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Intrepid Dutchman Thomas Rensen continues his Europe-wide campaign to watch 31 games in 31 days...
In England, they call it the First Division. In Holland it’s called Topklasse. In Denmark it’s the 2.Division. Only in Germany do they give it the right number: Die 3.Bundesliga. The third level of professional football. And I didn’t even realise, but I saw two consecutive Third Division matches, first in Denmark, then in Germany. But the differences couldn’t be bigger.
On Tuesday I travelled from the Swedish capital Stockholm to the Danish equivalent Copenhagen – a five-hour train journey. I arrive on time but with no time for sightseeing: I've got some movies to send to my local TV station back in the Netherlands. It takes forever, but of course I'm on time for the game betwween BK Skjold and BGA, two teams from Copenhagen and its suburbs.
I walk down a straight road from the station to the stadium. The stadium is... huge. I already know it won’t be a popular match tonight, so why such a big stadium? It turns out that this is the national stadium Parken, and right next to it there's the smaller Osterbro stadium. And yes, there's the match I’m going to watch.
Except I can't find the entrance. I walk through a door and all of a sudden… I’m in the BK Skjold dressing room. The players are out on the pitch already, so I turn around and find the right way to the stands.
Indeed, just 50 fans turn up for this game, including four teenagers who set off a small firework for the kick-off. It's cute, but the club disagree and throw out the four young men. What a difference from Monday: during the Stockholm derby, all I saw was fireworks and smoke. Now, one small smoke bomb is too much.
In the stands, I meet Stuart Fuller. He’s the writer of the book Passport to Football, about his foreign trips to Zagreb, Amsterdam and Minsk among others. He also has his own blog: The Ball is Round. [Ed.: He also wrote FourFourTwo's Copenhagen travel guide.] A real football fan, otherwise he wouldn't be in the stadium for matches like these. He tells a few stories and he listens to what I have to tell about my first days of travelling. The match is actually not too bad: BGA wins 3-1, and they can even afford to miss a penalty.
A rather grand backdrop
The next day I’m on a train again, of course. But between Denmark and Germany is a lot of water. What’s the solution then? Put the train on a boat and ship it all to Germany. For 45 minutes I’m on the boat, then the train brings me to Berlin and Dresden.
With just one hour to go I arrive at the stadium. The game is sold out, but because of an interview I had in SportBild some people have arranged a press ticket for me. A very nice gesture, but where do I have to pick this up? Nobody knows anything about a ticket for me… I wait five minutes, I wait 10 minutes... just half an hour before kick-off a man asks my name. He gives me a ticket and that’s it. I’m in!
And again I see a game in the third division. But it’s very different to last night: instead of 50 fans there are 30,000. It’s a clash between Dynamo Dresden and Rot-Weiss Erfurt, two clubs from the former Eastern Germany. Then they were the big clubs in the league; now they still are, just in a lower league, battling for promotion to the 2.Bundesliga.
The Ultras of Dresden are impressive, their noise taking the home team to a higher level – for five minutes. Dresden score first but then it’s over. Whether the pressure is too much or whether Erfurt are just better, I don’t know, but Erfurt win 3-1 and remain in the battle for promotion. For Dresden it will be a difficult story: another year of the 3.Bundesliga awaits.
For me, that’s not the end of the day. Because I gave an interview to SportBild before I left, people know that I’m coming. A local radio station grabs this opportunity. I have to give an interview, completely in German. I hope everybody understood me with my Dutch accent. I end the day being photographed on the Dresden team bench, in a dark, empty stadium.
Fame at last... on the Dresden bench
And that was my first week of 31matches. I saw eight games, 24 goals, two red cards, a lot of fireworks and still… I hope the best is yet to come! Next I'm off to Belgium, Croatia (Dinamo Zagreb), Serbia and Prague. So, read my blog again next week, to hear all about my adventures in Southeastern Europe!
Applause, please, for Thomas Rensen – he's spent a month criss-crossing Europe by rail watching a
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