Ageism: 26 Mundial years added
Pallor: Black, red and gold
Forecast: Warm, flag waving
On the platform at Stuttgart station, the old-school Canucks T-shirt was a dead giveaway.
“Sprechen Sie Englisch?” I ask him.
“Yup,” he answers from his wheelchair.
“Where’d you get your shirt?”
“Vancouver. That’s where I’m from.”
You meet people from all over the world here. Even Canada. Turns out Melvin Unruh and his brother Dustin are grizzled vets of this kind of thing, having ventured to England to hang out during the ’02 World Cup and made it to Portugal for Euro ’04. But being in a wheelchair presents special situations getting in and out of places – especially crowded places like World Cup stadiums and train stations.
“Edmonton lost,” says Dustin. May as well get the important news out of the way first. If his brother’s shirt wasn’t enough confirmation, the grin on his face as he delivers the news nailed down where the allegiances lie.
The Unruh brothers got here on Saturday. Monday night they were in Stuttgart getting a bit of rain on their parade. They’re on their way to Munich, and the Ivory Coast against Serbia & Montenegro. Thursday it’ll be back here for Aussies against Croatia, and Saturday back home.
I can’t imagine trying to negotiate my way through the crowds here in a wheelchair. I mention the chaotic, crushing scene outside Kaiserslautern station on Sunday night, for example.
“You take care of it all in advance with the train people, and so far it’s worked out okay for me,” says Melvin. “The wheelchair seating is usually pretty good at games. It’s usually quite low, so you don’t really see the perspective you get from above, but it sure is close. You can really see the incredible technique at this level.”
For Spain-Tunisia, he was a little concerned coming in to the stadium. “There was a big crush of people, but it’s good to have a big guy with me. He sort of clears the way.”
“I sat in the row behind him last night,” says 31-year-old Dustin. “I usually end up sitting like that.”
Melvin is 33. He suffered a broken neck playing hockey 15 years ago, checked into the boards from behind, and has been in the chair since. It hasn’t prevented him from enjoying the World Cup. Among the visitors, some are here for sport and some for travel – these guys fit into both categories.
“I’ve never been to Germany, so this is great,” he said. “Portugal was great too. We just went down to the Algarve and stayed there.”
For the Spain game the wheelchair section was quite low, in the first row, behind the running track that circles the cavernous stadium. “Not a great place to watch the game, but not bad. We got rained on a bit.”
It was nothing to compare with Euro 2004, and the Dutch-Sweden quarterfinal that went to penalties. When Melvin got to his wheelchair spot, it was right at the corner flag. When Ruud van Nistlerooy came over to take a couple of corners, Melvin actually had to move his chair to make room for him. “I thought it was weird, Ruud taking corners, he’s such a big target guy and that’s why I remember it so well. Larsson took a couple, too. And Davids. Oh yes. Edgar Davids. That was cool.”
The Die Bahn fellow in charge of special requests comes by. “B,” he says, pointing to the spot up the platform where the train to Munich will have a special lift to get him on the train.
“Germany’s pretty good,” Melvin says. “Everything’s pretty accessible. We kinda scrambled to get here, we ordered our tickets online a long time ago and only a month ago did we get notice that we were going to get in. Then you have to fax in the wheelchair seating request. We actually asked each other – do we really want to go? And of course we did. And it’s been great.”
Then he’s wheeled on to the lift and Dustin climbs aboard behind him with the luggage. Off to Munich.
Tuesday’s games (will be updated)
Germany 3, Ecuador 0. A quick goal by Miroslav Klose then another just before the half -- a real pretty piece of work it was, Ballack flicking to him and the Polish-born Klose flicking over the onrushing 'keeper while he shrugged off a defender, then an easy tap-in -- and this one was academic. Germany has looked better each time out, and as the home team, they have to be respected to go deep now, unbeaten and very confident. Germany wins the group, Ecuador No. 2.
Poland 2, Costa Rica 1. Good to see the Poles bounce back and grab a consolation. I didn't see this one, having been fixed on Germany-Ecuador.
Paraguay 2, Trinidad & Tobago 0. Apologies to all, but I was on a train and I didn't see this one. So I really have nothing to say, but by all means, let me know.
England 2, Sweden 2. Jammy English finish top of group, avoid matchup everyone wanted. Is there a phonier top-of-group team out there? I'd like to know.
Netherlands vs Argentina. Dutch to rest six starters, including Arjen Robben. Cool fact of the day: Argentina coach Jose Pekerman owns three pets named for each of the youth tournaments he won: Qatar, Malaysia, Argentina. Argentina 3, Netherlands 1.
Ivory Coast vs Serbia & Montenegro. This could get a little ugly, the unlucky Ivorians in against a side that’s disappointed. Ivory Coast 2, Serbia & Montenegro 1.
Portugal vs Mexico. A draw will see Portugal through top of the group; Mexico wins, and they get the group No. 1, but attacker Jared Borgetti is injured. Portugal 3, Mexico 1.
Iran vs Angola. Angola’s already overachieved here, and have a very outside chance to go through to second round. Iran’s impressed no one, but they have scored a goal. Iran 1, Angola 1.