Just recently I attended a Hertha Berlin v Borussia Dortmund game and it enabled me to put things a little in perspective. It should be noted that Hertha play at the old Berlin Olympic Stadium and that transport to and from is similar to Wembley Stadium though the actual Station is more akin to a suburban small scale tube entrance like Kennington or Oval and appeared under capacity for the Stadium size.
The Stadium itself is a classic Olympic Oval style and all seated. The history of 30’s brutal Dictatorship was obvious with the Fascist imaginary of Ancient Rome with hundreds of lighted columns around the perimeter reminding one of Ancient torches. The homely old touch of Old Wembley was missing as this Olympic Stadium was stark brutal concrete. The Olympic Rings were held by wire to two unadorned concrete columns. The gate columns themselves were missing top emblems. I’d guess that these may have once been Swastikas and were obviously removed after the war.
However the modern Germany is friendly, welcoming and accents from across the UK and Ireland were often heard mixing with local German. I wondered to myself how many UK and Irish were at the match, in my view it was quite a few. I realise that this has come as a bit of an angst issue in the UK over foreign trippers replacing local supporters. From this angle I’d suggest any major city based team in Europe has the same issue. Positive? I think so.
When approaching the ground, first of all the treatment of alcohol was different. From just outside the tube station to within the ground, beer, wine and gluewein were readily available with good quality choices. The glasses were recyclable with a 1 Euro return. Litre sizes were also available and were happily being drunk by the frauleins as well as the fellas. These could be transported to your seat just as the hot dogs could. The result was a fully seated ground some time before kick off.
The home crowd were led by a man with a microphone who guided the supporters through their songs. Though this might sound cheesy the noise was phenomenal and group participation including the standing sway, arm in arm back and fourth (far better than a Mexican wave). The thunderclap and one off responses in unison from the crowd put the decibel level up to 10. The atmosphere was electric with the crowd of 75,000 a sell out. The German love of the ‘Seven Nation Army’ song was also in evidence. Da da da da da... you know it!
Most people stood to watch as the seating like the Emirates has plenty of knee room and a reasonable angle so no thoughts of toppling over and beer was safely stored under the seat.
The game itself was high octane, surprisingly full of blunders (both keepers and defences cocked up) and Jadon Sancho terrorised Hertha whilst Saloman Khalou scored twice for Hertha and appeared in good form. I seem to remember his annual good game against us!
I’d say for entertainment value their game is in a good state but, I wonder if Germany will still need some rebuilding based on the general lack of grace and guile to their play. It’s certainly interesting that German clubs, once the high water mark of youth football are now turning to the UK. I once read that 10 times as many Germans as English play football on a regular basis. So efficiency and good coaching must have increased in the UK.
In regard to the clubs, Hertha continued to do what they have done all season and completely blew up after being in a dominating position. Ending the match with nine men. Leaving Dortmund to score the winner, late into injury time. Then came the surprise as Dortmund supporters in all sections of the ground including the Hertha home end went nuts. I’m guessing they had at least 10,000 supporters present and I suspect they have the Man United effect of having supporters throughout Germany as it would be one hell of a commute back late into the night. I was guessing a 2am return for a massive contingent of supporters down the Autobahn. So you have to hand it to their supporters.
What then happened was the Hertha supporters shrugged their shoulders, smiled at their mates and finished off their beers. I was intrigued and pleased to see it. There was still tribal passion and a reason for Hertha supporters to be seriously upset, seeing that they lost in the last few minutes, had two players sent off, away supporters in their end and fuelled by alcohol. And yet zero evidence of punch ups or aggression was spotted. One can’t ignore the fact that hooligan gangs do follow German clubs but for Hertha at least it was more like cricket or rugby supporters, albeit the noisiest bunch on the planet. It was an excellent game and an excellent experience.
Ticket prices were reasonable, travel was slow and crowded, quality of food, beer was better and cheaper than the Emirates and support far louder. In fact far louder than any UK ground.
Some changes I’d like to see and these include safe standing for 5,000 or so on a reduced price of £15-£20 per ticket. The Law should be changed so beer can be brought into the seats. Which should bring crowds in earlier to the seating areas. The should also be joint supporter enterprises before the games so that we build up a bit more pre 1970’s solidarity rather than the overly aggressive but possibly disappearing tribalism that so affected 70’s and 80’s football. Is it too extreme to offer a mixed supporter section? Made up of invited guests from each others’ fan clubs?
Ultimately we should remember that in these bad corporate days crowds are often way above an average 70’s club. Our average gate is probably around 75% higher? (Ed’s note - I’d say 60% higher myself, although that in terms of seats sold rather than physical attendance! So the reality is probably nearer 50% compared to the 1970s / 80s).
One website recently moaned that Emery was responsible for us not getting a complete sell out against Man Utd! My memory was that 48,000 used to be a very good Arsenal v Man Utd gate. With only Liverpool testing capacity. So overall football is in good health.
Let’s keep social media pressure up for discussion with the authorities over standing, licensing and fan inclusion. This could just make things better overall for the fan experience. I’d like to see the club offer AISA and / or other fan groups space in the ground for social gatherings on match days. And why not let Arsenal collectors have a space. It’s all within the family and keeps the blood flowing.
Emery can then look after things on the pitch. Hopefully on an upwards journey.