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  • Chris Tuck

Veltins Arena - FC Schalke 04

Photos by Chris Tuck, Stadium Journey

Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.71

Veltins Arena Arenaring 1 45891 Gelsenkirchen, Germany

Year Opened: 2001

Capacity: 62,271


The Colours and Curves of the Veltins-Arena

One hour after the final whistle, we sat high up in the SudKurve in an empty and eerie stadium. The view simply took our breath away. Some grounds are at their best when full; indeed a couple of hours earlier the Veltins-Arena was rocking. However as the crowd dispersed and the lights went down, this stunning, futuristic stadium revealed its colours and its curves in spectacular fashion. The city of Gelsenkirchen is in Germany’s Das Ruhrgebiet, in the west of the country, within North-Rhine Westphalia. It would never be described as picturesque or charming, however, its football team, FC Schalke 04, gives this former mining town something to be mighty proud of. Founded in 1904 (you'll see the blue and white '04 branding wherever you go) the club’s fortunes have fluctuated in the same way as the local industry. The region has often been described as Europe’s powerhouse. Recently, FC Schalke 04 is also a powerhouse; playing at a high level in both the Bundesliga and European Champions League.

They were founded of course in 1904, and beginning in 1928 Schalke played at Glückauf-Kampfbahn in a proud working class area until the Parkstadion was built in 1973. Then in 2001, the club moved a stone’s throw away to its present home on the edge of the city.

First known as the Arena Auf Schalke, a ten-year sponsorship by a leading German brewery means it’s now the Veltins-Arena, holding just over 62,000 fans. It’s a classic circa-200 million euro modern stadium, the retractable roof and removable pitch bring comparisons with others in the United States and the Far East. The Veltins-Arena is now very much home for their passionate fans who travel from miles around to follow the emotional roller coaster that is Schalke 04.

Food & Beverage 3

Numerous catering outlets are available within the stadium complex and serve all the usual German favourites. Queues are quite long at times, exasperated by the European norm of having to queue first to put money on a ‘Knappenkarte’ that you then use to pay. For regulars, it’s a case of loading it up once for the season, but for one-time visitors, it’s an absolute pain.

Bratwurst, a type of German sausage served in a bun, is a standard for most fans. Here it will set you back 2.90 euros, a very reasonable price. Schnitzel costs 4.20 euros and a Currywurst is 3.40 euros. Gouda am Stiel (cheese on a stick) costs 2.80 euros. Popcorn is available, a sad indictment of how sanitized football is becoming, but please don’t buy any. In Europe, popcorn is for the cinema only; buy it at football and you may as well get the word ‘tourist’ tattooed on your forehead.

For drinks, coffee or tea costs 2.60 euros. Veltins will of course be your alcoholic drink of choice (or not) as their sponsorship gives them rights across the stadium’s outlets and will set you back around 4 euros.

Veltins and CurryWurst is our recommendation, a decent price, and tasty although the fork didn’t come in particularly handy for the curry sauce.

Just outside the stadium, on the corner of Willy-Brandt-Allee and Adenauerallee, is a cinema complex with a McDonalds, Café Del Sol, and Pizzeria, but it is, of course, busy on match days.

Atmosphere 4

The vociferous home fans, housed in terraces at the NordKurve end of the ground do their best. As the match intensity grows, both home and away fans rise to the occasion and produce an impressive backdrop to the on-pitch action.

The stadium is mostly two-tiered with executive boxes sandwiched in between. The Ergro Tribune (West) stand, where the players emerge onto the pitch, it’s split into three tiers. Clubs really should learn from Dortmund and now Tottenham Hotspur that a large, one-tier stand, uninterrupted by executive boxes, can do wonders for a stadium’s atmosphere. The seating across the stadium is predominantly blue in keeping with proud club colours.

In the centre of the stadium, above the centre spot is a 4-screen ‘video box’ suspended from the roof providing updates on substitutions, scores elsewhere, and a few adverts too.

Before kick-off, you will hear ‘The Miners Song,’ a reminder of the proud mining history in the area. Then the NordKurve take over with ‘blue and white, how we love you,’ their Tifo displays, their bouncing, and their songs, creating a superb spectacle for those in the other three stands. As with most modern stadiums, there are no bad views.

Neighborhood 3

The Veltins-Arena can be found in the city of Gelsenkirchen, very much off of the tourist trail. All advice suggests staying elsewhere and traveling in for the match. When asking Schalke fans about their city, thinking they'd defend it to the hilt, they all replied “Stay in Dusseldorf!”

Gelsenkirchen has pubs, restaurants, and hotels, so it’s possible to base yourself here. There is a zoo, a movie museum, and a coal museum. However, always trust the locals so base yourself in Bochum or Dusseldorf. We chose Dusseldorf, an attractive city just 45 minutes south on the train.

Don’t forget of course that your match day football ticket will give you that train journey for free, an excellent initiative. Staying elsewhere also allows you to add another game to your trip. With so many clubs around, and tv schedules kick-off times across the weekend, you likely will be able to also visit another German football stadium during a visit.

In Dusseldorf head to the Aldstadt where you’ll hear of the ‘longest bar in the world’ so called due to so many bars packed into such a small geographical area. Lanes off of the main drag provide numerous steakhouses, tapas, and pizzerias.

We stayed in the heart of the Altstadt in apartments with a (small) sea view but no balcony; reasonably priced they provide a good base for a trip.

Fans 4

Older Schalke fans still identify heavily with the working-class area where their Gluckauf-Kampfbahn stadium was located. I also met younger fans who had only ever known the glitzy and shiny Veltins-Arena. Schalke Ultras I spoke to simply lived and breathed their club, but they are down-to-earth and approachable. They know they are a big club, but understand that following football pride there is almost always an ignominious fall.

The stadium is full for Bundesliga and Champions League matches, they were Germany’s best-supported club for a few years in the 1970s. These days only Dortmund and Bayern Munich attract more fans than Schalke who averaged over 60,000.

Ultra groups choreograph the tifo displays and during the chants, they bring the striking blue and white colours to life through their flags, scarves, and banners.

Of course, there is the juxtaposition between the gritty working-class heritage this club prides itself on and this fantastic futuristic stadium. If anything, however, it’s a positive tension. Schalke fans are also hugely proud that their stadium hosted World Cup matches in 2006 and a European Champions League final in 2004.

Access 4

Only 85 kilometres separates Cologne from Dortmund, in between, this region is littered with top-flight and Bundesliga 2 football clubs. Forget coal, with at least three airports and the usual fast and efficient train network, this area is an absolute gold mine for traveling football fans.

The Veltins-Arena is a long walk from the current centre of the city. It’s reached therefore using tram 302 from Gelsenkirchen Hauptbahnhof. Simply follow the hundreds of fans arriving on the train and drinking just outside the station.

If you are driving to the Veltins-Arena, it can be found sandwiched between autobahns 2 and 42. Come off Autobahn 2 at junction 6 and arrive minutes later at the ground which has a large multi-story car park sitting adjacent to the stadium.

Tickets for the match can be purchased from the Schalke website, by telephone, or at the stadium itself. Whilst they do sell out most games, if you are watchful and buy early, it’s possible to buy tickets even for some of the bigger games. Expect to scan your ticket at the outer perimeter of the stadium and be searched before you proceed into the stadium area itself.

Once inside, access is relatively easy although note there are lots of stairs outside and in, so if mobility is an issue contact the club before you travel.

Return on Investment 4

‘Free train travel’ simply by showing your match day ticket is a superb idea. This makes the return on investment for a trip to Schalke very attractive. Ticket prices are what you would expect at this level and food/drink also is in line with other Bundesliga clubs. The availability of free match day programmes adds to the feeling that you aren't being ripped off. Of course, choose a lower-league match and you will spend less. I’d recommend Bochum just down the road, but a trip to a German top-flight club such as Schalke does not break the bank. Add to that you are visiting one of the world’s finest stadiums and this journey is money well spent.

Extras 4

The Schalke museum is built into the corner of the SudKurve and is well worth a visit, on its own or as part of a stadium tour. The Match Day programme is an excellent full-color A4 affair and is given out around the perimeter of the stadium free of charge. Fan shops are also positioned around the ground with blue and white shirts, scarves, and merchandise to help you blend in. There is also now a Schalke app which you can use to gain access to their own tv channel, scores, and merchandise and it will even give you a wake-up call in time for the match.

Final Thoughts

During the match, songs, curse words, and shouts swirl around this impressive arena. Now as we're the last to leave, the now-empty stadium is still communicating with us. The huge video screen plays the post-match press interviews; but if you listen carefully enough, you can hear the working-class Schalke forefathers whispering, “Don’t ever forget your roots, work hard, don't expect anything for free, support this famous team through thick and thin.....and don't ever buy the popcorn.”

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