MAINZ – There were men who looked like they could kill or have killed at the slightest provocation.
There was heavy-metal, an army of bikers and Ultras who swore so much their faces went red and their veins looked like they were within inches of popping. Yet, this was a very child-friendly environment.
It was f***ing amazing. Pardon my German, children could be reading this.
The children who were here and witnessed Mainz beat RB Leipzig 3-0 were well-taken care of while their parents cheered their team to an important win in their fight for survival. There was a kids-area just before the start of the match that had slides and a jumping castle to keep the kids preoccupied.
A boy and a girl were asked to read the starting line-ups in what I found out is a culture hear with them saying the first names and the fans saying the surnames. During the match the children who couldn’t handle the noise were given earplugs to limit the deafening noise created by 30083 people who crammed into this stadium.
Most of that noise came from the Mainz Ultras who occupy the south stand just behind the goals on the right. Just like most stadiums in Germany, that stand is reserved for standing supporters.
I was within an earshot of them on row four of the grand stand just in front of where they take the corner kick. I left with a headache that was drowned by the great time I had. My voice was hoarse from cheering Mainz on. It just happened due to the carnival atmosphere the fans created.
The hosts started slowly, giving away cheap position and could have been 2-0 down against a team that was fighting for a Uefa Champions League spot.
The O-Fives regrouped and took control of the match.
The only song I understood in the many that they sang was “You Never Walk Alone” they sing before every match. The others were too German even for my Bavarian roots that I recently found out I have. But they were catchy nonetheless and I found myself stamping to their groove.
The experience that Bayern Munich created at the Allianz Arena was good but it was also commercially driven. The experience here was purely football, surreal and about having fun. It was hard to not get caught up in the buzz.
The walk to the stadium reminded me a lot of Bidvest Wits. Mainz are also in a university precinct that you negotiate your way past to get into the stadium. But they aren’t just a university team. They are this city’s darling and it’s clear why they are seen as a carnival team. Their whole experience is about having fun.
“When you play at home with such an atmosphere you always get an extra push,” Mainz midfielder Nigel de Jong said after the game. “That’s normal. You could even see it in the way Leipzig played.”
“They would play differently than this if they were at home. The fans are important for any team."
"It was a must-win game for us with a few games to go. The fans played a huge part in us getting the win.”
* Njabulo Ngidi is in Germany courtesy of StarSat