Occasionally, you watch a match where you’re genuinely not bothered who’ll be the winners or losers.
It’s not so much that you don’t really care, it’s because you don’t support either team. Such a match came for me one very hot Saturday night in Khartoum, capital of Sudan, Champions League final night.
Living thousands of miles from home, it helps to make a few friends and a bonus if they’re from outside your normal circle of contacts. I was fortunate enough to do just that. In the five months between arriving in Khartoum and the evening in question, I’d been to a couple of embassy ‘do’s’ and met other ex-pats.
Much to the annoyance (and jealousy) of the other Brits I worked with, I got friendly with some German guys. Having been to Germany many times during my career with Mercedes-Benz, I speak enough German to make light conversation and Klaus, Urban and Werner quickly became drinking freunden.
Urban, who worked for me, was more a fan of the German national team than a particular club side. Klaus and Werner worked for Lufthansa and were both fans of Eintracht Frankfurt. And courtesy of booze arriving via the ‘diplomatic bag,’ the four of us enjoyed some memorable evenings discussing footie. Germans know sod all about cricket or rugby.
One evening in April 2012, at a charity fundraising ‘do’ at the Turkish Ambassadors’ residence, they introduced me to the German Ambassador Rolf Welberts who, they advised, was a Bayern Munich fan.
A few nights later, the Champions League semi-finals took place and the finalists were confirmed. Bayern Munich and Chelsea eliminated Real Madrid and Barcelona respectively, to set up a May 19th showdown.
Chelsea would appear in their second final, having lost their previous one, while for Bayern it would be their ninth. The Bundesliga powerhouse were four and four from their eight finals and supremely confident of winning a fifth. Teutonic confidence was literally off the scale as the venue for the final was Bayern’s home Allianz Arena.
By this time, I’d acquired a satellite TV service so invited my German friends to join me for the final. They accepted, but Werner said he’d check with the Ambassador about his plans for the final. Somehow though, I didn’t envisage the ambassador coming round to my apartment in Amarat.
Werner called a few days to later to advise Ambassador Welberts, had arranged for a big screen on the patio at the rear of his residence to show the game and we’d been invited.
With kick-off at 10.45pm Khartoum time, there was plenty of time after work for a shower and change of clothes. I picked the others up in my car and they directed me to the residency overlooking the Blue Nile. Showing our passports to the security, we went around back to the garden, where Herr Welberts had arranged excellent hospitality.
The residency kitchen staff were busy finalising the evening’s refreshments while their children played football on the huge and well-manicured lawn. All in Bayern or German national team shirts, even the kids were sure Chelsea’s destiny was to be losers.
Tables and chairs were laid out in an arc in front of the patio upon which was an enormous projector screen that Ambassador Welberts had arranged. This was no television screen, more a full-blown, outdoor cinema screen. Twenty-feet wide by twelve-feet tall with huge speakers either side, we were going to watch footie in style.
The enticing aroma of Bratwurst and Bockwurst cooking on the barbecue floated on the warm, evening breeze. A huge table was laden with potato salad, spaetzle, sauerkraut, salad, cheese, bread and fruit.
Three huge dustbins were full of ice, soft drinks, beer and white wine, courtesy of a newly arrived diplomatic ‘bag.’ My friends laughed when I suggested the diplomatic bag must have been the size of a 20-foot container.
Somewhat disappointingly, Ambassador Welberts had been called away on diplomatic duty and wasn’t there, however, he’d obviously left instructions that his staff and guests were to enjoy themselves.
Lambs to the slaughter?
As kick-off approached, the guests assembled, about thirty in total with yours truly the only Brit. Responding in kind to their jibes that Chelsea were little more than sacrificial lambs, I suggested underestimating Chelsea was for dummkopfs. I was finding it hard to envisage anything other than Chelsea becoming two-time losers and words of support for them stuck in my Evertonian throat.
Call me unpatriotic if you like, but I’m not one of those who blindly supports a British club. For me, the night was a chance to relax in (hopefully) good company, honestly, I really wasn’t bothered who won.
Throughout the game, which from memory wasn’t a thriller, my hosts and friends were terrific and really good company. The kitchen staff kept the Bratwurst and kartoffelnsalat coming and the beer flowed as steadily as the nearby Nile. All that was missing was lederhosen and a Bavarian oompah band.
Nil-nil at half-time, honours even, winners and losers still up for grabs. Apple strudel, Black Forest gateaux and ice cream arrived – it would have been rude to refuse. Approaching midnight in Khartoum in May, the temperature was still well over 30 Celsius, cold beer and ice cream were hugely appreciated.
The conversation was of how Chelsea had done well, but Bayern would wear them down in the second half. I’ve enjoyed umpteen visits to the fatherland and genuinely like Germans and appreciate their self-belief but privately, I now began to root for Chelsea.
Returning to our loungers, the second half began and as predicted, Bayern came on strong, Chelsea had to be resolute. The game wore on and inside the final ten minutes, the inevitable happened – Bayern scored. Toni Kroos crossed and Thomas Mueller’s downward header bounced up and over the diving Petr Cech – eins zu null.
All around me the Germans celebrated, their fifth European Cup/Champions League was won… or so they thought. Another dustbin of iced beer arrived and commiserations were offered in my direction as the bottle opener was passed around.
Two minutes to play and Chelsea won a corner – last chance saloon? Juan Mata took it and Didier Drogba rose to beat Neuer at his near post with a superb header.
Eins zu eins. Shocked and dismayed Germans around me choked on their beers.
Acting the diplomat
I didn’t jump up or shout out loud, choosing instead to shrug a somewhat smug smile towards my crestfallen hosts.
Extra-time would take us towards 1 AM, if it went to penalties, I was, therefore, looking at probably 2 AM before getting home, work the next day looked like being the biggest losers.
First half of extra-time and Drogba fouled Ribery in the area – Penalty!! Cue more German celebrations.
Former Chelsea winger Arjen Robben stepped up and Petr Cech made up for the Mueller header that beat him with a crucial save. Cue crestfallen, Germans throwing heads in hands all around me.
Neither side could find a winner and the last of the strudel was passed around as the final whistle sounded. Penalties. Surely, now the German hoodoo over England from the penalty spot would ensure the outcome and Chelsea would be the losers?
Philip Lahm scored and Neuer saved from Juan Mata – advantage Bayern. German confidence returned.
Gomez scored and after a long run-up, David Luiz found the top corner – still advantage Bayern.
Bizarrely Manuel Neuer took the third and scored, Frank Lampard coolly smashed his down the middle – still advantage Bayern.
Olic took the fourth and Cech made the save that allowed Ashley Cole to level things up after four pens each. Three-three, equilibrium restored, German crests fell again, now it was down to bottle and character.
Bastian Schweinsteiger stepped up and Cech pushed his penalty onto the post and away to safety – advantage Chelsea. Cue more throwing of crestfallen German heads into hands.
Didier Drogba coolly strolled forward for Chelsea’s fifth penalty, could the Ivorian win it?
There are much longer videos of this available on YouTube, but I’ve included this one as this was all we saw in the early hours of that May Sunday morning.
As Drogba wheeled away and crossed himself, the TV projector was instantly unplugged and the pictures and sound ceased. Lids were immediately placed over the drinks dustbins, the barbecue was already extinguished and under cover.
Previously super confident Germans all around me now slumped in their chairs as I, again, smugly smiled. Some immediately headed for the car park, or the kitchen to do the washing up. There was going to be no post-game drink or chat.
Not so much as a ‘well done,’ ‘congratulations,’ or even an ‘Auf Wiedersehen,’ from many of them. Urban, Klaus and Werner were magnanimous in defeat, whereas the rest disappointingly sloped quietly away, patently sulking.
I thought (perhaps churlishly) to myself ‘what sour krauts.’ Sometimes overbearing in victory but consequently on this night, the Bratwurst of losers.