Day whatever it is of lock down and I’ve finally sat down to write something. It’s been a while since I’ve written a piece.
So where to start? Probably best opt for quite a few weeks ago during the heady days of being able to go out, see people and watch football matches. Something that I very much believe we all took for granted. I’ve lost track of weeks and days. But i’m pretty sure the last game i attended at home was the loss to Norwich City in the Emirates FA Cup. This match landed during a couple of pivotal weeks where Spurs would either be in or out of all the major competitions including the Domestic Cup & Champions League. So as history went on too record, we lost the FA Cup match on penalties. A dire evening for all concerned and of course a long, long journey back the Dorset into the early hours.
At that point, the C-19 Pandemic was starting to rear it’s head. Starting to spread from the confines of Wuhan, China to Asia and beyond. People started to worry. And I for one raised limited concerns regarding our next trip (along with a few friends) too Germany & Red Bull Leipzig.
I’d had the privilege of serving with the British Army in Germany (initially West Germany) during the early 1990’s. The Cold War was still prominent. However, the wall had come down and Eastern Block had started to break up. Germany was on the road to unification. At the heart of the this pivotal moment in History was the City of Berlin. Famous for the Wall, Check Point Charlie and for some weird reason David Hasslehoff. Knight Rider was very popular in Germany!
During my overseas service (a whole 8 years ) i’d never got to Berlin. So when RB Leipzig were drawn out of the UCL hat I was determined to make a trip of it and tick the great City off the bucket list along with another Spurs European away fixture.
No problems with the flight from Standstead to Berlin. Face masks limited to just a few people and at this stage no reason to panic. Hotel in Berlin was very plush but a tad expensive. But sometimes its good too treat yourself. We arrived late and opted for a very late tea at one of the many kiosks that grace the streets of German towns and Cities. A curry wurst at almost Midnight was very welcome.
Following day we set off as a group by train to Halle (Saale) where we would be accommodated for the night. Less salubrious surroundings than we’d previously encountered, with a knocking shop located right next to the IBIS. Basic, cheap room but also located close to the main railway station so easy to make the follow up journey to Leipzig.
If your into WWII history then there was plenty to see along the journey East. Many relics of the past remain. Especially nods towards the Deutsche Bahn (DB) past and its links to its prominent role in German war effort. Old sidings and stations liter the journey and remain undeveloped or demolished. We noticed some memorials in the sidings dedicated to the many who made their final journey to concentration or labour camps. Flowers around plaques. Many lines trailing off towards woods and forests previously occupied with military installations and bunkers. All very sobering.
Leipzig was one of those towns bordering the old lines between East & West. We didn’t really know hat to expect but leaving the station it was like many other towns with a mixture of old and modern. The re-design of the town was of course determined by how well the RAF or Red Army had done their job. Locals very welcoming and one guided our group towards the Market Square where most of the Spurs fans had congregated pre match for a drink and social. The bars were naturally heaving and local brew and food went down very well. A mixture of beer and football sometimes ends badly. However all remained cordial and the locals seamed to embrace the small invasion of English. The Spurs team hotel was located just across the square and a few congregated to wish them well as they entered the Team Bus. It was freezing and raining so we didn’t hang around there for long and hoped on the fan bus to the stadium.
A modern stadium located at the edge of Leipzig. The club in its current state is only a few years old and rose to prominence due to an influx of money. How we’d all like that. RB have many talented players including Timo Werner and a passionate crowd. The ability to drink beers in the stands always welcome and our group certainly consumed a few.
Once again, as so many had been, the match itself was a disaster. Our Goalkeeper & Captain (Hugo) particularly at fault for some shoddy keeping and no attacking options up front due to the loss of Kane/Son. We eventually lost the match without much of a fight and few words were said on the route back to Halle. We were now out of all major competitions with only a Champions League places to fight for.
Next day we took the opportunity to visit Halle town center too take in some of the sights. Apparently George Frederic Handel (German Born/English Composer) was born there and a huge statue dedicated to the great man presided over the edge of the market square. Also evident were very prominent nods towards the towns Communist history including the town hall where no doubt Red Army Officials, Secret Police or worse originally resided and conducted their misdemeanors.
The train back to Berlin left Halle around lunchtime. We only hung around that long because the price of a ticket fell from 43 Euro to 7 Euro each – Bargain! A couple of hours in a non-salubrious carriage (think Cassandra Crossing and you’ll get the picture). This was no ICE but cheap. On arrival at Berlin we posted bags in the convenient bag drop (6 euro) and off we went to take in the sights of one of the most famous cities in the world.
What became evident was it wasn’t particularity busy for a City. Especially on an unusually warm Spring Day. Still not many face masks and no reason to think the world was any different to the norm. We proceeded toward the Reichstag led by our tour guide for the day Jamie. Not an official tour guide – actually one of our football group (SDS Member) that had completed a previous tour of the City. It became very clear early on that he’d taken a lot in from that experience and his knowledge and geography of the place was second too none. We headed from the Government area to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, Brandenburg Gate, Ministry of Aviation, Berlin Wall Memorial then on to Check Point Charlie along with multiple other historic sites along the way. All amused at the ‘ENIC OUT’ sticker placed upon the Check Point door by some disgruntled Spurs Fan. When we needed a break we took to a local Restaurant to eat German fare, have a cool beer and discuss all that we’d seen. What stuck us instantly was that Berlin was a fantastic City and an afternoon of strolling between historic sites wouldn’t cut deep enough into the place. A revisit would definitely be required sometime in the future.
Following day we headed back to home and to Stanstead Airport. Now things started to look weird. Some people in face masks/face coverings flapping and panicking in queues designed to keep 2m social distance. The National Express left with just a handful of people on and headed for London Victoria. Not so much Social Distancing here and pretty thronged. But even so we were able to blag our way onto a bus ~3 hrs earlier than we’d originally planned.
The week after our trip away, life began to change dramatically in the UK and we (the group) wondered if we would succumb to the the virus infection. As it turns out, only one of the group experienced symptoms and had to self isolate. He was thankfully declared clear and well some days later. As time went on, we all came to the same conclusion that we had potentially dodged a bullet. Had we known then what we do now, I very much doubt we or the other thousands of Spurs Fans would have traveled. Also had the lock down/ situation been acknowledged a few weeks earlier then, from a selfish football perspective, we may still have been in all Cup competitions.
One things for sure – we were the last of a very small and unique group of people (Spurs Fans) to have experienced a live football match in what we can now call ‘normal times’.
Even though we were not in the best of form – we now miss the football so much and hoping it will be back again sometime soon.
Up the Spurs!
*Many thanks to the following that traveled and made it such a memorable trip including: Cat, Neil, Ricky, Chris, Martin, Rob & Jamie.