Regionalliga West (Level 4)
Rot-Weiss Essen v Sportfreunde Siegen
Saturday, 24th May 2014, 2pm
Entrance €8, Programme €free
Distance 364 miles, Attendance 6792
What’s in it? I asked the steward, as he served the trolley contents to his somewhat bleary-eyed audience. “Its beef!” he replied both courteously and confidently, though clearly not wanting to pay such trivialities any further heed; this was Row 14 and he had after all only “4 vegetarian rolls left”.
Trying not to question his authority (lovely wife has asked me to work on this as we’re off to the US soon and “you know they have guns”) nor ascertain why British Airways have begun assuming “beef” is a suitable breakfast ingredient, I thanked him and placed the select package on the fold down table, before giving it the once over.
“BACON, SOFT CHEESE + TOMATO” read the rather unimaginative blue typeface. Looking about, I pondered the extent to which Islamic or Hebrew laws were currently being broken by masticating passengers. With the trolley and steward now blocking the aisle somewhere behind my agitated pedantic mind – even though the meat was my least selfish concern – I tripped through the many other faults I could’ve found with this dish. The tomato was not just “tomato” but sundried, the “cheese” a poorly-spread, tasteless lump of something resembling Philadelphia, and the “roll” was quite obviously a CROISSANT. Forget the trade descriptions act, it was just plane awful.
Though this really wasn’t my usual T5/BA experience, I actually bore the steward no malice despite his error; he was at least trying and, unquestionably polite throughout and, was admirably unfazed clearing the child-puke from one nearby seat (probably from having eaten a dodgy breakfast roll). Most thankfully he also wasn’t the abrupt lady who had earlier refused me any assistance at her “Check In Assistance” desk (she who instead saw fit to take those queuing at the distant “Bag Drop” desk who, unlike me, wanted to drop bags rather than be assisted).
In my wife’s eyes – and many others I’m sure – such trivialities would sow only minor internal commotion; I however had begun to question the pattern already emerging on this “Last Weekend in Niederrhein” (see what I did there Lloyd Cole?).
Grabbing my coat… two hours later – having checked-in our hotel – (the far more placid) Jeremy and I strode purposefully towards the skytrain. Our agenda: find Essen’s Kennedyplatz, meet Christian – the most helpful groundhopping guide ever – catch bus to the city’s North East quarter, pass under the rail bridge and, get a round in at the wonderful Hafenstübchen hole in the wall bar.
Standing amongst the pre-match red half of the city, we were introduced to our guide’s friends, colleagues and acquaintances. They bought us beer, toasted our effort in getting to their game and, promptly took our bottle tops (Stauder lids with writing on the inside are in big demand; about 160 will secure a free t-shirt). Drinks done, we turned the corner and our attention to the game, to be greeted by the scene of a pristine new stadium and all its four-sided qualities; Stadion Essen is an impressive sight.
Of the city’s two prominent clubs, RWE now enjoys far greater support and higher league status, though unlike the Schwarz-Weiss, Die Roten are located in a less wealthy part of town and draw support from mainly working class environs.
Before we could make the most of the appropriately low behind-the-goal, stehplatz, entrance fee, one of Christian’s friends, Georg, wanted to show us the statue of Georg-Melches (not the same Georg), just inside the new main entrance.
Named after the revered former chairman, the reds former home “Georg-Melches Stadion” once stood on the site of the new car-park we’d just crossed. It’s existence is now immortalised in this statue, some prominent “FUER IMMER GMS” graffiti, a truly impressive solitary remaining floodlight and in the hearts of the faithful. Small reminders but poignant enough to herald the glory days of cup and league wins and, European Cup clashes against the then Scottish champions Hibernian.
As one home was falling down and the newer being built on an over-lapping site (best explained by this image), the original plan was for the final & first game to be played, one half in each stadium – with the ball ceremoniously kicked over during the interval – but sadly for fans and groundhoppers alike, this never came to pass.
As we stood admiring the bronze bust, an ordinary yet affable man approached clad in two fine scarves. One was that of “his” club, the other the yellow red and black of a local wheelchair basketball team who as guests at today’s game had presented him with the scarf. Now busy Executive Chairman Dr. Michael Welling was stood in the entrance amiably greeting all and sundry, whilst jovially recounting for us anecdotes of automobile issues and the benefits of not standing out from the crowd. Having wished us well, thirty minutes later Michael was out on the pitch – just as affably announcing players of note – as we watched on from the centre of the terrace.
As the last of the applause died down a gigantic freeze unfurled, as huge banners formed a three dimensional display acknowledging the industrial nature of the region. Triumphant singing broke out from behind it, and all about us. The off-pitch activity was so busily choreographed, it’s hard to recount exact details but, as the banners came down again, it fell silent. Suddenly a huge foil display covered our entire stand, from bottom to top, whilst underneath it fans were furiously setting up the third act. Almost as quickly as it appeared, the foil sheeting flew back to the front of the stehplatz revealing a huge RWE badge. The players entered the arena, there was more singing, then huge badge broke in two, expanded across the terrace and came to rest showing two huge badges with “ULTRAS” written in between. And then without warning, like Keyser Söze it was gone. The team acknowledged the fans efforts before looking purposeful about their own performance (you know that sprint ten paces, leap high and head an imaginary ball kind-of-stuff).
Sadly, ninety minutes later it was pretty clear there would be no parallels. Whilst the fans had put on an incredible display from the stands – my favourite chant being the ROT…WEISS…ESSEN bellowed round the three home stands – the players of both teams put in a very typical end-of-season-nothing-to-play-for session.
Though the game began with an early flurry of activity, and a disallowed goal for Essen, before long it had developed an underlying apathy which seemed at best immovable. With little to occupy me, my attention began to drift to those about me. How many kutte jackets would I see? Would others be pleased if the players’ lack of interest extended to them avoiding feigning injury today? Why would anyone build a stadium without “proper” floodlights? And why, oh why, did the chap in front have a Bash Street Kids haircut?
Incredibly, the lack of goal mouth action had no impact on the supporters. Whilst in England some fan disaffection might have been displayed, here they just sung throughout. Daniel Grebe had a long range effort go wide for the visitors, as did team mate Sascha Eichmeier’s cross. In return Lucas Arenz went twice missed the target for RWE. For me, going in blank at half time, it was hard to imagine anything changing and I let Christian know this. In return he offered a much more entertaining story of going to primary school with Siegen’s captain; one I won’t recount in print.
In the second half both sides started to give something interesting back to their more entertaining fans. The speed of passing improved, the foul rate increased ad, we even had a goal that wasn’t disallowed. First Siegen keeper, Yannik Dauth, sat on an opposing forward’s head, before saving well to deny Markus Keppke’s sharp free-kick. We then saw two far too emotionally charged substitutions (where departing players were thanked by supporters and comrades alike), engaged in some choreographed sitting down and eventually, five minutes from time, a stray corner somehow found its way through a crowded box to Jerome Propheter who tapped it home. Queue equal delight and relief all about us.
Before the final whistle, there was time for Tim Hermes to hit the bar but for everyone – players and supporters alike – the post match action was far more important. As they congratulated each other on the pitch, a little ditty to the tune of Yellow Submarine echoed from the stands, the home players approached, applauded and then sat down in a wonderful role reversal, to watch the crowd. As well-rehearsed favourites were performed, two players climbed into the stands to join in – some led by fans, others by the players – though the chap yelling instructions from the back of the terrace clearly took the greatest plaudits. Sitting, standing, jumping, dancing, swaying, clapping, singing; we (and I mean the home fans) did it with aplomb.
For Jeremy and I, being at the Hafenstübchen and meeting Michael Welling by the statue of a club hero were special moments; whilst I’ll never quite understand the fascination with half’n’half scarves, Bremen or not, what followed thereafter was truly breathtaking. The club website now tells a tale of “Drei Punkte und viele Emotionen” but in truth the most deep-rooted emotions were demonstrated best through the hearts and souls of the supporters. They stole the show. They did what the earlier check in girl and steward had failed miserably at; these Rot Weiss Essen Ultras went the extra mile. They’d read the script and worked together; they planned and prepared and rehearsed and ensured everyone was both involved and equally responsible for their united success.