Here’s a question for you. What’s wounded, has one Tusk and has come out of its corner fighting? The European Union. I’m being silly of course, but Saturday is a day of fun. So rather than talking about the UK locking horns/antlers/tusks with the EU I’m going to talk you through a real showdown: the Ruhr derby between FC Schalke 04 and Borussia Dortmund.
I’ve been to a few of these but this one is different. For ten years I lived in Dortmund and this is my team. Last year I moved to Herne, so now my local team is Schalke. I shall be in the visitors’ section of course. I told you yesterday in Us And Them about how much these two teams hate each other so it should be…interesting.
Here is the chronicle of my day. Exact times may vary according to the quantity of alcohol consumed.
08:35 I wake up and get dressed. As it is a special game I put on a special outfit: my supporters’ club pullover and some trousers. For normal games I would wear a kilt.
09:50 I walk to Herne train station. Herne is very much in love with the home team so I have reversed my pullover and hidden my scarf underneath it. I buy a bottle of beer at the Indian supermarket. I open it, sit on a bench and wait for my train.
In the UK a man sitting on a public bench drinking beer with his jumper inside out would be cause for alarm. In Germany this is perfectly acceptable. The dress code in Herne is always “casual” and drinking alcohol in public is legal. It’s even stylish if done in the right way. Richer men than I see it as a way of coming back to earth, reconnecting with oneself. It’s best to stop at one beer though. My train arrives.
10:14 The train ride to Gelsenkirchen takes eight minutes. I do not get off. Wild horses would not drag me off at Gomorrha Central without my friends. I am heading first of all for Essen, where I will meet The Chief.
11:20 I get off at a suburban station in Essen. The Chief lives on one of the estates which typify working class Germany: three-storey, two-to-a-storey rows of apartments. The streets are clean, the verges are green and football colours hang from the balconies. The Chief greets me and we drink beer in his living room with Winni, his brother-in-law, crammed in amongst the creature comforts and family mementos.
13:00 I’ve called him The Chief, but that’s not what he’s called in real life. But he always reminds me of Chief Vitalstatistix from the Asterix books. He’s the chief of our supporters’ club so it fits. Of our tribe, only three of us will be joining the 7,000-strong warband from Dortmund: tickets for these games are near impossible to get. The Chief’s wife drives us to the stadium. She does not have a ticket. Nor does she want one. She supports Essen’s team and does not understand what the fuss is about.
13:45 Ticket check. This is very important, especially at away games. Many years ago, we were away to Frankfurt. I got to the gate at the stadium and discovered that I did not have my ticket. My friends and I decided that it must have fallen out of my pocket while we were having a pee in the bushes by the car park. We walked back to the car park and my friends helped me search the urine soaked bushes. At about this time, I remembered that I had another pocket in my trousers, looked and, of course, there was the ticket. I dropped it on the ground and made an “oh look!” noise. Nobody must ever know the truth. Today, the ticket is there.
14:00 We enter the stadium. Security is tight but friendly. We are in the visitor’s section, walled off from the Gomorhans by plastic glass. The atmosphere is relaxed. There are three of us from our supporters’ club and the rest of the block is the same: twos and threes from every country town in the province. It’s a Westphalian Noah’s Ark. The beer flows, the jokes come in thick and fast. It’s my turn to buy a round. I come back into the block, my hands full of beer, holding the ticket in my mouth. “Spit it out —you’ll get herpes!” someone shouts. The idiots are conspicuous by their absence.
15:30 Kickoff. Always a nervous moment for the security team. In the past, fireworks have been thrown and rockets fired at the players. Not today.
There are two players you need to watch. For Dortmund, look out for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, a Gabonese forward with a go faster haircut and a Spiderman fixation. He’s lightning fast and has feet which fuse with the ball. For Schalke the target man is Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, a Dutch striker with a curly nose and too many teeth. He’s strong, fast, plays with his heart and can make a hole in a goal net from 35 yards. These guys typify the teams’ philosophies. To make it easier for you, the Flying Dutchman isn’t in the starting XI.
Spiderman strikes first and celebrates by pulling a superhero mask out from his shorts. He puts it over his head. His teammates kiss him. The Flying Dutchman’s deputy hits back twenty minutes later. The stadium erupts. With five minutes to go, the Flying Dutchman comes on as a substitute. His curly nose smells blood; Dortmund have their backs to the wall. Schalke push forward but it’s too late. 1-1 the final score. A moral victory for the visitors.
17:30 A labrynth of tunnels takes us out of the stadium and drops us at a safe distance from the Gomorrhans. A convoy of busses interspersed with police vans drives us through the steelworks, chemical plants and docklands of Gelsenkirchen. We pass through streets decked out in blue and white, the home team’s colours. Passers by in scarves throw abuse at us. Senior citizens on their balconies throw abuse at us. Mothers with pushchairs come out of their flats to throw abuse at us.
In the bus, we throw abuse at Schalke’s legendary midfielder Ebbe Sand. He’s an easy target because so many words rhyme with his name. “Who does Frau Merkel with his hand? Ebbe, Ebbe Sand…”
18:30 Gomorrha Central Station. Three thousand drunken Dortmunders are shown the way home by a heavy but good-humoured police presence. Winni needs to pee so we go to a kebab shop. Experience tells us that when he goes to the loo, he’ll strike up a conversation and tell someone his life story. The Chief and I order two beers. Each. The owner tells us about Gelsenkirchen. Too many immigrants, he says. He himself was born in Turkey.
19:20 “Sorry to bother you guys” says a policeman “but were you thinking of going home any time soon?” He is polite, friendly and has a point. We are the only three people wearing Dortmund’s black and yellow and there are around forty officers guarding us from the Gomorrhans. When we get on a train, they can go home. We oblige.
19:29 We get on the first train going anywhere. All plans are have gone out of the window by this time. As luck has it, the train stops in Herne. It is full of fans in blue and white. Jokes are exchanged, common values explained. It has been a moral victory for them too.
19:38 We arrive in Herne.
19:41 We are in the “Lange Theke”, Herne’s roughest pub. It’s the equivalent of the Saracen Head in Glasgow and we are wearing the equivalent of Rangers scarves. We wouldn’t be here if we were sober but the locals make us feel welcome. We order three beers and three apple brandies. When Winni goes to the toilet we order two more. Each.
The owner is Turkish. He explains why he intends to vote “yes” in Mr Erdogan’s referendum. “Small town way out east…these bastards in Istanbul and Ankara…listen to us!” My concentration is fading but the arguments sound familiar.
Winni comes back from the toilet, arm in arm with a Gomorrhan. We celebrate the new-found friendship with another round,
21:14 We are sitting on a bench at Herne station, drinking beer. Three wise men gazing at the stars in the calm night sky.
All quiet on the Western Front.