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

Monday, September 7, 2015

VfB Stuttgart (Germany)

VfB Stuttgart, or Verein für Bewegungsspiele Stuttgart to use their full title, from the district of Mercedes-Benz-Arena is one of the most prominent football clubs in Germany.

The club’s origins can be traced to the formation of Stuttgarter Fußballverein on the 9th September 1893. This club initially played rugby at Stöckach-Eisbahn before moving to Cannstatter Wasen in 1894. A football section was added in 1908 where they joined the Südkreis-Liga in 1912.

Meanwhile another local club Cannstatter Fußballklub had been formed as a rugby club in 1890 before quickly established a football team. In 1897 the reformed themselves by the name of FC Krone Cannstatt, playing football only. They joined the Süddeutschen Fußballverband  The club had their own ground, which is now home to TSVgg Stuttgart-Münster e.V. 1875/99.

On the 2nd April 1912 Stuttgarter FV and Kronen-Club Cannstatt merged to form VfB Stuttgart. The united club became members of the Kreisliga Württemberg before moving on to the Bezirksliga Württemberg-Baden, where they were crowned champions in 1927.

In 1933 German football was re-organised under the ruling Third Reich. Sixteen top flight Gauligen divisions were formed. VfB moved in the Neckarstadion and were placed in Gauliga Württemberg. VfB fared very well, going on to win the division in 1935, 1937, 1938, 1940, and 1943 while a rivalry with Stuttgarter Kickers intensified. The 1935 success led to a run right through to the national final, where they succumbed by a 6-4 scoreline to reigning champions FC Schalke 04.

At the end of World War Two, ‘Die Schwaben’ were placed in the Oberliga Süd, capturing the title in 1946 before the club enjoyed a real golden period. Another title was lifted in 1950 with the team going on to be crowned as national champions following a 2-1 victory over Kickers Offenbach in Berlin. Further glory came with a 3-2 win in the big final against 1. FC Saarbrücken in Ludwigshafen.

Two DFB-Pokal (German Cup) victories also came during that halcyon period. VfB returned to Ludwigshafen to defeat 1. FC Köln 1-0 after extra time to complete the double in 1954. They went on to lift the cup once again in 1958 with a 4-3 extra time victory over Fortuna Düsseldorf in Kassel.

VfB’s fine record led to them becoming founding members of the newly formed Bundesliga in 1963. Many players played as amateurs through the first decade of the competition. VfB qualified for the 1973-74 Uefa Cup when they reached the semi finals before going out 4-3 on aggregate to Feyenoord.

In an attempt to grasp the professional era, local politician Gerhard Mayer-Vorfelder was elected as new president.. Despite this move, VfB were relegated at the end of the 1974-75 season. It would take two seasons to reclaim a top flight spot as the team coached by  Jürgen Sundermann and including stars such as  Karlheinz Förster, Hansi Müller and Ottmar Hitzfeld romped to the 2. Bundesliga title.

In 1979-80 the last four teams left in the UEFA Cup were all from West Germany. VfB were defeated by Borussia Mönchengladbach 4-1over two legs. After several promising Bundesliga seasons VfB Stuttgart were crowned champions in 1984, under coach Helmut Benthaus.

Jürgen Klinsmann joined the ranks in the late 1980’s from city neighbours Kickers. In 1989 VfB went all the way to the final of the UEFA but were denied their first European silverware as a Diego Maradona inspired Napoli ran out as 5-4 winners over the two games. The 1991-92 season saw the club being crowned as German champions for the fourth time under the guidance of Christoph Daum.

It would be 1997 before further honours arrived at Neckarstadion under the tutelage of  coach Joachim Löw when VfB defeated  Energie Cottbus at the Olympiastadion in Berlin. The following season they reached the final of the European Cup Winners Cup in Stockholm but they lost the showpiece against Chelsea despite the efforts of star players Krassimir Balakov, Giovane Élber and Fredi Bobic

VfB went through a period of transition as it built the side around younger players such as Andreas Hinkel, Kevin Kurányi, Timo Hildebrand and Alexander Hleb making a name for themselves in the famous white and red strip with Felix Magath.in charge of team affairs.

The team progressed to the Champions League for 2003-04 before bowing out to Chelsea in the first knock out round. Coaches came and went over the next few years as VfB Stuttgart consolidated their place towards the top end of the Bundesliga.

The consistency eventually bore fruit as VfB won the last eight matches of the 2006-07 season to win another Bundesliga title thanks to the likes of Pável Pardo, Ricardo Osorio, Antônio da Silva Mario Gómez, Serdar Tasci, and Sami Khedira under the guidance of Armin Veh. VfB so nearly completed the double but went down 3-2 in extra time to 1. FC Nürnberg in the Pokal final.

The ensuing seasons saw more top five finishes and qualification to the Champions League in 2007-08 and 2009-10. The latter of those campaigns ended quickly and league form was also disappointing leading to the replacement of young coach Markus Babbel with Christian Gross. The Swiss oversaw a big improvement with Die Schwaben securing a place in the Europa League.

The following campaign was most disappointing with two coaches being given their marching orders before Bruno Labbadia was hired in January 2011. He helped the side stave off relegation. 2011-12 was more successful with Martin Harnik starring as another Europa League place was sealed.

The 2014-15 season looked like it may end in relegation but a fine late rally saw Huub Stevens secure safety before Alexander Zorniger was appointed as the new head coach in June 2015.

VfB Stuttgart will play in the Bundesliga in the 2015-16 season.

My visit

VfB Stuttgart 1 1.FC Köln 3 (Sunday 16th August 2015) Bundesliga (att: 59,500)

The match at the Mercedes-Benz-Arena, as the Neckarstadion had been renamed in a sponsorship deal, was the main attraction of my weekend in the Baden-Württemberg region of Germany.

The 5.30pm kick off allowed me lots of time to expand my knowledge of the local football scene. It was the last match in the opening set of fixtures of the new Bundesliga season. The crowds were starting to gather in the bars near to my hotel in Bad Canstatt as I departed to go to my lunchtime fixture; the Oberliga encounter between SC Stuttgarter Kickers II and FC 08 Villingen.

Following that match I followed the advice to take one of the special U11 tram service direct to the stadium. It quickly became apparent while stood on the busy platform at Alexanderstraße that this would not be a simple task as the first special was packed solid. Instead I caught the next one heading back towards my hotel and followed the other fans in jumping off at Mercedesstraße. From there it was a twenty minute walk through a large open space used for the Canstatt Messe (fair).

The main drag nearing the stadium was closed off to traffic. Stalls were serving fans with refreshments and souvenirs over the road by the Porsche Arena. I carried on up the road past the main entrance to the Haupttribune before finding the gates to give me access to the Untertürkheimer Kurve. Following a quick ticket scan and frisk and I was inside. I helped myself to one of the free match magazines from a huge pile and went upstairs.

It was time to be refreshed. The sausage was decent enough value at €2.40 but the beer was expensive at €4.20. It cost a further €1 for the hard plastic glass, which was refunded on return. It was slightly disappointing to find that the beer was Krombacher when it could have been from a local supplier. It was time to go upstairs and find my seat.

I always try and book a place on the end of a row, preferably in a place that gives me a good all round view. I was in the top corner of the lower continuous tier and cost €27.. The level I was at was all seated, save for the Canstatter Kurve at the far end, where the most vocal home fans congregated and in the opposite corner at the same end to me, which housed the visiting supporters ultras. Another tier of seating was above with slight gaps at either side of the separate Haupttribune.

The Neckarstadion had changed massively over the previous twenty five years. It once had a running track, a main stand with the rest being open terracing apart from a basic cover opposite the seats. The stadium was the scene of the Euro 88 clash when Ireland defeated England. It had been converted to an all seater arena with a roof al the way around, but was rebuilt for the 2006 World Cup with the removal of the running track and construction of new stands.

The noise leading up to kick off from both sets of fans was tremendous along with the display of flags. The teams entered the arena to a tremendous ovation.

Neither side wasted any time in playing attractive quality football. Köln nearly struck first when a fine swerving shot from Matthias Lehmann struck the foot of the post with home keeper Przemysław Tytoń beaten.

VfB responded soon after as they themselves struck the woodwork. A ferocious effort from Daniel Didavi smashed against the visitor’s crossbar with Timo Horn in the Köln net grasping thin air. Then Christian Gentner’s effort hit the left hand post on twelve minutes. 

Although Köln sporadically attacked, it was the home side doing most of the pressing. A mixture of bad luck, good goalkeeping and decent defending kept VfB at bay. It was surprising that the half ended scoreless. There was still plenty of optimism on the concourse while I enjoyed a beer.

The noise from the fans never abated. The Mercedes-Benz-Arena was proving top class for atmosphere. Stuttgart were giving the home support plenty to get excited about. Wave after wave of attacks and efforts on goal were being fired in, but the Köln defence would not give way. VfB’s Martin Harnik was having a fine match.

Shots continued to reign in. Horn was really earning his wages. Then out of nowhere the match turned on its head in the seventy fifth minute.

Köln’s Anthony Modeste broke into the area when Tytoń upended him. Referee Wolfgang Stark had no hesitation in pointing to the spot and Modeste made no mistake as he dusted himself down and blasted the ball into the middle of the goal. It was amazing to see just how many away fans were in the seated areas in other parts of the stadium when the goal went in, yet there was no hint of malice. This was football how it’s meant to be.

Two minutes later the VfB support and team were left totally shell shocked. A fine but simplistic move cut the Stuttgart defence apart as they stood like statues. Kevin Vogt set up Simon Zoller to smash home and send the Köln fans into ecstasy.

VfB looked to rally and were offered hope when Zoller clipped the heels of Filip Kostić in the area. Didavi made no mistake from the spot to set up a frantic last eleven minutes.

VfB threw everything forward in search of an equaliser. Shots were saved and blocked while numerous corners put the squeeze on the Köln side, who were defending with all hands to the pump.

In the second minute of stoppage time, VfB lost the ball and Modeste broke away at pace and into the clear. As he got into the penalty area he slid the ball sideways for substitute Yūya Ōsako to roll the ball into an empty net.

By now I was stood at the back for a quick getaway. The goal was met by shrugs of shoulders and ironic smiles by the bloke next to me. The visiting fans couldn’t believe it. Talk about a smash and grab raid!

It was the cue for me to be off and running as fast as I could in my hurting feet caused by a new pair of trainers. Ideally I would catch a U19 tram at the stadium halt but there were none in view so I jumped aboard the first one I could and changed at Mercedesstraße for a service under the bridge to Wilhelmsplatz in the centre of Bad Cannstatt.

After dropping off my programme it was time to find some bars to take in the after match reaction. I decided to start in The Corner, a fine establishment showing sport and serving the lovely Schwaben Bräu. I had a nice chat with some locals. One showed me the UK scores. Chelsea had got hammered, Hull City drew and Rangers won. Time for more beer!

I selected Pfiff as my next port of call attracted by the cheap offer of Paulaner beer. The dreary dark bar served me a large Hefe-Weissbier. It was on to the lively and jolly bar up the street for a couple sat at the bar while watching the goals round up before heading over the road for a pizza and bed by 10.30.

The next morning I caught a direct SBahn service from Bad Canstatt to the airport for my Easyjet flight home. Fortunately I caught this one! It had been another superb weekend in Germany.

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