Is it possible to fall in love at first sight? Well I think it is, following my visit to the Adolf Jager Kampfbahn on the 28th November last year. Well ok, not quite 'first sight'. The last time I was in Hamburg, back in December 2005, I tried to see the ground, you were away that weekend, but the gates were locked, so I could only get a tantalising, teasing peek through the fence outside, as if I was having a naughty look through the doors of a Reeperbahn club! It got me excited...I wasn't in love yet, but my 'crush' had begun! I vowed to return to Hamburg one day, & catch a match here. Not just because of the beautiful old ground which just oozes history from every pore, but the clincher of the '93'!
For I am a lifelong fan of a small non-league club from London, called Dulwich Hamlet, & we too began in 1893! So I am naturally drawn toward that year. I have been to Germany a few times in the past, the first before some of you reading this were born, back for the European Championships in 1988. The opening England match was in Stuttgart, & they too are an '1893' club, so I have always thought of them as my 'German side'. I saw them a couple of times back in the late eighties/early nineties. I've always liked to travel & watch football, but sadly liked a drink a bit too much, & soon after stopped long distance football, as I craved beer too much, above everything else & needed all my 'spare' pennies for drinking. I eventually came to accept that I was an alcoholic, & finally stopped drinking in May 2002, & fortunately have been sober ever since. Although I still don't have much spare money, it does mean that I can now afford to pop over the Channel a few times a season, to various places, & I decided early last year that I trip to Hamburg was a must, & a long weekend was booked, with the 'main event' being an Altona game!
Most 'normal' folk, when they take a break somewhere, head for the nearest museums, galleries or spires. Well I don't mind a bit of culture, but for me... I go straight to the nearest football grounds, or ice hockey rinks, as that is my secondary sport. My plan was a full one. Friday night at Viktoria Hamburg. Another delightful old ground. I had heard that you Germans don't let the little matter of snow get in the way of a football game, but this was unreal! I had arrived at the start of some heavy early winter weather, & the pitch was covered white, with layers of snow settling in the second half. There was no way this game would have even started, never mind finish, back in London!
Saturday saw me at the Bundesliga clash between HSV & VfB Stuttgart. 4-2 to Hamburg, my ticket was a mid-range one, behind the goal, bought by a friend of mine via the internet, as he could understand some German. Was I rooting for VfB? Funnily enough, not really, I would have been happy enough if they'd won, but not too upset that they lost. I will always have an affection for them, & keep an eye for their results, but I do not really 'love' them. Didn't stop me buying some of their souvenirs though, which I kept in my bag!
What shocked me was the sectarianism on show. Being British I know all about the crazy goings on north of the border, up in Scotland, between Celtic & Rangers. Nominally brought up/brainwashed as a catholic, I have sided towards Celtic, & politically personally support the Republican cause, so have never had time for the bigots from Ibrox. I knew that Celtic had a fans link up with St Pauli, but naively had no idea that Hamburg were tied with Rangers. I was shocked to see sectarianism to exported to northern Germany! On the train back to the centre of town there were even some drunk racist Rangers fans singing in their broad Glaswegian accents "I'd rather be a paki than a Tim!" (Tim being a slang nickname for a Celtic fan). I sadly kept quiet, as a lone Englishman against six of them I wasn't going to risk them turning on me! Wrong, but also right, for my protection!
On the Sunday I was hoping to go to another ground, to see HSV Under 19s, but the gates were locked when I arrived at the venue, which was by the Stellingen 'open' ice rink, where I had seen the Altona hockey team the night before. It had been switched elsewhere at very short notice, as the result was in Kicker the next day, & I ended up watching a very minor game in the Kreissklasse 5 on an adjacent pitch, the home side being called AC Italia. then it was off to the 'main event', for my trip. Coming out of the station I following a couple of people wearing the red & black, & got to the ground about half an hour before kick off. Inside I was tingling, from the nervous excitement of my first visit to see a game here, & not just shivering from the freezing temperatures!
I wistfully walked past the beer stand, doing a good trade in the warm gluhwein. Boy oh boy, it was cold! I headed along the grass bank behind the goal & bought myself a scarf & hat from the club shop, on top of assorted other bits & pieces. Sadly I had only so much to spend, otherwise I would have bought one of everything!
The game itself was never going to be brilliant, being played out on a bone hard snow covered frozen pitch, but I got what I came for...which was a home win! In truth the game was anything but beautiful, not in a physical way. The visitors, Osteeinbeker SV, seemed as though they didn't want to be there at all, while Altona tried as well at they could in the conditions, & did what they had to do, ending up comfortable two nil winners. Believe me, it was brilliant to see a victory for my 'virgin' Altona game. In Belgium I follow a (now) 4th division level side UR Namur. Good friends (through football!) of mine, Danuta & Nicolas, are from there, & I am also Godparent to their beautiful new son Arthur, but that is another story! Anyway I have seen Namur SEVEN times, but have yet to see them win! So you can understand my joy at getting my first Altona victory under my belt straight away!
One of my hobbies is taking lots of photos of football grounds, so I tried to keep some warm blood moving round my frozen body by doing a circuit. In the first half a local came up to me, as I was behind the far goal, & spoke to me..I apologised, saying I was English. Fortunately he spoke it too, which is why you are reading this now. His name is Jan & he edits your fanzine! We chatted for a little while, & sold me a copy, which even had a couple of articles in English!
What really caught my eye in it though was the fact you have Supporters football! I couldn't understand a word of it, as that was one of the many majority German stories, but it put an idea into my head. You see I am part of the Dulwich Hamlet Supporters' Team! We are total rubbish, getting old, but playing totally for fun! We usually get beaten, but we have played, on & off, since May 1989; & since 2002 we have played tour matches abroad. We have been to Holland, the Czech Republic, Italy, France, Belgium, Estonia, Finland & Scotland....but never Germany..yet!
I have asked Jan to arrange a game against the Altona fans toward the end of July 2012. We will visit Hamburg for the weekend of July 21st/22nd. The idea is to play a game somewhere, whether on grass or an artificial pitch it does not matter, against the Altona fans side, then watch the 'big boys' play, wherever you are, home or away, the same weekend. We don't take ourselves seriously, & would expect to lose, a lot of us are in our forties & fifties, our oldest player will have a 'cameo' appearance, he will be 62 next year & only has one eye! That is not a joke... ;-)
At the moment I have at least a dozen of us interested in making the trip, but hope to have a party of 15 or 16, by the next next summer comes around.
If we have enough players travelling we may try to get a second match against St. Pauli fans, but I have not approached them yet. Much as it will be great to play them too, with a fans attitude background that looks similar to yours & ours in outlook, for me personally it will be a dream to have an Altona weekend. No matter what though, I will arrange for us to go on a stadium tour at Millerntor! It won't be quite being able to see your own museum, but....
Jan has chatted to me by email, & is hopefull we can play, so it's over to you lot to agree!
I didn't buy the book on sale about your proud history. I was tempted, but it was a lot of money to 'waste'....'just' to look at the pictures. If it was in English I would have paid for it & read it cover to cover, without putting it down! We are very different as clubs, but there are also similarities. Our home is a modest stadium, built on the site of our our previous one, which was demolished at the start of the nineties. The heyday of Dulwich Hamlet was in the era between the two World Wars,when we were the greatest amateur side in England. The old Champion Hill Stadium, 1931 to 1991, could hold up to 30,000 people, nobody really knew the full capacity; & we regularly attracted gates of over ten thousand in the 1930's.
In the olden days it was traditional for many English sides to tour continental Europe at Easter time, & The Hamlet were regular 'Channel Hoppers' right up to the start of the '39 to '45 War. I've just put down our only club history, published way back in 1968, for our 75th anniversary, in total shock! I picked it up off of my dusty bookshelf to see how many times we had been to Germany in the past. Five times, in case you're wondering. But staring right at me, in black & white, is one of the results from the 1924/25 season:
Altona (1893) Hamburg won 4-0.
My gosh! Sadly I have no more details, but I shall check the archives of our local newspapers when I get a chance, to see if there were any mentions of the match. Silly as it sounds, I am so proud there is already a tenuous link between our two clubs & we have met before! That match, incidentally, was the only win of our three match trip well over eighty years ago. Our booklet informs me that we drew 1-1 with Gelsenkircken & lost by three goals to one at Dusseldorf.
I'm not one for 'soundbites'. In June 1963, a few years before I was born, the American President John F. Kennedy visited West Berlin & came out with his famous 'Ich bin ein Berliner!' statement. Laughed at for decades, as some claim it was translated as 'I am a jelly donut!' ( or 'jam doughnut' in proper English, as that is what a 'Berliner' from a cake shop is) I don't know how true that is, nor if I am a doughnut or not...one English meaning of it is to mean someone stupid, so I may well be 'a bit of doughnut' for falling head over heels for a small football club in Hamburg. One thing I can hold my head up high & say though, regardless of how it translates, is...
"Ich bin ein Altonaer!"