All Aboard to Leverkusen
Updated: Sep 26, 2019
Bayer Leverkusen 2; Volland (20.), Alario (25.)
Union Berlin 0;
Distance Covered: 1150km
Season Total: 2372km
Beer & Bratwurst Rating: 7/10
I’d never heard of a Party Train (or Sonderzug to give it its official name) before moving to Germany. It was definitely a strange concept to me. Even though a lot of my away trips in England involved traveling to games where I lived - such was the beauty of living in London - it still wasn’t difficult to recognise that what away fans can and can’t do is often severely restricted. Specifically, the ability of away fans to have a drink and a proper away day. So it’s safe to say the idea of several hundred fans being left alone on a private train with as much alcohol as they can carry onboard, backed up by an extremely well stocked bar serving everything including some of the strongest measures available outside my own kitchen, all to the very loud soundtrack of a DJ playing a mixture of Union-related songs, questionable eurotrance and whatever the fuck else passes as German pop music was very much something that I’d not experienced before. And like with most things Union related, I fell in love with it straight away when I made my first trip last year.
What you would normally recognise as the buffet carriage has been stripped out completely to make way for a DJ booth and ample dancefloor. Above the DJ booth hang some PA speakers providing sound that genuinely outperforms some actual bars I’ve been in, partnered with a small lighting rig that once it becomes dark is surprisingly effective. A bar now stands where once sandwiches would’ve been sold (yes I bought my own…. obviously) and all of this is being thoroughly enjoyed by those who’ve ventured down the carriages to the party wagon, even if it is still before 9am. As for those carriages I’d be amazed if any of them were built after I was born. And it’s all part of the charm. Most of the carriages are split into 6 people compartments meaning that unless you’ve come in a large group you’ll be in the company of some strangers. Having said that as with most away trips, a fellow fan is hardly a stranger and I’ve already met some great people this way on previous trips. There are naturally stewards from the club on the train to help keep order (not that they are needed) and occasionally check tickets, but for the most part everyone is just left alone to get on with the serious business of a good away day session. I can’t for the life of me ever picture the Police or the rail companies in England allowing something similar.
The 17 hour round trip to Leverkusen summed up everything I love about a good away day, particularly in light of what was Union’s worst performance of the season. Barely in the game throughout and without a shot registered on target, Union slumped to a 2-0 defeat that could have been more had it not been for a lackluster Leverkusen side. Throw in another red card to the mix (the third in five games) and it’s difficult to think what more could have gone wrong. Not that you would have noticed any of this were you to have just been listening to the 2,500 Union fans in the ground. After the final whistle everyone was still there singing away as they had been for the previous few hours, 100% behind a team who were also watching on and applauding. It cannot be overstated enough the attitude towards the team and club regardless of the performance. Booing, whistling or indeed anything close to that is just not tolerated and the difference it makes is huge. I’ve no doubt the team will show a response on Friday against Eintracht Frankfurt and I’ve also no doubt the support they received in Leverkusen will play its role in that.
To anyone going to Leverkusen at another time I can heartily recommend their bier and bratwurst. Admittedly the bread itself was poor, but that was a mighty tasty bratwurst. Other grounds you’ve been warned, a good standard has been met.
There’s already been lots of positives things to write about but in the interest of balance here’s something not so great. One of the downsides of supporting a team in a foreign country means you’re often subject to snide comments from fans. I’ve read comments online from other foreign fans having experienced something similar, especially at home games. Admittedly it’s not much (I’ve been called far worse from proper friends) and is usually a variation of, “why don’t you speak/learn some german” or, “who let the english here” along with various accusations of being tourists. It’s happened before and it happened again at Leverkusen on the walk to the stadium. There was a bit of surprise when I answered back in German. To be fair to the other lad, he apologised and we ended up chatting for 20 mins outside the ground about German and English football culture. To a certain extent I can understand it. There’s plenty of foreigners in Berlin who don’t speak german and even fewer English people who do. As Union become more and more popular and the fight for tickets becomes more and more extreme, the topic of tourists (or ‘eventies’ are they are often referred to) becomes louder. However over the past 10 games that’s probably the 4th or 5th time I’ve had someone make a snide comment in german not expecting me to be able to understand. Maybe it was just always there and my german was too shit to notice 4 or 5 years ago. I should also point out I’ve met many fantastic Union fans and throughout my time going to games I’ve invariably been made to feel extremely welcome. Yet I can’t help shake the feeling it’s becoming more and more noticeable.
In a way this is a universal topic for football fans and one I’m not entirely unfamiliar with. Growing up a Manchester Utd fan as a non-Mancunian you wouldn’t only be subjected to shit jokes from other fans about not being from Manchester, it wasn’t uncommon to hear about JCLs (Johnny-Come-Lately’s) and OOTers (Out-Of-Towners) from actual United fans. Comments online might not be the best barometer of things but it is apparent that a “real-Union fan vs non-Union fan’’ debate is and has been going on amongst the Union support for a while. Perhaps I’m not in the best position to judge. However I do know people who travel hundreds of miles to go to see Union, not because they are successful but because it’s how a lot of people want to watch football. From this outsider’s point of view, it’s something that should be looked on with pride that people who should realistically have no affiliation with this club can feel such a connection and want to travel such great distances to see them play. And certainly just because two people are speaking their own language doesn't mean either are any less of a supporter.