Athlone Alone

The Midlanders are one of Ireland’s oldest clubs with their history being traced back to 1887 and a formation meeting reported by the Westmeath Independent. Town gained admittance to the Free State League in its’ second season expansion to twelve clubs in 1922. They became the first non-Dublin club to compete in the new competition. In 1924 the newcomers won the FAI Cup defeating Fordsons 1-0 in the final at Dalymount. Incredibly they achieved the victory without conceding a goal in the entire competition defeating Midland Athletic, Shelbourne and Bohemian without their goal being breached, a truly remarkable achievement.

Athlone resigned from the League of Ireland in 1928 following a disastrous season which was highlighted by a humbling 9-3 FAI Cup 1st round defeat to then non-league Drumcondra. The club also had a perilous financial position and opted to return to provincial football. As if to rub salt in the wounds, Drumcondra took their place in the League. The club had to wait until 1969 for re-election when the membership was once again expanded, joining them in the League of Ireland were Finn Harps from Ballybofey, County Donegal.

Having built momentum the club enjoyed a few sorties into Europe their best season being 1975/76.The club had finished as runners-up to Bohemian and gained entry to the UEFA Cup. Norway’s Vålerengen were overcome in the first round and Town drew mighty AC Milan in the second round. Athlone obtained a goalless draw in front of a record crowd at St.Mel’s Park variously estimated at 9,000 to 12,000. Famously the Milan manager Giovanni Trapattoni was quoted as saying “Is this some kind of joke” as the luxurious Milan coach pitched up outside the ramshackle venue.

Town then won the championship twice in 1980/81 and 1982/83 and further European campaigns followed. In 1981/82 they lost on away goals to KB Copenhagen and two years later they again went out at the first hurdle, losing 4-11 on aggregate to Raymond Goethals’ Standard Liege. After the heady days of the 1970’s and early eighties Athlone spent most of the 1990’s yo-yoing between the Premier and First Division.

The club’s last top flight season was 2000/1 and in 2007 the club decided their future was best served at a new stadium out of town in Lissyowen. St.Mels was demolished and sold for redevelopment which to date has still not happened. Athlone had moved into St.Mels in 1929 after two seasons spent at Ranelagh Gardens. Prior to then the club played at the town’s Sportsground. St.Mels was practically falling apart by the turn of the 21st century, it had a huge covered terrace and banking around the ground augmented by a modest seated stand at the dressing room end. It was a truly intimidating place to visit. The new ground had one large stand and vitally a second pitch to allow youth development.

However, the move was not without its challenges and December 2008 and EGM was called to address the clubs financial state. A patron scheme was adopted which garnered support from 350 locals. Athlone are alone in the League of Ireland in that aside from players and the manager all positions are filled voluntarily. The financial rebirth of the club and the focus on youth development bore fruit in 2013 when Athlone won the First Division title and long overdue promotion back to the top flight.

The club have struggled in the Premier Division and currently prop up the table with only eight points to date. New manager Keith Long has a job on his hands to keep the side up based on this afternoon’s showing. Athlone went behind to Derry on 20 minutes with a superb free kick from Pat McEleney and despite dominating possession they just could not fashion a real goalscoring opportunity. Approach play was excellent but the need for a goal poacher was all too evident.

A very welcoming club with a fascinating history, and no Mr Trapattoni, they are certainly no joke.

 

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Sunday July 6th 2014 – League of Ireland Premier Division

Athlone Town (0) 0

Derry City (1) 1 (P.McEleney 20)

Attendance: 354 (at Athlone Town Stadium)

Athlone:

1. Paul Skinner; 3. Sean Byrne; 4. Derek Prendergast; 6. Alan Byrne (c); 7. Kealan Dillon; 8. Mark Hughes; 9. Philip Gorman; 10. Sean Brennan; 15. Graham Rusk; 16. James O’Brien; 24. Stephen Quigley.

Subs: 21. Ryan Coulter (for 15,81 mins); 18. Declan Brennan; 19. Thomas Mulroney; 22. John Mulroy; 14. Barry Clancy; 23. Jason Monks; 11. Ian Sweeney (for 10,81 mins).

Derry:

1. Gerard Doherty; 4. Barry Molloy (c); 5. Ryan McBride; 6. Shane McEleney; 7. Barry McNamee; 8. Danny Ventre; 10. Patrick McEleney; 11. Rory Patterson; 14. Michael Duffy; 18. Philip Lowry; 30. Aaron Barry.

Subs: 9. Nathan Boyle (for 10,75 mins); 12. Josh Tracey; 3. Dean Jarvis (for 5,46 mins); 20. Ciaran Gallagher; 23. Ryan Curran (for 18,87 mins); 15. Tony McNamee; 17. Cormac Burke.

Yellow Card: Prendergast (Athlone)

Gallery

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Athlone prog

Athlone ticket

Strokestown Mind

Longford Town were formed at a meeting convened in the town’s Temperance Hall in 1924. The set up kitty totalled £24 and a kit of red and black was agreed in deference to the mighty Bohemian club in Dublin. Initial games were played at Longford Park which was the prelude to a somewhat nomadic existence. The town of Longford itself is a quiet Midland town with no great pretensions. Its wonderful neo-classical Cathedral is under renovation following a devastating fire in 2009. Their derby matches with Midland rivals Athlone Town are among the fiercest in the country.

After Longford Park the club used the local greyhound stadium in Park Road until the early 1970’s before a brief stint at a ground in Water Street. The next move was to Abbeycarton which was home until 1993. During this time the club were elected to the League of Ireland in 1984. The competition expanded to two divisions the following season and the Reds found themselves relegated to the new Division One.

The club were then offered a patch of land three miles west of town on the Strokestown Road. The ground was initially called Mullogher but when it caused confusion with visiting clubs the name of Strokestown Road was adopted. Subsequently the stadium has been sponsored, a long term deal with logistics company Flancare saw locals calling the venue the “Flan Siro” for a period. It is currently known as the City Calling Stadium.

Initially the stadium had a small covered terrace adjacent to the clubhouse and a small cover at the top of the bank. Three small covered stands were then installed on the far side of the ground. It remained a modest ground until the end of the 2000/01 season when assisted by Government and FAI grants Mullogher was transformed into an all seated stadium with a big elevated grandstand. This lofty structure affords fantastic views of the rural land between Mullogher and the edge of town. Despite its relatively recent vintage the stand behind the south goal is currently cordoned off with broken seats and eroded concrete. The current capacity is just shy of 7,000.

The club’s honours lists includes two back-to-back FAI Cup wins in 2003 and 2004 defeating St.Patricks (2-0) and Waterford United (2-1) respectively. In this decade the club qualified for the UEFA Cup on three occasions but went out at the preliminary round stage on each occasion. Liteks Lovich (2001), FC Vaduz (2004) and Carmarthen Town (2005) all pitched up to this quiet part of central Ireland.

Tonight’s game is a big deal, fallen giants Shelbourne lead the table with Longford just behind but with a game in hand. The first half is a tense affair with few chances, it is halted for a little over eight minutes while a severe head injury to Adam O’Connor of Shelbourne was dealt with following a clash of heads with his own team mate, Jake Donnelly.

The second half though sees the hosts take charge, the prolific Davy O’Sullivan opened the scoring just after the hour before both sides were reduced to ten men. Ben O’Connor of Longford went for a forceful but seemingly well timed challenge before in the ensuing melee, Shels’ William McDonagh injudiciously threw a punch to earn himself an early exit. Longford’s impressive striker Gary Shaw notched the vital second before O’Sullivan sealed an emphatic win for the hosts.

Longford finished third in the First Division in 2012 and second a year later but lost the play off final to Bray Wanderers over two legs. On tonight’s imperious showing this year could well for “De Town”.

 

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Saturday July 5th 2014 – League of Ireland First Division

Longford Town (0) 3 (O’Sullivan 64,81, Shaw 79)

Shelbourne (0) 0

Attendance: 780 (at The City Calling Stadium)

Longford:

18. Paul Hunt; 3. Ben O’Connor; 6. Stephen Rice; 8. Mark Salmon (c); 10. Gary Shaw; 11. Kevin O’Connor; 14. Pat Sullivan; 15. David O’Sullivan; 16. Jamie Mulhall; 17. Don Cowan; 20. Pat Flynn.

Subs: 2. Noel Haverty; 5. William Tyrell (for 17,65 mins); 7. Lorcan Shannon (10-84); 9. Peter Hynes (for 15,82 mins); 19. Etanda Nkololo; 24. Rhys Gorman; 1. Chris Bennion.

Shelbourne:

12. Gregg Murray; 2. Brian Gannon (c); 3. Philip Hand; 4. Adam O’Connor; 7. Conor Murphy; 10. Jordan Keegan; 14. Jake Donnelly; 16. Dylan Connolly; 18. Lee Desmond; 21. Dylan Cashin; 28. William McDonagh.

Subs: 33. Nathan Murphy; 17. Gareth Coughlin; 9. Lee Duffy (for 3,82 mins); 23. Simon Dixon (for 2,56 mins); 26. Ryan Robinson (for 4,34 mins); 19. Matthew Taylor; 6. Gareth Brady.

Yellow Cards: Cashin, Donnelly, Robinson (Shelbourne)

Red Cards: B.O’Connor (Longford), McDonagh (Shelbourne)

Gallery

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Bray Watch

Bray Wanderers were reformed in 1942 and have only been League of Ireland members for thirty years or so since the competition was expanded to two divisions. Prior to that they played in the Athletic Union League and later still the Leinster Senior League.

The club had originally been formed in 1922 out of St.Kevin’s GAA club but failed to hit the the heights and folded after ten years. Part of the problem was the town already had a pre-eminent team. I have always like the self deprecating name of the club, Bray Unknowns. They had been elected to the League of Ireland in 1924 playing at Woodbrook in south Dublin before returning to Bray to play at the Carlisle Grounds.

The Unknowns dropped into the Leinster Senior League at the end of the 1942/43 season, prompting the hasty reformation of the dormant Wanderers club. By 1973 the Unknowns were flagging badly and the two clubs joined forces under the Wanderers name.

Upon the expansion of the League of Ireland in 1985/86 Bray were elected to the new First Division and promptly won it at the first attempt. They won the FAI Cup in 1990 defeating then non-leaguers St.Francis, becoming the first second tier side to lift the trophy. This meant European Cup Winners Cup football came to the Carlisle Grounds the following season but the Seagulls fell at the preliminary round stage having been handed a tough draw against the Turkish side Trabzonspor.

The club won the Cup again in 1999 defeating Finn Harps in the final. Wanderers have also won the First Division title twice more in 1995/96 and 1999/2000. They have been runners up a further three times highlighting the yo-yo nature of their existence. The club should have been relegated in 2009 but retained their top flight place when Cork City imploded. The club have remained in the Premier Division ever since.

I first visited Bray in March 1998 and the Carlisle Grounds still had one of a pair of old barrelled roof stands as seen in the last picture of the gallery below. It’s companion stand on the other side had just been demolished and seats were being installed. The venue now boasts over 3,000 seats with a tarpaulin covered stand replacing the ageing barrelled roofed terrace in 2006.

The Carlisle Grounds however pre date any other ground in the League of Ireland. Opened in 1862 as the Bray Athletic Ground it was renamed as the Carlisle Cricket and Archery Ground later that year when it was officially opened by the 7th Earl of Carlisle. Aside from the two Bray clubs the venue also hosted Dublin club Transport FC for three seasons from 1948 before they returned to the capital and a stint at Harold’s Cross Stadium.

The Carlisle Grounds also had its own Hollywood moment when it was used for scenes in the 1996 film Michael Collins which starred Liam Neeson. However, the ground had some negative press in 2009 and 2010 when perimeter walls collapsed during matches against Shamrock Rovers and Monaghan United. Around this time the club unveiled bold plans to redevelop the whole ground although this has yet to see the light of day.

Today’s game sees Bray and visitors Drogheda United precariously positioned in the two places immediately above the dreaded drop zone currently occupied by UCD and Athlone. In truth though there was only one team in this game and the team from County Louth take the points thanks to two goals of extremely high quality from Gavin Holahan and Cathal Brady. The home sides task was not helped by the red card to Adam Mitchell for a needless challenge having already been booked in the opening moments of the game.

Drogheda are noisily supported from start to finish by a small band of ultras, the Famous45 Ultras, who have been involved in controversy recently when one of their flags was removed in a recent home game against Dundalk. The F45U subsequently boycotted home games. Bray’s own ultra group “Na Fánaithe” (The Rovers) sadly have precious little to cheer about tonight.

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Friday July 4th 2014 – League of Ireland Premier Division

Bray Wanderers (1) 1 (J.Kelly 19)

Drogheda United (2) 3 (Brennan 4, Holahan 37, Brady 90)

Attendance: 495 (at the Carlisle Grounds)

Bray:

32. Stephen McGuiness; 24. Graham Kelly; 5. Adam Mitchell; 6. Eric McGill; 7. Shane O’Neill; 8. David Cassidy; 9. Ismahil Akinade; 11. Adam O’Hanlon; 15. Shane O’Connor; 16. Dean Zambra (c); 10. Jake Kelly.

Subs: 1. Shane Redmond; 22. Robert Maloney (for 15,23 mins);18. Ciaran Byrne (for 8,75 mins); 3. Jamie McGlynn; 19. David Scully (for 9,62 mins);17. Michael Browne; 21. Gary Curran.

Drogheda:

16. Michael Schlingermann; 2. Michael Daly; 3. Shane Grimes (c); 5. Alan McNally; 7. Cathal Brady; 8. Gavin Holahan; 10. Gary O’Neill; 11. Gavin Brennan; 13. Stephen Maher; 14. Carl Walshe; 18. Daire Doyle.

Subs: 40. Dylan Connolly (for 16,90 mins); 19. Declan O’Brien (for 10,85 mins); 6. Paul Crowley; 17. Sean O’Connor; 20. Dylam Harding; 22. Ciaran O’Connor; 24. Roy Kierans.

Yellow Cards: Mitchell, J.Kelly (Bray), McNally, O’Neill, Maher (Drogheda)

Red Card: Mitchell (Bray)

Gallery

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Bray prog

Bray ticket

The old stand at Bray Wanderers

Bray old stand

No Undertones

Football had been played at Brandywell since the 19th Century and had been home to the short lived Derry Celtic before the newly formed Derry City were offered a lease by Londonderry Corporation (now Derry County Council) upon their formation in May 1928. The club applied to join the Irish League but their application was rejected having arrived two days late. They reapplied the following season and were elected at the expense of Queen’s Island. The club initially wore claret and blue shirts but changed in the 1930’s to the fabled red and white candy stripes in homage to manager Billie Gillespie and his long association with Sheffield United. Years later Derry’s finest band, the Undertones, would replicate the candy stripes on the cover of their hit single “My Perfect Cousin”.

The club had issues with security of tenure at Brandywell and were constrained, as they still are, with a charter covenant from the Honourable Irish City which declares Brandywell should be “available for the free recreation of the local population”. In the early 1930’s the Derry City board discussed several options to move to their own ground but indecision let no less than three options slip through their hands. Option one was to buy Celtic Park, previously used by the defunct Derry Celtic and adjacent to Brandywell. The club dithered and the local GAA club scooped up the option to buy the ground. The board were also offered Bond’s Field in Waterside but this was rejected as the board felt it was too far from their heartland of the Bogside. Finally they were offered Meenan Park for £1,500 but again decided to stay put.

The club has played at Brandywell ever since despite a tempestuous relationship with the City Council. The present main stand sweeps around the ovoid greyhound track, present at the site since the 1940’s, and was erected in 1991 replacing the fabled “Jungle”. Opposite is an elderly raised wooden stand of uncertain heritage. It’s known as the “Glentoran” stand having once stood at the Oval in Belfast and some even credit its modest construction to the legendary Archibald Leitch. This side of the ground is currently planned to be replaced with an all-seated stand which should once and for all end any issues around UEFA compliance.

The Foylesiders won the Irish League for the only time in 1964/65 and in the following seasons European Cup competition they became the first Irish side to win a European tie accounting for FK Lynn Oslo over two legs. The Irish FA then said Derry could not host the second round tie against Anderlecht at Brandywell and would have to play it in Belfast. The club refused and the second leg was never played, albeit somewhat academic as the Belgians had won 9-0 in the home leg. Relations with the Irish FA would never recover and deteriorated so badly that the club were effectively booted out of the League in 1972. The Irish FA had said that due to the Troubles the safety of visiting teams could not be guaranteed and all home games had to be played 30 miles away in Coleraine. Derry’s crowds predictably plummeted and the club had no choice but to leave senior football altogether.

City limped on in the Saturday Morning League and applied almost annually to rejoin the Irish League only to be rejected every time. In 1985 an unlikely door swung open, boosted by a 4,000 crowd for a Derry v Shamrock match, the Irish FA met with their League of Ireland counterparts and unanimously agreed to let Derry transfer to the expanding Republic leagues. The club took to their new surroundings with relish they became the first club to win the League, the FAI Cup and the League Cup in the same season when they swept the board during 1988/89. While they have won the cups numerous times since the League Championship has returned to Brandywell only once, in 1996/97.

That said the club have been European regulars and tonight’s game is the opening leg of this season’s Europa League. Welsh club, Aberystwyth Town are made very welcome to the Brandywell with a Welsh flag fluttering in the gently Foyleside wind. I had previously visited Derry in the 1990’s, although not to see a game. In those days I was ignorant but fascinated by the political murals and memorials but the somewhat notorious Bogside area was an intimidating place to be. Today there is no undertone of trouble and of a turbulent past, everyone is welcoming and just excited for the match and a promise of a bumper Brandywell crowd.

Opening exchanges see the home side on top and just 15 minutes in Pat McEleney opens the scoring. Ten minutes later the turning point comes in the form of the Danish referee. Patterson burst into the visitor’s penalty box to be upended by keeper Mike Lewis. A clear penalty but the red card seemed a tad harsh. Patterson picked himself up and slotted home the penalty kick. The Welsh side wilt visibly in the second half and Derry help themselves to two more courtesy of Timlin and McNamee. In truth but for profligate finishing, notably from Patterson, Derry could have clocked up double figures.

A great venue with passionate support, what a terrific place to visit.

Thursday July 3rd 2014 – Europa League 1st Qualifying Round, 1st Leg

Derry City (2) 4 (P.McEleney 15, Patterson pen 25, Timlin 47, McNamee 86)

Aberystwyth Town (0) 0

Att: 1,980 (at Brandywell)

Derry:

1. Gerard Doherty; 3. Dean Jarvis; 5. Ryan McBride; 26. Cliff Byrne (c); 30. Aaron Barry; 4. Barry Molloy; 7. Barry McNamee; 14. Michael Duffy; 19. Mark Timlin; 11. Rory Patterson; 10. Patrick McEleney.

Subs: 18. Philip Lowry (for 10,76 mins); 10. Nathan Byrne (for 11,82 mins); 23. Ryan Curran; 20. Ciaran Gallagher; 6. Shane McEleney; 8. Danny Ventre; 12. Joshua Tracey (for 19,68 mins)

Aberysthwyth:

1. Mike Lewis; 3. Cledan Davies; 4. Antonio Corbisiero; 5. Stuart Jones (c); 10. Chris Venables; 2. Chris Davis; 16. Wyn Thomas; 7. Geoff Kellaway; 8. Luke Sherborne; 9. Mark Jones; 11. Craig Williams.

Subs: 12. Sion James; 14. Bari Morgan (for 2,66 mins); 15. Rhydian Davies; 18. Jamie Butler; 6.Thomas Atyeo; 13. Philip Draper (for 11, 25 mins)

Yellow Cards: Barry (Derry); Kellaway (Aberystwyth)

Red Card: Lewis (Aberystwyth)

Gallery

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Derry prog

Derry ticket

Summer Night City

This year’s eighth annual Swedish Groundhop took in five grounds in the Gothenburg area, the first time the football marathon has diverted from the eastern side of this most beautiful of Scandinavian countries. Delightfully we are ferried about in the IFK Gothenburg first team coach, much to the excitement (but ultimate disappointment) of the local populace.

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Skärhamns IK 2 Stigen/Ellenö 0
Att: 76 (Div 4 Bohuslän/Dalsland)

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Skärhamns Idrottsklubb were formed in 1932 and have never played higher than the third tier of Swedish football. Recent seasons have been tough for Skärhamns, they were relegated from Division 2 in 2010 and dropped straight through to Division 5. The decline was halted when the club won the Division 5 (Bohuslä) in 2013.

The club play their home games at the Tjörns Sparbanken Arena, or the Röavallen in its original, sponsor free guise. The club have played here since 1963 after spending many years on a sand pitch in the centre of the village. The crowd of 1,200 for the inaugural match against Örgryte IS has never been challenged. Nowadays the Röavallen boasts a decent little covered stand that sits proudly on top of a grass bank. Other vantage points include a bench in front of a eclectically decorated garden, the elevated glazed clubhouse and a big outcrop of rock to the right of the stand.

The club harbour hopes of reaching the Third Division as soon as possible but this season the find themselves having a hard start to the Division 4 campaign. Their opponents today, Stigen/Ellenö, have endured an even more torrid start to the season, propping up the table without a win to their name. You can immediately see what is wrong with the visitors, great approach play but very little in the way of a goalscorer. A goal either side of halftime from Erik Johannesen, the first following a goalkeeping howler, was enough to secure the points for the hosts.

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Västra Frölunda IF 2 Laholms FK 2
Att: 95 (Div 3 Sydvästra Götaland)

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Västra Frölunda Idrottsförening were formed in 1930 and have enjoyed ten seasons in the Swedish top-flight, the Allsvenskan. Their most recent spell ended with relegation in 2000, it does seem scarcely conceivable that this small tree lined ground had the likes of IFK, AIK and Malmö visiting barely 14 years ago. After a liquidation these days the club find themselves in the fifth tier, Division 3 Sydvästra Götaland. They share the small but impressive Ruddalens Idrottsplats with fellow tenants Utsiktens BK, Assyriska BK and BK Skottfint.

Västra Frölunda have made a modest start to the season and sit in mid table along side today’s guests, Laholms FK. The home side establish a comfortable two goal lead through their Brazilian De Souza and the lively Hermansson, but then inexplicably the hosts wilted in the early afternoon sun. A brace of goals in the final seven minutes from Sulejmani and Morad left honours even in this fifth tier encounter.

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Qviding FIF 1 Örgryte IS 1
Att: 1,275 (Div.1 Södra)

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The Qviding Fräntorps Idrottsförening club date from a 1987 merger of BK Qviding and Fräntorps IF. The old BK Qviding club had taken it’s name from Qvidingsgatan where the clubs founding players lived. The street itself had been named after an 18th century local stack-maker named Lars Quiding. Qviding were in the second tier, the Superettan, as recently as 2011 but after relegation find themselves in the Division 1 Södra. The club play at the interestingly named Valhalla Idrottsplats which they share with the women’s team Kopparbergs/Göteborg and today’s guests and league leaders Örgryte IS. Valhalla is an old nordic word that translates as “The Hall of the Slain” and this nearly became very appropriate in 2008 when a wall collapsed at the ground causing 40 people to by injured, luckily none fatally, during a match between Örgryte and FC Vasby United.

The Valhalla ground was opened in 1963 and has a capacity of 4,000 and also boasts a heated artificial playing surface. The ground is a bit special mainly due to it surroundings, behind the north goal is Sten Samuelsson and Fritz Jaenecke’s futuristic, post apocalypse even, masterpiece that is the now seldom used Nya Ullevi. Behind the opposite end is the Lisebergs amusement park including the “Wheel of Göteborg” Ferris wheel. That backdrop also includes a triumvirate of impressive buildings, the Scandinavium, the Congresscentrum and the Svenska Mässan. Behind the terrace which has a small temporary cover, and which today houses the noisy Inferno Örgryte ultras, lies the photogenic tower of the BRF Tornhuset.

Today is a big football day in the locality, at the Gamla Ullevi GAIS are playing Öster in the Superettan, while at the Valhalla fourth place Qviding take on Division One Södra leaders, Örgryte. The first half passes quickly with much endeavour but scant reward in front of goal. Within thirty seconds of the restart Örgryte take the lead, Frantz Pangop tapping in from a suspiciously offside postion. Örgryte really should have scored more but could not put away their hosts. Eventually they paid for their profligacy when three minutes into injury time Mentor Zhubi’s speculative drive found the corner of the net for a dramatic and unexpected equaliser.

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Vänersborgs IF “B” 2 Alingsås IF “B” 2

Att: 33 (Utveckling Elit Div 2 Västra)

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An unexpected bonus game for the Sunday morning saw a trip to Vänersvallen home of one of the oldest clubs in Götaland, Vänersborgs Idrottsförening. Formed in 1906 the club play at the better of the two grounds at Vänersvallen, which boasts a lovely wooden stand and a comfortable clubhouse. The south pitch also has a wooden stand, far more modest, and is the home ground of Vänersborgs FK.

VIF have been a relatively regular fixture for touring English clubs, Birmingham City visiting in 1980, Sheffield United in 1984 and most recently QPR in 1994. The English influence stretches to their coaching staff, Bobby Bennett and Andy Kilner having had spells with the side in recent years. This mornings game is for VIF’s development team against the visitors from Alingsås. A very competitive encounter ends 2-2 and you have to say the club cope very well with a sudden and unannounced visit from a load of foreigners arriving in the IFK Gothenburg team coach.

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Trollhättans BoIS 5 FC Lidköping United 4

Att: 92 (Division 5 Nord Västra Götaland)

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So to the lowest ranked match of the weekend which saw Trollhättans BoIS take on FC Lidköping United at their basic but homely Torsbovallen ground. The welcome is second to n0ne as the everybody enjoys the early afternoon sun. The pick of the grounds features are the wonderful manual scoreboard and the tannoy booth to the left of the bleacher style seating. The club are something of a feeder club for FC Trollhättan and several of their youngsters have graduated to the bigger clubs first team squad.

Today’s match is in Division 5 Nordvästra, which is level seven, and neither of today’s combatants have made a great start to the season. In fact the visitors are rock bottom after nine rounds and desperately in need of a win. A routine home win you would think but the guests haven’t read the script and their speedy breaks and incisive finishing see them 3-2 up at the break. Bohlin grabs an equaliser for the home team before the excellent Restelica puts Lidköping, a team of mainly comprised of Bosnian emigres, back in front. It looked like the visitors would hold on for a precious win but a powerful header from Bohlin levels the proceedings once again. Into injury time a tighter than tight offside call was waved on and Marcus Bergström lashed home an unlikely winner in a hugely entertaining game. The visitors were incensed and Talić earned himself a second yellow card after the final whistle when he continued his protests towards the officials.

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FC Trollhättan 4 Kristianstads FF 1

Att: 434 (Div.1 Södra)

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A relatively recent merger of two rival but ailing clubs, Trollhättans IF and Trollhättan FK, who combined forces in 2001. A local newspaper made the new clubs first home game free of charge and 3,083 packed into the Edsborgs Idrottsplats. The merged clubs had almost instant success winning the then third tier Second Division Västra Götaland. Although they failed to gain promotion via the play-offs it was certainly a mark of intent. In 2008 Trollhättan won the Division 1 Södra and with it came promotion to the second tier Superettan via an exciting 3-2 win over Falkenberg FF. A huge crowd of 4,338 saw the match at the Edsborgs. Their first season in the Superettan was tough although a relegation play-off victory over Skövde AIK ensured their survival. The 2010 campaign proved tougher still and only five wins all season ensured a relegation place alongside FC Vasby United. Since relegation the club has steadied themselves with decent finishes in the third tier.

The Edborgs was opened in 1944 and also hosts athletics. The large main stand has some nice touches like art deco lettering on the entrance vomitory and an ornate carving of a footballer on the end of the stand. The floodlights are those wonderfully tall old style pylons. There is also an eyecatching terrace opposite the main stand.

Today’s game sees the visit of Kristianstads to the Edborgs and given their similar records a tight encounter is expected. The first half suggests this to be the case with the home side slightly edging proceedings with a clinical finish from Gustafsson. However, the superb channel running and workrate of Trollhättan’s Viktor Mollapulci sees the form book torn up. The lively striker nets the second before a superb strike David Bennhage a minute later effectively settles the encounter. Ekelund reduces the arrears for the lethargic visitors before Mollapulci’s second rounds off a comfortable afternoon for the hosts.

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Well that was that, the 8th annual Swedish Groundhop done and dusted. The long weekend in Gothenburg more than vindicating a switch from Sweden’s east coast to the west. Lakes and forests surround a historic city with a rich footballing history. I wonder to which Summer Night City we will turn up to this time next year!

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Stick a fork in I’m done with 2013/14

Here is a review of my itinerant football watching during the 2013/14 campaign.

NB: I have bowed to UEFA pressure this season and changed my usual end of season cut off of May 31st to the UEFA approved date of June 30th.

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Total Matches Attended: 232

New Grounds Visited: 174

Total Goals Scored: 837 (Average of 3.61 goals per game, up from 3.58 last season)

Biggest Win: Wells Town 10 Brandon Town 0

Biggest Crowd: 83,807 – England v Montenegro (at Wembley)

Games Abroad: 42 (Sweden 13, Belgium 10, Germany 9, France 3, Serbia 3, Poland 2, Spain 2)

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BEST GROUNDS VISITED IN THE UK 2013/14

1. Benburb – an ailing leviathan of a ground, an unsustainable relic of a bygone era. A crushing loss.

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2. Linfield – its all about the Leitch stand. Destroying one of his masterpieces is tantamount to putting marker pen over a Van Gogh sunflower.

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3. Dunfermline Athletic – despite modernisation a place of history and spirit, and of blood sweat and tears.

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4. Cliftonville – edgy and a rather beguiling melange of old and new.

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5. Ffostrasol – small and most certainly perfectly formed.

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BEST GROUNDS VISITED ABROAD 2013/14

1. Union St.Gilloise - if you ever go to the Stade Marien have a good look around. Between the stained glass windows and the cornucopia of architectural ornamentation you might just find the little piece of my soul that I left there. Beauty beyond all compare.

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2. K.Lyra TSV - sadly doomed but effortlessly easy on the eye.

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3. RC Lens - going to be renovated for Euro 2016 but as it was it atmospheric with some great ultras.

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4. Lech Poznań - an audacious and attractive new build and everybody loves synchronised bouncing right?

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5. Berchem Sport – stunning ground and great fans whats not to like?

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BEST PROGRAMME BOUGHT IN 2013/14

1.Jarrow Roofing (Northern League Div 2, Step 6 – £1.50)

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2. Sutton Athletic (Kent Invicta League, Step 6 – £4 inc.admission)

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3. Hednesford Town (Conference North, Step 2 – £2.50)

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4. Cefn Druids (Cymru Alliance, Step 2 – £2)

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5. Hinckley United (Southern League Premier, Step 5 – £2)

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BEST FOOD IN 2013/14

1. Stovies (Dunfermline Athletic)

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2. Lobscows (Gaerwen FC)

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3. Jam Sponge and Custard (Cilgerran Rangers)

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Going to Tourcoing

Union Sport Tourcoing was formed in May 1898 by the head of the Lycée Gambetta, Albert Fromentin, and Charles Van de Veegaete, an international standard referee who would become Tourcoing’s greatest benefactor. The English professor at the school, Monsieur Beltete advocated the formation of a football team, which came into being in 1902.

Upon the death of Charles Van de Veegaete in 1958 the club elected to change the name of their ground from Stade Albert Fromentin to its current name, the Stade Van de Veegaete. The club have also erected a large bust of their long serving patron at the ground. The club have played at their current ground in Rue de Gand since their early years although the current grandstand is believed to have built in the 1970’s.

The club really hit the ground running and within eight years had won the Championship of France, a tournament run by the Union of French Societies of Athletic Sports. Initially it had been a competition for Parisien clubs but had been extended out to the provinces. Amazingly for a final, they trounced Stade Helvétique de Marseille by seven goals to two, clinching the trophy in fine style at the Parc des Princes. They also reached the semi finals of the competition on three occasions. They also reached the semi-final of the Coupe de France in 1921. Tourcoing vanquished SC Choisy le Roi, Stade Français, AS Française and Racing Union Calais before bowing out to the powerful Olympique Paris 3-2 in extra time at Lille. Tourcoing’s last Coupe de France run of any note came in 1937/38 when they reached the last 32 losing to then Second Division FCO Charleville by a single goal.

Even though Tourcoing remained strictly amateur several of the players were selected for the national team. Eventually the club turned professional in 1933, becoming founder members of Ligue 2. However, their first venture into the paid ranks would last just five years. After World War II the club had a brief alliance with Roubaix, forming CO Roubaix-Tourcoing, before demerging in 1957 to become UST once again. The club spent many seasons in the amateur ranks before merging with a top amateur club AS-Jean Macé Tourcoing in 1990. UST incorporated AS’ yellow colours with their own black and white. Around this time the now named Tourcoing FC became a magnet for youth development and due to some clever mother club stipulations, Tourcoing have financially benefited from transfer fees for their two most famous alumni, Didier Drogba and Yohan Cabaye, who both spent their formative years with Tourcoing. In 2010 the club reverted to the US Tourcoing name and also went back to black and white shirts.

This season has been Tourcoing’s most successful for many years and today’s match is something of a celebration as they have won the top division of the regional Nord Pas de Calais competition with some ease. This allows promotion to the fifth tier CFA2 which, although still amateur, it is a national rather than regional competition. Today is the last game of a highly successful campaign and before the party really gets going the club say a classy farewell to 35 year old centre back Cédric Leman who is named captain for the day. He lasts 40 minutes before he leaves the field to a genuinely respectful ovation. In warm conditions the hosts struggle with the heat and their decision to dye their hair white in celebration of the title win proves foolhardy as the dye ruins their genuinely unusual, and dare I say audaciously designed, pink kit. A goal looks increasingly unlikely with both keepers more than up to the efforts being sent their way in what is a pretty dour encounter. The home side make a change and introduce Adnane Nsangou to the fray. Moments later the lanky striker recently signed from Wasquehal bursts through a labouring Dunkerque defence. He totally miscues his shot which catches the keeper by surprise. Kashala can only parry the mishit shot to his left and Nsangou steers the stray ball into an unguarded net. It’s a sloppy goal that somehow sums up this most typical end of season encounter. The welcoming locals, noisy and enthusiastic throughout, doubtless celebrated their rare success well into the night.

Tourcoing is proudly French and was the scene of an especially fierce battle in 1794 between the French and the defeated British and Austrian troops. Given the town’s proximity to Belgium, which lies less than two miles away, Flemish influence is particularly evident in the bar as all beers available were Belgian.

As for the title of this piece disappointingly Tourcoing is not pronounced Tor-co-ing but in fact it’s Tor-kwang, but given it is so late in the season I am exerting some poetic licence for once.

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Sunday June 1st 2014 – Nord Pas de Calais Ligue Division Honneur

US Tourcoing (0) 1 (Nsangou 68)

USL Dunkerque II (0) 0

Attendance: 357 (at Stade Van de Veegaete)

Tourcoing:

1. Samuel Reschid, 2. Sudney Badohoun, 3. Nicolas Renard, 4. Nadir Touhami, 5. Cédric Leman (c), 6. Oceana Periera, 7. Kevin Alves, 8. Julien Merreillie, 9. Yassine Delbergue, 10. Kevin Gallo, 11. Laurent Petitpierre.

Subs: 12. David Duquesnay (for 5,41 mins), 13. Adnane Nsangou (for 7,66 mins), 14. Serkan Ozsaglam.

Dunkerque II:

1. Tshianke Kashala, 2. Martin Pollet, 3. Gregory Terriere, 4. Hugo Demary, 5. Florian Haelewyck, 6. Sebastien Henaux, 7. Abdelwahab Baalla, 8. Mike Kinsley Guillaume, 9. Joveta Mateus Nhanga, 10. Gabriel Oudjani, 11. Yan Kabon.

Subs: 12. Julien Popieul (for 10,65 mins), 13. Antoine Alvarez (for 7,76 mins), 14. Valentin Venza (for 2,65 mins).

Gallery

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Tourcoing ticket