Tales from a sunny day out in the German fifth tier
27 May ~ Stranded on Hamburg's south-eastern tip, the Vier- und Marschlande plains are usually the sort of place you go when you're feeling a bit down, so you feel better when you return home. However, when it's a sweltering Bank Holiday weekend, the air is pungent with the springtime aroma of rape seed and sit-down lawnmower fumes, and second-place Sportverein Curslack-Neuengamme (SVCN) are playing a potentially vital match against Niendorfer Turn- und Sportverein (NTSV) in the final home game of the season in the Oberliga Hamburg, there are worse places to be.
Which makes it all the more puzzling that everybody in the ground seems to be in a foul mood. Maybe it's because the clubhouse gaffer has decided to charge for the traditional end-of-season free drinks. Maybe it's because the pretty-boy Niendorf playmaker, who recently found fame on a national television show in which he was paid to reject women live on camera, has failed to show up for his customary kicking.
Maybe they're hung over from the Ascension Day celebrations, one of the 300-odd days of the year when men abandon their womenfolk, drink a handcartful of beer and sing songs about defecating on people who don't live in the same district as they do.
Or, more likely, it's because the football is appalling. The hosts start by rolling the ball from one side of their back four to the next and then wanging it up to their forwards, a 40-year-old former professional and a 20-year-old future professional. The six-man opposition midfield heads it back and everybody shouts at everybody else.
Both sets of forwards berate their defenders for inaccurate passing. They respond by telling their team-mates to "smother more" − possibly the first time this verb has been used in the context of an outfield player and definitely incomprehensible to 90% of those present.
This goes on for 43 minutes, terminated only by the 40-year-old getting booked for a dive that had all the artistic merit of a frogman somersaulting backwards off a dinghy. Feeling hard done by, he gesticulates in the manner of a man trashing his household contents after discovering that his wife has been unfaithful, and is saved from further punishment only by the opposition coming up to him in turn and slipping their arm round his waist and appearing to nuzzle against the nape of his neck.
A lot of tables must have been banged on at half time – banging on the table being an angry German manager's equivalent of flinging cups of tea around or kicking football boots into his midfielder's face – as both teams appear to be markedly more chirpy after the break.
SVCN in particular start playing it along the ground – not a bad idea when you have the best pitch in the city – with most of the play channelled through the holding midfielder, a lanky, difficult-haired elder statesman whose legs are so bandy that the distance between his knees is roughly the same as that between his shoulders.
On the hour, he knocks a crossfield pass to the skinny, fair-haired right-winger who looks like he could have understudied Scarlett Johansson in The Horse Whisperer. Scarlett's stumble causes him to perform a sort of reverse-rabona, knocking the ball forward with his standing leg, but it's enough to get him past the defender. One cut-in, one more stumble and slither and one low, backspin-free shot later and it's 1-0 to SVCN.
Far from lightening up a bit, the spectators now get crotchety. When Niendorf's midfielder goes down with what appears to be a bad knee injury initially, it's not only him who gets it in the neck for "wanting to get home before the thunderstorm starts", but also the physio for allegedly encouraging him.
The left-back takes a swig out of a plastic bottle on the touchline, only to be informed by the oldest man in the ground that he would have urinated in it if he had known whose it was. The victim retorts by telling him to remain where he's standing so he can blast the next clearance into his face.
For the rest of the game, the left-back is reminded, rather unkindly, that he has acne scars on his face. When his long ball five minutes from the end leads to an impressive equaliser, with the visitors' lone forward taking stock, shooting and celebrating in one single movement, the left-back acknowledges his tormentors with a deftly-executed bras d'honneur and a stream of babbled invective seemingly based on the last verse of Bodies by the Sex Pistols.
The final whistle sounds. A draw here means that league leaders Victoria Hamburg are champions, being four points clear with one game left. Although the hosts are now out of the title race – a competition their coach always insisted they didn't want to be in anyway – it is nonetheless the club's best season in their 100-year history.
It's still not enough to dispel the grumpiness, though. The 40-year-old continues to squawk at the match official about his first-half booking, the rest of the team argue among themselves and the home fans mutter that they'll be going down next season if they continue playing like that.
You feel the urge to shake the complainant's hand and tell him how pleased you are that Zweckpessimismus, the expedient gloominess designed to soften blows of fate in advance, is alive and kicking, even in this relatively remote outpost. But one look at his default status – glazed eyes, flaring nostrils, semi-clenched fists – is enough for you to let it be. Success-intolerance, it seems, is definitely no laughing matter. Matt Nation
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