I looked politely into her eyes, smiling back, trying to hide my obvious disappointment.
There was I; this hastily attired, linguistically improving, Englishman doing his best to converse auf Deutsch. There was she; very familiar with the lingo, and apparently quite chuffed with the situation – both inside and out – not that “chuffed” has (that I’m aware of) a direct translation into German but you get the idea about the young Fräulein, behind the counter, in the gift shop.
The only one in this retail palace; the weight of both my camera bag and the reality of her answer, were bearing down. Claustrophobic in the moment, I was beginning to wish I didn’t understand yet, in her mind, she was sure we were getting on like a house on fire.
“Drei Paare sagen ja heute… hoffentlich.” she beamed excitedly.
Was she just pleased to actually have someone to converse with, or did she really believe her words? Hoffentlich? That’s not even cast iron… What’s great about uncertainty? Didn’t she know what I’d had to move to squeeze this jaunt in? Did she know how bad the traffic had been coming down through Düsseldorf zentrum? And finding parking in central Benrath? Hoffentlich… you mean – despite making this Pink Palace unavailable to us visitors – there’s a distinct possibility the happy couples might not go through with their “Ich tue”? My mind was awash with unanswered frustration…
“Wir öffnen wieder am 14.00…(she was still smiling). Wollen Sie einen Platz auf der Führung für so buchen? und sehen Sie das Museum, während Sie warten?”
Standing among the chinaware and bookmarks, I glanced at my watch. It wasn’t even midday. That’d be two hours in a baroquesqe museum, waiting to get inside the schloss itself… “Nein danke, aber der Garten is offnen ja?” she nodded, “Und gibt es ein toiletten?” she motioned towards the entrance to where I slunk off.
Sited between the Palace Pond (out front, on the roadside, with a fountain in the centre) and the Mirror Pond (to the rear but also central) one finds the picturesque Corps de Logis. Either side this main building is supported by some impressive servant quarters – the maisons de cavalière – which arc majestically beside the Palace Pond. These in turn, are flanked by matching gatehouses and sentry boxes. Within these two colour-coded wings one can now find the museum, a café and the shop I’d recently departed.
Inside “Chez Pigage” happy-day folk were signing registers with gay abandon. Outside many Benrath locals and geese and heron were soaking up the unusually warm Autumnal sun, as they went about their business beside the Mirror Pond. Naturally I pressed my nose to the window for a glance inside but mostly, for an hour at least, I strolled the grounds heron-like, endeavouring to get a feel for the design mindset of Nicolas de Pigage and a few good photos to boot (when the exercising deutsche mumsnet weren’t stretching en masse beside perambulators and/or brides and their new spouses weren’t placed deliberately in MY shot).
Immediately either side of the house, the “private gardens” of Carl and Elizabeth had once offered the Elector couple space to talk about football and shopping respectively. Now they afforded the public an arena to do likewise.
Sitting gloriously behind the Corps de Logis, The Mirror Pond hosted mischievous geese, determined to play havoc with any clean reflection each time I peered through the viewfinder. To the west, symmetrically planned Hunting Star landscape garden offers all a wonderful public space for endless rambling of both kinds. To the east; the Orangery, French and Kitchen gardens present some finery, and deliberate tree planting and water features punctuated throughout the already packed attraction.
With a week to go to the Kreispokal Runde 1; I’d gleaned bugger all about the palace interior – no doubt all gilded paintings, pillows and porcelain – however my Benrath time and senses had been filled to bursting. Had I made the most of my one possible palace visit prior to the next round of the cup? I hoped so but I’d no idea. I had some nice snaps mind and a boost of vitamin D, and with that – making a mental note to bring the in-laws back (brownie points… check) – I headed off to collect the children from school.
The last time I’d caved a path back from Benrath; settling in my wake, four targets had been hewn for this, my Runde 1 return. (No, I’ve no idea if it’s a “Proper” round or not). Baroque beauty as good as ticked off, my mind raced through the possibilities of the final three as I drove into the Am Wald car park.
Save the stunning sunset over Oberkassel as I sat stationary in Düsseldorf’s finest – pre-tunnel traffic jam – the drive down had been much the same as before. Speed towards town, be appalled at the Dalmatian fashion house, wait for trams to pass along Kaiserswerther Strasse, stop at the river, wonder at the sheep grazing on the banks across the Rhein, watch the satnav flash up warnings of my route ahead, turn the corner and stop, then start-stop-start-stop ad infinitum the mile or so – past the lively Altstadt – to the tunnel in which I once manage to get two speeding tickets in a single hour (don’t ask).
Assured of relative freedom by the doomed-laden satnav, I pulled away from the Rheinturm and set my sights on the A46, before stupidly taking the wrong turning into Munchener Strasse (which has all the appearance and speed limits of the A46, but isn’t). As it turned out it differed in predicted traffic issues; so much so that if I hadn’t taken two more wrong turns, stopped for fuel, and admired the mindboggling “VETS DELI” graffiti, my journey time would have been halved.
Now there, my targets were simple; try not to be swayed by an away team wearing yellow, consume some pig-based nosh washed down with a small beer, snoop round the building site with my camera, and source two unique merchandise titbits to cover the two opening rounds.
Back in the small clubhouse once more – suitably dressed for the impending cold – everything was as it should be. Punctuated by private yet raucous laughter, the “club officials” huddled at the lone high table deep in conversation. By the entrance, another local with de rigeur tash’n’mullet studied a copy of Kicker over a steaming hot coffee, and nestled in the corner, behind the counter, surrounded by a waft of cooking odour, was the same smiling lady, ready to once again service my dietry requests.
Queuing in an orderly fashion, my gaze tracked the scent to the pan below; a relative schwein cornucopia. Momentarily I wondered whether my last round musings had been taken into account. Without dwelling for too long; essen mit brot und senf (natürlich) were easily acquired using just small change, whilst a smile and pigeon Deutsch were exchanged for the loan of a fork. Then, clutching my booty, I reitred to the safety of the far corner, to gorge alone, just as the heated high-table conversation reached a crescendo behind me. “WER IST DER KLUB?”
Who indeed. Reseved purely for a Liverpool of new, said highbrow debate skirted round Ancelotti, Lewandowski, Suarez and Klopp’s sanity before palliation took hold with their next slug of beer, by when I was outside again, sated, having gathered my thoughts and offered both gratitude and fork to the chef.
Above the sky was stunning but the ever decreasing temperature here below was as cold as the fenced off building works. No doubt the improvements to the sports facilities were going on apace nonetheless, any chance of actually accessing it was sadly confined to peering through stickered windows and a limited access to one new entrance way.
First team warm-ups I’d seen before and the youth players were finishing off – also familiar – coached routines. With this in mind, I went looking for the other departments of this expanisve sport club. The website, which incidentally was in far ruder health for this visit, hinted at tennis and I could see there was once a cinder running track. Even if one was hidden and the other no longer used as such, I was still searching them both out before kick off. Some moments later, I resurfaced.
I’m not sure one wants to be a stranger – watched by parents, emerging from the bushes, by youth team’s training sessions, all camera in hand – however having found the way to the tennis courts completely cut off, that’s precisely what I did… somewhat awkwardly.
Looking from the turnstiles, the satellite view clearly showed numerous clay courts at the far side of the football pitches but, access via an open gate and path through the trees led only to their fences. Whilst the balls of shit players (like me) couldn’t find a way out of such constructions, now trying to for a gate, a way in I could not find either. Being clearly inside the compound the athletics was thankfully much easier to access, though behind the modest stand, a blue and white sign reading “TURNERBUND HASSELS 1925” clouded this track’s connection with the red and white football club, SG Benrath-Hassels 1910.
Still; its all names, numbers and mysterious ancestry with most German sports clubs, and tonight’s pair were no different. Covered last round, Benrath-Hassels had seemed straight forward, but Homberg…
Not to be confused with the yellow and black clad VfB Homberg (from the ancient Homberg quarter to east of Duisburg), the identically yellow and black clad TuS Homberg come from the village of Homberg a little further south of the former; thirty minutes by car to be precise.
Occupying the epicentre betwixt Wuppertal, Velbert and Düsseldorf. Homberg lies on the outskirts of Ratingen. First documented in 1067, Homberg is now said to have the very unGerman bar per capita ratio of 1:1000 but does sit along the beautiful Ratingen-Wuelfrath hiking and cycling path. If their website is to be believed, Homberg’s sports club – TuS Homberg 1912 – is host to far too many sports to list here but I doubt the village could want for more.
Though both 8th level, Kreisliga A, sides; going into tonight’s game TuS Homberg sat twelfth, with the second worst goal-difference in Gruppe 1. Benrath conversely had been improving consistently since their last round win, and occupied fifth place in Gruppe 2, with twice the points of Homberg from the same number of games. Ten minutes into the cup tie, the tidy win this all too predictably pointed to, seemed to have transported itself to a parallel universe.
After the ref’s pep-talk, coin toss and – without any sun/shade/wind/fan-base factors to contemplate – strangely changing ends; lengthy yet impassioned huddles were neatly rounded off by determined yells of what sounded like “BASTARS!!!” (you can imagine what I thought) and “HOMBUR!”.
In an almost mirror image of the previous round, kick-off was naturally late and Benrath looked decidedly shaky. By the time they’d woken up, they were a goal down.
In the opening seconds – and sadly not for the last time during the evening – Benrath’s Necati Ergül was illuminating the injustices of the world at a rather dreadful level but, the ref waved both them and the Homberg attack away. Ergül’s perceived offender swiftly put the ball down the right to Matthäus Patrick Michalschyk (probably best call him Matt), who stepped over it in full stride and hit it first time into the box, where Oualid Amezigar theatrically swept the ball home as Ergül theatrically stepped up his complaints.
Homberg soon threatened to double this with a neat corner but, it came to nothing when play was halted for a mediocre foul in the area and minutes later, Marco Pereira Kränzle sprinted clear with only the home keeper to beat. Proving that someone in the Benrath side was actually awake, Dennis Boateng stepped in with a sublime game-saving tackle to prevent Homberg making it deservedly two.
As I was mulling over the threat of Homberg front line, whose pacey Matt & Oualid seemed on a mission to destroy any resolve in Benrath’s defence – somewhere in the pandemonium that was midfield – cries of “SCHNELLER” were shrieking out from the red shirted ones.
Faster?!?!?! Surely that’s the opposite of what you need in a frantic end-to-end encounter. Still for the neutrals (probably only me at that juncture) it was fascinating.
As the ball swept long from midfield, visiting keeper Maximilian Schwartz, brillinatly tipped the ball over. The resulting corner was headed over. Through on goal, Benrath’s Kingsley Onomah Annointing was ajudged offside by the referee. It should be noted that at this level in Germany, there are no linesmen – to use their former, more apt title – instead a member of each bench stands, flag in hand, by the centre line and ONLY signals when the ball has gone out. Benrath’s keeper, Dirk Nöhring, stepped in first when Matt & Oualid were on the break again, before – from a corner – his team mate Melton Serville headed a potential equaliser wide when unmarked in the box.
With twenty minutes gone – once I’d moved on from approving of the presence of both dreadlocks and “little people” at tonight’s match – during a minor lull, it was time to tot up the attendance. …Twenty. Lower than the qualification round but still in with a chance of avoiding the lowest of my four year journey.
By the twenty-first minute, we were back out of the momentary lull. Benrath were still leaving gaps in midfield and their defending was at best idiosyncratic. The reslut was Homberg having three rapid-fire opportunities… shots – saved, blocked and missed – with the near linesman exasperating at his side’s wasted chances. Whilst Ergül was still shotuing at anyone who’d listen, Matt & Oualid were still leaving all in their wake and Benrath’s captain Eugen Filtschenko was demonstrating he clearly had a responsible yet wiley head on his shoulders. Those subtle nudges off the ball…
Joel Ketzer then fouled Ergül, leaving both temporarily hurt but fear not, Ergül naturally managed to get up and yell at his offender first and last. Whilst he was occupied in heated debate, his team mate, Patrick Trautner shot wide from twenty yards. Ergül then too had a crack but his effort was defeflected wide for a corner. This afforded Marvin Merken to also have a shot deflected over, whilst the second corner was headed over. The near linesman was by now raging of his teammates’ defending; Ergül instead was complaining that he hadn’t been allowed to head the ball goalwards for the final effort, not that either made any difference…
On the half hour, it was third corner time lucky for Benrath. Schwartz saved the initial shot well but, his defence failed to mark Roland Motak, who powerfully headed home. The tide had turned; their keeper was still not taking his own goal-kicks but Benrath had woken up.
In the run-up to halftime, the action continued apace. Ergül put Motak through, only for team mates to fail to reach the fierce low drive that Motak drove through the box. Matt & Oualid swept upfield again, drew a foul and Marco Pereira Kränzle drove the free-kick narrowly wide. A second Homberg free-kick, taken by Gültekin Basak, forced another corner, and then excellent work by the yellows captain, Björn Schulte did the same. As Schulte himself headed the latter over, none of this apparent advantage had paid dividends. Filtschenko soon brought down his marker Matthäus Michalschyk – strangely not rewarded with a card – and the resultant play allowed shouty Ergül to put Benrath ahead right on the whistle, not that I was aware of this…
Having dashed to beat the rush (yes twenty people in that small club house would seem that way) I was busy purchasing coffee and souvenirs from the tidy cabinet by the door. With a requirement never to repeat souvenir purchases from every round throughout the journey – to cover my first visit – I purchased a SG club scarf. This would I calculated remove any chance of buying a loathsome half’n’half at one of the prestige games down the line. Neglecting the obvious charms – and my wife’s wrath – of a new football mug, my second purchase was a lanyard for the work keys I no longer need. Clearly there are going to be some more useless items acquired along the way. With a piping hot coffee, served in china, all in, I’m pleased to report an outlay (and keep the change) of just €14.
Welcoming halftime service over, Benrath again joined me out on the pitch early. The visitors were again late. As with the last round, was this an omen?
Back in a huddle – when Trautner had stopped chatting with friends on the byline – probably more for warmth, final “winning ways” words were heard as the yellows trickled out and into position. Clearly offside hadn’t been brought up in this new game plan, as the Benrath three-on-one break was brought to an abrupt halt. Ergül bemoaned their luck whilst Annointing was then booked for a crude foul on Ketzer. Ergül soon teed up Trautner who shot over, and Filtzenko was carded for a foul on Matt. This free-kick was swept into the box, Nöring punched clear and a follow up shot was blocked by a defensive hand on the edge of his box.
Petulant arguing ensued, before Matt calmly strode up, and curled the deadball low round the wall and into the bottom corner off the post. All square again, the game then up a gear to defcon chaos.
Matt went in the book first. Homberg sub, Tim Duklau-Laure should have joined him soon after with an awful challenge on 6ft plus Serville whose legs were only protected by shinpads the size of small margarine lids. There was time-wasting and complaining (yes Ergül was in the thick of it), roughing up, and fast, unhindered, playground-esque ball chasing. It was marvellous; a proper cup tie.
Annointing chipped just wide, Duklau-Laure screamed at the ref and Schwartz pulled off another great save from Ergül. Sizing up the corner, Ergül whispered something to the taker Trautner before wandering back into the box. The ball was floated over a crowded six-yard box where – in a move that time forgot – Nat Ergül Lofthouse sent everyone flying with a heavy should challenge. As tonight’s ref missed the deliberate exchange, it was probably fair that the ball fell wide of the post too.
Trautner’s next corner hit the side-netting. Up the other end, Matt won a free kick in a good position, Benrath sub Sascha Hofrath went into the book giving away a second free-kick, Ketzer drew a fine save from Nöring, Nöring is then forced to punch clear under a challenge, and following more substitutions Benrath, with now four up front, started piling on the pressure to avoid extra time.
Though the only chance of the remaining minutes fell to Ergül who mis-kicked before an open goal, the tension moved up another notch when first the referee wrongly ruled Homberg offside when Oualid was skipping clear, and then Matt’s bullet-like clearance winded an opponent off the pitch, who then rolled on to it for treatment.
Trautner fired wide, Matt and Pascal Josten tangled in the middle, Dulau-Laure crossed over, Ketzer was booked for dissention, kicking the ball away and claiming he couldn’t hear the referee in this empty and silent caldron… and then as Homberg had much earlier, Benrath wasted a few chances before the action was brought to a halt again.
It was dark but it no longer seemed cold. Maybe the excitement on the field was responsible but, not one of the now 23 spectators made for the clubhouse. The players – demonstrating they were just as keen to continue or get it over with – swiftly turned round and kicked-off again.
There were two evenly matched eager but tiring teams, with some very hoarse voices, but no subs left to use. The game could still go either way; this was now sudden-death in open play. In amongst the melee that somewhat predictably ensued, four incidences settled the encounter whilst my perfect-timing mother incredibly called “for a chat”.
Phone call over – politely but quickly – Matt missed a sitter before Hofrath, up the other end, went down far to easily. Miraculously recovered done he promptly put the free-kick in from 25yds. This lead to numerous incidences of time-wasting and Ergül on the floor again, having been playing for free-kicks and cards. Down in my pocket my phone was buzzing non-stop.
Reports of a ladybird invasion at home hadn’t quite made the national media yet but, the subsequent barrage of game-changing texts meant I missed both the cause and players involved, that would reduce Homberg to ten men. Normally I’d have felt for them but I felt more for me having missed it all and ladybirds who were no doubt being persecuted by my family. Tuning back in, I did at least catch the goalmouth scrambles that prevented Homberg levelling again before the final interval.
The last fifteen minutes saw Benrath rely on sub Jeff Jordan to truly stretch the game. Though his close control wasn’t too adept, clearly a school sprinter in the past, Jordan chased every long ball with tiring defenders trailing in his wake. somewhat unsurprisingly, most of his consequent passes went astray, however it wasn’t long before one cross found its mark.
Five minutes into the final period, with ten minutes left on the clock, Homberg’s heads dropped as Hofrath smashed a low drive past a desperate Schwartz. From thereon in, it was all Benrath; the visitors just couldn’t find a way back into the game.
No matter how I’d felt of their Qualification Round victory, or coming back to a ground for a second time, tonight’s had at least been a Proper cup tie and Benrath had – despite the odd bit of shouting – wholeheartedly deserved their victory. Six goals, souvenirs and decent food; the journey was hotting up. Back in the car, my night just got better.
Having established Benrath would be away in the next round (NEW GROUND!!!) everything was heightened further by the realisation that their new opponents would be Oberbilk. As the Asterix-Acker Bilk connotations childishly swept through my mind, it dawned on me that my journey could also stretch on a year longer. Did it matter that I hadn’t finished the first cup of my intended trilogy? Did it matter I’d not yet thought of a fool-proof way to negotiate a 2018 DFB Pokal Final ticket? Did it matter that this following-the-winner thing could now drag me further afield than Deutschland? Did it heck. I was going to the 2019 Europa League Final.
This left me with just one question; does the European Super Cup still exist?
Full Time: SG Benrath-Hassels 4-2 TuS Homberg
Wurst Product (Frikadellen, Senf und half a slice of white brot neatly cut into triangles) €1.50, Bier (Bitburger stubby) €1.20
South of Düsseldorf and all its unique Altstadt charms – sandwiched between the satellite town of Hilden (to the east) and the magnificent river Rhein (west) – is the leafy suburb of Benrath. Though swallowed into the Düsseldorf Massive by some efficient town planners in August 1929, the district first appeared in the annals of Köln in the thirteenth century. The “Knights of Benrode” were first to inhabit the area before a confusingly lengthy tale took hold; of Castles and Counts, of Berg and Benrath and de Royde…
Once the medieval dust settled; the railway line adjoining Düsseldorf and its southerly neighbour Köln brought the Industrial Revolution to town. In doing so, it dragged with it the kindly folk of Benrath; placing them safely into the arms of the functional structures of a modern world. Thankfully, the stunning opulence of Benrath’s Baroque Schloß and its manicured grounds remained relatively untouched, throughout both this grubby era and the troubles of the twentieth century.
Driving into the east end of town – disappointingly late due to “big city” traffic – I’d no time time to take in the Karl Theodor’s former residence or it’s carefully maintained flora (but naturally I swept past and grabbed a poor drive-by photo). I’d also arrived too late for the open air concerts therein and, far too early for October’s Candle-lit procession for the Black Madonna. Still, when all else is lost in Deutschland, there’s always trappings of town planning and automobiles to admire, and there is always live sport… and bier, and wurst quite naturally.
Ignoring such dietry staples; amongst Benrath’s notable sporting accomplishments, two clubs and one man take the footballing accolades.
Local boy Karl Hohmann, turned out for his country twenty-six times over a eight year period in the 1930s, scoring a not-to-be-sneezed-at twenty goals. Whilst the child in me wants to provoke reaction by pointing out the clear superiority of Hohmann’s goal-to-game ratio (0.77) – when compared to Klose, Klinsmann, Rummenigge et al – most notably he scored on his debut away to Denmark. He also bagged his final goal of this haul, in his final game for Die Mannschaft, away to Latvia. Naturally he sits behind the legendary poacher Gerd Müller – who doesn’t? – but in the 1934 World Cup, Hohmann scored both in Germany’s 2-1 Quarter-Final win, over Sweden at the San Siro. Germany eventually finished third.
Though born in Düsseldorf, Hohmann began his career at Verein für Leibesübungen Benrath 1906 e.V. (or “Club for Physical Education” as us Anglo-Saxons might say). The most successful of the town’s clubs, VfL Benrath has celebrated claim to fame of having been one of only 63 sides to play in the original 1935 Tschammerpokal 1st Round; the first ever German national football cup competition. Winning 5-0 away to Union Recklinghausen, they subsequently knocked out Eimsbütteler TV 5-3 and VfR Mannheim 3-2, before being eliminated by Schalke in the Quarter Finals.
Now playing in the sixth level of German football – Landesliga Niederrhein – VfL receive a bye to the 1st Round of this years Kreispokal Düsseldorf. Their neighbours – Sport Gemeinschaft Benrath-Hassels 1910/12 e.V. – being two divisions lower in the Kreisliga A, aren’t so fortunate. With greater parity; these neighbours’ home towns have both suffered from historical hassles (see what I did there?).
Whilst Benrath had gobbled up the Knights of Eller’s homestead decades earlier – in an “there’s always a bigger fish” food chain type thing – along with Benrath, that even smaller district of Hassels was swallowed by its big city neighbour in 1929. Though it’s hard to believe when there, now “Düsseldorf” is as far as the eye can see. On a brighter note, being more connected than Kevin Bacon, Hassles is – I’ve calculated – only five degrees of separation from the fall of the Soviet Union….
Hassels was originally named Hassleholt, which is old German for hazelnut. This thus makes The Hoff, the “hazel” that brought “hope” to both beach babes and music. In an act of sheer wizardry, David’s musical lilt was adored by a speaking car and the Germans. The pinnacle of his fist-pumping performances in Der Vaterland, found him standing atop the Berlin Wall. That leather-clad machismo balladry – though omitted from the Checkpoint Charlie Museum – undoubtedly flustered Günter Schabowski into his “SOFORT” declaration, no? I’ll press on…
Founded in 1910, SG Benrath-Hassels sits about 10 miles south of the site of the old Rheinstadion; the site of both first finals, the 1935 Tschammerpokal and the 1953 DFB Pokal. As German sports clubs go; SG is quite small – offering just football and tennis – though upon arrival it was evident this club has far bigger ambitions.
On Google earth the impression given is of a ramshackle set-up; a cinder pitch and running track with blurred boundaries, beside it another artifical pitch, and a small training surface. Beyond them in the trees are a number of clay courts, in the shadow of the A59. Rather than being “pre-planned”, it seems to have evolved into its space.
Pulling up in the more than ample car park at the “Am Wald” roadside – as visiting players alighted cars carrying kit and those physios lunch boxes– a sparse treeline did enough the mask out the cinder pitch whilst, at the northerly end of the dead-end street, an empty turnstile was beckoning me in.
With free entry confirmed; as I walked round the first block of changing rooms, straight ahead the large oval cinder was home to youth coaching, with parents watching from near side steps. To our right, a bar heaved with refreshment takers who, true to form over-flowed into the outside smoking area. I couldn’t make out the the tennis courts from my vantage point but, over on the astroturf, tonights big-hitters were being put through their paces. Beside them, child protégés on the small pitch were drawing an even bigger crowd. Between me and them, were numerous colour-coded club officials and an impressive construction site.
The sun was still out but, any warmth it was emitting was surely going to fade fast. I entered the small clubhouse – past the merchandise cabinet – to find centrepieces on tables and, hot and cold beverages being amiably served in china. I glanced worriedly about. NO SAUSAGES!?!?!? What was place… an aspiring health resort???
Shaken to the core, by this most unGerman of faux pas, I downed my strong black coffee and headed swiftly back outside. Past the colour-coded team officials, the pitch seemed miles away; alongside the construction site, round the running track, past neatly stacked building materials and off to the main arena I trudged, trying desperately catch a glimpse inside the new build as I rethought my dinner plans.
In the corner, beside the ever emerging new sportshall, parents beamed with pride at their offspring. Bale, pink Madrid shirt aside, I was equally overjoyed to find that there wasn’t a single reference to the premier league – past or present – on display.
Tonight’s Kreispokal pitch was a patched astroturf one of the Loftus Road circa 1981 variety. It had a plush aluminium fencing surrounding it. Three gates afforded entrance to the hallowed turf; one at either end big enough for tractors and/or ambulances, the final one stood beside the dugouts, which were – it was noted – facing directly into the setting sun. Three sides of the pitch catered for standing patrons, with the odd backless bench for the elderly. Slightly behind, and in between, the polycarbonate dugouts, were two rows of orange seats.
Actually there was one row, broken in two. Raised on a single step, each contained twelve seats, though only seven in total were numbered. Standing facing them; to my right I could see numbers 16 and 12, to my left 10, 11, 16, another 10 and third 16 for good measure. If that wasn’t liable to create enough problems – due to the height of the advertising boards and the dugouts, any patrons of said seats were likely to miss parts of the game. They were however found to be both ergonomic and comfortable as I studied the teams’ form on my phone (no programme).
With both tonight’s teams hailing from the Kreisliga A Group 2, comparing starts to the season was relatively easy. In a fourteen team division, the hosts SG Benrath-Hassels on four points, were sitting just above the possible five relegation places. FC Büderich – disappointingly, not to be confused with the legendary jazz drummer – were top, on maximum points with a whopping goal difference of 15.
Having waved at the sparse crowd, tossed, changed ends so that SG suffered more from low sunlight hassles (this joke could run and run) huddled up, HOO-HAR’d and finally kicked off; the first forty-five went completely true to league form.
No public announcement explained the (20 minute) late kick-off but, thankfully we still had ten minutes to spare before the next tournament match began; this one was still the very first game of the 2016 Düsseldorf Kreispokal. A critical fact in my journey and, thankfully the only time this issue will come into play. Both sides appeared to adopt regulation four-four-two but once Büderich got their foot on the ball, swift passing movements were interspersed with an almost totally fluid formation. Two at the back, no three, now four… Trying to calculate whether it was planned or not, just five minutes in, my concentration was suddenly broken. “Wie Steht?” I knew the words were familiar, sadly the speed of processing is not what it once was, in this or any language. By the time I got the “null-null” answer out, he’d already walked off.
Back in the action, Büderich’s confidence seemed sky-high in comparison to the hosts. Yes, Sascha Hofrath drove the ball narrowly over from a tight angle but, he and his team mates were being confined to hopeful breaks, whilst the visitors patiently built attacks through the dogged Benrath defence.
Thimo Stoffers was first to breach the rearguard with a deft through ball to Julian Goroncy, whose cross from wide right brought a great save from keeper Dirk Nöring once Kevin Völler Adducci had powered his header goalwards. Ten minutes later Völler Adducci scuffed his shot wide of the left post when time was easily on his side. Five minutes on, home captain Eugen Filtschenko went from zero to hero as confusion reigned in his box.
Beginning with an innocuous punt upfield, Filtschenko poorly headed back to his keeper – probably with his eyes closed – affording a shot on goal which Nöring valiantly parried. Andre Küster’s backpass then came too early and with Nöring still off balance the ball drifted through his legs, heading straight for the net. As Filtschenko desperately scooped the ball off the line the relief was palpable but, it was clear a goal was coming.
Seconds later, Denis Hauswald split the defence and Jan Niklas Kühling tapped the ball in. Putting the visitors 1-0 up, was both tragically easy and utterly deserved. In the remaining twenty minutes to the interval, Benrath-Hassels created only one opening – with Küster going close – Büderich conversely had many. The pick of these saw Völler Adducci drag a shot wide, having done all the hard work of finding space from a Goroncy throw, and a Kühling shot across an open goal that team mates were unable to reach.
As we trudged off to the warmth, I wondered how the hell we’d get there and back in just 15 minutes, it was so far. Still the coffee was as strong as advertised and I had a cabinet full of merchandise to peruse, whilst adding layers for the impending cold and speculating why my coat pocket was full of dog treats.
As the second period began, two changes and the late arrival of the guests heralded a new game plan. For the visitors wide man Stoffers had been replaced by Christian Ecken and more importantly, the hosts removed nippy striker Mohammed El Abduli for the far more imposing Jeff Jordan.
As Hofrath curled in an equaliser, from a free-kick just outside the box, I knew the outcome was no longer certain. Soon Büderich stuck a post after two corners were frantically cleared before, a concoction of hefty challenges and cards were introduced as both sides wrestled for control. In fairness – considering there was only a lone referee and respective coaches manning the lines – all the players accepted the decisions without much disagreement. I on the other hand, was far less composed as I was asked , for a second time, what the score was by another late arrival.
As the young boy she was with sniggered (probably rightly) at my stupidity, I turned back to the match just in time to see Völler Adducci head the visitors in front, after Nöring spilled an awkwardly bouncing shot. It wasn’t offside, nor was there any contact between the players but, the ref still blew for something, awarded a free-kick and the protests soon died down.
Up the other end, Hofrath sent a free-kick just over, and Patrick Truatner fired across the goal, as the play began to stretch further, bypassing both midfields.
By the time I’d realised Nöring wasn’t actually taking any of his goal-kicks – Filtschenko was – there were just ten minutes remaining. The thought of extra time and penalties was, with the temperature dropping still and the hot coffee so far away, quite unbearable. To be fair both sides were doing their bit to avoid such consternations however, still I fretted.
For the guests, Hauswald was putting in some useful corners, Völler Adducci headed just over, and both Benedict Niesen and Ecken had fine efforts blocked as they fought for space in a crowded box. Despite no one player thereafter looking at all composed, suddenly Benrath-Hassels showed renewed belief whilst the guests endeavoured to end the game quickly.
After Kühling forced a corner, which was headed onto the Benrath post, then the shot from the rebound saved, centre-back Bastian Alexander Fröhlich missed a tackle in midfield which would have kept the pressure on the hosts. The ball swept upfield to where both Jordan and Hofrath had been making a nuisance of themselves all half, without either finding the target. This time however Trautner was in support and rifled home from a tight angle.
Two minutes on, the omens got far worse for Büderich. If being behind wasn’t bad enough, their dominant defender Oliver Wersig picked a second yellow for stupidly pulling on his opponent’s shirt to prevent another dangerous break. Whistle or not, it was game over; we all knew it. As fans drifted for the warmth, time-wasting and desperation changed little. Manoeuvring myself for a quick exit, I was transported back to Leg O’Mutton Field and Chalky Lane; those early trips in my 2012 FA Cup. Deep down, I knew my journey had truly begun.
Soon after, as I followed the youth coach with a very squeaky shoe into the carpark my mind moved to the future rounds. Over the next 1000 days, there are still another eighteen games to go, all of which would be settled without replays. Whilst I knew I’d be back at Am Wald in Round 1 – to face either SV Hilden-Ost or TuS Homberg – nothing else was certain.
Maybe next time I’d get to see the KT’s stunning pink palace? Maybe I’d select something to truly dismay my wife from the merchandise cabinet? Would SG Benrath’s website be finished in time? Could they hassle their new opponent enough to win again? Or maybe next time it would be Küster’s last stand? (I’d get my coat for that, if it wasn’t already on)
I’d no answer to any of my questions but, against the odds and the form guide, the hosts had tonight done their club proud and their motto seemed quite apt. “Respekt und Resultate – ein team, ein ziel – wir sind die SG“
A lackadaisical commentary on the capitulation of the Beautiful game. This site contains actual letters I have written and posted to people within the footballing family. My congratulations, my sarcasm, my annoyances and my views about the beautiful game. Any responses will be published . Add to your favourites and come back soon!