I don’t have a tattoo. I may get opt to get one at some point but it would have to be something meaningful. Failing that, I may just do the same as David Dimbleby and get a scorpion inked on myself at the age of 75 for no reason whatsoever. I digress. The closest thing I have to a tattoo – in the sense of a permanent bit of damage – is my swollen left knee. Just below my natural knee cap I have a second one, of sorts, brought on mainly by osgood-schlatter disease. Every single time I see the words Borussia Mönchengladbach pop up on the TV or on Twitter, it reminds me of the time I slipped on a Metrolink tram and damaged my knee even further to the state it is in to this very day.
Manchester City EDS (or the U23’s as they’re now called) were hosting a Borussia Mönchengladbach side at the newly opened Academy Stadium. Aaron, Matt, Rob and I had been enjoying a few pints in the Printworks before catching the tram from Shudehill up to the Etihad Campus.
This is where it all went horribly wrong.
Picture the scene, I’m stood in the rain – can in my hand – and naturally jump on to the next tram that arrived. It turned out to be the wrong one, as confirmed by the shouts from my mates who were still stood on the platform. As I turned, I slipped due to a combination of the lack of grip on my shoes and the Manchester weather. The beer went flying and ended up all over the tram floor, just as I did. Quivering in pain, knowing I had just badly injured my already stricken left knee, the tram doors clattered shut and I was transported away.
Whilst in hysterical laughter, I picked myself up off the floor and decided to disembark at Market Street in an attempt to intercept the others as they passed through. My plan worked but I couldn’t walk whatsoever. I hobbled to the ground and it resulted in me being seen by St John’s Ambulance at the match. They gifted me an instant ice-pack, which is what I do with the children at work who quite clearly aren’t injured. Anyway, to get back to my original point… whenever I see the black and white diamond of Gladbach’s crest, I feel a twinge in my left knee.
I had packed an emergency ice-pack for this trip to watch Borussia Mönchengladbach v Hoffenheim. The previous night had seen Adam and I take in a match at Viktoria Köln who play in third tier of German football. Six years previously was my one and only dip into Bundesliga football, when we headed to Hertha Berlin v Wolfsburg so I was quite looking forward to this match.
It was an action packed day, which started off fairly early. Our hotel, INNSIDE at Düsseldorf Haven is possibly my favourite hotel I’ve ever stayed in, offering fantastic panoramic views of the surrounding area. As I stumbled to the toilet and relieved myself I stood facing the TV Tower, which towers above the rest of the city. Within half an hour, we were at the top of the Rheinturm with a bottle of Konig Pilsen acting as our breakfast. The largest building in the city was completed in 1981 and has a restaurant/bar area at the top which offers views that stretch as far as Cologne, allowing us to see the cathedral on the horizon.
The three men who were doing the early shift at the Tower on this cold Saturday morning were quite scary. The first bloke, in charge of the barriers at the bottom of the tower resembled the stereotypical nutty professor. I concluded that the manager who is in charge of the shifts must put him on ‘earlies’ as he blatantly didn’t care about having bed head. As we had arrived at 10:00 we were allowed in for €5, half the price you would pay if you arrived an hour later.
Up we went in the lift, at a pulse raising 4 metres per second. Other than when I thought I had been kidnapped in Sarajevo, this was another time I thought I could about to be killed. This bloke, with his twitchy eye, deathly stare and dandruff made the ascent to the top of the tower an odd one. Apparently he works night shifts as a vampire around the dock side.
We deserved our bottles of beer by the time we reached the top. Having spent around an hour taking in the views, we caught the tram over to the train station before making the short journey over to Mönchengladbach which is twinned with Bradford. Much like Bradford, the place is practically devoid of pubs and bars so we chose to make the 15 minute walk up through the town centre towards Alter Markt area of the city.
The main shopping road through the centre is built on a gradual hill, which didn’t please my travel companion who had stacked it on the steps behind Lisbon cathedral on our previous trip abroad. Fortunately, there weren’t many people around to witness any mishaps. In fact, other than a few shoppers the city was very quiet, with no football fans knocking about. We wondered whether the match was even on and whether we had got our dates mixed up.
At the top of the hill we found a sports bar called BrauHaus MaNaMaNa. The whole place was a tribute to the cities football club, with green, white and black scarves hung from every corner of the building, with no wall space left. Tables were full with groups of supporters ordering 12 beers at a time, with the barman simply keeping a tally on a beer mat.
The Hamburg derby was on the TV, so we sat at the bar and sunk numerous pints of Krombacher and shotted ice cold Jägermeister until it was time to head towards the stadium. Borussia Park is 5 km west of the city centre so we decided to catch the bus across. The buses departed from the stop opposite the pub and we ended up chatting to a couple of lads who were Gladbach fans originally from Skipton.
Borussia Park opened in 2004, replacing the old Bökelbergstadion. We didn’t have time to head to the site of the former ground but if you do head there the terraces of the former north and south curve as well as those of the main grandstand have been preserved and are now integrated into the surrounding residential area as a public green space. It looks pretty cool, if you’re into that kind of thing. I suppose you’d have to be if you’re still reading this paragraph.
The scaffolding which surrounds the stadium make it look like an imposing spider, about to go and crawl through nearby forests. Some grounds start to feel a bit dated, even after 15 years but this one looked and felt ultra-modern. I assumed with it being so spectacular it would have been one of the host stadiums for the 2006 World Cup but it missed out, making it the largest capacity Bundesliga stadium not to be used.
Around the ground, various sets of fans were flogging cheap bottles of beer out of stolen (or possibly borrowed) shopping trollies. Downing our most recent purchases, we headed anti-clockwise around the stadium, around the colossal club shop, to find our entrance at the Südtribüne. It was at this moment we heard a shout from behind us from a bloke with a big grin on his face belting out, “Bolton!” Turns out we had got chatting to this German bloke, who apparently was a doctor, at the Viktoria Köln match the previous night. I instantly recognised him as one of Eddie the Eagles biggest fans. We still couldn’t work out why.
Going into this match Gladbach had been league front-runners for the first half of the season, leading the pack until a couple of weeks before our visit. They were now clinging on to a position in the top four still hot on the tails of Bayern, Dortmund and Leipzig. Their fans were naturally disappointed to be held to a draw by Hoffenheim who were sitting just outside the Europa League places.
This was an end-to-end match, with over 30 shots at goal but it was a set-piece and a penalty that the two goals came from. Gladbach opened the scoring on 11 minutes when German international centre half Matthias Ginter volleyed in from a corner.
Marcus Thuram, son of Lilian, looked quite lively on the left wing but my viewing was soon disrupted when a child sat in front of me reached back and knocked over one of my pints. I informed his father of what had happened, hoping he would pass me €4 for a replacement, but he simply laughed at me and kept shouting ‘Kind’ trying (and succeeding) in saying he didn’t owe us anything because it was a child who did it. I know for a fact, if a child knocked a pint over at a Bolton match, the adult responsible for it would offer to buy a new one.
This really annoyed me and still does now when I’m writing about it. I definitely didn’t spend the rest of the match kicking the back of his seat. He had the last laugh though, not that I was bothered, as it transpired he was a Hoffenheim supporter. When they equalised, against the run of play, with a Lucas Ribeiro penalty in the 90th minute, the alcohol thief starting celebrating among the Gladbach supporters like the massive flannel he was. Again, if this was at Bolton, he would have been knocked out. His whole arrogant attitude has put Hoffenheim on a list of clubs I don’t have much time for.
We were advised by many that it would be quicker to walk the 5km back into the city centre. The only transport around the stadium is a bus terminus that resembles a single bus stand at Wigan Bus Station. It was all rather pathetic to be honest but having left the ground as quickly as possible we only had to wait 10 minutes to board and soon made friends with some Gladbach supporters who dragged us to another supporters bar close to the train station.
On the bus journey, a fight broke out as a very drunken Gladbach fan started to inappropriately touch a female supporter in front of the woman’s dad. “Borussia Monchengladbach? More like, Borussia Monchen-grope-your-back” I whispered to Adam as the fight continued. It was halted when the man was eventually pinned up against the back of the bus and had a few choice words yelled in his face. He was then subsequently thrown off at the next stop by a group of other fans. Where were this lot when my pint got knocked over I questioned.
The bus dropped us off at the bus station directly outside the main train station and our new mates helped blag us into Humboldt Schänke which was another green clad bar (from what I remember of it) where beer was being passed around absolutely everywhere. We must have stayed there well over an hour, chatting to various Gladbach fans about football in general. It was the first time I’d actually been made to feel welcome anywhere in Germany.
It was time to head back to Düsseldorf. We knew that tonight was going to be our ‘big night’ so we grabbed some currywurst and jumped on the train. I asked the woman to make mine spicy, as you do when you’ve been drinking all day and it subsequently burnt my mouth off. The Coventry City fans who we ended up sitting next to on the train must have thought I was trying to take the snack back home with me as some form of meaty souvenir. I think they were Coventry fans; they could well have been Birmingham fans. Things were hazy.
Arriving back in Düsseldorf, we ended up just following the crowd of party-goers and ended up emerging from the underground stadtbahn system at Heinrich-Heine-Allee which was close to Bolkerstrasse, which if my memories are correct, was literally one big street full of bars and nightclubs where you could drink all night. The street forms part of the Altstadt area, which is labelled as the ‘longest bar in the world’ thanks to the sheer number of bars and cafes where you can drink. While many parts of the Altstadt are meant to be quite cultural, Bolkerstrasse (where we spent our night) is described on one well known travel website as ‘a nightmare of fake ethnic restaurants geared towards the undiscerning; bad bars and a mural of a man pooping’. Either way, I enjoyed it and it was definitely one of the more exciting nights out I’ve had in recent years.
More by luck, than judgement, we managed to find our way to back our hotel which was on completely the other side of the city. I definitely remember that we were on the last tram of the night but maybe I had actually researched what time that was leaving? I’ll never know. I think I should give myself more credit than I actually give myself.
So, that was the end of the second night. Next up was Bayer Leverkusen v Augsburg the following afternoon. I will definitely head back to Düsseldorf at some point, to see the city properly and to take in a match at Fortuna.