There has been a football ground at the site of Kantrida since 1911 when HŠK Victoria played their first match there against HŠK Građanski Zagreb. The football field was laid out in the bottom of a former stone quarry on the banks of the Adriatic Sea, giving the Kantrida its iconic and distinctive cliff side location. Following the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1918, Rijeka became part of Italy while Sušak, then a separate town, where the Kantrida is situated, remained part of Yugoslavia. This meant HŠK Victoria could no longer use their own stadium and the Kantrida was occupied by Unione Sportiva Fiumana, a club competing in the Italian league system. Fiumana played at the stadium between 1926 and their dissolution in 1945. During their stay the Kantrida was renamed Stadio Comunale del Littorio, but was also called Borgomarina, the Italian name for the area of Sušak. Following World War II, Rijeka was returned to Yugoslavia and both Fiumana and Victoria were disbanded. A new town club, NK Kvarner were formed and in 1954 they changed their name to NK Rijeka.

Rijeka never won the Yugoslav League and indeed have never won the Croatian League since it’s inception in 1992. The club have been runners up on three occasions but just seem unable to break Dinamo Zagreb’s stranglehold on the domestic championship. Out of the 23 seasons of the Prva Liga, Dinamo have won sixteen of the championships (five as Croatia Zagreb) while Hajduk Split (six) and NK Zagreb account for the remaining seven successes. The Whites of Rijeka, however, have won the Croatian Cup three times and also took two successive Yugoslavian Cups in 1978 and 1979. To their credit Rijeka have qualified for the group stages of the Europa League for the last two seasons. Prior to this their greatest success in Europe was a Cup-Winners-Cup quarter final place against Juventus although they went out 2-0 on aggregate with goals coming from Juve legends Franco Causio and Roberto Bettega.

During the 1950’s the Kantrida underwent extensive renovation and had a new capacity of 25,000. However, UEFA safety standards saw this capacity slashed by half in recent years. This did not stop the May 1999 Prva Liga clash with NK Osijek attracting an all time record 25,000 spectators to the stadium. The Kantrida gained its unique double gantry floodlight pylons in 1975. The two pylons on the sea side of the ground were designed to replicate ships masts while the two on the top of the cliff are mounted at street level. For cars passing on the Istarstka Ulica it must be a truly bizarre spectacle.

Tonight’s match against Lokomotiva Zagreb is televised and feels like a really big deal. The crowd is excited from the start and the support from Rijeka’s ultras group Armada is boisterous and unrelenting. The ultras group were formed in 1987 and have their biggest rivalries with Tordica (Hajduk Split), Bad Blue Boys (Dinamo Zagreb) and Kohorta (Osijek). Armada’s murals around the Kantrida are really stunning. The match itself panned out to about one man, the Rijeka striker Andrej Kramarić. He scored five goals in a truly stellar display of the art of the centre forward play. His clinical finishing had the result of the match out of sight by half time, the pick of his strikes being a superb volley for his fourth goal.

Kramarić started his career at Dinamo Zagreb and scored in excess of 450 goals at youth level before turning professional. His career started well but he fell out of favour with manager Vahid Halilhodžić and was loaned to Lokomotiva for a season and half. His fall out with Dinamo turned into Rijeka’s advantage when he joined the Whites in August 2013. He currently has 21 goals this season and to put that in perspective the Prva Liga’s next highest scorer is Dinamo’s Duje Čop with nine! In 58 appearances for Rijeka he now has 54 goals. What is equally baffling is his haul of just three caps for Croatia, while seven of his Rijeka team mates were involved in Croatia’s international against Argentina at Upton Park, 23 year old Kramarić was left at home. He is definitely one to watch for the future. After Kramarić left the field to a standing ovation from the Rijeka fans his replacement Josip Ivančić scored the sixth goal of the night with his first touch. A truly impressive display from Rijeka and so fitting to see such a great home performance in this most wonderful of venues.

The last game to be played at the Kantrida in its present from is currently scheduled to be a Prva Liga game against Osijek on November 30th. This means there are just two games left at this amazing venue. From the resumption of the Croatian League season after its winter break Rijeka will play at a newly built temporary ground called the Rujevica Stadion. This will be a 6,000 all seated stadium on Ulica Hosti. The Rujevica will be home until the new Kantrida Stadion is completed which is scheduled to be June 2016. The new Kantrida will be a fully covered arena style stadium, its architect Gino Zavanella was one of the architects of the Juventus Arena. The new stadium will have seats for 14,438 people and will comply with UEFA’s category 4 status. The cost of the stadium has been privately funded and has a budget of €22 million.

Of course much of the natural beauty of the Kantrida will be lost with the redevelopment, beauty that saw Eurosport name the stadium as one of the Top 20 most beautiful sports venues in the world in April 2014. The need for the club to push on and try and challenge Dinamo’s domestic dominance is clear but what a cost they will have to bear to achieve this. I feel so eternally thankful to have been able to visit beautiful, beautiful Kantrida.

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Sunday November 9th 2014 – MaxTV Prva Liga

HNK Rijeka (3) 6 (Kramarić 21, 22, 38,49, 62, Ivančić 84)
Lokomotiva Zagreb (0) 0

Attendance: 6,000 (at Stadion Kantrida)

Rijeka:

25. Ivan Vargić, 8. Mato Jajalo, 10. Anas Sharbini ©, 11. Ivan Tomečak, 13. Marko Lešković, 15. Matej Mitrović, 16. Ivan Močinić, 20. Zoran Kvržić, 22. Marin Leovac, 88. Moisés Lima Magalhães, 91. Andrej Kramarić.

Subs: 32. Andrej Prskalo, 14. Goran Cvijanović (for 16, 74 mins), 19. Miral Samardžic, 28. Josip Ivančić (for 91, 84 mins), 29. Marko Vešović (for 20, 79 mins), 89. Vedran Jugović, 99. Ivan Krstanović.

Lokomotiva:

12.Simon Sluga, 3. Mario Musa ©, 5. Tomislav Mrčela, 6. Josip Ćalušić, 7. Damir Šovšić, 9. Ante Rukavina, 10. Domagoj Pavičić, 11. Karlo Bručić, 16. Jerko Leko, 19. Herdi Prenga, 21. Mirko Marić.

Subs: 1. Oliver Zelenika, 4. Jakov Biljan, 8. Luka Begonja (for 21, 28 mins), 13. Filip Mrzljak, 20. Petar Mišić (for 10, 65 mins), 22. Marko Kolar, 25. Jan Doležal (for 19, 81 mins).

Yellow Cards: Kvržić, Tomecak (Rijeka); Begonja (Lokomotiva).

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The original club dates it original formation to a 1918 merger of FC Trieste and Ponziana. However, in a catalogue of financial disaster the club reformed in 1994 only to collapse again eighteen years later. The current club are now known as Unione Triestina 2012 Società Sportiva Dilettantistica and currently play in Serie D, level four of Italian football. This competition is the last level that is realistically deemed to be semi-professional, and is the trap door to the regionalised amateur Eccellenza levels.

With a population in excess of 200,000 it seems baffling that an historic city like Trieste does not have a highly successful football club. The local commune must have felt the same when in 1992 the new municipal stadium, the Stadio Nereo Rocco, was opened at an eye-popping cost of 100 billion lira. With an all seated capacity of 32, 454 Trieste now boasted one of the finest stadiums in all of Italy. Named after the famous Italian coach and Trieste native, Nereo Rocco, the stadium is a dazzling construction of interlinked steel girders ingeniously designed to cut out the effect of the katabatic wind, the Bora, so prevalent on this coast. It really is a stunning piece of architecture by three Trieste natives Carlo and Luciano Celli and Dario Tognon. Built on the site of the municipal slaughterhouse, the new stadium was opened on October 18th 1992 with a Serie C1 match between Triestina and Vis Pesaro. The venue has held four full Italian international matches to date and numerous concerts by acts such as Pearl Jam and Bruce Springsteen. The Nereo Rocco also staged some matches for Udinese while their own Stadio Friuli was renovated.

The Nereo Rocco is based on the English style of rectangular stadia with four interlocking stands and no running track. The two ends are identical and are named the Curva Guglielmo Trevisan and Curva Stefano Furlan, the first after a former Triestina player and coach and the latter after the “capo” of Ultras Trieste (formed in 1976) who died in 1984 from head injuries received during a beating at a police station. The culprit was jailed for only twelve months. This is where the predominantly right wing ultras gather and there is a strong nationalistic leaning to their stickers, flags and chants. There is a firm belief that Dalmatia and Istria should have remained in Italian hands after the conflict with Yugoslavia.

The Nereo Rocco is sited adjacent to the clubs’ previous ground the Stadio Littorio which was opened in 1932 in time for the 1934 World Cup held in Italy. The stadium which held 8,000 hosted the match between Romania and Czechoslovakia. In 1943 the Littorio was renamed the Stadio di Valmaura, and 24 years later was changed again to honour Superga air crash victim Giuseppe Grezar who had been with Triestina before transferring to Torino. Triestina played at the venue from 1932 to 1992 but the Grezar remains in use for minor football and athletics and was itself renovated substantially in 2004 at a cost of €13.4 million. It now has 6,200 seats.

Triestina were highly successful and were founder members of Serie A in 1929 remaining in the top flight until relegation in 1957. By 1971 they had slipped to Serie D but by 1991 were back in the second tier and looking forward to a bright future at their new home. Three years later they went out of business and were forcibly relegated to the fourth tier. The reformed club, US Triestina Calcio, forced its way back up to Serie B but symptomatic of the clubs modern era, the club went through no less than five coaches in the 2005/06 season. At the end of the 2009/10 season Triestina finished in a relegation place but were spared the drop by Ancona’s insolvency. By June 2012 the court of Trieste declared the club bankrupt and the team was disbanded. The reformed club started back in the regional Eccellenza competition and gained promotion to Serie D in 2012/13.

Yet again though the current team struggles at the wrong end of the Serie D (Group C) table. The first half is evenly contested with Congolese striker Kabangu holding the ball up very well and looking a threat in front of goal. However, with an early strike in the second half from the visitors, Triestina visibly wilted and heads went down. Cecchel made it two for Montebelluna and then Loperfido got himself sent off for a second yellow card to compound the hosts’ miserable day at a soggy Nereo Rocco. The defeat left them bottom of the Serie D table after ten rounds of matches, with just three points accrued so far.

So what does the future hold for Triestina? Will they persist in underachieving or will someone come in and back the club financially. One thing is for certain this magnificent stadium deserves to shine rather than becoming one of Europe’s overlooked leviathans.

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Sunday November 9th 2014 – Serie D, Gruppa C

US Triestina Calcio 0
Calcio Montebelluna 2 (Masiero 52, Cecchel 71)

Attendance: 1,000 (at Stadio Nereo Rocco)

Triestina:

1. Nicholas Di Piero, 2. Federico Celli, 3. Eugenio Gianetti, 4. Daniele Proia (c) 5. Luca Piscopo, 6. Anselmo Antonelli, 7. Luca Crosato, 8. Davide Giorgino, 9. François Kabangu, 10. Stefano Aquilani, 11. Andrea Loperfido

Subs: 12.Damiano Pontrelli; 13.Francesco Zucca; 14. Crasso Mauccio; 15. Simone Pennicchi; 16. Stefano Spadari (for 4, 73 mins); 17.Marco Sittaro; 18. Domenico Giordano; 19. Massimiliano Lionetti (for 10, 59 mins); 20. Giacomo Gasparotto (for 8, 83 mins).

Montebelluna

1. Nicola Rigo, 2. Gabriele Fabbian, 3. Nicola De Fido, 4. Nicolò Severgnini (c), 5.Marco Guzzo, 6. Marco Bressan, 7. Manuel Perosin, 8. Matteo Nicoletti, 9. Nicolò Masiero, 10. Matteo Giglio, 11. Mattia Cecchel.

Subs: 12.Matteo Baù, 13.Matteo Biral;14.Luca Frassetto (for 5,46 mins); 15.Giacomo Cusinato; 16. Tiziano Slongo (for 8,81 mins); 17.Luca Gerini;18.Davide Scarpa (for 9,76 mins).

Yellow Cards: Loperfido, Gianetti, Giorgino, Gasparotto (all Triestina), Nicoletti (Montebelluna).

Red Card: Loperfido (Triestina).

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Football in Koper started in 1920 when the western part of Slovenia was then under Italian rule. The original club was formed by port workers and fishermen and was called Circolo Sportivo Capodistriano. The new club played on a sand pitch near the sea which was regularly flooded. The clubs early opponents were Italian clubs like Trieste, Vicenza and Mestre. Under the fascist Italian regime of the 1930’s the club changed its name to Unione Sportiva Capodistriana and then Unione Liberi Calciatori. During the war there was heavy damage to the town of Koper and only five clubs in the area re-emerged when football restarted. These clubs were NK Izola (who had played in the Italian professional leagues), Colaussi, Unione Ragazzi Juventini, Combi and Virtus.

The present day club, NK Koper, dates from 1955 and came about as a merger of two town clubs called Aurora Koper and Koper Medusa. In the mid 1990’s the club suffered severe financial problems and had to fold, re-emerging as FC Koper. Further problems were encountered in the mid 2000’s when then owner Georg Suban decamped to Prva Liga rivals NK Mura taking most of the Koper team with him. Since then the club has been fan owned and owes a debt of gratitude to the Serbian/American businessman Milan Mandarić who wrote off the club’s entire debt just so they could carry on playing.

NK Koper moved to their current stadium in 1962 (although it had been built in 1947) and this was renovated in 1996. Prior to this the all time record crowd at the Bonifika was 10,000 who gathered for a match against NK Olimpija Ljubljana in 1987. However the Bonifika was completely rebuilt and modernised in 2010, re-opening in October of that year, and now boasts a more than suitable 4,047 seats on all four sides of the ground. The rebuild coincided with Koper winning the Slovenian Prva Liga for the first time and qualification for the Champions League. The team have also been runners up twice in the competition which has run since the 1991 independence from Yugoslavia. The club changed its name to FC Anet Koper in 2003 and five years later changed it again to FC Luka Koper, Luka being Slovene for port, to identify more closely with its maritime heritage.

Despite being runners up to Maribor in the Prva Liga last season the Kanarčki (The Canaries) have struggled somewhat this season and go into tonight’s match lying in sixth place in the table of ten clubs. Koper’s guests from Rudar Velenje are a place below them in seventh. The hosts started brightly and playmaker Mitja Lotrič was the architect of several chances for Koper with some clinical passing. When it came to finishing the excellent approach play the home team were somewhat lacking, and at the break only had a Damir Hadžić header, unmarked at the far post, to show for their efforts. The visitors from Velenje restored parity soon after and the break through Kleman Bolha. The key moment of the match arrived on the 65th minute when goalscorer Hadžić lunged in somewhat on Rudar’s Denis Klinar and was shown a second yellow card followed by a red. After that point, and the inexplicable substitution of Lotrič, the home side struggled for possession and the visitors rattled in two more goals to seal their first win in Koper for five years.

Koper aside from the working port has a lovely old town and is well worth a visit to soak up some sun and some its convoluted history.

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Saturday November 8th 2014 – Telekom Slovenije Prva Liga

FC Luka Koper (1) 1 (Hadžić 21)
NK Rudar Velenje (0) 3 (Bolha 52, Krefl 73,Trifković 89)

Attendance: 500 (at Stadion Bonifika)

Koper:

1. Ermin Hasić, 3. Miha Gregorič, 4. Denis Šme, 10. Mitja Lotrič, 16. Denis Halilović, 18. Leo Štulac, 20. Domen Črnigoj, 21. Nenad Srečković, 27. Damir Hadžić, 30. Jaka Štromajer, 49. Matej Pučko.

Subs: 2. Aleks Petrovčić, 5. Miha Blažić, 6. Nik Mršič, 7. Ivica Guberac (for 30, 81 mins), 8. Urban Žibert (for 10, 72 mins), 12. Primož Bužan, 19. David Vidaković.

Rudar:

12. Matjaž Rozman, 5. Nemanja Stjepanović, 7. Ivan Firer, 8. Aljaž Krefl, 9. Damjan Trifković, 14. Milan Kocić, 23. Denis Klinar, 25. Kleman Bolha, 26. Elvedin Džinić, 29. Ivan Knezović, 33. Mario Babić.

Subs: 6. Uroš Rošer (for 33, 76 mins), 11. Nejc Plesec, 13. Matej Radan, 21. Nikola Tolimir, 24. Enis Saramati, 27. Rusmin Dedić (for 23, 69 mins), 28. Dalibor Radujko (for 29, 60 mins).

Yellow Cards: Hadžić, Halilović (Koper); Kocić, Klinar, Džinić, Bolha, Trifković, Stjepanović, Rošer (all Rudar)

Red Card: Hadžić (Koper)

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Koprivnica is a very pleasant town of 24,000 inhabitants in northern Croatia just a few miles from the border with Hungary and was always a border town linking the Hapsburg and Ottoman Empires.

Senior football came to the town when the name of HŠK Slaven was adopted by the Freidrich family in August 1912 as direct replacement for NK Đački, a students’ team formed in 1907. Đački had an inauspicious start losing their first ever game 15-1 to HAŠK Zagreb. Despite winning the Croatian regional championship in 1920 HŠK Slaven, having been renamed HŠK Victorija, folded only six years later.

Reforming in 1930 the club has undergone numerous name changes including HŠK Koprivnica, HŠK Danica, RNHŠK Sloga, FD Slaven and SD Podravka. The club became NK Slaven Koprivnica in 1958 and the only chances since have been the addition of a sponsors name, this currently being Belupo, a local pharmaceutical company.

Since the break up of the Yugoslavian League system the top tiers of the resultant national leagues feature a few big names but also a number of relatively small clubs. It is still something of a surprise that this modest provincial club have been in the Croatian Prva Liga since 1997 having won the northern section of the regionalised second tier Druga Liga. Since their elevation to the top flight Slaven have been a predominantly mid table side although in 2007/08 achieved a runners-up spot in the Prva Liga, although they were actually 28 points behind perennial champions Dinamo Zagreb. The club were in the Europa League qualifiers as recently as 2012/13, defeating Portadown before bowing out to Athletic Bilbao.

Slaven play at the Gradski Stadion u Koprivnici which has one large stand, with 3,134 seats, built in 1997. For a Croatian under 21 match against Scotland in 2000 the centre of the rear section of seats was covered with a roof, this being extended to cover the rest of the top tier of seating as recently as 2011. The bottom tier remains open to the elements and the rest of the ground has no further spectator accommodation. The Gradski has only had floodlights since May 2007, erected in order to host Europa League matches. Slaven qualified for the Europa League having been runners up to Dinamo Zagreb in the two legged Croatian Cup final.

Last season Slaven finished next to bottom in the ten team Prva Liga, and only stayed up by virtue of a 4-3 aggregate play-off win over Cibalia. This season has also been a struggle for “The Farmaceuti” (The Pharmacists) and tonight’s game, covered live on television, sees the hosts in bottom spot with just ten points from the opening fourteen rounds of matches. It is interesting to note that on the bench for Slaven is 39 year old striker Davor Vugrinec, a career veteran with lengthy playing experience in Italy and Turkey.

Tonight’s guests are Radnički Nogometni Klub Split, the workers club from the southern city of Split. They themselves have a really interesting history having being founded by anarchists, playing under the name HRŠD Anarch and sporting an all black kit. Nowadays they sport all red attire and currently hold a mid table position in the Prva Liga. Tickets for this top flight match range between £1.50 and £2.

The first half of the match is very low on quality both teams content on passing the ball to each other and mainly heading backwards towards their own goal. The home crowd (officially quoted as 2,000 although in my eyes 500 was a more realistic figure) soon start venting their frustration, a grey haired man bedecked in Slaven attire, bellows gutturally between puffs of an omnipresent cigarette. The second half is marginally better and notably the home side try to go on the offensive. It was a lucky ricochet off a Split defender that led to the goal. Attacking left back Dario Melnjak ceased the loose ball and scored with a shot into the corner of the net. It was a rare piece of quality in a dour match and saw Slaven move off the bottom of the table. Despite the low quality of the football it was nice to experience an everyday game in a little known province of Eastern Europe. I, for one, hope they manage to stay up this season.

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Friday November 7th 2014 – MaxTV Prva Liga

Slaven Belupo Koprivnica (0) 1 (Melnjak 56)
RNK Split (0) 0

Attendance: 2,000 (at Stadion Gradski)

Slaven:

1. Ivan Kardum, 3. Dario Melnjak, 4. Mato Grgić ©, 6. Ljuban Crepulja, 8. Daniel Cesarec, 9. Dominik Glavina, 10. Petar Brlek, 11. Goran Paracki, 14. Mateas Delić, 18. Ivan Fuštar, 23. Stjepan Geng.

Subs: 12. Dominik Picak, 7. Ivan Vasilj, 13. Petar Filipović (for 14,90 mins), 15. Davor Vugrinec (for 8,80 mins), 19. Marko Mirić (for 9,79 mins), 22. Enes Novinić, 26. Hrvoje Plazanić.

Split:

12. Danijel Zagorac ©, 3. Denis Glavina, 4. Ante Majstorović, 6. Tomislav Glumac, 14. Goran Roce, 17. Marko Rog, 24. Miloš Vidović, 25. Dario Rugašević, 26. Nino Galović, 29. Ivan Ibriks, 99. Sokol Cikalleshi.

Subs: 1. Tomislav Duka, 5. Branko Vrgoč, 13. Josip Uzelac, 16. Tomislav Radotić, 18. Luka Grubišić, 32. Marko Roglić, 35. Ivan Jukić (for 4,67 mins).

Yellow Cards: Melnjak, Glavina, Brlek, Paracki (all Slaven); Glavina, Majstorovic (both Split).

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Građanski Nogometni Klub Dinamo Zagreb were formed in June 1945 and have won the Croatian Prva Liga championship for the last nine consecutive seasons. Interestingly the club are a “corporate personhood” which means there are no shareholders and they are a not-for- profit organisation. The club have played at the legendary Maksimir Stadium since 1949 after the old stadium had been rebuilt. Dinamo’s first game at the Maksimir took place on November 19th 1949 against FK Partizan Beograd.

Originally opened in May 1912 the stadium is opposite the urban park of the same name. The Maksimir’s original tenants were a club called HAŠK. This club and their cross town rivals, HŠK Građanski Zagreb, were both disbanded by a decree issued by the communist authorities. The new Dinamo club initially took over Građanski’s Stadion Koturaška for three seasons before moving into the rebuilt Maksimir.

The Maksimir’s original orientation had a horseshoe shaped stand around three sides of the pitch and small grandstand on the north side. In May 1941 a fascist government representative from the Independent State of Croatia addressed a large gathering of students from Zagreb. He ordered that the Croats, Serbs and Jews should be segregated from each other. The students refused his orders and with in days enraged youths burnt the Maksimir to the ground. The incident was turned into a motion picture called “Operation Stadium”.

Croat architects Vladimir Turina and Franjo Neidhard were engaged to rebuild the whole venue again and provide a capacity of 60,000. Improvements continued periodically, the new north stand was opened in 1955 and six years later the east stand was built. In July 1973 a match against NK Osijek attracted an all time record gate to the Maksimir of 64,138.

In May 1990 Dinamo Zagreb hosted Red Star Belgrade in a Yugoslavian League match. The build up to the game was shrouded in ethnic tensions and some 3,000 Delije (Red Star’s ultras group), led by Željko Ražnatović (later known as the warlord “Arkan”), made the trip north from Belgrade. Dinamo’s ultra group the Bad Blue Boys were also out in force and began stoning the Delije. The Serbs retaliated with nationalist chants like “Zagreb is Serbian” and “We’ll kill Tuđman”. The pitch was engulfed with fighting supporters. Red Star’s players returned to the dressing rooms but Dinamo’s remained on the pitch. Dinamo’s star player and captain Zvonimir Boban kicked a police officer who was seen attacking an innocent Dinamo fan. The game is generally cited as one of the major flashpoints in the build up to the horrendous Balkan War and the break up of the old Yugoslavia.

The current stadium dates from 1997 and the old north stand was replaced by the present one a year later. In 2008 there was a competition held to find a design for a new national stadium in the Kajzerica area of the city. The plan was to demolish the old Maksimir Stadium and replace it with a state of the art home for the Croatian national team as well as Croatia’s biggest club. The contest was won by architect Hrvoje Njirić whose stunning “Blue Volcano” design was widely lauded. The problem for the new project was funding and in 2011 the municipality spent a fortune, which proved to be a considerable strain on public resources, on upgrading the Maksimir. Undersoil heating and irrigation systems were installed and all surfaces were painted blue. Every seat in the stadium was also replaced. The Blue Volcano project was officially shelved in October 2012 when even a referendum to decide on staying at the Maksimir or moving to Kajzerica could not be organised effectively.

While Dinamo continue to dominate the domestic scene they have struggled for success in Europe. In this season’s qualification for the Champions League Dinamo easily beat Žalgiris Vilnius of Lithuania but surprisingly lost 2-1 on aggregate to Denmark’s AaB Aalborg. This saw the Croatians shunted into the Europa League and a group consisting of Celtic, the Romanian club Astra Giurgiu and tonight’s opponents FC Red Bull Salzburg. Having lost their last group game 4-2 in Salzburg, Dinamo were keen to celebrate their 100th European match with a win in the Maksimir.

Despite their best laid plans Salzburg took the lead through the impressive Jonathan Soriano and when Kevin Kampl doubled the lead the hosts lack of adventure seemed to hold them back. Even though Henriquez immediately reduced Dinamo’s arrears it was not to be and the Austrian’s cruised to an easy win. Soriano would score a hat-trick of real quality although Salzburg’s fourth and fifth goals were borne out of some shambolic defending by Dinamo. Even though it was a historic occasion the ground was less than a third full and the ultras group Bad Blue Boys were few in number. There has been a dispute between the club’s hierarchy and the ultras since 2010 which has seen periodic boycotting of matches. Interestingly the BBB have their own megastore in a unit at the stadium.

An iconic name in European football the Maksimir deserves full houses and great European nights, something the current team is failing to provide.

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Thursday November 6th 2014 – Europa League Group D

GNK Dinamo Zagreb (0) 1 (Henriquez 60)

FC Red Bull Salzburg (1) 5 (Soriano 40,64,85, Kampl 59, Bruno 72)

Attendance: 10,769 (at Stadion Maksimir)

Dinamo:

34. Eduardo Carvalho, 6. Ivo Pinto, 5. Jozo Šimunović, 87. Jérémy Taravel, 3. Luis Ibáñez, 16. Arijan Ademi, 77. Marcelo Brozović, 8. Domagoj Antolić ©, 2. El Arbi Soudani, 90. Duje Čop, 9. Ángelo Henriquez.

Subs: 1. Antonijo Ježina, 7. Franko Andrijašević (for 8, 69 mins), 11. Junior Fernandes (for 90, 61 mins), 19. Josip Pivarić, 22. Leonardo Sigali, 28. Wilson Eduardo, 55. Ognjen Vukojević.

Salzburg:

1. Péter Gulacsi, 4. Peter Ankersen, 5. André Ramalho, 36. Martin Hinteregger, 17. Andreas Ulmer, 44. Kevin Kampl, 13. Stefan Ilsanker, 8. Naby Keita, 24. Christoph Leitgeb, 26. Jonathan Soriano ©, 7. Marcel Sabitzer.

Subs: 33. Alexander Walke, 2. Benno Schmitz, 15. Franz Schiemer (for 36, 88 mins), 41. Konrad Laimer (for 8, 77 mins), 45. Duje Ćaleta-Car, 77. Massimo Bruno (for 7, 31 mins).

Yellow Cards: Pinto, Brozović, Ademi, Šimunović (all Dinamo); Ilsanker, Ulmer, Laimer (all Salzburg)

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The East Stirlingshire Football Club have an official formation date of 1881 although it roots go back a year earlier to a club called Britannia in the nearby town of Bainsford. The new club took over Randyford Park in Grangemouth Road from neighbours Falkirk who had decamped to a ground called Blinkbonny.

However, Randyford proved problematic and within months East Stirlingshire moved to Merchiston Park. The club remained at this ground until it was purchased to extend the adjacent Burnbank Iron Foundry. Shire then opened their new town centre ground, Firs Park, in August 1921. Although modest in dimensions the ground managed to accommodate 11,500 spectators for a 1968 Scottish Cup tie against Hibernian.

Life at Firs Park was never dull, in 1964 the incumbent board relocated the club to New Kilbowie Park and an ill-fated merger with Clydebank. After twelve months of litigation the Shire returned to Falkirk. During their absence the cover from the standing enclosure and the floodlights had gone to Kilbowie and local vandals had also held sway in the unoccupied ground. New lights and a replacement cover were erected before football returned to Firs Park. The small barrelled roof main stand became something of an icon of Scottish stadium architecture. Since the 1964 debacle the club has periodically considered further relocation, with Grangemouth Athletics Stadium being considered on more than one occasion.

The club played its last game at Firs Park in 2008 when the momentous decision was taken that the old ground would be prohibitively expensive to upgrade to the new ground grading criteria imposed by the Scottish League. The club signed an initial five year deal to play at Stenhousemuir’s ancient Ochilview Park while the club actively looked for a new site in the Falkirk area. In May 2014 East Stirlingshire signed a deal with LK Galaxy Sports to develop a new ground with the preferred site being the former BP Club ground in Grange Road, Grangemouth. Strangely this would mean both of Falkirk’s senior teams will have moved out of their own town to the same town.

Ochilview is one of Scotland’s oldest grounds having opened in 1890. It has been substantially modernised since 1994 when Stenhousemuir failed in their attempts to sell the ageing ground to a supermarket chain. A new main stand replaced the south stand terrace in 1995 and four years later the old “Dolls House” stand was refused a safety licence and was subsequently demolished. This side is now used for car parking and community 3G pitches and has left the stadium with a modest capacity of 3,750 and a distinctly open feel to it. The Tryst Road terrace was covered in 2004 with volunteer labour from supporters. The club has also installed a FIFA approved artificial playing surface in recent years.

Many casual fans follow East Stirlingshire seemingly annual battle to avoid the wooden spoon in Scotland’s fourth tier. The Shire have finish tenth and last of the Scottish League’s lowest tier for seven out of of the last twelve seasons, although last season they finished a heady eighth with Elgin City and Queen’s Park finishing below them. The club won the Scottish League Division C (the old fourth tier) in 1947/48. They have not won anything since.

This season has once again been a struggle for the Shire the league table shows them a point above bottom placed Elgin so today’s Scottish Cup game against Championship side Dunfermline Athletic must have been eyed with no little trepidation.

To the Shire’s credit they keep their guests from the Championship quiet for more that half and hour with some resolute defending. Dunfermline look the better side with Faissal El Bakhtaoui looking the pick of the visitors eleven. It’s no surprise that the young French/Moroccan playmaker opens the scoring with a deft finish just before half time. He doubles the visitors total just after the hour with another impressive strike.

The men from East End Park effectively seal the victory when Shaun Byrne picked up a loose ball in his own half and outpaced the home defence to score with some aplomb. East Stirlingshire’s biggest goal threat comes from the burly Ivorian striker Guy Tahin who bizarrely is only currently permitted to play in cup ties and friendlies. However, Tahin is well shackled today by Gregor Buchanan. Shire continue to press forward and suddenly reduce the arrears with a powerful strike from distance by David Greenhill, his shot finding the net via the inside of the post.

Visibly irked by conceding a goal Dunfermline take charge again and the pressure pays off when Connor Greene makes an injudicious challenge in the area and Ross Millen nets the spot kick with a cheeky “Panenka” style chip down the middle of the goal.

Although well beaten today you have to admire the indefatigable spirit of East Stirlingshire. Homeless and regular wooden spoonists they dig in week after week and you have to salute them for that.

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Sunday November 2nd 2014 – Scottish Cup Third Round

East Stirlingshire (0) 1 (Greenhill 79)
Dunfermline Athletic (1) 4 (El Bakhtaoui 37,62, Byrne 76, Millen pen 84)

Attendance: 991 (at Ochilview, Stenhousemuir F.C.)

Shire:

1. Richie Barnard (c), 2. Connor Greene, 3. Lloyd Kinnaird, 4. Michael Bolochoweckyj, 5. Chris Townsley, 6. Graeme MacGregor, 7. Andy Kay, 8. Neil McCabe, 9. Guy Tahin, 10. David McKenna, 11. David Greenhill.

Subs: 12. Billy Vidler, 14. Steven Brisbane (for 6,62 mins), 15. Martyn Shields, 16. Ross Gilmour, 17. Sean Quinn, 18. Paul Brennan (for 9,71 mins), 19. Alan Deans.

Dunfermline:

1. Ryan Scully, 2. Ross Millen, 3. Alex Whittle, 4. Stuart Urquhart, 5. Gregor Buchanan, 6. Andy Geggan (c), 7. Faissal El Bakhtaoui, 8. Lewis Spence, 9. Michael Moffat, 10. Ross Forbes, 11. Shaun Byrne.

Subs: 12. Ryan Thomson (for 10,77 mins), 14. Andy Stirling, 15. Allan Smith, 16. Chiogozie Ugwu (for 9,72 mins), 17. Ryan Williamson, 18. James Thomas for 7,72 mins), 20. Ryan Goodfellow.

Yellow Cards: Bolochoweckyj , MacGregor, Townsley, Greene (all Shire)

Gallery

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Shire prog

The remote Angus coastal burgh of Arbroath is famous for two reasons, the “smokie” a kiln smoked salted haddock and for the fact that the town’s football team hold the record for the biggest victory in senior football.

In September 1885 Arbroath defeated the hapless Bon Accord by an incredible score of 36-0. Arbroath forward Jocky Petrie helped himself to thirteen of the goals, itself an individual scoring record. Amazingly on the very same day Dundee Harp missed their chance of lasting fame by only racking up 35 unanswered goals against Aberdeen Rovers.

The club has the nickname of “the Red Lichties” which was derived from the red lights that were illuminated on the harbour front to safely guide the fishing boats back home.

Arbroath were formed in 1878 and initially played on a basic pitch between the sea and the railway line. It was known as the Hospital Field. In 1880 the club moved to a new site which was called Old Gayfield. It was tightly hemmed in and on one side the external wall was yards from the touchline meaning spectators could not watch from that side. The first game at the ground was against Rob Roy. However, the new ground irked mighty Rangers who complained that “the back green” they had just lost on was too small for purpose. The Scottish FA acquiesced to their demands for a replay which the Glaswegians won 8-1. Old Gayfield was subsequently enlarged with the acquisition of seashore owned by the local railway company.

The club played their last match at Old Gayfield in March 1925 against King’s Park before moving the ground around sixty yards south west. The old seaside stand was demolished and a new stand erected on the Dundee Road side of the new orientation of the ground now called Greater Gayfield. The ground was ready for the new season and 7,000 people packed in to see the Earl of Strathmore declare the venue open before a game against East Fife.

In 1949 the record attendance of 13,510 was set at Gayfield when another visit from Rangers passed without complaint. The floodlights at Gayfield have a chequered history to say the least. The first temporary set were erected in 1955 and in only their second game against Dundee United an Arbroath player caused much merriment by smashing one of the lights with a wayward boot of the ball. These were replaced with lights bought from Aberdeen in 1970 although sixteen years later they were sold on again to Eastwood Town.

Gayfield survived a serious fire to the main stand in September 1958, the alarm being raised by Partick Thistle players lodging in the hotel opposite the ground. The old stand suffered significant damage and was replaced by the present brick and concrete structure. Two of the three covers were erected in 1979 and the fabled “seaside” stand was covered a year later. It truly must be the closest football stand to the sea in the land, both Gay Meadow and Craven Cottage being merely riverside rather than adjacent to the howling, elemental and endless North Sea. The word “bracing” somehow just doesn’t cut muster.

Today’s game is played in a strong wind and fair light and Gayfield rocks to an early penalty kick which is comfortably dispatched by Paul McManus. The hosts failed to build on it though and only lead their Highland League visitors by a one goal margin at the turn around.

Arbroath double their lead when left back Scott McBride powers in an impressive header from a corner. Almost immediately after the restart there is concern for the home goalkeeper who was subject to a heavy but fair challenge. He is down for some five minutes receiving treatment and has to be replaced. As the sun sets over Gayfield it is the visitors of Nairn that push forward, Sean Webb reduces the arrears two minutes from time. There is of course lengthy stoppage time and Nairn pile on the pressure seeking to take the tie back to Station Park for a replay. They can count themselves unlucky that the equaliser didn’t materialise and the Red Lichties held on for the victory.

Gayfield is just glorious, there is no other word for it. Sweeping terraces and hefty covers built, no hewn, to withstand this unforgiving coast and its unrelenting wind, sea, salt and weather. This is visceral, primordial football not only do you have to outwit your opponent but you also have to do battle with the unpredictable elements. It’s not too glib to say this is an iconic lower league ground, ridiculously photogenic, all big skies and lucent light. I excitedly snapped photograph after photograph, until the red light indicated battery power down. This ground has a mythical feel to it, truly up there with the best grounds in the kingdom.

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Saturday November 1st 2014 – Scottish Cup Third Round

Arbroath 2 (McManus pen 22, McBride 67)
Nairn County 1 (Webb 88)

Attendance: 682 (at Gayfield Park)

Arbroath:

1. David Crawford, 2. Ricky Little, 3. Scott McBride, 4. Kevin Nicoll, 5. Aldin El-Zubaidi, 6. Mark Whatley, 7. Bobby Linn, 8. Keiran Stewart, 9. Paul McManus (c), 10. Simon Murray, 11. Jordan Lowdon.

Subs: 12. Kevin Buchan (for 9,78 mins), 14. Michael Travis, 15. Johnny Lindsay, 16. Michael Wallace, 17. Connor Birse, 18. Craig Johnstone (for 11, 63 mins), 21. Scott Morrison (for 1,71 mins).

Nairn:

20. Callum Antell, 2. Sean Webb 3. Glenn Main, 4. Michael Morrison (c), 5. Martin MacDonald, 6. Wayne MacKintosh, 7. Bradley Halsman, 8. Alan Pollock, 9. Robert Duncanson, 10. Conor Gethins, 11. Kyle Wilkie.

Subs: 1. Michael MacCallum, 12. Paul Macleod, 14. Ross Naismith (for 11,82 mins), 15. Sam Urquhart (for 9,73 mins), 16. Adam Naismith, 17. Chris Moir, 18. Matthew Murphy.

Yellow Card: Morrison (Nairn)

Gallery

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Lichties prog