Rot-Weiss Oberhausen 0 Viktoria Köln 3 (12th December 2015)
There can’t be too many tourists who visit Oberhausen. Obviously I wasn’t there for the Gasometer, converted into an exhibition space (shut) or even the New Centre and its Christmas market, although I did see both. Christmas markets are something Germany does very well, with dozens and dozens of stalls selling goods that seem quite enchanting. It makes you wonder why they don’t have them in England, but then you remember market stalls in England would be selling pound-shop packs of J-Cloths and knock-off DVDs, and realise why.
For me it was a case of finding a game to go to before the 6.30 kick-off at Bayer Leverkusen later the same day, and Oberhausen, just 40 minutes north by train fitted the bill perfectly.
I had originally planned to have lunch in the Neue Mitte and walk the 2 km to the ground, but it struck me that I couldn’t remember the way, so it was back to the old centre on the tram, and hop on the free shuttle bus to the ground. And it did seem to be “bus” (singular), as there was more of a smattering than a throng of fans outside Oberhausen’s main train station. RWO do average around 2000 in Germany’s regional 4th tier after all, and despite this being theoretically something of a local derby, today’s game wouldn’t draw too many either. They could certainly have done with some of the crowds at the Christmas market.
The bus pulled away out of the old centre, giving a good opportunity to see why the town felt they needed a new one, passing such delights as “Buster’s Erotik Discount” shop. In the home of Aldi and Lidl, it made me wonder if they had similar Aldi style adverts for Buster’s shop – “I like this dildo (€19.99)…and I also like this dildo (€8.99)”. Advertising can be a little more frank in Germany, to say the least. Coming home I bought a milk drink at the airport, and the special edition packaging has a festive theme, and it was deemed fine for this theme to be a semi-naked woman in a Santa outfit. It did make me wonder if I should have sought out a Santa’s grotto in the town.
The weather forecast for this weekend hadn’t looked great, but it wasn’t too bad, even if I’d be unlikely to top up my tan. But with very little covered terracing available, and not that many seats looking to offer the best of views, I’d purchased my ticket online earlier in the week just in case it had been raining. I wandered around the car park for a bit, trying to find something that looked like a booth to collect pre-paid tickets, before having to ask a steward where to go.
“Sprechen sie English, bitte?” I asked, using my best first-German-lesson-at-school vocab skills, only for him to reply “but of course!” with an almost insulted look, as if I’d asked him if he could tie his own shoelaces.
While RWO’s ground might not have the vibrancy or charm of some German venues, the Niederrhein Stadium is interesting for being the sort of ground that just doesn’t exist in England, being a very old fashioned oval round an athletics track. Two sides may have covered seated stands now, but it’s very each to picture it in the dim and distant black & white past, when fans would stand filling the uncovered terraces on all sides.
The club’s glory days were actually the early 70s, when for one year of their 4 year Bundesliga stint their crowds matched near neighbours Schalke and Borussia Dortmund. They’ve had the odd stint in the 2nd tier since then, as recently as 2011, but are in the 4th tier now, and averaging over 20,000 is a distant memory.
I needn’t really have worried about buying a ticket in advance. Clearly selling out was never going to be an issue, but I did have concerns about getting a decent seat when the main stand only had twelve rows, and three of those were behind pillars. Fans here clearly preferred standing though, and I could more or less have sat where I want. Even some season ticket holders’ seat, indicated by a sticky label announcing they were reserved, remained empty.
The ground may have had that 80s whiff of lost and faded glories, similar to visits to places like Bolton and Blackpool when they were in the lower tiers of English football a generation ago, but this game did at least have a little bit of an edge of both sides having an outside chance of promotion. This was enough to persuade some presumably regional TV network to cover the match. Either that of the club see nothing wrong in erecting a very obtrusive scaffolding TV gantry for the club video.
The travelling Viktoria Köln fans were tucked away in one corner of the ground. With only about 50 there it didn’t really seem worth allocating them the whole of the roughly 8000 capacity south terrace. Probably just as well too, as somebody had decided to fill the area behind the goal with a random assortment of stuff. As far as I could tell, there were six tents set up as stalls like a bodged together VIP area (nobody was there), a van selling beer, a couple of areas with patio heaters and awnings, a small merry-go-round, a very large inflatable head and shoulders of man with wings, and a series of Rot Weiss Oberhausen flags being hung from a crane. I didn’t ever think I’d see Ferencvaros’ collection of curious objects in a ground topped, but RWO managed it.
The stand opposite the main stand had rather sparsely populated red and green seats, with the green being from the four-leaf clover in the club badge, not that it’s brought RWO much luck recently, and certainly wouldn’t this afternoon. The stand was split in the middle by a tunnel which had a turret over the top, and in the distance the gasometer loomed.
The game looked set for a pretty even game, but the tone was set by the opening goal after 15 minutes, for an afternoon where the hosts would be a little too charitable. A ball played to a Viktoria forward was a little too high to do too much with, so in what looked a bit of a hit and hope gesture, with his back to goal and 30 yards out, he flicked it up over his head towards goal. The high ball really ought to have been cut out easily, but the defence ball-watched, and the attacker was able to run onto his own flick, and hit it first time past the advancing keeper. The travelling army celebrated about as wildly as 50 people could ever be expected to. Three climbed upon fence and stood atop in an ultras’ pose of defiance, but looked about as threatening as a truncheon made of brie.
Gift No.2 came on the stroke of half time. A free kick from wide beside the box looked wasted, going harmlessly to the keeper’s hands. It went into the keeper’s hands alright. It then proceeded to carry on through them into the net as the keeper had something of a Hamlet cigar ad moment, fumbling the catch like the ball was a bar of soap.
For the second half I opted to watch from behind the goal. Transfers between different parts of the ground aren’t really allowed, and they do have stewards checking tickets to make sure nobody goes in the wrong stand. They must just assume nobody would “downgrade” and go from the seats to the terracing.
The terracing had a different feel. The first section is quite packed, as it has about 10 yards of cover, and didn’t feel quite so soul-sappingly empty as the seats. At a tea bar at the rear stood a fan in the traditional German football fan garb of a cut-off denim jacket covered in club badges. Even in the 10 years I’ve been watching German football, I’ve noticed these guys get rarer and rarer.
Walking round the terrace you start to get a feel of just what a big terrace both ends are. The ground had just 4000 seats in a capacity of 21000, and this home end looked to have the bigger share of the terrace capacity. I also got a feel as to why the end wasn’t so popular in the middle, as the wind whipped in now and then, making it feel much cooler than the otherwise mild temperatures would suggest. A fan’s flag on a large pole was whipped by the wind to a degree that made it look like a fishing rod bending under the strain of a large catch.
Oberhausen did improve in the second half, having a couple of chances to get back into the game, but the visitors killed the game just 12 minutes in. A break and shot was saved by the keeper, but the ball unkindly rolled right into the path of another attacker following up, who had a tap-in for 3-0.
Viktoria even had a 4th disallowed, but the remainder of the game at times resembled a training exercise, with Viktoria not needing to do any more, and RWO not seeming to believe they could do anything even if they wanted to. It was left to the Oberhausen fans to win one battle, to outsing the away fans. They defiantly sung away to eke out at least some enjoyment from the day, as they tried their best to join the glow from the three (why only three?) floodlight pylons to lighten the slowly darkening afternoon.