Schalke 04 3 VfB Stuttgart 0 (30th November 2013)
There’s something special about the first glimpse of the inside of a stadium. Being a completely enclosed stadium, there’s no chance of that at the Veltins Arena until you are right inside. But then, peering down the access points from the upper tier at the south end, was the grand sight of the packed “Nordkurve” terrace as a backdrop, and it just made the night feel a bit special.
I’d arrived on the 302 tram from Wattenscheid, breaking the journey with a stop in Gelsenkirchen’s centre as getting there two hours early would be a bit much. I still arrived an hour early, passing through the crowded tram station, past the small-time entrepreneurs selling bottles of beer from shopping trolleys, to make my way just north of the arena.
The tram up had passed Schalke’s original ground, but it was too dark to see anything, but the remains of the 70,000 capacity Parkstadion, which Schalke moved to in 1973, were still there just north of the arena. The recent addition of a large Marriot hotel curving round the southern end made getting to the place more difficult than I’d expected, and the fact that it was now dark made seeing anything once I’d got there something of a challenge. Luckily my camera can pretty much turn night into day, even if my “point and hope” method of snapping through the Marriot’s back fence didn’t exactly make for pin-sharp results. Sadly, although you can still make out the stadium as three sides of grassed-over banking are still there, the enormous curving main stand has been demolished, and heaps of soil dumped unceremoniously inside the former running track look untidy. The pitch and floodlights are still there though, but it would have been nice to have gone before the bulldozers moved in.
I daresay the Veltins Arena looks at its best at night. The neon lighting, as well as the lights from inside the concourses, make the place shine, and entices you inside. Sadly getting inside was something of a pain for anyone on the East Side, with “Ost Tribune” entry signs sending you on a circuitous route down a wide perimeter route, very much the long way round.
Once in though, you could walk all round the ground, if you wished. The exterior concourse only narrowed at the southern end, over the flat expense where the retractable pitch retracts to when not in use – hence the long east side detour. Oddly, unless I’m hugely unobservant, I saw nothing resembling a club shop, so the walk round was a bit unrewarding. The place I thought might have been one turned out to be some kind of VIP entrance atrium, and while the €41 ticket would be the most expensive by far of the four games on this mini trip, it didn’t quite entitle me to that kind of luxury.
As well as a scarf, another thing I couldn’t get was any food or drink. The Veltins Arena operates on a “no-cash” pre-paid card way of purchasing stuff from the kiosks. I’ve no problem with that, but not only were the queues at the bars (selling Veltins beer, naturally) huge, but the queues to buy the cards were pretty hefty too. Surprisingly they’d actually operated a similar system at Wattenscheid a few hours earlier, but I somehow doubt that here they’d accept my cash payment with a shrug of the shoulders on account of me not needing change.
I’d bought my ticket online from the Schalke site after a quick change of plan. I’d actually planned to go Bayer Leverkusen due to them having a large number of tickets available, while Schalke always sell out. It turns out the large number of tickets at Leverkusen were purely down to the ticket site crashing, with no online sales possible. To my surprise though, there were a few – just a few – tickets remaining at Schalke. The block I went for was just above the away section, a fact which meant that a huge number of the tickets in the area were snapped up Stuttgart fans unable to get a ticket in the official, and segregated, away section below. Both people either side of me were Stuttgart fans. One of them gave the impression he’d been drinking on the train up from Stuttgart several hours earlier. He wasn’t abusive or aggressive in any way, but he was just drunk enough to have lost full bodily coordination, which made him a less than ideal person to be stuck next to. Oh how I hoped for a Schalke win to make him glum and sedated.
While the Veltins Arena is an unashamedly modern venue, as well as being more or less a dome – two things that are a non-no to most traditionalists – it’s a venue that undoubtedly works. You really feel “in” this two-tier blue cauldron, with the black rectangle of sky where the roof was open making the place feel a lot less indoors than it otherwise might.
The focus is undoubtedly the Nordkurve. There’s something special about the sight of a packed terrace. It looks bigger than the same area does with seating in place, and this end, occupying the whole lower tier of the north end, held 16000 fans. Nearly 16000 scarves, a few flags, and one giant shirt were held aloft as both sets of fans turned up the noise in readiness for the match.
Maybe it was because I was very near them, but the Stuttgart fans, despite being heavily outnumbered, would win the battle of the singers, spending most of the night jumping up and down and singing away. On the pitch, things wouldn’t go their way though. It wasn’t quite clicking for Schalke though. One corner resulted in a flick that came back off the bar, while a “must score” header was put straight at the keeper. When a Stuttgart forward managed to engineer a break through on goal on the half hour, it looked like it might be the perfect way to play away. The shot was delicately rolled past the keeper, but with the Stuttgart fans already celebrating, it also rolled just past the post.
Just a few minutes later they were made to pay for that miss when a Farfan shot from wide of the right was saved downwards rather than away, and it bounced and looped until it dropped just inside the far post to give Schalke the lead.
It didn’t take must longer to give the Stuttgart fans that wasted journey feeling. Early in the second half, a bit of edge-of-the-box pinball was curtailed by a Stuttgart defender leaving an inviting leg out, and this was duly “tripped” over to give Farfan a chance to double the score from the spot.
Every fan likes to think they have a good knowledge of the game, but mine was exposed with eleven minutes to go. Good passing led to an opening in the area, but rather than go trying to work a shot, the Schalke forward played a “safe” pass back to a supporting midfielder. “Why did he do that? What a waste” I was thinking, just as Jermaine Jones unleashed a 25-yard effort into the bottom corner to make it 3-0.
The drunk guy next to me stood and gave the middle finger to the celebrating Schalke fans behind, only for two women to dish out verbals in his direction sternly enough to have him sitting back down even more glum than before. Humiliated both on and off the field – not a good afternoon for him.
It looked to have got even worse. A Prince Boateng free header came back off the inside of the post and was tapped in from six yards, but a spoilsport linesman raised his flag and stopped it being 4-0.
3-0 was enough though, and the home fans went home very happy with the night’s work, packing the trams back into central Gelsenkirchen and bouncing along to “…scheisse, scheisse, scheisse BVB…” with such gusto that part of the tram’s ceiling actually fell off. It certainly makes for a more interesting trip home than trudging to the car parks around the Madejski. Leaving having seen my team score three goals would be nice too, although I’d lay off bashing my car’s roof in quite the same way.