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Hostile and intimidating

FCB primed for return to the Betzenberg

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The facts are bland and neutral. Capacity: 48,500; pitch dimensions: 105 x 68 metres. The stadium is named after Palatinate footballing legend Fritz Walter, and hosted five matches at the 2006 World Cup. But the Betzenberg, known to all and sundry simply as the Betze, is far more than FC Kaiserslautern’s home ground. It is a place of pilgrimage for the Red Devils’ faithful, but is often a devilish ordeal for the visiting team.

“It's an extremely hostile place, especially when Bayern visit,” said Christian Nerlinger. The director of sport played at the Betzenberg as a member of both the home and away teams. He was on FCK’s books when he was forced to retire from the game with injury four years ago. “I enjoyed my private life in Kaiserslautern a lot, it’s a very calm and peaceful place,” Nerlinger informed, “but the stadium is the complete opposite.”

Fanatical fans

Hermann Gerland can confirm that. The long-serving Bayern staffer, first team assistant coach and head coach of the reserves, has been involved in many a torrid battle at the Betzenberg as a player and coach. He will take a seat in the Fritz-Walter-Stadion dugout on Bayern’s behalf for the first time this Friday. “Friday evening, under floodlights, more than 40,000 locals pressed against the fence, cheering their heroes on – it’ll be a tough match in a very intimidating atmosphere,” the veteran warned.

There are certainly other grounds where Bayern receive a more friendly welcome than in Kaiserslautern. “The fans don’t like Bayern very much, and they support their team even more as a result,” noted Bastian Schweinsteiger, although the midfielder is looking forward to running out at the Betze. “There’s a real edge to the fixture. And there’s something special about climbing the hill to get there.” The Berg in Betzenberg reaches an altitude of 286 metres, and the Fritz-Walter-Stadion is on the top, looking down on Kaiserslautern like a cathedral of sorts.

130,000 ticket applications

FCK versus Bayern has seldom been boring. “They’ve always been exciting games, with an amazing atmosphere in the ground. I can remember a game when it felt like Kaiserslautern collected 15 yellow cards,” said Betze novice Thomas Müller. The youngster is expecting a physical battle: “It might be worth putting on oversized shin pads.”