What does it cost to send a text message on an English mobile from Germany to a French mobile? Not, I hope, a lot since the receiving end brought only one moment of joy from
Pete Sixsmithin Hoffenheim. After “2-0 down and outclassed” came a long interval before the one-word missive “Henderson” fuelled hope. Almost immediately, it was “3-1” and, well, Salut! Sunderland was left feeling grateful that Pete had sounded cheerful in his second dispatch from Germany, a message from Mannheim sent hours before matchday blues took over …
Day three of our assault on the beer halls of Baden-Wurrtemberg dawned as a bright and clear one. The temperature was up, the sun was shining and the grizzled philosophers who congregated in the bushes opposite the excellent Central Hotel were bathing their dogs in the public water spaces.
The party split into two groups. One group decided to climb church towers, visit historic schlosses and ride rhe funicular railway. The other went to Mannheim to watch a level five football match.
Mr Pete Horan accompanied me on the tram to Mannheim. The hotel receptionist was intrigued that we wanted to visit the city and had to stifle his laughter when he heard we wanted to take the tram. “But nobody does that”, he said. “Everyone takes the train. It takes 15 minutes and the tram takes an hour. And you want to go there to watch a football match. You English have strange enthusiasms” (I made the last bit up, but I bet he was thinking it).
The tram ride was pleasant and Mannheim was as well. It was extensively rebuilt in the 50s and 60s and it reminded Pete of Stevenage or Milton Keynes. But it was busy and bustling and had an amazing food market, full of fresh fruit and veg and hausfraus doing the weekend shop. No shrink wrapped supermarket veg for sturdy Mannheimers.
We arrived at the Carl Benz Stadion, after taking the wrong tram and ending up in a residential suburb, and wandered around a deserted forecourt, looking a wee bit lost and bewildered. We were approached by a charming man who was attached to the club to work with their Ultras and to choreograph their shouts and chants.
Like many Europeans, he apologised for his poor English and then proceeded to hold a sophisticated conversation about what had happened to Mannheim in the last few years. He told us where to buy tickets, where to sit, about the team and about his choreographed chants. He wished Sunderland well and only blotted his copybook when he said that he hoped Newcastle would stay up. We left him on a bloodied heap on the floor.
A good Chinese buffet lunch later, we bought tickets and programmes and took our seats along with 2,800 others to watch the opening game of the season in Baden Wurtemberg Regional League 1.
Stadion Carl Benz holds 25,000, but enthusiasm and loyalty are often more important than numbers.
Mannheim fans are proud of their club. The heady days of the Bundesliga may well have gone forever, but they turn up, buy their scarves and shirts and have the slogan “Working Class Football Since 1907” emblazoned across tickets and programmes.
Our friend and his Ultras performed well, better than the team in the first half, who should have been a goal down to visitors Astoria Waldorff – possibly the only team to have the same name as at least one hotel and salad. The home team keeper, a veteran of 36, kept them alive and the youngsters around him worked hard to remain in the game. Nine of the eleven had joined the club in the summer and there were Italian, Irish, Russian and Turkish names in the line up.
Half time came, Pete toddled off to get some drinks while I watched a man with the world’s worst moustache have an animated conversation with the guy in front of him. The drinks arrived and Pete was impressed that the plastic glasses had a 50c refundable deposit on them – so no litter on the floor here.
Mannheim had obviously reorganised themselves at the break and took the game to the Salad Boys. Giancarlo Pinna’s curving free kick on 53 minutes settled the game and Mannheim were delighted to beat a team that was tipped to win the sole promotion place. On the tram back to the station (the correct one this time) there was a real buzz.
The train ride took 20 minutes on a modern, comfortable electric train, about as far removed as the provincial rattlers provided by Northern Rail as Mannheim are from Bayern Munich and co. We met Paul Dobson – Sobs – in a bar on the station and took him back to the hotel, determined to show him a good time in our adopted home.
After a shower and another thing beginning with s, we pitched up in Vette to drink dark wheat beer. This time we bought a wiiden keg containing 5l which was rested on the window sill enabling us to fill up our glasses whenever needed. Mr. Horan tapped it to the amusement of the couple sharing the table with us, but I thought he did a pretty good job – so well done Pete.
Sobs left for his hotel in Sinsheim and we ambled into a tiny neighbourhood bar, reminiscent of The Nag’s Head opposite BAGS: the pils from Kahrlsrhuw was excellent and it was a glimpse of ordinary workaday Heidelberg that most tourists are denied.
And so to bed…….., as far more accomplished diarists have written.
Coming soon: Sunday in Sinsheim