Tuesday, June 20, 2006

One man and his log Leipzig

Sunday 18th June Mannheim. Leipzig

My last memories of seeing Korea were dashing from the stadium in Daejon as fireworks lit up the sky and 40,000 Koreans went crazy after they defeated Italy. Arriving in the early hours back in Seoul the whole city was out on the streets celebrating. Moving on four years and a lot of those present then have caught football fever and they are over here in Germany. I didn't realise the relevance back in 2002 but I now suppose that the country's name is derived from its passion for choreography.

In Leipzig town centre two troupes entertained the "reds" gathered and encouraged everyone to join in their singing and dancing routines. Before each song the words were clearly recited and the dance moves to be used were demonstrated to all those present so they could join in. Those present to a man (well almost) joined in the festivities.

At the stadium the same organisation was shown as they displayed a banner with a message (sorry it was in Korean) and then for the anthem unfurled the national flag, which they then swayed from side to side. At the other side of the stadium another flag was unfurled and I could swear it was swaying in time with the other flag. Throughout the game the coordinators of this support could be seen giving orders as to what was to happen next and the provided a wall of sound that continued throughout the game, no matter how their team were faring.

The fans appeared to be an inspiration to their side who grew stronger as the game wore on, and rewarded their enthusiasm with a late equaliser. Definitely the best supporters of the tournament.

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Monday 19th June Leipzig. Hamburg

The FIFA stadium announcer was delighted to announce once again that the World Cup Stadium was "Sold Out". This announcement was greeted with ironic cheers as seats were clearly visible around the Saudi fans. Despite the fact that Emirates Airlines gave free tickets to passengers and the Saudi Embassy gave tickets to people who applied for visas. The situation was similar at other games I have attended most notably Italy v Ghana and last night at France v Korea.

The Germans take great pride in announcing games as "ausverkauft" and in the press they state this along with the attendance for their Bundesliga games. FIFA seem determined to announce that this World Cup is a resounding success and will point to the highest ever % attendance to back up their point. (Surely the Costa Rica v Poland game will not be fully attended as it clashes with the Germany v Ecuador game and a lot of Poles have already gone home.)

But the damage has been done. Allocating more tickets to sponsors than the competing teams has alienated the real fans and the atmosphere is suffering. The difficulty supporters have encountered in obtaining tickets has left a bad taste when they see the empty seats.

Regularly after the half time interval vast banks of seats can be seen empty as those in corporate hospitality do their best to get value for money as they gorge themselves on freebies. How long is it before FIFA announce that the half time break will be extended to allow hospitality guests to get through 3 courses before the second half can resume?

The news that 1,700 tickets were not returned by sponsors for one game resulted in a message to be sent out asking for all sponsors to ensure that any unused tickets they have are returned in order that they can be resold.

As a result of this I am aware that at the Togo v Switzerland game an employee of a German sports shoes company sold 25 tickets outside the stadium at face value. Actions like this are too little and too late.

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