The HamburgHammer Column
It should have been a glorious footballing feast…in theory. Okay, at the very least we should have beaten those part timers of Altona comfortably, even taking into account the fact that Altona’s season was already in full swing (having played one league and one cup game already) and West Ham were still trying to improve their match fitness mainly without suffering any injuries to our players at this crucial stage with the first league game at Manchester United just around the corner.
I won’t say anything here about the Monday before the game when I welcomed Fallingegirl to my city as he will pen his own guest article on his Hamburg experiences I understand.
On matchday I met up with Liam early in the afternoon, another fellow Hammer from another West Ham forum who had travelled over for the game from Brentwood.
We shook hands at the entrance of St.Pauli’s famous Millerntor Stadion before going on the stadium tour which surprisingly was still on despite St.Pauli being scheduled to play Stoke in a preseason friendly just four hours later.
So it came as no surprise that our group bumped into the busy St.Pauli kitman in the dressing room who promptly but politely threw us out again after two minutes as he had work to do obviously.
It is such an amazing stadium (just under 30k capacity) despite having been modernised on all four sides about five years ago to effectively replace the older stadium that used to stand there in the very same location.
Despite being a state of the art stadium it still oozes the character, values and traditions of the club that resides there. For example they do have a corporate VIP section of course, but even the guests in those areas don’t get a red carpet treatment. They have to enter through a simple cobblestoned entrance and and have to get to their lounges via the same stairs used by supporters sitting in the cheap seats.
The lounges are special insofar as they all look different and the sponsors using them have kitted each one out in a distinctively unique design and style, so there is a pirate themed bar for instance, a chamber resembling a mountain cabin in the Alps, another one recreating the look of the dressing room in the old stadium and many more.
When I was stepping out onto one of the balconies of a lounge, looking down at the pitch it reminded me of a moment more than two years ago when I was spending the night at the West Ham hotel at Upton Park, admiring the green grass of the Boleyn just below, so close you almost felt you could touch the blades of grass with your fingertips.
I am sure that 90% (or more) of the West Ham fans would love to watch home games from a stadium like the Millerntor where St.Pauli play (only a claret and blue version of course).
After the tour we met up with the radio guy from the local radio station and took the bus over to Altona and as could be expected the buses were absolutely heaving with fans from both sides travelling to the game. My first action was to buy a half and half scarf. I usually despise those matchday souvenirs, to me they represent part of what is wrong with modern football and I never buy them when attending a Premier League game, but this was a special occasion after all, my beloved West Ham playing a team FROM my birthplace and hometown Hamburg IN Hamburg, nevermind it was the wrong Hamburg team, but still…LOL
I still maintain though that the task of organising this game must have been slightly overwhelming for a club of Altona’s stature.
I had a bad feeling already when ordering the tickets for this game online as the process was flawed and people ended up getting the wrong tickets. This manifested itself further when entering the stadium. I had been told in advance that Altona for some reason seemed keen to use an approach based on nationality when segregating fans.
So German fans were supposed to go in the home ends to the other Germans, no matter if they supported West Ham or Altona while apparently English fans only were supposed to be allowed into the designated away section.
Fallingegirl for some reason ended up entering through the main entrance, watching the game surrounded by Altona fans while being in full West Ham gear. Apparently a lot of tickets weren’t actually checked thoroughly by stewards upon stadium entry. Other West Ham fans from Germany in claret and blue were following in Fallingegirl’s footsteps as apparently stewards had told them to do just that. I was already in the away section when the radio guy nearly got me chucked out unwittingly by telling the stewards about the fact I was a local Hammers fan with a German passport he was doing a feature on.
It turned out there were plenty of German Hammers fans there after all, both from Hamburg and the surrounding area which means I am now officially no longer the only Hammer in the village…:-)
I will now try to stay in touch with some of them and hopefully we can find an Irish Bar or something that will allow us to watch West Ham together on a big screen or telly on a more regular basis, we will see.
I have spoken before about my disappointment that the West Ham-Concordia game never materialised and my being even more disappointed that Altona were ultimately successful with their bid. I am now more convinced than ever that something doesn’t add up financially here. I actually wrote an email to the local sponsors who were mentioned in the local press when the fixture was announced to get a bit more information on this and how 4th level Altona were actually able to make it all happen.
I wasn’t surprised I never heard back from them…
Again, I cannot confirm the actual match fee asked by West Ham on this blog, but it is a significant sum and surely totally out of the financial reach of a club like Altona.
Even with the help of the local sponsor the match fee would be far too high to warrant the game to go ahead without someone losing money and certainly Altona can’t have earned anything from this in money terms, especially after only selling 5000 tickets when their ground could hold nearly twice as many.
I am convinced that either West Ham lowered their asking price for the match fee to suit Altona or it was a case of someone knowing someone and owing them a business favour. I am highly biased of course as a Concordia fan here, with wounded pride maybe clouding my judgment, but this contest seemed dodgy from the beginning.
I doubt we will ever hear the truth about what really happened there to be honest.
The game didn’t make a lot of sense in terms of the gulf between the quality of the two teams (even though that gulf of course wasn’t apparent in the game itself). I heard that Altona had to upgrade the dressing room for their visitors at short notice as the standards were not quite up to the standards expected by “posh” West Ham.
Maybe that was part of the problem: West Ham seemed to expect a glorified practise session with spectators in the stands, Altona on the other hand gave them a proper game, wanting it more, running more, being up for it to a degree that apparently surprised or even shocked our players.
There was one punch up in the away section, forcing the police to drop the sausages they were munching on and intervene. Apparently it wasn’t even a West Ham fan causing the aggro but a Halle fan from East Germany sporting fascist tattoos and trying desperately to pick a fight. Halle were even playing a game that day.
So to take the bizarre effort of ordering a ticket for this game weeks ago and then travelling for hours just to pick a fight and ending up being frogmarched out of the ground is quite an impressive display of stupidity.
Football wise there were some positive news for me after all when I learned that Concordia had won their cup game at Wentorf by a 5:0 scoreline.
So at least one of my teams on the night lived up to their status as favourites.
So, what do I take away from the last few preseason days encountered with West Ham ? Well, I was a bit disappointed, with the games itself obviously, but also with the closed training session on Thursday and what seemed to me like players that were not caring about the German fans that much, giving away vibes of being distant, disinterested or bored. To put this into perspective though, I have also heard stories of the team being very good with certain other individuals and kids, making their day in the process.
So maybe I was just unlucky and we were actually discussing this issue during our farewell beers outside a restaurant in Altona on Tuesday evening, me, Fallingegirl, Ebi, the German Hammer from near Cologne and his son Tommy (biggest Tomkins fan on the planet). We all agreed that it’s not really worth it getting attached to the players or expecting any of them to behave in an overly friendly or jolly manner with the fans. You are bound to get disappointed if the players don’t react in the way you would like them to.
Same with the decisions of the board. Owners come and go, but the fans will still be there with new owners in charge. We established there is one thing that really is at the focus for us all when it comes to supporting West Ham and why we will hopefully continue to do so for many years to come: It is the bond between Hammers fans worldwide, helping each other out, having each other’s back, having a good time together and being there for each other.
I have met quite a few new friends in the last few days who share my love for West Ham, fellow Germans, but also from Essex and Greater Manchester. Yes, West Ham are a football club first and foremost and we want to see them win games. Maybe even want to see them get to the next level sometime in our lifetime. But as long as there are still West Ham fans looking out for one another it doesn’t matter too much what happens on the pitch.
We didn’t pick West Ham (or get chosen by West Ham in some cases) for glory or bragging rights. It’s because of, pardon the pathos, being part of the West Ham family.
And the preseason tour of Germany has given me a strong indication that the West Ham family is very much alive and kicking. And that’s the biggest positive I take away from our preseason travels in Germany. COYI!