Karlsruher SC 1 SpVgg Greuther Fürth 2 (2nd Dec 2016)
There was a time when most German grounds seemed to be like Karlsruher’s Wildparkstadion. I remember buying Simon Inglis’ Football Grounds of Europe book circa 1990, as seeing how most in the West Germany section played in ovals round a running track, with open ends and, if the fans were lucky, covered stands on both sides.
While there might still be tracks surviving in Berlin and Nuremburg, they are very different grounds, fully covered, and with Saarbrücken’s similar Ludwigsparkstadion now a victim of the bulldozers, the Wildparkstadion is the last of the sizeable classic old style German grounds left.
That was enough to make me change my original plan to go to the easier but less attractive option of Mannheim, to opt for a near 100 mile trip from my base in Frankfurt instead. The advance fares were a reasonable €38 return, but did limit me to specific trains. Making that 9.01 pm train (for a game starting at 6.30) did rely on me being able to make it to a mile-off tram stop by 8.37, so my pre-match meal had me looking for somewhere very near that stop, so I could see just how long the walk would take.
I found a pub round the corner called the Oxford Pub, and had a delightful burger served by a tight-jeaned girl with an even more delightful bottom. The pub was about 50m along the road from a street containing what seemed to be a very short red-light district. Either there’s not much call for that sort of thing in this part of Baden-Württemberg, or the people of Karlsruhe aren’t very choosy.
I, on the other hand, decided to be choosy when presented with a stall selling scarves next to the tram stop I’d be rushing back to, partly because the selection wasn’t that great, but also because with my scarves now numbering 60, I don’t really have any space left to hang them any more.
Fifteen minutes of brisk walking were enough to find me at the gates of the Wildparkstadion, making it clear I’d be fine if the ref took the typical German approach to injury time, and hardly played any. That was good, but even better was the walk up itself, just because as it’s an old style ground with floodlight pylons, you get to see the pulse-quickening glow of the floodlights from about half a mile out. It’s as classic football as the smell of burgers and onions, and the sound of distant tinny music through an outdated PA system.
Going into the ground, it became obvious that it was built originally as the most basic of ovals, with my stand for the evening atop the earth banking that enclosed the whole stadium. Squeezed between the rear base of the banking and the entrance gates were a collection of portakabin type structures for the tea bars, club shop, toilets, and bars – most importantly in this part of the world – for the beer. Good stuff it is too. Around these, fans milled about chatting, smoking, drinking, generally passing the time before kick-off, in the way it used to be before clubs employed DJs to kill any natural atmosphere.
Nearly sixty years ago 58,000 crammed onto the slopes of the Wildparkstadion for an Oberliga game against Nürnberg. The crowd today wouldn’t be much over a sixth of that figure, in a ground with a capacity reduced to 27000. Anyone who can remember going to places like St Andrews and Bramall Lane in the 1980s would recognise the feeling of faded glory of a team playing a in ground built for a different era, with different standards.
The place does have charm, and I’d love to have come here for one of the rare days when capacity is approached, but it’s also not difficult to see why Karlsruher too have decided their historic old ground needs to be rebuilt. Even the running track, the only real reason to have the oval shape in the first place, has long gone.
The stand I’d bought a ticket for had done well to survive to this age, looking, as it does, like something which should only exist in nostalgic black & white photographs. Around 2000 bench seats were perched high up above the original terracing, buckets seats directly below, and a pitched roof generously stretching over the paddock below, where most of Karlsruher’s noisier fans stood. Wooden floorboards added to the old-time feel, while a flat space, like a wide corridor, greeted anyone making the climb up the steps beyond the back row. It served no obvious function, as the area had no facilities or exits, but it was the place of choice for milling about for several fans, probably among those looking for a free place among the seats whose view was obstructed by the pillars at the front of the stand.
As old as it looked, old photos make it clear that it wasn’t there in the mid 1950s, so it is a more recent addition that it otherwise seems. Clearly much newer was the stand opposite. On a similar scale, but a much more modern design, it just about manages to avoid being jarring, although the seats were clearly chosen by a man you definitely wouldn’t want doing the decor of your house. Of all the possible colours to choose from, the predominant one picked was a shade of browny-green that suggested he got his inspiration while changing his new-born’s nappy.
The terracing curving round both ends was rudely halted by the addition of seats in the central sections behind each goal. The picking out of Karlsruher’s name in black on white made them look less dreary, but they were clearly the least popular vantage point in the ground. Behind one was the scoreboard, whose delights would include an animation of a wheely-bin that announced each yellow card of the game.
Karlsruher’s Bundesliga 2 season hadn’t been going well, and they were looking nervously over their shoulder at the relegation zone right behind them. With just two wins all season they’d have been hoping for a good start to kick-start their season. It’s fair to say things didn’t go to plan.
The opening play from them was quite bright, but the visitors scored with pretty much their first foray forward, hammering a cross high into the roof of the net after just six minutes. Undeterred, they again pressed in the Greuther Fürth half, but their front players were displaying an uncanny knack of being in exactly the wrong place to either receive the ball or do anything useful with it.
Twenty four minutes in, it got even worse. Played in, an away striker hit a shot across the keeper for 2-0. The cheers from the small travelling support were drowned out by chants from the home fans. My comprehension of German may be rather limited, but the tone of them did very definitely come across as being in the “sack the manager/board” variety than support for the team.
Karlsruher spent much of the rest of the game continuing to attack, and continuing to look hopeless. I was expecting the next goal to be for the away team, but despite hitting the post in the second half, a third for them surprisingly never came.
Instead, with 10 minutes left, they got a lifeline with the awarding of a penalty. It was tucked away, and retrieved from the net by the goalscorer in customary “Come on lads! We can still do this!” fashion.
With time ticking by, another clumsy challenge in the box. Could it be another penalty? No. It was waved away to whistles and derision. Then, yet another tumble, this time on a cross. And this time he does award the 2nd penalty.
For the previous penalty, Karlsruhe’s Greek attacker Dimitrios Diamantikos had hit it low to the keeper’s right, and even though the keeper had guessed right, he couldn’t get to it. In injury time now, he chose the same option, the keeper guessed correctly again, but this time got a hand to it to turn it wide. A scramble at his near post nearly saw it turned back in, but it went for a corner and was wasted. The chance of a point was gone. The whistle went and the angry protest chants resumed, while others drifted off into the night, away from the glow of the floodlights, and into the gloom that no doubt matched their mood.