Game 39: Oxford United v Barnsley, Johnstone’s Paint Trophy, 3rd April 2016

As Arsenal have blown getting to Wembley this year by being rubbish against Watford, SpursBoy thought it would be a good idea to get me to Wembley via the medium of the JPT Final. In it’s 10th and final year, the JPT is technically the Football League Trophy, and is open to teams in the 1st, second, third and fourth divisions of the football league. Unusually, until the final, the teams are split between North and South, and so me, SpursBoy and Westminster Mag found ourselves last Sunday making our way to Wembley to sit with the southerners of Oxford United.

I don’t know why SpursBoy chose the Oxford end. I have no love for them, he went to college in Barnsley, and Westminster Mag has a broad Yorkshire accent! But nevertheless, this is where we are heading, so I find the closest thing I have to a yellow shirt that isn’t a 1971 Arsenal away shirt, my trusty Dukla Pragua shirt, and we head off.

We’ve discovered that the best place to meet people when going to Wembley is West Hampstead, as it’s only a few stops from Wembley on the Jubilee Line and there is a decent pub there, The Railway. It is also near my favourite street in London, the bizarrely named ‘Billy Fury Way’. To change from the Jubilee Line to the Overground or vice versa via West Hampstead is known as ‘the Billy Fury Shuffle’. By me anyway.

So we met Westminster Mag in the Railway, had a beer and headed off. Mag was a bit miffed because she’d agreed to come on this little jaunt before she realised that it clashed with the T20 men’s final, but we caught the tail end of the ladies’ on the telly in the pub, and her plan was to listen on 5 Live.

We got toe Wembley about an hour before kick off. It’s a nice enough stadium but without the romance of the old place. I miss those towers, regardless of how impressive the arch is. We then realised that our Yorkshirewoman, in the Oxford End, was also wearing a coat of Barnsley red! There was a chance this could be awkward!

There was a nice bit of singing outside. Oxford, usually a mix of town and gown, and often with rivalries between those two groups, were united in singing songs along the lines of “we’ve got a degree and you’ve got a caravan” to the Barnsley fans.

We get in and we’ve pretty decent seats. The tannoy announcer is the same bloke who works at Arsenal so I feel quite at home. Until ‘The JPT Girls’ come out. That’s right. Cheerleaders. I had thought they went out of fashion in the ’90’s, and I’m less than happy about this. It’s all trying to be very American, though clearly someone hasn’t been informed that cheerleaders are being phased out of American sports too! All is right with the world again as representatives of all the participating clubs parade around the perimeter, and they are as it should be, old blokes with suits and flags.

We have the national anthem, which is sung very well by a lass who doesn’t deviate from the actual tune, and the teams are called out. I am ashamed to say that I have never heard of any of the players, though Oxford seem to have a fair few Irish lads which makes me happy.

I’ll admit that we weren’t all engrossed in the game. Mag had the cricket to listen to, and me and SpursBoy were keeping an eye on the Leicester score. But it was a good first half, with both keepers making excellent saves. Oxford finally broke the deadlock on 28 with a goal from O’Dowda, and they dominated for the rest of the half. Barnsley were not without their chances but at half time it was 1-0 to the yellows, and deservedly so.

Half time from elsewhere, Leicester have beaten Southampton so are still on for the title, and England are getting battered in the T20 final. Not good, grumpy faces all round.

The second half kicks off and it only takes five minutes before Barnsley get their equaliser, what looks like a goal from Winnall gets put down as a Dunkley own goal. The next 20 minutes is real end-to-end stuff, a great contest, and it’s really not clear who is going to come out on top. We are all thinking that there will be extra time here, which admittedly is something we can all do without. 23 minutes from time, Ashley Fletcher for Barnsley. Though we are nominally supporting Oxford, we are secretly pleased! No extra time!

Oxford are still battling though, and it’s likely there is still a goal in this. They come very close with about 17 minutes to go but only two minutes later the killer blow comes from Barnsley’s Hammill with a beautiful curling close range shot that the Oxford keeper can do nothing about. It looks as though Oxford can’t get back into it, and then seconds after the restart Hylton scores with his head for the yellows.

Despite the late goal, Oxford don’t get into it. There are six minutes of added time and the Oxford fans begin to leave. Oxford have one more chance from a corner but it’s straight at the keeper in the end.

The stewards prepare for the end of the game by walking down the steps, looking around then aimlessly walking back up again. There is a last gasp free kick for Oxford after a nasty tackle and a yellow card but it’s well in their half and no danger. Barnsley just keep the ball until the whistle goes.

We stay for the trophy presentation. Hammill is rightfully Man of the Match, and we hewad back to the pub to watch England lose the T20 in some style. Well done Barnsley, and well done West Indies.

Game 27: Wingate & Finchley v Met Police, Ryman’s Premier Division, 26th December 2015

Boxing Day football is one of my favourite things, but it was slim pickings this year as most of the teams within spitting distance of my mum’s house were playing on the 27th. Luckily, Wingate and Finchley had a midday kick off, so we blagged a lift there from my dad, knowing we could easily get a bus home. I brought with me some pie, SpursBoy was laden with turkey sandwiches, and off we went.

It was a very blustery day as we made our way in, and straight to the bar. Paul, the man in charge of Wingate’s tweets, was behind the bar, and of course the legend that is Tom Salinger was holding court. We bought a pint each and headed, with them in plastic cups of course, off to the Jack Fiske stand on the far side of the ground.

We used to live in Finchley so have been to The Harry Abrahams a few times. It’s always been a good ground although it is looking a bit tired these days. The teams come out and are announced but the tannoy can barely be heard from where we are. Black boot count is 3-1 to Wingate.

It’s a good start for Met Police. They have two shots in 2 mins and are very strong on the left wing. It’s shaping into a good game when Wingate hit the post 15 minutes in. It’s pretty end to end stuff until Met score on 26, a lovely header in from Charlie Collins.

The rest of the half is pretty even. Wingate get a free kick five yards out from the Met Police goal for a back pass, and I question the rule. There’s no doubt that the backpass rule has livened up the game a little, especially from the perspective of an Arsenal fan, but these close free kicks really never result in anything.

The second goal comes on 39, headed in again, this time by Sutherland from a corner. From now on it’s pretty much all Met Police.

The whistle blows for half time. I spot and have a chat with fellow blogger, Mr Finch, and then we have a look around. The main stand is very nice but the pitch is quite lumpy and is on a slope to rival Underhill (almost). The toilets are pretty decent, as is the bar, and the snack bar does the standard burgers and hot dogs.

The second half kicks off and the wind starts blowing a gale. It’s bloody cold, and we spend the rest of the game standing in front of the main stand. A third for Met Police comes from Turner on 76, a nice finish but a goalkeeping error, going into a 50/50 situation without being committed.

‘Grandad’ comes on for Met Police. No idea who he was but the tannoy bloke clearly got it wrong as the Met fans near us start to take the piss. We start chatting with one of the fans who turns out to be Mrs Turner, the mum of the recent scorer. We have a bit of a chat with her about the club, and about her son’s Masters that he’s just finished, and of which she is quite rightfully very proud, and because we’re fickle we start quite liking Met Police!

Wingate pull one back on 55 minutes through their captain, Mark Weatherstone, in scrappy goal that just crossed the line in the keeper’s hands.
There’s an excellent save from the Met keeper on 89. Wingate seem to be picking it up but it’s, far too late. There’s 5 minutes additional time, and all the action is in the Met goal. Dan and I look at the weather, and I morph back into being about 15 and call my dad for a lift home.

It’s a been a good game, although Wingate seem to be taking a pasting for most of this season and I doubt we’ll be up here again in a hile. I think we’ll probably head up to Met Police at some point though. And I absolutely promise, no ACAB tshirts!

Game 26: Arsenal v Manchester City, English Premier League, 21st December 2015

It feels like an age since I’ve been to the Arsenal. Germany, Northampton, Boreham Wood, but now I’m home, and for a huge, huge game. It’s a Monday night, it’s cold, and I’m very excited.

It’s our charity day today. Every member of club staff, including the players and manager, donate a days salary to our club charity which this season is The Arsenal Foundation, which funds Save The Children and The Willow Foundation. I’ve always been very proud of the work that Arsenal does for Charity, and there is a large section in the programme about support we are giving to help displaced persons, including the building of football pitches for Iraqis who have been forced out of their homes. I know other clubs do this sort of thing too, but I really do feel that it’s important that this work is highlighted.

The team is unchanged from Villa and City are without Kompany still, so I’m feeling positive. Ah yes. It’s City. And whoever wins is second for Christmas, as neither of us can go above Leicester, and some are talking about this as a title winner.

I’m very early as I’ve been at a meeting in the afternoon and then having a drink with a friend in Shoreditch. I like to think that I’m probably the only person who’s walked through the uber-hipster ‘Shoreditch House’ in an Arsenal scarf and 1971 home shirt, although I stop short of putting the bobble hat on. I get the overground from Shoreditch to Highbury & Islington and go up to the ground.
The teams come out. The home crowd boo Sagna, which I think is more than a little harsh. I’m happy to boo Fabregas, Van Persie, Nasri, but I don’t see a need to boo Bacary and I don’t like that Arsenal fans sometimes have a reputation for hating ever player who leaves us.

Arsenal are very strong in the first half hour, really dominating. City look sloppy at the back, and incohesive. Everyone seems to be on a high here. We’re singing ‘Blame it on Eboue’, and watching some lovely football.
City seem to be getting a bit desperate and the game is getting a bit tasty. Silva is putting the boot in, and he should have seen yellow well before the 33rd minute when he finally got booked. The game is getting a bit tasty. Andre Marriner seems to be letting a lot go, and is playing pretty poor advantage, in response to City’s abject refusal to play anything resembling decent football.

We’re very vulnerable down the right wing. De Bruyne is being given a lot of space and I’m starting to relax a little less. City have a great change which they miss, and then…….straight down the other end…..

Amazing Theo! With 13 to go before half time, and assist from Ozil again and a beautiful strike from Theo puts us one up! Now we’re getting somewhere!

The rest of the half is pretty end-to-end, but I feel we have the edge. Just before half time, Giroud gets on the end of a bad pass and shoots low past Joe Hart. I cannot believe we are going into half time 2-0 up!

The second half sees City come back into it. De Bruyne again the danger, but Per is doing well to stop him. Silve isn’t getting a look in, with Flamini on fire. That man is a legend, and getting him back on a free was one of the best things that Mr Wenger has done.
With thirty to go. Aguero down with a head injury, play continues, Arsenal are fouled and we get the free kick. Whilst it’s always nice to get advantage there’s no doubting that this was terrible refereeing, and Marriner is undoubtedly having a terrible game.
It’s really very even now, with City’s defence and our keeper keeping the ball out. Cech really is fantastic, and no doubt our best keeper since Seaman. There is a real chance that he could go into the books as another Arsenal keeping legend, and I just hope that he wins the trophies he deserves.

The tide seems to be turning against Arsenal. We’re not as confident in midfield and, wholly expected, with eight minutes to go, Toure scores with a lovely chip over Cech’s head and suddenly we are not so relaxed. The next four minutes are hair raising, but somehow, by the skin of our teeth we hold on! Second for Christmas!

This is my last game before Christmas, and we have quite a few home games over that period so this blog is going to be a little Arsenal-heavy for a while. But I am committed to blogging every game, and who knows, if this turns out to be the year Arsenal win the Champion’s League, or do the Double again, or win an historic three FA Cups in a row, I’m sure I’ll welcome this little reminder. I just hope it doesn’t get too boring for anyone reading.

Game 25: Northampton Town v Northwich Victoria, FA Cup (2nd Round), 5th December 2015

As per usual I’ve been poorly with a cold, picked up during my travels, and I haven’t really recovered from the excesses of Germany. I really should be in bed. If I wasn’t in bed, I should be at the Arsenal v Sunderland game. But no! Like any good groundhopper, I’ve put my ill health to one side, I’ve flogged my Arsenal ticket (lawfully through the exchange scheme of course) and me and SpursBoy are on a bus to Cockfosters to head up to meet Andy Trousers and then drive up to Northampton v Northwich Victoria. We had such a cracking time at Borehamwood for the last round I’ve dusted off my old Celtic scarf, and we’ll be in the away end to support the Vics.

Despite Andy twice missing the turning on the M25, and a complete satnav fail, we have a pretty good run up there and are fairly early. We park at a car park across the road from Sixfields and go on a hunt for tickets. A steward directs us to where tickets for the away end will be available, a small booth, which at the moment is empty as the bloke from Vics with the tickets hasn’t turned up. We stand and have a bit of chat with him, about the financial problems and the unfinished stand, and the fact that Northampton were royally screwed over by their former owner and only a few days ago were hours from liquidation.

The tickets arrive, we buy three and head for a look around the club shop, where I buy a programme, and then go for a pint in the clubhouse. As I sip a reasonably priced Guinness, I realise I have forgotten my camera again, which later on will infuriate me.

The club house is nice, modern, and rammed. I’m not sure if they always let away fans in but they did today. The toilets are decent and there is actually hot water which is a nice surprise. The programme is a bit flimsy for the cost, and in reading the teams I notice that Ricky Holmes, a former Barnet player, is at Northampton these days.

We head into the ground, and to the away end which is all seater. A decent cheese pasty warms me up nicely and we prepare for kick off.

Poor old Northampton. The first think you notice is the half built stand along one side of the pitch, and the fact that this must be the only ground where the ballboys wear hard hats. It seems that the club borrowed £10.5 million from the council to build the new stand, then before it was complete the builders downed tools having been paid only a fraction of the money they were owed. David Cardoza seems to have a lot to answer for and…well…Google it for the full details, I’d rather not be hit with a defamation suit!

The Vics are in good voice. Several come in wearing City hats, having just seen them lose to Stoke (tee hee) and a song is sung to the tune of The Red Flag, but I can’t quite catch the words. The teams come out to The Liquidator, accompanied by Clarence the Dragon, which is apt as a fire seems to have broken out in a pub on the hill overlooking the ground, luckily the other side from where the car is parked. A pity I don’t have the camera, as I’d be able to take some spectacular pics over the next few hours.

The whistle blows. Town are on a mission and come in for three hard tackles within the first five minutes. The Vics fans are quite clearly torn between watching the game and watching this pub fire, which now seems to be getting out of control and has caught the pub next door.

The first real chance comes after about 7 minutes, nicely saved by the Vics keeper. We are all now just watching the fire, as an announcement comes over the tannoy ‘”f you are parked in the north car park please do not return to your vehicle.” We are not!

The wind is insane, which is affecting every long ball and is blowing this raging fire. And then just to make the situation better, some idiotic Vics fans, who so far I have loved, chuck flares on the pitch. There are shouts of “you’re fuckin’ shite!” from others, and it dawns on me that with the northern accents and the City hats, Northwich could be quite near Manchester! I am such a Londoner, I’ve actually been in the away with these guys for two matches and I have no idea where their town is, or even if it is a town at all. Sorry!
Northampton are getting closer, with a goal line clearance on 39 and a penalty appeal a few seconds later. And then against the run of play a Vics goal on 43, from Jimmy Ball. Vics go nuts, and shortly after the whistle goes for half time.

Andy heads off to get some tea whilst I go to the loo, which is okay but again, no hot water. The cuppa warms me up. Vics are in fine voice at half time and it dawns on me that I’ve never sung ‘green army’ before. I’m trying to work out who their rivals are and who they call “scum” in a song, butI can’t quite catch it.

The groundstaff are doing what they can at half time to get the pitch back to shape. It’s looking pretty nice, but once the game kicks off the Vics ‘keeper has to dig a ditch in the ground with his foot so the ball will stay still for a kick. The wind is getting stronger, and that fire is still raging. The fire brigade are out in force and we can see the roof of the pub collapsing.

Ricky Holmes comes on and I very subtly clap.

On 63 minutes, Vics score again, from Rochard Bennett. It’s amazing, and it’s clear that the Vics fans are daring to dream about a decent cup run. Town are now giving it all they have. The ball goes for a corner, it’s cleared off the line and then Vics ‘keeper Springthorpe saves again when comes back in. Town number 4, Taylor, and 6, Cresswell, are in my mind lucky to be on the pitch as they are really coming in heavy, and when Cresswell finally gets booked he gets subbed fairly shortly afterwards, a wise decision, and is greeted by boos from the Vics fans.

Springthorpe is having an amazing game, with another fantastic save on 72. Vics are really very impressive, defending well, skillful on the ball and I find it hard to believe they’re not at a higher level. But still Northampton come and come, but they cannot get past the keeper.
And then they do. Hoskins on 83, and a lucky goal as Adams shoots and it takes a deflection that no one could anything about. And then seconds later, Town’s second, from a free kick foolishly given away. The Vics sink, players and fans utterly deflated, and having held them off for such a long time all it took was a small change in pace for Town, a silly mistake, and it’s all falling apart. There is clearly still another goal in this, and with 5 minutes on the clock, and Town on the ascendancy, I have the fear.

And then it happens. Calvert-Lewin on 87 scores the third for Northampton. Town fans go balmy, and start the inevitable chorus of “two nil up and you fucked it up” but I think they must know how much credit that gives Northwich that they got to that stage, especially as they had been pretty much silent until the first goal.

Vics come close with 2 minutes on the clock and then it’s straight down the other end with Calvert-Lewin one-on-one with Springthorpe looking set for the fourth when he skies it.

I’m so bad at being neutral. I’ve gone and got invested in the Vics, and even the news that Arsenal have gone 3-1 in their game up doesn’t put a smile on my face. There is five minutes of injury time, and I am screaming for the Vics!

It doesn’t happen, and the whistle blows, and Northampton Town are through to the next round. I think this is the second time we have accidentally gone to the game of the round. The Vics players come over to applaud their fans, and then a few of the Northampton players come over as well. I’m now welling up. And then, as we leave the ground, the remaining Northampton fans turn to the Vics fans and they applaud us as well. And this is why I love this game. Town know how close they came to losing, and what an achievement this was for them.

Northampton go on to draw their neighbours MK Dons in the next round. And as for Northwich Victoria…thanks for everything, my little journey with you has been fun, and I’ll certainly be seeing you again.

We head out, and notice a little memorial garden, and suddenly things fit into place, because it’s the memorial for Walter Tull, who went on to play for Spurs, died in WW1, and was one of the first black professional footballers. He was brought to Northampton by Herbert Chapman, who obviously went on to manage Arsenal. So although we wanted the Vics to win, all three of us, two Gooners and a Spud, have good reason to wish Northampton the best in the next round. It’s about time they had some luck.

Postscript: Town drew with MK in the next round of the cup, and have a replay on Tuesday 19th January 2016. Both buildings were destroyed in the fire at the Sixfields Tavern, but thankfully there were no injuries.

Game 24: Kickers Offenbach v Hessen Kassel, Regionalliga Südwest, 1st December 2015

It’s the fourth and final game in the mini-tour of German football, and we’re bringing Offenbach! Now staying in a lovely hostel in the red light district of Hamburg, me, SpursBoy and Tom are having a few bevvies in the Irish bar opposite the station before we head off to the ground which is about 30 minutes away on the S Bahn and a 15 minute walk the other end. There are lots of bars on route but with a belly full of Guinness we decide to just head straight in.

The Offenbach stadium is quite clearly too good and too big for a club in step 4, and Tom tells us that at one point they were at step 2. It’s a club with a rich history; they have a strong regional identity, like to make clear that Offenbach is not part of Frankfurt, have a huge rivalry with Eintracht Frankfurt, and they are somewhat notorious for a fight between them and Mannheim fans in 1999, known as the “The Battle on the Bieberer Berg.” This could be a good one.

Despite the belly full of Guinness, we still get the beers in once we arrive. We pick a great spot on the terrace, above the entrance so we get a great view, and I admire the surroundings. It really is a lovely stadium, there is a fantastic atmosphere, everyone around us seems very nice, and I have a feeling this may end up as the best match of the trip.

Something I have noticed during trips to Germany is the songs, many of which are bastardisations of British songs. So at St Pauli we got a song to the tune of ‘Karma Chameleon’, here we get a chorus of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, which is apparently considered to be a generic football song, and what can only be described as the worst version of Robbie Williams’ ‘Angels’ that I have ever heard. They also have their own club song, a phenomenon which I just love, even if it’s a bit like school. German football really is so tribal it’s unbelievable, at least as much as in England.

The Kickers are playing red and white, so my Arsenal stripey bobble hat (‘Where’s Wally?’) can be worn with safely. The game kicks off. Tom does the black boot count, which is three.

Kassel miss a practically open goal after about 13 minutes. Their fans are very vocal, singing the German version of that annoying “Everywhere we go” song that has become so popular this season, which I first heard sung by Barnet at Millwall in the Cup.

Five minutes later, Kassel break the deadlock through Feigenspan, who gets on the end of a nice through ball and has a nice run before scoring, but really the keeper should have done better.

Some chants and phrases translate to English. “<Insert name of manager> is a football genius” comes up, and SpursBoy reminisces about “Marrin Yol is a football genius”, sung for about five minutes at Spurs, and as is usual in North London, the letter ‘t’ is only ever optional. About five minutes later we hear someone yell “YOU ARSEHOLE” really loudly at someone on the pitch, and I realise why Germany feels a bit like home.

The pitch is cutting up really badly, but it’s pretty end to end stuff and definitely the highest quality of game we’ve seem so far. On 23, Röser gets the equaliser for OfC after a bit of a goalmouth scrap. The tannoy announces him as the scorer followed by “Wie gehts!” to which the terrace replies “Danke”! Nice.

Half time. There are decent loos but the water is oh so cold. Do German women have hands of ice? Why is it so hard to get hot water in these places?

By this stage of course the pitch is a mess. The poor old groundsman comes out to replace the divots but he really is fighting a losing battle.

The teams come out for the second half and the attendance is announced at 5113, which isn’t bad. The standard of play is dropping, the set pieces are atrocious and it is somewhat of a miracle that on 75 Pintol scores for OfC from a free kick!

The goal seems to get everyone in a crazy mood, and the rest of the game is chaotic and action packed. A Kessel player comes down and starts rolling around like he’s been shot in the head, yet still manages to kick an OfC player on his way down. A torrent of beer cups are thrown onto the pitch, and I realise exactly why the nets are needed.

On 86 minutes, more chaos, as Rahut, the Kassel keeper, takes down the last man for OfC and gets a red card, completely deserved. An outfield player goes between the posts for the penalty as they have made all their substitutions….

…and it’s missed. Again! This time completely skied. That’s two missed penalties in two games now, and this one was even worse than Karlsruher’s yesterday!

Somehow, in the melee, the poor lad in goal has been floored, and appears to have lost consciousness. The players nearest to him put him in the recovery position and by the time the physio is on he is up and awake, and he is applauded by all.

The whistle blows for full time. It’s a good result for the home side, and I would say the best game of the trip for us in terms of atmosphere and quality of play, and it’s good to end on a high. We rush off for the 10.30pm train, which we make quite easily, and say our farewells to Tom. SpursBoy and I trot off to an Australian restaurant for a late dinner, and begin to plan our next trip over.

Game 23: Karlsruher SC VS. RB Leipzig Bundesliga 2, 30th November 2015

Karlsruher v Leipzig in the second Bundesliga was match three of the mini-hop of Germany. When Tom finally dragged us away from taking photos of the weird green birds in the tree outside of our hotel in Heidelburg, we embarked on a 40 minute S-bahn journey to Karlsruhe-Durlach, from where we would get a tram to the ground.

We were massively early, so naturally decided to spend too long in the Durlach station bar, drinking beer and talking bollocks. I had made the decision to leave my red and white striped Arsenal hat at the hotel this time, as Tom had warned me that Leipzig play in red and white, and that the Karlsruher ultras can get a bit lairy. There were few fans in the bar, mostly old blokes, and it didn’t look as though there would be much trouble. It’s not a bad bar, the wheat beer was nice and pretty cheap, and it was a place where the country wide smoking ban was wildly flouted!

The tram took another 10 minutes or so, with a 10 minute walk at the other end, and by the time we got there the terrace was a bit full and we ended up watching the game through a rather vicious looking metal fence. But, of course, we were able to drink beer while there, so it wasn’t all bad.

A quick word about Tom, my ground hopping friend. Tom is not his real name, but as an Irishman living in Germany we’ve chosen Tom Hagen as his nom de plume (and if you don’t get why, watch ‘The Godfather’). He travels round Germany watching football, ice hockey, judo and myriad other sports, and supports St Pauli, like every good German does, and Manchester City, though in what I assume is a political thing, he likes then less since they became successful. Tom is the fountain of all knowledge when it comes to football, but is absolutely bobbins at directions, more of which later.

The crowd are noisy and have a shed load of banners with them. We are standing to the side of the Ultras, with a pretty good view of them through the fence, and once again they don’t stop singing throughout the game. The stadium is a bit boring architecturally speaking, once again, but there is a great atmosphere. I have no real idea of the significance of this game, other than Karlsruher seem to hate everybody. Nothing shows this more than the singing of the club song before kick off, which seems to be a regional ‘Nobody likes us and we don’t care’. I find it very strange that whilst in Germany i’ve seen no nationalism, but I’ve seen an awful lot of regionalism.

There isn’t much to say about the game. It’s not that cold so we spurn the gluhwein for more lager, and as there are two of us who don’t eat meat we spurn the wurst, much to the disappointment of omnivore SpursBoy. The attendance is an excellent 15575, there is a black boot count of 3, and strangely Karlsruher have the player names under the numbers on the backs of their shirts, instead of above. But we really do spend the entire game talking nonsense, because a) the game is dull, and b) we can’t see it very well anyway. Because not only is there a fence, but there is a running track on the other side of the fence.

Half time sees a trip for more beer,plus the obligatory visit to the ladies, which has paper, but only cold water and no paper towels, as well as massive queues, so is pretty unsatisfactory. On my return, I can see that the Karlsruher fans seem to be protesting, though we can’t see what’s on the banners the fans are holding. It appears to be something about how Leipzig are ruining the game, I guess because of their ownership, and the fact that Leipzig are owned by Red Bull. I get the impression that it is the done thing to hate teams which are now ‘franchises’ of Red Bull, and there is a growing number all over the world.

On 57 the game suddenly livens up, with Karlsruher being awarded a penalty. Their Greek striker, Diamantakos, comes up to take it and the resulting penalty is one of the worse i’ve ever seen, as the ball just trickles towards the bottom left of the goal, easily savable by the Leipzig keeper.

After that we end up having a chat with the guys behind us, one of whom is an Italian groundhopper. The conversation doesn’t last long, as the man is a Juventus fan from the South, so I immediately label him a glory hunter and extract myself from the conversation. As a wise Bournemouth fan said to me last week, the rule should always be, support the team your father (or mother) supports, or support your local team. There’s little excuse for anything else.

Just as we are once again musing on the relatively low standard of play compared to the Championship, and the failure of either team to finish, a lovely strike from Sabitzer on 70 puts Leipzig 1-0 up. Karlsruher bring on Hoffer, which leads SpursBoy into a string of poor jokes along the lines of ‘so this is where he’d been hiding all these years’. Khedira comes on for Leipzig, which leads to frantic checks to see where Sammy is playing now, but clearly it’s not him!

As the whistle blows the crowd are still very vocal, with a great song to the tune of ‘By the Rivers of Babylon’. Karlsruher have lost but they seem pretty okay with that, maybe assuming that the big boys will always win now they have money. I await Red Bull’s entry to the English Premier League with much trepidation.

We collect our empty cups, and a few others, and take them back for our €1 refund per cup. We head out, and then things start going wrong. We get on a tram, but it turns out to be the wrong tram, or rather a different tram, and it doesn’t go directly to the station. So a 10 minute tram journey and a 30 minute seemingly aimless wander around an industrial site / building site finally gets us back to Durlach, where we all sink a couple of well earned beers before heading back to Heidelburg on the last train.
Although the atmosphere was good, I don’t think I’d go back to Karlsruher, but it’s not a bad one from a groundhopping point of view as it’s so easy to get to, although probably a better one for a weekend when you don’t have to panic about missing trains. And also probably best to go with people who know where they are going. So not with Tom!

Game 22: Augsburg v Wolfsberg, Bundesliga, 29th November 2015

The second match on the trip, and our only Bundesliga game, is Augsburg v Wolfsburg. Augsburg is a fairly nondescript German town, and probably not somewhere to visit if not for football, and we arrived on a wet a blustery day, and with hangovers following a Saturday of Christmas market hopping in Bavaria. We found our hotel after a 20 minute walk from the train station, and it appeared that due to some foresight by me we were booked into a rather nice 4 star. I must have realised that we’d have hangovers and would appreciate a bit of luxury for this one!

We walked into town for the Christmas market , which was in the square in the old part of town. Only one gluhwein for now as the hangover was really kicking in, but we have a brief chat to a German Everton fan and then made our way to the ground.

One of the great things about German football is that often transport on matchday is free if you have a ticket. Unfortunately I had to collect ours at the ground, so we bought the cheapest ticket we could find (the fines for fare evasion are pretty harsh) and got onto one of the trams laid on to take supporters to the ground. I do love a football special!

It was about a 30 minutes tram journey and was pretty rammed. More annoyingly, with the weather getting worse, was the 15 minute walk at the other end. On getting to the stadium we easily found the ticket office, but a near disaster happened when I was asked for my passport in order to claim the tickets.  It was back in the hotel. Crisis averted when I found the actual email from the club and presented my trusty provisional driving licence, and we made our way in.

Bag searches and frisking are pretty thorough, I’m guessing since Paris, and there is quite a queue for women to be searched. I don’t mind if people are made to feel safer, but it’s a shame it has to be like this.

The WWK Arena is rather totalitarian, as is the way with many German football grounds. The ladies toilets are decent and clean but only have cold water on tap, which in this weather is far from ideal. The concourse is totally open and an absolute windtrap, lots of people have blankets with them and they are for sale at the ground, and I would advise anyone going in winter to bring one. Luckily, they sell gluhwein, so we have a glass to warm us before taking our seats.

Another issue with many German grounds in the Bundesliga is that they don’t take cash. So to get two glasses of gluewein, which were €3 each, I had to hand over €10, buy a smart card I’ll never use again, and then if I want another I’ll have to give another €10 as they only accept denominations of ten. Grrrr.

We take our seats. It is a very impressive ground from here. Only built in 2009 it is apparantly carbon neutral, but for such a lovely stadium and such a new stadium to be so open to the elements is absolutely bewildering to me.

The teams come out to warm up, inexplicably to ‘Land of Hope and Glory’. We check the teams, and I discover to my joy that I could be seeing two former Arsenal legends here today. Alex Manninger, who I am surprised is still playing, is Augsburg’s reserve keeper. And Wolfsberg have in their strike force the one and only Super Nicky Bendtner, the best striker in the world!!! Alas, and not unexpectedly, they are both on the bench. Former Chelsea player Andre Schurrle gets a start for Wolfsburg.

Another drawback to the Bundesliga is that there are of course nets between the crowd and the pitch. I’m not sure whether it is necessary, but I suppose it is a small price to pay for being able to drink alcohol in your seats.

Some random children do a lap around the pitch for no apparent reason, and we check the league tables. It’s pretty clear that Augsburg are quite rubbish, which explains Alex Manninger, and are probably going to be battling relegation. Wolfsburg are fourth and doing okay, so this is an important game for both sides.

We kick off.

It’s not an action packed first half. Augsburg should have got a penalty 15 minutes in but apart from that they are pretty ineffectual. I find myself drifting off. The late night and the early start are catching up with me, I’m freezing, and I huddle into my coat and begin to get into hibernation mode. I can definitely see myself asleep before too long unless something actually happens.

The rest of the half is very niggly. There is lots of diving, mainly by Wolfsburg, which I imagine is a by-product of Champions League qualification. Three minutes before half time Augsburg have another chance, with their number 3 missing a practically open goal. It wakes me up and I sprint to the loo as the whistle blows.

It’s a bloody good job that I do, because as I come out the queue is monstrous, although it goes down reasonably quickly. There are clearly not enough toilets here, I suspect for men as well as women, and again I find it strange that such a new stadium is in so many ways so inadequate. The icy wind blows around the concourse as I struggle to light my (totally legal) cigarette, and I can’t really type notes anymore because my fingers are frozen so head back up. Another strange security measure is that I get my ticket checked again going back to my seat.

Wolfsburg are playing much better in the second half, and Augsburg are on the defensive from the off, but they have a great chance on 60 minutes, totally against the run of play, but the ball is headed criminally wide. That’s two practically open goals Augsburg have squandered now.

The rest of the game is a bit slow. We do a quick black boot count and think we have three. The ref is a bit shit, continually missing the increased diving that is taking place, and blowing for what seems to us to be fair tackles, and there is some nice tackling happening. But for both teams there are mistakes; crosses are sloppy and there is little real threat in the box. I’m increasingly convinced that the English Premier League is the best in the world in terms of play and entertainment.

On 71, the Augsburg fans stand and clap for a minute. If anyone knows why, do please get back to me!

On 78 minutes things liven up. Wolfsburg’s best chance is nicely saved by the Augsburg keeper, and they shoot wide just 3 minutes later. Then, suddenly, controversy. Wolfsburg’s no 18, Dante, gets a second yellow card for a pretty hard foul and refuses to get off the pitch. Handbags ensue, he has a strop at the referee, but eventually is persuaded to leave, to a chorus of boos from the home fans. Augsburg, spurred on, have a shot on 89 minutes but there is no real power behind it. It’s another German 0-0 for us.

SpursBoy observes that we often see goalless draws over here. Maybe it’s because we always seem to come to Germany in the Winter, but I find it amazing, and quite telling, that in a side like this poor old Nicky Bendtner still can’t get on the pitch!

The Augsburg players come over to thank the crowd and one gives his shirt to a fan. We proceed to walk the quarter of an hour or so to get back on the tram, wait another 20 minutes to board, and we’re back in town within the hour. It’s a very good post-match transport system, and I’m impressed, especially looking at how transport is often organised in out of town stadia in England (Reading, I’m looking at you!).

It’s been a nice day, despite the hangover. Attendance was 27,000, and everyone seems pretty happy and friendly on the way back. We find a bar opposite our hotel which seems to have been made for me (Bob’s Punk Rock Pizzeria und BeerBar) and we reflect on game 2. I’d probably not come back to Augsburg, though Bob’s is now my favourite bar in Germany, but for the hopper it’s a good one. Convenient transport, easy to get tickets, and a nice crowd, make it probably a good place to come if you want your Bundesliga fix.