Wattenscheid 09 0 Alemannia Aachen 3 (30th November 2013)
I have four tourist guide books covering Germany, and it’s not a big shock to find that none of them suggest visiting Wattenscheid, nor even acknowledge its existence for that matter. Wattenscheid, whose German pronunciation of Vattenshite is enough to bring out the inner giggling schoolboy in many, isn’t over-blessed with attractions, stuck between Essen and Bochum in Germany’s industrial west.
The charms of the town centre’s marketplace were modest at best, with the world’s tiniest Christmas tree stuck to a lamppost outside the church, looking more like it was abandoned than anything else. Even the Altstadt, the old town, seemed to consist of one short curving street.
It was the sort of place where you take your joy where you can, and thankfully very near the ground were the remains of an old mine, with the shaft lift working still there, and a giant semi-landscaped slag heap a few hundred metres to the north. I can’t say I normally go out of my way to venture up slag heaps, but this one would offer a good view of Wattenscheid’s Lohrheidstrasse Stadium, as well as the industrial landscape around.
In a town where Woolworths is still going strong, it was comforting to find a ground that looked like it still thought the 1970s were recent history too. Germany may have had a stadium rebuilding boom in the last 20 years, but the Lohrheidstrasse Stadium is completely untouched by it, being a defiantly old-fashion mainly open oval round a running track. Both ends are completely open terraces. At the far end were hundreds of Alemannia Aachen fans, filling a central section, seeming to sense this would be an enjoyable afternoon for them.
I entered at the other end, picking up a free programme from the cardboard box outside the turnstiles, and paying the €8 admission fee. Despite the cheap price, or maybe they’d been banned from going in, a group of fans watched through the fence and the back of the courtyard behind this home end. With this being above the terracing, it would have still offered a reasonable view, except for people being in the way. Four bored-looking policeman stood behind this group of just six young lads, just in case.
Wattenscheid managed four seasons in the Bundesliga in the early 90s, with a high watermark average of 13,612 in their first season, and were in Bundesliga 2 as recently as 1999. They’ve slipped back into the 4th tier and regional football now though, and the match had a friendly non-league feel as a result. Only 1427 would be at this game, and a third of those would be away fans. The area at the back of the terrace was all bratwursts and beer stalls, and you almost get the feeling that the social side of things here was as important as the game to come. With the sun breaking through as well, it lent a positively convivial atmosphere to proceedings.
Many made their way round to the west side stand, and old-fashioned looking cantilever effort with a roof curving up and over, covering wooden bench seats and paddock of modern terracing. A completely unnecessary group of police sat at the back, chatting amongst themselves, while a small but enthusiastic knot of white and black clad ultras did their best to generate some pre-match atmosphere. This stand was only about 50 yards long, but was surprisingly more popular than the more substantial east stand opposite.
Seating just over 4000, the stand on the east side is apparently only opened when larger crowds are expected. The sparse crowd in it hinted that it wasn’t the viewing location of choice, even when it was opened. Maybe the comparatively steep €16 admission fee had something to do with it, but I’d like to think it was because the good people of Wattenscheid had the taste to not want to be seen in seats that were the pale greenish yellow colour of baby shit.
Nasty colour scheme aside, the stand gently curves round the side, with its glazed screen ends, rear, and roof sections giving it a cheerfully dated look. All it misses really are those Bundesliga days crowds. Until then, it just emphasises how much Wattenscheid have fallen.
Both teams might have occupied the same mid-table area in the same division as the game I’d seen at Essen the previous night, but it was a much better game all-round Watten certainly weren’t as scheid as the scoreline would suggest. It was just one of those days.
Taking the leaf-strewn field in special shirts for the day, with the sponsor logo replaced with a picture of the nearby mine shaft over the road, they certainly had a go, but had one of those days when it just wasn’t working for them. They probably had an inkling in the 12th minute when the visitors went ahead with one of those goals that your team concedes, but never scores. A high ball into the box was met at full stretch by an Aachen attacker putting a boot on the ball in hope rather than expectation, but from just inside the box it was angled enough to go across the keeper, just out of his reach, and bounce just inside the far post for 1-0.
In contrast, when the home side got a clear opening, a one-on-one produced a deft chip over the keeper from the Wattenscheid player, but it had just too much loft on it, and it cleared the crossbar to groans all round. Half-time came, and more food and beer for most, and a chance to “read” the programme, picking out the odd words to just about get the gist of what was being said. At 32 pages and full colour, it’d be good value even if it wasn’t already free. A half-page advert for a local bordello (50 top girls!!!) meant that the price wasn’t the only thing different from English programmes.
Whether Wattenscheid actually has any kind of promotional tie-in with the Acapulco “Saunaclub” is pure speculation, but they must have felt completely screwed when Aachen went two up on the hour. A 20 yard speculative lob, the kind that normally drops straight into the keeper’s arms or bounces off only to trouble the ball boys, somehow dipped at the last second, bouncing off the underside of the bar and catching everyone by surprise. It was only when it bounced back up into the roof of the net that anyone seemed to react.
That was pretty much game over for the home side, who were running out of ideas, and the home ultras were only ultra-quiet by the time Aachen sealed the win late on. This time a player was allowed to drift into the box on the left far too easily. The keeper rushed out in haste and was stepped past, and even with defenders back to cover, the ball was still able to be side-footed in from a very tight angle with far too much ease.
The rest of the game was awash with well-beaten resigned expressions in the home stands. The ultras packed up their flags and drums in contrast to the Aachen lot, signing away and enjoying life. They’ve not had the best of times of late, and are hardly great this season either, although at least a third successive relegation doesn’t look on. For me, at least I had the consolation of a walk to the end of Lohrheidstrasse to catch a tram that could whisk me to Schalke’s game for their match later in just 25 minutes. As black and white scarves were tucked away, and the odd blue one whipped out, it seems I wasn’t the only one with that idea.