World Cup 2006
My dad and I were lucky enough to win tickets to a World Cup game through Coca-Cola (actually, my mum won them, but she's not so much of a footy fan). The game we got tickets for was England v Sweden in Koln (although the English, strangely, refer to it as Cologne), the last of England's group games. The prize included flights and accommodation too, so we were very pleased (as you might expect, everything was being booked up fast in the run up to the tournament).
So, Tuesday morning we were up at 5:30am to drive to the Harrods Aviation terminal at Standsted airport. When we arrived we had to check-in and grab our boarding passes, collect our goodie bags, drink as many bottles of coca-cola family products as you could stand, then mill about with the roughly 200 other winners (some VIP winners), Coke staff and organisers. It was interesting to see how the other half live, where private jets would land and helicopters ferry them from one grand function to the next.
Landing at Bonn airport, we found ourselves surrounded by England fans flying in for the game (according to reports there were 70,000 England fans in Koln the day before, the stadium only holds 45,000 people) and two English bobbies keeping an eye on us with their German colleagues, the one we met was from Middlesborough. Once through passport control we headed to our numbered bus (we all had a designated bus and chaperon) and it was off into the centre for lunch.
We had to park across the river and walk into town, over the bridge and past the immense cathedral, we met plenty of England and Sweden fans enroute and the atomosphere was good. The restaurant was just off the man square where the big Fan Fest TV screen was, so we had to bundle through the crowds of fans milling around (to actually get in to the big screen, which was walled off inside the square, you had to go through a security check point).
After a big lunch with German sausage as the main course, chatting away to the other fans and drinking a seemingly endless supply of free German beer (in small 200ml glasses, with a large amount of froth on top, in the same way the Dutch serve theirs, but they were replaced with fresh glasses the minute we emptied them), we were let loose in Koln for a couple of hours.
The Germany game had just kicked off so we set about trying to watch it. We wandered through several squares, all full of bars with outside tables, which were covered in England fans and surrounded by walls of German fans looking to watch the TVs that every bar had poking through their windows. The fans were in good voice, with all the old favourites coming out, beer was flowing everywhere and the empty bottles where beginning to pile up everywhere.
We settled on one square where we could see a TV, the atmosphere was great and the Germans were soon jumping up and down as they went one-nil up early on (then two, and subsequently, three-nil). All the while footballs and beachball are being belted around the square and an inflatible rocket in English colours arched back and forth.
At about half-time we had to had back to our meet-up point before getting back on the buses and beginning our slow journey to the stadium on the outskirts. On the bus we were dished out with our tickets and told in no uncertain terms to take good care of them as one of the guys on an earlier trip had stuck it in his back pocket and it's been nicked before he reached the stadium.
We were parked a long way out and had to make our way across several car parks, along a street, through some woods and finally over what looked like a playing field to reach the recently rebuilt ground. We got there about 2 hours early. We made our way through the security check point, where we had to empty our pockets (we were told to only take in what we needed as the more we had the longer it would take), then to the turnstile where they slotted our ticket in and verified it was real.
Once inside we found a programme seller (none outside the ground, which is unusual) and then a refreshment stand where the choice was decidedly limited compared to a normal game (five foods, including unshelled peanuts, popcorn and German sausage in a small round bun, so it stuck out either end and only Budweiser beer -- which had caused uproar amongst Germans, who are somewhat keen on their beer -- and Coca-Cola brand soft drinks as official sponsors). The line was going down smoothly until the guys in front of us asked for a reciept (Why?), which proved a task and cause the till to jam, so we had to go around the other side and queue again. We were entertained by a bunch of guys behind who were yelling at their mate Kev (who looked a bit like Mark Lawrenson with his 'tache) in another queue, especially when the TV screens showing shots of the fans showed someone who looked just like Kev ("Hey, Kev, you're on the telly!"). The funniest stuff was reserved for the frothy beer. Germans, like the Dutch, prefer smaller glasses with a lot of head, in England we drink almost exclusively from pint glasses, and it's filled to within a few millimetres of the top. One of the guys in front had a glass that was half full, literally half beer, half froth. He asked for it to be topped up and they moved it to within an inch of the top, on a small glass that's a lot missing. Needless to say the lads behind we making them the butt of many jokes. We left the queue and heard the phrase "Yeah, I'll have four of them frothy beers, love."
The stadium has only recently been built and it was spotlessly clean, even the toilets were okay, which at a football match is almost unheard of. We had reasonable seats in one corner on the second tier. As it happens, some of the English FA were seated along from us, and so was Malcolm Glazier (owner of Man Utd). One of the guys got him to sign his ticket, which he'd already got signed by Arsene Wenger (Arsenal boss), Gerard Houllier (ex-Liverpool boss) and Paul Jewell (Wigan boss) who he ran into at the refreshment stand!
The atmosphere was fantastic (which was a good thing as crowd separation was a myth, although there was probably 70% England fans, there were plenty of Germans and Swedish fans in pockets amongst them). All the English songs came out and we were signing so loud at the national anthem even the Swedish fans a couple of rows in front were impressed.
The game was going well but letting in the two soft goals drove all the England fans mad, and while were directly on the goal line at one end, three of the four goals were scored at the other end, although we did get to see Gerrard put in his header.
All in all it was a cracking night, both sets of fans were well behaved and giving their all in support of the team and even though we were there on a corporate ticket, the number of which in comparison to the number of tickets real fans are allocated is garnering some press attention.