Sunlight is flooding into our room this morning as we both lie in bed, questioning if those extra beers at the hotel were a good idea, following the Friday night frivolities at Rot-Weiss Essen.
Although it’s our second early kick off in a week, after the antisocial start time at Arsenal the previous Saturday, the altogether more interesting proposition than a FA Cup game against Hull, has us both in by far a better mood.
It’s still cold, I think that is going to be a running theme this weekend, but instead of grey skies, it’s a brilliant blue, and to borrow an expression from a certain Northerner, “there is enough blue to make a pair of sailor’s trousers”.
Coffee is the order of the day for Tom, although he admits to it “tasting horrible” but at least it “did the job”. As I am still abstaining from caffeine, I opt for a large bottle of water, that I guzzle with all the enthusiasm of a six-year-old child who has been handed a soft drink in a restaurant.
The same helpful lady in the the ticket office from the previous evening, I hope she has been home to bed, once again provides us with detailed directions, and is far more helpful than Google maps, as she informs us today’s ground has it’s very own stop on the U Bahn.
VfL Bochum (VfL) of the 2. Bundesliga, play in a much more agreeable blue and white, than the red and white offering from the night before, their fans are visible at what is fastly becoming our second home, Dortmund HBF.
It would seem everyone and there Mother is waiting for the same train, and is trying to avoid the shouty man with a can of beer in his hand, directing his grievances solely at the elderly.
Tom’s wish of getting a go on one of the double decker trains is granted, he can go home a happy boy, but any hopes of a seat are dashed when we board and are forced to stand cheek to cheek with everyone else, in a cramped section between carriages.
Such is the proximity to other passengers, I’m forced to almost take part in a teen couple’s major public display of affection, as they snog each other’s faces off about an inch from my right ear.
The sun is warming and life giving at Bochum station, and to avoid any of the issues experienced on the way to our first game Tom has the best idea “follow the man with the flag” and we do, but not too close as to raise suspicions that we are using him as a human TomTom.
Once underground the station resembles a painting by Escher, and despite the abundance of blue and white all going in the same direction we end up on the wrong platform.
In search of the correct one, we go up stairs, down escalators finally finding where we should have been in first place, just as a train pulls in, we pile on with the fans and a man with a load of fishing rods.
We have not even had breakfast yet, and everyone is on the beer, it’s not even gone midday. Some have even taken it up a notch “he’s on the JD and Coke” points out Tom, and I’m sure I saw a woman with a mini bottle of Cava and a straw. Our ever so slightly delicate constitution means food will have to come first, before we can consider a drink.
My eyes take a moment to adjust as we emerge from underground, and into the light. To our left, back dropped by a still cloudless sky, is the rewirpowerSTADION. Its angular, modernist design, it’s square fly swat flood lights reaching upwards are intriguing, we are both keen to explore, but not before we eat.
Next to a garage, opposite the stadium a small white trailer is already doing a good bit of business. What better way to start the day than a heap of chips covering a curry sauce doused sausage, Tom not feeling quite as adventurous goes sans sauce.
We both go silent for a moment, perhaps to process exactly what we are about to eat for our first meal of the day, but quickly push all that healthy living bullshit from our minds, and tuck in, ohhhh it’s good.
Feeling full of food and self loathing, a walk is in order to burn off some calories. Men in red bibs hand out today’s match day newspaper, the ‘VfL-Echo’ and the bottle men, women and children are out in force, they have mobilised, pacing around, readying themselves for the deluge of recyclables to come.
The gates are yet to open but we quickly find our entrance, thanks to a long low wall with the name of it spelt across it in the clubs colours ‘OSTKURVE BOCHUM’.
Further on and walking into what feels like a chilly multi-storey car park, I have to pinch myself when we first cross paths with an expressionless builder, yellow hard hat and all, the mascot of one of the sponsors, and then a large blue mouse in full VfL kit, I wonder for a moment what was in the curry sauce.
A quick nosey in the shop results in no purchases, Tom has already got a pin, but with Easter around the corner the VfL chocolate rabbits catch my eye. The people doing the majority of the buying, seem to be Dads getting woolly hats and scarves for their blue children.
Outside we take a seat by a fleet of beige ambulances and admire what really is an interesting stadium. From behind us, we hear before we can see, what turn out to be a group of away fans being escorted by some serious looking coppers.
Not looking for any trouble, despite what their armoured chaperone might imply, they are just seem happy to sing, as they are taken towards the away end.
Our full lap of the ground means the gates are now open, and we can make our way in. Wanting to see what the rewirpowerSTADION is like on the inside, we bypass the many food and drink stalls, and climb the step of block O.
The same can not be said for one thirsty fan who is effortlessly carrying four beers in one hand, the cups interlocking handles allowing him to perform this jaw dropping feat.
Fans are tieing up banners to the fence at the front of the terrace, one such banner, that is pointing towards the crowd, instead of out towards the pitch like the rest, has a picture of the Sorting Hat from Harry Potter, “WICKED BOCHUM”.
With just under an hour until kick off the Ostkurve is already tightly packed, we opt for a spot above the entrance we just walked in, which allows us an uninterrupted view of this tight, completely enclosed, very blue ground. Probably the only deviation from this theme are the white seats spelling out VfL at the opposite end.
We are quickly put to work, when a fan approaches us, a heap of scrunched up material in his arms. He hands over some rope, and without saying a word, along with the people in our row, we help put up a banner.
As with Rot-Weiss Essen there are notably more young people, teens, youths in the crowd then I’m sure you would see at home, this must have a noticeable impact on the atmosphere.
Unlike at home, where the majority of people who can afford to go, are perhaps of an age where singing, dancing and swaying is not high on their agenda, and are perhaps looking for a slightly more sedate experience.
“Boooooooooooooo” is the warm Bochum welcome the away team SV Sandhausen (SV) get as they come out to warm up, I’m sure their handful of fans in the opposite corner are giving them a nice welcome, but I cant hear them.
The arrival of the home players, kick starts the drum, flags, one of which has the grounds iconic floodlights on, and cheers. With just over a quarter of an hour now to the start, the stand is almost full, people are walking up and down the gangways looking for somewhere to squeeze in.
Having thought we would only be hearing ‘you’ll never walk alone’ once on this trip, when we visit the black and yellow neighbours, we are surprised to hear it here as well. Some fans sing along, but not with near as much gusto as they do the saxophone solo laden club anthem.
The ground quickly turns into a sea of outstretched scarves. The only people not holding one above their heads are the ones who don’t have one, which are few or those with a flag, a pocket of them directly behind the goal are non stop.
“Der, der, der, der, der Bochum” sounds the drum, which is really ramping up as kick off gets ever closer “la, la, la, la Bochum”.
“Found him” says Tom who’s on first watch, as the VfL Capo climbs the fence. No platform or pre made perch here, he is precariously balanced on top the the banner covered fence. It’s as if coloured megaphones are on special offer, because he is holding one that is identical to that of his Essen counterpart, it’s just blue instead of red.
“That drum is wicked” comments Tom as he or she shows all the flair and skill of John Bonham, somewhere deep in the crowd, it’s a bit more than your normal prehistoric whacking.
As the team’s huddle, the Capo and his accomplice point to different sections of the crowd, demanding more noise asking them to match those right at the front, who are relentless.
If leading the crowd in every song and action is not cool enough, he perilously holds court from on top of the fence, in a pair of shades with a Tom Waits husk.
When a little parched, he reaches down, a beer appears from the crowd like the sword from the lake, he takes a sip and hands it back down, gaining more points on the ‘I’m awesome” O’Meter by simply having a drink.
There is of course a game on, this is not ‘Capo Watch with Chris Packham’, and it’s the home team who nearly scored in the opening minutes. It was so close to going in that a big chunk of the crowd think it did, and celebrate until they realise otherwise.
They are however not waiting for long, with ten minutes gone VfL go ahead, a sweet curling shot following a knock down, the Ostkurve erupts.
When things have simmered down ever so slightly, the stadium announcer reads out the goal scorers first name, and crowd bellow back his second. Having seen the Arsenal crowd do a similar thing when the team was read out a week before, with all the energy and life of a mouldy pear, it’s a real pleasure to see it done properly.
Not long after the goal the VfL keeper prevents the equaliser with a good one on one save, which starts a quick counter attack where VfL almost double their lead.
With Tom doing Spanish at school, and me failing miserably at German, it’s unfortunate that we can’t decipher what the fans are saying, in any of their chants.
We are though able to play ‘name that tune’, recognising more than one of the universally used backing tracks that accompany so many football songs, like ‘Amarillo’ by Tony Christie and ‘Yellow Submarine’ by the Beatles.
Almost exactly ten minutes after the first goal, “Toorrrrrrr” rings out around the ground for a second time, when VfL score again. This time the attacker rounds the out rushing keeper, looks certain to be clipped and go down, but remains on his feet, finishing powerfully into the roof of the net from a tight angle.
Read the concluding part of our trip to VfL Bochum tomorrow on Back Page Football.