Würzburg Kickers 0 Fortuna Düsseldorf 0 (4th Dec 2016)
The last leg of my German weekend saw me dip in Northern Bavaria, setting off early to be able to have a few hours wandering around the centre of Würzburg, of which just enough survived WWII bombing raids and 60s town planners to have a little charm. It seemed quite friendly little place, which was just as well, as you’d take warmth from any quarter on such a crisp winter morning.
I’d arrived in the centre just as the near obligatory Christmas Market was opening up, and marvelled at how charming and tempting all the German stalls are. I know we try them in England, but putting a bit of tinsel over a market stall and still selling the same socket sets, knock-off DVDs and phone covers as any other month of the year doesn’t really have the same atmosphere.
To my regret, I didn’t go for any of the snacks on offer, mainly because after walking round for a couple of hours, I wanted to have lunch somewhere where I could have a beer and a sit down for a while. My dysfunctional good cafe radar failed again, allowing me to go on a whole fruitless circuit of the central square and sidestreets before finding somewhere 20 yards from where I’d started looking.
I had hoped to nip into the tourist office to find out about tram routes to the stadium, but it was shut, with a helpful notice taped to the window. Helpful, that is, for people who can actually read German beyond “the train from Hamburg to Berlin is on platform twelve” level. As it happened I found the exact stop I needed by luck, not far from the main square. A group fans, some home, some away, were already there, drinking away and generally shuffling along to the sound of clinking brown bottles, as is often the way in Germany.
After a while of bouncing around on the tram, singing about the general scheisse-ness of Würzburg and its Kickers team, the Fortuna fans broke off to sing “Last Christmas” by Wham, which was a nice seasonal touch. It seemed to entertain them, which is just as well as they weren’t going to have too many brilliant memories of the game due to start just over an hour later.
With hindsight, I’d have done a few things differently on my trip to Würzburg. For a start, I’d have bought a ticket for a less popular part of the ground, just to have had a few more options about viewing points. Secondly, when I went into the club bar behind the goal, I wouldn’t have said OK to buying an alcohol free beer. Now, alcohol free beer has come a long way. Beck’s Blue tastes better than some normal beers, so the Germans can do a good 0% beer. The Würzburg club bar though sold something called “Würzburger Hofbräu”. Now I’m sure their normal varieties are fine. The alcohol free version…well, let’s just say its a work in progress.
The bar was warm though, which meant I stayed in it longer than I should have done, which was also a mistake. The home end isn’t that big, having just 13 steps of steep chunky terracing. It also has fences at the front – big ugly view-obscuring fences, through which the view is so bad that nobody at all stood in the first four rows. This meant that rather than choosing where I’d stand, as I’d hoped, it was more a case of trying to find somewhere that offered a decent view. There weren’t many options left with 10-15 minutes until kick off.
Würzburg’s Flyeralarm Arena is one of the more basic grounds at Bundesliga 2 level, with three sides of open terracing, but that’s hardly surprising. The club has spent all of its existence bumbling round the regional leagues. Indeed, it was in the 6th tier in 2012, and in the 7th tier in 2004. Three promotions in five seasons (including being able to skip the 5th tier entirely) have propelled the club to a height never seen before. In 2014, in the 4th tier regional leagues, they were pulling an average of just 854. Two consecutive promotion seasons saw crowds rise to 2482 and 5263, while their debut Bundesliga 2 season has them averaging just over 11,000 in their 13000 capacity ground – the smallest in the division.
The ground may be small, almost unusable in parts, and make you wish the sky was always as blue and clear as the day I was there, but it does have a certain cosiness to it, especially with a healthy 10000+ crowd in attendance. A bit of cover and it could be a crackling little ground. Mind you, that cosiness, especially when Herr Too-many-bratwursts squeezes alongside you, makes it a rather less than ideal place to take photos from, so it was a case of pretty much putting the camera away and truly enjoying the game properly, which isn’t a hardship.
Or it wouldn’t have been had it not been one of those games where you get that nagging “this is going to be 0-0” feelings after about 20 minutes. I wouldn’t say I didn’t enjoy the game. I’m just saying I’d have enjoyed it more had Fortuna Düsseldorf not settled for 0-0 on the bus on the way to the game, and had the Würzburg forwards not been so keen to show why, despite being in the top half of the table, they’d only hit 19 goals in 15 games.
They had chances. A couple of free kicks in the first half went only just over, a and shot out of the blue surprised everyone, but came back off the post. There was also a lot of effort, and even if it wasn’t quite end-to-end stuff, more edge-of-the-box to edge-of-the-box, there was always a hint that something might happen. It just seldom did.
I think the game could probably be summed up by a moment with about four minutes to go. A good Würzburg move down the right, cutting into the box, saw the ball cut back square across the six yard box. A Würzburg attacker slid in, knowing any contact would surely result in a goal. Only it didn’t. Instead he managed to somehow trap the ball, killing almost all of the pace. It rolled out of reach of his outstretched foot, towards the goal, at energetic tortoise pace, but before it could cover the three yards to the line the Düsseldorf keep was able to get up and dive on the ball. To be honest, he could probably have crawled on his hands and knees and taken a swig from his water bottle, and he’d still have had time to stop it.
So I’d seen my first non-domestic 0-0 for 3 and half years, a run of 42 games. My next foreign game could possibly be, fixtures permitting, in Vietnam in February. I can’t guarantee goals, but it’s pretty safe to say that compared to a Bavaria winter, it’ll at least be a damn sight warmer.