England fan issues in Gelsenkirchen were predictable; Germany wasn’t prepared

Harry De Cosemo
Germany vs England

In so many ways, Euro 2024 has felt like a throwback to a better time to be a football fan. The matches have been fast, frenetic, so much fun. The noise at the BVB Stadium in Dortmund as Arda Güler thumped home the decisive goal in Turkey’s group opener against tournament debutants Georgia on Tuesday hit different. It somehow suited the occasion; authentic, pure, joyous.

This is a far cry from the political and humanitarian minefields that engulfed both World Cups in Russia and Qatar; it has a compact, unique feel suited to the culture of the host country. On the pitch, it provides a much-needed distraction from the growing issue of greed within the club game; it is football against modern football. Except, in one very specific area: this tournament, like football in general, doesn’t really care about the supporters that pay and travel to watch it.

The scenes after England’s 1-0 win over Serbia – when thousands of fans were left stranded at Gelsenkirchen train station three hours after the full-time whistle – were shocking but not surprising. It came after there were issues with the city’s tram service; if that doesn’t run, with taxi and Uber drivers unwilling to go near the heaving Arena AufSchalke – situated quite a distance from the city centre and therefore the station – then there is little choice but to walk

Two months ago, I stood on those very platforms in the same predicament; I had attended Schalke 04 vs Nürnburg in the Bundesliga 2; kick off was 8.30 local time. The tram was fine either way, heaving even three hours before kick-off as is the way in Germany. The football starts way before the action kicks off. But because it was the only realistic mode of transport beyond a car, it felt as though 60,000 fans were forced to opt for the same way home in the dead of night.

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There were long queues at the tram stop and barely any room to stand before eventually we returned to the station. If it hadn’t worked at any point, I was stranded. It amazes me that organisers thought it would withstand a whole tournament’s worth of travel on a similar if not bigger scale; it fell at the first hurdle.

At the station, the crowds didn’t disperse. It was my second time in Germany in just a few months; I’d also attended Newcastle United’s Champions League match at Borussia Dortmund in November. Neither were particularly smooth experiences. I had gone out there expecting fast and regular trains, but delays and cancellations were rife. I arrived back from Gelsenkirchen at just before 2am because of an unexplained stoppage, having waited until well past midnight for a suitable train to Düsseldorf.

My journey back from Dortmund to Frankfurt airport was supposed to be a stress-free day with hours to kill; by the time I got to the airport, I had an hour to race to the gate. I had been delayed and stranded across various German stations, until finally, the train to the airport avoided the stop without warning. The taxi from Wiesbaden, the next city along, was €75. The chaos of that day was made worse by the false sense of security I had from a €24 direct first-class train in the other direction a couple of days earlier.

Lots of fans have travelled to Germany this summer under the impression it would be an ideal host and on paper, it should be. The footballing infrastructure is there: great stadiums, used to big matches, in every city. Many of them are close together; stay in Düsseldorf, for example, and you are within an hour of five of them by any mode of transport. If it is running on time.

As a country, it is welcoming and accommodating. There is plenty of amazing beer, obviously, and the culture is fantastic. It has allowed fans from all over Europe to create an an incredible, unique atmosphere, with a cacophony of noise you’d not hear anywhere else.

Germany should be an ideal place for an event like this; their train schedules have been at the core of much envy from the rest of Europe. And yet, it is completely unfounded.

The reality is very different and when coupled with UEFA’s contempt for football fans, it has fallen short in key areas. Gelsenkirchen, in particular, despite an immaculate stadium, was never fit for purpose. Everyone, quite rightly, deserves better.

There’s so much to admire about Germany and Euro 2024, but Sunday’s unacceptable events were something – having been there twice in recent months – I saw coming a mile off.