Adventures in Football #83: Veltins Arena (Schalke ‘04)
July 22, 2023
SCHALKE ’04 vs. FC TWENTE (Friendly/Test Match)
After visiting the older Fortuna Dusseldorf stadium on Friday, we switched gears on Saturday and went to something a little more modern. The Veltins Arena was built in the late 90s, in preparation for the 2006 World Cup. As a trial it also housed the 2004 Champions League final. Schalke have played there since 2001 when it officially opened. The stadium holds more than 62,000 fans, although that involves some doubled up standing in the North side. The capacity is reduced to 54,000 for International games.
Prior to the Veltins Arena, Schalke played their fixtures at the Parkstadion, built in 1973 for use in the 1974 World Cup. It’s a ground made famous by the final fixture played in it. Schalke won 5-3 against Unterhaching, which would have been enough for a first Bundesliga title, were it not for Bayern scoring deep into stoppage time, with the fans already on the pitch celebrating the title win.
Just because Schalke have never won the Bundesliga doesn’t mean they’ve never been champions of Germany. The Bundesliga only came into being in 1963. Prior to that Schalke had won seven titles, mostly in the 30s and 40s but the final win came as late as 1958. They’ve also won five DFB-Pokals (1937, 1972, 2001, 2002 and 2011). They’ve also won European honours, bagging the UEFA Cup in 1997.
For today’s fixture, a traditional pre-season friendly against Twente, a club they’re friends with, we’re heading out to Gelsenkirchen. As we’ve come from the hotel in Dusseldorf, we have to get a locker at the train station, which we just about manage. Today, we’re meeting STRIGGA (real name withheld because of his teaching profession). He’s a long-time Schalke fan and is our guide to the game today. First off, we’re not walking from Gelsenkirchen station. This one is going to be an eye opener for fans at the Euros. It’s 6.3km from the station to the ground. The tram journey was substantial. You can pick up a beer at the station and drink it on route.
If you think there’s a big drinking culture around English football, it almost doesn’t compare to the one surrounding German football. A lot of people were drinking beers outside the train station. A lot of people were drinking beers on the tram. At the tram station, they had multiple people collecting empty beer bottles and cans (in Germany you can return these for a 25 cent deposit). We get near the ground and a tree seems to have been designated as a urinal as it’s surrounded by people taking a piss.
The atmosphere outside of the ground is a nice one. The relationship with FC Twente is a friendly one. The fans are mingling, people are wearing half and half scarves (not like those god-awful Carabao Cup ones you get in the UK) and it’s a positive vibe. These are two fan groups who get together every pre-season to hang out and have a nice time.
Outside here is the “Tausend-Freunde-Mauer” or “Thousand Friends Wall”. A fans wall with plaques and dedications, a lot like the bricks in the floor outside the Emirates. While the beer sponsor is front and centre at Schalke, the ground has been Schalked (Schalkefied?) in other respects. Even with Veltins little green flags, the name on the arena is blue. The various cups and stuff are blue. Veltins haven’t forced their brand onto this building.
Here we are outside. STRIGGA has one of those half and half scarves. Due to having to pass through Dortmund, hated rivals of Schalke, has had been “incognito” before that. I’m rocking a Schalke shirt that I picked up a few years ago. This was before the invasion of Ukraine and the German sponsor, Gazprom, getting booted off the shirt. I saw someone with this exact same shirt with tape over the Gazprom logo.
The queue to get into the ground is enormous. The German culture is to get there early and drink. Whereas the British culture is to leave the pub as late as possible because you can’t drink in the ground itself. Which is why the concourses at English grounds are heaving before a match. The outdoor vendors here have special plastic cups, which you can either keep or return for the standard 25 cent deposit. Mike kept his glass because it had Olaf Thon on the side.
As with Fortuna Dusseldorf, but to a lesser extent, there is a lot of Schalke related graffiti around the ground. This is something I’d like to see more in the UK. You get stuff at the ground, but you don’t get stuff approaching the grounds as much. You can tell what team plays in Dusseldorf because the F95 graffiti is everywhere.
Several bits of pyro go off outside the ground. I suspect Dutch supporters let off pyro a lot more than I realised. To take smoke bombs to a friendly game is a bit intense! This one got left off right behind where we were standing and we were soon engulfed in red smoke. If it was blue smoke, I could live with it. I thought we were mates, Twente?
Anyway, the beer finished, the queue diminished, we head on in. I take a moment to snap the massive stage that’s set up outside the ground for Schalke-Tag. Welcher tag is Schalke-Tag? Jeder tag is Schalke-Tag.
We’re into the ground and whoa, look at this bad boy! The top tier isn’t even being used today and there’s still 33,000 in attendance. Some features of this new multi-purpose stadium. There’s the retractable roof. It’s open today, nice sunshine on the pitch. We have the central scoreboard/video screen, which faces off in four directions. This is akin to indoor arenas like ice hockey or basketball venues. It works! Finally, the pitch is on wheels. In four hours, the whole pitch can be removed from the stadium and rolled outside where it can get natural light. Which also means the arena can be used for concerts and expos and ice hockey without damaging the pitch, because the pitch isn’t even inside when those things happen!
The Twente fans are amassed in the one corner and are in good voice. They’ve come with the intent of making themselves heard but it’s all positive. I’ve never seen a group of away fans who were so nice to their hosts. Obviously, there’s a relationship here. At one point they start a ‘stand up if you’re Twente’ chant and various Twente fans around the ground stand up. Then they start a ‘stand up if you’re Schalke’ chant and everyone stands up. It’s nice.
Pre-match with get the Schalke anthem; “Blau und Weiss, wie lieb ich dich” aka “blue and white, how I love you”. It includes the words “A thousand friends who stand together, then Schalke will never go down”. They were relegated last season.
Then everyone whips their scarves out and I’m always impressed by a solid wall of scarves. It’s nice to see so many of those half and half scarves. This is truly a ‘friendly’. An early injury sees Ibrahima Cisse come on at centre back and holy shit, what a player this guy is. He’s a great big unit but he’s also calm and a good organiser. He takes charge when he needs to and can run with the ball. We had him defending in front of us in the second half and if he has a good season, which I’m sure he will, this is a name to watch.
Twente are a good team. They beat Sparta Rotterdam to qualify for Europe this season and they play right through the middle of Schalke for 0-1. Michel Vlap, formally of Anderlecht, opens the scoring with a one on one finish. Matriciani, the Cinderella rags to riches story player, lost Vlap on the run and Cisse was pulled out of position. It’s a well worked goal. Twente continued to press and looked like they might run away with it. Sam Steijn hit the bar when it looked easier to score.
One of the most satisfying things about German football is being able to drink beer during the game. It helps when your team is losing, and winning! Schalke got back level thanks to a corner, headed in by Kenan Karaman. 1-1. The set pieces were Schalke’s strength. Schalke were the better team towards the end of the half and Simon Terodde finished cooly from the angle for 2-1. 60 seconds later, Twente cross to the far post, it’s not dealt with, and Sam Steijn heads into the net. 2-2.
The second half has no goals but lots of lovely chanting. Whether it’s Schalke going silent to allow Twente to chant or doing the recall of “SCHALKE” from one end and “NULL VIER” from the other. What a delight this game was. One final piece in the puzzle; the second half substitution of wonderkid Assan Ouedraogo. He looked exciting but more importantly, did the defensive work too. At one point charging back into his own box to block a shot on goal. His little cameos on the ball showed he has a lot of skill. Certainly one to keep an eye on.
FINAL SCORE: SCHALKE 2 TWENTE 2
Now, we did the drinking a bit out of order. So, post match we hopped on a tram (which is a lot harder than you might think) and headed to the old Schalke ground, which still has the Schalke bar outside of it.
This is the Kampfbahn Gluckauf, the ground Schalke played at before moving to the Parkstadion in the 70s. As with the Paul Janes Stadion, it’s awesome to see it’s still standing. History preserved for all to see.
This is the Schalke bar, Vereinslokal Schalke ‘04 aka “Bosch”.
After a quick pint here, it’s back on the tram and back into the world. Once again though, the tram was rammed. If you’re planning on going to Schalke just be aware of the short and extremely crowded public transport on the way out of the stadium. It’s easy enough to get there but getting away is hard. We ended up missing three trams because you literally couldn’t get on. The fans onboard singing their displeasure at how shit the public transport is. And also Dortmund. Can’t forget to abuse Dortmund. Before we head out, let’s get some scores and see how Schalke measures up.
For pre-season this was elite stuff. Singing, chanting. It was all very positive as two mates got together to test their skills before the season starts. ****
It was 15 Euros to get into this game, which explains the substantial attendance. If a Premier League team charged me £13 for a ticket I’d ask them if they’d made a mistake. ****
It was a good game. It faded a little in the second half with the substitutions but overall, the standard was good. Schalke can be happy with their performance, and it looks bright for their season in 2. Bundesliga next year. STRIGGA thinks they’re in a better position than the last time they were relegated. Twente look good too, with Europe ahead of them. ***½
EASE OF ACCESS:
It’s either a long walk or a crowded tram but the good news is that with a match day ticket, including this friendly, you get free travel on public transport. Including the train we took from Dusseldorf to Gelsenkirchen and from Gelsenkirchen to Hagen after the game. **½
The stadium is fantastic, as you’d expect, and about to host another major tournament next summer. I was slightly disappointed that a stadium of that size didn’t have great concourse and toilet facilities. The block we were in had one toilet with only three urinals in it. That’s not great. The queues in the concourse were long for everything, which is the same in the UK, but having experienced better designed stadiums it’s a little surprising they built it this way only 20 years ago. Let’s just say I won’t be pounding Veltins there at Euro 2024 or I might piss myself in the toilet queue. ***½
Schalke is an early leader in the table this season, just about edging out Halesowen Town (don’t laugh). Anything that hits that magic 17.5 rating is usually considered to be gold standard, so Schalke have set a good marker for everyone else to aim for this season. I enjoyed it and I’ll probably be back for the Euros in 12 months’ time!