It loomed as the Dockers’ greatest premiership defence challenge to date: taking a side lacking in star power to Germany’s fat-cat financial centre to take on the much-improved Frankfurt Redbacks. With the likes of S Gilbert, A Klein, H Clarkson, B Loch and C Woodward (plus friends, feat. P May and R Hennessy) all missing, the onus was on the club’s remaining players to prove they were more than cannon fodder.

The side gathered in torrential rain in Hamburg’s south Barmbek and exited the city like Jason’s Argonauts – well aware of the potential for peril but confident in the group’s ability to defy the odds. The club’s coach-cum-conspiracy theorist Pete Richter had banned energy drinks and fast food in the lead-up to the weekend, refusing to believe Red Bull’s tales of wings, or in Monster’s fluorescent gauge marks. Cold turkey is a difficult caper at the best of times, but to begin the detox hours before such an important game was a risky move by the premiership coach. It was then of no surprise to feel a dip in energy levels during the five-hour road trip and it was equally expected that Mad dog M Gauding was the first to break his coach’s instruction. Who is, after all, a man of 178cm to lecture one of 218cm on nutrition? Whatever Manny has eaten to this point in his life has clearly worked wonders and he followed his instinct an hour out of Frankfurt when he tucked into a couple of sunny-side-up eggs plated upon a bed of fried fritz and a side of potato. G-Train’s goose excrement anxiety began to increase decidedly as Frankfurt’s park neared but he needn’t have worried, the un-mowed grass hid any signs of poo…and pot holes and needles – it hid all dangers.

But with Hamburg’s rain a distant memory and the glory of Frankfurt’s capitalism shining down it was game time.

The Redbacks have taken great strides since last year and the side’s structure and ferocity at the ball caught the Dockers unaware. The physicality of the clash was also an expected factor – the Dockers would fly their flag whenever it needed to be flown. It flew early…perhaps too early. The resulting wrestle left those involved exhausted mid-way through the first quarter…a worrying position given the Redbacks dominated the opening minutes with nine scoring shots to nothing.

Hamburg settled into the game but still trailed by 10 points at the main break.

Potentially regretting his energy-drink ban (although he’s a stubborn individual), Richter called on his players to stand up in the second half, insisting the club’s two frenchmen Nic and Gill lead the way. The game was broken open in the third term with N Trzebiatowsky and G Smetko playing some truely inspirational football, alongside star recruit P Evermann and ruckman F Naumann. The quartet lifted to new levels and hunted the football around the ground with exactly the sort of ruthlessness that the side lacked in the first half.

Richter and H Thring combined for two goals that oozed the class expected of players still capable of earning mature rookie spots on AFL lists, the former playing out the game with a torn calf, while G Waugh, N Gordon and H Wyatt were unbeatable in defence. In hot conditions and without a single player on the bench, the victory was one of the best in Hamburg’s history; a test of the club’s character and a test easily passed.

To see friendships blossom (specifically between Evermann and Gopinat who, by the time the side returned north, had forged an unbreakable bond) was undoubtedly the most pleasing aspect of Hamburg’s round 5 fixture. The Dockers came away with the points and took an important step forward in its quest for a premiership repeat, but few would disagree that camaraderie was the true winner.

Frankfurt may be the money capital of Germany, but you can’t buy a drunken rendition of Elton John’s Rocket Man.

– An Interested Observer