A week of football in Germany

Dozens of blue flashing lights dominated the airport around the plane I’d just flown on from Barcelona to Hamburg ahead of a week of football in Germany.

The huge convoy moved towards two jets with ‘Republica do Brazil’ on the side. It was the president of Brazil, Lula.

He must be feeling pretty pleased given that his booming country will host the 2014 World Cup finals and the 2016 Olympics.

But then it must be quite smart to be the president of Brazil, the country which gave the world Tom Brady’s wife, Alessandra Ambrosio, Adriana Lima and the cheeky Da Silva twins.

I saw them recently at Carrington – the twins, not the supermodels, sadly - as they walked around like two smiling chipmunks joined at the hip.

“Everything good?” I asked using two of the few words of Portuguese I know.

“Todo bien!” they replied jointly, a little surprised to hear their mother tongue.

Anyway, imagine being in a pub and meeting someone who introduced himself as ‘the president of Brazil.’

It would be smart, as it would if you were the fastest man in the world. Or even one of the Da Silvas. Imagine playing for one of the world’s biggest football teams with your kid brother?

Hamburg is a lively city, SV Hamburg an exceptionally well run club. After visiting their neighbours St. Pauli, I was taken around the terraced areas of Hamburg’s smart new stadium.

The fans pay €15 to stand, create a sizeable din and watch top-level Bundesliga action. The club are debt free and the supporters hugely influential in the running of it.

It wasn’t hard to envy the German model – one which doesn’t extend to VfL Wolfsburg, my next stop after three days in the German capital Berlin.

Paddy Crerand was in Wolfsburg, cursing The Sun newspaper (whose correspondent gave as good as he got back at Paddy) and told me the story about his trip to East Berlin in 1965.

"We were drawn against the East German army side ASK Vorwaerts,” he said.

“Matt (Busby) had been to watch them a few weeks earlier and was reasonably impressed. He stressed that we had the quality to beat them and didn’t seem all that concerned as we flew into West Berlin.

"He was a few hours late though – and all because of me.

"As we crossed through Checkpoint Charlie in communist East Berlin we were given forms to fill in. Matt got all serious and said, ‘Don’t muck about. These people have no sense of humour.’

"All the boys thought that they had made it through the checkpoint until a loudspeaker blared, in broken English, ‘Herr Crerand, report back to the office.’

"I had been unable to resist filling in my immigration card thus: Name – Bond, James, Destination – Moscow, Purpose of visit – Espionage.

“Matt was raging. The East Germans knew that I was joking, but their serious expressions did not change. Matt carried on going at me, saying that it wasne’t even a funny thing to do.”

The day after United had – rather fortuitously it must be said – beaten the Volkswagen works team, I went to Hanover, a trip originally planned to interview Robert Enke.

Some United fans had been to the stadium and left flags of tribute to Enke and a huge number one jersey bearing his name is suspended from the roof.

Hannover 96 employee Dirk Koster was hugely welcoming and, having written for Shoot! Magazine in the 70s, spoke perfect English.

He showed me around the stadium, told some very emotional stories about Enke and invited us to watch the first team train.

“Would you like to interview Mikael Forssell or Steven Cherundolo?” he asked. I’d only popped along to see the ground.

An hour later he had invited me to a function at the club that night and introduced me to Hanover’s American international Cherundolo (pronounced Chur-RUN-do-lo), who captained his country in this year’s Gold Cup.

The San Diego born defender, 30, who has played for Hannover 96 for 11 years, is likely to play against England next year.

He was bright, media savvy and, unsurprisingly, can’t wait for South Africa.

An unexpected interview – but very welcome, nonetheless.

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