A pre-season tournament should not really set the pulse racing too much, but for the football junkie, it is the pre-season tournament that provides the methadone until the real thing comes along. For Clubberer in the summer of 2007, it provided a first look at the team we had last seen a few weeks ago, victoriously parading the DFB Pokal around the Olympic Stadium in Berlin, and a chance to see the new signings who would surely take Der Club to even greater glory in the next campaign. Maybe it would even provide the opportunity to continue the excitement and revelry of last season, the most successful for Nuremberg for 39 years.
With rather Teutonic planning I’d taken my wife to the beach in Playa de las Americas the day before the game. We’d had a wander along the promenade past several bars until one gave a glimpse of the holy grail, written in chalk on a small blackboard, in German: Morgen 19:30 Nürnberg – Schalke. Now the sunbathing could begin in earnest. I lay on the beach reminiscing about the previous couple of seasons, playing over and over in my mind the Traumtor (dream goal) from Jan Kristiansen that clinched the Pokal. Did I imagine hearing the ‘dink’ from my position three rows from the perimeter track in Berlin as that shot clipped the underside of the crossbar before hitting the back of the net? Remembering the brief moment of silence as the fact that the ball had crossed the line registered in the mind of the fans, then the roar and the jubilation as it suddenly dawned on me, and several thousand others, that we were on the verge of winning the game. Great memories which diverted my attention almost completely from the bikini-clad sunbathers on the beach. Memories of a game that would last forever but memories that would soon have to become a very important part of the past.
For tomorrow the ten-month long rollercoaster ride of life as a football fan would once again begin its exhilarating and often downright sickening journey.Those first 90 minutes of the ten months were generally sickening. Wearing a Nuremberg shirt, entering a bar called Zum Stuttgarter, apparently owned by a Stuttgart fan (defeated cup finalists remember) seemed a good idea at the time and surely there would be no hassle involved in this. There wasn’t. The majority of football rivalry in Germany is confined to banter in and around the game and certainly does not stretch to the Canarian waters of the Atlantic Ocean. We were greeted with mild surprise and a greater degree of genuine interest than amusement in the fact that an English thirty-something (albeit with his semi-German wife) had bothered to turn out to a quiet bar to watch a low-key game of a team from southern Germany.
The standard questioning about why I was not supporting Manchester United or Chelsea was brushed off with the usual muttered phrase about German football being more ‘interesting’. As so often happens, the landlord and landlady stood shaking their heads with puzzled half-smiles on their lips. Did they disagree with my consideration that their Bundesliga was more interesting than the Premier League? Quite possibly. Even I am not entirely convinced, only using this as a stock answer.
Maybe they were hardly able to believe that I was prepared to sit in their quiet, homely bar and watch the game when English compatriots would be running amok in some of the resorts other bars, chanting drunken renditions of their favourite football songs and no doubt some songs with anti-German sentiment too. Or more likely, the hosts for the evening were feeling deeply sorry for my wife, this kind woman of German origin who had clearly and so selflessly taken this troubled Englishman, obviously harbouring a myriad of learning difficulties, under her wing. They stopped short of asking if she was in receipt of a National Lottery grant for my care and switched on the television.“Learning difficulties it is then,” they were no doubt saying when Robert Vittek put Der Club in front after 20 minutes and I made the four other customers jump by shouting, “Get in,” followed by, “Tor,” in due deference to the little oasis of Germany in which I had just leaped to my feet. At that point I’d not consumed enough alcohol to strike-up an attempt at a discussion in terribly broken German about the lovely passing move that led to the goal, the finish itself, or indeed the excellence of Robert Vittek.
All that was needed was a knowing nod from the landlord and a slightly more exuberant nod back from me which replaced the need to say ‘good goal’ and in return, ‘aye, that will do nicely’.But of course, football fans need to discuss the game and all its intricacies and so, without further delay (and with no disrespect to the footballing knowledge of my wife) text messages started to fly between Tenerife, North Staffordshire and London. Jason sat at home watching the game via a live stream on a website, Iain sat in a London pub watching it via a German TV channel. The footy was back after its short absence and wasn’t it great.Or at least it would have been great if Schalke had not scored three in the space of seven minutes just before half-time. Even better if the normally solid Nuremberg defence (at least normal for the previous season) had not looked so out of sorts and the new players had made little or no impression on the game.Avoiding all eye contact with the landlord I sat through the second half which saw another goal for each side and the realisation that far from being the start of a ten month journey of new highs, the coming season could revisit some of the many lows I’d experienced in my life following football. With a few glasses of fine German Pils inside me I mustered up the courage to shrug my shoulders as I walked passed the bar en route to the toilet. “Schade,” (shame) I said, trying not to sound too disappointed. “Shit happens,” the landlord shrugged back in English, with a knowing smile that this could just be the start of it.