In the African Queen there’s a great scene when Katherine Hepburn asks Humphrey Bogart why he’s never fixed the engine of the old boat properly, leaving him having to kick it repeatedly to keep it running?
“Well Miss, sometimes on the river, kickin’ her’s all I got,” comes his gnarled response. If this was taken away from him, then he’d have nothing left. We all need something to cling to, something to kick. As a metaphor this runs out as quickly as the swamps in the film don’t, but it’s a nice scene nonetheless.
I was reminded of this during the weekend. I needed some football, something to talk about, something to justify my existence in this damned international weekend that comes at the right time for almost nobody. Not for Hertha who have a head of steam up at the top of the league, not for Union who are trying to stoke their engines down near the delta at the other end.
Probably the only people who benefited were Türkiyemspor who at least had a week in which to concentrate on the financial crises enveloping them and not the sporting ones for a change. It looked as if insolvency was inevitable, but a former creditor rescued them at the last possible second. Whether this has changed the potential selling off of the name to a sponsor or not remains to be seen, something that would be anathema to a club so proud of their Kreuzberg roots. Unless of course they become Sternberg Türkiyemspor – that could fit rather nicely.
The sports desk was, naturally, at the Olympiastadion on Friday for Germany’s qualifier against Turkey, the only Englishman in the terrifyingly named “White Curve”. I declined the opportunity to don my free DFB baseball cap and t-shirt somewhat ungratefully, but was reassured by the guy next to me who seemed to keep changing his shirts between Turkey and Germany. I’ll coin a phrase – Kitzophrenia. He claimed that he had two hearts, one for Germany and one for Turkey. I think this was for the benefit of the guy looking at him through unsure eyes as he swapped.
“Not possible, you are one or the other,” he said with a glint. Well, I agreed in one respect. Two hearts is, indeed, very unlikely, but not impossible – the hagfish has five. It would be useful though, I pondered. Might as well have another fag if you’ve got a back up, eh? I presume that I was indulging in the wrong scientific argument at the wrong time. They ignored me mostly.
He didn’t indulge in the baiting of Mesut Özil though, the biggest bummer of the evening, one that was mostly as genial and peaceful as it was loud. Poor Mesut, he was born in Germany. He chose Germany. He gets whistled every touch by the Turkish fans. Maybe they needed something to cling on to themselves as Guus Hiddink has got some work ahead of him to get them up to the level of Germany, who were clearly better all over the pitch.
For some reason some tabloids saw it as a heroic performance against a brilliant Turkish outfit, but it didn’t look that way from the White Curve. Apart from about fifteen minutes, the odd Emre cameo (remember when he signed for Inter and was called the Maradona of the Bosphorus?) and one Hamit Altintop shot, to me Turkey didn’t look at the races. They could use an Özil, who, especially in the second half, acted as a fulcrum, just floating around that space between the centre circle and penalty spot. It was his own all evening. Even when down injured he got whistled at like a sheepdog with tits.
The next day, thousands of football fans gathered at Alexanderplatz for a “demonstration for the preservation of football culture”. When ultras from across the country congregated to protest against TV-driven kickoff times, against the banning of fireworks and mass choreographed displays, against banning orders in stadiums, against the often deeply shoddy treatment of fans. The truce was there, in force, and it was quite something to witness. No club songs, no anti-club songs. This couldn’t be allowed to turn into a battle for volume, space or pride, which it gloriously and emphatically didn’t.
Saturday’s march was an elegant riposte to those who bracket all fans together as criminals or suckers to make money out of. Even the Magdeburg group, who arrived late and looked for all the world like trouble in bomber jackets and skins quietly took their place in line. Naturally, it was almost totally ignored by the national press who would, no doubt, have liked a good punch up to put on the front pages the next day. The cries of “DFB Mafia” may have lacked subtlety, but then so does so much of the commercialisation of the game. On Saturday we weren’t treated like animals, and consequently didn’t behave like them. After all, football, she’s all we got.