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

Friday, November 13, 2015

RB Leipzig (Germany)

RasenBallsport Leipzig e.V., or RB Leipzig as they are more commonly known is a professional club from the former East German city of the same name who were formed in controversial circumstances on the 19th May 2009.

Entrepreneur Michael Kölmel, the owner of the Zentralstadion, needed a regular club playing at his venue. Energy drinks manufacturer Red Bull was looking for another club to join Red Bull Salzburg, New York Red Bulls and Red Bull Brasil in their portfolio.

Red Bull had initially looked into such a development in 2006 by purchasing FC Sachsen Leipzig. After months of fan protests which deteriorated into violence, the company abandoned the plan.

A deal was struck, with the Leipzig outfit purchasing the playing license of the top four men’s teams at nearby SSV Markranstädt. Weed killer was thrown on the pitch at Stadion am Bad and advertising boards were vandalised in protest, but things never got too far out of hand.

Markranstädt rebuilt and began again through regional football, happy with the deal. The new club hit a snag, as the DFB German FA refused sponsorship names in a club title. To get around this RasenBallsport was chosen because it is often shortened to RB. Zentralstadion became the Red Bull Arena through sponsorship.

Once registered, RB purchased four youth teams from the then insolvent FC Sachsen Leipzig, with encouragement from the Saxon Football Association (SFV). The move allowed Sachsen to rebuild. Dietrich Mateschitz, the owner of Red Bull GmbH, spoke of playing in the Bundesliga within eight years and eventually to become the first club from the city to lift the German title since VfB Leipzig in 1913.

RB were placed in the fifth tier NOFV-Oberliga Süd for the 2009-10 season with former SSV Markranstädt coach Tino Vogel in charge of the team. The team lifted the title, but Vogel was replaced for the following season by Tomas Oral. Chemnitzer FC were defeated in the final of the Sachsenpokal, but the board still made another coaching change, with Peter Pacult arriving.

The Regionalliga Nordost was won in 2012-13 along with the Sachsenpokal as Chemnitzer were seen off once again in the Red Bull Arena, this time under yet another new coach;  Alexander Zorniger.

Starting the 2013-14 season in 3. Liga, several new players arrived at the club. Momentum continued and the crowds grew, drawn in by the prospect of yet another promotion. RB finished as runners-up and won automatic promotion following a 5-1 victory over FC Saarbrucken in front of a sell out home crowd of 42,713.

At this point the German Football League had become the authority who dealt with club licenses. Initially they refused one to RB to participate in 2. Bundesliga. Eventually a compromise was met, but RB had to re-design their club badge as it was too close to the Red Bull logo, make the club more community rather than company based and to to make membership more accessible.

RB Leipzig ended the 2014-15 season in fifth place, despite the sacking of Zorniger in February. The new coach was former head of youth Achim Beierlorzer. He stepped back into his previous role at the end of the season. The new man for the 2015-16 was announced as the former FC Schalke coach and Red Bull Salzburg Sporting Director Ralf Rangnick.

RB Leipzig will play in 2. Bundesliga in the 2015-16 season.

My visit

Germany 2 Georgia 1 (Sunday 11th October 2015) European Championship Qualifier (att: 43,630)

The highlight of my weekend in Berlin and Leipzig was always going to be the international at the Red Bull Arena. I’d seen cup football at SV Lichtenberg 47 and SSV Markranstädt, as well as visiting five historic clubs and stadiums. It had been a fantastic time.

With the game not kicking off until 8.45pm, it meant it would be a long day. Markranstädt as a town had been a complete let down. I was rather hoping I’d find a nice bar with food to relax after the match, but if truth be told I was glad to be heading back to Leipzig. I should have probably got out before the Arena and found a local bar, but I wanted to catch the daylight for some photography.

I jumped off the tram at Angerbrücke, so that I could take a snap of the arena across the Elsterbecken River, before walking over the Festwiese. This square massive area with banking all around had a capacity of 75,000 and was used for a fairground and concerts. The tall bell tower at the far end stood between the area and the stadium.

As I got up to the far end I had a look at the various sponsor’s stalls for fans. Match programmes were in a large pile and seemed to be free, even though they had €1 on the cover. I decided to have a look down the main side, where the old steps, monuments and brickwork were still in place. Plenty of fans stood near to the VIP entrance, hoping to get a glimpse of their heroes.

Facilities were in each corner outside the stadium. With time to kill, I walked a full lap around the perimeter. There wasn’t an awful lot to see. When I got back to my started point I plumped for a beer and bratwurst. A young lady was taking snaps of the growing traffic from the raised concourse and we got chatting.

Susanne worked for the stadium. Her top level camera seemed to be doing her a fine job and she really was a good seller of her home city. I was commended on my limited German, which I think was more out of politeness. In yet another country, the locals could speak perfect English. How I wish I’d learned languages at school.

After another beer I decided to go inside and have a proper look. Red Bull Arena had been built inside the shell of the old Zentralstadion so to keep the history. The old place held 120,000 fans at its peak, so there was plenty of room.

The lay out meant a climb to the top of the original banking, before descending down the old terracing. It really was knee breaking work up and down an awful lot of steps, but I was glad that they’d preserved the history. My ticket was high up in a corner, so I had to climb another set of steps!

My first impression when I saw the layout was “Wow”. It really was impressive. There was no running track, so seating was close to the pitch. The lower tier was a complete circuit, with a large concourse behind. Both sides had upper tiers in a banana shape design, not dissimilar to the Huddersfield Town stadium, only bigger. Small roofs covered each end. Floodlights were built into the roof steelwork.

Eventually I found my seat after sitting in the correct number, but in the wrong block! The backs of the seats were high and comfortable. The acoustics of the stadium kept the noise inside. I had a tremendous view.

The game looked like it would be an easy win for Germany, but the Georgians were made of stern stuff. The hosts were looking to bounce back after a 1-0 defeat in Dublin against the Republic of Ireland the previous Thursday.

Visiting keeper Nukri Revishvili pulled off a great stop from Thomas Müller in the first few minutes. An even better save came from a Marco Reus effort. Chances kept coming, with the score remaining blank thanks to a mixture of fine defending, goalkeeping and woeful finishing.

Manuel Neuer’s reflex save from Tornike Okriashvili’s shot on the half hour prevented a shock opening goal. The sides went down the tunnel for half time with the score still blank.

At this point I decided to take advantage of a regular feature at German stadiums. Nearly all seating areas have some flat standing at the rear, and the stewards don’t stop you from watching from there. Because I had no time to hang around at full time, I decided to stand at the back behind the far goal, which was nearer to the station at full time.

After walking all the way around the concourses I found a spot. People were standing two or three deep, but I could still see. The move was also wise as the temperatures were beginning to plummet. Keeping warm by exercising and stretching was a lot easier than when sitting down.

At last Germany took the lead on fifty minutes as Müller scored from the penalty spot. The goal awoke the visitors. They began to take the game to the world champions. After a few near misses and stops by Neuer, a tremendous twenty yard volley from Jaba Kankava left the keeper motionless.

I was doing my very best not to burst out laughing. The locals were not massively amused. Neuer pulled off a couple more world class saves to keep his side ahead. The German defence were made to look like statues at times as the enterprising Georgia team could smell blood. The whistles and jeers were getting louder all the time.

André Schürrle was replaced by Max Kruse. The sub finished off a quality move with a fine low shot to win the game and break hearts all over the world. It transpired post match that if Georgia had of snatched a win and Ireland had scored in Warsaw, the world champions would have been dumped into the play-offs.

At full time I was off up the steps and down the other side. I decided on Susanne’s confirmation, to walk back to the station. I had just under thirty minutes to complete the 2.5 km. I cut through the coach park and down Wettiner Straße to beat the crowds. After turning into Waldstraße I came across the Feuerbachstraße tram stop. The timetable indicated a tram was due.

Just a few yards down the road we passed a pub with Sky. Just what I wanted before the game, but never mind. The tram dropped me outside the Hauptbahnhof with time to kill.

My train was coming from Munich. I managed to find a single unreserved seat and fall asleep for the hours ride. I woke up at what looked like a big station. I nearly jumped out, but that would have been a big mistake. We were only at Südkreuz! Ten minutes later we arrived at the main Hauptbahnhof. I got myself a magnificent kebab at one of the stands near my hotel and went to bed.

It was a brilliant day out. The next morning I took a direct train to Schoenefeld Airport for my flight to Luton in time for my Monday afternoon shift.

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