficult. As a result I went there early, got myself a hot-dog and a beer, and found a spot right at the back of the terrace.
Of course, sod’s law says if try to do this, and the precise moment when moving to somewhere else stops being an option, Lurch from the Addams Family and his large headed cousins will turn up and stand right in front of you. That exactly what happened to me. It wasn’t so bad, with the terrace steps being pretty high, but having to peer round a human pillar is not ideal. At least thankfully a capacity crowd on a terrace these days, even in Germany, doesn’t result in being squashed to the point of intimacy against your fellow fans any more.
With the teams preparing to kick off, and the copious tree-fluff falling in large enough quantities to look like a bizarre snow-storm in the summer, scarves were raised as they were at Osnabrück the previous day, as You’ll Never Walk Alone played over the PA.
With Bochum already safe, there wasn’t quite the intensity to the crowd that there could have been, but there was still more than enough there to remember why going to football used to be so good. Sadly the football had stepped down a gear or two as well. It certainly wasn’t a poor game, but Union Berlin were showing no ambition at all, and Bochum were demonstrating more of why they’d struggled as opposed to why they’d got out of it. They were still the better team though, and the ball was mainly living in the far half towards which Bochum were attacking.
They ought to have gone 1-0 up shortly before half-time. A ball looped back into the six yard box from the left presented itself as a tap-in for the lead. Sadly the guy who got there must have volleyed tap-ins as a work in progress in training, as he somehow lifted it over the bar when it looked easier to score. On the stroke of half-time, Bochum also hit a first time shot which whistled across the stranded keeper, but also past the far post.
How much would they miss not taking those chances? To be honest, it didn’t look much, as Union Berlin didn’t seem that interested in the early stages of the second half either. However, they got an early corner, and this was met at the near post and it flashed past the home keeper before he’d barely had time to react.
If that seemed harsh on the home side, it got worse just five minutes later. A good through ball exposed a very high Bochum back line, and a Union Berlin’s Steven Skrzybski was able to run clear at the goalkeeper from 45 yards. From the edge of the box he was able to calmly side-foot the ball past the advancing keeper, and was already running to the Union fans in the corner before it had finished rolling into the net.
OK, in the grand scheme of things defeat today didn’t matter for Bochum, but this still wasn’t how they’d have planned to end the season. With Union Berlin pretty much thinking the game was in the bag, it was left to Bochum to try to force the game.
Unfortunately it wasn’t going their way. Little was really coming off, and the Union Berlin keeper was showing a safe pair of hands, collecting everything that came in his direction. It still felt that if Bochum could just get one goal it would be a completely different game, but getting that first goal was the stumbling block.
Eventually the pressure told. With 10 minutes left the ball worked its way to Bochum’s Christoph Kramer, deep inside the right of the penalty area. Showing an almost nonchalant calmness, he moved the ball from his right to his left, before hitting it low inside the near post.
The place erupted, and with the crowd turning the volume up a notch or two, drawing level looked really possible. It wasn’t to be though. Bochum have struggled for a reason and they just didn’t have enough to grab that 2nd goal. It has to be said though, that despite the loss, the Bochum public clearly appreciated the efforts of the last few weeks to save their club’s 2nd tier place. As I made my way down the terrace, full of enough confetti and paper streamers from the ticker-tape welcome to guarantee the cleaners will be on healthy overtime payments, hardly anyone was leaving. They all wanted to stay to applaud the team – the players that were leaving, and the manager.
Knowing my holiday was effectively over when I left the ground, I stuck around, and when I did eventually leave, over 20 minutes after the final whistle, there were still thousands on the terraces. If they can start coming again in such numbers next season, the club might be able to start thinking about leaving the division through the top places rather than the bottom ones.