Last Saturday, a friend lent us his season passes for the local football (soccer) stadium, to watch Wolfsburg play against Hanover.
For a small-town match, this was an event. Hours before the game had even started, there were already more police than usual in the city. The majority of the Hanover fans that had made the trip for the game had also been separated on public transport from everyone else. Once off the train, they had a police escort, complete with about 8 mounted officers. One of the horses looked ready to take off running, but the rest of them were remarkably well-behaved for how boisterous the crowd was.
Around the stadium, most of the police officers were wearing what looked like riot gear without the shields and face masks. Some were standing in groups, while other officers sat in their cars and slowly drove through the crowds of people finishing their beers before heading into the stadium. Two fans started fighting about a hundred feet away, after one of them threw a bottle at the other’s head. They must have ignored the officer’s order to stop, because we soon found ourselves downwind of pepper spray. Even though we were at least 100 feet away from the altercation, it was enough to make us (and everyone else nearby) move away.
We made our way into the stadium a few minutes later. I’m used to security in various places, but I’ve never been patted down before going through a metal detector. My husband said that it’s less about firearms and more about fireworks. I had already experienced fireworks in Germany two years prior, in Berlin, and it was decidedly my least-favorite part of that vacation; they were shooting the fireworks at each other and dropping them from windows. Given how rowdy some of the fans were at the match before it had even begun, I don’t think adding fireworks to the mix would have been a good idea.
The match itself was much more fun than I had expected; not just the game, but the entire experience. There was a lot of chanting, singing, and coordinated jumping from the crowd. They even gave one of the fans a microphone so that he could lead them in bolstering their home team’s spirit. We were watching from behind one of the goals, in a standing room only area, where the most dedicated fans were watching. My only regret is that I didn’t bring earplugs.
The game ended in a draw. A somewhat disappointing end, but certainly not the worst outcome. The police were still there when we left and, as we waited with my husband’s friends for their bus, we saw the Hanover fans being escorted back to the train station. They were still loud, but not quite as energetic as before; even the skittish horse had become more subdued. A small, morbid part of me wanted to see how things would go if someone had actually won the match, but maybe it’s best that my first game had ended rather anticlimactically. On our walk to the bus station, someone purposely threw a beer bottle at a passing car.
When my husband asked if people were this rowdy and enthusiastic during live sporting events in the USA, I couldn’t give him an answer; outside of a few high school American football games as a teen, I’ve never been to a live game of any sort in the USA. I have been in Detroit after a big game, though, and I’ve yet to see American fans behaving badly before or after a game. Police presence was also kept to a minimum, and mainly to regulate traffic rather than individuals. My casual observations, however, don’t always fit reality; the stereotype about white Americans rioting over sports seems to exist for a reason.
Overall, I had a great time; much more fun than I would have ever anticipated. While I don’t see myself wanting to attend every game this season, I would definitely enjoy going to a few more.