Niederrheinstadion, Regionalliga West, 4/5/19
Sport-Club Rot-Weiß Oberhausen e.V.
Nickname: Die Kleeblätter (The Clovers)
Honours: Regionalliga West 1969, Regionalliga West/Südwest 1996/97
Current Division: Regionalliga West
Random Fact: Between seasons 2004/05 and 2008/09 RWO managed a bizarre and rare sequence of a double relegation followed by a double promotion meaning they dropped from 2.Bundesliga to Oberliga Nordrhein to Regionalliga West. Then back to 2.Bundesliga in the following two seasons.
Regionalliga West, one of the five regionalized fourth tiers of German fitba sandwiched between 3-Liga and the Oberliga. A league that consists of teams in their own right, SV Rödinghausen, Wuppertaler SV, SG Wattenscheid, Alemannia Aachen among others. It is also home to second string teams of Germanys big boys like Borussia Dortmund II, Borussia Monchengladbach II and Fortuna Dusseldorf II whom all find a home there. Not a league I thought I would ever make a trip out of when I started taking on this foreign fitba malarkey. Then again as my nerdy tendencies have grown over time nothing can be ruled out when it comes to me and football.
In November 2016, I found myself on a course in Germanys industrial hotbed that is North Rhein-Westphalia. The destination of this course was Essen, Germanys ninth largest city also when translated amusingly means “eating”. On the course there were multiple nations represented with very few people having an active interest in football. This possibly down to there being a heavy number of Yanks, Indians and South Africans in attendance. There were however two guys who supported their local team. We got speaking due to my trusty Dons tourie which they had spotted earlier, this sparking a mutual appreciation of the fact we supported our local teams. Being from Essen, Andy (Andreas) and Martin have a glut of “big” or “bigger” teams they could follow in the vicinity, Schalke, Borussia Dortmund (who I was to see on the Tuesday night in the Champions League versus Legia Warsaw), Bochum, Duisburg and a trip to Monchengladbach or Dusseldorf wouldn’t take too much time. Commendably though they were bursting with local pride and were die hard Rot-Weiss Essen fans. I asked Andy if it was a family thing like my allegiance to Aberdeen and he gave the best answer I could have asked for. His retort, “I was born and bred in Essen, I couldn’t possibly support anyone else”. No better reason could be given than that to support the first ever German representatives in the European Cup. I had made pals.
On the Monday after the course we went for a few beers before my train to Dortmund where I was staying due to my Champions League exploits. The talk was one hundred percent football. I even managed to give them a history lesson on their own club and let them in on the tenuous link between Rot Weiss Essen and Aberdeen and how we should have played them in the 1955/56 European Cup. We should have been the ones who were heading to the Georg-Melches-Stadion as champions, but incredibly the spot was given to Hibs by “special invitation”. Fucking Hibs who were fifth in the league and trailed us by 15 points but more importantly had SFA members on their board. “Special Invite”, aye right, there is still a pungent smell of shite hanging in the air on that one. So instead of Paddy Buckley, Harry Yorston or Graham Leggat being the first player to score for a Scottish club in Europe’s premier competition that accolade was to go to none other than future Dons boss Eddie Turnbull (another tenuous link). But I digress. During our conversation I asked who their rivals are. Schwarz-Weiss Essen and Wuppertaller were both mentioned but there was another team mentioned and I immediately noticed a distinct change in tone at the mention of the name. That name? Rot-Weiss Oberhausen. A club whose Niederrheinstadion is only six and a half miles from RWEs Stadion Essen. During our conversation an interesting comment was made regarding the derby which stuck with me. I was informed it could be a bit “naughty” when Oberhausen were in town.
May 4th, 2019, I jump aboard the 6.04 train destined for Munster from Enschede. My fitba nerdiness had got the better of me. I was heading to the Rot-Weiss derby. I had decided a few months in advance it was the time to see what my German cohorts were on about. As I was offshore for the fixture in Essen back in October I had to make do with a trip to the Niederrheinstadion. No big issue to me as it was the derby and not the stadium I was there to see, well maybe partially the reason but the outcome was the same, a new scarf to the ever-growing collection, a new name on the grounds list and of course a seeing a Rot-Weiss derby. Due to the proximity of North Rhein-Westphalia to the Dutch border I decided to take in a Dutch game on the Friday night and make it a double header. FC Twentes title party against Cambuur was the game of choice with the visitors scunnering the pre-planned title hootnanny by coming back to two all with two goals and a third scandalously chopped off for “offside” all after the ninetieth minute. This leading to a mass exodus from DeGrolsch Veste. As much as I love Dutch football this weekend was to be about Germany. This was all about Germany as what went on that Saturday makes Enschede very much insignificant in terms of tales to tell.
After quick change of trains at Munster I was en-route to Oberhausen not really knowing what to expect. Was Oberhausen a shitehole? How big would the crowd be? How many would Essen bring? Would I get a scarf? How far from the train station to the stadium? One thing that I didn’t really take into consideration despite the “naughty” comment that sent me here in the first place was the number of police. When I got off the train it was all peaceful, when I got down the stairs onto the common walk way for all platforms it hit me. The “naughtiness” was apparent with the fifty plus riot officers many of whom were armed with German Shepherds stood lined up surrounding a platform staircase blocking it off from the normal public. This I can only assume was for the incoming Rot-Weiss Essen fans. As I made my way out of the station there was a group of twentyish riot police with helmets in one hand, batons in the other with their shields resting against the wall. They were ready to kick ass if need be, that was more that clear. Once outside the station I was greeted with streets lined with riot vans, the type with the water cannons on top that are usually associated with plastic chair armed England fans. One other thing that was glaringly obvious was my Dons track top was being scrutinized left right and centre by the local constabulary. If I only knew what was coming in a few hours.
After a bit of time walking around seeing the sights , which to be honest there are not many .I hopped in a taxi up to Niederrheinstadion so I could sort my ticket, scarf and thirst. The place is a trek from the city. Walkable if you have a spare hour and a bit but well out the way tucked up in the corner of an Industrial estate and miles away from the center. (That has an air of familiarity about it) I always like to judge the atmosphere prior to games too and it was clear straight off the mood around seemed to be good, the shades and t-shirt weather was helping. What may also have been lifting the spirits was the fact RWO were in a title race with Viktoria Koln and trailed them by three points with three games to go. Promotion to 3-Liga was a possibility after a seven-year absence. Once my brief and my “schaal” were obtained I searched out a bar which wasn’t too hard as it was adjacent where I got my obligatory thumb up photo. A few pints, some funny looks and more importantly even more friendly smiles and nods in my direction I was ready to witness the lowest level of fitba out with Scottish fitba I had ever attended (before this was the third tier Norwegian fitba at Frigg Oslo). My ticket was for the Stoag Tribune on the wing, but as I was making my way around, I noticed the behind goal stand had flags flying and a megaphone blasting signifying the ultras were housed in there, so I tried my luck. The security guard didn’t even check the ticket and the Revierkraft Tribune was to be my home for the game. This definitely being the better option as it was terraced, and I would always pick standing over sitting. This and the fact I could bask in the warm sun’s rays.
The noise was good in the lead up with the “Capo” drumming up a great atmosphere. Also helping was Underdog the local mascot, complete with scooter spinning about the running track pumping his fist which was returned by chants and cheers. I stood there taking it all in scoofing another Konig Pilsener in the German sun wondering how fourth tier football could generate such a fantastic din and our own Pittodrie can be so morgue like at times despite having over twice as much in attendance. Heedless of being penned into a corner of the Kanalkurve Gaste positioned a fair distance from the pitch and unable to influence linesmen (take note Aberdeen) the visiting faction made their presence felt too. Flares, bouncing and singing throughout setting adding to the tone of proceedings. Speaking of the Kanalcurve it is the only remnants of the old school concrete bowl this place one was. The old school three-sided uncovered bowl-shaped terracing with a main stand plonked on the fourth side with running track approach. With redevelopment happening in 1982, 1996 and 2018 you can see the evolution of the ground by looking at it. Incidentally the 2018 Revierkraft Tribune I was housed in ruined it for me as it was built in front of the terrace putting an end to the oval. A lot will have changed since the Dons were kicked off the park in a 3-2 “friendly” win in 1993. That was irrelevant though, with the police presence, the atmosphere, the fact it was a derby and Oberhausen chasing the title this had the makings of a cracking game. Or so I was hoping.
As it went, me along with the guts of six thousand other punters were treated to a highly enjoyable game played in a manner a derby should be played. Rough tackling, flare ups between players, pyro, bookings and the atmosphere never dwindled at any point. Surprisingly the standard of football was higher than I thought it would be. Maybe on par with our own Championship? Both teams would easily fancy their chances against Dundee United. I would have said the Red and Whites of Essen (in black) were the better team. Proof of this was their supremacy of possession throughout the first half and their deserved taking of the lead bang on half time. This came through a marvelously worked passing move. They were clearly here to piss on Oberhausens title credential chips. Shortly after the break the home side equalized with what turned out to be their only effort on target all match. A bullet header from a set piece. The game carried on at a high tempo with the challenges flying in but ended in the stalemate. With Viktoria Koln drawing at mid table also rans Verl, RWOs title hunt was still very much alive and well (only to come to a halt on the last day of the season at Verl)
Full Metal Jacket, one of the best films ever. It is basically two films in one. The first when they are in training for Vietnam. The second when the shit hits the fan and they are sent to ‘nam. That’s my experience of Oberhausen right there. The pre-game and the game itself being the first part of the film. The second half of Full Mental Oberhausen was the aftermath.
Once I made my way back to the train station, I had a fair amount of time to burn before my train back to Schiphol. Inevitably there was nothing to do but enjoy a couple of nectar delights outside the station in the sun where I was surrounded by the presence of the local constabularies storm trooper division who seemed to have multiplied since before the match. This fact didn’t really sink in at the time, I was more gutted my weekends football was coming to an end. Once the train was around twenty minutes away, I decided it was time to retrieve my bag from the lockers and a grab a few refreshments for the three-hour ride. If only it was that easy. Once on the platform it dawned on me that the place was full of Essen fans and on my bloody platform. This turned into a potential serious fuck up and I wasn’t wrong. As I walked up to the platform, I was greeted with the sight of RWE fans all over and here was I in my newly acquired RWO top under my Dons track top and scarf in my pocket. In the quickest movement of hand I had ever carried out. I managed to fully zip up the top and hide the offending articles as best as possible then headed to the “safety” of quietest area of the platform. Here I cracked a beer, put on my I-pod and waited minding my own business. Then came what I didn’t want, I was tapped on the shoulder by an inebriated Essener who proceeded to ask questions about my (Dons) top and why I was there. He then went on vitriolic rants about Oberhausen which included, “fuck off Oberhausen” and “I fucking hate Oberhausen” at the top of his voice. Then, from out of nowhere a hail of bottles came flying at the platform showering everyone with shards of glass. A conversation stopper and a half. This was followed by the unmistakable chanting of fitba fans spoiling for a punch up. The Essen fans burst into life, put their hoods up bizarrely and stood chest puffed out holding out for the unavoidable skirmish that was imminent. Although the situation was clearly not a good one to find myself in, I couldn’t help but stop to laugh at the Oberhausen hooligans who came up the stairs to the wrong platform, looked over and noticed their error, disappeared down only to come up the wrong staircase again. All that was missing was the Benny Hill music. As my brain was telling me to wise up and make a move when I turned and tried to make my way away from the staircase end of the platform (they were bound to get it right eventually) I was met by more rampaging hooligans running down the tracks with their faces covered lobbing more bottles over my head. Thankfully they left me alone and made a beeline for the battle royal further down. The big question here was, where the fuck was all the police, the multitudes that I had seen around 15 minutes earlier. There were only two entrances to the station. These idiots must have been seen entering the building. When I looked back there were more of them scaling the fence. It was a full-on three-way ambush of the travelling fans and the fighting ensued as I tried to distance myself further, I was met by the riot police who had along with finally decided to do their job, had put two and two together and got bullshit. Skinhead, plus beer, plus football track top, plus sambas clearly means hooligan. (now I see that written down I can see where they were coming from). I was immediately pinned against the wall with an earful of German barked at me. Despite my protests in English the officer continued to shout in German while forcing his baton into my back. When he turned me around, I suspect he worked out I was wearing Aberdeen and not RWE top, so he switched to English and started to hit me on the badge repeating “what are you doing here?” , “what are you doing here”, after a few jabs I was getting sore and it was about this point where I saw my train arrive which I was clearly going to miss. I started trying to reason with him saying that my train to Holland and I would be stuck in Germany while also trying to explain I was just an innocent football tourist. Away from what was going on with me, I noticed when the doors opened on the train and the Essen fans ran for cover only to find they were to be once again ambushed as the train was full of Oberhausen eejits who must have got on further up the track. By this point it was well out of hand and being in the presence of a copper may have saved my bacon (no pun intended). I was now being bundled into a shack, a Perspex box on the platform was where I was to spend the next while in the company of another two guys were being detained with two stormtroopers on the door. Again, I tried to reason with a guard and explained I had been in Enschede the night before and I was due on that train (which had now been delayed). I attempted to get my phone out of my pocket to show the folder of thumb up ground photos I have. No chance as before I got it out my wrist was rattled by a truncheon, so again I tried and I literally got my knuckles wrapped by the truncheon so for a third time I attempted to take out my phone with the same result but in a more fierce fashion immediately bursting my knuckles. You would have thought I had a concealed weapon on me. Third time was the charm and I was manhandled and bundled to a seat and told to keep my hands behind my back. All I could do was watch the carnage finally disperse, arrests be made, sirens die down and more importantly my train bugger off leaving me to hang my head fully expecting to be detained and be treated to a night in a German cell.
Once the storm had died another more senior officer approached me and told me to explain myself. This time I got my phone out without the polices version of whack-a-mole and managed to show I was an innocent bystander who just enjoys fitba. He then changed he demeanor from irritable bellend to a decent guy once he had seen my photos and realized the mix up. He was even apologetic. So apologetic he organized me a hotel, not in Oberhausen as that would be too easy but in neighboring Gelsenkirchen as they had cost me my train and flight home. He even told me the next train to get there. I was then sent on my way and it was over like that. It was surreal to say the least. I took my bruised boob, sore back and split open fingers and made my way through the piles of broken glass to the pub to get a well-deserved nerve calming beer until I finally got to board a train. As I sat there, I found myself thinking, being caught up in riots and police brutality or watching Aberdeen get pummeled by celtic AGAIN? I know I had more fun than the 15189 Dons fan that were at Pittodrie watching the Dons meekly allow the league to be won on our patch. I was glad I went where I went, I promised myself I would attend the Rot-Weiss derby again. Which incidentally I now am, this time at the Stadion Essen on February 15th, next year. That’s not all though, in an incredible coincidence the Dons are home that day to? You guessed it, those fuckers again. I think I’ll grow my hair in and leave the track top at home this time though.
Fourth tier German football. Bloody hell!