Euro Postcard from an 800km day trip to Hamburg

The UEFA EURO 2024 Trophy is displayed at the Volksparkstadion in Hamburg, Germany and the Hamburg SV 'Walk of Fame'.

The UEFA EURO 2024 Trophy is displayed at the Volksparkstadion in Hamburg, Germany and the Hamburg SV 'Walk of Fame'. Credit: Left photo by Oliver Hardt - UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images/ Right by Macdara Ferris

Macdara Ferris reports from a train somewhere in the east of Germany

From Friday’s 3am alarm call for the flight to Berlin and an 800km Leipzig-Hamburg round trip in one day to the first scoreless draw of the tournament in Leipzig and Uwe Seeler’s giant foot in Hamburg – a postcard on my first 48 hours in Germany.

There were plenty of Poles on the flight out from Dublin on Friday as their team were taking on Austria (and losing later) in the Olympiastadion but I was heading on from Berlin further south to Leipzig to catch up with old friends.

Well when I say old friends I mean France and the Netherlands who put the Republic of Ireland in their place in qualifying for this tournament.

It was like Hamlet without the prince as on the bench remained Kylian Mbappe who didn’t enter stage left with his Phantom of the Opera mask at any stage in this game.

With an English referee and VAR official of course we had to contend with some VAR controversy and the talk in the post-match press conference with Ronald Koeman and Didier Deschamps was about Law 11.

Xavi Simons, playing in his home club ground, had his second half strike ruled out for the Dutch due to the lurking presences of Denzel Dumfries off to the side of French keeper Mike Maignan.

It was another early start on Saturday, with an 8am train north. With a match ticket or media accreditation, a ticket on any ICE high speed train can be secured for €30 but I’ve splashed out and for an additional €10 I’ve got my plush pre-booked seat in first class.

We’ve had a lot of own goals in this tournament and a lot of talk about the creaking German train infrastructure. This latter issue is an own goal for the stereotype we have for Germany.

It manifests itself on this Saturday morning with the slow drip of emails from Deutsche Bahn which get worse and worse as they informed me my arrival time in Hamburg would be 7 minutes delayed, then 22, 32 and finally 54 minutes but it all meant I still had more than enough time to grab the S-Bahn out to the 49,000 capacity Volksparkstadion well ahead of the 3pm kick off of Georgia and Czechia.

The venue for football in Hamburg since 1953, it was used for the 1974 World Cup and Euro 88, was significantly redeveloped in 2000 and is one of nine of the dozen venues used in the 2006 World Cup being reused for Euro 2024.

There is just one new venue from that tournament with Dusseldorf being used this time around (no place for Kaiserslautern, Hannover and Nurnberg in case you are wondering).

With the stadium served by the overground train rather than a light rail system, it looks like Hamburg won’t have the issues that Gelsenkirchen has where the tram system to the out of town venue failed after the recent England game there.

It is my second time in this stadium having attended the Ukraine v Saudi Arabia game here during the World Cup in 2006. Gone is the clock that counted the time that Hamburg had been in the Bundesliga with it put in storage since HSV suffered their first ever relegation in 2018.

I get to enjoy a brilliant Georgian goalkeeping display from Giorgi Mamardashvili who keeps his team in the match.

Georgia almost win it at the death but can’t make the most of a three-on-one break with Saba Lobzhanidze blasting over the bar with the last kick of the game.

The substitute and his team mates mostly slump to the floor at the death as they now must beat Portugal in their final group game if their first ever appearance at a major championship is not to end without an appearance in the knock out stage.

Before I head back to the Hamburg Hauptbahnof I go to see a giant foot. Adjacent to the ground, the celebrated Hamburg footballer Uwe Seeler has had his foot immortalised in metal. The striker, who scored 404 goals in 474 Hamburg games, has a giant replica of his foot as the centre piece in Hamburg SV’s ‘Walk of Fame’. 

The player isn’t quite the one-club man that many think he is as he played all bar one of his games with Hamburg.

However, he lined out for Cork Celtic once, scoring a couple of goals in a league defeat against Shamrock Rovers in April 1978. It seems the former West German skipper, who was working for Adidas at the time, thought it was an exhibition match rather than a League of Ireland game.

While Seeler gets his foot recreated in multiples of life size, other notable names get their footprint around it including Gunter Netzer, Felix McGath, Ernst Happel and Kevin Keegan.

This is a flying visit by train to Hamburg but I hope to be back for one of the quarter-finals.

My 9.51pm departure turns into a 10.21pm one but there are postcards to be written on the journey home.

When we reach Berlin beyond the midnight hour my fears of falling asleep and waking up beyond Leipzig in Munich are alleviated by the large group of Scottish fans who board the train.

Safe to say I’ll be staying awake for the last hour or so of this journey.