The concluding part of The Beautiful Game’s evening at Rot-Weiss Essen, you can read the instalment here.
At this point Roland bids us farewell, “older ultras sit now” he tells us, he won’t be joining us on the terrace, so we arrange to met at the fan base after, but not before he shares one last bit of club history with us, that he is clearly so passionate about.
Even though he was born “in the blue and white city”, that’s Gelsenkirchen, home of Schalke 04, the arch enemies in these parts, saying their name is akin to an actor saying Macbeth.
Considering he has been coming since 1964, you imagine there is not a lot he doesn’t know. He proudly points to another statue, this one of Helmeut Rahn who scored two goals in the 1954 World Cup for West Germany, and is probably their most famous son.
The queue to the gate is littered with empty bottles, and Tom for the first time witnesses a bit of a German quirk, which I first saw in Berlin, and puts a bit of context to the old woman with a torch looking into a bin at the station in Essen.
They are what you might call ‘Capitalist Wombles’, as I’m not sure the welfare of planet is at the forefront of their actions, they are driven by money, the more bottle’s and glass you can collect the more someone will pay you for it.
Past security, and past the steward who asked Tom to leave his bag by a bin, which was never going to happen, the entrance to our block, W1 is dead ahead, we can make out the fence behind the goal, and the pitch beyond. Not wanting to miss anymore of the build up, we head straight through.
Maybe down to bad timing or a an attack by the local anti blogging league, but as we enter the stand a banger is tossed a few feet from us goes off.
To say I did not shit myself, and momentarily lose all hearing in my right ear would be a lie, but I wanted to stand with the Ultras or “fanatics” as Roland described them, so I needed to carry on like nothing had happened, and book myself in for a hearing test as soon as we got home.
The Westkurve is already bustling, red and white flags of various sizes are going full pelt. As the stadium announcer reads out the opposition team’s names, each one is greeted with a hearty shout of “arschloch” from the crowd around us.
A troop of children holding flags, have appeared from the tunnel in the stand to our left, are standing on the centre circle and begin what you might call a choreographed display, as every fan who has one holds their scarf outstretched above their heads and sing the club’s anthem.
When the home team is read out, they get a much warmer welcome, the announcer reading out the first name, and the crowd roaring the surname. We hear the visiting supporters of SG Wattenscheid 09 (SG) in a corner at the opposite end of the ground, in an otherwise completely empty stand.
They have their own flags and banners in the club’s colors of black and white. It’s a short trip, only about 12 kilometres and Roland told us this could be considered as bit of a “derby”. Their attempts to sing bring sarcastic waves of ‘we forgot you were here’.
Red megaphone in hand the RWE Capo climbs the fence, bangs his chest, and turns his back on the game kicking off behind him, beside him one of the biggest flags sways back and forth “Ultras-Hooligans”.
It’s incredibly hard to concentrate on anything other than the man at the front, the hype man, the conductor, his gravelly voice organising the crowd, starting every chant.
“Need one of them at the Emirates” says Tom, I think every ground could do with one. It’s a notion that seems so alien to British football fans, but is commonplace on the continent and the rest of the world.
He’s mesmerising in a totally platonic, heterosexual way, it’s hard to remember there is even a game on, and although I have no idea what he is saying, his actions speak volumes, as he pumps his fist towards the crowd, demanding more volume, more singing.
Not that our blogs are what you might call a ‘match report’, but we like to give a little bit of an insight into the game itself, this however is a lot harder than usual, because of the sheer amount of things going on, the football almost becoming a bit of a sideshow.
With less than ten minutes gone RWE go behind, an own goal after a clearance from a free-kick loops up over the keeper, and is probably the worst possible start for the home side, who are one place above the drop zone. Roland had described them as a “young side” and in the opening moments some of that naivety is clear, their play has been sloppy.
For a brief moment the terrace is quiet, the bearded Capo on his platform looks gutted. He is not alone though on his elevated position, he was a vice Capo, a second in command who starts the crowd again, breaking the brief moment of malaise, getting things quickly back to normal.
This is tested though when shortly after SG hit the bar with a shot from a free-kick.
Maybe it’s the current league position, being a goal behind or that the whole ‘smoking is bad’ message has not quite sunk in, but there is a thick layer of cigarette smoke around us, one lady in particular is constantly puffing away, and I wonder if one is finished before the next one is lit.
Although our stand is busy, there are plenty of empty seats in the rest of the ground, each stand standing alone, with a considerable gap on each corner. There is even what looks like a sofa pitchside, with some people chilling out and watching the game, which is a new one for us.
“Missed the beer man” says a thirsty Tom, as the keg carrying Sherpa, skips up and down the terrace, holding empty plastic cups above his head, tempting all who clap their eyes on him into getting another beer.
As if by magic, another one appears, and like the adults we are, we are trusted with refreshing ourselves in sight of the pitch.
“Rott” shout the stand to our right, “Weiss” shout our stand, “Essen” shout the stand to our left.
The home fans are becoming increasingly more frustrated, “they love a middle finger” notices Tom, as many around us thrust their digit violently in the direction on most occasions towards the referee.
Food is on both our minds, having not had anything since breakfast, it might be a good idea to have something to soak up all the beer. Maybe the only downside of being able to buy it where you stand is that you end up having more than you usually would.
One fan in front of us has us interested when they appear with a mountain of chips smothered in mayo, another with a thick hockey puck of meat in a bread roll. Tom is not sure how confident he is with going on a food run, the language barrier makes him think he might not return with what he wants.
Perhaps my longing stares at other people’s food have been noticed, as well my manic note taking, but one inquisitive fan asks me I’m writing “a cookbook” and I can’t work out if it’s a well crafted German ‘fat joke’ or a genuine question.
“I think I found my dream job” says an enamoured Tom, who is seeing a Capo in action for the first time. He is now jumper-less, tattooed up to the nines, continuing his tireless work. “lor, lor, lor, lor” is his latest offering, “I think this one, is multilingual”.
“Torrrrrrrr”, RWE are level just before half time, a super half volley from the edge of the box. Although the home side have woken up since the goal, and look an altogether different outfit, its SG who have the last chance of the half.
“I could eat ten of these” says a returning mustered covered Tom. Sinking our teeth into the sausage in its out sized roll, a little bit of life floods back into our slightly sozzled veins, and by the time we have finished, half time has flown by. The Capo signals the start of the second half with a few sound effects from his megaphone.
I’m not sure if you have ever been doused in cold beer when it’s about -1 degrees, but that’s what happens not long into the new half, when the fans are so appalled by the referees decision, that it starts to rain beer, cup’s fly over our heads.
One person either has a bad throw or it’s a member of an anti blogging league who threw the firework, but one side of my face and jacket is now soaked with beer.
If I’m honest though I could not give a damn, I’m having far too much of a good time. Helped by the overwhelming smell of the Gluhwein, a heady mix of hot Ribena and Calpol the woman next to me is drinking, I’m getting through the ordeal.
The man with the megaphone, cups his ear, asking the crowd to channel all that anger into louder support.
“Torrrrrrrrrr”, 2 -1 the game has now done a full 180 and swung in the favour of RWE as they go ahead following a low shot from the edge of the box, that leaves the keeper rooted to the spot, queue more beer precipitation.
The Capo holds his scarf, and the rest of the crowd follow suit, he starts to whirl it around and they copy, creating an ample breeze that helps dry my booze soaked hair.
“Have you watched much of the game?” Tom asks me, and I have to admit the answer is “no”.
Ear splitting whistles and boos follow the referee’s decision to wave away what looked like a certain RWE penalty, he has deemed it simulation and gives SG a free-kick instead, such is one fans anger that he flicks his still lit cigarette past us and straight into the ear of a fellow supporter.
In the following on pitch melee a RWE player is sent off, but it’s not clear why, “that changes everything” says Tom, and although I don’t know exactly what the man behind me is saying, the amount of times he says “scheisse” I get the gist he is not happy.
Despite having the fewer players RWE are still in the game, and almost score a third, only for it to hit the post. I’m a little preoccupied by the now drying beer face pack I have on one side of my head, and the fact one slightly worse for wear home fan has nose dived down about three steps and is being peeled off the floor by his friends.
RWE are so close to pulling this much needed win off, only in the dying moments they give away a penalty, following their own two recent shouts for one. In front of the SG supporters the penalty is scored, and the players celebrate before them.
The final whistle comes not long after the equaliser, once again our eardrums are tested by the booing and cat calls from fans, as the last of the beers fly towards the pitch, some have climbed the fence in front of us and straddle the top, “it can’t be comfortable” suggests Tom.
They violently shake the tall poles that hold up the net to prevent anything going on the pitch.
The referee is forced to hide under a couple of umbrellas, like a Roman tortoise and is escorted off the pitch, such is the volume of debris coming his way. One fan despite the high fence has managed to get on the pitch, but is quickly collared by the stewards
We let the Westkurve empty, and take a quick detour to the front of the stand, before making the short walk back to the fan-base to rendezvous with Roland.
It takes some effort not to slip over on one of the countless mini bottles of Jagermeister that must fuel the non stop singing, and I have to stop myself taking a photograph of every sticker, that cover every available space.
Many may be the handy work of the young flag bearing fan who stood behind us, his flag constantly in motion above our heads. He seemed to have bottomless pockets, full of stickers of different designs, frequently peeling them from their backing, and sticking them wherever he could.
“I really like your place” says Tom to Roland in the now not so full fan-base, “it’s a shed” he replies. The lights have been dimmed, and there is room on one of the long tables for us to take a seat.
Behind us, like in many clubhouses the league table is on display post game, but this one is not being broadcast on a soul stealing sports channel, this is the black and green of teletext, occasionally ticking over to the second of two pages, powerless to do anything until it ticks back to the first.
Mathias one of the many helpful people here, his hair slicked into a serious looking quiff, and wearing a heavy duty leather jacket, joins us. My Spurs scarf has been quite the conversation starter, with them being drawn against BVB in the next round of the Europa League.
“You can tell your coach who the best players are” he says, and I’m secretly distraught my cover has been blown, and feverishly try to set my papers on fire under the table. Tom drifting off with all the Tottenham talk, is brought back in the room when we hear that Ozil was a youth player at RWE.
A huge thank you to Roland, Mathias and all the fans in the fan-base and stadium, even the one who chucked the beer on me, for making it an unforgettable night.
What a welcome, what an atmosphere, what a way to get our weekend underway.