Ipswich Town and Fortuna Düsseldorf fans set to enjoy historic friendly
PUBLISHED: 18:24 16 July 2015 | UPDATED: 18:24 16 July 2015
On the face of it, tomorrow night's clash between Fortuna Düsseldorf and Ipswich Town is just one of hundreds of friendlies taking place across Europe this weekend.
But it’s also a meeting of friends which has been nearly a decade in the making.
A gathering of German fans in the corner of the Sir Bobby Robson Stand has become an annual sight at Portman Road in recent years, with the travelling army of Düsseldorf supporters growing in number to form a group of nearly 200 for their last visit in January.
Fans have bonded and lasting friendships have been made during the Fortuna fans’ 11 visits over the last nine years, but the two teams will now meet on the pitch for the first time tomorrow night as they bid to prepare themselves for their domestic seasons.
The game at Paul-Janes-Stadion, Fortuna’s reserve stadium, kicks off at 5.30pm (GMT) and will see close to 600 Ipswich fans travel to Düsseldorf for a game which has been a long time coming.
The two sides’ paths almost crossed in the late seventies, as both teams competed in the now defunct Cup Winners’ Cup. Ipswich lost to Barcelona on away goals in the quarter finals that year, having beaten Arsenal to win the FA Cup at Wembley the previous season, while the German side went two steps better before losing 4-3 to the Catalan giants in the final.
That near miss was just one of the reasons the Fortuna fans gravitated towards Ipswich, with the comparable histories of the two clubs playing a big part according to Friedrich Schacht, one of the key men in charge of the Fortuna fans’ trips.
“Ipswich and Fortuna have very comparable histories,” he said, during their visit in 2014.
“They were very strong at the end of the 1970s and beginning of the 80s when Ipswich won the FA Cup and UEFA Cup.
“Fortuna won the German Cup twice, and was in the UEFA Cup and the European Cup Winners Cup finals against Barcelona the same year Ipswich lost to Barcelona in the quarter finals.
“Ipswich won the UEFA Cup in 1981 and they beat FC Cologne. FC Cologne are our biggest rival.
“They are two clubs with a great history. They are not very big clubs like Arsenal or Manchester United but they have the same status in their countries.”
The close bond between the two sets of fans took a more personal step in January last year when Dusseldorf supporter Jo Sturr needed medical urgent medical attention while at Portman Road, with Ipswich fan Kylie Malapeau acting quickly to save his life.
After spending a number of weeks in hospital in his homeland, Mr Sturr was back in Suffolk in January this year to watch the Blues defeat to Derby and to meet the woman who saved his life.
Players to watch
Michael Rensing: Perhaps the best known player in the Düsseldorf squad, goalkeeper Rensing began his career with German giants Bayern Munich and was mentored by legendary stopper Oliver Khan in the early days of his career.
Having won a fourth tier title with Bayern’s reserve side, Rensing struggled for game time behind Khan but still managed to make a string of appearances in both the Bundesliga and the Champions League for the Bavarian giants.
Rensing was involved in a bizarre incident as he left Khan with a black eye following a stray shot in the warm-up ahead of a game with Arminia Bielefeld, which led to more time on the field, but even after the German international left the club he couldn’t hold down a starting spot and eventually moved on.
Rensing turned down a number of offers from Leicester City after leaving the Allianz Arena and continued his career in Cologne and Leverkusen before joining Fortuna in 2013.
Karim Haggui: The Tunisian defender is a new signing at the Esprit Arena, having joined from Bundesliga side Stuttgart on a free transfer earlier this summer.
He brings with him a wealth of experience, given he’s a veteran of close to 200 games in German football, and holds 79 caps for his country.
While club honours have largely escaped the 31-year-old during his career, which has also included spells with Strasbourg, Leverkusen and Hannover, Haggui did win the African Nations Cup with Tunisia in 2004, played at the Olympics in Greece later that year and also represented his country at the 2006 World Cup in Germany.
Lukas Schmitz: The 26-year-old German has enjoyed a good if unspectacular career to date, which has seen him play full seasons for both Werder Bremen and Schalke before his move to Fortuna, where he has played in various positions on the left side of the field.
While Schmitz still has a good seven or eight years remaining in professional football, he is currently preparing himself for life after the beautiful game by studying for a political science degree via a distance learning programme.