DSC Arminia Bielefeld 1 – 3 FC Ingolstadt 04 (21st April 2019)
It’s fair to say that not many tourists come to Bielefeld. In fact there’s a not entirely serious conspiracy theory in Germany that Bielefeld doesn’t actually exist, as nobody has ever been there, or even knows anyone who had been there.
If you do go there, it’s not a city that assaults you with its charms. There’s a medieval fort to the south of the centre, and you can eke out a small amount of joy from the few old buildings existing on the main square (if you can look past the construction work going on), but even the tourist office was shut on this Sunday. I guess it was pleasant enough, but the quietness of the place did make me wonder if the singer who declared “Münster…you are Rock & Roll” the previous day, had grown up in the town.
After a very hearty continental breakfast in a friendly cafe – a breakfast much bigger than the feeble efforts served in hotels, which make so many miss a good fry up – I was ready for the mile or so walk to the ground for this 1.30 kick off. I quite like an earlier kick-off, but I doubt the Ingolstadt supporters, who’d have to have left at about 6 am to make the game from way down in Bavaria, would have been so keen.
Arminia Bielefeld’s ground, now known as the Schüco Arena due to sponsorship by a local window and solar panel manufacturer, was traditionally known as “Bielefelder Alm”, with “alm” being a German word for a cow field, due to the undeveloped nature of the ground for many years. Even in the 70s, photographs show it as being open terracing on three sides, unusually for Germany, being raised on scaffolding and tight to the pitch, rather than the usual running track.
The “alm” became an “arena” in three stages. First one end and one side were rebuilt as functional single tiers of seats, looking like the intention was to carry the design round all four sides. Luckily someone had a change of idea, and the next stand (an end) to be built was a large end terrace, split into two tiers, with an awkward triangular section of terracing at one side, to avoid people in the seats in the corner having their view blocked.
Finally, in yet another different style, a new double-decker main stand was built, very modern, and adding a definite touch of style and class to the place. Why the club opted for three different styles is a mystery to me, but the ground is all the better for it.
I’d be watching from the main stand’s top tier, purely because it makes taking pictures easier, but I wanted to have a closer look at the terrace. I was sorely tempted to buy a ticket for there, but suspected (correctly) that it would be fairly packed. The concourse itself was pretty busy with people having beers and bratwursts (as the sign on the tea bar said “you’ll never wurst alone”) and completely open to the elements, barring the overhang of the terracing above. Fine on a gorgeous day such as this, but possibly not so nice in the depths of winter.
The top tier of the main stand was not so packed. This was just as well as the front row seat I’d purchased left me with a view of the near goal that required viewing through a guard rail. I waited until just before kick off, then moved across into a mainly empty row in the next block along. The danger here, according to the state of the floor at least, was pigeons in the roof above. At least that was better than my previous seat, where a guy behind had carelessly, I hope, flicked cigarette ash onto me more than once.
On paper this was something of a home banker. Arminia Bielefeld were just in the top half, while Ingolstadt were bottom of the league, but things don’t always go to plan. Despite not having too much to play for, Bielefeld certainly looked the better team. With good backing from the nearly full south terrace behind the goal, they had much the better of the game, with Ingolstadt limited to the odd break.
Maybe the warm weather was having an impact though, as despite dominating the game, you didn’t really feel Arminia Bielefeld were going hell for leather for victory. You sort of felt they thought if they just keep pressing, eventually a goal will come. A little spell for Ingolstadt though punctured that complacency. A corner was swung in, and the keeper failed to collect under challenge. It just fell perfectly for an Ingolstadt player 10 yards out, and under no pressure he just passed it into the empty half of the net.
He ran off towards the 100 or so of Ingolstadt’s usual 9000 home support who’d made the 300 mile trip up, about the same as Southampton to Carlisle, enjoying the moment in a season that hadn’t offered too much to enjoy so far.
That happened just after half an hour, and it actually felt like it could help Bielefeld by making them see they need to step up a gear. The same theme continued at half time, and they certainly came out looking more determined. That said, even if you attack more, you still have to remember to defend. After 48 minutes a cross came in from the left, and completely unmarked, the ball was headed in to put Ingolstadt into a shock 2-0 lead.
Yet, despite the deficit, the dominance of Arminia Bielefeld still made it feel like if they could nick one, it would change everything, but somehow it just wasn’t clicking for them in the final third.
Just after the hour, Ingolstadt delivered a knockout blow. They went route one, and the long ball fell just outside the area. The defender, under pressure from Ingolstadt’s Thomas Pledl, failed to make a tackle, and half-stumbling Pledl found himself one on one with the advancing Bielefeld keeper. With little time to really think about hit, he just poked a toe out, and it was enough to dink it past the keeper, and rolling into the empty Bielefeld net.
The third really knocked the wind out of Arminia Bielefeld’s sails, and they were never the same after that. They still had the bulk of the play, but they no longer looked like they believed they were going to score. With a minute left they did get one back, when a 25 yard free kick was beautifully curled into the net. The crowd cheered, the goal music was played, and the scorer ran back to the centre circle with the ball under his arm, but few were in any doubt that it didn’t matter, especially in Germany, where referees seem to be more frugal with added time than in other nations.
The whistle blew, and the 100 or so in the Ingolstadt end, plus about a dozen in the block next to me, celebrated a victory which took them off the bottom of the table. No boos or outward signs of disappointment from the home faithful, surprisingly, who reacted to the defeat like they’d just seen a 0-0 draw. My mini-trip to Germany was over, but for Ingolstadt, embarking on a revival that might yet see them survive, their Bundesliga 2 journey might carry on a little while yet.