On the road with Tottenham: Bayer Leverkusen

In the days leading up to the Champions League group stage draw in August, I must admit I was hoping (rather selfishly) that we would get one of the ‘big-boys’, purely for the experience of watching Spurs play at one of Europe’s great grounds. When the draw was announced, I was somewhat disappointed that we didn’t get that glamour tie many were craving – even if it would have most likely ended in a drubbing. On first glance the group didn’t look hugely different to those we were used to in the Europa League, but on a second look of the group and teams, there laid a potential gem of an away game – Bayer Leverkusen. Playing close to the famous city of Cologne, it had everything to be a great trip – added to the fact we were facing a side that were closely matched to ourselves.

Travel

The nearest airport to Leverkusen is Cologne Bonn Airport, just a 55 minute flight from London Stansted. Having booked the flights 10 minutes after the dates were announced, we managed to get them at a very reasonable price of £50 pp. From the airport, it’s really straight-forward getting into Cologne. There are number of different options such as a taxi (approx. €30), bus, tram or train. We jumped on the train which took a swift 15 minutes and cost a reasonable €2.50. For those not aware, Leverkusen, where Bayer play, isn’t the most luxurious of places and wouldn’t be that high up on anyone’s list wanting to visit Europe. Fortunately though, Leverkusen is located just 20km north of Cologne, a beautiful city that attracts millions of tourists each year. The majority of Spurs fans stayed in Cologne for the trip – as did I.

Cologne

This was my first time visiting Germany and I loved every minute of it. It’s a wonderful country and Cologne is an amazing city to visit. Much like ourselves, Germans appreciate a good beer, and the beer drinking culture meant Cologne was the perfect place to host 3000 English Football fans. Similarly to other big European cities, Cologne is full of quirky little squares and the square that the Spurs fans chose to adopt on the day of the game was the Alter Markt, in the Old Town. A perfect location with a number of different pubs surrounding the spacious cobbled square. The atmosphere here was brilliant throughout the day and apart from some smashed glasses (all accidental I would imagine) I didn’t see any trouble.

Drink

The heart of Cologne’s beer history is within the Brauhauses, which are traditional German pubs that originally were the breweries. Although most have now stopped brewing in house, they are all still really interesting places to visit and are a big part of the German drinking culture. The main Brauhauses that we visited were Peters Brauhaus, Früh am Dom and Brauhaus Sion. The beer in all of these was really good, each serving their own traditional Kolsch. If you haven’t been to Germany before you would probably think that drinking out of 0.2 litre glasses is a little silly, but this is how the majority of places serve beer in Cologne and I must say it worked really well. Repeatedly replacing your empty glass until you say stop, they keep track of how many you have drunk by marking it down on your coaster. The waiters can carry up to 25 glasses in their serving trays, so rarely is there a long wait to get your next drink. At first the concept seems a little strange, and I’m sure many Spurs fans would have preferred a typical pint glass when they first arrived, but once you get used to finishing your beer in a few gulps, you realise it’s actually a really efficient model which allows you to always have a fresh, cold beer without having to leave the comfort of your seat.

Food

As well as the beer, Germany is also renowned for great food, and Cologne definitely didn’t disappoint. In addition to selling good beer, the Brauhauses also offer a vast selection of traditional Germany food. Peters Brauhaus was my favourite in terms of the food. The main meal was sensational – Brodwoosch mit Wirsing und Bratkartoffeln, which translates to the slightly less attractive name of “Fried Sausage, savoy cabbage and fried potatoes”. The Germans definitely know how to produce a good sausage.

BayArena

The BayArena, although has been there since 1958, looks like a modern stadium, due to it being renovated in 2007. Getting to the stadium was again, really straightforward. There was an official train put on for our fans leaving Cologne at 7:15pm, although we left slightly earlier so took the normal S-Bahn train which was around a 15 minute journey to Leverkusen Mitte. In Germany, if you have a ticket to a Football game you can use any public transport for free on the day of the game, which is a really cool initiative. The walk from the station was very strange, having to troop across a poorly lit park and then what felt like a never ending path running alongside the river Dhünn. I’d imagine this would be quite a pleasant walk on a nice sunny day, but not so much at 8pm in the pouring rain in October. At the end of the longest path in Europe, you finally cross a bridge and find yourself outside the stadium. It’s a lovely stadium and looks great from outside. Only holding 30,000 spectators, it has a good balance of being a modern ground but not with the soulless feel some new larger builds have nowadays.

Spurs always travel well regardless of the location, and that was again the case for this game. We comfortably sold out our 2,300 allocation as well as having what looked like nearly all of the ‘neutral’ area. The atmosphere inside was excellent, and at times was the loudest I’ve heard from a Spurs away end in years – a special mention here to the 10 minute rendition of Pochettino’s Blue and White army. The ‘Spurs Drum’ splits opinion but I thought for the large part it only helped contribute to the atmosphere. The rail seating also helped, with almost everyone that I could see standing for the whole 90 minutes.

The stadium is completely cash & card free, so to buy anything inside you would need to purchase a stadium card which you then top up. Because of this concept, and also the fact the ground wasn't selling any alcoholic beer due to UEFA rules (see my last article for my thoughts on this...) I didn't really try out the catering on offer. They also weren't selling any pies... which is one thing the Germans will never beat us on.

Verdict – 8.5/10

In my first article for this series (Everton) I highlighted the sense of pride you get from following Spurs across the country. I still stand by that, but watching Spurs in Europe cannot be beaten. The sense of pride and passion we’re all used to with following the club is there, but the feeling is multiplied by 1000. Overall it was a fantastic trip and away game experience. I’d even go as far as saying Germany is probably the best country in Europe to watch Football – they just get it. If we can qualify into the knock out rounds my fingers will be firmly crossed we can draw another German side. Just hopefully not Bayern.

It wasn’t the ideal result and of course a win would have made the trip perfect, but you probably don’t understand what’s great about following your Football club if you’re of the belief results are all that matter. If you do, that’s fine, but you’re probably better off following an American sport.

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