We went on an adventure to Germany to see Borussia Dortmund face Werder Bremen – and squeezed in a quick trip to Cologne, too.
Stepping off the plane at Dortmund airport onto a blanket of snow, wrapped up in a big coat, it was kind of hard not to feel like James Bond arriving on the scene of his latest mission, or Alex Turner in the video for The Age Of The Understatement.
In truth, Dortmund is not exactly easy on the eye, and the grey, brutalist architecture only adds to the sense that we were there to infiltrate the Kremlin.
Thankfully, it quickly became apparent that the city is centred around one thing and one thing only: the football.
Oh, and there was also some kind of Comic Con convention going on, judging by the number of people we saw dressed as The Joker, but it’s mainly about the football.
After dropping the bags off at the Airbnb it was a short train journey into the city and to the appropriately named bar, Wenkers.
Right next to the Christmas market and with the walls adorned by football shirts from all over the world – Barcelona, Inter, Swindon – it’s the perfect place to grab a few pre-match pints.
Sat at the bar we even tricked ourselves into believing we were blending in quite well with the locals, only to be given away by our cringeworthy requests for “zwei bier, bitte”, delivered with that Englishman-abroad awkwardness and two fingers raised in the air.
Pints sunk, and following a quick stop at the Christmas market for a bratwurst, it was another short train journey to the stadium, where it swiftly began to feel like we were at a music festival.
It’s hard not to compare the whole experience to England.
All around the looming spaceship of the Westfalenstadion, home and away fans were happily milling about, drinking, eating and then drinking again.
Call me a cynic, but I couldn’t help but think that if the van selling Werder Bremen merchandise outside Dortmund’s home ground had been, say, flogging Manchester United gear outside Elland Road, the atmosphere would have been somewhat different.
While standing with a beer to watch football is one of life’s great pleasures, the game itself was pretty unremarkable.
Having booked the tickets a few weeks prior, we half expected Dortmund to be managerless by the time second-bottom Werder Bremen visited. As it turned out, this was to prove Peter Bosz’s final afternoon in charge of the club.
The hosts seemed to have more of the ball but were clearly low on confidence and out of ideas. Bremen produced the perfect away performance, landing a sucker punch when Maximilian Eggestein fired a beautiful left-footed effort into the corner midway through the first half.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang equalised with a scrappy header after the break, but Theodor Gebre Selassie bagged the winner for the visitors from a corner.
To be honest, I didn’t even see the decisive goal. The whole sensory experience was completely overwhelming and it was hard to know what to concentrate on: the flags, the flares, the songs or the constantly bouncing away end? The football was a distant fifth.
On a raised platform at the front of the Yellow Wall and with a microphone in hand stood a hype man akin to Bez, albeit with significantly worse moves and considerably more menace.
He didn’t even seem to notice Bremen’s opening goal judging by the way he didn’t miss a beat of the song he was leading at the time.
It must be said that Dortmund’s sticker game is very strong indeed.
I’ve always been incredibly proud of Leeds supporters’ propensity to be here, there and every-f*cking-where, and after failing to spot any English fans all day, my eyes lit up upon the sight of a man wearing our current away shirt back in Wenkers. Bizarrely, it turned out I used to deliver papers on his street.
It soon became apparent Phil and his friend were not just Leeds fans, but Leeds and Dortmund fans, so much so they even reeled off a list of grounds they had visited as travelling away supporters with BVB.
As they left they presented me with a joint Leeds and Dortmund pin badge, which is genuinely one of the best gifts I’ve ever received.
Don't suppose the very kind #lufc fan who gave me this in Dortmund is on here? I can only apologise for being too drunk to remember your name but I'm properly chuffed with the badge. pic.twitter.com/gtqYEALMgR
— Rob Conlon (@RobConlon25) December 11, 2017
The night ended in the nearby “Leeds Bar”, recommended to us by our new friends, albeit with the caveat that “it’s a sh*thole”. By this point using Google Maps was quite difficult, and after a half an hour walk to find a bar 100 yards down the road, we could confirm this fact for ourselves.
On the Sunday it was a pleasure to meet Lee Kodak in Cologne. Lee, who is from Canada but has spent the past nine years living around Europe, is one of our most recent contributors – having written a piece on the thrill of being an Arsenal supporter in Cologne during their Europa League visit last month – and is a thoroughly nice man.
He also looks like the absolute spitting image of Christian Eriksen, which is possibly a shame for an Arsenal fan.
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We met Lee in a little bar just on the outskirts of the city centre. With a constant supply of the locally brewed beer, Kölsch, it was the perfect setting to watch FC Cologne take on Freiburg.
Sat next to us was a kindly looking old man with a healthy beer belly, no front teeth and a Peter Sutcliffe beard. “English people are good and nice people,” he said. “But they are bad at football.”
Thirty minutes into the match, which had to be delayed by half an hour due to the blizzard, and the old man was grinning. Despite the ball barely being able to roll in the snow, Cologne had opened up a 3-0 lead and were all set to finally claim their first win of the season.
“We’re going to win 9-0,” our newfound friend proclaimed. But the smile soon turned into a grimace.
Just before half-time Nils Petersen pulled one back for Freiburg with a volley which made snow explode off the top of the net, one of the purest joys of football in the winter.
The bar was suddenly a lot quieter now. Football makes pessimists of us all, and you can see why; Cologne lost 4-3 after conceding two penalties in stoppage time.
I felt bad for the old man. But it was also very funny.
While we may have cursed the two home teams we came to see, the rest of the weekend passed by without incident. There was a schnitzel bigger than my head, too many Christmas markets and more Kölsch.
But it was all about those 90 minutes at the Westfalenstadion on the Saturday. The ultimate away day.
By Rob Conlon