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Zebra Crossing


What’s black and white and red all over? A sunburnt zebra

OK, crap joke, but when you decide to forgo the 1988 FA Cup rematch for MSV Duisburg versus Rot-Weiss Essen, people do question your humour levels. Actually, it wasn’t so bad, and there’s nothing like a local derby to get your appetite duly wetted.

So, why MSV vs RWE? Well, I was in Dusseldorf, and as is usual in that part of Germany, there are billions of football clubs very near to each other. So, it’s not unusual to see loads of Borussia Moenchengladbach fans at Dusseldorf’s main station for a home game, as was the case on the Saturday afternoon. I was trying to get to that particular game (they were playing Werder Bremen, the Bundesliga champions, and BM won 3-1) but couldn’t. So, on the Sunday I hopped on a nice fast train, that said it would leave at 11.46am and left at 11.46am, and 15 minutes later I was in Duisburg.

You might have heard of MSV, who have the nickname of the Zebras. Now do you get the joke I made? Their name seemed to be on the Bundesliga table quite a bit, bit like you always expected to see Coventry’s name in the Premiershit table. Well, in 1999/2000, they got relegated from the Bundesliga quite ignaminiously, finishing dead last. They were so crap that St Pauli fans laughed at them in the street. Which was a bit strange as they were a decent top 8 team since they got promoted in 1996/7. Since they went down, they middled about a bit. But, a newly rebuilt stadium seemed to give them a new lease of life, and were lying in fifth position when they took on their Rhine neighbours.

Duisburg itself is basically like Crawley, it’s quite big but a bit characterless. It did have the typical German city trademarks – clean pedestrianised areas, modern art fountains, big Karstadt and Kaufhof department stores side by side, mean looking punks/skinheads sitting on benches (scary dog optional) and some shops that sell stuff called “erotik”. No idea what that is, I saw a couple of shops selling it. Perhaps it’s related to hardware, or maybe it’s something to do with DIY?

I did notice at Duisburg’s (bloody massive) train station some coppers about, with riot helmets in hand. Seriously, there was a load of them, not being agitated but not looking in the mood for a nice chat and a cup of coffee either. A couple of passing RWE fans were stopped from leaving the station and advised to go onto a platform. All would become clear – I turned my back and suddenly heard a roar. RWE had arrived, and christ they were loud. Must have been a thousand of them hopping off one train.


The coppers got into gear, yet they didn’t seem unduly worried. And this is what struck me – normally, you can sense an air of menace. Witness Coney Hall. But despite this being the first match between the two for a while, despite the numbers involved, even allowing for the fact that RWE fans had been on the Warsteiner there was no hint of malice around at all. The polizei didn’t even mind me taking photographs (see above), try doing something like that at a Liverpool-Man U game and the coppers would rape you with a truncheon.

Sensing no more fun and games, I took the bus through Duisburg’s quite nice residential areas. When I alighted, I saw loads of kids running about. Not in a random manner like kids tend to do, these were 12 and 13 year olds running as though they’d realised they missed the start of the match. Which considering it was an hour before kickoff, was a bit weird. These crazy, wacky Germans, eh?

It had the buzz of a local derby all right, there was the anticipation, the feel was one of excitement. Just imagine the RP Vile game at the end of our first season, it was a bit more than that. In a nod to the CCL, they were using the nearby boating club for parking. In other words, they take the most advanced features of modern stadia design, plan, plan again, engineer all deficiencies out then decide to take their parking organisation from Sandhurst.

I was about to soak up the atmosphere like a sad cliche-riddled bastard when suddenly my ears were pricked by some rather strange wailing. Turned out it was somebody singing something to the tune of Rod Stewart’s “Sailing”. I put this down to some sort of cultural thing that I clearly didn’t understand and moved on towards der eingang. I did pick up their programme, €1 for an A4 glossy magazine that had about 20 odd pages, very readable as well, which given our recent arguments about the programme being £2.50 is food, drink and afters for thought…

Entering the nice ground , I realised I would be standing up. I didn’t intend to get a terraced ticket, but I had to order it off a German-only website. For all I knew I could have been in the local brothel. And while the bring back terracing debate has sort of died the death, it would have been interesting to see the practicalities of such a move at first hand. I walked into the big gangway entrance and immediately sensed something wasn’t right. Why was there a big mass of people standing in the gangway? More to the point, why weren’t they moving?


I then twigged. The terrace was full. Jam packed full. The reason why there was no movement was because nobody could move. This was why the kids were running, it was to get their spaces on the terrace. Have to admit, I thought it was dangerous, and the picture above illustrates this. And from what I could tell the terrace had a fence up the front. Not only was this a little against all health and safety sensibilities but the view was lousy.

I know plenty of people would like terracing back at big grounds in England, but on this experience I honestly wouldn’t encourage it. Let’s be honest here, packed terracing sucks. You can’t see, you can’t move, and we all know what a surge forward can do. I think people do have a rather rose-tinted nostalgia about this sort of thing, and trust me, I would very happily support the Taylor report in situations like this. I don’t like standing up the hAE so much now because of the amount of people in there, so needless to say I wasn’t a happy bunny.

Still, I endeavoured, and snuck my non-Aryan frame inbetween the pilsner drinking masses. Now, like the Rapid Wien game that I wrote about last year (and there are many similarities between that game and this one), they have a very, ahem, co-ordinated way of announcing the teams. Basically, the PA guy shouts out the first name, and the crowd all shout out the surname. Imagine that happening at AFCW, with our personnel changes we’d be struggling to recognise half the players. Coincidentally, Palace do similar, though that’s more down to the fact that they’re a bunch of wankers.

Then came the highlight of the pre-match entertainment. Some guy came on with a microphone and started to sing. Yup, it was Rod Stewart’s “Sailing” again. Bracing myself for another cultural misunderstanding, I was a bit shocked to work out what they were singing. It was basically singing “Super Zebras” in a German manner (they sung Zebras as “Zay-brrrah”) and all was clear. Unfortunately, I couldn’t figure out the rest of what they were singing, though as the tune is now stubbornly lodged in my head maybe it’s just as well. Needless to say, I got the shock of my life when some loud technomusic came on during the song and turned a 1970s ballad into a bad rave. Wunderbar, ja? Nein…

After looking at the stadium’s big screen some more (what does “werbung” mean?), the teams came out and the game started. Usual SW19 rules for actual match action apply, though this time it’s because I really couldn’t see a damn thing. I could see the RWE banners – “Gorillaz Essen” and “Chaos Boys”. Ooh, they sound mean. The stewards looked pissed off, firstly standing around smoking then wandering about looking anxious.

As for me, I tried to do some writing and looking at the field (with some odd looks by the MSV fans around me) but quite frankly I gave up. I could see some of where MSV was attacking. From what I could gather, MSV should really have been three goals up by half time, whilst Rot-Weiss Essen were, well, rot. Referee wasn’t special, a career in R1 surely beckons. The banter was good though, at least I think every sentence having the word “shit” in it was banter. But it wasn’t the utter hatred that one maybe would expect from a local derby.

0-0 at half time, and suddenly, I saw an opening on the terrace. Whilst some MSV fans nipped off for a half time bier, I manoevered my way into a far better position. At last, I could see more than 20% of the pitch. All I had to do without was being able to go for a piss, move my legs and occasionally breathe. Life as a sports writer isn’t all glamourous you know. The two teams came out, and surely there was more of the same to come….

Well, maybe not. RWE, who were third from bottom, came out fighting. A swift kick up the hintere at half time did the trick : suddenly, Essen looked more like the team at the top. All around me was concern, and a very real fear of embarassment. That said, RWE did show why they were towards the lower end of the table with their shooting, or lack of it.

The trouble was, it was one of those sort of games where you couldn’t have seen either side scoring. Not through lack of ability, but through sheer misfortune. A banner ripped apart at the beginning of the game, which felt symbolic.

I looked at my notes again, whilst MSV put on an attack. Suddenly, I saw a flash of a shot then……. blam. 1-0 to MSV. The replay in the stadium showed that the scorer (don’t ask me his name) trapped the ball in the box and slotted home near post with two defenders around him. Clearly the DVDs of Robert Ursell did the trick. Yet despite this, RWE kept pressing and pressing, though ultimately MSV held out. In front of a crowd of 19,860 the home team were victorious while RWE did look genuinely pissed off. Though the fact that about 20 seconds of injury time had been played might have had something to do with it. We all left happy, and I was glad to be able to move again.

Coming back on the bus, I saw my one bit of aggro. Whilst waiting for a good solid hour, I met three drunk MSV fans. I tried to ignore them but couldn’t. One of them asked me to stand in the middle of the road to flag the bus down (no, I didn’t get it either), but eventually they got fed up waiting and buggered off. The bus came and said three fans were picked up later on in the journey. Anyway, the bus stopped and the three got off. Expect they were followed by about 4 RWE fans. I don’t quite know what happened, but they got into a little bit of an argument. Then, one of the RWE fans, who looked like King Kong Bundy with a tasche walked up to the MSV drunk (the one who asked me earlier to do some strasse walking) in a rather aggressive manner. Result? One right hander and the RWE guy fell over quicker than a Coney Hall fan being chased by a bar of soap. I should be totally serious in my condemnation of wanton violence that scars many a community, but the truth was I couldn’t help pissing myself.

So what? Well, MSV seem capable of making that jump into the top flight, while RWE might struggle a bit. As I write this, MSV are second while RWE are now second from bottom. There are some big teams in Bundesliga 2, like FC Koln, 1860 Munich, Eintracht Frankfurt etc, so MSV are doing pretty well. And as my train left for Dusseldorf, and the MSV fans going loopy in the train next to me, somehow it seems easier supporting a team doing well. Witness AFCW.

And I did not mention anywhere that MSV look like QPR….