The wonderful Bowles family promised us a travelogue of their German road trip and, as ever, they delivered. Here, Sharon takes us on the journey to Germany and to the first friendly of the tour…
What a difference a year makes.
Last year we made the pre-season trip to see Daniel Farke’s work in progress, following a mid-table finish at the end of his first season.
Some of our observations on the players actually turned out to be correct: Felix (“Richt!! Richt!!) Passlack never really got past first base, Remi Matthews was dispatched to Bolton, and we had no idea why Farke was spending so much time on the touchline mentoring that lad Max Aarons.
Marco Stiepermann seemed to look really good playing in what looked like a “number 10” position, and that Teemu (“what, he was on a free?”) Pukki looked pretty handy too. We remembered our excitement when we were parked up outside the Lidl store in Koblenz to hear that we had signed Tim Krul. Yes, THE Tim Krul!
We knew that the season would be a good one, and we were really encouraged by what we saw, but we didn’t know that we were heading for the stuff of dreams.
Our Jacob was to go through some testing times in the coming year too, but he also achieved some amazing feats we could never have dreamed of, such as being named the NCFC Community Hero and, as if that wasn’t enough, fan of the season. He also managed to conquer the dog phobia that had plagued him for years, and was to get a puppy called Teemu.
So, on to pre-season 2019…
As we are usually fashionably late/just on time (more on this in later reports), we decided to make this pre-season into a mega-holiday and spend three weeks in Germany, so we would be there two weeks early for the games.
Last year we arrived in Germany a day or two before the inaugural fixture at the Energieversum in Gutersloh, so we thought it might be prudent to arrive in Germany a little earlier this time, to allow Jacob time to transition to his new environment.
City’s pre-season planning announcements were made, true to form this year, with very little information provided with respect to dates/venues, so we thought we would combine the tour with a family holiday in Germany and so set out on 30th June. So whenever and wherever they were announced, we would be there. And no way can we be late this time!
We fell in love with the Mosel Valley last year, so we set up base near Cochem for our trip, which is about 30 miles from Koblenz and Norwich’s twin City. The plan was to spend the first two weeks doing the usual holiday stuff, and to follow this up with the pre-season week, which would see us running up hundreds of miles in Wes the campervan.
We arrived, mercifully, just as the German heatwave had subsided. And this time we had a new addition to the Bowles clan: Teemu the dog.
Teemu was already a seasoned traveller before this trip, having accompanied us on almost all away games since he arrived in January. Notable trips were Leeds (where he left a deposit to remember in the car park, leaving a canine comment on what we had done to that team that day), Middlesbrough (where he barked uncontrollably as soon as we entered the town centre for some unknown reason), Preston (one to forget), and of course Villa, where he spent the morning scurrying around Villa Park in anticipation of finally killing the Villa Park voodoo we had suffered for numerous seasons.
Teemu also has a tendency to be sick in the car on occasion, so we deployed some anti-sickness pills before we made the long trip to Cochem, staying in the Holiday Inn in Calais on the first night (where he barked as soon as he heard anyone go past our room, leaving us all sleep-deprived for the next leg of the journey).
Having spent a great two weeks, one of the highlights of which was learning that Ralf Fährmann had signed (and we were in the same Koblenz Lidl car park the day after, talking about how history repeats itself), we then got down to the real business of seeing the team. The holiday was secondary.
Arminia Bielefeld, Sunday 14th July 2019
We thought we had given ourselves good time for the trip from Cochem to Gutersloh, where we were last summer for the game against Paderborn. This time it was same venue, different team and we made our way to see Armenia Bielefeld.
A new feature of this trip was Teemu and his quirks. As soon as we set off, he howled and whined for us to stop. His first stop (which became a habit) was outside a supermarket called Norma, in a little mini-shopping complex, about a kilometre from our holiday cottage.
We never got to go inside, but Teemu was very generous to Norma and liked to leave a present there every time. Another couple of kilometres later he began barking again, and this time we had to pull up on a precariously iffy road with cars hurtling by. If this goes, on, we are never going to get there, we moaned.
Anyway the “dog calming spray” we had used seemed to work, and Teemu fell asleep, sleeping most of the way and missing most of the traffic jams. We only had to make another couple of stops and we were delighted to discover that the “hippy spray” as we called it was working – Teemu was cured of his travel sickness!
One thing we had learned from our previous trip is that the German Autobahns are fast, but only when there are no roadworks. The A1 proved to be even worse than its English counterpart. The monotony of the traffic jams on the A1 was broken by a few novel sights: the mini-retail parks on the Autobahns.
In England you may see a WH Smith and a Subway, sometimes a Waitrose for that added thrill, but every McDonald’s seemed to have a porn shop next to it, and the German equivalent of a Kwik Fit. Not sure what the connection is between the three though. Jacob was astonished and was in hysterics over it, and it’s proved to be a conversation point for him ever since.
We saw some strange sights, including a Johhny Cash tribute act who was travelling in a converted Dutch police van, which in a previous life had the word “Politije” on the bonnet, but had been changed to “Polite” for its new purpose.
These random oddities provided some light relief for us, because having started the journey at 10.30am, we found the hours were rattling by with not much progress made. The ETA display on the sat nav gave the time of arrival later and later as we carried on, hoping Jacob wouldn’t notice and go into a panic (being late for things is one of his big worries, and he can get panic stricken by the thought of it).
The A1-A2 junction is a nightmare, and it reminded us of the days when we used to commute on the M25 (often called the car park of Europe).
Five hours later, we made it into Gutersloh itself with about 30 minutes to kick off. Oh we’ll be fine. However when we got to the approach to the stadium, we saw stewards in the nearby streets, and cars turning back and parking wherever they could.
Weird, we thought, we had no problem getting parked last year, what’s the difference now?
The only parking place was in a nearby field. Some cars had parked up and we assumed that this was parking for the match. We followed a trail of home fans through a field of wheat (prompting a Theresa May joke).
When we arrived, we realised that the car park, where we had turned up last year with masses of room to spare, was full. We took our place in a sweaty queue, holding on to Teemu (we had emailed the club beforehand, and their CEO got back to us giving us permission for Teemu to attend).
Having gone through security with a rucksack and dog bag full of dog paraphernalia, the three of us and “das hund” took to the standing terrace. And yes, we missed the kick off. Two weeks early and five minutes late.
“You’re only here for the Norwich” chanted the small group of City fans who gathered in the concrete terraces of the Stehplatz opposite the tunnel and the main seated stand of the Energieversum Stadion.
Looking around the stadium, we realised there was an impressive turnout for this Sunday 4pm kick off with an official attendance of 2,254, plus one dog. This was a much bigger crowd than last year. There were many fans we knew from away days, along with German Norwich fans.
All of us stood alongside the home fans on the terrace and ran through the usual away fan repertoire. Teemu joined in with the occasional bark.
The pre-season game felt very different this time round. Whereas last year Daniel Farke was very vocal and hands on (we remembered his Neil Warnock type meltdown after the disallowed goal at the Union Berlin game last summer), he sat in the dug out almost the whole time in quiet contemplation.
It was as if last pre-season he was creating his team and actively coaching and mentoring them, and this time around he was able to sit and observe his creation in action. We quipped that he could actually have brought some knitting with him and started on a new Norwich scarf, such was his air of calm.
He did however respond to the “Daniel, give us a wave” chant but this was understated compared to that of Delia, who was also sitting opposite us in the seated terrace and gave us the whole arms and hands motion as if she was directing the planes on the tarmac at Heathrow.
This time we heard that the game was being streamed by the Club, so most would probably have a better (and more informed) view of the game. Readers would probably agree that Patrick Roberts looks superb, and that Ralf will be huge. So huge he looks like he has been made from a larger scale than the players next to him, whom he dwarfs in comparison. Remember the Little Britain sketch with Dennis Waterman and his agent?
The linesman was having a bit of an off day, and we waited a ridiculously long time for a throw in by Max. We called: “Maxie, give us a spin” and he obliged, effortlessly doing the Harlem Globetrotter routine.
Next: A penalty. Ok, so the penalty voodoo can’t last this long, surely. Drmic hammered it home though, and the grateful crowd responded with: “We’ve scored from the spot!” As all readers will know, the game ended with a respectable 2-2 draw.
At the end of the game, we gave a surreptitious “see you Wednesday” to the other Norwich fans who were planning to see the training session on Wednesday. Having been told not to advertise the training session on social media, there were a few knowing nods and winks between fans rather than us just saying “See you at Hotel Klosterpforte at 10am on Wednesday”.
Now to find the van…
Having got lost a number of times, we found it an hour later, and it was now the last but one car left. Time to feed Teemu, and rifling through his bag, Sharon was amazed to find that she’d got his grooming scissors in through the ground’s security without realising.
Back on the road for another long trek, made more bearable by discovering that McDonald’s do vegan burgers, the first McDonald’s worldwide to do so. For a country renowned for its Bratwurst, Germany is a haven for vegetarians like us, and you can be a veggie with ease.
Dinner in the McDonald’s car park, taking turns to walk Teemu next to the Kwik Fit and porn cinema/shop (which he seemed to like visiting for some reason).
We then drove on through nightfall, navigating the A1 which doesn’t have lights or cat’s eyes, and which makes for exhausting and sometimes confusing driving, then on to what was a k-road (What are we on? Don’t like the sound of that…. That sounds like we are going to end up in someone’s front garden!) and other mountainous roads with hairpin bends.
Monday was going to be a quiet day sleeping this one off!