My favourite team – Werder Bremen

November 2nd 2004. The Weserstadion.

A packed stadium in the north of Germany are watching Werder Bremen  batter Anderlecht 3-1 with 13 minutes remaining.

Meanwhile, over a thousand miles away, I’m at a friend’s house watching the Celtic – Shakhtar Donetsk match. As the game begins to wind down, we begin flicking over the other Champions League matches taking place that night and stumble across Werder Bremen’s match against the Belgian side.

After sixty seconds of watching the game, Croatian striker Ivan Klasnic turns 18 year-old defender Vincent Kompany inside out and blasts past Daniel Zitka to make it 4-1 to the German giants. My friend and I remark on the excellent goal scored and also on the cool “tic-tac” coloured shirts Werder Bremen are proudly wearing, with the bright orange front and lime green sleeves.

Within seconds of the restart, Bremen are knocking on Anderlecht’s door looking for a fifth goal and sure enough, midfielder Daniel Jensen pops up in the 89th minute to make it 5-1 to the Germans. This is the kind of football I loved to see, having just sat through a dreary 75 minutes of Celtic versus Shakhtar.I was thoroughly enjoying Bremen’s fluid, entertaining, attack-first-defend-later style of play.

And so, my love affair with Werder Bremen began.

Although they exited the Champions League in the last 16 after a 7-2 hammering by Lyon (with a hat-trick from Sylvain Wiltord and a double from a certain Michael Essien), they had left a lasting impression on me as a side who scored for fun, had second thoughts about defending, wore cool strips and also had an unusual name. That was all it boiled down to.

Although many accused me of “glory-hunting” at the time, Werder Bremen have not had the long and illustrious history that some of their German rivals have enjoyed, although arguably their biggest period of success has come in the last decade. After winning the Bundesliga in 2003, they finished in the top three in the following five out of six seasons – but are this year being dragged into a relegation dogfight.

There have also been some tremendous players in the past few years who have worn the famous green-and-orange jersey of the Werderaner: the now retired duo of French maestro Johan Micoud and German stalwart Frank Baumann; Bayern’s veteran striker Miroslav Klose; Wolfsburg’s Brazilian trickster Diego; Real Madrid’s playmaker Mesut Ozil; and the long-serving midfielder still at the Weserstadion, Torsten Frings.

Johan Micoud and Diego in particular, as well as being favourite players of mine, are perhaps amongst the most talented players to have plied their trade in Germany.

Micoud, who made 123 appearances for Werder Bremen, played as an attacking midfielder and would have been the fulcrum of the French national side were it not for the over-shadowing talents of Zinedine Zidane. A dead-ball specialist, he often made exquisite passes to team-mates, both long and short, usually resulting in stunning goals. Due to his great physique and technical qualities, he could hold the ball up extremely well and would dominate the centre of the park almost to perfection in each and every game.

The tall, long-nosed talisman belongs to that unending list of forgotten geniuses who are quickly vanishing into memory lane.

Diego, or Diego Ribas da Cunha to give him his full name, spent three seasons with Bremen before moving onto Juventus for €24.5m in the summer of 2009. Diego became a firm fans’ favourite during his stay in Germany with some outstanding goals and exceptional performances, and also won Kicker Magazine’s Bundesliga Player of the Year Award in his debut season. The goal that stands out most in my mind is one he scored from his own half against Alemmania Aachen in late 2007 (Google it!), as well as a breath-taking bicycle kick scored whilst playing Panathinaikos.

But today’s Werder Bremen is a very different side from the free-scoring, attacking side of just a few years ago. As it stands, Die Werderaner sit just a single point above the relegation zone and have struggled throughout the season. Coach Thomas Schaaf was given the dreaded “vote of confidence” earlier on in the campaign and the recent transfer of top scorer Hugo Almeida to Besiktas has seen morale wane further.

Whispers of Werder Bremen being relegated come May can no longer be laughed off.

Yet like every other football supporter, I’ll follow my team whatever happens. Although I have no German family, no links to the country, neither have I ever seen them play in the flesh, the fact is that nearly seven years ago when I began supporting them, they had cool strips and a funny name.

And they still do.

Colin Stone

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