In the final part of their German trilogy, the Bowles family calmly manage a medical emergency with Lucozade, watch City’s toughest test and take in an open training session…
The day begins with a hypo. Jacob is Type 1 diabetic, which means that he requires regular insulin injections to control his blood sugar levels. If his blood sugar levels drop too low then he can experience a “hypo” which, if not treated immediately, can lead to collapse. The treatment is simple enough – sugar, preferably in a form that can be absorbed quickly.
Jacob’s autism means that he is not “hypo-aware”. In other words, he cannot recognise the symptoms of falling blood sugar levels and so wears a continuous blood sugar monitor which transmits live data to our iPhones. A fantastic, life-saving piece of kit which alerts us if his sugar levels drop towards dangerous levels.
Thankfully, Jacob’s autism means that he is a stickler to routine and so gets roughly the same foods at the same time of day, making his sugar levels relatively easy to control. Most fans have pre-match routines that they stick to for superstitious reasons; our routines are largely dictated by autism and diabetes.
On holiday, however, familiar routines are lost, and new foods introduced – making sugar management tricky. Its 05:30 and Jacob is already glugging on a bottle of Lucozade to save a trip to the local A&E. This is going to be a long day…
We are off to Barsinghausen to watch the final game of the Germany tour against Wolfsburg. Barsinghausen is situated towards Hannover, which is another hour drive east along the A2 from the Paderborn area where the previous two games were held, some 220 miles from our base in the Eifel.
We hit our first traffic jam of the day within minutes of joining the A1, a clue to the road ahead. As we join the A2 at Dortmund, Jacob’s low blood sugar alarm beeps; time for a Lucozade and a reminder that we are a bit late for lunch.
The traffic is pretty dreadful for most of the route mainly due to roadworks. An interesting feature of the German Autobahns is that a couple of miles before any roadworks, lorries, coaches and cars with trailers are restricted to the inside lane. A brilliant idea and is great for cars and campervans but less useful for team coaches and the German equivalent of Club Canary.
We pass the Norwich team bus and take a few rushed photos, knowing from our SatNav that there are more roadworks ahead. The team could be fashionably late, so we are hoping that the Wolfsburg’s manager doesn’t go all Chris Wilder on us. We finally arrive at the “stadium” 4 ½ hours after setting off and are advised that kick off has been delayed due to the team coaches being held up in traffic.
If the Paderborn area resembles Norfolk, the Barsinghausen area is like the Pennines, with rolling hills filling the sky line. The town is pretty enough but the stadium can be best described as “municipal”. We see a couple of Norwich fans relieving themselves in the car park, adding to the general ambiance of the place.
There is a two-tier stark concrete stand, which resembles a cow shed, set back a few feet behind the team dug-outs, topped with a corrugated metal roof and decorated by the graffiti handles of previous visitors.
The media, including “Wolfe TV” are set up at the back of the top tier but most of the Norwich fans opt for the left side of the lower tier, behind the City bench. The atmosphere here is different to the family friendly end-of-term fete feel that there was at Delbruck. Entry was free but there are no refreshments available, so some of our fans check out the nearest Netto for beer supplies. Luckily it is not as hot as it has been for the previous matches.
Daniel Farke is all smiles and hugs as he greets a smattering of City fans on arrival at the stadium. We then make our way to the stand by the Norwich dugout. Timm comes over and spends a few minutes with a tearful young Wolfsburg fan wearing a No 15 City shirt. He must remember us from the last game as he gives us a wink.
As the game kicks off with City kicking from left to right in front of us, it is evident that Farke is most interested our right side. Felix Passlack starts at right-back, with Ben Marshall in front of him on the wing but they switch positions several times during the first half.
It is very noticeable that Felix is less comfortable in the full-back position with Farke shouting instructions to him in German, which from the manager’s mannerisms relate to his positioning. The shouts of “Felix!” then hand gestures for him to move wider or closer, forward or back come thick and fast. Ben Marshall doesn’t get the same treatment and when he assumes the right-back position, Farke’s attention drifts elsewhere.
There are two glorious moments in the first half: Onel Hernandez’s goal and Marco Stiepermann’s Cruyff turn. To be fair, Stiepermann has played really well in this game and may well be a surprise contender for the Birmingham game, although the large bag of ice applied to his thigh when he came off might suggest he’s carrying a niggling injury.
At halftime, Gemma, from the PR department at NCFC, issues an invite to City fans to the training session to be held at the team’s base at Hotel Klosterpforte on Friday. We simply can’t turn down the opportunity to find out “Was gorn on in traynun Neyull”, so we are glad that we packed for an overnight stay so we could get there for a 10.30am start next day.
In the second half and we get to see Hernandez close up as he busies himself along the wing, replaced by Todd Cantwell who looks equally impressive. It is another good game and although it’s the same ref as the previous fixture, Farke looks more relaxed leaving the City fans to chant “you don’t know what you’re doing” at his obvious gaffes.
The final whistle blows with the final score 1-1 and Jacob’s blood sugar alarm goes off again, so more Lucozade…
Tommy Trybull acknowledges the City fans as they serenade him with his song and he gets a round of applause as he hands his shirt to a young fan. His new wife is on hand to congratulate him on another really good performance.
We grab a sandwich in the back of the campervan in the car park. The Wolfe TV car is parked next to us and their journos file a match report, one doing so from the boot of their hatchback. We take a cheeky photo of what seems to be a laptop on legs protruding from the boot. We then hit the road for Dortmund.
Having previously marvelled at the “Vorsprung durch Technik” approach to public toilets in German service stations, we realise that maybe they’re a bit over engineered. Whilst we could get the toilet seat to rotate and sanitise, we couldn’t work out how to flush.
Having stayed the night in Dortmund in a friendly, English-speaking Holiday Inn Express, we head off for the morning’s training session at the Klosterpforte hotel in (Ricky Van) Harsewinkel. This is a large hotel and sports complex set in another pretty rural village just north of Paderborn.
The site includes a large hotel, a courtyard surrounded by bars and a converted Abbey. It feels very familiar, reminiscent of a small-scale Norwich Cathedral. It has a rarefied atmosphere, like an Oxbridge college, and is amazingly quiet and peaceful.
The more modern sports complex is adjacent to the main hotel and City have taken up a whole accommodation block for their stay. It takes us a while to find our way around and we accidentally walk into the AS Monaco FC training session, but we’re here to see Felix, not Falcao and we eventually find the City training pitch on the other side of the complex.
We watch the session from the shade of a tented area with a wire fence separating us from the team. They have been split into two groups: on the far side of the field one group is working on tactics and technical skills whereas directly in front of us the other group are working on strengthening exercises.
Farke over-sees the technical group and the rather splendid Chris Domogalla leads the strengthening session watched by Edmund Riemer, Christian Flüthmann and a huddle of other support staff. Stuart Weber is also present as, we understand, he is at every training session.
Domogalla has a mesmerising style, shouting clear, precise instructions like a Sergeant Major with an authoritative but soothing monotone German accent, which sounds like a cross between Arnold Schwarzenegger and Nico from the Velvet Underground. It would be disappointing if his initiation song wasn’t “All tomorrow’s parties”.
Remarkably the team comply with each instruction without hesitation or complaint although James Husband quipped “Not used to this – we don’t get the sun up north” as he headed for an ice bath.
This is an “open” training session but there are only half a dozen City fans in attendance and the players seem oblivious to our presence. We get a real sense that this is an authentic training session, not staged in any way for the audience.
The overwhelming impression we get is one of professionalism. There is no larking about, apart from a very brief impromptu keepy-up session between Ivo Pinto and Mo Leitner (below). Instead, everyone, including the support staff, seem focused on the job in-hand.
Mo and Pinto showboating ???? pic.twitter.com/WIGYxk6EEx
— Andy Bowles (@andypbowles) July 20, 2018
Professional footballers get little sympathy from the fans, but we get a glimpse of the daily grind that makes up the majority of their time. Not for the faint-hearted.
It is really hot out there, but a smiling Farke trots up to us and assures us that this is a light session as the team have had a heavy load and are tired after the game yesterday. To the casual observer this looks like torture as the players sprint with weights and then bungee ropes attached to them, do press-ups and fling medicine balls around as if they were as light as paper planes – and all under the precise instruction of Herr Domogalla under the searing heat of the late morning sun.
Before the end of the session and, crucially before lunch, the squad and staff take part in a “Cross bar challenge”. We view this from a watchtower at the side of the pitch and *SPOILER ALERT* Felix hits the bar with an impressive shot. His celebratory “Floss” dance was a bit cringeworthy though.
As each player takes his turn, they drift off to lunch making the cheers and jeers less vocal as the session progresses. Some take an ice bath, which is located in a little hut behind us. Having an ice bath must be torture having trained in 30-degree heat, but those that take an early bath don’t even flinch.
Back to ‘Wes’ for lunch and to gather thoughts on the week. We have a little detour home and stop at Dortmund, to pay homage to the ground and the team that gave us Lambert, Farke, Leitner and co. We are in awe at the sheer scale of the marvel that is the Signal Iduna Park. We get lost and end up in the car park that is the equivalent of Carrow Park, where a kids’ football class just has ended. A kindly Dortmund official directs us out.
Then back to our base in Eifel for another week….
Next football stop is Charlton on our way home; luckily this game is only two hours from Folkestone.
It’s been a fantastic experience and our words this week haven’t been able to do it justice. We would recommend it to any City fan thinking about it, and assuming the next pre-season tour will be in Germany, we are already checking out suitable locations.
Either way, Germany is a beautiful country and we will be going back there next summer.
Andy, Sharon & Jacob.
Thanks hugely to the Bowles family for their German diaries and the accompanying photos. Marvellous stuff and has been very well received. There will be a MFW contract awaiting their signatures once they arrive back in Blighty 🙂 G.