Monday, March 28, 2011

The Grillwurst That Got Me

A little over a month ago, I rolled out of bed, threw on the warmest layers of clothing within reach and scrambled out the door to get in line for tickets to the Luxembourg v. France football match. It was a big game: a qualifier for next summer’s Euro 2012 championship. Tickets were to go on sale at 9am that morning, and knowing how popular the match would be, I wanted to be in line early. There were just over 8,000 tickets available that would be on sale at several locations throughout Luxembourg.

I was the 11th person in line at my location, so I knew my odds of scoring tickets would be pretty good. In the frigid February morning cold, every minute of waiting outside felt like hours. My fingers and toes went numb and I wished I had worn thicker socks. Or that I had brought cardboard to stand on, like we did for the New Year’s Day ski jump contest. As the clock ticked toward 9am, the line grew longer and longer, and photographers from local news outlets started showing up to snap a photo of all of us crazy people waiting in line just to buy the maximum allotment of two football tickets per person. “Le paparazzi,” I joked to the man in front of me who pointed to me and said that the photographers were there for me.

The doors finally opened and we crammed into the warm sales office, as excited about finally buying our tickets as we were to have a reprieve from standing in the cold. The two men in front of me turned and smiled excitedly, showing me that they were ready with their credit cards. And this is when I had to ruin their day. “Seulement l'argent,” I told them with an empathetic shrug (…they obviously didn’t read Luxemblog or they would have known that tickets were on sale for cash only). Their faces fell as they digested the news, but they quickly worked out a deal with one of the sales agents to let them come back momentarily with cash without having to wait in line again; at least, after the length of time they waited outside with me in line, I hope that’s what happened.

Anyway, feeling like a total insider with my two tickets in hand, I headed home to our heated apartment as fast my frozen, numb feet could carry me. (I later read that tickets to the game had sold out in 30 minutes!)

Finally, this past Friday night, March 25, was the big night. We live within a short walk of Stade Josy Barthel, Luxembourg’s largest stadium (which I’ll remind you seats just over 8,000 people), so we headed there with plenty of time before the game began to enjoy the atmosphere, and hopefully a grillwurst and maybe even a beer…or two.

Not surprisingly, the crowd was pretty tame. (This is Luxembourg, remember.) There were several people sporting FLF (Fédération Luxembourgeoise de Football) scarves or Luxembourg flags in support of the home team, but not too many in crazy, full-fledged fan costumes. In that category, the France supporters far outnumbered us.

We enjoyed a beer, did some people watching, and then decided to grab a grillwurst for dinner before heading into the stadium well before the 9pm start time. The line moved pretty quickly, until I got to the front of the line...of course. They had run out of sausage buns and were baking more. (When is the last time you had a freshly baked bun for your sausage at a sporting event?) I’m pretty sure, however, that this is where our night took a turn.

You see, it was about 20 minutes before the official start of the game when we finally entered the stadium to find our seats. Had we not waited for those (delicious) grillwursts, we probably would have been able to claim the seats I had waited in the cold for so long to secure.

Grillwurst in one hand, beer in another, we showed our tickets to the usher at the gate and walked toward our seats. But they were occupied. I showed my ticket to the man and woman sitting there and explained that they were in my seats, but the man waived me off and said he wasn’t moving and refused to show me his ticket. Since each person could only purchase two tickets each, I knew chances were quite slim that this guy had been able to snag six seats in a row for whom I assumed were his buddies and his parents. So, I was also pretty certain that the seats we were eyeing were, in fact, our seats. But this being our very first football match in Luxembourg, we were willing to give them the benefit of doubt, and assumed that we were just in the wrong section.

We returned to the usher at the gate and showed him our tickets, pointed to the section and asked if we were in the correct place. He confirmed that we were. I explained that there were people in our seats. He made a giant gesture to indicate that I should remove the squatters from my seats.


So, knowing I couldn’t walk into battle with two full hands, I wolfed down my sausage and chased it with a giant gulp of beer. I now had a free hand in which to shove my ticket at the man and his mother to once again prove that they were sitting in our seats, and had a shot of courage as well, thanks to the beer.

We marched back up the stairs and I leaned in and once again told the man that he was in my seat. He once again told me that he wasn’t moving and then looked away, ignoring me. (The nerve!) I once again showed my ticket and explained that he was in my seat; he once again explained that he was not moving, then proceeded to ignore me again. If the tickets were duplicated by mistake, fine - but since he refused to show me his ticket, I could only assume that his tickets were for another seat. So, I tried once more, to no avail, as the man would no longer even make eye contact with me. Then, actually seeming somewhat apologetic, the man’s father told me that I could sit on his lap. Right.

So, I did what any wronged person who writes a blog would do. I took a picture. [Full disclosure: Photos were posted here initially, but after thinking things through a little more, I decided to remove them. I'm not sure what the laws are here regarding the public use of another person's image, and getting sued is not on my list of things to do while living in, I took the pictures down. So much for my attempt at public shaming!]

And then we plopped down onto the concrete stairs right next to them, where we proceeded to watch the entire game. (So much for freezing my derriere in the cold to score seats!) Thank goodness they don’t care as much in Luxembourg about keeping a clear path in the aisle in case of an emergency as they do in the United States, or we would have had to stand for the entire game! We weren’t alone: there were probably four or five others who sat in the aisle as well. And it did give me some satisfaction to be sitting right next to the jerk who stole our seats, even though he refused to make eye contact with me for the rest of the night.
View from the aisle.
A cold seat, but a good view!

Nick and I tried to convince ourselves that the football match was like an American college football game, where people have assigned seats, but nobody actually sits in them. This worked until the second half when several people around us had occupied seats that weren’t theirs, and willingly moved when the owners returned and produced their tickets. Sigh. If nothing else, this is a good reminder that I need to keep practicing my French so I can be better prepared to fight back if this ever happens again!

Anyway, the night was still a good time, despite our little kerfuffle.

The girl on my right (in a seat) was a huge Luxembourg fan. She was decked out in a Luxembourg flag and screamed at all of her favorite players. And she screamed at the referee when he made a bad call, and she screamed chants and cheers in support of Luxembourg at every opportunity. It was awesome. And I'm pretty sure she must still be working to get her voice back today, after yelling her heart out for Luxembourg.

We also had a terrific view of the M-Block Fanatics, an entire section of the stadium dedicated to Luxembourg’s biggest football fans. They cheered, they booed, they waived flags and they sang. One tune that quickly became a favorite of mine was set to the tune of the Beatles’ “Hey Jude”:
Na, na, na, na, na, na, na,
Na, na, na, na,
Roude Léiw!

(Roude Léiw means “red lion” in Luxembourgish; the Luxembourg flag has a red lion in the middle, thus the team’s nickname.)

During the first half of the game, Luxembourg guarded the goalpost closest to where we sat. It was exciting to see so much action right in front of us, but not so great in that this meant les Bleus were so frequently so close to scoring. The Luxembourg goalie was able to keep several shots at bay and we had hope that les Roude Léiws might actually perform better than expected (let’s just say that all of the players have day jobs), but alas, the ball finally made it through and at the end of the first half, France was ahead.

Let me take a moment now to tell you that our seat stealers were cheering for France. Which just made me even more annoyed; I might have slightly forgiven them had they been Luxembourg fans who just wanted to be closer to the action.

So, the game clock ticked to halftime. Did the seat stealers move? Of course not. Well, the mother actually did get up to use the restroom at one point, but Nick stopped me from plopping down in her seat while she was gone. Which I probably wouldn’t have actually done…but it sure was fun to think about. It certainly would have made things interesting for everyone around us!

Anyway, not tied down by having to defend our seats, we got up at the half, stretched our legs, grabbed a beer and then headed back to our stoop on the aisle.

Luxembourg's mascot,
the Roude Léiw.
Not too long into the second half, another goal was scored. And then I did the unthinkable: I accidentally cheered for the wrong team. To my horror, the goal was scored by France, not Luxembourg. Nick did a pretty good job of quieting me down before too many people around realized that my yelp was a cheer and not a jeer. Ugh. I was mortified. Now, not only had my seats been stolen by fans of the opposing team, but I had now outed myself as someone who didn’t even know what was happening on the field! (And at this point, I even looked the part, having bought a fancy new FLF fan scarf at halftime!)

I’m going to stick with the explanation that I was still so blinded with fury over the man who stole our seats that I forgot that the teams switched sides at halftime. But the reality is, those darn athletes just move so fast, I can't keep up! What I love most about sporting events is just being there; I love the buildup, the camaraderie among fans, the unhealthy stadium food, and the trash talk. (I love the trash talk. The verbal taunts and jabs between opposing fans can be so entertaining!)

Luxembourg came kind of close to scoring a couple of times, so we sort of almost scored a goal. But the game ended in France’s favor, 2-0. And then everyone calmly filed out of the stadium and headed home.

In all, it was a night for the Luxembourg checklist. I saw my first European football match, we got to cheer on the home team and each walked home with souvenirs from the game (Nick may be sporting his new t-shirt the next time you see him). I also learned the important lesson that if I ever have the luck of scoring tickets to another football match in Luxembourg, I need to forego the delicious grillwurst line and claim my seats early…before the seat thief shows up again!


  1. you should have grabbed a police officer. they all speak english and french...grrrrr...some nerve!

  2. That's funny - I actually did think about asking the police for help (there were tons of them standing around). But then all I would have been left with for this blog post is the embarrassing story of me cheering at the wrong time. ...I'm just hoping the seat-stealing overshadows me being a bad fan!

  3. i would have totally sat down in the seat when the mother left. i'm sort of surprised that the usher didn't help you...they would have if you were in the states. and i agree - security or police officers hopefully would've helped too!