Welcome to volume two of my blog paying homage to the football clubs I've visited all over the world and the wonderful people responsible for keeping them going and looking after the stadiums, and in some cases basic grounds.

Since I was a little lad I've been fascinated in football and more so where games are played. With my love of travel and curiosity of the game I wanted to visit as many grounds and see games wherever possible. I was lucky that my Dad also loved the game and spent so much of his spare time taking me to matches. As I got older the boundaries widened owing to my location and increased wages to Europe and indeed the world. The sight of a stand or a floodlight pylon in the distance immediately hightens my senses and eagerness for a closer look.

I hope this site gives you the chance to share in my pleasure and experiences and maybe one day set you on the road to adventure. If you get half as much out of the hobby as I've done I can guarantee some great memories, good friends and stories to pass on to future generations.

Give your local club a go today. They'll be pleased to see you!

Everlasting thanks primarily to my late and very much missed and dearly loved parents; my Dad Bob Bernard and my Mum; Ann, who put up with endless years of football chat and my brothers Nick and Paul who gave me the chance and encouragement to do what I have. Thanks to all my friends who offer encouragement and Sally and Stan who inspire and give me great pride. Young Stan is showing a keen interest in my hobby!

Please feel free to post any comments (please use sensible language - I want everyone to be able to enjoy reading) or ask any questions relating to visiting grounds or events. If you want to see any ground reviewed please let me know. It will take quite some time for everywhere to appear, but make sure you keep having a look as the site is continually updated.

If you click on a lot of the pictures you will get a larger version on your screen.

I have also added links to video clips on youtube where appropriate for those of you who are bored of reading or are filling in time at work. I haven't always gone for the most obvious choices, but items that will be in some cases unusual but always historically interesting.

Click to see volume one of HAOTW.

Rob Bernard


September 2015

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

FC Schalke 04 (Germany)

Fußball-Club Gelsenkirchen-Schalke 04, to credit them with their full title are a football club from the mining town of Gelsenkirchen, to the north of the Ruhr in Germany. The club were formed on the 4th May 1904 under the name of Westfalia Schalke after the area of the town where they were based. 

The club found it difficult to gain entry into any official leagues, so in 1912 they joined forces with Schalker Turnverein 1877. The arrangement lasted for three years before SV Westfalia Schalke became an independent club. However, it would appear that both clubs needed each other, so they united once again in 1919 as Turn-und Sportverein Schalke 1877.

In 1923 Schalke won their first honour as they were crowned as Schalke Kreisliga champions. Around this period they picked up their nickname of Die Knappen (The Miners), as many players were employed in that industry. A year later the gymnastics section was shed once more with the club taking their present title and adopting blue and white as their club colours, which also led to their second nickname of Die Königsblauen. 

In 1927 the club became dominant locally, winning the Gauliga Ruhr and reaching the opening rounds of the national championship. The following year the ever increasingly popular club built a new home, the Glückauf-Kampfbahn Stadion and changing their name to FC Gelsenkirchen-Schalke 04. In 1929 the team won the West German championship, but suffered a six month ban soon after as a penalty for paying their players during an amateur era.

In their first game after the ban in 1931, a crowd of 70,000 flocked to Glückauf-Kampfbahn for the visit of Fortuna Dusseldorf. In 1932 chalke reached the national semi final and the following year they went one better, but lost out to Fortuna Dusseldorf in the final. When football was re-organised in Germany in 1933 the club were placed in Gauliga Westphalia, which was one of sixteen regional premier divisions.

A period of dominance in the game followed. Gauliga Westphalia was won in all of the eleven seasons it was held, with Schalke remaining unbeaten at Glückauf-Kampfbahn and losing only six matches in total. This also led to Schalke being crowned national champions several times. 

In 1934 1. FC Nuremburg were defeated 2-1, before they went on to retain the title with a win over VfB Stuttgart. They were also victorious in 1937, 1939, 1940 and 1942, with three of those victories coming against Austrian sides Admira Vienna, Rapid Vienna and First Vienna. This occurred as Austria was considered as part of Germany after the 1938 Anschluss. The Tschammerpokal  (the former name for the German Cup) was also lifted in 1937 following a win over Fortuna Dusseldorf. The two stars of the team were considered to be Fritz Szepan and Ernst Kuzorra.

After World War Two, Schalke joined the Oberliga-West, but they didn't continue as before the conflict. In 1958 a 3-0 win over Hamburg SV sealed another national championship. In 1963 the club were given a place in the newly formed Bundesliga, in which they struggled. Several players including German internationals; Klaus Fischer, Stan Libuda and Klaus Fichtel were initially given life bans, later reduced to six month to two years sentences after being found guilty of match fixing. This was revealed after the team had finished runners up in the Bundesliga in 1972 as well as lifting the DFB Pokal, thus ruining a period great potential.

In 1973 the club moved to an out of town new Parkstadion, which had been built for 1974 World Cup with a capacity of 70,000 while Glückauf-Kampfbahn was retained for the clubs other sides. In 1977 the team finished league runners-up once again. However, the early eighties saw the club hit troubled times. The team were relegated in 1981, before winning an immediate promotion. They went down once again in 1983 but yet again immediately returned to top flight football. In 1988 Schalke found themselves in 2. Bundesliga once more. This time it took three years to return.

In 1997 Schalke lifted the UEFA Cup after victory over Internazionale, under head coach Huub Stevens, who implemented a system of rigid defence. In 2001 a second place league finish when Bayern Munich scored an injury time winner to deny Die Knappen was tempered by another Pokal. A new stadium, named the Veltins-Arena in a sponsorship deal, (but FIFA World Cup Stadium Gelsenkirchen in 2006) was opened next to the outdated Parkstadion. The Pokal was won again the following season. More Bundesliga second place finishes came in 2005 and 2007. 

A series of top three and four finishes led to consistent appearences in the Champions League, despite a high turnover of head coaches, including Felix Magath and the playing talents of Raul. Eventually Stevens was re-installed in charge of team affairs in September 2011 to try and bring further honours to the club, with the likes of Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Lewis Holtby displaying their wares on the pitch. 

FC Schalke 04 will play in 1. Bundesliga in the 2013-14 season.

My visit

FC Schalke 04 1 1.FC Nurnberg 0 (Saturday 27th October 2012) 1. Bundesliga (att: 61,673)

I was in Germany on day two of four and eager to have another brilliant day after the pleasures of the day before. I was in really good form having visited some new grounds and seen a cracking 3-3 draw at 1. FC Koln. The new day was cool but sunny and had started really well for me as I'd got inside another excellent venue; the home of KFC Uerdingen in Krefeld.

Despite Fortuna Dusseldorf being at home that afternoon to Wolfsburg and me staying there, I had difficulties accessing the ticket shop online, where as I managed to get a password from Schalke. As I was travelling solo, I figured I may not get too many chances to get a ticket for the Veltins-Arena so I bought one while I could. I paid Euro 41.50, for my seat, which included delivery to my flat in London.

A large danish pastry and a coffee put me on track as I took a train to Duisburg, where I had to change for the Gelsenkirchen service. I was ahead of time and I sent a text to Matt Lawson back in England to see if the stadium of Rot-Weiss Essen was close to the Hauptbanhof. As it turned out, it was quite a distance so I jumped on board a busy train which had plenty of the Königsblauen faithful on board as well as a gaggle of jolly Hansa Rostock fans. I had seen their side on the way to relegation with Karl and Carl the previous season in a stinker of a game at Aachen. As a result they found themselves in 3. Bundesliga and heading off to see their favourites playing Borussia Dortmund. Sadly for them it was Borussia Dortmund II.

I was going to engage in some talk of how brilliant Uwe Rosler was in his prime, but there's nothing worse than seeing proper fans cry. I gave them a smile and a good luck and went straight downstairs to the trams.

For reasons best known to myself I got on the first one that arrived, despite the Schalke fans looking on. I alighted at the next stop; Heinrich-Konig-Platz and realised the service I required, the 302 was seven minutes away. I went upstairs for a look around and to see if I could find a cash machine. My lord, it was desperate. Very much like an old mining town of Yorkshire or Lancashire really with a plethora of cheap shops and soulless pedestrianised streets. I returned to the platform as the packed to bursting tram arrived. This was no good. There was only one thing for it. I'd walk.

Now as ever I'd done a fair share of research. I knew that the Veltins-Arena was in the middle of nowhere, but I also knew that the Schalke district was on the way, so I headed in that direction as I wanted to see if it was possible to have a look inside Glückauf-Kampfbahn as well as take in the pre match atmosphere in a bar or two. It took me about thirty minutes and after the walk over Berliner Brucke I was in Schalke, with fans gathering and entering fans initiative bars. I was definitely wanting some of this. It just felt good and traditional.

My ground finding nose was working well. I walked down Huburtustrasse, which was a quiet residential street and saw the gates to the old place in front of me. Even better one of the turnstile gates was open and I was inside. Youth games were taking place on the now artificial pitch as I wandered around taking photos of the stadium and the wonderful graffiti paying homage to the clubs history.

I took one last look and went back out to the main Kurt-Schumacher-Strasse and saw a wonderful sight. It was a clubhouse/bar and there was no problem in gaining admission. It was busy but I could get served easily enough by the efficient staff. It was just getting better as they had the distinctive and wonderful Frankenheim Alt on draught. A group of blokes next to me were going for it. They were on Jagermeister chasers! 

After a couple of alts I went onto the local Veltins just to get into the spirit of the occasion. I managed to get a seat and got chatting to two older blokes and a youngster who turned out to be Schalke fans from Hamburg. They were amazed when I told them of my weekend adventures. The day was going so well and I decided it was time to head for the ground as time was getting on and if possible I wanted to see the Parkstadion. I was on a tram, even getting a seat from the Ernst-Kuzorra-Platz stop, which was tastefully named after an old club hero.

The younger rowdier fans alighted at the Willy-Brandt-Allee stop and all gathered together before moving on. I stayed on to the Arena stop before heading off over the bridge and towards the towering floodlights of the Parkstadion that I always thought looked better than many in the UK. I had a full view from the side of the huge Arena hotel of what was once a huge bowl, but was now a training pitch with just the seating opposite where the enormous Main Stand once stood remaining.

I went inside the hotel to use the loos to be met with hordes of fans booking into their rooms and drinking at the bars. I thought they were leaving it rather late, but I wasn't going to miss kick off! I had my walking legs on, which was just as well. It was a long way round the stadium, which sat above the walk ways. I eventually found my gate, was given a quick frisk and I was in to walk up the steps to the outdoor concourse. I was in a real hurry, with only thirty minutes until kick off and a huge hunger to satisfy. I even went past the blokes with the free magazine/programmes, little did I realise at the time.

I climbed the stairs and went inside to the concourse and purchased an Arena Card from a helpful lady who spoke good English. I looked down to a fans area outside the stadium where the youths from the tram looked to be. It then dawned on me. Somehow I'd arrived ninety minutes before kick off! I laughed to myself. At least I'd seen everything I'd set out see and there were worse places to be early. I got stuck into a bratwurst and checked the menu to see if I could work out what the rest of the foods were on the menu. My beer hardly touched the sides after my walk, so I went and got another. By now I'd also worked out that frikadel were like a thick burger, and bloody nice they were too!

I was directed back downstairs for the programme, wishing I'd have been more vigilant as my legs ached after climbing back up. I had a look where my seat was before doing a full lap round the concourse so that I could take photos all around. How nice it was to have stewards who were chilled out and not looking to be awkward. I went up to my seat, realising that I was so high up, that the beams of the roof blocked a clear view of the video screen than sat high over the pitch.

The Veltins-Arena was very impressive. It had a retractable roof, which was open on this occasion and two continuous tiers, with corporate boxes in between. The Westtribune had an extra layer of boxes and the Nordtribune's lower deck was terraced for the vocal Schalke fans. There was another section of standing for the away fans in the Sud-Ost corner, just below to the left from where I was sitting, so the atmosphere was good. I later heard it described by Johnny Gould on Talksport as a huge basketball arena on drugs, which wasn't too bad a call.

The music cranked the crowd up, as a couple of rousing club songs Blau und weiß, wie lieb ich Dich ("Blue and White, How I Love You") and Königsblauer S04 ("Royal Blue S04") were played before the teams came out into the sunlight with Staus Quo's 'Whatever You Want' booming out. The Nuremburg support in the capacity crowd was most impressive, with plenty of extra fans finding their way into the home fans sections without any problems. Well, i say that, but one poor bloke tried coming up the stairs with two card trays full of beer before tripping and spilling most of it. All that was missing was Eddie Waring's "Oh the poor lad" commentary.

Schalke were full of confidence after a midweek win at Arsenal in the Champions League and victory in the Ruhr derby at Dortmund the previous weekend, whereas Nurnburg were positioned near the bottom of the table. However, they were making a really good fist of things and went in at half time on deserved level terms.

The two big locals next to me never stopped drinking all the match, with them taking it in turns to go downstairs for the lubrication. They were very pleasant and I was offered a cigar, which tempting though it was, I managed to turn it down. It was certainly a more relaxed way of watching a game than in the UK. 

The home fans were starting to get restless in the second half as they struggled to find a way through. I was convinced that the game was going to end scoreless. The mood wasn't helped by updates of Dortmund going into a two nil lead at Freiburg. Holtby was substituted before a breakthrough was found with thirteen minutes remaining as Jefferson Farfan volleyed Christian Fuchs' left-wing cross into the corner of the net. There was no way back for the visitors as Schalke saw the game out without any dramas. The home fans sang a song to the tune of Moonlight Shadow.

I headed down onto the concourse and went round as far as I could to near the tram station, returning my card as I went. Despite the huge crowd, it was easy to get out, although rogue vendors setting up stalls in the middle of the walkways wasn't a great help. I got on a tram straight away and managed to catch the 6.04 train back to Dusseldorf, which amazed me.

After the train emptied out on the way, I got a quick cat nap and then freshened up before heading on the UBahn to the Aldstadt. I was on a 5.30 train the next morning, but the clocks were to go back an hour to signify the start of winter. I reckoned a good drink, without going over the top was in order. At one of my favourite establishments, the Schloesser Brauhaus I enjoyed their beautiful altbier, served by a kind waiter who helped me along and made sure I was never long in waiting. Three men who'd been to watch Fortuna being taken apart 4-1 by Wolfsburg joined me at the table as we watched all the days goals in a rolling highlights programme.

I am by no means a fluent German speaker, but we got through to each other as we all tried hard. Smiles and sign language can go an awful long way if you really want it to. I continued my little wander and ended up in the bar decorated with chickens. It was only small, but it had a great atmosphere every time I'd been in. Time was getting on, and I wanted to leave with a clearish head. I purchased a wonderful couple opf slabs of pork in bread from the corner take away that had never let me down and headed back to my budget hotel. The wonderful transport system of the city had me back and in bed in less than thirty minutes.

I'd had a quality day out, helped enormously by my experience at Schalke and by their warm and friendly fans. 

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