Fraternal bonds

Matt Nation tells an unfortunate tale of sibling rivalry, one played out at opposite ends of the German league system

As Rhodri Giggs and Joel Cantona would testify, being the younger brother of an established professional footballer can have its advantages. Talentless duffers who’d struggle to get in their own family’s first XI are invited to trials simply on the strength of their sibling’s name (or, in the famous case involving Graeme Souness at Southampton a few years back, on the strength of a non-existent cousin’s name). It’s a different story, however, when it’s the family’s first-born who has to sit back and watch Our Kid hogging the headlines.

At Sportclub Europa 1992, it’s Arkadiusz Trochowski, three years senior to SV Hamburg and Germany midfielder Piotr, who has to suffer unfavourable comparisons with the man who would have been first in line for his hand-me-down underpants. Chubby and with a face that looks like the backside of a long-distance cyclist who forgot to put on their padded shorts before setting out, “Troche” the Elder is clearly the one who used to tag along on dates with his sleeker, more wholesome brother.

However, judging by his performance in the game against Bramfelder Sportverein von 1945, he could easily give his brother a run for his money. Every ball he receives, regardless of its height or velocity, is brought to a standstill with the grace and ease of a schoolboy hauling tadpoles out of the village pond with a fishing net; his passes are economical to the point of stinginess, his step­overs and sleight of hip such that he could earn a decent wage dancing on a table with a businessman’s €100 note in his cleavage. Early on, he twice tests the visitors’ keeper with the sort of backlift-free shot that his brother specialises in once a season.

If the shadow of one brother isn’t enough, Arkadiusz has also got to keep an eye on the family runt Christoph, who’s making a nuisance of himself up front as only teenage boys can. His boundless energy and enthusiasm is offset only by the unfailing knack of being able to do the wrong thing whenever he pleases. In fact, the phrase “passive onside” could have been invented for Christoph. He runs into spaces created by other players for themselves, refuses to release the ball until every single team-mate has been closed down and tries to mix it with defenders whose pectoral muscles weigh about as much as he does.

When an attempt to trap a goal-kick results in the ball hitting a tree and coming to rest in a ditch on the other side of a barbed wire fence, you see him frantically adjusting his sweatbands in preparation for a fraternal Chinese-burning session.

However, even if Piotr had turned up with half a dozen of his work colleagues, Europa would have had a job breaking down Bramfeld. Last year’s runners-up clearly consist of 11 only-children who see football as a rare chance to share things with other people. Intelligent, selfless and tidy they demoralise their hosts by simply not giving the ball away. After hitting the woodwork three times in the first ten minutes, they go in front with a stooping header created with a series of even diagonal passes normally only seen on a father-in-law’s birthday jumper. A near-identical move just before the break also results in a goal, only this time it’s a spot-kick after a Europa defender resorts to the kind of reckless sliding around that you normally see at last base on a baseball pitch.

It’s when the third goal goes in on the hour that the home fans start to lose patience. Unsurprisingly, and deeply unfairly, it’s Arkadiusz who bears the brunt of their displeasure. Laconic northern Germans, the sort who normally only make any sound at all when they’re disposing of bodily fluids, suddenly kick up a shindy every time he touches the ball.

While his team-mates misplace passes, shots and themselves – at one point, three defenders are outwitted simultaneously by a long clearance on the halfway line, simply by failing to realise that footballs dropping 100 feet out of the sky will bounce if allowed to hit the ground – Arkadiusz continues to trap and pass, shimmy and chivvy, but it doesn’t stop people reminding him which of Christoph’s brothers he isn’t.

Every action that doesn’t culminate in a 30-yard screamer into the top corner is greeted with calls to erase his surname from his passport. After one ever-so-slightly overhit pass, a particularly audible senior citizen not only accuses Arkadiusz of not being a Trochowski, but also claims he’s a “Plödel”, Möf” and “Bloop”, the sort of noises normally only heard from Schleswig-Holstein shepherds issuing commands to the dog in Low German. They only calm down when Christoph scuffs a consolation shortly before the final whistle, whereupon the senior citizen shouts out “That’s the way to do it!” in a Mr Punch voice and informs Arkadiusz that he now has two brothers out of whose book he could take a leaf or two.

With Piotr looking likely to continue at the top level for at least another decade, Arkadiusz is going to have to either hang up his boots or, preferably, find a way to make his Saturdays slightly less unpleasant than this one has been. His best bet would be to marry one of the hundreds of Fräulein Müllers, Meyers or Schmidts and then take her surname. And if he has any trouble finding Miss Right, he can always let slip that he’s related to Piotr Trochowski − that should do the trick.

From WSC 272 October 2009