In the final part of the Bowles’ family Teutonic odyssey, they head to Lotte to see City play Schalke…
Schalke, Friday 19th July
The last fixture of the German leg of the pre-season brought with it some sadness that this brilliant trip was coming to an end.
We had visited a local vet the day before to get a worming tablet for Teemu, plus a stamp on his Pet Passport (this has to be done within one to five days of a dog coming home to the UK, or else doggy quarantine would be in order).
So the thought of leaving this beautiful place and returning to real life was looming large. That night, the worming tablet made Teemu a bit “unsettled”, leaving us wondering what type of tablet he had taken, judging by the way he was bouncing about the place like a throwback from the Hacienda in 1988. Oh nooo… 3 am and he’s still in party mode!
So, another broken night’s sleep followed made worse by the fact that we had the longest trip ahead the next day. Well actually later that day. Lotte was easy to get to on the map, and it should only be three hours, but that A1 and A2 and their interminable roadworks meant that it would be another long journey.
Teemu’s dog bed was at the ready for the trip, primed with the “hippy anti-sickness spray” which was working a treat so far. This was amazing because during our trip, we had navigated heights that left our ears popping and going deaf in equal measure, followed by hairpin bends sharper than Stiepermann’s brilliant “Cruyff turn”, with no Teemu pukey incidents to report at all.
Leaving at 12.30, we had five and a half hours to kick off. Should be okay…. Oh no, here we go again as Teemu started howling again for his usual “Norma” stop. A tricky poo bag later (that worming stuff…jeez) and, feeling thankful that we didn’t have to hose Teemu’s backside down as we did on an earlier trip (thank god for campervans and their shower attachments) off we went again.
The A1 was true to form and so we had one eye on the road, another on the countdown on the satnav display. ETA 17.00, then 17.30… What, 18.10? Kick-off is, what, 18.00?
Then the usual pre-match panic… Don’t tell Jacob we could be late as he’ll have a meltdown, then we will have to stop to calm him down and take up more time. And whose stupid idea was it to decide on a base so far away from these games anyway? Yet another typical Bowles’ move by doing something crazy first and thinking about it later.
But then driving through the motorway, seeing the majestic and amazingly beautiful valleys below, we realised this place was so wonderful we just had to come back just one more time.
Hours later, we were finally off the A2 to Lotte… to have a battle of navigation wills routes on our hands. The Apple navigation app on Sharon’s phone sent us in a different direction to the van’s sat nav – the wrong way – but having made up the time, we thought we’d be okay for this one.
The weather had taken a great turn, hinting at the heatwave that had hit Germany a fortnight ago (and we heard, similar to that back home), so we made our way in the queue along the main road to the stadium. What? They aren’t queuing for the game, are they?
Teemu, not one for traffic jams (he likes to keep moving in the car, in the same way Jacob did when he was little), was screeching and barking and clawing at the door to be set free. Sharon and Teemu jumped out of the van, deciding to walk to the stadium instead, with the van following behind in the stream of traffic.
Finally, we made it to the car park (a field at the front of the stadium). We arrived for the game, frazzled, sweat on our brows and our dog in arms. A typical Bowles’ entrance!
The Frimo Stadium in Lotte was a strange one. Surrounded by a field, seemingly (at least we thought), in a rural area, but the graffiti on the outbuildings and general downbeat feel of the stadium felt like we were off to see a streetfight on the Bronx.
They love the graffiti over there… both on the stadium buildings and the fans themselves, some of whom you felt could hold their own outside Bramall Lane should they be “offered some” (as we once were there).
We joined the wrong queue of course, one which was for those who had a ticket, and then realising we had come all this way without one, Andy found a kiosk to buy some tickets and another entrance for us to use.
Kick off had already happened (in accordance with the Bowles’ five minutes late rule), and so there was a frantic waving of Andy’s phone showing the email from the club allowing Teemu access to the match.
Body searches ensued (except the dog) and we were in, finally able to make our way to the standing terraces opposite the seated stand, where some of the other Norwich fans were located. We set up camp in the burning 6pm sun, laying out Teemu’s water bowl and assorted dog paraphernalia (this is a dog that travels with his own dog luggage, remember), alongside the group of City fans and some Norwich fans who live in Germany.
The game itself was a very competitive one, but again Daniel Farke sat in the dug out for most of it, mainly silent, just watching how the team were performing.
There was a sizeable turnout for Schalke, but these fans were strangely silent too. So, acknowledging that this match had a distinctly competitive feel, and that the home contingent were pretty quiet, it was down to the Norwich camp to get the chants going.
A re-run of the old favourites, (how we loved the Anthony McNamee song…) followed by a new track we’ve just written… “Patrick Roberts… da da da da da da da… Patrick Roberts… da da da da da da da”. Not so sure that will catch on, not because he isn’t a fantastic player by the looks of things, but because the chant was, well, crap.
Wilting in the heat, we guzzled pints of fizzy water (seven Euros/seven quid for three glasses!) and soaked up the atmosphere, the sweat and the smell of cigarette smoke as smoking (and drinking alcohol) is permitted at matches in Germany.
A Schalke fan came over to us through the wire netting, saying something incomprehensible (we have tried to learn German and even went to language classes, but failed badly). This was a ground with perimeter fencing and segregation between the fans, something which adds a certain undercurrent of menace to the game. We just aren’t used to seeing this back at home anymore.
Not that there was any trouble at all, and it turned out the fan who was shouting and gesturing at Jacob was actually wanting a Norwich badge or sticker from us. We bundled up some On the Stall City badges and some Along Come Norwich stickers and squeezed them through the wire fencing over to her, in a poignant moment of football détente.
As for the match? Well, this seemed to happen in between singing, chatting and taking Teemu for a walk. So as usual we don’t know much. As this game was streamed live, readers will know the details far better than us, but we looked very impressive against a top Bundesliga side.
Roberts, Drmic and Idah, all new to the first team, had great games and as far as we could see there were no weak links or any causes for concern.
This was once again different from last summer, when Farke’s presence was very much felt on the touchline when he spent a lot of time actively coaching the players. It was as if they now know what they have to do, so he could light the touch paper and stand back.
He came over to the travelling fans at the end of the game and did the “Farke hands” thing, which was unfortunate as Andy was holding Teemu at the time. Sharon tried to catch the moment on video but failed, realising you can’t do the Farke hands yourself and video them at the same time either.
On the way out we chatted to some fans, and some random people who were on a cycling trip and wondered what on earth was going on, and then on to the massive field at the front of the ground which doubled as a car park, where we had managed to get one of the few last spaces.
There was an almighty scrum getting out of the field (which reminded us trying to get out of Thetford Forest after the Kasabian gig last year, where there were assorted road rage incidents/queuing disputes) so we decided to wait, giving Andy time to pull the campervan bed out to have a rest before the drive back.
The rest of the Bowles camp stood in the field and waved to some of the Norwich faithful who were queuing and singing at the bus stop (many had taken the plane, train and bus to get to the ground, a herculean trip as this venue was a little off the beaten track if you didn’t have a car).
By now it was 9pm and only a few of us were left in the field now (not the field of dreams either). Some of the less salubrious Schalke fans, who could take care of themselves in a street scrap by the look of it, were eyeing up Teemu and the camper, so it was time to get going… at which point Andy accidentallu took the bed off its hinges as he tried to stow it away.
“What, am I supposed to sit under this bed all the way home and then all the way back to Norwich? There’s no headroom… And where are we going to put the luggage then???!!!”
So, having decided it was fubar’d, and having zero patience, we did a makeshift fix (ie. breaking the mechanism in total desperation), so we could get the bed stowed away and out the hell of there as soon as possible.
First stop: A petrol garage that looked a bit dodgy and only had the night service kiosk open.
“I thought it was alright round here?”
“No. Let’s get going”
Now night was falling. Onto the A1, which is an exhausting drive at night as there are no cats eyes as there are on motorways back home. An annoying feature of that road is that you don’t know when the next service station is, so you are not given any information about where the next petrol garage might be (come back M1, all is forgiven).
Another stop-off for another vegan McDonald’s (this time no porn shop or Kwik fit to amuse Jacob), and on again, until about 1am when Teemu started to howl. No indication of where the next stop off is, so we came off the Autobahn altogether, looking for a hamlet, layby or any suitable place for Teemu to deliver.
We had intended to visit Cologne this trip as it is a beautiful city which we have long wanted to visit, but it looked unlikely we were going to able to this time around. We were driving around in the dark, finding a road which looked quite appealing, and tree-lined just like the Newmarket Road.
Where are we?
Don’t care, let’s turf Teemu out here before he wrecks the van. A check of the Apple maps app… Hey, this is Cologne! Well, it was only a dog stop in the dark, but at least we can say we’ve been there. Teemu has peed far and wide, a seasoned traveller and he is only eight months old.
After further stops for sleep and Teemu, we saw on Twitter that some of the Norwich faithful were actually on the Eurotunnel by now, having driven home to England straight after the game, and here we were still on the A1! We finally made it back to at 3am. Still, all worth it though.
We spent the next couple of days recovering and were able to do a couple more trips along the Wein Strasse (as it is called), going towards Koblenz (twinned with Norwich), and the other way towards Trier.
Amazingly, we had a brilliant journey back home on a different route, with the heatwave gathering pace. It was 40 degrees going through Brussels, far too hot to take Teemu out for fear his paws would get burnt, and finally on to Calais for our stop for the evening.
Next day, a seam-free trip through security, with Teemu getting to use his pet passport for the first (and hopefully not the last) time.
So what have we learnt from this trip? We have made some astute signings, with Fahrmann likely to take the number one spot. Patrick Roberts looks every inch a player destined for great things, and Drmic… Well if this doesn’t work out for him, he’s got an alternative career in music.
The transition to Premier League was very much in evidence, from the media interest this time around. Last year there were just a few of us attending the training session and the cameras were absent. Not so this time.
Daniel Farke, who was very much mentoring and coaching the players and being very vocal and hands on last summer, was taking a far more observational role this time. It is as if he knows his players inside out, they themselves know what they have to do, so he was able to watch everyone play out their respective roles and see his team have a kickabout.
Last year we made our outward trip with Donald Trump flying overhead on the A11. This year we made our return trip with Boris Johnson Esq being installed in number 10.
We were not sure we really wanted to go home this time around, to a country whose future that looks uncertain and a government looking anything other than strong and stable. Only our love of Norwich, its amazing team and its wonderful people beckoned us back home, a bond that is unbreakable.
Oh… and Emi, of course. Teemu’s little sister is coming home too in a couple of weeks. Announce Emi. Woof woof!