Schalke 04 -–A Love Supreme

By Keith Acheson

It began on Saturday, June 18th 1988 in the main square in Gelsenkirchen. I was in Germany to follow Ireland in the European Championship (Euro ’88) and the final game was against Holland at the Parkstadion in Gelsenkirchen. We arrived early in Gelsenkirchen, dragged out a couple of crates of beer from the nearby Plus supermarket and sat in the square soaking up the sun and having good craic with the Dutch fans.

The local girls were also out in force and a group of four or five joined us, we didn’t have any German and they had limited English but we got by. We soon found out that the local team were Schalke, a famous name in German football, and that Schalke had just been relegated to division two. I can’t remember the name of the local girl I was with that day but I do remember she was very good looking and a great kisser. We said our good-byes at the Hauptbahnhof S-bahn station and went to the game.

The Parkstadion was impressive in the June sun, 55,000 Dutch fans in orange and 15,000 Irish fans mainly in the Südkurve. Ireland matched Holland for the ninety minutes and were 8 minutes away from knocking them out and moving on to the semi-finals when Holland scored with a goal that looked off-side. The Irish fans stayed behind until the rest of the stadium was nearly empty and until the Irish team and Jack Charlton had come back out to say goodbye. It had been an incredible week but on the field, it was over.

The friendliness of the German people for the Irish that week had been overwhelming and was in stark contrast to the way we were received in England, where many of us lived at the time. That evening we took the train to Düsseldorf in silence, it had sunk in, the German adventure was nearly over. The quiet atmosphere lasted until the 1st drink at the Irish pub in the Alstadt, within half an hour the fans were up on the tables singing again, realizing just how well we had done in our 1st big tournament. It was a long and happy night and a great way to say good-bye to Germany. What did stay with me after I had returned to London was the atmosphere of the Parkstadion and what a big role football played in the area.

Over the next six years I re-visited Germany three times but in an age before the internet, it was hard to find out when Schalke were at home at the Parkstadion, I ended up going to see Bochum at the Ruhrstadion and Dortmund at the Westfalenstadion on my visits but always managed to miss a Schalke home game. In 1994 I moved to Boston in the USA and followed the Bundesliga on TV, including Schalke losing the league in the last few minutes of season 2000/2001. In 2004, I finally made it to a Schalke home game versus Gladbach, unbelievable atmosphere at the new Arena Auf Schalke and an incredible insight into the dedication of the Schalke fans. I followed them for that whole week including a mid-week win on penalties in the German cup at Kaiserslautern after the game finished 4-4 after extra time and a flat 1-0 defeat at Hannover in the league.

The fact was, I was hooked. Over the next two years I made three more trips to Germany to follow Schalke for a week at a time, usually on the English weeks in the Bundesliga when there are three games. In 2006, I transferred to my company’s Luxembourg office so I could follow Schalke full-time. Between 2006 and 2008, when I returned to Boston, I saw nearly 100 Bundesliga games including 65 Schalke games. (!! - editor) I traveled from Luxembourg to see nearly all Schalke home game and most away games during that two years. The most beautiful cities I visited were Hamburg and Bremen and the best Schalke away games for atmosphere were Dortmund and Bochum.

As a teenager I had followed Liverpool and visited Anfield four times a season from ’78 to ’84 when the atmosphere on the Kop was awesome. Since 1992 and the introduction of the Premier League, I lost interest in English league football altogether due to the ticket prices and the hype. Following football in Germany is really good, the stadiums are great, the atmosphere is great and the ticket prices are really affordable. Following Schalke is awesome, the fans are incredible, tradition comes first and their fans are so loyal. The local expression “Einmal Schalke, immer Schalke” (once Schalke, always Schalke) is true. I am not sure how long I can stay living away from Europe and Schalke but I would give it two years at the most. The love affair with Schalke was love at first sight and it has not wained in 21 years.



(c) Abseits Guide to Germany