Stick a fork in I’m done with 2014/15

Here is a review of my itinerant football watching during the 2014/15 campaign.

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Total Matches Attended: 237

New Grounds Visited: 182

Total Goals Scored: 818 (Average of 3.45 goals per game, down on 3.61 last season – nine 0-0 draws this season!)

Biggest Win: Bishop Sutton 0 Brislington 11

Biggest Crowd: 43,683 Rangers v Heart of Midlothian

Games Abroad: 23 (Germany 5, Ireland 4, Croatia 3, Sweden 2, Belgium 2, Morocco 2, Slovenia 1, Italy 1, Luxembourg 1, Netherlands 1, Norway 1)

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BEST GROUNDS VISITED IN THE UK 2014/15

1. Arbroath – Gayfield

Visceral location, football and the elements in constant ebb and flow.

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2. Treharris Athletic Western – Athletic Grounds

History seeping from every nook and cranny. Little changed in 110 years of existence.

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3.Blaenau Ffestiniog Amateurs – Cae Clyd

Breathtakingly scenic and had a real sense of hard work and bloody-mindedness to its ongoing survival.

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4. Billingham Synthonia – Central Avenue

A weather enforced re-visit but a great reminder of how industry and recreation in this country once sat hand and hand with each other.

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5. AFC Emley – Welfare Ground

A cracking old ground, lovely stand and some fantastic covered terracing.

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BEST GROUNDS VISITED ABROAD 2014/15

1. HNK Rijeka – Stadion Kantrida

Numbered days for this scenic wonder, hewn into the side of a quarry and surrounded by the Adriatic Sea.

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2. SC Westfalia Herne – Stadion am Schloss Strünkede

One of the finest and best preserved big grounds left in Europe

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3. 1.FC Saarbrücken – Ludwigparkstadion

Another classic German bowl left untouched for decades. But not for much longer.

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4. Mouloudia Marrakech – Stade El Harti

A fading beauty of colonial construction, had a sense of splendour and moribund abandonment to it. Quite wonderful.

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5. US Triestina – Stadio Nereo Rocco

Built on a vast scale before the club collapsed financially, a cathedral to modernist construction.

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BEST ATMOSPHERE 2014/15

Olympic Club de Safi v Chabab Rif Al Hoceima

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MOST UNUSUAL GROUND VISITED 2014/15

Just has to be FC Sobemai, utterly unique.

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BEST PROGRAMMES BOUGHT IN 2014/15

(Criteria being status, resources, content, effort and value)

1. Barmouth & Dyffryn United

Barmouth

2. Seaham Red Star

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3. Taunton Town

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4. Gateshead

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5. Stamford

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WORST PROGRAMME BOUGHT IN 2014/15

Would rarely denigrate any programme editors efforts as it’s a tough job, but this was an insult to the buying public. Caveat Emptor.

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BEST FOOD IN 2014/15

Llanboidy FC – Steak and dumplings

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The Pioneers (Treharris Athletic Western FC)

Treharris Athletic and their wonderful Athletic Ground home are veritably steeped in history. The football club were formed in 1889 and original played at a ground called Graig Berthlwyd. They were well supported drawing support from the inhabitants of the town that had sprung up around the Deep Navigation Colliery named after its owner, F.W.Harris. It was reported that an 1893 match against Cardiff City drew a “large number of spectators” to Graig Berthlwyd.

Real pioneers of the round ball game, the club were founder members of the South Wales League in 1890 and won the first two championships and truly dominated the football scene in South Wales. Sometime around 1900 Treharris moved to their new ground off Spencer Place which was christened the “Athletic Ground”. Ton Pentre provided the opposition in the opening match.

The Treharris first team competed in both the South Wales League and from 1902/03 the Rhymney Valley League before becoming one of the first clubs to compete outside of Wales. This happened in 1906 when Treharris joined the Western League. They also remained in the Rhymney Valley League which would later become the Welsh League. Crowds at the Athletic Ground would frequently top 2,000 spectators. By 1910 the club had become so strong, winning the Western League title in 1909/10, they joined the Southern League Division 2 with the likes of future Football League clubs Cardiff City, Merthyr Town and Aberdare. In April 1912 Treharris’ David Walter Davies was capped by Wales when he played against Northern Ireland at Ninian Park. Davies would later play for Oldham Athletic and Sheffield United. The club remained in the Southern League until finishing bottom of Division 2 at the end of the 1913/14 season.

Since those heady days the club has been Welsh League stalwarts but have never replicated their sole championship win in 1910/11. The whole town, let alone the club, was hit when the mine was closed in 1991 and since then the club have laboured in the lower reaches of the Welsh League. Relegation from Division Two was suffered following a bottom placed finished in 2011/12. The following season saw a wretched season for Treharris, finishing next to bottom with only Bettws beneath them. Since 2009/10 the club has been known as Treharris Athletic Western.

The Athletic Ground is truly magnificent, probably the only sizable reasonably flat area in the town. All the facilities are on one side of the ground, a small tea bar and changing room building provides a viewing balcony to augment the stunning covered terrace that has peered down over proceedings for over 100 years. Therein lies the dilemma for a club like Treharris, do they hang on to the vestiges of their glorious past or look to the future? The club has decided to move on and rather than hire the historic venue from the local council they have decided to up sticks and head to nearby Trelewis and take up residence at the Parc Taff Bargoed, vacated by the now defunct Trelewis Welfare club. With improvements underway to bring the facilities up to scratch, this historic club can look forward to a new chapter in their incredible history.

Once again this season Treharris have been hovering precariously close to the relegation zone. However, recent form has been excellent and tonight Athletic take on Newport YMCA in what is billed as the penultimate match at the historic Athletic Ground. Treharris mean business tonight with skipper Matthew Sellick opening the scoring after just 80 seconds. Second half goals from Brad Jones, Sellick again, and Aaron Caffell right at the death secures a comfortable win and another vital three points in their great escape bid.

The Athletic Ground is one of those football grounds that make the hair on the back of your neck stand up. What the council will do with the site once Treharris leave is not clear, one can only hope it survives in some form. Whether the Millennium Park project will be ready for next season remains a mute point but to all intents and purpose this is the last hurrah for this ancient and evocative venue.

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Wednesday April 22nd 2015 – Welsh League Division Three

Treharris Athletic Western (1) 4 (Sellick 2, 74, B.Jones 66, Caffell 90)
Newport YMCA (0) 0
Attendance: 57 (at the Athletic Ground)

Treharris:

1. Alex Lewis, 2. Keiron Jones, 3. Alun Thomas, 4. David Mitchell, 5. Thomas Harris, 6. Brad Jones, 7. Aaron Caffell, 8. Peter Corkery, 9. Sam Wills, 10. Bleddyn House, 11. Matthew Sellick ©.

Subs: 12. Rhys Jones, 14. Christian Evans, 15. Ashley Tandy (for 3, 79 mins), 16. Callum Tandy, 17. Rhys Tandy (for 9, 62 mins).

Newport YMCA:

1. Mark Drew, 2. Lee Drew, 3. Lee Morris. 4. Alex Stewart, 5. Nathan Hardwick, 6. Alex Jenkins ©, 7. Jamie Martin, 8. Jason Lewis, 9. Nial Simmonds, 10. Tre Merrett, 11. Craig Ford.

Subs: 12. Ellis Parks, 14. Macauley Corten, 15. Mo Hassan (for 10, 31 mins), 16. Joe O’Brien (for 8, 74 mins).

Yellow Cards: Corkery (Treharris), M.Drew, Jenkins, Martin, Hassan (Newport YMCA).

Gallery

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Bohemian Like You (Vålerenga IF)

Vålerenga Fotball can trace their ancestry back to a club called Fotballpartiet Spark who were formed back in 1898. When that club folded in 1913 a new club called Idrettslaget Spring assumed seniority in the area. A year later, the new club changed its name to Vaalerengens Idrættsforening.

Initially Vålerenga would be contemporaries of other Oslo based clubs like Lyn and Frigg before they gained promotion to the Oslo Championships. Before there was a national league this was a very senior Norwegian competition and Vålerenga would win the title on four occasions before joining the new national league, the Norgesserien for the 1937 season.

After a dismal spell in the 1950’s when relegation was suffered twice the turn of the decade was to provide a golden era for Vålerenga. Cult players like Einar Bruno Larssen, Leif Erikssen and Terje Hellerud bought not only success on the pitch but their off-field antics would gain the club the nickname it is still known by, “The Bohemians”. The club won the first of so far five national titles, now called the Tippeligaen, in 1965 ahead of eternal rivals FK Lyn.

Fortunes waned however and Vålerenga were relegated in 1968 and again, to the third tier, two years later. A revival occurred in the seventies prompted by the arrival of the prolific former Rosenberg striker Odd Iversen, father of future Tottenham forward Stefan Iversen. Odd Iversen’s goals took the club back to the top flight. He would hold the Norwegian Tippeligaen goalscoring record of 158 top flight goals for many years until it was beaten by Pettar Belsvik. Iversen is now fourth in the all time list which is headed by Sigurd Rushfeldt with 172 goals.

In defeating Lillestrøm 4-1 in the 1980 Norwegian Cup Final the Bohemians started another golden period. Under the guidance of Leif Eriksen Vålerenga won three Tippeligaen titles in four years between 1981 and 1984. However, the 90’s proved to be a mirror image of the 50’s and relegation would again be suffered on two occasions.

Nowadays the Bohemians are managed by former 83 cap Norwegian international, Kjetil Rekdal. In his first spell at Vålerenga he coached the side to their fifth, and most recent, Tippeligaen success in 2005. His second spell however has been dogged by the club battling severe financial problems. Last season sixth place was admirable in the light of off-field issues and Rekdal’s signing of Viðar Örn Kjartansson from Fylkir proved to be a masterstroke. The Icelandic international scored 25 goals in just 29 games, but the prolific front man has now been sold to Chinese club Jiangsu Guoxin-Sainty to help balance the books at the club.

After lengthy spells at the Bislett Stadium, Vålerenga have played at the national Ullevaal Stadion since 1999, initially as co-tenants with FK Lyn. However, FK Lyn had a lengthy, and costly, court battle during the 1990’s with the Norwegian FA over their shares of the Ullevaal. When Lyn were relegated in 2009 they decided to play their home games at the run down, but less expensive Bislett Stadium. This has left Vålerenga as sole tenants at the stadium, although Oslo’s other major club, Skeid, considered the Ullevaal tenancy but ultimately decided to stay in their more intimate stadium at Voldsløkka.

FK Lyn had played at the Ullevaal since it opened in September 1926. The Lyn members had considered a number of sites for their new ground but after reaching an agreement with the tram operator, Akersbanerne, land was secured close to the newly built Sognsvann line. The new stadium had a capacity of 35,000 and was officially opened by Crown Prince Olav before a friendly between FK Lyn and Örgryte IS of Gothenburg.

Subsequently the stadium has been renovated no less than six times, most recently as 2013, and is now fully owned by the Norwegian Football Association (Norges Fotballforbund). The current capacity is 28,000 and the NFF have plans to increase this and install a retractable roof and artificial playing surface.

The record attendance at the Ullevaal is 35,495 for a Norway match against Denmark way back in 1935. The highest gate recorded for a Vålerenga game at the Ullevaal is 24,894 for a match against Rosenberg BK in October 2005. The club currently pays the sum of 150,000 NK (around £13,000) per match to play at the national stadium. However, the Bohemians have longed for a stadium of their own in the spiritual homeland of Valle Hovin. After lengthy delays, mainly due to financial issues, to the proposed 22,000 seater stadium, work is supposed to start this year.

Tonight’s game is the first match of the third round of the fledgling Tippeligaen season and sees FK Haugesund making the 400 mile journey east to the capital. The visitors never really get going and its a simple home win for the hosts who benefit from two goals in a minute from their lively Jamaican forward Deshorn Brown. Sadly his double salvo before half-time effectively ends the game as a meaningful contest and the second half is devoid of any real excitement. The home fans are colourful and in good voice but one does wonder if there is any real benefit to playing in a two thirds empty stadium every home game? I will await the developments regarding their new stadium with interest.

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Friday April 17th 2015 – Tippeligaen

Vålerenga IF (2) 2 (Brown 36,37)

FK Haugesund (0) 0

Attendance: 8,007 (at Ullevaal Stadion)

Gallery

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Taking the Low Road

The Lowland League was formed for the 2013/14 season to give senior football at tier five for ambitious clubs in the south of Scotland. Spartans were the inaugural champions and this season the constitution was expanded to fourteen clubs with an end of season play-off against the Highland League champions. The winner of the play-off will then contest a further play-off against the bottom side in the Scottish League Division Two. This finally gives a route to Scottish League football for progressive senior clubs.

East Kilbride 1 Whitehill Welfare 0 (Attendance 491)

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A relatively modern club East Kilbride were formed in May 2010 by the formal merger of Stewartfield and Jackton Boys Club. The club was the vision of two South Lanarkshire men, James Kean and Iain King, who had supported the town’s junior club, East Kilbride Thistle, for many years and had strived to see them turn senior. Having set up a plethora of youth teams for Thistle the two men finally gave up on Thistle and decided to form their own club. Ex Celtic player John Hartson was appointed honorary president and the new club sought to raise set up funds.

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The club applied to the South of Scotland League for the 2013/14 and were elected in May 2013. Less than a month later the new club were drafted into the membership of the  new Lowland League. A successful first season saw East Kilbride win the South of Scotland Challenge Cup, defeating Dalbeattie Star 2-0 at Palmerston Park.

East Kilbride currently play at the K Park training facility, opened in 2011, which has a restricted capacity of 500. The facility is located within the Calderglen Country Park. The plan is to find a location suitable for a new stadium for the new town’s new club. The Junior club, Thistle, continue to play The Showpark in Maxwell Drive.

The small and ultra modern venue is rammed tonight and the low slung stand is standing room only. An evenly contested match sees East Kilbride secure the points with a goal twenty minutes from time.

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Vale of Leithen 0 Preston Athletic 2 (Attendance 312)

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The club from Innerleithen were formed in 1891 initially as Leithen Vale FC. Vale of Leithen joined the SFA in 1897 and have been members ever since save for a brief spell in the Juniors in the 1920’s.

The clubs first ground was at Caddon Park opposite a slaughterhouse. In1922 Vale moved to their present ground at Victoria Park, bringing the wooden pavilion and dressing rooms across town with them. The pavilion gave sterling service at its new home until destroyed by fire in 1974 which sadly saw the club lose its historic records. Victoria Park also originally had two stands, and the one that remains, with a more modern re-clad roof, sits in the middle of some extensive terracing.

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The club’s impressive crest depicts St.Ronan patron saint of Innerleithen and a folkloric figure in the Borders. Vale spent many years in the East of Scotland League being champions on four occasions, most recently in 1986/87.

This morning’s encounter sees Vale hosting Preston Athletic who lie second from bottom in the table with just two wins all season. However, it is the visitors that dominate the game throughout and run out comfortable winners by two goals to nil.

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Selkirk 1 Spartans 1 (Attendance: 281)

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Formed in 1880, Selkirk are the oldest established football club in the Borders region. Despite their long and successful history they are invariably linked with a day in December 1984 when a Scottish Cup tie with Stirling Albion resulted in the biggest margin of victory in a British senior football match in the 20th century. Selkirk were five down at halftime at Annfield before their young keeper, Richard Taylor, conceded another fifteen in the second period. To compound the infamy the whole sorry match was recorded in full by the BBC for a documentary on the Scottish Cup. In truth the club were treading water at the time, they had dropped out of the East of Scotland League temporarily and had to field a makeshift side in the Scottish Cup in order to maintain their qualification for the competition.

Prior to that crushing day Selkirk had enjoyed better times including winning a hat-trick of East of Scotland League titles between 1975 and 1977 and even hosted the French national team in a warm up game for the 1966 World Cup.

In their formative years the Souters had a fairly nomadic existence playing at the Cricket Field, Angle Field, Linglie Field and Raeburn Meadow before acquiring the site that became Ettrick Park, their home between 1906 and 2000. Initially the facilities were poor, the original pavilion was described as windowless and bathing was provided by a bucket of water drawn from the nearby River Ettrick! A proper pavilion was opened in 1937 and the East of Scotland successes of the 1970’s bought further improvements to the venue.

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In February 2000 Selkirk moved to Yarrow Park adjacent to the impressive Philiphaugh, home of Selkirk RFC. For many years the new venue was relatively undeveloped, the turnstiles, stand and terracing are as recently built as 2013.

Today’s game sees the visit of defending champions Spartans to Yarrow Park and a keenly contested encounter sees a share of spoils in a 1-1 draw. Selkirk are very welcoming and seemed to enjoy their afternoon as much as their guests.

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Gala Fairydean Rovers 1 Stirling University 2 (Attendance 323)

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Gala Fairydean Rovers are the result of a 2013 merger between Gala Fairydean (themselves formed in 1894) and Gala Rovers (a 1947 reformation of what was originally Fairydean’s reserve team). It was something of a surprise merger, the senior and amateur clubs were historically at loggerheads with each other. The combined club have now adopted the motto “Unitas est Fortitude” (Unity is Strength). Fairydean were eight times East of Scotland League champions and unsuccessfully applied for Scottish Football League membership on four occasions, two being since the turn of the current century.

Fairydean played at Eastlands Park and Mossilee before moving into the new Netherdale enclosure in 1929. The complex also houses a rugby stadium used by Gala RFC and previously by the professional, but ill fated, Border Reivers side.

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The main stand at Netherdale’s football stadium is a remarkable structure, brutalist concrete abounds and 450 people can watch the match and admire the Eildon Hills from its elevated position. Opened in 1964 the stand was designed by renowned architect Peter Womersley and built by the Anglo-Dane, Sir Ove Arup. The magnificent edifice is now a Historic Scotland Category A listed structure. It was upgraded from B status in December 2013, Historic Scotland citing that the grandstand is “a significant work of late modernist architecture in Scotland”. It was only the second football stand in Scotland, after the Leitch stand at Ibrox, to be designated at architecturally important.

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At one point the grandstand was fitted with seats bought from Newcastle United, but these have subsequently been replaced by wooden benches. Netherdale has had a 3G pitch since 2011 and the club has done well to recover from a club room fire in December 2014 which saw the club lose some valuable memorabilia. Three local teenagers were arrested for wilful fireraising.

The stadium is busy with activity in all corners and as the turnstiles click constantly its great to see some good organisation and everything in place to cater for the descending hoards. Gala fancy their chances against the visiting student team but are ultimately undone with virtually the last kick of the match.

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Dalbeattie Star 2 Edinburgh City 1 (Attendance 400)

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The original Dalbeattie Star were formed in 1905 although some records trace the name back to 1900. Within in two years Star had turned senior and gained membership of the SFA. At the time the club played at Colliston Park and became highly successful, winning the Southern Counties League five times in a row between 1929 and 1934. In January 1934 Celtic visited Colliston Park for a Scottish Cup tie and 2,376 watch Star beaten by six goals to nil. After five title wins unbelievably the club folded for a season in 1934/5 as Colliston Park was unavailable. They returned the next season using Maidenholm Park where another Scottish Cup tie, against St.Mirren, saw an all time record home gate set of 3,160 spectators. Star lost by a goal to nil. They subsequently returned to Colliston Park and it was in 1948 after being subjected to a surprise SFA inspection the club found themselves ejected from the league when “no goalposts were found in place”. With no league to play in and mounting debts, Dalbeattie Star folded, seemingly for good.

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Fast forward to 1976 and a group of enthusiasts decided to revive the club and they quickly secured a tenancy at the Islecroft Stadium. The Stadium is  part of Colliston Park, the former home of the club, and had been opened in 1950. Fortunately the majestic wooden grandstand of Colliston Park had been re-erected at the new site, and although no records exist it is thought the stand dates from the 1930’s. The reformed club won the South of Scotland League and the Challenge Cup on five occasions before joining the Lowland League.

Islecroft Stadium has a capacity of 3,500 with the magnificent grandstand being able to seat 300 spectators. Dalbeattie Star secured a 99 year lease on Islecroft in 2008, and the venue remains one of the true gems of borders football.

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In today’s game the hosts are really up for a contest in front of a big crowd and after forming a guard of honour for the newly crowned champions the hosts promptly scored two minutes into the game. City did equalise on the stroke of half time but a penalty thirteen minutes from time inflicted the Champions first League defeat of the campaign.

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Threave Rovers 2 Edinburgh University 3 (Attendance 462)

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Threave Rovers play in the town of Castle Douglas not the small Ayrshire burgh of Threave near Maybole. The area around Castle Douglas has Threave House and Threave Castle (built in the 14th century by Archibald the Grim!) but the choice of club name was decided when the club was formed in 1953 during a meeting convened in the Threave tearooms in Castle Douglas.

The club joined the South of Scotland League in 1959 and remained there until a decision was taken to join the tougher East of Scotland League in 1998. The stint was short-lived as traveling costs proved challenging and Threave soon returned to the South of Scotland League. Prior to their admission to the Lowland League Threave had won twelve South of Scotland championships including two title hat-tricks between 1992 and 1995 and then again between 2008 and 2011.

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The club play at Meadow Park which has a licensed capacity of 1,763 with seating for 100 spectators. The ground looked majestic and everything is superbly organised for the big day, a real feel-good vibe enveloped the arena. Today’s game sees the hosts pitted against a young looking Edinburgh University team in what has been a tough season for Threave. What transpired was arguably the game of the weekend which was won by the students by the odd goal in five.March 2015 211

It was a fitting end to a great weekend of Lowland League football, a credit to this new League and all involved. As people streamed out of Meadow Park for lengthy journeys home, one burning question remained however… why has it taken so long to set up a hop in this historic and beautiful land?

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The Small Pitch (Heracles Almelo)

The formation of Heracles Almelo dates to 1902 when a club called Hollandia came into being. The club rented Kortenvoort’s Meadow on the condition that the owner’s son would be picked for the team! At the turn of the century Almelo already had a professional football team called Oranje Nassau, a club with exclusive membership to the bourgeois classes. They played on a ground in Wierdensche Straatweg and it was on this ground that Hollandia played their first ever match. The result against the professional team was unsurprisingly 23-0! It also transpired the dimensions of Kortenvoort’s Meadow was almost half the size of Oranje’s full size pitch. This was soon extended and because of it’s location on a hiking trail began to attract sizeable crowds. In May 1903 a meeting was staged at the Hotel Schreuder between the committees of Hollandia and another team, Inartie. The result was a merger and the birth of Heracles FC.

Heracles moved to a ground called Bonthuis for the 1909-10 season and soon became Almelo’s premier team. Heracles even beat old foes Oranje Nassau 13-0 in that first season at Bonthuis. In 1910 the club adopted the present black and white striped shirts having previously sported black and green shirts. In 1913 the club were on the move again this time to Bornsestraat and the venue that was to become their home for the next 85 years.

In July 1974 a decision was taken to separate the professional and amateur teams of the club in order to protect the finances of both entities and the professional wing was renamed SC Heracles ’74. The present name was adopted in 1998. The club has enjoyed sporadic periods of success including being crowed Dutch National Champions in 1927 and 1941, the competition has been known as the Eredivisie since the advent of professionalism in 1955. Having won the second tier Eerste Divisie in 2004/05, this modest club from eastern Netherlands have commendably spent ten straight seasons in the top flight. Their best performance in their current spell in the top flight has been a sixth place finish in 2009-10. Another memorable season came in 2011-12 when Heracles enjoyed a run to the KNVB Cup Final defeating VV Berkum, De Graafschap, RKC Waalwijk and AZ Alkmaar before succumbing to PSV Eindhoven by three goals to nil in the final in Rotterdam.

Interestingly Heracles have a long history of employing English managers and to date seven Englishmen have led the team. Horace Colclough spent twelve years at Almelo between 1920 and 1932 and he was succeeded by Robert Roxburgh (1932-35). Then came Leslie Lievesley who coached Heracles in the 1946-47 season before joining Torino. Lievesley was subsequently killed in the fateful Superga air crash. Then came Michael Keeping who had been a coach at Real Madrid but was managing Poole Town when Heracles acquired his services for the 1960-61 campaign. Keith Spurgeon coached the club in 1963-64 and subsequently coached in the USA, Libya, Sweden and Cyprus. Les Talbot coached in the Netherlands between 1949 and 1972 and was at the helm of Heracles for the 1966-67 season before joining AZ Alkmaar. The final English coach of Heracles was Ron Dellow who similarly to Talbot spent 25 years in the Netherlands, three of which were at Heracles between 1972 and 1975, Dellow died in Almelo at the grand age of 99.

In June 1999 the club moved to the new Polman Stadion on the outskirts of the town. The old ground in Bornsestraat was largely demolished but thankfully the 1924 wooden grandstand, affectionately known as the “English Stand” was preserved and became part of the facility used by the amateur wing of the Heracles club, AVC Heracles. On July 14th 2011 the magnificent old stand was declared a national monument and as such cannot be demolished. Initially the new stadium had a modest capacity of 6,500 but due to promotion to the top flight at the end of the 2004/05 season this was increased by 2,000. It remains one of the smallest stadiums in the Eredivisie and the club are actively looking at plans to increase the capacity to 12,500.

Tonight’s game sees Heracles once again perilously close to the relegation places with only NAC Breda and Dordrecht below them in the table. Visitors FC Utrecht are twelfth and only seven points ahead of their hosts. A win could prove vital for Heracles in their survival bid. The game starts to a fantastic ticker tape display and some pyro from the small centre section of terracing behind the goal. The first half is low in quality with endless passing between the two teams seeming frightened to make a mistake. The game change with the introduction of  the Swede Denni Advić. Within three minutes of his arrival he had scored and Heracles were in front much to the delight of the home crowd. However, this prompted Utrecht out of their shell and shortly after their French striker Sébastien Haller levelled the scores which in truth was a fair result with neither side doing enough to merit the victory.

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Saturday February 21st 2015 – Eredivisie

Heracles Almelo (0) 1 (Advić 76)

FC Utrecht (0) 1 (Haller 80)

Attendance: 8,197 (at Polman Stadion)

Gallery

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Heracles ticket

Fallen Kings of the Castle (SC Westfalia Herne)

Sportclub Westfalia 04 e.V. Herne was formed in June 1904 by local factory worker Willi Stens who had been playing for the BV Steele club. He was elected as president and looked to friends from the area around the well to do neighbourhood of Schloss Strünkede to become the first team. The original Strünkede Castle was built in 1243 by the Lords of Strünkede who had been nobility since 1142. The current castle was completed in 1664 and provides a serene and stately backdrop to the huge open terrace opposite the grandstand. Westfalia Herne originally chose red and white stripes as their kit although this would be replaced by today’s strip of blue and white stripes in 1914. The industrial city of Herne soon became well served with competitive teams with Germania Herne being formed in 1909 and SV Sodingen some three years after that. This led to a number of well attended local derbies in the first few decades of the twentieth century. However disaster struck in 1923 with much of the Ruhr still being occupied buy the French, Westfalia Herne were officially dissolved. However, unknown to the occupying authorities the club carried on playing and in 1925 merged with Fortuna Herne and began “officially” competing again. The merger made the club very powerful and two straight promotions in 1929 and 1930 saw Herne rise to the top flight.

In 1933 the club were placed in the Gauliga Westfalia as German football fell under the administration of the Third Reich. It soon became apparent that the meadow rented by Willi Stens had served its purpose and Westfalia Herne needed a home more suitable to their burgeoning support and status. The club opened their new stadium next to the Schloss Strünkede in 1934. Built on an audacious scale boasting a 40,000 capacity the new ground would welcome the likes of Schalke 04, Borussia Dortmund and VfB Bochum on a regular basis. The Second World War became problematic for Westfalia Herne as the British commander in the Ruhr locked the club out of the stadium. Club President Hermann Kracht held conservative views and after negotiations with the military a friendly between Westfalia Herne and the British troops saw the club allowed back into the stadium for good.

The 1940’s and 1950’s were a golden era for football in Herne with both Westfalia and SV Sodingen competing in the top flight for many seasons, unheard of outside of the major metropolises like Berlin, Munich and Hamburg. To celebrate their fiftieth anniversary in 1954 Westfalia Herne opened the newly built grandstand increasing the seated capacity at the Schloss Strünkede. In 1958 three Westfalia Herne players, Hans Tilkowski, Helmut Benthaus and Alfred Pyka played together in the same German national team. A year later under the guidance of Fritz Langner, Westfalia Herne became champions of the top flight Oberliga West. In May 1960 a crucial match against Hamburger SV saw an all time record 35,000 pack into the Herne stadium. Westfalia were runners up in the league the following season and despite consistent league performances the club missed out on election to the new Bundesliga in 1963.

The advent of the new national league really spelt the end of the glory years for Herne football, Westfalia were relegated to the third tier and SV Sodingen slumped even further and currently play in the seventh tier Landesliga. The 1970’s saw the club sponsored by the petroleum company Goldin, the stadium was renovated and Westfalia competed in the 2.Bundesliga-Nord. Four great years followed with well known players like Lutz Gerresheim, Jochen Abel or Sören Busk played for Herne. A famous 2-1 win over Borussia Dortmund was witnessed by 27,000 at the Schloss Strünkede.  However disaster struck the club once again when the sponsor went bust and Herne pulled out of the league after just one game of the 1979/80 campaign. The club handed their professional licence back to the DFB and regrouped in the Amateur Westfalen Oberliga.

Also in 1980 the club played a central part of the film “Theo Gegen den Rest Der Welt” where the lead character has a ticket for the (fictitious) DFB Pokal match between SC Westfalia Herne against Schalke 04 but has to miss the big game when his truck is stolen.

This season has been a real struggle for this once mighty club. Competing in the fifth tier Oberliga Westfalia Herne have won just one of their fifteen league games and sit rock bottom of the table with just six points. Today’s visitors VfB Hüls are thirteenth in the 18 team division and Herne’s hopes of victory take a dramatic early blow. In just the third minute defender Yusuf Kilic handled a goal bound shot and despite him protesting his innocence he was shown a red card and Marko Onucka clinically despatched the penalty kick. Hüls doubled their lead before the break and despite Herne pulling one back after the restart with a penalty of their own in truth Herne were second best from start to finish. Today the magnificent Stadion am Schloss Strünkede echoed eerily with a crowd of around 400 (officially stated as 250) and the sixth tier trapdoor is well and truly open for this great club.

Despite their on field woes Herne still have their truly incredible ground, for me it’s a set of floodlights away from being the best ground I have ever visited. Just go there, they really do need the support.

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Sunday February 22nd 2015 – Oberliga Westfalen

Westfalia Herne (0) 1 (Mützel pen 49)

VfB Hüls (2) 2 (Onucka pen 4, Schröter  37)

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In the Eagles’ Nest (SC Preußen Münster)

Sportsclub Preußen 1906 e.V. Münster started life in 1906 as FC Preußen, adopting the current name in 1921. The sports club which also fields teams in handball, tennis, athletics and fistball and was initially born in the Johann-Conrad-Schlaun Grammar School. The club moved into the Preußenstadion in June 1926 and their new home initially boasted a capacity of 45,000. The record gate at the stadium however is put at 40,000 for a 1975/76 2.Bundesliga match against Borussia Dortmund which Münster won 4-1. Nowadays, with modernisation to the main stand and limits placed on the terracing, the Preußenstadion now has a listed capacity of 15,050 of which 2,931 are seated accommodation. There were plans in recent years for a new stadium, dubbed the Preußen Park Arena, but instead the club has begun modernising the existing venue, new seats in the grandstand and roofs for the two terraces opposite.

In 1933 when the Third Reich reorganised German regional football Preußen were placed in the Gauliga Westfalen but then suffered a period in the doldrums. The immediate post World War II proved to be a golden era for the club with the team returning to the top flight Oberliga West for 1948/49. The team boasted a front line known as the “Hundred-Thousand Mark Line” and featured the attacking quintet of Siegfried Rachuba, Adolf Preissler, Rudolf Schulz, Felix Gerritzen and Josef Lammers. Gerritzen in particular was an idol of the Preußen fans and the curva where today’s ultras groups, the Deviants, gather is named in his honour. Gerritzen also played for VfB Oldenburg and Saxonia Münster and won four caps for the Nationalmannschaft. The team reached its peak in 1951 when Preußen reached the national championship final but lost 2-1 to Kaiserslautern in front of 107,000 people in the Berlin Olympiastadion.

Their steady performances in the highly ranked Oberliga West saw them elected to the newly created Bundesliga in 1963. However, despite spending big, the club were relegated at the end of the new competitions inaugural season and as yet they have never returned to the top flight. In truth the Bundesliga season led Preußen into two decades of financial trouble, tax fraud issues and a steady decline into the amateur Oberliga Westfalen III by 1981. Apart from two seasons in the 2.Bundesliga in the early 1990’s the club have mainly competed at the third tier. After relegation to the Oberliga Westfalen in 2006 the club again spent big to try and regain third tier status but the plan failed. The following season youngsters replaced the highly paid veterans and Preußen stormed to the Oberliga title.

This season has so far proven to be Preußen’s most successful in some time, the club going into today’s game sitting in second place, four points behind one of their biggest rivals, Arminia Bielefeld. Today’s visitors, Holstein Kiel, are also in contention for promotion five points behind Preußen in sixth place. The form table initially went to plan when Preußen’s Turkish striker Mehmet Kara sent the ultras into frenzy with the opening goal in the 35th minute. However, Kiel had not read the script and a two goal salvo just before the break proved decisive. A second goal for Kiel’s Rafael Kiazor midway through the second half was the coup-de-grace and the green and black clad home fans soon headed for an early exit. Until the third goal went in the support of the ultras in the Gerritzen end was superb. Noisy, colourful and relentless they certainly made my trip to the excellent Preußenstadion a visit to remember.

munster

Saturday February 21st 2015 (14.00pm) – 3.Liga

SC Preußen Münster (1) 1 (Kara 35)

Kieler SV Holstein (2) 3 (Lindner 39, Kazior 42,69)

Att: 8,672 (at Preußenstadion)

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Munster ticket