THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Matt Nation celebrates an unkempt concrete corner of Hamburg where watching the game was far less entertaining than pushing your neighbours into the nettles – unless a visitor lost his rag

For some ears, Adolf-Jäger-Kampfbahn sounds resolutely and undeniably Teu­tonic, evoking images of combat drills, marching and Oliver Kahn-lookalikes with their faces set in neutral jumping over vaulting horses. However, in the mid-Nineties, the touchline terrace at Altona 93’s games was more playground than parade ground. People used to go there simply to muck about.

The main source of pee-arsing around was the swathe of brambles and stinging nettles at the top of the steps. Without warn­ing, people would shove their neighbour – possibly the same person who processed their tax returns or emptied their dust­bin – in the chest and send them tumbling. And they’d find it so funny, so femur-snappingly hilarious, that they’d spend the following 20 minutes trying to get their own back. One victim, who was relieving himself at the time, emerged with nettle rash such that his penis resembled a punnet of raspberries. If you’d slapped a picture of it on a health-drive poster, you could have discouraged people from doing absolutely anything.

One of the few not to get involved was Diedä. In his late sixties, he spent the entire game talking about other people’s food. Eat anything and Diedä sidled up to you, put his chin on your shoulder and issued a running commentary. “Lovely sausage, that. Here, chief, you’ve got mustard on your jacket. Ooh, and a beer! Get it down you! Won’t touch the sides!” The only time he desisted from making people lose their appetite was when a player was injured. He would break off in mid-sentence, run down to the per­imeter wall, perform hand movements usually seen only during a yoga fertility dance, and shout: “Ow! Ow! Owa, owa, owa!” at the victim. One can only hope Diedä never hurt himself, he’d never have given himself a minute’s peace.

Sadistic heckling was Diedä’s baby. The rest preferred the sort of collective bullying meted out to kids who join a new sec­­ondary school in mid-term. They would pick on an opponent, give him a different name and then comment on every single thing he did – scoring, passing, falling over, whatever. “Look, he’s doing up his boots. Hey, Hartmut/Waldi/Reinhold, you’re doing up our boots, you are.”

Most ignored it. However, in a game against Holstein Kiel, the centre-half – “Eckhard” for the day – took exception. A farm hand with a Rick Parfitt haircut, Eckhard didn’t like it at all. Eckhard told the terrace to shut up; they shouted it back. Eckhard com­plained to the bench; the terrace told Eckhard what Eck­hard had just done. And when the terrace informed Eckhard he’d just scored an own goal, he lost it completely, marching over, Feldman-eyed and dribbling, to threaten to take everybody on. It was good Eckhard’s team-mates restrained him as, to the tune of Camptown Races, “Eckhard’s being held back, doo-da, doo-da” reverberated around the ground. If they had let him go, Eckhard would have thrown every single one of his tormentors into the stinging nettles.

Then everything ground to a halt. One close season, without warning the bushes were removed. Diedä stopped coming, probably having decided to eschew other people’s Schinkenwurst in favour of other people’s fish rolls and cola at HSV’s newly opened AOL Arena. And, en masse, the playmates swapped jolly japes for parenthood, calling their kids the same silly names they used to call centre-halves and shouting at them every time they mucked about. School was out, forever.

Visiting the Adolf-Jäger-Kampfbahn is still as good a way as any of spending an afternoon, but there’s something not quite right about doing what you’ve paid to do. Somewhere, there must be a ground where you can widdle on your shoes, get your clothes ripped and bait people who have to work at the weekend just because you don’t. It’s just a matter of finding it.

From WSC 202 December 2003. What was happening this month

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