I seem to be picking up a rather strange habit. It involves visiting the ground of a Bundesliga club’s reserve side, having not watched a game at the more famous first team stadium in the meantime.
I had already managed this phenomena in 2016 when I saw Ingolstadt II take on Augsburg II at the Rosenaustadion in the Suebic region of Bavaria; while a visit to the WWK-Arena still remains illusive.
Earlier this month, August 2019 to be precise, I added Mainz to the growing list of sides who fulfil the above criteria, as I saw the Zero-Fives Under 23 side take on Balingen in the Regionalliga Südwest at the Bruchwegstadion.
The decision to visit a leafy suburb on the outskirts of Mainz to watch a fourth division German football match may seem perplexing, and on the whole, I would wholeheartedly concur. Even more so when one considers that I am yet to visit Karlsruhe, Kaiserslautern and Mainz’s first team’s Opel Arena; all of which are handily located within, or within spitting distance, of the Rhineland-Pfalz region I am calling home for August.
Indeed, I could conjure up a grandiose reason about the historical links between Speyer (the small corner of Rhineland-Pfalz in which I lay my hat) and Mainz. It goes without saying, such ties do exist. As the dynastic home to the Salian dynasty of Holy Roman Emperors, Speyer often looked towards Mainz with baited breath in the High Medieval Period. It was the Mainz’s political and ecclesiastical leader, the city’s bishop, who led the initial process of electing a new King of the Germans (to become Emperor, one had to be crowned by the Pope in Rome).
Further, both Speyer and Mainz cathedrals share a pendant for Romanesque architecture (add Worms too), while the pair were also key medieval Jewish settlements (again, joined by Worms).
That is all well and good, but it evades the true, more mundane, reason for my visit to the Bruchwegstadion.
During my time in Germany, I lack one crucial aspect: a reliable form of transportation. Therefore, as a friend of mine, car and all, fancied the prospect of Mainz II against Balingen, my decision was made for me. It was an added bonus that I had yet visit the stadium before.
The Stadion am Bruchweg, or the Bruchwegstadion as it is more colloquially known, was built originally in 1929. Renovated on seven occasions, Mainz’s reserve outfit gained the stadium as their home venue in 2011 when the first team moved to the newly built Opel Arena on the outskirts of the city.
British viewers will probably recognise the characteristic half-terraced, half-seated East Stand, which can be viewed ad nauseam when Sky and BT show footage of Jürgen Klopp playing at the Bruchweg during his playing days for Mainz. Unfortunately, within the last year, the Zero-Fives have decided to demolish the North Stand, so that the club’s adjacent training ground could be expanded ever so slightly.
Due to the infinite wisdom of the Federal Transport Ministry and their confusing exit system on the autobahn, we arrived without time to spare in Mainz. In typical fashion, the tenets of the Zero-Fives’ goal music rang aloud as we queued for tickets in the small rectangular building that Mainz use to sell tickets at the Bruchwegstadion, signifying that the hosts had gone one goal to the good. It is small consolation that a student ticket can be bought for as little as €6 (a similar adult ticket comes in at around €10).
Balingen, to their credit, despite having yet to earn a point this season, as well as their early set-back on this humid summer’s eve, were extremely easy on the eye. (As can be viewed in the above picture) With both fullbacks in an advanced position, simultaneously hugging the touchily, anchored by a holding midfield, the Baden-Württemberg visitors somewhat represented the style of play Pep Guardiola characterised during his Barcelona days.
It is at this rudimentary point that comparisons with Guardiola can be stopped, however. Balingen lacked either the quality or nerve to convert their possession into meaningful chances, while the visitors were also seemingly alien to the transitional phases that the Spaniard is so keen on. Fortunately for them, Mainz’s final ball was poor and they were not punished for the glaring opportunities they presented for counter attacks.
1-0 the final score at the Bruchweg. It seems almost poetic irony that I would travel around 100km for a German fourth division clash, only to miss the solitary goal of the game.
With a late night Burger King for sustenance (it made quite the difference from the wild boar sausages I had earlier that day in the Odenwald) and a Ford Ka my chariot, we headed back towards the Rhine-Neckar region and Speyer in particular.
Arriving back in the medieval city just before Thursday joined us, I could be safe in the knowledge that it is now two Bundesliga clubs where I have visited their reserve ground, but not their first.