Writing about football can be a lonely pursuit at times. Like being the ghost at a party in a haunted house, you can see and smell the fun, you can even imagine your fumbling spectral thumbs trying to unhook the bra of that divorced woman you smiled at on the way in, but she didn't see you and your thumbs are merely the invention of an over-active mind, a coincidence of shadows falling on a creaky staircase. You can hear the terrible records chosen by the hosts, desperate to prove how cool they are, but there is no one to hear you bitch about them. The songs will then start skipping but you can’t flip them over. Poltergeists don’t exist either.
This time spent alone with your thoughts of the game is often great. It is nice to get away from the partisan bullshit of supporting a football team, with its random loves and unloves, the pettiness that it drags out of the most sensible and sensitive of souls (and it certainly does with me). The haircut of an upstart half your age earning a thousand times more in a week than you will in a lifetime annoys in increasing measure because he is not only younger and prettier, but also doing something difficult well, and, more importantly, doing it well against your team.
So to be an impartial witness is to be able to see the other things that are happening. The old boy in the stands who has been there through thick and thin, the little kids skipping over cracked and weedy terraces, bored with their Sunday afternoon. The smoke of the barbecues floating over the heads of a smattering of amiably chatting old friends and the sheer natural delight in a move conjured out of nothing by a player of whom you know little and who is often as old and ugly as you are.
I have developed an affinity for fullbacks, as a spot on the half way line guarantees that you will have 45 minutes spent in the company of one over most of the others there. You start to see the personality shine through from the colour of his boots to the way he yelps when crunched by a balding central defender with a point to prove, railing against the dying of the light.
But then there are the regulars, the ones that are ever presents. Torsten Mattuschka reigns over the streets of Köpenick like a behemoth, but it is his less celebrated teammates Jan Glinker and Christian Stuff who make me feel most comfortable, just in their ever-presence on the bench or in the stands. They have been there since I first started watching football in Berlin like gargoyles on a church, impassive and unflinching. Those two are on their way now, they will leave the club in the summer for pastures new but they will take a part of me with them, too.
Just like Adrian Ramos will, when the drawn out kitchen-sink drama of his transfer from Hertha BSC to Dortmund was announced in that un-bombastic and very 21st century manner: a statement to the shareholders of the club from a faceless office somewhere in the Ruhrpott. Such is the manner of modern football, but it seems a shame that the players’ departure from Berlin should be not shouted to the rooftops with a tub-thumping thank you, but a line on a spreadsheet and a new keyboard shortcut for an accountant to get to grips with.
Ramos, despite (or, possibly just because of) his 58 goals for the club, never seems to have been embraced by Hertha's fans in the same way that the gloriously garlanded show pony Marco Pantelic was. While the Serbian remains in those Blue and White hearts as a Harpy Eagle, a huge, monkey eating vision of flash grandeur, Ramos is more like the sparrow under the awnings, reliably returning at the start of every summer with the minimum of fuss and the hope of new flies to be caught daily. His non-departure to Hoffenheim a couple of years ago and willingness to ply his trade and improve his craft in the 2. Liga has been comforting to watch on from afar. Ramos has been a bandy legged constant, and even though his scoring has never reached the exalted heights that would seem to be necessary to attract the veiled glances and batted eyelids of the second best club in the country, there is a reassurance that comes to the lonely football writer of seeing his name on the list, and of that late Saturday afternoon glance at kicker’s list of goal scorers to see what had happened down the Jesse-Owens-Allee.
Adrian Ramos will be replaced by the returning Pierre Michel Lasogga, a hometown boy whose successful year manning the decks on Hamburg’s sinking ship has forced the hand of the club who, apparently, were none too keen to hang on to him, but it is the Colombian who will be missed most by me, as the names of Glinker and Stuff will also leave a gap where once before there was a comforting hand on the shoulder of knowing that everything is just as it always was.
I hope he becomes a star, the softly spoken striker deserves it, and meanwhile I’ll get back to following the haircuts and the garish boots of the fullbacks of the nether regions of Berlin’s football scene. On the touchlines one needs to have the comforts of regularity. It is nice to know that some people will always be there.