Eurotour Blog 2009. Part 1. Bavaria.

Euro Blog Summer 2009.

Like so many European trips, I am starting in the middle of the night. Leave home at 1.30 – park the car half an hour later and wait for the London coach. Change coaches at Victoria at 4.00 and arrive at Stansted at five. Still two hours to get through the airport before departure. Memmingen is a new route for Ryanair, and it has not caught on yet – there are only 20 on the plane. As well as myself, there are two other groundhoppers, heading independently for the same destination.

Being a small airport, we are not held up at Memmingen – even collecting my bag does not take long. A local bus takes us to town (Memmingen is trying to be a cheap alternative to Munich, so there is also a coach heading that way), where we transfer to the railway system. I lose my travelling companions a couple of stops down the line, as they have s specific pub to frequent. I am meeting with four other hoppers, who have already been travelling for the last week. When I get to Ingolstadt, it is 13.00 German time, and the others shout to me from a bridge over the line as I get out of the train. A hotel has been booked, a short walk away and I am in after 11 hours of travelling.

Ingolstadt is an old Bavarian town on the river Danube, loads of historic buildings within the city,and this is a good place to find something to eat and drink before the game. Until recently, it had two football teams, both of which reached their peak at the end of the 1970s, when they each had two seasons in the second division, with a city derby at this level in 79-80. By the early part of this Millennium were struggling in the Bayernliga, (then the fourth level of German football, but now the fifth) and the football section of ESV Ingolstadt (E for Eisenbahn as in railway) was bankrupt. In 2004, the two teams merged to form FC Ingolstadt 04. Unusually for a German football team, the date part of the name refers to the date of the merger, rather than claiming depths of history that do not exist. Both sports clubs, MTV and ESV continue in other sports. At first, they took the stadium formerly used by MTV Ingolstadt – this was quit a small stadium, just outside one of the city gates. The only cover was over a few seats, while the terracing was limited in quantity and height. Two years after the merger, they won the Bayernliga and joined the Regionalliga Sud. While playing at the MTV stadion, works were going on to improve the ESV-Stadion, and at the beginning of this season the club moved across the town to the re-braned TUJA-Stadion. This was just in time, as Ingolstadt won promotion to the second division of the Bundesliga. The refurbished stadium is still not one of the best, and this is still intended as a temporary solution. In 2010, they intend to open the Audi Stadion, a completely new 15,000 stadium, and for the first time protecting the majority of the crowd from the rain. If this happens, it may make Ingolstadt fairly unique in having three genuine home grounds in just four seasons!

The current stadium is conveniently situated close to the railway station, and is basically two sided. There is nothing behind one goal, while behind the other is a new two storey VIP centre. The upper storey has direct access to a couple of hundred well elevated seats, while the guests in the lower section were seen streaming out (just after kick off) to take up places in the main stand. This side of the ground is all seated, but only the main section has cover while a lack of elevation combined with fences, and various media activities pitch side meant few of the other seats had a good sight line.

The opposite side of the ground is terracing on fresh concrete steps. As with most grounds at this level in Germany, the views from the lower levels are hindered by massive fencing, and a fan I spoke to who decided to stand complained that the terraces did not give good enough elevation to allow for good views.

As for the game, Ingolstadt have struggled all season, and with three games left, needed all nine points to stand a chance of avoiding relegation. Most of the play suggested there were intending to have a serious go at it – but as soon as they got within sight of the goal, they seemed mesmerised by the whiteness of the posts and crossbar, and unwilling to put the ball close to this structure. So Ingolstadt dominated possession, and were ahead 10-2 on the corner count (the well delivered corner count stayed level at 0-0 throughout). Finally, with five minutes to go, St. Pauli broke from defence, and suddenly four players were bearing down on the home goalkeeper – remembering not to get offside, a single pass was all that was needed to present Alexander Ludwig with an easy goal.

The St. Pauli fans were mainly penned into one section of terracing, and managed to maintain a consistent level of singing and chanting throughout. Considering the distance involved for a Thursday night game, of no importance to them, and shown live on TV, one cannot help but be impressed by this. Amazingly, the chanting was all in praise of their own. I don’t think I heard I heard any swearing, or bad-mouthing of the hosts during the game, (sadly a couple of individuals walking past us on the road back to our hotel did not keep this up).

For Ingolstadt, it will be Division three of the Bundesliga next season, still national football and a level higher than a year ago.

From ingolstadt, it takes about two hours heading North by train to Hof. Hof is a pleasant town, if not so well steeped in historical buildings as Ingolstadt – the tourist office certainly does their bit to sell the place, giving out a leaflet on the history, and directing the visitor to such sights as a Teddy Bear museum and a sign-post park. For one that often gets confused by the sign posting in foreign cities, the entrance to the sign post park – a mixture of town entrances, road signs, along with a couple of spoofs and a few adverts for bands seemed overtly difficult – so I crossed the road and carried on walking towards Grune Au.

This stadium shows its age, but wears it proudly. On three sides are steps of terracing, mainly in good condition, and providing good viewing at least from the top steps. An old stand with rows of wooden seating fills most of the far side to the entrance. On the entrance side, newer developments have not been allowed to interfere with the old terraces, but have been added behind it. Firstly there is a VIP section, on the top floor of the building that includes offices and the changing rooms, adding a few rows of covered seats – then next to this is a a tall and modern new stand, looking somewhat incongruous with its height, and being offset from a central position towards the town end. It does provide good viewing though.

The club have also benefited from a recent merger – they were 1. FC Bayern Hof until 2005 when they merged with SpVgg Hof and became SpVgg Bayern Hof. They have played as high as the second level of German football, but were not even in the Bayernliga in 2005. They returned to this level last season, just keeping their place at the end of the season. This time around, they have finished safely above mid-table, but did not challenge for promotion

The visitors, SpVgg Weiden are one of the up and coming smaller teams. They came into the game needing only a point to tie up the Bayernliga title, and a promotion to the Regionalliga Sud (level 4). Only the champions get promoted. In a generally uneventful and low paced first half, Weiden gained a 1-0 lead, but did not provide much to talk about. The game suddenly burst into life midway through the second half, with a sudden burst of three goals. Almost immediately after the visitors went 2-0 up, Bayen Hof pulled one back from the penalty spot – and this was quickly followed by a very well worked third goal for Weiden. A fourth was added late on, again a good passing move with two players repeatedly passing to each other until it looked as if the chance was lost – but fortunately a third player came in to strike the loose ball.

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