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Hamburg Vs Wolfsburg: German football does it right

Wednesday 24th May 2017
It can be a great experience going as a neutral to watch the beautiful game, it can be even more enjoyable when it's in a league that is not your regular stomping ground, Andrew Dowdeswell's German football adventure begins.

I had the pleasure of heading to Hamburg Vs Wolfsburg on Saturday. Here's how the day panned out and how I learned that Germany does football right.
I have been to Wembley. I have been to the Emirates (as an Arsenal fan). I have been to Old Trafford and I have been to the kop at Anfield. I have been to finals, cup games, Premier League games. I have seen the oldest football club in the world. I have been to playoffs and internationals. But never have I had more fun at a football game than last weekend, and it was seeing two teams who I had no affiliation with and only a number of players that I recognised.

As you exit the Metro that leads you towards the home stadium of Hamburg, you sense a growing tension and excitement for what is to come. The 15 minute wander through the park, engulfed by bark, undulating up and down slight lumps in the path, only adds to the sense of anticipation. As you follow the crowd, you realise that something special is about to take place. You're just not too sure what.

One of the peculiar things to notice is the number of shopping trolleys around. Weird, right? It's a result of the recycling scheme that Germany employs with bottles. Once you have bought a beer, and you most certainly buy a whole lot of beer, if you return the bottle, then you receive a little money in return. As such, many people will leave trolleys scattered along the path, in a desperate, but often successful, attempt to collect as many bottles as possible from the passers-by, such that they can later trade them in. It is a self-cleaning, street-preserving policy that works brilliantly.

After the 15 minute walk, the trees open out and the Volksparkstadion towers over like the domineering stage that it will soon become. It is at this point that I become fully aware of the gravity of the match that I am about to experience - using the word watch would be selling short the enormity of the situation. Hamburg sit in the relegation zone, two points behind their visitors, Wolfsburg. Nothing less than a win will do. And everyone knows it.

As I take the long climb up the steps, that lead to a parting of the wall of concrete partway up the colossus stadium, my eyes can't help but wander, piercing their way through their new and unusual surrounding, soaking up all the nervousness, seeing the child clench his father's hand with an unrelenting grip, seeing the two friends slowly sip their beers with apprehension and dread, seeing the flags of blue and white, the colours of Hamburg, fly proudly and yet hesitantly above.

Entering the stadium, the stand opens out into a bowl, with steeped walls of noise on every side of me. I turn to my left to see the Wolfsburg fans climb into the skies, draped in green and white overalls, expectant of victory but wary of defeat. My seat is in block 21C, row 18, the very last row in the stands. I climb and climb and climb the twisting, turning stairs. I take a breather a short way up, grab a beer - all the beer in the stadium is non-alcoholic, which does not detract from the atmosphere whatsoever, but does bring an element of safety that is surprising at a football match - before starting up the last flight of steps. Eventually, I reach the top, turn, and gasp. My mouth drops at the view, with the sun kissing the far corner of the stadium.

The game starts. Quality is non-existent. Passing is inaccurate. Touches are loose. Shots, wide and wayward. But as time passes, the greater comfort on the ball of Wolfsburg begins to shine through. Luis Gustavo, one of the only recognisable players on the pitch, begins to spray passes left and right, he navigates his way through a dogged midfield with assurance and calmness, unflustered by pressure and brilliant in his control. The first goal comes through a thumping Robin Knoche header and the second is threatened shortly after.

Somehow, the hosts hang on. They marshall their way towards half-time with the game, if not their performance, still intact. And then, suddenly, a mistake, two passes, a left-foot hammer blow and an equaliser. Hamburg are level. The crowd goes mental, as do I, even without any knowledge of who I'm going mental for, and the break comes with relegation still beautifully in the balance.

It's at this point I wander back down the stairway to heaven, head to the toilet, get another beer and a hot dog (is there anything else to eat at a German football game?) and begin the trek back up to my seat. I was able to do all of that in a little over ten minutes, easily making it back to my seat in time to read the programme - it was in German, so when I say read, I mean look at the pictures, recognise some of the names and then smile when I was able to finally decipher a word - before the second half commenced. You couldn't do that in England!

The second half was not nearly as entertaining as the first. In fact, having been out the night before, sleep was calling, my eyes were drooping and the excitement of German football was somewhat missing. The quality continued to evade the confines of the stadium and with a little over five minutes remaining, Hamburg, who hadn't created a chance all game bar their first-half goal that came through a mistake from a Wolfsburg defender, looked dead in the water.

But no. This is a plucky side and boy did they pluck themselves out of trouble. A nothing cross from the left-hand side floated across the penalty area. It hung in the air for what felt like as long as one of the poorest quality games I've ever witnessed. The ball evaded the Wolfsburg defence, wandering to the back post, and onto the head of Luca Waldschmidt, who had just come on a matter of moments earlier, who planted the header home. Utter mania ensued.

Me, along with the people that I was with, lost all control. Jumping, arms waving all over the place, screaming at the top of our lungs. Opposite of us, the whole stand begins bouncing in unison. With their arms wrapped around one another, perhaps five or six thousand people, all in harmony with on another, bound up and down. The stand begins to shake with the force of it, the noise continues to rise and I simply sit back in my seat, collect myself after a moment of unhinged celebration, and watch on in utter adulation and adoration for Germany and its football.

The smile that I wear, like the trolleys by the side of the path, still remains, and the memories that I have will be treasured forever. What an incredible experience!
Andrew Dowdeswell

A sport obsessed 20 something who just really wants Arsenal to finally win the league. Please Wenger, what the hell happened to you?!

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