Stadion im Borussia-Park, Mönchengladbach
Bundesliga: Borussia Mönchengladbach – VfL Wolfsburg 1-2
When I ordered the tickets for this contest over a month ago I did not anticipate that this afternoon the current (co)-leader in the Bundesliga would come to Gladbach. The Bundesliga top position is a revolving door this season. After Bayern Munich and later Hertha BSC had taken over the lead from revelation Hoffenheim currently VfL Wolfsburg and Hamburger SV are battling for the prestigious top spot.
In sharp contrast with the Wolves Mönchengladbach has been populating the lower reaches of the ranking this season. Although otherwise predicted at the beginning of the season “die Fohlen” (the Foals) are already for more than half a year in acute respiratory distress. Borussia won the championship in the 2nd Bundesliga last season under the Dutchman Jos Luhukay and, according to the experts, the team had sufficiently strengthened itself for a trouble-free season on the highest level. Unfortunately for the Gladbachers the team never really performed as expected and Luhukay was let go after a series of disappointing results in the autumn. The more experienced Hans Meyer was given the difficult task of putting the team back on the rails and away from the relegation zone. Borussia brought back the experienced Galásek from the Czech Republic and during the winter break shopped in Belgium with Dante (Standard) and Bailly (RC Genk) joining the club. Thanks to some strong performances Belgium’s national number 2 Logan Bailly quickly conquered the hearts of the Gladbach fans. You need, however, more than a good goalkeeper to win a match. In the rankings only Karlsruhe and Cottbus are behind Gladbach, sufficient enough to avoid direct relegation but not enough to avoid the life-threatening play-offs against the number 3 from the 2nd Bundesliga. Not something to look forward to with a match against a possible opponent like the ambitious Nürnberg or Kaiserslautern.
As so often with clubs the past of “Borussia VfL 1900 e.V. Mönchengladbach” is a lot prettier than the present. The club was there when the Bundesliga started in 1965 and dominated the Bundesliga in the 70 ‘s under success coach Hennes Weisweiler . The Borussen conquered in their most successful decade as many as 5 league titles, 1 DFB Pokal and two UEFA Cups. Borussia also lost the final of the Champions Cup in 1977 against Liverpool FC. Some of the more famous names of that period include Günter Netzer, Berti Vogts and Jupp Heynckes but even after the glory days you could see well-known names as Stefan Effenberg and Lothar Matthäus on the match sheet. Despite a last German Cup in 1995 Mönchengladbach has not been a contender over the past 20 years. Their most important achievement was the move from the old mythical Bökelberg in 2004 to the brand new Borussia-Park on the Western edge of town.
The first important feats on the new playing venue were already noted in 1568 (!!) when, in the beginning of the eighty years’ war, the Dutch and Spanish troops gave battle on the Dahlener Heide. Later Napoleon Bonaparte would also leave traces in this part of Mönchengladbach which from 1885 would become a recreation area including a Racecourse, a shooting range and a canoe trail. With the rise of aviation in the early 20th century the meadows around the current Stadium were increasingly being used for air shows. The airport that was built in 1922 by some amateur aviators was claimed by the Reichsluftwaffe in 1939. After the second world war, the area fell into the hands of the British army.
With the opening of the Borussia-Park on 30 July 2004, the rich past of battle and recreation in the area were well summarized: combative on the field and recreation next to it. The move from the old Bökelberg to the new Borussia-Park closed a chapter in Mönchengladbach. The luxury with which the supporters in the new stadium were confronted was never experienced in the old, largely outdoor, Bökelberg.The stadium capacity also increased: from 34,500 in the old to 54,000 places in the new stadium.
It is the third time I visit Borussia-Park and so I know what to expect when we enter Germany. We left well in advance to avoid the traffic congestion and park in the immense parking opposite the national hockey stadium in the shadow of the Borussia-Park. On the outside the stadium reminds me a little of a large grey spider or a large crab. Although the contest is still 3 hours away there’s already a lot of activity around the stadium. Several groups of Wolfsburg supporters enjoy the beautiful weather and already seem to look forward to the first League title in club history. Especially the great “fan-window” of 22.5 at 15 metres which is composed of 6,000 sponsored “fanbricks” can count on a great deal of interest among the visitors. We order our first Bratwurst and make a lap around the stadium to find the fanshop. The previous times I was in Mönchengladbach I only visited the mobile fanshop or the small shop under the stands but today I want to visit the large fanshop at the main entrance. We pass a strolling police unit and follow the arrow in the direction of the “Fanhaus”. That they are not very fond of the neighbors of the 1. FC Köln in this clubhouse is clear from the scarves and the trinklets that are being sold. I order 3 Diebels Alt and a Coke (for our driver) which we, surrounded by pot-bellied Eastern neighbours, enjoy on the terrace in front of the clubhouse. I do not like to speak in clichés but from the number of sizeable Germans we see today in Mönchengladbach it does suggest that healthy living TV networks are not a German thing.
On our way back to the stadium we spot our first fellow countrymen. Later in the day we will see a lot of Belgian flags pass in and around the stadium. Judging by the number of shirts the Belgian (ex)-Borussen seem to be well loved. Daems, Sonck, Van Kerckhoven, Van Houdt … we see them all. Only Bernd Thys has apparently few fans on the banks of the lower Rhine. We ignore a man who’s peddling non-official fan articles and set our sights on the Borussia-shop. On our way we persuade Roeland, the youngest in our company, to pose for a picture of Bailly and Daems. We have to promise not to show the picture on our website. In the club shop it is crowded and hot and I’m happy when I get back outside that I have chosen for a quick checkout, which cannot be said for everyone. The only thing left to do for us now is get a pint of Jever Pils. With my previous 2 visits to the Borussia-Park in mind I know that the beer barely deserves that label so I eagerly await the verdict of the others. My football friends of today, Tom and Roeland, are clearly more partial to the brew from northern Germany. They probably expected much worse after my warnings in recent weeks. Kris, our driver, keeps at cola. I order a Jever for myself as well. Jever or cola, cholera or plague, what difference does it make? On the way to our seats we lose sight of our driver Kris after a sanitary stop. After more than 20 minutes worrying I decide to call him. Kris has been waiting for over 15 minutes in the stands! We suspect that he has escaped our attention when a cute German girl passed by …
The stadium is with almost 50,000 spectators nicely filled. The number of Wolfsburg-fans I find rather small for a team that is so close to their first League title. Granted, their number is a multitude of the “masses” that I have seen in the past at away games of the Wolves but still. When we are asked to stand up for the club anthem of Borussia and tens of thousands of fans blow off the roof during “die 11 vom Niederrhein”. The party has started! Players who enjoy our special attention today are our compatriots Filip Daems and Logan Bailly. We are fortunate that both of them easily recognizable: Daems is Captain and Bailly stands between the posts. As a favor to my Bosnian colleague I also keep an eye on Dzeko and Misimovic though I must admit that after the recent double confrontation between Belgium and Bosnia I have my fill of Bosnian footballers. Another Wolf that enjoys my special attention is the Brazilian Grafite, whose name is pronounced in various ways in the media. Grafite is the main attraction in the Volkswagen team.
From the opening whistle Mönchengladbach takes the fight straight to Wolfsburg and charges towards goalkeeper Benaglio. Benaglio from his side proves he’s a great goalie by keeping his nets clean. Right now it is hard to believe that the Wolves have ridiculed the famous FC Bayern with 5-1 exactly a week ago! Unfortunately for the Foals of trainer Hans Meyer they miss opportunity after opportunity. Wolfsburg plays conservative and it takes more than 15 minutes before our compatriot in the Gladbach goal is put to work. A little over 20 minutes into the game Wolfsburg justify their first place in the rankings. A cross from Misimovic gives Dzeko the chance to score the opening goal and for the 7th time in 2 weeks a Belgian goalkeeper has to endure a Bosnian goal. Gladbach immediately tries to rectify the situation but due to a lack of prowess in the front of the goal both teams make it to the break with a 0-1 scoreline. I clearly recognize the hand of Felix Magath in Wolfsburg and while the Wolfsburg style of play might even be called ugly their class and maturity are clearly getting the upper hand. While Kris, who’s sitting next to me, gets more and more annoyed by the inability of Gladbach attacker Colautti to even control a ball, we all hope with the home fans that an equaliser can breathe new life into the contest. That wish actually comes true in the 79th minute when defender Dante heads a cross from youngster Marin into the net . The first goal of the Brazilian bought from Standard Liege sets Borussia-Park on fire. For a short moment anyway, when the scoreboard announces that immediate rivals Bochum and Cottbus are likely to win their games Wolfsburg again shows why they are at the top of the league. At first Bailly manages a fantastic save but when goalscorer Dante a bit later fails to clear the ball, Riether closes the game: 1-2. For Borussia Mönchengladbach there will be some exciting weeks ahead trying to stay about the relegation line while Wolfsburg can start dreaming of their first Bundesliga Championship after their 9th win in a row.
After the game, we go around the stadium taking some photos and eat another sausage that we wash away with a pint of Jever. The Jever tastes bitter but I am convinced that the pill that the Borussen have to swallow today tastes even worse.
Der Borussia-Park. Die Werkstatt
Kicker Sonderheft Bundesliga 08/09
“Preiswert, praktisch, gut”. EGGERS Erik in Stadionwelt N° 19, aug./sept. 2006
“Riether rettet die Seriei”. www.kicker.de