Posted: 9/18/2009


      The first time I visited the historic Berlin Olympiastadion was in 1977 and sat on the VIP platform used by Adolf Hitler as he snubbed Jesse Owens at the 1936 Olympics, and received the Nazi salute, and I  wrote a story contrasted it with the 'friendly' 1972 Olympics in Munich where I witnessed triumphs and extreme tragedy.

      Now the main tenant is Hertha BSC , founded in 1892 and in 17th place in the 18 team Bundesliga., who were 4th last season. Last night they hosted FK Ventspils of Latvia in the rebranded EUROPA LEAGUE group that the same night saw Sporting Lisbon win 3-2 at Heerenveen in Holland. This is NOT The Champions League and Ventspils are NOT Real Madrid.  Only 13,000 spectators showed up in a stadium seating 76,000, despite reduced prices of 11 Euros.  The kick off was an early 7.00pm and I arrived at the press box 20 minutes late due to the delayed ICE express train from Munich.

      Lucky for me there were no early goals and it was only in the 34th minute that Lukasz Piszczek put the Blues in front. On the North Curve the faithful fans were chanting and waving flags and their banners were strung across the empty spaces: Viva Las Hertha, Fantatics Berlin,  Dynamic Supporters, Haupstadt Kult (Capital City), while the club had a banner ' Fur Toleranz und gegen Rassismus'. I kept switching seats as one journalist then another lit up in the smoke-free stadium. I was worried about a fire worse than the one that burned down The Reichstag. The night sky was a beautiful red. 'Red sky at night, shepherd's delight', or so my granny used to say.  

      In the South Curve were 300 brave Ventspils fans, bare chested and with hundreds of blue and yellow flags. They were hoping for a miracle and it came from teenager Edgar Gauracs, who had scored a hat-trick for Latvia U 21's last week. BSC goalie Jasoslav Drobny was injured and replaced by young Sascha Burchert who was scored on in the 48th minute to silence the North Curve. In the middle we had SIX Irishmen, enough to change a light bulb, but too many for a football match.

      It was UEFA's experiment with one assistant on each goal line. Business class flights, 5 star hotels, per diems and 3 hots and a cot!! They should be lining up at the Irish Job Shops across the Emerald Isle. They were all dressed in orange which would have gone down well in Belfast!  Alan Kelly in the middle plus  Douglas, McGrath, Winter, Buttimer,  Doyle. 'Hi ho, hi ho and off to work we go'!!

    Hurrying straight after the final whistle to the U2 Ubahn, there were lots of English voices. I asked some of them who said thousands of Brits worked in Berlin, teachers, construction, IT, clubs and bars. and supported Hertha. You find the same story in Malaga, Spain. At the station I joined the 5 deep crowd at platform 4 for a train to the city in 4 minutes. Suddenly on platform 3 a train appeared and I was carried away in the crush of sweaty bodies, blue and white flags, thick brown glass bottles and into a compartment-very dangerous. By 10.10 pm I was already on my way on the overnight train to Munich, less than 3 hours after arriving.