IF you pine for the old buzz of standing in the terraces, the game is still beautiful in Germany
SIX o’clock on Saturday evening, the sun is shining and the beer garden in Strobels is rocking. I Was Made For Loving You by Kiss is blasting out of the sound system and scores of football fans clad in yellow and black are singing along with Gene Simmons.
A few are wearing sleeveless denim jackets decorated with Borussia Dortmund patches and most are drinking Warsteiner from plastic steins and eating barbecued bratwurst.
This, in essence, is match day in Germany: beery, boisterous and a huge amount of fun.
Strobels is a cult bar nestling in the shadow of Borussia Dortmund’s home ground, the Signal Iduna Park, and the clientele is made up of supporters decanting from the stadium having just watched their team thrash Paderborn 3-0.
When it comes to football the Germans have it sussed. More goals, cheaper tickets and a sizzling atmosphere that turns ordinary league games into proper occasions. The fans are raucous without being menacing and the football is fast and exciting.
The best teams in Germany’s top division, the Bundesliga, play with passion and flair but also great technical ability. The national side won the World Cup last summer and deservedly so. It’s a footballing utopia and, unsurprisingly, its popularity spreads beyond its borders.
German football addicts in this country can get their fix fairly readily. BT Sport shows 115 live matches per season and there is a weekly highlights programme on Channel 5. Best of all is the quirky English language video blog on the official Bundesliga website.
But if you really want to satisfy your cravings you have to go to a game.
Football tourism to Germany is becoming more and more popular as clubs in the UK price their fans out the market. Some Arsenal supporters have worked out that it can be cheaper to travel to Germany for a match than watch a Champions League game at the Emirates.
My 12-year-old son Fraser is hooked on Borussia Dortmund, the titans of Westphalia. His long-held ambition had been to attend a match at the Signal Iduna Park and so it was that we set off to do just that. It was to be a father and son bonding session of uber proportions.
We flew from Edinburgh to Cologne on Germanwings, a flight of around an hour and a half.
At Cologne airport we board an Inter City Express. Cologne to Dortmund is an easy 90-minute journey on a fast, clean train that wends its way through the Rhineland stopping off at Dusseldorf, Duisburg, Essen and Bochum.
On arrival at the Dortmund Hauptbahnhof, we jump on an S-Bahn local train to our hotel, an Ibis located in a rather out of the way suburb. It’s handy for the stadium and not much else, but as we’re only here for the football, it serves its purpose.
Match day begins with a quick lunch in the city centre, then it’s on to the U-Bahn bound for the stadium. And this is where the atmosphere starts to build. Groups of fans board the underground train, some carrying crates of beer. The mood is upbeat and friendly, with bottles passed around the carriage.
We are decanted at the park on the south side of the city which houses the ground.
Once inside the 80,000-plus capacity Signal Iduna Park your senses are assaulted by the noise and colour. Off to the left is the fabled Yellow Wall, or Gelbe Wand. Situated behind the goal at the south end of the ground this is where the hardcore Dortmund supporters gather. It’s a steeply banked, single-tier terrace rising up high into the Dortmund sky. And for domestic matches, the supporters stand.
Unlike in the UK, terracing is still permitted at top level domestic football in Germany and it helps generate a throbbing, passionate atmosphere that all-seated stadia don’t. There is a massive exhibition of flag waving and call and response chanting.
Pre-match, the atmosphere is thrilling. A genuinely moving rendition of You’ll Never Walk Alone (in English, natch) rises to a crescendo. It’s incredible how a Rodgers and Hammerstein number from Carousel via Gerry and the Pacemakers and Anfield can become a football anthem for the age.
The Dortmund fans have added their indelible stamp and it creates a moment where the hairs on the back of your neck stand to attention.
By this stage I’m as excited as my son and there is a great rush of noise as the game kicks off. Dortmund are good, frighteningly so. Fast, skilful and only interested in playing attacking football. Jurgen Klopp, their former manager, who bade an emotional farewell in the summer before taking over at Anfield, is widely credited with transforming the way German teams play. His Dortmund sides are masters of a pressing, high energy game which has been imitated by their rivals.
Dortmund are too strong for Paderborn. The home team dominate the first half but can’t find a way past the visiting goalkeeper. The breakthrough comes after the interval (where giant pretzels and beer replace pie and Bovril as the snack of choice). Star players Shinji Kagawa and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang are among the goal scorers as Dortmund win 3-0 and the home fans are delirious.
A lot of beer is consumed, both inside and outside the stadium. There are a lot of smokers too (no ban here, except in the family stand). In fact, with the terracing, the smell of cigarettes and the availability of alcohol it’s a lot like going to a match in Scotland 30 years ago. Until the game begins. The quality is, unsurprisingly, of a standard way above anything in this country.
Dortmund is a club with a sense of its own place in German football history. And while Bayern Munich might dominate in terms of international profile, Dortmund are rightly proud of being one of only three German clubs to have lifted the European Cup.
Their history is lovingly chronicled in the Borusseum, the museum in the stadium. It gives a great potted history of the club from its roots, founded in a pub in the city in 1909, through difficult days – they almost went bankrupt in the early 1980s and again in 2005. In between they won club football’s most sought after prize, the Champions League, in 1997, with Scotland’s Paul Lambert a key component in the team. Dortmund is also home to the new German Football Museum, which was due to open last week.
Back in Strobels, Seven Nation Army by the White Stripes has replaced Kiss on the turntable. Some punters are singing along while others are dissecting the finer details of what has been an impressive performance by the home team. The locals are friendly and staff at the stadium are unfailingly polite and helpful. For Fraser it’s been a great trip. I’ve enjoyed it too and we’d love to come again.
German football seems to take all the best bits of the terrace era and blend them with what’s good about the modern game. The result is a heady brew.
• Germanwings flies daily from Edinburgh to Cologne (except Tuesdays) from £42.99 single; Inter City Express trains run from Cologne airport to Dortmund’s main station. Prices vary but are cheaper if booked in advance; Ibis Dortmund West is 5 miles from the city centre and 4 miles from Borussia Dortmund’s stadium. Rooms from £50 per night; Tickets for Dortmund matches are available from official website from ¤16.70. www.bvb.de/eng