Freitag, 1. Mai 2015

Why Americans don't understand football

To all my American friends and readers - I really, truly, honestly don't mean to offend you. This was the result of a challenge I accepted during the WC 2014 to name a reason why football still isn't what Americans think of when they hear "football". Since the WC 1994 in the U.S. a significant rise in popularityfor soccer-football in Baseball's own country has been predicted annualy. As I've been told by nieces and nephews who spent months and years in that beautiful country, soccer is a girl's sport there. Something no real Bundesliga-fan can interprete as a "significant rise in popularity". 
So when during a boring game last summer - I THINK it was Iran vs. Nigeria - I and some Facebook-cronies wrecked our brains in finding an answer to the big WHY. Why, if players like Beckenbauer, Pelé, Steven Gerrard and Kaká are served to the American people on silver plates (carrying them off, afterwards, as part of their salary), is it still not sport number one in the states?
Here's my attempt at an answer:

Why football is for the World and soccer just for Americans.

So Americans have to be kept out of football. I'm all for that and here are the reasons:
    1.They already have a game called football and it's absolutely enigmatic to everyone else on the globe. Players can hardly be distinguished due to helmets and bars in front of their teeth (afraid of biting?) This is probably to disguise a player's identity. While in football/soccer every player wears a shirt with his name and a number on it and no disguise is permitted, American football players resemble scret agents wriggling their way into the rest of the world's cell phones. I bet Edward Snowden never got picked for his high-school's football team. It would explain a lot.

    2. Football(soccer only to a despicable minority) is about sex. Of course, it is about sex, what isn't? Ah, yeah, american football isn't. Imagine kissing a guy with a cage fit for a guinea pig in his face. And you can't see what he's REALLY built like either. Statistics say that FOOTBALL (soccer) is hugely popular among American women and I can fully relate to that bebause you can actually see the players. And mostly enjoy the sight. Now, as everybody knows, Americans are afraid of sex. They do it, yeah, but do they enjoy it? Like the French who made an art of it? Like the Italians who sing about it? Like the Spanish who turn it into a corrida? Like the Brasilians who make it into a dance and a national symbol? Nope. They don't. So they just don't know what it is all about and can sit in the stands (pun intended) consume their coke and popcorn and watch American Football (or worse: Baseball, a game in which nothing ever happens).

    3. They think they can win everything. Americans think they won over England in using the language. Purrrlease – you want to say this is English they speak between New York and Washington? In Texas? In the rural regions of North Carolina? It's not. They don't own the language and they won't own FOOTBALL (not soccer). They think they won over Italy in creating something that's now called American Pizza. It consists of dough piled with molten cheese and fatty sausages burried within. Any decent Italian Pizza breaks down in hot opera-like tears when compared to that food. They think they won over everyone in creating McDonalds (I seem to remember the original scottish clan of that name was wiped out some time ago). While McDonalds is a beautiful place to feel at home and eat something that always tastes the same no matter which country you're in, this is not a victory! It's a thorough defeat of any remaining taste-bud in a human gum. Football (did I hear someone call it soccer?) on the other hand is a question of TASTE. We have vocabular like „Sugar-pass“, „Banana-Flank“ or „Cream-Goal“. Not to mention it is closely linked with consuming quantities of first-class German beer (NOT Budweiser!) And since you can't play it sitting down and there are no commercials interrupting the game, Americans will never win in Football.

    4. Football is real! It's the whole, damned real life rolled into 90 minutes (and often more). It's a place where people – no matter which sex, sex-preference, race, colour, number of tatoos, age or status of marriage – scream and shout, laugh and cry, jump up and down and hug, dance and eat and drink together. It's a conservation area for humanity, hate and love, war and peace, the best and worst in mankind. It's the least close thing to Hollywood you can imagine.For all the above reasons Americans must be kept out of Football. I don't think there's much reason to stress the point, though. Most of the members of the American team in 2014 World Cup are of European, Asian, African or even Native American (!) origin. And coached by a German. So, whatever they win it won't be an American victory. They may have won the war, but to win in football you have to be real. Here and now. And – honestly – how can a game be real that's called „soccer“ (succour, socks, sick, suck)... (btw: I like America, but I like football more).

Samstag, 25. April 2015

When Friday comes ... (Bundesliga in the style of James Montague)

Spring in the Mainz area is a plesant time. An abundance of trees and rapeseed, blooming like they'd get paid for it, accompany the way to the stadium. The fans travel the distance on foot or by bike. Busses carry them within sight of the brand-new arena coated in the club's red and sporting the main sponsor's name.
Fan-made graffitis are another note-worthy sight on the way. They shout the name and year of founding of the club I'm about to see play to the world: Mainz 05. FSV, Fußballsportverein Mainz, founded in 1905.

The crowd are equally pleasant minded. Two hours before kick-off fans and spectators of all ages, weights, sizes and temperaments mill around the stadium. Beer and Curry-Wurst add to the festive mood and are available everywhere in and out of the gates. Inside you have to pay by debit-card. I join one of the queues for „Aufladen“ and upload 10 Euros on my shining, red „Fankarte“. I will need them, the prices range around 3 Euros for beverage. I pay 6,70 for an apple-soda and some french fries.

Before the game fans in the opposing clubs's attire mingle freely without a trace of aggression. The bright blue of Schalke 04 and the red-and-white of Mainz 05 mix over plastic cups and passionate discussions. Mainz is 11th in the league and still tinged with a slight fear of relegation. Schalke exited from the Champions League and aspires to go back to European level asap. The  05- fans I meet are hopeful but realistic. "Schalke is favourite, of course. But a draw would be fantastic."

Football in Germany is big business. Inside the gate a well organized fan-shop sells everything a Mainz 05 logo can be placed upon. Caps, scarves, cups and plates, wallets, shirts and garden-gnomes ... you name it.
What they don't sell is batteries. My camera's expired shortly after I enter the stadium and I realize I have to rely on my mobile from now on. Reduced quality inevitable, but the exitedly-friendly atmosphere is catching, I grumble very little.
Twenty metres to the left the USM, the Ultraszene Mainz, have their booth where they sell  their own stuff. No garden-gnomes here but scarves and buttons dedicated to the Ultrà-movement, magazines and stickers.
"We are special", Norman tells me. "We don't wear this stuff you can buy over there. It has the sponsor's brand all over. we don't support entega, we support Mainz 05."
Norman is in his late twenties and a prominent figure in the USM. While we are talking people come by, clap his shoulder, wave a greeting. He nods and smiles in return. Most are like him, twenty- or thirtysomethings. Some are much younger. Boys and girls of about 16,17. They are the "Subciety", the Ultrà's youth academy . It's their job to sell the stickers and buttons at the booth. They act very polite around "their elders", none of them looks drunk.

Elsewhere they do. It's clear that beer has been flowing for some time before the match.

I meet Uwe who is on his way to put up his fan-club's banner near the pitch. His gaze is slightly unfocused, but his good mood is highly visible.
"I was at the university", he tells me, "and seeing what a gorgeous day it is I told me mates to come around for some beer at 4:30. We have been sitting outside in the sun since then, but we still have some crates for after. We'll have to celebrate keeping the league!"
Uwe is confident Mainz can beat Schalke. "They've been really poor lately and we won away to Freiburg last Saturday, that gives the team a hell of a boost."

The stadium seats 34.000 and most of them are already there. The game is sold out due to it's being a Friday night in spring, which means fine weather, no rain, no mud on the roads to the stadium, the team has been playing well, lately, under a newly appointed manager and the club has put some effort into luring people to the stadium like special sales for families.
Tonight's game is a "top-game", thought. Tickets have gone up for the occasion.
I'm in the happy position of having a seasonticket to the stands. They fully deserve the name because you really do stand there. German football stadiums still haven't joined the all-seat-politics of the English FA and the south stand is packed with fans in red-and-white. Opposing kits are not allowed here, it's the "red wall", the home of Mainz 05 supporters. Down low next to the pitch, which is sto respofforespondingt spanning from the ground almost to the roof to prevent objects thrown reaching the players, Norman and the Ultràs are preparing for battle. They have two leadsingers with megaphones and a drummer to keep pace to the songs. Banners and flags are everywhere, most of them handmade to superb standard. Red, white and gold are prevalent and the ancient heritage of the city of Mainz even shows in a group of fans showing a large banner with the letters SPQR, Senatus Populusque Romanus, Moguntia. They shout the ancient name of 2000-year old Mainz with much fervor. "Mo-gun-ti-a!!!"

I have to climb up the stairs right to the top trying not to knock over beer-cups. Stewards in yellow vests are keeping the stairs clear of fans by the use of grim faces and expressive body language. But the fans are good humoured and scramble out of the way only to come back to their positions once the steward has patroled away.

Opposite the Schalke 04 fans have their lair and make ready to produce a tifo. I share a cup of beer with Marvin and Julian, two young and high-spirited supporters balancing next to me on the top of the stairs while the steward is busy elsewhere. "Schalke fans are great, usually" Marvin says. "They'll be sure to give us a show. and look how many they are." It's true, the away-block is packed and there are still people coming in. It's a four hours ride from Gelsenkirchen-Schalke and it's clear the blue-and-white crowd have high hopes for their team tonight. 

A number of rituals have to be observed before the game starts. The stadium commentator cracks jokes and repeats the names of sponsors in a steady rythm. He hails every stand   to responding shouts and includes disabled persons in a commentating climax, making sure both teams would be absolutely unable to go to a decent game without them. The Ultràs are getting impatient and start a chant of their own "Mainz Null-Fühünf!"
After several songs with the fans passionately joining in highlighted by "You'll never walk alone" with scarves raised the teams enter to a deafening mixture of music and roar. The Schalke supporters rise to the occasion with a sea of blue and gold flags under the cover of which some flares are lightened. 

"This is forbidden" Julian explains. "Mainz 05 will have to pay a high fee for  this. They should prevent stuff like this from even entering the stadium. But It looks great, doesn't it."
The sparkle of gold under the flags and the slowly dispersing smoke over the stands certainly add to the evening's atmosphere. Nobody pays much attention to the commentator mildly reproaching the supporters for this act of rebellion. Compared to what I have seen in stadiums elsewhere in Europe, mostly to the east, this is a very harmless affair, anyway.

The game itself looks like a harmless affair, as well. Schalke clearly superior drives the ball onto Mainz's keeper Karius with much gusto - only to see their efforts come to nothing by two outstanding saves from the young keeper. The crowd cheers, first in shock, then in awe. I hear one of the boys beside me mumble "if we score tonight it will be by coincidence."
Before me two elderly fans are standing. Heinz and Hans, they may be father and son, early fifties and mid-seventies. Both are wearing Mainz jerseys and caps and Hans is passionately disapproving with almost everything the players do. "This is so poor!" he screams at the players 100 metres below. "Don't  you have any eyes. You just gave this ball away for NOTHING!." His beefy arms are working like a windmill to make his point.
It takes Mainz 20 minutes to come dangerously to the opponent's goal for the first time. They are spirited, no doubt, but run high risks when in possession of the ball which makes Hans' face turn purple. But after half an hour a deftly turned in corner by 05's golden boy, Johannes Geis, earns a finish from CB Stefan Bell and it's 1:0 for Mainz. A jingle announces the home-goal and crowd and commentator plunge into a well rehearsed antiphony. "Mainz ..." - "One!!!!" - "Schalke ..." - "Nil!!!!" - "Danke!" - "Bitte!"
After the second goal he will double the "Danke" as will the fans their "Bitte".
Schalke are nonplussed by the host's lead. They are clearly the better side, more controlling, build up the better pressing - but they are one goal down, and within some minutes it's two. Another corner, from the right this time, another assist by Johannes Geis and another finish by Stefan Bell. The south stand is having a field day.
At Half Time people are collapsing out of exhaustion and beer consumption while others are rushing down to get fresh supply. The queues at catering are long, some will not make it back in time for the second half.
A quiz takes place on the pitch to entertain the crowd. It includes some kicking balls at the goal, too, and the winner ends up with a Samsung tablet worth 400 Euros, the commentators audibly emphasizes. He also announces several sponsors doing special sales and will be offering bicycle checks for free to fans the next matchday.
Flooodlight has been turned on by now and the game resumes action.

Behind me a couple of Asian fans, Japanese or Korean judging by the fact that highly efficient and popular Mainz players Shinji Okazaki, Ja Cheol Koo and Jo Hoo Park hail from those countries, are clutching their iPhones like Hans and Heinz their beer cups. Heinz tells me that there are many fans from Asia in the stadium, now, since the Asian players have become so good. "They come from Frankfurt or Düsseldorf", he tells me. "Many Japanese business there, and they just LOVE Okazaki and Koo."
They have reason to, tonight. Although still being inferior in technics Mainz 05 manages to keep Schalke 04 away from their goal with a mixture of fighting spirit, excellent positioning and sheer luck. And each time a shot of theirs hits the bar, narrowly misses the goal or is prised from their feet by a Mainz defender Schalke's confidence visibly drops. 
Hans is still yelling abuse at his own team. Some of the credit must go to the pitch, though, which seems to be very slippery. That doesn't keep the hot-blooded fan from screaming "Du Flasche!!!!" at the top of his voice when Mainz forward Yunus Malli lands flat on his belly for the third time. Being called "a bottle" is serious abuse in German.  
With ten minutes to go and Schalke's finishing now bordering on pathetic, fans in the grandstand start leaving to the jeering of the "real" supporters who clearly are going to savour this night to the dregs. After two minutes of injury time gallantly controlled the players raise their arms in triumph: Mainz 05 has defeated Schalke 04! 
Julian and Marvin have left with the final whistle, but Hans and Heinz and several thousands more stay around to a joyful and vociferous celebration. Brace-scorer Stefan Bell is asked to climb the fence to lead a ritualistic chant with the fans, Heinz explains to me. "They are doing the Humba!"
Seeing my slightly perturbed expression he adds: "It's a carnival song. Humba Täterä. The player says a letter and the crowd repeats it. Listen!"
Sure enough, Stefan Bell, balancing on the platform with Norman and the Ultràs, intones the first letter of the word "Humba": Give me an H!"
"H!" roars the crowd.
"Give me a U!"
"Give me a  Never-second-league!"
This is a creative addition by Mr.Bell and the fans love it. "Never-second-league!!!"
Having spelt the whole word fans and players plunge into singing the full song "Humba Täterä" which is loud and joyful and nonsensical as befits a carnival song. The fiesta being in full swing I try to find my way down to the exit without slipping on smashed plastic cups. I also try not to imagine what it would be like to stumble now and roll down the about 40 concrete steps.

Outside the night is flashing red-and-white from the stadium, blue from revolving lights on police cars and awash with joy and party-spirit. I don't see many Schalke fans. But I hear they were not happy with their team's performance, not at all.

"Now, if Hamburg beats Augsburg today and Paderborn Bremen we may even go to Europa League, still" a female fan rhapsodizes, but her friend beside her is less enthusiastic. "Oh, no, not Europa. We were so poor last time, we'd be the laughing stock again."
Tonight the laughing is on Mainz's side, though, and the fans vanish into the night, heading for ther busses waiting for them in line. It's no mean feat to transport 34.000 people from the middle of the fields to the main station, but if anyone can do it it's a middle-sized German club known for its notoriusly good spirits: Mainz 05 - the Karnevalsverein.

Samstag, 11. April 2015

Why football???? A Happy Easter Column

There are some things a person has to do in life to be able to say: I have lived! Surf the Niagara Falls. Climb the Eiffel Tower! Nutmeg Lionel Messi! Imagination unlimited. But to tweet simultaneously about football and Jesus definitely belongs on my list of those things. I did just that. Once.
Once is enough.
In the end I blocked two people, one on football and one on Jesus. May they live happily ever after, I don't want to be informed about it.
What is it that makes football as important as faith? That the fact that we can't agree upon a certain fact - or dogma - renders the person who uttered this conviction unbearable in my timeline? In either case?
It was Match Day today. A double match day. Mainz 05, my local club, played Champions League approaching Bayer Leverkusen in the Bundesliga and my be"hated" Paris St.Germain played the Coup de la Ligue final against Bastia. Modern football with its differing time-tables we fervently oppose in Germany made it possible for me to watch both games.

So, here's a walk on the thin edge between liturgy and ... well, liturgy.


A thousand years old. Stood through the horrible bombing on Feb 27th 1945. Just to look at it makes Mainz citizens feel better.

Four years old. Built after lengthy discussions with farmers who wouldn't sell their acres. Still eyed a bit askance by fans who mourn the old and spirited Bruchweg Stadium. Yet, to drive by it on the highway and see it standing in all its red glory (LED-bulbs at night!) makes Mainz fans feel a lot better.

Places you go to to be connected with a higher value. Something greater than you and your daily sorrows and the nagging question which is better: the new iPhone or Samsung? Or what is Putin really up to? Places to forget about these things. Places to put them into perpective. Politics, bills, x-rays - they're all important,. but still - there's more to life than reality. 

"Jo, ho! All together! Raise the colours high! Heave, ho, thieves and beggars! Never shall we die!"

Never's a big word. We'll all die, sooner or later. You sooner, me later, as the old Klingon saying goes. But the colours, ah, the colours they will remain. Our dead are mentioned in the stadium. Minutes of silence are kept. Our dead still belong to us, they are never forgotten.

("I love it when a plan comes together!" Not exactly what Mathias Grünewald had in mind when he designed the Isenheimer Altar.)

And also the living.
Belonging, that's the key word. Being connected with those who were before us, those are around us and those who may be above us ...

You'll never walk alone!

The entrance of the clergy is much the same in football and church, so I'll just insert a football pic here, mainly for copyright reaons (I don't habitually take pictures during entrances in church).


Intermediation. What Martin Luther was so irritated about. Do we need priests to intercede for us with God? Do we need players to connect us with victory and glamour? Luther was fiercely opposed to it. Poor baby! ask yourself, what elates you more - a protestant service or a football game?

Pyrotechnics are evil! They cause thousands of deaths per year! (They don't!) No rational creature can be in favour of them.

Unless it is the Holy Sepulchre, most holy christian cathedral in Jerusalem during orthodox Easter Vigil service. Thousands of candles burning very close to one another, catching fire from one another, blazing, burning, fueling our feelings, our craving for light and warmth and power.


Pure ration must not prevail!

At least not always and everywhere.
Just a couple of days before the game versus Leverkusen, Bayer04 had lost to Bayern München in the DFB-Pokal quarterfinals whereupon exit Bayer 04 Leverkusen from this competition. Tempers were running high since it was a being kicked out per penalty shooting and Bayer-player Emir Spahic had lost his after the game and reacted to the understandably annoying fact that friends or relatives of his were banned from entering the pitch by making his point with fists and headbutting rather than words and gestures.
Mayhem in the media. Logical consequence: Spahic will never again wear the hallowed red-and-black of the most traditional club of Bayer 04 Leverkusen. Shame be upon him! The aggressive beast!

 The fans obviously thought otherwise. The banner reading "Emir, one of us" was shown throughout the game at Mainz. Sportschau commentators scoffed it due to professional requirements.

He, who is without sin among journos and managers, he, who never at least WANTED to headbutt a fellow man (the one slipping into the last vacant parking spot right in front of you, as a randomly chosen example), he, who never chose his words in an article or commentary to raise a laugh from the audience on the prize of hurting a fellow-human's pride or reputation, he may go and throw a stone at Emir Spahic. 
As a theologian I can take it easy, I can just quote the gospel according to John, chapter 8.
We, as the fans, who mostly share neither suits nor car models with the managers and are very, VERY seldom listened to by as many people as the average journalist, but who care deeply about our clubs, maybe, because it's the one thing we allow ourselves to really and truly care about deeply in life, we know that feeling when frustration gets the better of you, when next-door's bully - e.g. Bayern München- steals the show AGAIN. We know you do things then you wish you hadn't done the day after. And we don't judge those who fall prey to their emotions.
We are not the management. Be that advantage or disadvantage.

My home
My love
My club

The end, at least yesterday at Mainz, found me with the losers.  Despite a gallant run after their first goal in min 78. my red-and-white boys left the pitch defeated. I can't say I was surprised. Most of the time the game looked like a meeting of a club fourth in the league and aspiring for the Champions league and a club twelfth in the league with a nervous glance at relegation places - which is exactly what it was. We could have caused Leverkusen more grief, though, if we had woken up sooner to the revelation.

Thus the big screen showed no mercy, either with the likes of Emir Spahic or with us lowly fans.
And our beautiful Johannes Geis, our crown prince of set pieces and free kicks ...

... took the opportunity to show another side of his most lovable character (not to mention his most lovable outward features) in being once again the first of the players to walk up to the stands after the game to hail the fans. At a score of 0:3 we had started singing those songs which don't deal much with winning but emphasize on loyalty and sticking-together-through-the-wind-and-the-rain, and this didn't go unnoticed with the likes of Johnny Geis.
He's clearly bound for more royal ventures than Mainz.
Blast it!

But this is the greatness we connect with. Be it in the Coface Cathedral or the St.Martin's Stadium downtown Mainz. Loss, defeat - we don't savour them, we hate them, but they are part of life, part of a greatness we can't really escape from. All life ends in defeat. Better know it now and be prepared. Better not to face it on your own.

Which is what Easter is about.

And football.

By the way - Paris St.Germain won their cup-final. So, it was the correct line-up, after all. Good Friday in the afternoon, Resurrection in the evening. Hallelujah!

Dienstag, 31. März 2015

London Calling

London Calling!

If in Summer 2014, during the World Cup, someone, anyone had told me I would see Brazil play live three times within the next 9 months I'd probably have thought he - or me - had had too many Caipirinhas.
Yet, here I was, at the Emirates on Sunday March 29 2015 with my youngest daughter beside me, both of us yelling ourselves hoarse with "Brazil! Brazil!"
How did this come to pass?

First of all - I couldn't have done it without Denny's help, probably. So, here's, once again, a deep and thankful bow to my acquaintance Dennis Woods, fellow victim to the incurable but seldom fatal sickness of Brazilianitis who had made sure we, me and two of my daughters, could spend an amazing weekend in and out of London.

We flew in on Sunday morning with Ryanair from Frankfurt/Hahn, which isn't even remotely Frankfurt. In fact it IS remote from Frankfurt, almost 200 km. but an airport by another name is still an airport and while Lufthansa passengers at Frankfurt/International are strolling through air-conditioned halls, sipping wine, never getting a drop of rain on their suits, Ryanair passengers are huddling in  dilapidated halls, being ushered from one queue into the next never exactly knowing what they're queuing for and finally hustling through the rain across an airfield looking for the right plane like they would at a bus-stop.

Having gotten up at 3 a.m. (2 a.m. really, since daylight-saving started that night) we arrived in England bleary eyed but determined to make the best of it. At least I was. My daughters were content to let me be determined to make the best of it and stuck to a less determined but more thruthful state of tiredness and bad temper. They both had a "Why did I ever consent to do this?" clearly written on their foreheads once or twice.

Still, providence is in charge for me and Brazil. I went to see them play in Vienna and it was superb. I went so see them play in Paris only the other day and it was divine. I was going to see them play in London and it was going to be smashing. Watch me!

No trains from Stansted Airport? So, what! A bus is a fully equipped vehicle to transport people to London and once at Liverpool Street the smell of adventure wafted even through the drowsiness my daughters had succumbed to.

Liverpool Street. The magic that name evokes. Back in the good old days, when we had less than one smartphone each, dreams were found on DVDs and one of the most powerful of them was Les Miserables. The slightly different musical! The book that would capture me and my oldest daughter for hours! The reason we went to London five times, five solid times! to see it on stage at the Queen's theatre and haunt the stage door afterwards to talk to the actors. And each of these trips had started at Liverpool Street.

At the McDonalds, to be precise.

So that's where we went this time, too, and thanks be to God who doubtless is Brazilian still and was sitting on His favorite cloud decked with  things in yellow and green that day, McDonalds was open (it was Sunday, after all! Palmsunday!) and we had our breakfast after having been awake for about six hours, already.

In front of the McDonalds and before breakfast we said Hallo to the monument for the Jewish children sent to England to save their lives during the III. Reich.

Franziska had done a school report on that subject years ago, actually spoken to one of this children, now well in his eighties, and received praise and top grades for it. It was good to see the monument still there.

Tickets, trains - all were in our favour and we arrived at the hotel Denny had recommend  to us in a  considerably well shape and state. That it was all in purple - carpets, logo, cards, you name it - was soothing, somehow. Here is a business with a sense of corporate identity.
Stefanie, who hadn't slept a wink the previous night, decided to stay at the hotel and catch up with sleep. Her younger sister Rebekka and I met with Denny, though, and set out to do what we had primarily come for: to see Brazil play!

I had never been to an English football stadium before and I'm glad it was the Emirates I saw first. I might have preferred Anfield Road, but this will have to be a totally different story.
I come from Mainz 05, a quaint, little club in Germany, around tenth in First Bundesliga most of the time, with history going back more than a hundred years but a stadium so new and shiny it really resembles the furniture-shop it's often compared to. Tradition at "Stadion am Europakreisel" is still in the making.
Not so at the Emirates. Here, tradition lurkes in every corner, gleams in bronze from the pavement, seeps into my skin from every nook and cranny I pass by. Walking around the stadium I'm very much aware I'm at the birthplace of football.

Of course, providence couldn't resist a little joke. While Rebekka and I walked in with the season tickets Denny had procured for us, he himself was denied entrance AGAIN. What was wrong with his ticket and how he finally managed to get in, we couldn't pick up in that moment, because  iron bars fell between us and all I could hear was his intent shout "Don't lose the tickets". As if we would!
Rebekka and I decided to worry later and give ourselves over to the atmosphere for the time being. This decision was helped by the necessity to solve an immediate problem: Rebekka's shoes were torn at the soles and her feet were very wet. Not an ideal condition for to sit through a football game, especially when the sky seems determined to pour down more water any minute.
I had bought her some dry socks at the Arsenal fan-shop, tried to dry her feet and together we settled into the situation.

What. A. Game.

It wasn't a bit like Thursday's game versus France. Might have been a different sport. Thursday was football. This was a clash of several things. Neymar compared it to wrestling afterwards, it certainly was, some of the time, and of more than two opponents.

There was Chile, of course, having lost to Iran two days ago (To Iran, I pray thee! Are they even allowed to play football there?) and eager to do better this time. Then there was another Chile, who had lost to Brazil at the WC's round of last sixteen in penalty shooting and was most eager to do better this time and level a score. Then there was Chile who had always been a rival to Brazil if not as ardent as Argentina, but still ... south-american teams HAVE to beat Brazil. Or die trying.
So, that makes at least three different Chiles.

Then there was Brazil who had won to France two days ago and thus secured seven wins since the WC. And they weren't nearly enough. Since they're all of them friendlies and you can paint them over the WC semifinal with a thick brush and it will still shine through. So,. another win was inevitable, if ineffective in the end.
Then there was Brazil who had won to Chile in the said penalty shooting but it hadn't been the triumph it might have been. For reasons best known to everybody who has ever talked football with me, I won't go into detail of THAT game, but one thing was clear: a defeat to Chile was absolutely out of the question. It would have turned THAT day's win into the loss it actually had looked to be THAT day in June.
And finally there was the Brazil who still proudly wears five stars on the jerseys, still is the world's champion N° 1, still means to win the Copa America, the WC 2018 and next weeks charity lottery if there is any. The Brazil who is THE champion. Still. Or why else do people in Germany talk more about the semifinal than the final they won? Because anybody can win an old WC but to beat BRAZIL is still special.

So, there were at least three Brazils facing three Chiles.
And that was what it looked like.

The English referee Atkinson (I do remember that name, but don't recall the incident) worked hard to keep the 66 players from ripping each other to pieces. He did it by means of yellow cards. Whoever dared stretch a leg in the direction of an opposing player got a yellow carton shoved into his face. Atkinson was very busy that way.
The player weren't. They couldn't. They had to pick up their bones and try to get into gear again. As has became a habitual occupation in La Liga the Chileans sent Neymar flying. I don't think he's a deliberate diver, it may be his weight and stature that make him fly where others roll. Fact is, he spent more time in the air and on the ground than on his feet.

My preferred focus of attention, Thiago Silva, preferred not to draw attention to himself too much this time. I hate so say it, since it's a pet ceterum censeo of mine that the three still looks wrong on Miranda, but the defence looked right on Miranda that day._There, I said it, and that must be the last of it.

On the pitch I liked to watch Coutinho. He obviously enjoyed playing on - more or less - home soil and wanted to excell. In the second half, when Dunga started exchanging players, that role fell to Firmino who equally wanted to shine and succeeded in scoring the day's only goal. To the public's surprise as much as to his own, it seemed.

Off the pitch I liked everything. The atmosphere was much, much more what I want football to be, than Thursday's had been and than the average Bundesliga game is. Rebekka, being used to Mainz games, was thrilled to see the passion of South-America weaving through the stadium in one La Ola after the other, she screamed and hollered like her mother and the group of Brazilians sitting behind us. The Chileans in the stands did much the same. It was much more being in it than watching it, being part of the game, what we ask of football in a way that head and heart cease to be separate entities in perceiving the game but emulsify into something different: passion.

Her attitude after the game is possibly shown best in this picture:

With Brazil having won, a little bit worried by the sight of Thiago Silva lying flat on his back with what may have been a slight injury or cramps or both, and hungry to boot, we set of for Brentwood again, picked up Stefanie and dived into the experience of having Pizza, elation and a headache at the same time. At least I did.
If I had needed proof that there is something supernatural about me and Brazil it would have been the fact that this non-descript Pizzeria Denny had chosen served glutenfree pizza.
I repeat: I got a glutenfree pizza à la carte. Without having to pre-order. And a delicious one, too.
What a miracle this is only a fellow-coeliac con fully apprehend. All you gluten-eaters must take my word for it.

On Monday we did what we hadn't done for far too long - we slept. Till half past nine. Then had breakfast at the hotel, bought some shoes for Rebekka - with Denny's help again, this time seeing Brentwood's nicer and ligher side  it being daylight - and then finally followed the irresistible London calling!

We had two ideas about our approach to London. First, we did not have a lot of money. This is partly due to my stubborn refusal to use a credit card, and partly to the undeniable fact that a big family usually has less money to spend than a small one. Second we had discarded any sense of organization and wanted to leave it entirely to London what we were in for. It is this, according to our experience, the best and only way to get a new place to dance WITH you rather than FOR you.
We went to Liverpool Street again, first, and discovered the Candy Waggon we had missed on Sunday was back. It's a traditional stop for us and we did it credit. If you buy candy for more than 10 GBP you get something for free. Did I say something about not having much money? Now it was even less.
Then we went on the tube and while dangling from the handles decided to go to St.Paul's. Maybe we would even be able to go on top again.

Turned out that exceeded our budget but Millenium Bridge is free and features prominently in a book and film my girls know, so we crossed the bridge imaginging we were in that film, now.

 Speaking of films, on the other side we were greeted by an old black man playing an indefinable instrument which nonetheless made a strangely beautiful bell-like music. He pointed at my yellow beanie marking me as a Brazil-fan and hollered an approving "Brazil" thus earning himself two pounds rather than one as a bounty. Second we came upon Yoda.

We knew it was meant to be Yoda since we are all familiar with Star Wars but none more than Rebekka who is especially taken by Yoda. Afterwards we realized it must be annual Yoda-day because there were people all over London posing as Yodas, heavily made up and never moving a muscle. And getting money for it.
Having given Yoda his share we crossed back towards St.Paul and hopped on a bus that happened to stop beside us. Of course we went upstairs and decided on Trafalgar Square as next stop. I wanted to loaf on the steps under Nelson's Column for a bit.

To my barely hidden pride I managed to haul myself up to the lion-crowned fundament of the column without help by my younger and nimbler daughters. We posed with the lions, enjoyed the sight - after all, we were on a sort of holidays.

Our next idea was to pay the Queen's theatre a visit where we had seen Les Miserables five times. It was still there. Les Mis is still running. 30 years in a row, now. We did pictures of one another in exactly the same spot we had done them on  our first visit. Do you hear the people sing ... We still hear them!

Eating isn't that high on our priority list when touring a city but some drinks were welcome by then, so we entered a kiosk to buy some soft drinks. The cashier asked where we came from and when I started talking football he joined in readily and even stated he knew Mainz 05, asked how they were doing in the league. He said he had been to Hessen, Frankfurt, and liked Bayern München. Strange combination, but a pleasant encounter.

Since we still had to buy some souvenirs for our loved ones at home we next made a bee-line for one of the countless booths on Shaftesbury Avenue that sell cheap things for high prices to tourists. We were tourists, after all.
The booth we entered was occupied by a young guy who looked indian and had music playing that sounded indian - an irresistible mixture for Stefanie, who started dancing. And she does know how to dance, especially indian style.

The young guy was enraptured. He repeated the song for her and urged her on to show some more of her talent. Stefanie absolutely enjoyed it, let him take a video and a selfie with her and earned Rebekka a free plektron for her guitar that way. Just by creating an atmosphere of pure bliss out of music and talent. We were four persons feeling the better for that incident when we finally left. And this is something guided tours not always provide.
The day still had to offer: looking for something to relieve Rebekka's blisters, find cigarettes for Stefanie and a coffee for me, haunting a crypt at Picadilly's McDonalds and being envolved in a conversation with a German lady who lives in London at Cafè Nero, before we finally set out for the last highlight of our stay: Phantom of the Opera at Her Majesty's Theatre.

It was - well, phantomenal. That plush luxury of the nineteenth century (or even earlier), that music, that special effects, those voices - and it didn't really matter that I neither knew nor understood the story line. Stefanie filled me in, later, she had read the book, of course.

Need I mention that never-sleeping London presented us with the streets still crowded afterwards, the tubes still running every three minutes and even the train to Brentwood ready for departure and just waiting for us to board  it at Liverpool Street? Divine Brazilian travel agency still running the show.
We went to bed almost immediately but still the fact prevailed that our alarms would ring at a quarter past four in the morning. Time to catch Ryanair again.
I lay awake from three o'clock on, worrying. First that my mobile wouldn't ring, second that the rising and soon howling wind would pose a problem to the plane.

The first problem was solved that way that I didn't go back to sleep, anyway. At least the taxi arrived dead on time, the taxi driver proved to be a nice chap who brought us to Stansted with plenty of time to spare and the wind was still howling. It probably identified with Chile.

At Stansted we were greeted by queues all over the place. You weren't always told why you were queuing, nor if it was the right queue at all. You just let yourself be pushed on and hoped. At security the dark-skinned security woman probably was as tired as we but unlike us she could vent by bullying us. Rebekka and I sent the metallic rod going and had to empty all our pockets. I heeped spare coins in two different currencies, paper tissues, train tickets and pictures of Thiago Silva on a tray and thought to myself: you want it, you deal with it, my dear friends at security! But of course they had the whip-hand in the situation. I tried to keep an eye on my things, another one on Rebekka who was struggling to understand what Mrs. Security-woman asked her and a third one on Stefanie who was busy picking up everything else that belonged to us and came rumbling on in those grey tray-sleds they had presented us with.

And all the time the feeling of being in a hurry itensified. It emenated from the security people and was totally pointless, since on the displays hanging all over the place most of the flights, including ours, were labelled "Gate will open in 40 minutes".
Having scooped up what we hoped were all our belongings, we went to Starbuck's. Take that , Mrs Security-woman. But the queues and the hurry were there, too, and we nervously watched the display counting down our flight to "Gate will open in 20 minutes". Mind you, they still didn't announce, which gate.

When they finally did, they proceeded without unnecessary hesitation to "Final call", so we hurried again into another queue that resulted in dropping us at Gate 30. We were queueing patiently through urgent "final calls" while absolutely nothing happened due to a total lack of staff at the gate. Finally, ten minutes before scheduled departure time, Ryanair staff began to arrive and slowly started boarding passengers.

Then the wind got his appearance. It was blowing so hard that I had to hold on tight to the rails while climbing on board the plane and through starting the plane shook precariously, but that was nothing compared to what it did when landing.
After 55 minutes above the clouds in blissful quiet the captain informed us that due to strong winds we were not yet able to descent.  I swear, all the passenger had a blin king red "Germanwings" on their foreheads that moment. Only my daughters giggled happily when the pilot finally decided to try a landing. I even heard one or two small screams from somewhere on the plane. The wings were tilting, the whole plane was shaking, two or three times it suddenly lost hight - that's when the screams occured - and when we finally touched ground the habitual round of applause for the pilot was  more spontaneious and heartfelt than usual.
So, Germany got us back in one piece and immediately threw storm and rain in our face as if she was all but happy to get us back. Jealous of Brazil, I expect. And with the weather like that has reason to be.

We arrived home tired but happy, the girls indulged in turning on their familiar fore-noon sitcom and I busied myself in the kitchen which clearly hadn't seen one cleaning touch since I left on Sunday.
Since I WON'T go to see Brazil play IN Brazil I should have plenty of time to clean up my household before the selecao might come back to Europe in September. But if she does, I'm quite sure I'll go again, and am equally sure it will still be a different game I'll get to watch. DFB is still an open invitation from Brazil's side. The cowards won't accept of course, but maybe Holland will.
Let's se.
The adventure continues.