We were told the stakes were high. Blood was to be shed, mayhem was to sweep the stadium, and hell was – without question – going to break loose. Sounded like a game of the century!
I asked myself, who on earth is playing? Barcelona versus Manchester? Brazil versus Italy?
Nope, this soccer game was between Halle and Magdeburg, two small cities in Eastern Germany that no one has ever heard of. Except for the population of Halle. And Magdeburg. Ooh, and do they ever know of each other.
An excited American Language Assistant told us that these cities have been major rivals for decades. It didn’t matter that I didn’t really know these towns; two unknown German towns playing soccer can entertain me just as much as the pros. The game was to take place in Halle, and we bought tickets to sit with the Halle crowd, since all the other language assistants live there. So, I dug out my red and white gear, generally only worn on July 1st (Canada Day), and set out to watch the game, donned in Halle’s colours. I was ready and rarin’ to go!
As our group approached the stadium, I started to feel a little uncomfortable. Well, first off, it was painfully obvious that most of our group didn’t fit into the quintessential sports fan. For example, we had Nick, an intelligent, talented musician; Aubrey, Nick’s petite, artistic girlfriend, who looked even smaller than usual surrounded by large German men; Robert, the English Cambridge graduate, and I. Not only are we probably the only foreigners here, but we’re the only polite, upstanding observers. We clearly do not know how to act at a soccer game.
So, take a bunch of artistic university grads who enjoy traveling and discovering new cultures and throw them into a mass cluster of sports fan babboons. Perhaps what struck me the most was the fact that there were scarcely any women to be seen (20 to 1). We were surrounded by men of all sizes and ages, all standing with their legs spread, pelvis forward, a beer in one hand, and a cigarette (or their penis, depending on if they were relieving themselves on the side of the road) in the other.
We noticed, however, that they were not speaking German – they were grunting at each other. So, it appeared we were to join grunting, slobbering, drunk Neanderthals at a soccer game. Lovely.
I glanced at the rest of my group, and they looked just as bewildered and disturbed as I did. As we lined up to get into the stands, Robert leans into me and comments,
“This is just like a game in Britain in the 1950s: machoism and no females.”
But, no matter! We were here to enjoy the game, whatever level of grunting was involved.
The crowd was pushing and squeezing its way to the seating area rather too intensely for my liking, and I looked back every so often to make sure Aubrey hadn’t disappeared into the throngs of the sweaty, blubbering mass.
Finally, we made it into the grandstand, and by the force of the masculine mass, our group was separated. Robert and I found some good standing places (which was what we paid for), and we settled in to enjoy the game.
The game had started but five minutes, and the only word out of Robert’s mouth – a former goalie and captain of his soccer team – was “Shocking”. Apparently, we were watching a rather poor game, and nearly every move each team did, Robert would shake his head or shake his fist in direction of the players and say “shocking”.
Now, in my opinion, it wasn’t so much the players who were shocking; the spectators were the trouble makers. There was the usual back and forth chanting between both team fans and the loud clapping of those weird plastic things.
This game, however, things were a little different, much more heated. First off, both teams were separated by two stands of empty seats, and there were policemen, a team that resembled SWAT, and even helicopters flying above the game. The back-up required to show this game to people from both towns were over a hundred policemen.
As Robert kept up with his “shocking” routine, all of a sudden, the Magdeburg fans seemed to all surge at once with a incredibly loud roar and a group of guys jumped over their side of the stands, ran into the empty seats, charging towards the Halle fans!
The police jump up, hold as many men as they can back, forcing them to return to their area. As the police are in over their heads with drunk, blinded-by-rage men, the Halle side does the only appropriate thing they can think of:
Start a fire.
As smoke billows out from the front seats and flames start licking the edge of the pitch, the players are forced to pause their game. A back-up of policemen arrive on the scene as the bottom part of the Halle seating section is engulfed in smoke. Fans are still climbing around the seats, pushing around policemen in a rioting spirit, as they seem to have forgotten which way they were going.
It takes ages putting the fire out, getting rid of the smoke, and shoving the cavemen back in their respective seats. The game is finally able to resume, and Halle ends up winning, which in turn leads to having beer poured on me. I am now a true fan… at least on the olfactory side.