Ref blows for kick-off; still queuing. Become aware of the Liverpudlian accent in front of me. The lad finishes his phone conversation, so I ask the obvious Merseyside question;
“Red or Blue?”
Evertonians are in town for the following day’s game away in Dresden. He and his mates wanted to check out the Europa League match at the Friedrich-Ludwig-Jahn-Sportpark but he was the only one who managed to get in. We chat and I take him down through the crowds, promising to get him close to the pitch, close to the atmosphere and close to the action. We took decent standing in front of the fencing to the right side of the Ultras’ block.
This is Hertha’s first crack at European Football for 6 years after a healthy finish in the 1. Bundesliga the previous season. The anticipation is palpable and the unfamiliar stadium adds to the excitement (Hertha playing outside of their usual Olympiastadion). Opposite are Brøndby of Copenhagen, in a coincidental replay of Hertha’s last EL knockout stage fixture in 2009. Hertha score and are greeted with a line of flares. The stern voice over the tannoy system could’ve said anything; it was ignored. The Brøndby Ultras strike up an exceptional pyro show of their own not long after, puncturing the dark night sky and forcing a pause in the game. Our Evertonian visitor is swept away in it all. The freedom to stand, the permissiveness of the stewards, the incessant singing and bouncing and chanting, the raucousness and aggression and the enthusiasm coming from all sides.
“It’s just boss. Absolute boss”. No, that’s almost every game over here.
The word was that the Toffees were bringing around 2000 to Dresden. They may have had 2 games over 2 days, but that was still a huge number for a couple friendlies. I didn’t believe it. The structure of the games was something of a faux-cup, with Real Betis, Werder Bremen and Everton all being invited to play a series of games against each other and against Dynamo Dresden at the Glücksgas Stadion. On the Friday, Bremen and Betis played first to a subdued and mellow crowd of maybe around 6,000 in a cruel heat. We got into the Everton end and enjoyed the banter with some of the early Toffees. As the first game reached its conclusion (Betis winning 1-0), more and more Evertonians slowly arrived in the sector.
The lads from the previous night made their appearance and we shared our last-night-after-party stories. It wasn’t quite 2000 travelling fans, but the amount they brought was really strong, definitely over 1000. Scousers are some of the best people in the world when it comes to partying. Every single blue shirt was up for it, both on and off pitch, the Stimmung both boozy and narcotic.
Everton! You’ve never shone so brightly. Everton! Spirit of the Blues.
At least to begin with. Kick-off and the noise coming from the visiting Everton fans was very impressive. K-Block the other end were inaudible, which is something of a rarity. The focus of the Evertonians snapped to a couple of Dresden fans brandishing a Liverpool FC scarf. “Always the victim; it’s never your fault!” was my personal favourite response. But after a great introduction to Dresden, after 15 minutes the Everton fans just stopped standing and stopped singing. The ferocity of support disappeared. Discussions with the person sat next to you outnumbered fan chants. The promising atmosphere waned.
The lads almost seemed apologetic in their explanation. They kept reiterating the numbers they’d brought and that they were annoyed at the lack of singing. “Everton away is always pretty good by numbers, but sometimes we’re quiet”. I think after the promise of serious away support, the realisation that Everton were not as impressive as Hertha and Brøndby was humbling. In the Friedrich-Ludwig-Jahn-Sportpark, no one stopped. Not the Hertha fans, nor the visiting Danes. But the Toffees were incapable of the same support we had witnessed 24 hours prior. Anyone there just for large Everton support would have been disappointed.
In this post, we wanted to use this story to highlight the difference in support of the English and of other nationalities on the terraces right now. This was clear to the Scouse lad with me at both games. Now FBTG is not going to simply imply that England needs pyro and clashes with the police etc to improve support. But English fans can improve their support without this. The first step is a refusal to sit and a commitment to sing.