…Or how to experience your first ‘high risk’ category game in Germany without enough beer to calm the nerves…
When I moved to Germany over two years ago, I was quite looking forward to watching German football. In the interests of fairness, I had decided to not pick a team to follow as such, and instead let the list get gradually narrowed down as teams and/or players did things that I didn’t like (although, Bayern, naturally, were not on the list. It would be too easy to support Bayern, and following football is not about taking an easy choice. Luckily they sacked the likeable Jürgen Klinsmann and hired the thoroughly arrogant Louis van Gaal shortly after I moved, so it was quite easy not to like them).
There was one team I did like before I moved though: Dynamo Dresden. Or, to give them their full name, SportGemeinschaft Dynamo Dresden. I’d actually been to two Dresden games before I moved to Germany with a friend from my girlfriend’s village, and was really impressed by the intimidating atmosphere and the passion of the fans, despite them being in the Regionalliga (fourth division) at the time. The standard of football was pretty dire, mind.
As with all East German clubs, the football team had a political identity. The club was founded in 1950 as SG Deutsche Volkspolizei Dresden, before becoming SG Dynamo Dresden in 1953. Basically, any team with Dynamo in the name was associated with the Stasi, the East German secret police. The team was moved to Berlin in 1954, a year after winning their first league title, under the orders of the Erich Mielke, head of the Stasi, who wanted a successful club in the capital. The moved team became Dynamo Berlin, who went on to become one of the most famous and successful East German teams, although all of their titles are subsequently viewed as tainted by corruption. The reserves and youth players who were left in Dresden struggled over the next decade before gaining a consistent place in the top East German division, which is where they pretty much stayed until re-unification, winning the league title eight times.
After four seasons in the reunited top division, Dynamo struggled, dropping down into the regional leagues, before becoming more stable over the last few years. They won promotion to the Second Bundesliga during an exciting relegation playoff (beating Osnabrück of the second division in a two-legged playoff to take their place in the division), moving up with Eintracht Braunschweig and Hansa Rostock, today’s opponents, who finished first and second in the Third Division respectively.
Both Dynamo Dresden and Hansa Rostock fans have a pretty bad reputation (in terms of violence, as opposed to sitting in silence) so this was classed as a ‘high risk’ game, which I hadn’t originally realised, although thinking about it, it makes perfect sense. I got the bus into Dresden from Berlin, and as we approached the city I saw a police helicopter hovering above the town centre, and six police vans drove past us as we were sat at traffic lights. The bus I got, after a heavy night out, got me there about 12, so I had over three hours to kill until kick-off, so I wandered around Hauptbahnhof (central station), which was full of huge policemen, and searched for something to eat and a beer, which I then took to Dresden’s equivalent of Northumberland Street to drink while sitting on a bench, people-watching. With about 2 hours to go, I decided to walk to the stadium, which should have been pretty uneventful.
Despite having a printed-out Google map in my pocket, I didn’t want to look like a tourist by looking at it, so, using my famous sense of direction, free-styled a route to the stadium. And I certainly found the stadium after cutting through a wood and passing a shitload of police who were all padded up ready for a riot (I’m not gonna guess how many I saw as I don’t think I would do the number justice, but I do feel comfortable saying it was in the mid three-figure range). The problem was, the path I chose was fed into by another path through the woods, which was being used by a steady stream of Hansa Rostock fans.
And I was by myself.
Well, except for the police. But it was still a scary thought, and I didn’t want to be seen to be turning back, so I continued ahead. I wasn’t wearing any team colours, just a dark hoody, so, to be fair, I could have been taken for someone from either team (with my mouth closed, at least). As I realised the queue was heading to the away corner, I quickly veered from the security- and police-patrolled entrance to the away block onto another path around the stadium fence. I had made it about 10 metres along this path when I was stopped by an older policeman asking where I was trying to go. I told him that I was trying to head to one of the home sections, and he looked at me like I was an idiot (fair enough, perhaps), and then let me past him. As I breathed a sigh of relief at finally being on a path leading away from the Rostock fans, I passed an ambulance, and, for some stupid reason, I looked through the window as I passed. What did I see? A Dynamo fan being treated for some kind of head injury. I felt my bowels loosen a bit, and I marched towards the block I was meant to be at (insert war joke here).
I got to my seat 90 minutes before the game started, and have to admit that I was impressed by the new stadium. The old stadium was brilliant, but it was obviously old. This one was clearly very new, but it still had some personality (unlike some of the newer stadiums in England, such as whatever Wigan’s is now called). Most of the Dynamo ultras were in the standing section behind the far goal already, making a lot of noise, and the Rostock fans (fenced into the away section) in the corner at my end of the ground were also making their voice heard. I soaked up the tense atmosphere a bit, then, as is typical of a young man about to watch football, decided to go get a beer. Why the hell not, I thought. I deserve a beer. Nice sunny day, football, and lots of angry Germans all around me.
But I couldn’t buy a beer. The woman wouldn’t serve me as I had cash. Apparently the ‘Glücksgas-Stadion’ (Rudolf-Harbig-Stadion, to give it its sponsor-free, proper name) no longer accepts cash payments at its in-stadium bars. Not to be deterred – seriously, what is football without beer? If I had to watch Chelseas’s odious defenders alternately ignore or harangue referees sober, I would never watch football (see also, Ameobi, Shola, breaking offside trap) – I queued for ten minutes to buy a top-up card from the very slow, very alone woman in the portakabin selling top-up cards for a section housing about 1,500 people. But the thought of beer was driving me on. Cool, German beer.
Which I did finally get. Shame it was alcohol-free.
As the game was a high risk game, the bars weren’t actually serving alcohol. I still bought the alcohol-free lager, but it tasted like shite. I would imagine a tramp could wash his balls in a pint of Carlsberg, and it would still taste nicer than alcohol-free lager. I had only drunk alcohol-free beer once before, and it was because I was too pissed to tell the difference. Alcohol-free beer is a crime against nature. Never again.
When the teams came out, I noticed that Dynamo were playing in white, as opposed to their usual black and yellow. It turns out that this was a special anti-racism shirt, with the sponsor’s logo replaced by a ‘Love Dynamo, hate racism’ message, which was a canny touch. Then, after a minute’s silence for the victims in Norway over the past few days, the match kicked off.
And seconds later it kicked off in the stands. There was an explosion in the away end, and then a flare went off, filling the air with red smoke. The Dynamo fans around me, and in fact, most of the ones I saw, stood up shouting at Rostock for this ‘insult’. The reaction seemed a bit extreme to me, though, as I’ve seen lots of videos of Dynamo fans doing the same, and worse, both in their stadium and in others’. But whatever, it doesn’t happen in England so I can’t really judge. There was an announcement from the stadium PA asking for calm, and after a few more explosions, the flare burned out and the atmosphere went back to being intense but without fire. Which is a lot safer than intense with fire.
Throughout the game, Rostock seemed the more fluid and capable team (perhaps understandable, as more than half of Dynamo’s team was made up of new players), but Dresden seemed to create the better chances. Heller, who was playing high on the flank for Dynamo missed a cracker after ten minutes, rounding the keeper but placing his shot against the defender. Ten minutes later he beat the keeper with a shot which hit the post. The rebound fell to him with an open goal at his mercy, but he somehow managed to hit it wide.
To be fair to Heller, he did create the chances himself, no easy feat as he was a midget who ran like he had a broomstick up his arse, but he really should have done better with the chances he had. After that, the game ebbed and flowed, with Rostock stringing together some good passing and movement but never really testing Dresden’s keeper (who, when tested in the second half, proved incapable of hanging on to the ball).The atmosphere never died, however, with Rostock keeping up a good volume all game long, while Dresden’s ultras mixed political messages (‘my name is private and belongs to me, but now it’s printed on my ticket. Thank you, nanny state’), jokes about their guests, and a wall of jumping noise.
Which made it more disappointing to see Rostock take the lead when shooting towards the Dynamo ultras ten minutes into the second half. Ziegenbein blasted a free kick into the far corner before (and I missed this bit, as I wanted to see what Rostock’s fans were doing, so am going off what I read in the match report) taunting the Dynamo players. Apparently Dresden’s impressive French centre back, Brégerie, pushed him over because of this. I turned back in time to see a giant melee and the referee falling over the floored Rostock goalscorer.
Dynamo, who rarely tried to play the ball along the floor, kept pushing and got a deserved equaliser in very fortunate circumstances twenty minutes later. After some good work on the right, the centre forward Fort (who was credited with the goal) cut inside, dragging his shot about two metres wide. At least, it was going two metres wide when it hit a Rostock defender, rebounding sideways off him onto the keeper’s ankle and then into the net. Deserved but embarrassing, that didn’t stop Fort celebrating in front of the away fans. Which probably didn’t help calm the atmosphere at all.
The last 15 minutes were end to end stuff, and if any side was going to win it, it would have been Dresden, but their shooting was wasteful, and the one great chance they did have was foiled by the arms of two defenders pulling Fort back in the box as he looked to be through on goal. To cap off an erratic refereeing performance, where nothing was given unless it was accompanied by a theatrical dive, claims of a penalty were waved away. Fort, perhaps too incensed by being denied a clear chance, jumped straight up to complain, and perhaps this was why he didn’t get the penalty.
In all, the draw was probably a fair result. Dynamo will want to hope that their team gels more quickly in the coming weeks in order to avoid a long and hard relegation battle. The game itself was a cracker in terms of action and entertainment, but littered with mistakes. Both sides will be happy with the result, however.
Dresden: Eilhoff; Leistner (Jungnickel), Brégerie, Stoll, Schuppan; Solga (Jungwirth), Fiel, Trojan (Knoll); Koch, Heller, Fort
Rostock: K.Müller; Schyrba, Wiemann, Kostal, Pelzer; R.Müller, Pannewitz (Lartey); Jänicke (Perthel), Ziegenbein, Mintal; Semmer (Schied)