Stuttgart Kickers v VfR Aalen
Gaz Stadion Auf Der Waldau / 3. Liga / 23rd August 2015
Despite being seen as a football mad nation these days, during the latter part of the 19th century and early years of the 20th century Germany seemed to frown on football – as I’ve learned recently from reading the excellent Tor!, a book on the history of German football. ‘Clubs’ focussed more on ‘Turnen’ (a sort of gymnastics – but also not quite the same) and other sports with football being seen as a lesser sport that lacked the discipline and order associated with the Prussian bourgeois. However, I think it is fair to say that there was definitely one club, who on forming in 1899, put football at the forefront of their sports club, as suggested by their very cool suffix and easily one of my favourites suffixes in football: Kickers – Stuttgart Kickers.
I woke up Sunday morning in Karlsruhe after my day watching Karlsruhe SC v MSV Duisburg and with Stuttgart Kickers’ game kicking off at 2pm, I boarded an early train from Karlsruhe back to Stuttgart. Fortunately, my hostel was housed virtually next door to Karlsruhe train station meaning I could roll out of bed and be straight into the train station (not literally may I add).
I’d stayed in and explored Stuttgart centre fairly thoroughly on arriving in Germany Thursday afternoon. It was a city I instantly liked and found very easy to get around with it not being the huge metropolis I’d imagined beforehand. Plus, the city is sort of tucked in a valley, which will always make a Welsh valleys boy like myself feel at home.
Knowing my way around town a bit also meant I found my hotel very quickly and by 10.30am I was traipsing the streets of Stuttgart again. I had checked Google Maps and apparently the walk to the home of Stuttgart Kickers was about an hour long. I figured I had plenty of time, so I’d make the walk to the southern part of the city; plus, I always say that Google Maps exaggerates the length of time it takes to reach a destination walking – well, not this time.
I’d been told beforehand that Kickers’ ground is located up in the hills and to expect good views of the city up there. What I hadn’t quite anticipated was how relentless these hills were going to be! The streets started steep (and virtually empty), before there was a sudden steepening of the gradient and I had to climb some ridiculous steps up to the main road. Atop these I found the aforementioned stunning views of the city below. The views lived up to the hype, despite me now dripping with sweat on this very hot summer’s day.
My Google Maps was saying it wasn’t much further to the ground, but I couldn’t find the street that the app wanted me to take. And that was when I realised: it was leading me through the woods. Now, this wasn’t like the park I walked through en route to Karlsruhe’s ground the day before, this was a far more gruelling walk through the woods. The hills became more vertiginous again and it was a tough trek up the country paths. I’d come for a European football weekend, but it now felt more like a rambling holiday! I worked my way through the mazy pathways past other fellow ‘ramblers’ until I eventually heard cars and I knew I was near the main road. I’d made it to the summit of the valley.
The ground was now nearby and I could even see the floodlights, but I ended up taking the long way round by accident. The area around the ground consisted of…well, small football grounds and a whole host of sport clubs. I spotted tennis clubs, leisure centres and, of course, a football ground, which a young Stuttgart Kickers seemed to be playing in front of a decent crowd on this Sunday morning. I didn’t stay to spectate and instead I headed around to the wonderfully-named Gaz-Stadion Auf Der Waldau (this name is for sponsorship reasons though -it’s formerly known as Waldau-Stadion) – the current home of Stuttgart Kickers.
The ground was easy to find with it being well-signposted and with the floodlights easily spotted from all around. The ground itself is not the most eye-catching and it is a bit generic, but I was obviously going to give the ground and Kickers a chance to impress. Plus, the hugely impressive Fernsehturm Stuttgart made an awesome backdrop to the ground; this is the 710ft telecommunications tower which imposingly looms on the hill above Stuttgart and was the first tower made of concrete in the world, becoming a prototype for many towers of its type worldwide.
The ground holds 11,410 and is the second biggest in Stuttgart; obviously behind the much bigger 60,000 seater home of Stuttgart’s other team, Bundesliga club VfB Stuttgart. However, as well as Kickers, VfB Stuttgart II also play here at the Waldau Stadion and even play in the third tier alongside Kickers.
The stadium opened in 1905 and was immediately the home of Kickers, even being named at different stages as Kickers-Platz and Kickers-Stadium, before becoming Waldau Stadion in 1987. It was then renamed Gazi-Stadion in 2004 and 5 years later the stadium was renovated by Stuttgart council to get the ground up to regulations for the newly-formed 3. Liga.
The ground is the usual four-sided affair and I found it not dissimilar to the one I visited in Sandhausen on Friday night with it consisting of standing terraces behind each goal, another down the one side of the pitch and a more modern seating stand down the other side. I had the chance to explore each side of the ground as I went in hunt of a ticket office and a club shop, but the quest was proving futile, so I did the only thing I know what to do in such a situation: go to the bar.
The bar adjacent to the ground is largely outdoors with picnic tables lining the patio up to the large kiosks dishing out copious amounts of beer. Beer in hand, I headed to a table and as seems to be a running theme over this weekend, I began chatting to some of the home fans. Initially, I tried to deploy my German again, but it just wasn’t happening today so I resorted to asking ‘Sprechen Sie Englisch?’ and the lads I sat next to do did indeed speak English and well.
I then spotted a stall (well, just a table) set up next to the bar selling some Kickers merchandise and so I walked over, bought myself a scarf, asked where I could buy tickets (at the gate basically) and then headed back to my pint. Also, joining my Kickers friends now was flat-capped Kickers fan Harold and his pal Jan. Our talk turned to flat caps strangely enough (of course, I gave them my #NoFlatCapNoParty stickers) and then they gave me the lowdown on all things Kickers. An enjoyable hour or so was enjoyed in their company.
It was approaching 2pm and with more German beer sunk, I headed to the turnstiles and was into the ground for 11 Euros; football over in Germany is just so, so cheap. I was immediately greeted by a kiosk selling more merchandise. For some reason, I’ve always liked light blue football shirts, but never owned one. I’m never going to buy a Manchester City or Coventry City shirt and since I had somehow stayed under my budget, I was soon asking the very friendly lady behind the kiosk to sort me out with a Kickers shirt. She was very impressed with my commitment to the Kickers cause and began telling everyone behind the counter and on the other side of it that I had come from the UK just to watch them (not quite accurate, but I took it). I was now dressed appropriately to enter the stands at Kickers. Obviously, this was a German football ground, so I made sure I purchased some beer and Bratwurst to join me in the stands too.
Kickers are seen as Stuttgart’s smaller club with Bundesliga big boys VfB Stuttgart playing not too far away. Kickers’ history is largely placed in the lower leagues of German football, although they did reach the DFB-Pokal final in 1987 and had two seasons in the Bundesliga – 1988/89 and 1991/92; both seasons finished with relegation for the club. Today, the club can be found playing in 3. Liga taking on nearby club VfR Aalen in a ‘schwäbischen Derby’; I bought the famous German football magazine Kicker the next day and that’s what they called it anyway (I’ve since learned that schwäbischen is the dialect of the south-west…I think).
I was on the standing terrace behind the one goal and I made it up there just as the two teams were walking out on the pitch with Kickers in light blue and Aalen in black and white. The ultras were located to our left in the terrace down the one side of the pitch and just like the other two games I’d been to this weekend, they cheered and sang on the team vociferously as they lined up.
What I did find a bit strange about where I was watching the game from today was that there was a tall metal fence separating the fans from the pitch. Admittedly, this meant at least that no stray shots would be hitting us in the stands – not that there were many shots in the first half. Yes, just like the other two games I’d attended this weekend, the game started as a fairly bland affair – the game would slightly improve as it went on.
Aalen hit the post early on with a header from a freekick and ten minutes later Kickers had a chance only for striker Manuele Fischer to miss the target completely. There was not much else going on after that though.
Fairplay, reading these blogs about Germany, I’m living up to my reputation for not shutting up at times, as I was soon chatting away with more fans in the stands; once again, we stuck to English, with me trying to throw in the odd piece of German in another attempt to impress the natives. I was getting a lot of high fives and hugs from the locals who also appreciated my effort in purchasing a shirt and my desire to watch Stuttgart Kickers.
To be honest, by the 25 minute mark, I think the focus turned away from watching the football to socialising (drinking) in the stands as there was literally not much happening on the pitch at all by now.
I should add in here that despite the action on the pitch, I had already decided that Stuttgart Kickers was my favourite club of the weekend (not ground, that accolade easily went to Wildparkstadion the day before). I’m not sure whether it was the fact I had bought the shirt, whether the fans were so friendly or whether it was even just the fact that they were called Kickers – something I still found very cool – but I just seemed to have a huge soft spot for the club very quickly. It’s just a shame they were not quite doing it on the pitch in a very scrappy game.
Half-time: Stuttgart Kickers 0 – 0 VfR Aalen.
I had gone from seeing no 0-0s in 2015 to it suddenly looking like I was quite likely going to see 2 in 3 days after Sandhausen v Heidenheim had ruin my run on Friday evening. More beer acquired and it was time for the second half.
Kickers went for it in the second half and the game became a more entertaining spectacle, especially in the last half hour. Possibly the biggest cheer of the day was reserved for the arrival of Kickers’ sub, Italian Ella Soriano – a player who seemed a big fan favourite and who was making his comeback today after a year out following a serious cruciate ligament injury.
Soriano did have his chance for a fairytale return as he was put through on goal, only for the superb Daniel Bernhardt in the Aalen goal to tip his powerful volley over the bar. I noticed the next day in my copy of Kicker that Bernhardt made the 3. Liga team of the week and he earned the position further when he made an incredible fingertip save to tip another close range effort from Kickers around the post.
I turned around and much to my confusion there were 2 lads standing behind me adorned in the colours and badge of SV Sandhausen. Obviously, I had to ask them what the hell was going on here and also to tell them that I had been at the Hardtwaldstadion to watch Sandhausen v Heidenheim on Friday night. It turned out that they were at this game today as they’d spent the morning watching a Sandhausen youth team take on Kickers’ youth team on one of the pitches nearby – possibly the game I had passed earlier; fairplay to the lads, that is commitment to the Sandhausen cause. Respect.
On the pitch, Kickers were continuing to pile on the pressure, but it just wasn’t falling for them and this was best summed up in the last minute, when a ball to the edge of the box was brilliantly struck first time and looped over Bernhardt, only for it to hit the crossbar. This would be virtually the last kick of the game and for the 2nd time in 3 days, I had seen a 0-0. Cheers for that German football.
Full-time: Stuttgart Kickers 0 – 0 VfR Aalen.
The fans applauded the players off the pitch and then it was time to head back to the bar, although I did get a bit distracted. I didn’t mention earlier, but the bar has a full-blown 3G football pitch next to it and with a few lads having a kickabout on it there was only ever going to be one thing I was going to do. Soon, I was doing my best impressions of Ronaldo freekicks, Poborsky chips and Zlatan-esque overhead kicks; however, I’d had quite a few beers by then, so none of these impersonations went very well. I figured I should go back to sitting at the bar instead.
After another beer, I decided to head back down into Stuttgart, but once again I was distracted, this time by a full on football match going on at a small ground around the corner from Kickers’ home and there was a quite a hefty crowd of Kickers’ fans watching on with post match beers. I did stay for one more beer to watch about 20 minutes of it and it was a full-blooded game to say the least. Sadly, my camera and phone had died by then, so no photos sorry.
The walk back to my hotel was a a hell of a lot easier with me now having to try to slow down walking down the steep hills. It seemed to take me just minutes this time to get down the hills to my hostel – although it may have just been the beer distorting time; I couldn’t have been that drunk though as I’m sure I should have fallen down those hills.
Time to finish my trip with one last hurrah in Stuttgart, but sadly it was nowhere near as good as Thursday night in the town. Thursday was a ridiculously nice evening with people filling the main square and enjoying the beer, food and live music; tonight, it was raining and the whole city seemed a bit empty. Nonetheless, I made sure I enjoyed myself drinking Wulle Biere anyway – what a drink that stuff is.
As my weekend of German football drew to a close, I was left with the same feeling I have had every other time I have watched football on the continent: why is the fan experience so much better in Europe than in the UK? There was no heavy-handed policing or stewarding, but there was beer in the terraces, standing terraces, fans mingling after the game and cheap tickets. More importantly, there was lots of fun to be had – and sometimes you have to work hard to find that in British football, especially in the higher echelons of our league game. The whole environment and feel is just so much more laid-back and I know all this stuff has been said many times and in much more detail by others, but I think the football authorities still have a lot to learn from our European neighbours across the Channel. A hell of a lot.
The highlight of my trip? Well, probably visiting Karlsruhe’s brilliant Wildparkstadion to be honest. However, as for football clubs, Stuttgart Kickers were the club that did it for me over the weekend. I write this now wearing my Stuttgart Kickers shirt and I will undoubtedly always have a huge soft spot for them.