Rot-Weiss Essen 1 VfL Bochum II 0 (29th Nov 2013)
I’m not sure how many Bochum fans would normally be expected to make the 12 mile trip down the road for a derby with local rivals Rot-Weiss Essen, but the fact that only 51 out of the 7883 at this Regionalliga west match were wearing the light blue of Bochum suggests that watching the reserves away isn’t quite the normal draw.
Personally I’d been drawn by the chance of seeing the first of 4 games in a 3 night trip. The murky grey rain that had made me abandon a prolonged visit to Essen’s Christmas Market earlier in the evening had abated by the time I’d reached RW Essen’s new and imaginatively named Stadion Essen. Dark rain-slicked roads skirted round the fenced off expanse of the flattened Georg-Melches Stadion, where RWE had played since 1939. All that remained was one giant fly-swatter style floodlight pylon, almost close enough to have been used to light the new stadium, had they been able to twist it 45 degrees to the left.
Recent history hasn’t been too kind to a club who were Germany’s first entrant into the European Cup, and they now find themselves in one of Germany’s four regional 4th divisions. Support has remained solid though, and even when they dropped to the 5th tier, crowds topped 7000, and they are usually one of, if not the best supported side outside the national leagues, and better than most in the third tier too. This season, their second in the new stadium, has seen crowds rise to nearly 9000 despite some rather mediocre on-field performances.
Having gone through the turnstile and boosted the crowd to the tune of one, I sought out warmth on a bitterly cold night with the obligatory bratwurst. I’m not even that fond of bratwursts, but it was warm, I needed food, and it did the trick. They did currywursts too, bratwursts with tomato sauce and curry powder, but I find myself unable to eat them without leaking tomato sauce off the edge of the cardboard trays they are served in. On two previous occasions the saucy spillage had miraculously missed my clothing. To risk a third time would be testing the odds too far.
Having got a bit of warmth in me, I immediately lost it by ordering a beer. Cheap enough to make you want more, but cold enough to numb the fingers if held too long, it at least took your mind off how cold it was. Also available was Glühwein. While this is mulled wine rather than, as it sounds, wine made of glue, its appearance always makes me think of heated alcoholic Benilyn. I have visions of having a couple of glasses and falling into a deep sleep. That could be lethal in this cold. Stuffed with bratwursts and unconscious, some kids might think I’ve hibernated, and the next thing I’d know would be waking up in a straw-filled box in a Westfalian primary school some time around March.
Sleeping, or perhaps just sleepwalking through their jobs were possibly the architects of Stadion Essen. It’s not a bad stadium by any means, and with it being so close to the old ground that the footprint of the stands overlap, it’s hardly in a worse location compared to the old place. It’s just that it’s a little shiny and sterile. The plan is to fill in the corners if/when RW Essen rise back up the leagues, and it would help no end. And be less draughty too.
All four stands are more or less single tier, and despite being different, they aren’t really different enough. Least interesting was the stand I was in on the north side. A single tier of fixed white seats gleams across towards a the main stand. A drummer and a small band of helpers stand near one corner, as if exiled from the terrace to their left.
The terrace, by far the most popular part of the ground, was somehow not quite as imposing as it should have been. The design of the ground seems to emphasise the openness of the corners, and this end had the illusion of looking a bit stubby and narrow, despite filling the whole end.
The opposite end was the same design, except that just over half of this end was seated, again with incredibly shiny bright white seats, gleaming artificially like a celebrity’s over-whitened teeth, emphasising their emptiness. The 2000 or so terrace spaces in the gäste block didn’t really have their capacity tested by Bochum’s 51 followers.
The main stand opposite the one I was in was slightly awkward. Red seats added a needed splash of colour to the ground, but the back was taken up by what looked at first glance like a double row of executive boxes. Looking through the glass instead appeared to show it to be a two storey 80 yard long restaurant and bar area, with a small three row deck of seats between the two. Some very poor design meant these executive sections jutted out forwards, obstructing the views of anyone unlucky enough to have bought seat tickets in the two blocks at either end of the stand. On this night, that wasn’t really a problem though, with at least half the crowd opting to huddle on the terrace to my left.
If that seemed a little cosy, it got cosier before kick-off. Many fans in England have debated the validity of flares and smoke bombs at football matches in recent years, but the RWE fans opted for the alternative of a mass lighting of what looked like sparklers. It made the end look like a cross between Bonfire Night and the crowd flipping their lighters at a rock festival. Certainly a novel sight though.
Also novel, at supposedly complete new stadium, was the teams having to enter from a corner, as if they’d not got round to building the changing rooms yet, and they were still using portakabins round the back.
If I was hoping for some good football to warm me on this cold night, I was to be disappointed. It wasn’t a terrible game, but you wouldn’t have wanted to try holding your breath between chances. RW Essen looked like a team trying to score, but not having much idea how to do so, while Bochum’s U23s looked capable but barely interested. Full credit though to the RWE fans, whose enthusiasm belied their club’s mid-table position, not to mention league status. After 72 minutes they were rewarded with the only goal of the game. A ball into the box was half cleared, and as it swung back in, it was flicked in at the near post to almost surprise by the crowd, such was the “this is going to be a 0-0” feeling about all that was going on.
The 51 from Bochum, not total surprisingly, weren’t in such good voice, but their decision to venture out was nearly rewarded late on when a ball into a crowded box was knocked against the post. Even throwing the keeper forward for a last gasp deep throw wasn’t enough though, and RWE had the win to lift them to the giddy heights of 10th in the Regionalliga West. I, on the other hand, had the joy of an engineering works delayed journey back to Düsseldorf to look forward to. At least I saw a goal.