Thursday, June 29, 2006

Fußball

I had great intentions to post from Germany but I never found access to the net for a long enough period to make it happen. Now, a few weeks later, I don't feel like writing a detailed travelougue. So, I'm going to post my pictures and then add comments below them.

As for my friends I was travelling with, I'm just going to refer to them as TM, TB and BS. I don't have anything salacious on them. Just out of courtesy and ease.


The flight over went pretty smoothly. I met a bunch of fellow soccer fans in the bar in Newark airport and easily killed the five hour layover watching the games and drinking. The four guys I met were from England, Brazil and Argentina and here is the interesting thing...despite being big soccer fans, they said a lot of stupid crap. Non-Americans mock Americans for their lack of knowledge of soccer but these guys thought some third place teams still advance to the second round, that Cisse was playing for Ivory Coast and that Beckham was still playing for Man United. Just a few examples that show that Non-American soccer fans can be pretty ignorant too.

I saw Stephen Colbert in the airport waiting for his flight. I wanted to ask him to autograph my copy of 442 with "Soccer. You're on notice! Stephen Colbert". However, after finding a pen, I realized that he had his young son with him. I'm kind of sensitive to that sort of stuff and figured he probably doesn't get much time to spend with his kid these days. So, I bagged the idea and just let the two of them be.

I was surprised how many US fans were on my flight over. It was like USSoccerStore.com had thrown up on the plane. Every row had one of two people in US jerseys/shirts/scarves/hats/etc. That was my first sign that the US fans were going to show up in large and loud numbers for this cup.

As for the picture above, that was a clever ad attached to the baggage carousel in Frankfurt. I did a complete double-take when I first walked by it. But I quickly came to my senses and realized that it wasn't actually the World Cup trophy and just an ad. However, it was an early sign that Germany was going to be a fun host country.

One last thing about the flight over...as I waited for TM, TB and BS to arrive, I watched the fans arrive from different countries. The hilarious thing was I'd see on the board that a flight from Sao Paulo or Sydney arrive and then about 20 minutes later, there would be this flood of people coming through the doors outside of customs dressed head-to-toe in their team's colors. Big hats. Wigs. Crazy costumes. Props. The whole bit. Like they were going straight to the game from the plane and they had been sitting there on the plane for the last seventeen hours dressed in these crazy outfits. Despite being exhausted, it made me smile and laugh. In hindsight, the US fans looked tame on my flight.


We went straight from the airport to the trains to travel up to Gelsenkirchen for the US-Czech Republic match the next day. We had to change trains in Cologne which was cool because the Cologne Cathedral and fanfest for the city were right next to the train station. So, with a half-hour to kill, we went over to check out the atmosphere. Angola and Portugal were getting ready to play in Cologne that night. So, the place was filled with fans from those countries. As you can see above, the Angolans brought some drums and were having a pre-game party. I know I was right next to one of the most impressive cathedrals in the world but the color and pagentry of the fans completely absorbed my attention.


After arriving in Gelsenkirchen and checking into our hotel, we headed over to the team hotel in Essen to have dinner with TM's brother who works for the team. We saw a few of the players (Eddie Pope is amazingly thin up close) and Bruce Arena and then Coach Myernick came over to say hi. That guy may not be the grandest soccer brain in the country but he's an incredibly nice guy. By the time we finished dinner, I had been up for about 48 hours straight and ready to collapse. Same with TM. So despite the small bed for the two of us, we both crashed for about eleven hours.

BS had been in Germany for a few days and TB lives there. So, those guys went out and found a bar until 4 a.m. Drinking and singing. As they said, nothing like coming home from a night of drinking with the sun already rising.


This was the scene outside our hotel the next morning around 11 a.m. Seven hours before kickoff. Another good sign that this was going to be a fun week.


I had read a lot of negative commetns about the town of Gelsenkirchen before leaving for Germany. Well, while it isn't your quintessential cute German tourist town, it wasn't a shithole either. Decent town and good hosts to the fans. Most of the action seemed to be along this one long street with the US fans achoring one end and the Czech fans at the other end. By the way, the Czech fans we met were great. Nice folks.


One odd thing to wrestle with was wearing lots of US team attire in a country where people oppose US foreign policy; particularly when you also oppose US foreign policy and don't want the locals to think you support Bush & Co. Well, I liked how this guy handled it. Pretty clever.

During my week there, I didn't experience a single tiny bit of anti-US sentiment. In fact, the few comments we heard were quite kind. One German guy we met on the train told us that he thought the US fans were great. "Fun and peaceful." So, it seemed like most Germans were able to understand the difference between supporting a team and supporting a crappy-ass president. England's fans seem to take the brunt of the negative feelings from the Germans.


A lot of US fans gathered outside of a bar down towards the train station called Brauhaus Hibernian. As you'd imagine, lots of drinking, singing and dancing. Pretty colorful atmosphere. I had never seen so many US fans packed into such a small area before. This was when I started to understand that going to the World Cup is very different than watching it on the TV. On TV, it's just a sporting event. Going to a World Cup match is half sporting event and half Mardi Gras. Yes, everyone wants their team to win but the party is important too.


This was the scene inside the Brauhaus Hibernian. Packed and festive. Notice the clock on the wall. Still almost four hours to kickoff.


As we left for the train station, the US fans broke out into singing the "Star-Spangled Banner". Loud as hell. Definitely a memorable moment.


The stadium in Gelsenkirchen is about a twenty minute tram ride from downtown and we were worried about the long waits at the trains and stadium gates. Plus, we wanted to watch the Japan-Australia match. So, we headed out to the stadium early. Despite leaving a few hours early, the trams were still packed as you can see above. The singing and chanting continued on the train as we went back and forth with the Czechs.

One amusing moment on the train was when a Czech near us yelled in his heavily accented english, "McBride is a redneck!" TM quickly corrected him and said, "No. Mathis is our redneck. McBride is a pretty boy." The Czech stared at TM for a moment as he tried to interpret TM's comment. However, the "pretty boy" line got lost in translation because the Czech then replied, "Ahh. I see. You're gay?" It was a good laugh and led the the Czech to share the apple juice and vodka concoction he was drinking with TM.


The stadium in Gelsenkirchen looks a lot like an American basketball arena from the outside and feels like one inside too. It has a retractable roof but even with the roof open, you still feel indoors. The entire grass field slides out of the stadium on off days to get sun.


Inside the stadium as we watch the Japan-Australia match on the big screen. See what I mean about feeling indoors?

While we were watching the Japan-Australia game, a Czech fan approached me and asked me if I wanted to trade jerseys. Here is where I hurt the US team...I was wearing the red US jersey from the France 98 World Cup which was a complete debacle for the US. I should have thought this through and understood not to wear such a cursed jersey to such a big game. Then this Czech fellow offered me the chance to ditch the jersey and push that cursed piece of crap off onto the Czech team. But I turned the guy down and told him I would only switch shirts after the game. I blew it. Sorry guys.


The US section during the game.


The Czech section during the game. As you can tell, our seats were far away from both fan sections. We were in the "family & friends" section for the US team. It would have been more fun to be in the middle of that large US corner but I'm not complaining because at least I was in the house. Plus, we were right next to the US section for the Italy game which wound up being a better game to be in the US section.


Member of Brian Ching's family. Did you know he was from Hawaii? Sorry. That's a US fan joke.


OK. I'm including this photo for all of the fans that wanted tickets but couldn't get them. For all of the fans that would have given their left nut to be at that game. Here is a guy in the "family & friends" section that has chosen to read the newspaper two minutes before kickoff.

And he's not reading the sports section to check out the lineup or anything. He's reading a friggin' article about the strength of the Euro in USA Today. What a douche! Two minutes before the kickoff of a World Cup game and the most important thing to him is reading the financial pages. His ticket should have gone to a true fan. Someone who would have been up and cheering for the team.


I don't have any pictures from after the game but getting from the stadium back to downtown sucked. At the end of games at Yankee Stadium, the NY Transit has a bunch of trains lined up to take fans home. But the Germans didn't seem to alter their train/bus schedules for the end of the game. So, it was a mob scene for the trains and buses and when one would pull up, the mob would run over and push their way on.

But we eventually got on buses back to town and waited for our train back to Wiesbaden where TB lives. It was late by the time we got on the train and we were tired and discouraged by the thumping the Czechs had laid on the US. But each of us still mentioned how much fun the day had been. On the train, some US fans from Seattle shared their extra beers with us and we met the guy who makes poker sunglasses. Everyone was mellow but still enjoying themsleves.

We got to Wiesbaden and TB's apartment around 2:30 a.m. and found the replay of the game on TV. But I was wiped out so I went to sleep. BS is a masochist because he stayed up watching it.

I woke up the next morning and took the picture above of one of TB's balconies. Usually after a crushing loss by the US, I'm in a sad funk for a few days. However, I didn't feel too bad on Tuesday. Why? For a few reasons...I was in a beautiful place on a beautiful day (as you can see from the photo), I couldn't read the newspapers and didn't have internet access. So, I couldn't read all of the articles, blogs and message boards bitching about the game. Plus, I knew I had a week ahead of mee full of watching gmaes and enjoying myself. It was definitely a lot easier to deal with the loss by being over there then being at home.


On Tuesday, I checked into my hotel near TB's apartment. The hotel was filled with me and about a dozen 85-year-old women who were in Wiesbaden to vist the mineral spas in town. No problem. The place was clean and well located for me. Plus, I wasn't planning on spending much time there besides sleeping.


After checking in, I walked down to the park to find the biergarten where they were showing the games on a large screen. Wiesbaden has a large beautiful park on the edge of downtown that feels like a smaller version of Central Park with it's walking paths, wooded areas, ponds, large lawns and gathering spaces such as the biergarten which they use for outdoor concerts in the summer. However, for the World Cup, the amphitheater held the large screen. It was a great spot to watch the games. Beautiful setting and lots of beer and bratwurst vendors around the edge of the space. So, I watched the Togo-S Korea match and then hooked up with TB & TM (BS flew back to the US that monring) to watch the France-Switzerland match in the park.


After the France-Switzerland draw, TB & TM had to head back to TB's apartment before the Brazil-Croatia match. I didn't feel like walking back to his apartment, so I went into town for a few beers. I found a pair of bars across the street from one another that were supporting opposite teams. One bar had Croatian fans while the other was full of Brazilians. So, naturally, a rivalry started with both sides cheering and blasting airhorns back and forth. Then the bar with the Brazilians sent out a pair of Brazilian dancers for a twenty minute show. Damn. I love the World Cup.


As you can see, the crowd was much larger for the Brazil match. That was the norm for the rest of the week. The early games would have small crowds while the 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. games would have progressively larger crowds in the park.


On Wednesday, TM and I spent the day in Wiesbaden shopping for our kids, loved ones and friends. I liked Wiesbaden a lot. Travel books seem to steer people away from it because it isn't a "perfect little postcard hamlet" but the downtown area is great to stroll around with lots of restaurants/bars and shopping. Plus, there is the park. Nice town.


The biggest and most passionate crowd in the park was for the Germany-Poland match on Wednesday night. Great atmosphere. As the game progressed in a scoreless tussle, the crowd got more and more frenzied with both Polish and German fans cheering and singing.


I'm not a prude but I did find this couple's excessive public displays of affection bizarre. They made out and snuggled together for the majority of the match right in front of us in the middle of a crowd of about 1,000 people. Is there anything amorous about watching a soccer game on a big screen TV with 1,000 people?


When Germany scored a goal in the final minute of the game, the place just exploded with joy. Beers went flying into the air. Everyone hugging, singing and dancing. We went right into the downtown and it was your classic celebration. Everyone in the streets clogging traffic, more chanting and waving flags. I don't know if I'll ever be in a country on the day they win a World Cup but after experiencing that celebration, I got a small taste of what it would be like. That was a late night and an even later morning. One more thing...TB introduced TM and me to döner kebabs that night which is sort of a Turkish gyro. Friggin' great. I could go for one right now but there isn't a chance in hell of finding one in Montpelier. Too bad.


The next day, I headed over to the city of Mainz where US striker, Conor Casey, plays his club ball. I was on my own and was having a lot of trouble finding anyone that spoke english or was willing to help me find the "old city". So, I missed the best part of the town I hear. But I did find the fanfest to watch the Costa Rica-Ecuador game. As you can see, it wasn't as nice of a set-up as the fanfest in Wiesbaden. It was kind of weird sitting in a crowd of a hundred Germans watching Costa Rica and thinking, "I've probably watched this Costa Rican team more often than anyone else here." Kind of a sad thought based upon how the Ticos have been playing lately.


On Friday, we all headed over to Frankfurt to have some lunch in Sachsenhausen, drink some apfelwiene (a local apple wine), do some more shopping and watch the Argentina-Serbia match on the giant screen in the Main River. Liked the lunch and apfelwiene in Sachsenhausen but Frankfurt was as crowded as Times Square on a Saturday afternoon. The stores were jammed and we had to wait a while to get into the fanfest. By the time we got in there, Argentina was already up 3-0. It was cool to watch the games on that screen and see the boats float by. But just too crowded.


Argentina scores. You can see how close that apartment building behind the bleachers is to the fanfest in Frankfurt. The residents of that building basically had a forty foot high TV set right out their windows for a month. Not bad of you want to watch the games. Bad if you don't.


That night, TM and I went back to Wiesbaden to watch the Mexico-Angola match in the park. Look. Mexican fans wear those same silly sombreros in Germany too.

Worst. Hat. Ever.

I actually saw a lot of Mexicans with sombreros in Germany. How the hell did they get them there? Did they really sit on a plane for a dozen hours with the thing on their lap?

Regardless, TM & I became big Angola fans and chanted "Dos a Cero!" during halftime to remind the Mexican fans of the US 2-0 win over Mexico in the last cup. Hey, if we can't revel in this cup, why not play up 2002 again?


Saturday was gameday again for the US. We were catching a mid-afternoon train to Kaiserslautern so in the morning, TB took us down through the Rhine Valley a little sightseeing. In Rüdesheim, we stopped for lunch and I ate something called a kellermeistersteak in hopes of bringing good luck to Kasey Keller. I also picked up this incense smoker at a Christmas shop there. Anyone can bring back a t-shirt from the World Cup but I was bringing back a "Smoker Father Christmas"!


This was the scene getting off the train in Kaiserslautern. It was a long train ride (2 hrs.) because there aren't any direct trains between Wiesbaden and Kaiserslautern. Despite being cramped, the train ride was actually kind of fun. We had some beers with us and met some entertaining US fans from LA. They all worked in the entertainment business and had basically taken the whole month off to travel around Germany for the game.


The streets of Kaiserslautern were as crowded as the train station.


The voices of the US fans seemed to grow as word spread of Ghana beating the Czechs which meant we only had to tie Italy. We had a chance!


I'm not a face-painter but I know a good one when I see one.


I'm not sure if she ever got tickets to the game or not. But it was a good try.

By the way, scalpers were getting 500€ for a ticket to the US-Czech match on Monday and about 300€ for the US-Italy game.


As a father of a little girl, I agree with the sentiments of this guy's shirt. Although it's still a peculiar fashion statement.


Remember that cursed jersey I wore to the Czech game? Well, I carried it with me to the Italy game in hope of passing it off onto some unsuspecting Italian fan. As we were watching the final moments of the Ghana-Czech match, I spotted four twety-something Italians fans dressed in Italy jerseys. So, I went over to them and asked if any of them wanted to swap jerseys. The first three guys declined but the last guy took the bait. He seemed so happy with it that I took his picture. Sucker.

I passed along all of the ill will that came with possessing that shirt and bagged a sweet Baggio Italy jersey from USA 94 as well. Knowing how the game eventually ended, I feel I did my part to help the team.


The stadium in Kaiserslautern is up on a hillside above downtown in the middle of a residential neighborhood. However, the walk up the hill was fun with the US fans making lots of chants and general noise. Pretty festive crowd.

I just realized that sign in front of that house said "Gang Bang Here Tonight". Something odd was definitely in the air that night.


Elvis looking for a beer before the game in the stadium.

While waiting in line for beer, I also met former US player Joe-Max Moore and later on I met injured current US player, Frankie Hejduk. That's one of the reasons I love rooting for the US team. The players are just regular guys; not prima donnas. Both of those guys could have been sitting in a luxury box or hospitality suite or even on the bench with the players. But they both chose to sit in the stands with the fans and cheer the team on with us. Good guys.


The US section at the beginning of the game.


The section of Italian fans. They were amazing quiet during the game. As the US fans came out loud and constant, the Italians were sitting on their hands the whole game. TB and I were even chanting to them, "We can't hear you! You're not singing!" which I never thought I'd do to Italian fans at a World Cup match.


That's how close we were to the top of the stadium. And those were Category I tickets which are suppose to be the most expensive and best tickets. Somehow, the "family & friends" got stuck in some high seats.


The fans unfurl the big flag during the anthem. Everyone singing along (despite the sped-up version of the song coming over the PA system).


John O'Brien's family and friends.

As great as the regular US fans were with their cheering and singing, the friends & family sucked. We had a tough time getting them to stand up and cheer at all. Some even yelled at us to sit down to which TB replied, "Yeh. Go tell the German usher that you want people to sit down at a soccer game. The guy will think you are nuts!"

Despite having knocked over and spilled two of my beers during the US goal celebration and whatnot, I was pleasantly buzzed. So, after a while of struggling to get the "friends & family" members to cheer with the rest of the US fans, I resorted to badgering them. I started yelling at them, "Come on! Get up and cheer! Don't you love your kids! If you aren't going to cheer for your kids in the World Cup, when will you cheer for them?!?!" Besides getting a few smirks, they didn't really get into it until the dying moments of the game.

But as everyon heard on TV, the rest of the crowd was on fire and it was a blast to be a part of that scene. I've been to a lot of great sporting events over the years and that US-Italy game ranked right up there with the best of them.


The end of the game and the US fans are still standing and cheering just like at the beginning of the game.

By the way, a lot of people have asked me about my opinion of the refs calls in the game; thinking I had a better view by being in the stadium. Actually, the view from where we were and the constant jumping and moving we were doing made for a horrible vantage point for judging fouls and other calls. Plus, they don't show any contoversial replays on the big screens in the stadium. Then after the game, we traveled back to Wiesbaden where I slept for a few hours and headed off to the airport to fly home. So, I've never seen good replays of the tackles and offsides and really have no idea whether they were good calls or not. One of the downsides to be at the game but not enough of a downside to upset me.


The game ended at about 10:50 p.m. and we had reservations for an 11:45 p.m. train. Trying to get out of the stadium, down into town and to the train station was brutal. Just a massive crush of people. Then the scene on the platform was complete chaos. By slicing and dicing our way through the crowd coming down the hill, we managed to get to the platform by 11:40 p.m. but, as you can see, the train was already sardine-like.

Like in Gelsenkirchen, the Germans could have done a much better job of getting people out of there but they seemed to stick with the regularly scheduled trains rather than running train after train to get people out of there. We wound up taking a train to a town about a half-hour from Wiesbaden and then taking a cab the rest of the way. Even doing that didn't get us home until 3 a.m.

That was pretty much the end of my trip. I flew home the next day and besides having Continental losing my luggage, it was largely uneventful.

I don't know if I'll ever get to go to another World Cup but that was a week I won't forget until dementia settles in in about 45 years. I basically had an entire week with zero responsibilities while I was in the middle of a giant party...half great sporting event and half Mardi Gras.

Many thanks to TM for asking me to go and hooking me up with the tickets. I owe you a lot.

By the way, on a musical note, I spent a lot of time walking in Germany; about five miles a day. And that meant listening to my iPod a lot. Due to their cost, iPods are not as ubiquitous there
as they are in the US. So, it was weird how when I was wearing my iPod, people would speak english to me before I even opened my mouth. But if my iPod was in my pocket, they would speak German. Kind of weird.

If you've been watching the World Cup on TV, you've certainly seen the adidas ad with the kids playing sandlot soccer with various superstars. Well, the song playing in the background is Jim Noir's "Eanie Meany" from his album Tower of Love which will be released in the US in early August. Here is the original version and a remix by Fatboy Slim.

Jim Noir | Eanie Meany (Tower of Love)
Jim Noir | Eanie Meany (Fatboy Slim Mix)

17 comments:

Ween said...

The USA were not as good as I thought they might be. Outplayed by the Czechs after a terrible start and never really pulled it back round. They strangely seemed to be controlling the Italian game better before DeRossi got sent off.

As I always go for the underdog, I was hoping that Ghana would have gone through too. Also, as they were quite dynamic and the USA were, fankly, a bit boring and functional. They got a good goal against Ghana though.

I am from Northern Ireland, so bear in mind that my team didn't really come close to qualifying!

We beat England along the way though...

Flatlander said...

Yep. We sucked. We aren't normally that boring though. I'm still not sure why the team played in such a non-aggressive manner. Probably a bit coaching, a bit of the fact that we gave up an early goal in each game, a bit of the players not being as good as the other team's players and a bit of bad luck.

I already have high hopes though for South Africa 2010!

Flatlander said...

By the way, Ween, congrats on beating the English in qualifying. I basically root for the US and whoever is playing England. So, I was happy to see that result.

Bob F. said...

So jealous. Great post.

Wish I had known you were going to be in Wiesbaden. My brother lives there and was in the square for that match.

Ween said...

Thank you Flatlander, although I had little to do with it :)

I'm living in England at the minute and watched it with a mix of NI and english. The irish got louder and the English got quieter the longer the match went on.

Flatlander said...

Bob,

Is that the same brother from the music list? That would have been hilarious to meet another list member in Wiesbaden of all places.

Even without tickets, you should have gone over to visit him in Wiesbaden. Watching the games in the fanfests was a lot of fun. Plus, the beer, wurst, etc. Germany was a great host.

Anonymous said...

What a fun trip!!

oh and a good tip about ipod lol ^-^

Anonymous said...

Flatlander, glad to see you are back in the blogging business. A great post on the World Cup. It is the only account that I have read from the World Cup and gave me a great sense of the games and the festival arround them. What a cool International experience. After all that drinkig till the wee hours hard to believe there is no dirt on TD. Cheers,

VT Green

Jim said...

Wonderful post. Wish I could have been there as well, even given the dismal performance by our team.

Anonymous said...

Great interesting post, even if you had to suffer watching one of the poorest teams in the competition. I cannot believe that FIFA have the USA ranked 5th in the World!

Flatlander said...

Not for long.

Seriously, everyone knows the FIFA rankings are crap except for the producers at ESPN who hark them every minute they can. I think the US is still a top 15 team that played like crap against some very good teams.

And with the constantly growing pipeline of young players, the US' future looks much better than its past.

nico said...

Glad you had a great time. I wish I could've been there, but being broke as shit and in grad school doesn't lend itself to Euro vacations.

I've got to get my ass to a World Cup someday.

When it was in the US, I had a once in a lifetime opportunity to go to New Zealand for cheap...and I took it.

b.f. said...

Different brother.

I couldn't go because I'd miss episodes of Supergroup on VH1...can't leave the country when The Nuge is on.

drew_brown said...

Any chance you have TM's brother RM's email? We're trying to get in touch with him for an interview.

www.catamountcountry.com

Flatlander said...

Drew,

Yes. However, I don't want to post it here. Send me an email at jamkids[at]gmail[dot]com and I'll send it over.

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed reading your post. And it brought back many memories of my trip. There is nothing better than the World Cup.

Anonymous said...

Hi. Came looking for the Fatboy Slim remix, which was expired anyway, but I enjoyed your Cup tale.

I was in the St Pauli in Hamburg in 90 when Germany won. We watched the match at somebody's flat. I remember looking out the windows during the match a couple times and it was like a neutron bomb had hit the place - no more than a few confused stragglers stumbling about. As soon as the whistle blew, everybody in town came pouring out like water through a breached dam. The bars were jammed in minutes and the place went nuts all night long.