Germany 7 – 0 San Marino
Germany’s Next Generation – When the German squad was announced for the 2017 Confederations Cup it contained many big-name absentees. World Cup 2014 winners Manuel Neuer, Mesut Ozil, Thomas Muller and Toni Kroos were all rested with the challenge of retaining their trophy coming up next summer. Only Julian Draxler, Shkodran Mustafi and Matthias Ginter remained from the squad that became world champions and they weren’t first-team regulars back then either. I clung on to hope that another squad of big name players would be announced for the friendly against Denmark and World Cup qualifier versus San Marino but I knew the Confed Cup squad would be the ones on show in Nuremberg.
I can’t deny I felt a little disappointed but it gave me a chance to see the next generation of German superstars, which Die Mannshaft seem to have in abundance. Julian Brandt was the one who particularly caught my attention. The Bayer Leverkusen winger looked dangerous throughout, constantly switching flanks and tormenting both San Marino full-backs. His efforts were rewarded with an acrobatic finish from a diving header, scored into the goal right in front of me.
Draxler, who was only 20 at the 2014 World Cup and has evolved into a main player for the national team, impressed too. He scored the opening goal with a lovely curled finish and played some great balls through a number of opposition bodies. However, sitting at player eye-level with a running track in front of me made it very difficult to judge each player’s merits. I normally enjoy sitting high in the corner to get a decent perspective of the match (at a good value price). So looking back at the highlights after the game, I hadn’t realised it was Joshua Kimmich who ran the show. His deliveries were inch-perfect in setting up several German chances and he notched up four assists as a result, including Brandt’s goal.
Sandro Wagner may have scored a hat-trick, which was well-taken in all fairness, but Kimmich gave him more than enough service to warrant three or more goals. Add that performance to the stunning overhead kick the Bayern Munich man scored in the 1-1 draw with Denmark and you can see why he’s so highly-rated.
The Atmosphere – I’ve already hinted at my displeasure with running tracks at football stadiums (which I will take into further detail down below) but the stadium surprised me with its atmosphere. My girlfriend was across the lake outside the ground and could hear the calls of ‘Deutschland! Deutschland!’ reverberating back. The fans to my left sang virtually all game and made me wonder what the 50,000-seater stadium is capable of when full.
Half-time walkabout – I’ve not been to many grounds that allow you to exit the stadium for refreshments… and target practice. Unlike most stadia which has its facilities inside, FC Nurnberg’s home has a ring of space around the arena with the usual snack bars and toilets. But it also features stands for German merchandise and the chance to have a shoot with your beer. It certainly felt refreshing to stretch my legs at half-time for once.
Timo Werner booed – Seeing Werner play was something I was looking forward to the most pre-match. With the absence of regular top-class strikers in the squad, it felt like the right time for the 21-year-old to announce his future prowess and back up his 21 goals in the Bundesliga last season. However, in the midweek friendly with Denmark, he didn’t feature due to illness and he was only on the bench for the following San Marino game.
When he came on, to my surprise, he was jeered by his own fans. I could only conclude the reasoning was his parent club being RB Leipzig – a team which German fans have not warmed to since their rise in the country. Having said that though, another Leipzig player, Diego Demme, also came on and didn’t get a hostile reception. From what I’ve read, it’s down to a penalty Werner won against Schalke in December where he dived. But Werner himself also believes his parent club is a big factor.
It seems incredibly harsh to boo a player in the national team for a dive after that long, or for playing with a certain club. The man is representing Germany. No doubt he’s full of pride to be part of Die Mannshaft. Like his coach Joachim Low said in an interview defending him, he’s only a young man and has made one mistake, which he has owned up to. He went on to say that the booing was ‘simply not okay.’ I’m with Low. It left a bitter taste, for sure.
Sitting ‘Track’-side – I’ve been to a couple of football stadiums with running tracks before: the Olypiastadion Berlin and the Stadio Olympico in Rome. Neither were hindered on atmosphere, to be fair, but the viewing experience wasn’t great. And this continued in Nuremberg. My seat probably didn’t help but I’ve always felt away from the action with tracks in the stadium. And perhaps everyone else feels the same as, at one point, some sections of the stadium were celebrating a goal when the ball had gone wide. Even the PA began playing music while Elia Benedettini lined up a goal-kick for San Marino.
I don’t know, it’s a shame to see such big stadiums not being used. And there are TV screens on either side in Stadion Nuremberg to aid viewing. But I’m still yet to be fully won over by a tracked football stadium.
Mexican Waves – In my eyes, this is the ultimate sporting sin. If a crowd feels the need to perform a Mexican Wave, then they are bored with what’s on the pitch. I find that disrespectful to the opposition. San Marino have a population that’s less than the total attendance of the match – which was 32,467. For them to compete against some of European football’s elite would be a huge achievement. So when the stadium participated in several Mexican Waves when 2-0 up and with two-thirds of the match to play, it kinda peeved me off. It might not have been deliberate but I still found it disrespectful.
Getting Tickets – I’ve never faced such an uphill battle to get tickets for a match that hadn’t sold out. I tried Viagogo but they wouldn’t deliver to the UK – even though everywhere else was fine. Other ticket websites were overpriced so I went straight to the source: the German FA’s website. For some reason you can only book tickets with the site in German so I had no idea what I was doing at times. For that reason I only booked one ticket just in case it didn’t turn up. Then someone I live with who shares the same name as me but spelt differently collected the ticket by mistake and nearly sent it back. I don’t know why they gave it him with the wrong DOB from the order but I guess that’s what you get for spending €20 on delivery charges. Money well spent.
Getting my girlfriend a ticket after that extended the challenge further. We tried the German FA website again but the option of delivering to the UK was removed. Viagogo still had the same problem. So I figured someone would be outside the venue on the day selling tickets. I don’t recommend that method at all but when it’s that hard to find tickets, I can see why they get so much service. When we got to the ground though, people were holding cards asking for tickets but none were on sale. I felt very guilty for taking her to the stadium for no reason so that dampened my experience somewhat.
The game felt like a friendly more than a World Cup qualifying match. But having said that, even friendly matches have more tension as the result is not a certainty. It would have been a miracle if San Marino won, given their status in European football, and the German fans knew this. They could travel to the stadium and celebrate the national team without worrying about the result too much. For me, it was like gate-crashing a German football party. Plenty of noise and merrymaking taking place which the cops didn’t come close to shutting down, despite the best efforts of PC Danilo Rinaldi, who had little back-up when raiding the German half. Because of that lack of threat, the excitement levels were small but there were some decent party tricks from those on stage.
Sportpark Ronhof Thomas Sommer
Adjacent to Nuremberg is the city of Furth, which is the third smallest city in Germany in terms of land area. It does feel more of a town when walking around. We didn’t find much to do other than have a walk through the park. The main attraction appears to be the football team: SpVgg Greuther Furth.
All across the city are stickers from fans of the club, as well as graffiti telling their neighbours FC Nurnberg to politely do one. Both teams are currently in the 2. Bundesliga and have impressive infrastructure and fanbases despite sitting outside of the top-flight. The country definitely feels like it has a similar strength in depth to that of England.
I’d like to talk a little bit about my mental health as it affected me in Furth. I’ve already mentioned how guilty I felt about my girlfriend not having a ticket for the Germany match and having to leave her outside during the game. Well when I suggested seeing the stadium in Furth, the guilt took over. She didn’t seem too happy with more football adventures and I felt like I was ruining her holiday. My depression got worse and worse as we walked through town. I began noticing people looking at me and getting very irate about it. I cracked when a bus stopped where we were sitting and the driver just leered at us. I don’t know why he did it but he had no eyes on anything else. I lost my composure and started swearing. I don’t know if he heard me but he shook his head before driving off.
At that point, I wanted to go home. Not to the UK but to the Nuremberg flat. I’ve been in a similar situation before. When I was in Bordeaux last summer I retreated from the city centre with bad anxiety. I just want to be in a safe place where my head can process things a little easier.
Thankfully things did improve. We took a walk away from the city centre and that helped a lot. We managed to enjoy the rest of our day, which included seeing the stadium. Saff enjoyed it more than she thought as we got to ‘break in’. Normally the stadiums I get to outside of matchdays are all shut off to public access but the Sportpark Ronhof had its gates open. This was probably because of the renovation being done to the main stand.
We walked into Block 12 in the north stand where the ultras take in home games and took a few hurried snaps, fearing we’d get spotted and kicked out soon enough. I’d left my HST card in my jacket pocket back in Nuremberg so Saff used her phone to create a makeshift sign. I was tempted to get nearer the pitch but I felt that was pushing my luck a little too much, given the circumstances were already pretty fortuitous. The ground’s capacity is 18,000 with one small all-seater stand featuring the word ‘kleeblatt’. This translates to ‘clover leaf’, the emblem of the club and the city of Furth.
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