At the Veltins-Arena
Gelsenkirchen is home to one of Germany's most successful Bundesliga teams, Schalke 04. We were in town to attend matches staged for a friendly pre-season tournament which I understand is a regular annual event. On this occasion the four participating teams were Schalke (of course), Malaga, West Ham and our own Newcastle United.
Schalke play at the impressive modern Veltins-Arena on the northern edge of the town, reached on tram 302 from the centre. From the tram stop it is just a few minutes' walk. The Veltins-Arena opened in 2001 (previously Schalke played at the Parkstadion a short distance away) and is very impressive, both in appearance and facilities. It lies on an unusual northeast-southwest axis to avoid being placed immediately above old mines beneath the surface here. The roof is made of fibreglass canvas and is fully retractable. It was closed part-way through our first match as a storm was approaching, but remain open throughout our second game. A four-sided video scoreboard hangs above the pitch. This was the first of its kind in football stadia, and has since been copied in the Commerzbank-Arena in Frankfurt and the Esprit Arena in Düsseldorf. Most innovatively perhaps, the pitch itself can be slid completely out of the stadium (although this was not the first stadium to feature this – for instance, the Sapporo Dome in Japan can be switched between artificial turf for baseball and real grass for football). In the case of the Veltins-Arena, the playing field can be moved in and out of the stadium within 4 hours. This allows the grass to grow under normal outside conditions without suffering from a lack of air and light, and also avoids it being damaged when non-sporting events such as concerts are held here.
Inside the stadium has some standing areas, unlike those in England where standing at top flight matches has been banned for some years (following the Taylor report on the 1989 Hillsborough disaster, when 96 Liverpool supporters were crushed to death on the terraces due to overcrowding caused by mismanagement). Here at Schalke fans can stand to watch the game on the terraces of the Nordkurve, and there is also a small area set aside for away fans to stand. These areas are converted to seating for international matches, reducing the capacity from 61,524 to 53,994. My video hopefully gives just a little idea of the pre-match atmosphere.
The stadium has all the facilities you would expect and more! There are plenty of refreshment stands outside but also inside on the concourse that runs behind the stands. Note though that you must buy a smart card from the small booths and pre-load it, as you can't pay for your beer, soft drinks, Bratwurst, chips etc with cash. Also, a little frustratingly, there are separate queues for food and drink so if you want to split up (one buying snacks, one beer, for instance) you will need either two cards or a bit of juggling across the queues! The catering stands are connected to a 5 km long beer-line, which our friend Pete (who knows about these things!) told us was the longest in the world. It can supply around 52,000 litres of beer on a match day. And unusually for us, used to “No alcohol past this point” signs as we take our seats for the match, beer can be taken into the seating areas and drunk while you watch – very civilised!
We watched two full matches as part of the tournament (Newcastle v Malaga and v Schalke themselves) and some small part of the two other games. The stadium has both seated and standing areas, unlike league clubs at home in England which are all seated. For the first game we went to, Newcastle v Malaga, we had good seats in the stand on the east side, almost level with the halfway line. The match however was not good, at least from our perspective, and we lost 3-1. The next day we sat again near the halfway line on that side but higher up. Newcastle put in an improved performance and beat our hosts, Schalke, by the same score-line to finish second to Malaga in this mini tournament. So you can imagine that we went away pretty happy, having enjoyed the match and the excellent facilities and atmosphere of the Veltins-Arena!
Veltins Arena - Schalke 04
This magnificent stadium is home to German Bundesliga team Schalke 04.
It opened in 2001 and it hosted the 2004 UEFA Champions League final and 5 matches in the 2006 FIFA World Cup, including a quarter-final. It has a league capacity of 61,482 (standing and seated) and an international capacity of 53,951 (seated only). The stadium is named after the German brewery Veltins.
I went here for the UEFA Champions League Semi final 1st Leg, Schalke 04 v Manchester United, on 26/04/11. United played one of the most attacking away games of the season and came out 2-0 winners.
Getting into the stadium was easy and the view from the away section was great.
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Koenigsblau and weiss is what the fans here bleed as they look forward to seeing their team strike down the opposition - especially Bayern Munchen or Borussia Dortmund. FC Schalke 04 has Germany's newest football stadium, the Arena auf Schalke - room for over 60,000, featuring a retractible roof. Learning from the problems of the stadium of Ajax of Holland, the grass is actually moved out of the stadium when there is no game, so that it can grow better than in the not-so sunny confines of the stadia. Luxury boxes and business seats are the rage, as in the US, but the north end is still standing room only for Schalke's most rabid Nordkurve faithful as they sing and chant for the Blue and white. The game this night saw 04 come from behind to beat FC Slovan Liberec of the Czech Republic 2:1.
Equipment: Tickets and clothed in Blue and white.
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Biathlon at the Arena auf Schalke
On the 28th of December something strange will happen in Gelsenkirchen. At "Arena auf Schalke" - a modern football arena - there will be the first indoor Biathon World Team Challenge Race. Most of the top athletes of Biathlon sport, such as Ole Einar Björndalen or Uschi Disl will take part in this mixed relay. Tickets are 15 € and I can't wait to go!
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