When Karl Marx met the Old Lady

FCK fans en route to Turin. Photo courtesy of cfc-fanpage.de

FCK fans cross the Brenner Pass en route to Turin. Photo courtesy of cfc-fanpage.de

This is a first-hand account of FC Karl-Marx Stadt’s (now Chemnitzer FC) trip to Turin to face Juventus in the UEFA Cup 1989/90 written by Tino Richter. It has been translated from German with the kind permission of www.cfc-fanpage.de, where it was originally published.

It was autumn ’89, people had other stuff in the minds, not football. But in Chemnitz, all the talk was of the UEFA Cup. Until now we only saw it on TV. Sure FCK once played on the European stage, but back then we were all in nappies. Now, though, things were different. After the first couple of successful matches for our sky-blue heroes in this amazing competition, the draw was to take place for the next round. Just as always in Chemnitz, people were complaining before the draw was even made: “As long as its not Prague or some fucking place like that”. Fortunately, it wasn’t. The next victim of FC Karl-Marx Stadt would be… Juventus. The Old Lady, an Italian institution versus our beloved FCK. The city was gripped by UEFA Cup fever. Even though only 10,000 people trudged down to the Gellertstraße for Oberliga matches, suddenly everyone was interested.

There were people in Chemnitz who didn’t even know where FCK played, but everyone knew Juve. The border was becoming increasingly porous and we soon came to the conclusion that we had to be there in Turin, regardless of what it took. We go to every single fucking away match in the Oberliga and then let this trip simply pass us by? Never. Rumours spread that a football special was being organised for the trip south. We would have gone by car, but the 15 West marks we had to our name wouldn’t even have got us to Austria. After a home match in the Oberliga, there was a meeting between those involved in planning the trip, people who didn’t have a clue and the proper fans. As always at FCK, nothing was properly organised. It went to and fro – no one really knew what was going on. At some point a list appeared with some names on it. There were already quite a few on the list that we didn’t know, and a few that we did. My mate and I have former FCK keeper Michael Kompalla to thank for getting on that list. The trip was supposed to cost 800 Ost marks, a month’s wage. It was a lot of money, but fuck it: A month without food is better than a week without FCK.

Then all we had to do was make sure we got a ticket for the football special. First things first, we had to get passports and, of course, passport photos for the visa. Shit, passport photos? Where were we supposed to get those done? It wasn’t like it is now where you can pop down to the supermarket and get ‘em done on the machine. Polyphoto was the magic word. So off we went. But wait, we forgot that it wasn’t just football fans that wanted a passport, the entire population of Chemnitz did too in preparation for a potential border opening. The queue was worse than the queue at the grocer’s when they had bananas in. No chance.

Then we had an idea – we had a bit of West German money left over from the odd job on the side in the garage and we were able to buy our way forward a few places in the queue. Just like now I suppose. My mate had some time off and joined the queue for both of us. I was at work and could come by every now and then in one of the cars we had in to repair to check whether we might be in with a chance in the near future. As I said, at some point we had all our papers sorted and the next trip meeting was to be held at the Sportforum. We had to fill out visa forms for Austria and Italy – line for line as dictated by Peter Müller and co. – awesome. As we handed in the mountain of paperwork, our names were crossed off on the list. I asked what it all meant, the response was “None of that matters now” – of course, I’d completely forgotten that the border restrictions had been lifted. The nightmare task of getting the passports and visas approved in East Berlin is probably best left to the club to explain – Peter Müller would be more than happy to oblige, I’m sure.

Tuesday 21 November, around 5pm or so – meeting point at the station. This was the big day – in an hour we’d either be on the train or at home in tears. No one really knew whether the paperwork had gone through properly. I finished work and had a couple of beers to calm the nerves. Then I went up to the man holding all of our passports on the platform. I told him my name, and he began flicking a thick pack of permits like a fucking magician. Was mine there or wasn’t it? He went through about half of them before pulling mine out and holding it aloft. I was going, so were some of my mates – others had to stay behind. We were in absolute ecstasy, while those left behind cried like babies. I still get mad thinking about how many loyal FCK fans had to stay behind, their place taken by privileged party members and that ever-present Stasi mob.

The journey began. We had a sleeper compartment, plus room for all of our food and drinks. The schnapps bottles were opened and the beer started flowing. First stop was the border – open at that point but still very much fortified with guard towers and minefields. It was a pretty strange feeling; a few weeks ago this was the death strip, but now we were just casually passing through. We’re off to see our club, just like always, so we though “fuck the border, forever FCK”.

First station on the other side was Hof. Two Bavarian border policemen wished us luck, even though they didn’t really know what was going on. We slept a little and our express train rolled through Bavaria and into Austria. At some station or other – the name escapes me – there were these two officials who were relatively intelligent for Austrians. They asked us where we were coming from and then tried to understand what we were saying. I reckon they probably still don’t know to this day what our city was called.

Before long we reached Innsbruck and had an hour to spare – time to stock up on supplies. Oh wait, we had only changed our 15 Ost marks into lira and of course no one would take that stuff here. We had to look elsewhere. A staff member at the station drove a pallet full of crates of beer along the platform and parked it next to our train. We felt sorry for him, that poor guy. The thought that he would have to carry all of that heavy stuff into one of the Austrian trains gave us an idea. Two guys went down to the vehicle, while the others stood at the window. We heaved all the crates through the window – into the FCK Express of course. We hid a few crates in our compartment, before the police appeared at the door. They were on the lookout for stolen beer and had the impression that it may be here in our wagon. We responded with complete bafflement of course, saying that we were merely passing through and didn’t really understand what they were saying. Another FCK fan in the train suggested that they might like to quietly fuck off, we weren’t here to go skiing, we were off to see FCK.

Finally we started moving again. Steffl was the name of the beer if I remember correctly. It was alright and lasted until we reached our destination. Our FCK Express meandered through the Alps, the bright sky matching our sky-blue scarves. I still have a picture – leaning out of the train as we chugged around a curve, the perfect blue of the sky with snow-capped mountains in the background and FCK flags adorning our carriages; amazing. After traversing the Alps we reached Milan, and couldn’t go any further. The Italian railways were on strike – quite rightly, no doubt. But FCK was waiting for us. What were we going to do??? While we waited we sang songs on the platform at Milan station with some crazy Italians. Neither of us knew what the other was saying, but at least we were loud. While this was happening, some of the unwelcome party members on the train unfurled an East German flag out of the window and were subsequently photographed by some Italian journalists. Shortly afterwards, we made it painfully clear to these unwanted guests how things were going to work from now on. The flag soon disappeared.

Finally we got the news we had all been hoping for – the driver had got a special permit from his trade union to proceed just for us. The focus was on FCK and its fans and that’s how things were going to remain for a while. Our train rumbled onwards and soon reached our final destination, Turin. It was late afternoon and the floodlights were already on – not at the stadium, at the Stationi Torino. The whole place was lit up like a Christmas tree, hundreds of journalists, Italian TV and loads of Juventus fans gave us a welcome that still brings tears to my eyes this day.

We were there – the famous Chemnitz fans arriving at the heart of Italian football. It was mental. Interviews in every language under the sun. Before I knew it I had a Juventus scarf around my neck. Italians are emotional people and we felt that we fitted in. Our arrival was broadcast live on Italian TV. We were in luck, our personal reporter could speak German well and explained more about us than we did about ourselves. After all, news of the fall of the Iron Curtain hadn’t passed Italy by or anything and the Italians were happy to be part of this huge shift in the European landscape.

We swapped everything. Anything that had an East German emblem on it was swapped. One FCK fan ripped his passport apart and swapped every page for a scarf or a pennant – unbelievable. Juventus had organised a few buses at the station to take us to the ground – probably about ten in total for the 460 FCK fans. Out of the hustle and bustle of the station and into the buses to the ground – that was the plan. But we wanted a tour of the famous city, and it was chaos. Getting 10 buses through the awful Torino traffic was impossible. I suppose it was late afternoon, commuter traffic, European match that evening and, of course, the temperament. At some point 3 of our buses stopped next to a park. No idea where the other buses got to. We were supposed to take a look at a museum “or something”.

As always, our part of the group decided to go for the “or something” and headed into the pedestrian zone in the city centre. There we saw a friendly Italian guy with a pair of tongs in his hand, selling roasted chestnuts. What the hell was this stuff? We gobbled up the entire grill and then the seller started calling for his mother – Maria or something her name was. The next stop on our tour was the newsagents. Aha! Here we could buy some postcards. When we came back out, the newspaper stands were empty. How the journalists got that picture of us in Milan in the papers three hours after it was taken is still a mystery. One of our group flicked through a top-shelf mag, lamenting “this isn’t a programme.” “Forget the birds, today FCK needs us!” shouted someone else.

Onwards we went through the pedestrian zone, past a jewellers watched by eagled-eyed Carabinieri. We started counting the zeroes on the price labels – a 25 with 7 zeroes after it, no way. So that bloke from Bavarian radio was lying to us when he read out the exchange rates every week. 1 Ost mark was 1,000 lire, so that means that necklace costs…never!! We decided to forget the maths and walk on. It was almost time for the big event. Across the street with our big FCK flag and into a huge traffic jam. The Italians were honking their horns like there was no tomorrow. We danced around on the roundabout with our flag as if no one else was there. One driver forgot about the jam and joined in. He climbed on the roof of his car with a massive Juventus flag, while others began singing with their flags and scarves. They were all crazy – just like us. We would have loved to have stayed but it was time to head to the stadium. Whether those Italians ever got out of that traffic jam I do not know.

On the way to the stadium we saw a few shops barricaded up. Of course, Juve were playing and there was always something going on. Somehow we made it there. The Stadio Communale di Torino, one of the most famous in Europe, was expecting us. It was a huge concrete bowl with rows of seats in every direction; the walls plastered with AS Roma and Inter graffiti. Now, however, it was time for FCK. The Italians were really friendly towards us, and we swapped scarves and badges all night. In our block was also a delegation from Juve’s city rivals – I think they might just have been crazier than the Juve fans. The stadium wasn’t very full, but the noise could have filled several. We were welcomed by the home fans in our block and a group of Italian women came over to present us with flowers. Some of us would have preferred it if they had stayed, but that wasn’t why we were here.

Suddenly the noise became deafening as the Juve fans joined to sing the club song. The volume was indescribable. During the song the home curve was bathed in a bright orange glare. It seemed to me as if every fan in the curva had one in the hand. You couldn’t see anything but for flares and smoke.

Soon it was time for the real show to begin. 0-6 or 0-7, whatever happens it doesn’t matter, at least we’re here. As the match progressed things started to change, the Stadio Communale grew quieter as FC Karl-Marx Stadt showed the Old Lady how to play football. The only Juve fan still making a racket was the coffee seller in the away end – but he soon shut up after he was told that none of us wanted any fucking coffee. Then the silence was broken – 1-0 for FCK in Turin. We saw nothing, but as the team ran back towards our end, arms aloft, we knew what had happened. For me and my 459 companions in the away terrace it was bedlam. The rest of the stadium was in shocked silence. No-one, not even us fans, thought we even had a sniff of hope against one of Europe’s best defences. The fog enveloping the stadium became thicker and thicker, some Juve fans called for it to be abandoned – no wonder given the scoreline.

The rest is history I suppose. A shame to lose, but the performance from our sky-blue heroes was incredible. As we left the stadium and got back on the buses, we celebrated as if we’d won. On the streets we were surrounded by enthusiastic Italian fans who followed us to the station and gave us all these presents for our trip home. Our compartment was full with bottles of wine. A friend of ours came in to the train clutching a bag of oranges; never have I laughed so much.

The journey back was pretty uneventful – the bottles were empty and we were correspondingly tipsy. I think the first signs of life from our compartment came when we reached Rosenheim. Some searched the station for any other football fans and came back with a green and orange scarf. No idea what team that was, maybe it was just from some passer-by. That was it, back to normal. Just before we reached Hof we were asked to close all the windows and the doors were locked. Hundreds of people from Saxony and Thuringia had been shopping in West Germany and wanted to get home. They were squeezed into the station at Hof as we went through, and of course we didn’t want to take any of them with us on the FCK Express. Quickly we gathered together some rubbish, put it in a box and threw it out the window at their feet hoping there might be a bit of action – but nothing happened. None of them were prepared for seeing a train full of football fans travelling back home on a Thursday afternoon. A group of party agitators came on board wanting to teach us how to behave shortly before we got home – they just couldn’t help themselves. In our wagon things finally escalated and we got the entertainment we were looking for – just like a proper away match.

It was a crazy autumn. Our beloved FCK had to take a back seat for a bit, as the political situation had a firm grip on our lives. Upon our return, the first thing to do was enjoy the reception by the welcoming committee in the pub. There was only space for six around a table, but there must have been thirty around ours: “So come on, how was it?”



  1. Sir Indigo Moog

    Hi this is crazy I was at the game.
    The fog was so thick we couldn’t see the german goal at the other end!
    What was the final score anyway?
    Crazy driving through half Europe in that weather , glad you had a nice time, we had too.

    • David

      Hi, are you a Juventus fan? Final score was 2-1 to Juve; Juve also won the return leg 1-0 in Chemnitz.

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