Nigel’s Leverkusen RoundUp – A Bridge Too Far

15 Apr, 2024
written by Nigel Kahn

Nigel’s Leverkusen RoundUp – A Bridge Too Far

 

 

So, for the first time since 2006, I set off to see West Ham play in Europe; instead of a week in Italy, though, this was to be a 25-hour return trip.

Get in, watch the game, get home. Travelling to watch football is helped when the company you keep is first-class, and my companions made this trip even better.

It turned out Paul, the driver for the whole journey, is a war film buff. So, instead of travelling into Cologne to partake in the usual European away day drinking stint, we continued south of Cologne to a town on the banks of the Rhine called Remegen. It was here that the Allies managed to cross the Rhine after the retreating German Army had failed in its attempts to blow the Bridge up.

The weather had improved from the rain we encountered en route through Belgium. The sun shone as we parked up by the Rhine, just by the Bridge. The Bridge does not actually exist, as it collapsed three days after the Allies captured it. It has not been rebuilt, and there is no river crossing there except a ferry. However, the remains of the Bridge remain, along with a museum that tells the story of what happened.

While the three of us who were not driving may have mocked Paul for driving us to see a Bridge that was not there, it turned out to be a great site to visit and handy for meeting up with another couple of my Hammers mates, one who lives nearby and another who is over for the game staying with our German friend.

While many of the travelling fans were drinking it up in Cologne town centre, an Irish pub looked to be the place to visit; we sunned ourselves eating ice cream in our more relaxed and serene surroundings. Taking in the local Culture added to the trip.

The drive from Remegen to Leverkusen took just about an hour in rush hour traffic, but with a parking spot arranged in advance across the road from the stadium, we were there early.

Sometimes, it is good to get in early to soak up the atmosphere, and with the turnstiles opening two hours before kick-off, not the 90 minutes we get in the U.K., I was surprised by the number of home fans waiting for the gates to open.

You may have heard reports of West Ham fans struggling to get in for the kick-off; well, no problem for those of us there early; straight in and took up my seat in the upper tier to enjoy watching the stadium build up.

The Ultra fans are a big part of the German game; every team has a section, no matter how big or small the club are. The Bayer Arena is the fifth German ground I have seen football in, and like three of the previous four, the ultras create a unique atmosphere that, at times, sucks in the whole stadium to join with them. When you look at the problems we have had in the London Stadium regarding the atmosphere, we could learn from the continental supporters and their organised groups.

In the past, the old guard, including me, looked down our noses at the organised chanting, preferring the old way we did it: no real leaders, chant as it breaks out. Maybe it is the vastness of the London Stadium, but standing watching the Leverkusen fans, standing behind their goal, i can imagine that the younger West Ham fans on seeing that wanting to bring that home with them.

We have a group currently trying to establish a similar type of organisation, though not in the ultra form, The Ironworks Alliance. They would like to have a part of the stadium where like-minded fans can be housed to chant and sing throughout the game, with the possibility of having flags and Tifo displays.

While this is alien to the English game, I believe they should be given the chance now. I don’t know if they are the answer, and I’m no fan of the Ultras fans in the U.K., mainly at Arsenal and Palace. To do nothing could be worse in the long run, as at many games at the L.S., apathy sets in too easily.

The game was a hard watch.

I understand we had to respect Leverkusen, undefeated all season, running away with winning their very first Bundesliga title. Two-legged cup ties, you do not want to be out of the game after the first leg as we have been in the past, but though some have praised the players’ effort and feel we could still go through after the second leg, I don’t share that optimism.

We can still win the home leg; I just don’t think that with the players we will be missing, we can somehow put in a totally different performance than the one we did on Thursday.

The fact we only had one shot in the game was nothing short of dismal.

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