Time to get up
So then, on with our imaginary chronology of The Ball. You may remember that it checked in to a hostel in Erfurt and fell asleep. Well, eventually, it awoke from its slumber and bounced on to check out the fervour of our German hosts as their team played Poland in the group stages.
The Ball bounces on
As with the England game in Nürnberg, I found my loyalties divided. As I said in that post, my mother’s from Germany, while my father was born in Poland. So which side should I support? Perhaps it was my English upbringing that made me inclined to support the underdog — in this case the Poles — but my desire to party with the crowd after the game strongly favoured the Germans. I decided to remain as neutral as I could.
My support was as finely balanced as The Ball
I was also nervous about being in the midst of such a large and emotionally charged crowd — especially since it seemed that a few neo-nazis had slipped in past security and were chanting slogans at the back of the hall. It’s impossible to blame the Stadtgarten for this: the security folks could only check the contents of people’s pockets or bags — not the prejudices in their heads.
It was a very important game for the Germans (for the Poles too of course), and the temperature in Erfurt’s Stadtgarten rose as the game progressed without a goal from either side. Thankfully, the event passed without incident, and the delight of the crowd as Germany found the net in the very last minute was a joy to behold.
Uproar at the Stadtgarten
With the Poles now out of the competition and the Germans now certain to progress, the crowd began to sing their hearts out, brimming with confidence that their team would go on to reach the final.
Wir fahren nach Berlin…
For the sake of the atmosphere in the host nation, I sincerely hope they do make it to the final. Who knows, perhaps they might even meet an invigorated England in that game at the Olympic Stadium? It would be the stuff of legends — and it’s almost too much to contemplate and too much to hope for.
Phil’s still cracking on at dawn
While The Ball sleeps on in Erfurt, there’s just time for a short interlude while Phil explains the secrets of German curtains… at the crack of dawn, just when he needs them most.
Okay, time for another “behind-the-scenes” look at the life of The Ball in Germany. Phil and I arrived in Erfurt from the Opening Ceremony in München to find that Andrew’s Spirit-of-Football project had run into horrendous sponsor problems and that most of what they had been planning had of necessity been cancelled. So, no beach football for them or us. Schade.
But all was not lost — Andrew recommended that we stay in the Opera Hostel, which, like the World Cup itself, had just opened. What a top recommendation that proved to be.
The Opera Crew
We were made to feel welcome beyond anything that we expected, and this little video is our homage to the wonderfully friendly Dixi, Sany and Jens. We wish you all the very best for the future. May the Opera thrive.
For those of you wondering why the video is in German — there are a couple of reasons. One is that The Ball necessarily speaks the local language (if not perfectly, then at least fluently) and the second is that we wanted to produce something for our hosts — not just you English-speaking lot. You want a translation? Then go and learn German! :P
Flags hanging in the Hauptmarkt in Nürnberg
Andrew, Phil and I headed to Nürnberg for the England v Trinidad and Tobago game to see what kind of atmosphere these two sets of fans brought to the city. Actually, that’s not quite true — Andrew had a ticket for the game — it was Phil and me who were the tourists at the football zoo. I’ve already written about the “Trinnies”, so I’m going to leave my observations about them to stand as they are.
This was going to be my first experience of England fans abroad, apart from the Quarter Final in Shizuoka, where it seemed the Japanese had wisely put the stadium as far from any inhabited area as possible. When I started writing this, I had no intention of adding to the literature detailing how xenophobic and insensitive England fans are. Nonetheless, it has still not been easy for me to write down my observations. This is why.
I’ve always had ambivalent feelings about supporting England despite it being my country of birth. At school I was bullied for having a German name. My mother was born in Hamburg, but as she’ll confirm, even her “German-ness” is questionable. Moreover, my father was Polish with American and Slovakian parents. The fact that my surname actually means something in German is accidental, but this didn’t prevent the bullies from calling an eight-year-old a “Nazi”. Why would it?
In the past, I used to fear any football match between England and Germany. I watched the Euro 96 encounter in a pub in Bristol, and, when Germany won, a few drunken lads piled outside and smashed the windows of a VW because it was a German car. They then went on to hospitalise a Russian guy who happened to be walking past because, well, you tell me why. Anyway, despite this dark history, I was prepared to give it another go and see if anything had changed — both in the England fans and in myself.
The St George flag is as English as it gets
Arriving at the Hauptbahnhof in Nürnberg, we immediately and predictably ran into a bunch of lads standing in a circle facing one another singing “My grandad flew a Spitfire in the War” over and over again. This was, to me, one of the most deeply depressing sights I have ever seen anywhere near a football game and I’ve decided not to dignify their behaviour with a photograph or a clip in the video that accompanies this post. To their credit, they weren’t violent, aggressive or frightening, but still, not a good start.
At first it made me want to turn around and get on the first train out of town again. Later, I began to realise how much like scared little children these “tough” lads seemed. Not only were their grandfathers certainly not fighter pilots, but their cameraderie seemed defensive and their bravado a coping mechanism. Perhaps they sensed that they were basically out of their depth in another culture. Perhaps they weren’t even that aware. I don’t know, and in the end I’m not sure I care. I’m guessing it’s stating the obvious, but it seems to me that this kind of England fan is interested in:
(b) the England team,
(c) beer, and,
(d) um, that’s it.
Right then, that’s the negative out of the way — the further through town we walked, the higher up towards the picture-perfect castle we climbed, the fewer became the chants of Ing-er-land, the more my depression lifted. I’d set my heart on watching the game in a square just below the castle that I remembered from my busking days. On the way up the hill, I became a little disorientated — it had been 15 years since I’d last been in Nürnberg — and couldn’t remember exactly where the square was. A skeptical Phil questioned whether it existed and joked about it to a lad in an England shirt who was walking up the hill nearby. Ah, serendipity — our guiding light…
Matt (who hails from Sheffield) was, like us, looking for a place to watch the game — by “watch” we both meant a view unobscured by the masses of fans that had gathered wherever there was the slightest possibility of seeing the public viewing screens. Both Phil and I immediately warmed to his gentle demeanour, and together we went in search of my ill-remembered square.
A short walk later, we descended some steps to find — to my relief — the square I’d been certain existed; the Albrecht Dürer Platz. As we arrived and looked around, some Germans vacated a table at one of the cafés that encircle the square and we plonked ourselves down, grateful that we’d now be able to do as we wished: there was a TV set up in one of the windows of the café which we could see without obstruction. A friendly bunch of Germans at one of the neighbouring tables quizzed us on why we weren’t down amongst the mass of English fans in the Hauptmarkt below. What could we say without giving the game away? Were we indeed deliberately making ourselves outsiders?
It was Matt, sat with his back to the square, who noticed the statue set high on one of the adjoining buildings that forms the centre-piece of the video episode that accompanies this post. He recognised the figure of St George with a slain dragon at his feet, and thought it highly appropriate to our situation. All the more so, since, as he pointed out, this potent icon of Englishness had, in fact, been born in Anatolia — now modern day Turkey.
St George looks down on the scene
What then constitutes Englishness in the light of this? My experience of England has invariably been that it is the very lack of the usual trappings of nationality (no English national anthem, no national costume, no national dish or even national passport) have led to it being the most accommodating place on earth to live. Englishness is an attitude — not a birthright, and in Matt’s quiet confidence I thought I saw the very best of what it means to be English. Together, we cheered the England team on, and, knowing that, like St George, being an outsider is central to the experience of being English, I shouted my support as loudly as I’ve ever done before.
Here be dragons (no more)
As I post this, England are about to play Sweden to determine who play who in the next round. It’s a huge game.
Come on England!
Andrew, Phil and I went to Nürnberg to check out the city during the England v Trinidad and Tobago game and found a city of two halves
Trinibagan drummers strut their stuff
On the one hand the Trinibagans dancing, laughing, playing and inviting everyone else around them to do so too. Check out the video to see what I mean about the beauty of their music and the warmth of the crowd towards them, if not for Phil eating his sweetcorn! I could be wrong, but the drummers look curiously Indian — I wonder if the Brits moved populations of Indians to T’n’T the same way they did to Fiji.
You’ve got to hand it to them
Anyway, on the other hand we have the England fans… Ah yes, England fans. I was going to write about them here, but I’ll spare the wonderful Trinbagan fans and musicians that fate.
Andrew kisses the badge
And then shows Phil that he prepares for the England v Trinidad & Tobago game in other more unusual ways…
Phil just can’t tear himself away from the beautiful game…
UPDATE: thanks to the Phantom Fouler for pointing out that it’s almost impossible to make out the title of the book that Phil fell asleep reading. So here the spoiler — it’s Hunter Davies’ I Love Football…
Izzy plays the flute for England
It’s not so easy being on the road sometimes. I miss my partner Anna and her daughter Izzy — I can’t wait to see them again. In the meantime, this little video keeps me smiling. I haven’t forgotten about your flag either, Iz…
The shrub at the bottom of the garden
Before I left for Germany, I’d been thinking the shrub in the picture above might be better somewhere else in the garden. Anna sent me this picture of it flowering with bright blue flowers — as she had promised it would — so I’d look kindly on it when I return. Judging by the picture, I guess it’s fine where it is — for now! ;)
We’ve settled in Erfurt in Thüringia to recover from the stresses of travel and video-blogging, and to meet up with Andrew, whom I met when I came over to Germany just before Christmas. He’s been organising a project here that’s also called Spirit of Football and contacted us when he found that we had the domain name. We immediately recognised our common attitude to the beautiful game — and so here we are to hang out and enjoy the football.
Stefan Beutel, Rot-Weiss Erfurt manager
Andrew invited Phil and me to his club, Rot-Weiss Erfurt, to have a kickabout, to meet the manager and have a chat about all things football. What we didn’t expect was that Stefan would also be a sharpshooter from the penalty spot.
I stand no chance
And, of course, if you kick The Ball, you have to sign it…
Stefan signs The Ball