Visitors from Holland

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Time passes too quickly. We are now looking back at a memorable weekend which is already more than a week ago. But let me go much further back in order to explain. It was in autumn 1996 when I first met Ben and Rich, sitting in the Cafeteria of a football club close to Manchester City’s Maine Road stadium. That we had a terrible football inclination in common was obvious from the very start. But this was not the only thing we had in common. We also shared the same accommodation, grand Arosa Hotel, and played for the same university team, Manchester Metropolitan University. Thus we met more often on the football pitch than we did at university, Rich and I playing for the first team, Ben in the third. I would quit the team after a few games but soon we should catch up again in the common room of Arosa hotel or in Flea & Firkin, a pub just across the street from the Humanities Department where I studied.
That’s were you can trace the roots of our friendship. After leaving Arosa and Manchester behind we would catch up in wintry Amsterdam in 1997. A surprise visit of Ben and Rich, accompanied by Jessica (the third Dutch to dwell in Arosa), saw them explore the South Styrian wine hills, a Straßenfest in Leibnitz, and one of the legendary parties in our wineyard. It was the summer of the World Cup in France where we watched a 2nd round match between Norway and Italy (as far as I can recall it), sitting under the wine leaves of our country house’s patio. The boring match was spiced up by a dramatic thunderstorm, which should afflict the region more frequently in the ensuing years. The drama soon blended into a lark-some night and provided the finishing touch to a memorable stay. Thus visits were exchanged over the years, culminating in Ben, Rich and Jessica’s attendance at our wedding in 2008 and in a legendary visit of the Ex-Socs to Amsterdam in June 2007.

The Ex-Socs spent a great weekend in Amsterdam and played a tough and fast match against Ben & Rich’s team, the name of which is escaping me at the moment. We agreed to arrange for a return match. And here we have arrived in the present, in the near past, to be accurate. Last weekend saw 21 guys from Amsterdam check out Gabersdorf and surrounding, facing once again the Ex-Socs for a international cap at the Pappelstadium in Gabersdorf.
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Their visit opened fittingly with a visit to the Bundesliga match SK PUNTIGAMER STURM GRAZ – RED BULL SALZBURG, on a hot Thursday afternoon. The atmosphere in the stadium was tremendous, the match was ok, the beer flowed. One of our Dutch friends couldn’t cool down enough which eventually forced him to shed his clothes and explore the field with only his socks remaining. He made it into the newspaper and was spared a stay at the police station.
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Next day, after a Wiener Schnitzl at Neuhold’s, we visited my brother Stefan and were introduced to his wine and newly built wine cellar. Then we cruised along the Weinstraße, went up Kreuzbergwarte, a great look-out, and once again had the doubtful pleasure of finding ourselves in the eye of a terrible South Styrian thunderstorm.
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The shock was quickly forgotten when we arrived at the estate of the Polz winery and embarked on a food and drink feast that lasted for four hours. As was the case the night before, this was only a warm up for our Dutch friends, who, again guided by local insider Hellfried, hit the Leibnitz “Club” scene, not one of the best preparations for an international cap but one which in similar fashion proved to spark surprising performances by some Ex-Socs back in 2007.
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On Saturday we were again greeted by grand summer weather with temperatures around 25 °C, just right for an afternoon match. The Ex-Socs’ team only displayed a fraction of the players who conquered the Dutch team on their own grounds in a dramatic penalty shoot out in 2007 but was strong enough to face their challenge again. Before the match the teams stood to their respective anthems and served an entertaining match to an almost sold out house.
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The Dutch started with fierce forechecking which paid off immediately resulting in a 0-1 lead after 10 minutes. The Ex-Socs managed a quick equalizer only to see another great move from the Dutch which was superbly finished with a precise cross and a great header. A bad challenge in the Dutch penalty area led to a penalty which, cooly converted, marked the turning point in the match. With their strengths declining, the Dutch team found it harder and harder to exercise their technical skills. Thus the second half saw two more Ex-Socs goals with half a dozen wasted chances.
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But the result was never supposed to be important. The two teams had played a great match with no injuries in which they celebrated Ben’s last match for his team as he was stepping down as captain in order to fully focus on his tennis career. Watch out for a new contender at Wimbledon next year. This was one more reason to enjoy the day and celebrate the visit of our friends. With Puntigamer beer in hand we watched the first team of Gabersdorf lose their match against Maria Lankowitz. The after match celebrations culminated in great singing at the karaoke disco with a breathtaking performance of Opus’ Live is life by our Dutch friends, the indisputable highlight of the evening. Erwin reopened the Schirmbar which offered harder beats and disco grooves for those still able to shake their bodies. The night continued at Nite Flight and ended with daylight upon those crawling out of the taxis.
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For everyone involved, I think, this was a memorable and rewarding weekend. Althoug on both sides energy and enthusiasm is fading, we hope that we can go out once more and face each other on the soccer field – maybe 2010 again in Amsterdam. Thanks to our friends from Holland for coming and giving us all a great time!

Thanks to Ben for organising everything on the Dutch end of the line.
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Kudos go out to Berni who organised the match with the national anthems and the live band and karaoke singing.

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Pictures from the weekend on Flickr
More match pictures taken by Karl Ritter
Karaoke pics here – also taken by Karl Ritter

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