Arsenal, Schalke and a bike – cycling from London to Gelsenkirchen

I always love to combine two of my biggest passions, namely football and cycling. Back in Germany, I usually cycle the 28 km / 17.5 miles from my dad’s place to Schalke home games in Gelsenkirchen, the town of my birth in the old, struggeling industrial heart of Germany.

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Leaving the Emirates….

It’s quicker than public transport, you don’t have any parking issues and you can have a beer or two. In early November, my journey to Schalke happened to be slightly longer. On 6 November, Schalke was playing Arsenal in the Championsleague. Shortly after I moved to Highbury two years ago, I also became a staunch Arsenal supporter and was completely thrilled by the prospect that “my”  German team was playing “my” English team. Since I  happened to be in between  jobs in early November I decided to cycle from the Emirates in Highbury to the Veltins Arena in Gelsenkirchen to see the match. I was able to talk Miranda, a cycling friend who supportes Arsenal, into joining me. I got to know I got to know her on the famous Friday Night Rides to the Coast (read my blogpost about those rides) and knew that she is  a stronger rider than I am.

A puncture in Rotterdam
A puncture in Rotterdam

We left London on Sunday, November 4th at noon and cycled to Harwich, where we got on the night ferry to Hoek of Holland. In early November, my journey to Schalke happened to be slightly longer. On 6 November, my German team was playing my English team and I cycled from the Emirates in Highbury to the Veltins Arena in Gelsenkirchen to see the match.

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In Hunter-Land

On Monday, we rode to Nijmegen and on Tuesday to Gelsenkirchen, where we arrived at 6pm, well ahead of the kick-off at 8.45pm local time. I was so thrilled by the whole experience that I had difficulties to really focus on the match. My mates of the Schalke UK supporters club gave us a very warm welcome in Gelsenkirchen. The match was a staggering 2:2 draw, after Schalke beat Arsenal in London in the first leg in a hell of a game that I also attended. I stayed in Germany for a week and then took the train back to London, using the Eurostar from Brussels to St. Pancras.

Unfortunately, the high-speed trains from Cologne to Brussels don’t accept bikes. However, I did not have an issue with this because I was using my lovely Moulton TSR 30, which you can easily can cut into two pieces and turn into two pieces of luggage. The whole experience was absolutely lovely – my intention is to repeat the trip prior to Schalke’s last league game of the season against Stuttgart on 11 May. However, if Schalke makes it to the Champions League final in Wembley, I’ll probably take the tube.

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Arriving at the Veltins Arena

All in all we did 407 Kilometers (254 miles) (Here is the route in full detail.) Schalke’s club magazine, the “Schalker Kreisel”, did a story about my trip which of course was a big honour for me. Here’s an English translation.

S04 supporter Olaf Storbeck cycled from the river Thames to the Veltins arena Pedalling for the UEFA Champions Leauge Olaf Storbeck is a financial journalist who has been awarded the Friedward Bruckhaus Award for his journalistic work recently. Since November 2012, the Gelsenkirchen-born and London-based writer has been a columnist for Reuters Breakingviews, the commentary and analysis service of Reuters newswire. On the British isles, he deems several items as indispensable: the Schalke mug on his desk and the S04 pennant on his office wall.

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(c) FC Schalke 04

Dealing with numbers on a daily basis does not necessarily have to tarnish the ability to focus on the really important things of life. Olaf Storbeck proved this prior to the 2:2 thriller against Arsenal FC in the Champions League on 6 November 2012. Inspired by Schalke’s historic 2:0 triumph in London, the 38-year-old cycled from his place of residence in Highbury, North London, to the Veltins arena.

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(c) FC Schalke 04

Together with his cycling friend Miranda Smith, who supports Arsenal on Sunday, he left London on 4 November and headed towards the seaside town of Harwich in Essex. There, they got on the night ferry to Hoek of Holland. After another stop-over in Nijmegen, they made it to their royal blue destination two hours prior to the kick off. “We wanted to arrive earlier in Gelsenkirchen. Annoyingly, however, the route turned out to be 407 kilometers (254 miles), 20 kilometers (12.5 miles) more than planned”, as Olaf points out. Nevertheless, 90 minutes were enough to fill Miranda with enthusiasm for Schalke. “She told me that she was absolutely stunned by the atmosphere in the stadium as well as the excitement of our supporters”, says Olaf. For more than two year, he has been an active member of the Schalke UK supporters club. However, he does not conceal that besides Schalke, he also has a second passion in football. “Since I have been living in London I’m also a supporter of Arsenal. This happened automatically when a friend too me to the stadium for the first time.” During the two Champions League encounters, he was keeping his fingers crossed for Schalke, though. ventually, blood was just thicker than water, as Olaf explains.

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(c) FC Schalke 04

For the London Schalker, the unusual journey was a dream come true. “Among all Schalke members, I probably had the shortest journey to the game in the Emirates. For the second leg, it might have the most unconventional journey.” Pedalling to Schalke wasn’t just a vanity thing for him, though. “I would love to encourage other fans to cycle to home games as well. That’s not just more environmentally friendly but quite often quicker and more convenient than the car or public transport as well.” On one occasion even Olaf Storbeck would make an exception, though. If Schalke would be have to travel to London once again this season, he would take the tube to get to see the Champions League final in Wembley.

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