Originally posted on Soccerblog.com, twelve years ago, but reposted here because it’s kind of amazing that i found them again. i was young and naive about a lot of things, soccer being only one of them, and i hated capitalization even more.
frankfurt is a very modern-looking city, with a striking skyline quite atypical for europe. after getting here and checking in, i went immediately to the river area, where the first game between germany and costa rica was kicking off. they had giant video screens moored in the middle of the river, and people lined the shores and nearby bridges, taking it all in. there was much singing and shouting, but it was actually very mellow, and the police seemed primarily concerned with making sure people had a good time.
since germany won, there was much rejoicing about town. at one end of the zeil, a shopping area for pedestrians, people were forming a gauntlet of black, yellow, and red and demanding cars honk before allowing them to pass.
they have open-air grills in the street, a giant grate hanging over coals, covered with sausages. it smells amazing. beer is everywhere, also sold on the street. there are people wandering around with both beer and sausage, dressed in all the colors of the world. even paraguay was represented. oddly enough, the toughest jersey to find is the us jersey.
the english team is staying at my hotel. they’re being rather cautious about letting people in, as you might imagine. it took me an hour to get back into my hotel room after going for a run, because they blocked off the entrance so that becks and crew could get onto the bus without much hassle. there was a large crowd watching.
the train ride to the waldstadion was actually as fun as the match. on a lark, i got in the first-class compartment with the loudest, singingest bunch of drunk englishmen i could find. they had fun and cheered on mexico, too on behalf of a few mexican interlopers.
pretty much every one of their songs says the word ‘england’ er, ‘enger-land’ as many times as possible. they are also adept at changing the lyrics of the songs to suit the situation, such as ‘nice trousers’ to salute a german still on the platform who had a truly reprehensible pair of pants. this batch had no love for the germans, though, for the most part, and were frequently not very tactful about it, perhaps owing to history on-field and off. it was sweaty,
cramped, loud, and smelly (someone farted) and spectacularly fun. i wish i’d had my camera, which reminds me: whatever i’d read about not being allowed to bring cameras was clearly false. d’oh.
the match was actually relatively calm. the singing continued for most of it, but the fans were fairly calm up in the nosebleed seats. they even did ‘the wave’ which shocked me. everything was extremely well organized, and the stadium was so clean that i felt bad for leaving peanut shells on the floor. the match was entertaining, but had its rough edges. england profited from a gift goal early, and was making paraguay look fairly second-rate to start with, but as the game went on, they had trouble finishing plays, and seemed to always make one pass too many. in the second half, paraguay came out strong and played a better half, and the refereeing was decidedly one-sided against the english, making them have to hang on for that 1-nil win.
the english fans were, it seemed, pleased to have won, but hardly blown away by the performance.
i wore my charlton athletic jersey today. i have an england jersey somewhere, but i couldn’t find it before i left. at any rate, more than a few charlton supporters stopped me to shake hands. even after i explained that i’m an american who adopted them ’cause they were the first premiership match i went to, they were still happy to have met. nice folk indeed.
later that night:
the english fans are still at it. they’ve totally taken over the romer, the old-fashioned-looking, half-timbered house-lined city square. they’re mostly singing, dancing, but also occasionally throwing bottles, or kicking the ball around. lots of shirtless guys jumping around. it looks like the night the red sox won the world series, and all they did was win their first game. i am thoroughly impressed. either way, they’ve been at it there pretty much ever since the game let out; i walked by and gawked no fewer than three times. the polizei have been mostly good sports; they’ve got nasty-looking dogs, and riot gear, but they’re mostly letting the english run amok. even though they’re kicking balls around and windows are occasionally being broken, the police have more than once thrown the ball back to the fans, to great cheering. some of them seem kinda bemused by the rest, but the singing, the singing is unanimous, and it continues.
there’s a good crowd on the river tonight, too, watching argentina and cote d’ivoire, but it’s clearly not where the, uh, action is.
it has been a quieter day in frankfurt thus far, although that’s not to really say it’s quiet. there is no game in the city, nor is the aftermath as significant. of course, the english are still here, many of them returning to the same bars that they’d taken over the night before, bursting into song again whenever they spot kindred fans. which is reasonably often. there are more mexican fans about today, too, but they’re more cordial than boisterous so far.
later in the day, the mexican fans are doing the driving around and honking thing following their win. there’s a more significant delegation of fans from iran here now, and they don’t seem to know their side lost, because they’re dancing wildly still, having fully taken over and densely packed a side street off of the zeil. their music is pretty good, too. the polizei don’t even have anybody watching them, and after all, why not–they probably don’t even drink, and they’re clearly having a blast anyway. the english, on the other hand, are still there in force, even if nothing compared to last night. they’re still encamped in the romer, a painted limousine parked in the middle of the square, and have fully taken over a bar’s outside tables on one side of the square. they’re playing the same game that some folks were playing in the hauptwache the night before, which is to say, take a ball, and kick it in the air as hard as you can. cheer when someone volleys it, boo when it’s missed. windows narrowly miss being broken. a ball got lost in the fountain in the center, which is fenced off; initially, the police seemed disinclined to let them retrieve it, but eventually relented (or, as likely, were too late to stop it), and a man got in there to get it, adding a nice cannonball dive before exiting the fountain. while most of the police had been pretty easygoing before, eventually this ball was confiscated. another was produced within moments, naturally.
it’s good to hear american voices on the train to koln (then to dusseldorf, and gelsenkirchen); hopefully we make a good showing for us soccer fans. according to my dad, their flight from jfk had the new york fire department’s soccer team on it, who were hitting some of the us games, and playing a few friendly matches with local clubs. gelsenkirchen is kind of tough to get to. rather than one large city, it’s in a cluster of other medium-sized ones, thus there are a lot of regional trains that one might ride on to get between them. these tend not to be very fast.
it was good, though, to see so many americans on board, and from all over the states, too, particularly considering this was still a pretty faraway place to be staying from the venue. a friendly but slightly crazy-looking german predicted a 2-0 victory for the us team. it was still a fairly long trip, and very hot (a thermometer in gelsenkirchen after the game, quite late in the evening, still read 29 celsius).
once the train reached gelsenkirchen, that’s where the fun began. as in, multiple entire trains full of people all attempted to pile on the platform to board a single tram car. they refer to it as a u-bahn because it is underground for 3 stops out of 10 or so. it was a long, chaotic wait. which i avoided, and was an early adopter of the bus alternative. which was packed, exceptionally sweaty, and slow, but steady. progress was so slow, in fact, that many disembarked to walk, realizing too late that it was a 7-km trip to the stadium. if you have tickets to a game in gelsenkirchen, allow some extra time to get there. it took about an hour and a half for me to get from the hauptbahnhof to the stadium.
after getting there, it was a chase to find the ticket pick-up. as in, if you get conditional tickets, go to the ‘stadium ticket center’, and do not settle for the ‘ticket service center’. the latter will not help you. in the case of gelsenkirchen, this is like a quarter-mile hike outside the stadium. by this time, myself, a czech, and four scotsmen have made the rounds of the wrong places, and are running like mad to the right place. eventually i get my ticket. section d, row 1, seat 1. hmm… sounds interesting.
i get in, 5 minutes late. i knew that the ticket was as good as it sounded when the usher arched his eyebrows at me. i must have been a sight, dripping sweat, unshaven, and entirely out of breath. it’s entirely possible i wound up on worldwide tv looking like that, since i was literally right behind the us bench…
…and in the middle of the biggest czech section, a field of red. they had pretty good chants going, honestly, not that i could understand any of it, but they were clearly organized so that there was something they could all stomp their feet to in every verse. they were shaking the place. or at least this half of it. a couple of nice americans i chatted with on the train back to dusseldorf sat on the opposite corner of the place, and said that they couldn’t even hear them from there. judging by shirt color and cheering activity (lack thereof, that is), it looked like the place was over half us supporters. impressive, considering that the czechs were a drive or a train trip away, mostly, and not a long plane flight, then a train trip. of course, the fact that you couldn’t hear the american fans wasn’t entirely their fault.
because the us team played mostly badly. for 25-30 minutes after the first czech goal, it was encouraging, ’cause they were really taking it to them, hustling to the ball, winning balls aggressively, and threatening repeatedly. you felt like it was a matter of time before they punched one in, particularly after the shot that struck the post. but it turned out that the czechs would put another one in first, and that pretty much ended the game. after that, the us team couldn’t connect cleanly on more than a couple passes in a row, for the most part. there were a couple of chances, even good ones, but you got the sense that those were flukes. by the last ten minutes, their frustration was plainly evident. it was just ugly at that point. the czechs plainly felt aggrieved by the officiating, but while it wasn’t perfect (there were a few situations where they were seemed to be allowing the players to make the calls for them, wrong calls), it was reasonably balanced. they really didn’t like seeing their players carted off the field hurt, and it was probably better that i didn’t understand some of what they were saying. the field seemed to be an issue, as a number of players were seen losing their footing, or tripping over lines on the field, or something.
the american fans were pretty frustrated by the game, and pretty quiet, too, on the way back. not that they were terribly loud on the way there, either, really, but it’s also not really their way. many chose to walk back most or part of the way, as did i, but i was told later that the wait for the tram wasn’t as endless as it seemed (see previous statements). there were pockets of people doing the math, figuring out whether or not to root for ghana to win, or to merely tie the italians, and what had to happen to advance. the figuring wasn’t terribly reassuring, to say the least.