Hallo! More than 100 Germans to take over town for Ipswich game
PUBLISHED: 11:48 07 January 2020 | UPDATED: 13:35 07 January 2020
© Copyright Stephen Waller
More than 100 Fortuna Düsseldorf football fans armed with beer and post-festive cheer are set to arrive in their masses to support Ipswich Town this weekend.
In a sport known for division and bitter rivalries, very few clubs enjoy a friendship like the one of Ipswich Town and Fortuna Düsseldorf.
Two coach loads of the German Tractor Boys will arrive in the town from the North Rhine-Westphalian capital city this Saturday for their 15th annual 40-hour round trip.
But why do they come to Ipswich?
The group, who call themselves the Fortuna Blues, first fell in love with the town and its football club in 2006, after a group of unsuspecting fans travelled to Suffolk to get a taste for English football.
The once giants of German football had near dominated the German league and cup for much of the 1970s and early 1980s, losing to Barcelona in the European Cup Winner's Cup final in 1979. Ipswich had lost to the Catalonian heavyweights in the quarter finals.
It is that shared domestic and European pedigree, tied with the Blues victory over bitter rivals Cologne en route to UEFA Cup glory that paved the way for a lasting friendship.
What is it about Ipswich that keeps the fans coming back?
According to group leader Ulli Münsterberg, who previously worked as a stadium announcer for Fortuna, their obsession with Ipswich is because of much more than football.
And that is what has seen more than 1,000 supporters make the journey.
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Mr Münsterberg said: "After our first match, nearly the entire north stand turned to us and gave us a big applause and credit - from that minute we knew this is the club who adopted us. Most of us had tears in our eyes.
"We are looking forward to our next trip to England and we can not wait to meet up with all of our friends from Ipswich again. It is great to be part of the Portman Road family.
"Although it seems to be all about the routine, I am still just as excited as if it was our maiden trip to Portman Road."
Do Ipswich fans ever make the return journey?
A number of Ipswich fans make sporadic journeys to the continent to watch the team play, although the biggest trips have been for the two clubs' pre-season meetings.
The first, at a sold-out Paul Janes Stadion in Düsseldorf in 2015, more than 400 Ipswich fans witnessed a 4-3 Fortuna victory before going to a club-organised after party - complete with a pool, Hawaiian beach bar, BBQ and inflatable dolphins.
In May 2019, 130 fans travelled to watch Fortuna's final home game of the 2018/2019 Bundesliga season at home to Hannover 96.
In July, at the Interwetten Cup tournament in Meppen, a shared stand of 450 Ipswich and Fortuna fans watched a 4-1 hammering before the "Flingeraner" lost to Utrecht in the final.
Does Ipswich's position in League One affect the numbers?
Surprisingly, with Town in their lowest ever league position since the friendship started, new fans continue to join the group - with numbers nearly doubling last year's figure of 62 fans.
Mr Münsterberg added: "Stick to your club when it suffers - that's why we are coming again this year, with probably more love than we have ever brought to Portman Road."
Admirers of the club's rich history, the Fortuna Blues raised more than £1,100 for the Kevin Beattie statue appeal in 2019.