I’m very much all for an equal society. I’m am an extremely tolerant individual. I have to be working in education. Through my job I have taught children from different backgrounds and all walks of life; each with different needs and views on the world. I’ve educated children from Poland, Lithuania, Albania, Eritrea, Sudan… the list goes on. The only group of people I have a bit of an issue with are those who wear fancy dress.
I find the whole exercise tiring, boresome, tedious and cringe worthy. You’ve all dressed up as a pack of Crayola crayons? Great, grow up. I just don’t like fancy dress. I don’t do clowns. Drag queens actually do scare me. I find people who spend more on their colourful outfits than their normal, everyday clothes a bit odd. It goes back to when I was younger and even meeting Father Christmas used to make me cry.
You can only imagine my face when we arrived in the iconic cathedral city of Cologne to find that it was carnival weekend. Carnivals are strange at the best of times; nevermind in Germany. Now I know for a fact that my view isn’t shared by many, in fact it is shared by few at all. Everybody loves carnival and people were genuinely fascinated by it; some even planned their holidays for the year around it. The people we spoke to all loved carnival weekend and it turned out so did everybody else on our flight from Manchester who had booked that flight specifically to attend the ‘crazy days’ as they call them.
“Are you coming for carnival too?” was the most popular question among excitable passengers, especially the woman from Rossendale who was sat on my row. This was quickly followed up by, “What are you dressing up as?” As soon as I informed them that we had no idea it was carnival, they looked at us blankly and like that, the conversation was over as quickly as it had started.
The plan for the weekend was FC Viktoria Köln on the Friday night, Borussia Mönchengladbach on the Saturday and then Bayer Leverkusen on the Sunday. I had been to Germany on two previous occasions and had never been won over by the place having visited Berlin and Dresden. I found Barnsley to have more charisma and charm to it than Berlin and the highlight of Dresden was a photo of Vladimir Putin in his old local when he was in the KGB.
Kick off at Viktoria Köln wasn’t until the early evening, which allowed us a few hours of drinking before the match. Or at least we thought it would. Everywhere around the cathedral was ticket only and being the only people not in fancy dress – as well as being English in a city that we decimated – we were never going to blag our way into one of the decent bars that I had scouted out online before our trip. We had to settle on a sports bar that we found by the toilets in the train station, and we stopped in there while we decided what the best plan of
attack action would be.
After a walk around the inside of the Cathedral (which is the third largest Church in the world – and Germany’s most visited landmark) we found a strange club next door where we downed some bottles of Kölsch and washed them down with Jägermeister before heading over to Heumarkt, crawling through a carnival parade, where we could catch the tram to the stadium. If you’re not in a rush, there is an ice-cream shop called Ice Cream United next to the stop which is owned by former Germany striker and FC Köln legend Lukas Podolski.
From there, we caught the number 1 tram eastwards out of the city centre to Frankfurter Straße which is a two minutes walk from the ground. Darkness was now setting in; as were the band who go by the same name, who were playing at Essigfabrik in the city centre that night. I was tempted to head along but I wasn’t paying 40 euros just to sing along to ‘I Believe In a Thing Called Love’.
There were a few supporters wearing Viktoria Köln and FC Köln gear as we strolled through a kind of forest setting to reach the ground. It was now all floodlit and we approached a trailer in the main car park where tickets were being sold; the left hand side for seated areas and the right hand side for standing areas. Prices had increased by €2 on the day, taking a standing ticket to just €12.
It remained to be seen whether this was good value compared to back home, considering this was the equivalent of watching Bolton Wanderers in the third tier of the pyramid. Having said that, Bolton have suffered a monumental fall from grace in recent years whereas Viktoria have recently enjoyed a couple of promotions and as a consequence have renovated a previously empty space behind the net, constructing a brand new stand.
The club is one of the oldest in the city having been founded in 1910 as FC Germania Kalk. Various mergers and rebranding exercises have taken place over the years, resulting in the relatively clean and straightforward branding and club setup that has now been present since 2010.
The brand new stand that we were in can only be described as a wooden version of the death trap which greets away fans at Gillingham. Complete with second hand food trailers that look like they had served sausages at Manchester Christmas Markets over the festive period before being snapped up at an auction. These trailers were serving the usual food and beer available at all football matches in the region.
Drinking among the other fans who were there, it soon became clear that a substantial percentage of the crowd were English. A few lived and worked here and had adopted Viktoria as their side, while others such as us had fallen lucky with the fixtures and had travelled along simply for a cheap drink away from the festival and to get another tick in. Viktoria were playing against SG Sonnenhof Großaspach, a village team, who had brought a handful of supporters along on the 428 mile round trip.
The match itself was a relatively entertaining one, with lots of fast flowing end to end football. Adam and I concurred by the end of the match that both sides would probably beat Bolton, which is daft when you consider it wasn’t too long ago when we were watching us paste an Atletico Madrid side that included Sergio Aguero, Diego Forlan and Maxi Rodriguez.
Viktoria dominated the first half and they came close to opening the scoring after just four minutes when Maximilian Reule put the ball in the bottom left corner – but the goal was ruled out for offside.
It wasn’t long before the home side did open the scoring scoring though, with one of the best breakaway goals that I have seen in a long time. Simon Handle burst down the left hand side, playing a quick one-two before crossing into Steven Lewerenz who chipped the ball over the goalkeeper and into the top left hand corner.
Half time arrived and it gave the crowd of 1,505 chance to stock up on further beers and sausages. Temperatures were beginning to drop now and I was very happy to add to my ever growing bobble hat collection by splashing out €10 on a black number with a classy looking red ‘V’ on the front. A far more successful trip than my recent escapade to Malmö where they wouldn’t sell me a hat as they were restocking. I tried to order one online for them to inform me via e-mail that they only ship to the US.
You know the demise of the infamous Zlatan statue? Yeah, that was me.
The second half wasn’t the best Germany had ever seen, and won’t live long in the memory but we still had a good time on the wooden terracing. The away supporters to the right hand side of us carried on waving their flags and singing songs to get behind their team but it wasn’t enough as Viktoria prevailed.
The journey back to our hotel, which was in Düsseldorf, wasn’t as straight forward as we first envisaged. In fact the hole thing was a pain from weeks prior to the trip. Hotels were fully booked and the handful of AirBnB options left were all a bit rubbish to say the least. I’m an experienced AirBnB campaigner, with highlights being able to pluck out a beautiful flat with free beer in the war ravaged city of Mostar in Bosnia & Herzegovina… and slumming it for a night in a ‘stunning 1930’s style city centre apartment’ in Newcastle which turned out to be a council flat with wooden beds in a tower block in Byker.
The booking we eventually made was cancelled by AirBnB themselves on safety grounds. I never did find out the real reason why… perhaps it’s best not to know? With nowhere left to stay in Cologne, we opted for Düsseldorf. For those of you who have watched Phoenix Nights, you will be familiar with the scene where Brian Potter is arguing with an Dodgy Eric, the entertainments delivery driver about a bucking bronco that he was being offered.
Eric: “I’ll give you a week’s free trial while I get your table fixed, then she’s got to go to the European Finals in Dusseldorf.”
Brian: “Dusseldorf? Oh, good. You can take “das fruit machine” back with you.”
It was only when I informed my parents of our booking in Düsseldorf that they informed me I had actually been pronouncing it wrong for the entirety of my lifetime thanks to the broad Bolton accent on Phoenix Nights. Funnily enough, I’m writing this paragraph on my tablet as I sit less than a mile from the club that it was filmed at in Farnworth.
Anyway, back to the long journey to our hotel. Festivities had got out of hand and somebody had fallen on the railway tracks at Cologne main station so we ended up stood up on a train for a good hour, on the main bridge over the Rhine. The worst bit was we didn’t have any beer to help us pass the time. Too tired to function we splashed out on some high speed train tickets and arrived in a rather quiet Düsseldorf just after midnight, catching the final tram of the night over to the harbour area where we got to our hotel in the midst of a storm.
A few hours sleep were crammed in before an eventful trip to Borussia Mönchengladbach the following day…