Wednesday, June 14, 2006


And so south to Stuttgart, the spiritual home of Hiberno-Prussian football matters. What was the Neckarstadion in 1988, is now named the Gottlieb-Daimler Stadion, after the local automotive behemoth whose presence here, along with the electronics firm Robert Bosch, help make this one of Europe’s most prosperous cities.

The city is beautifully set in a valley, with elegant houses built right the way up, creating, in the current hazy heat, the illusion of Tuscan hills. We watch the South Korea v Togo match in the majestic Schlossplatz, before making for the stadium.

The name may be changed, and the athletics track which divided the exultant Irish supporters that day from the seminal events on the field is covered up for the tournament, but the elliptical sweep of VFB Stuttgart’s home ground is unmistakeable. Adding to the significance of the day for Ireland is the fact that our two conquerors from the qualifying group for this tournament, France and Switzerland, are playing each other, causing the mind to wander, once again, to thoughts of what it would have been like if we had made it to these finals.

One likes to think that we would have brought more passion and colour than the French, who are outnumbered by their smaller neighbours here, and whose odd relationship with their national team is always evident. In front of us, after the game, a Frenchman takes off his replica top, folds it neatly, and places it in a bag before going on his way.

More predominant than both of the protagonists in the city’s first World Cup match are the Croatians, many of whom are immigrants or at least second generation. Following their narrow and unfortunate defeat to Brazil, the Croatians take to cars and motorbikes and proceed to create a noisy boisterous scene which would suggest that they had actually won the tournament, not suffered an opening match defeat.

Looking for a place to watch this match, after returning from the stadium, we walk up a street which carries the hallmark of any wealthy successful city: the proliferation of, to put it crudely, Wankerbars. We are directed here by an Irish fellow we meet who lives in Stuttgart, and whose patter and manner suggests him to be firmly at home in the aforementioned establishments…

Such places are, of course, at odds with the rowdy, beery atmosphere you tend to prefer watching football matches in, and my hopes for Stuttgart temporarily sink.

To the rescue, as ever, ride the Brazilians. Like the T & T fans from the other day, the fact that Brazil are playing, albeit hundreds of miles away in Berlin, is a fine and proper excuse for a samba party-type affair, which goes on till the early hours and makes manageable the horrendous walk up seemingly thousands of steps to our hostel.


During the samba party-type affair, we are approached by Ger Gilroy and cameraman to talk inanely for RTE about what I cannot remember, so if you are watching RTE today and it comes on, go easy, please….


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