Setting Sons (Dumbarton)

Dumbarton were formed in 1872 making them the fourth oldest club in Scotland behind Queen’s Park, Kilmarnock and Stranraer. The club won the first two Scottish League championships, although the inaugural season the title was shared with Rangers after a deciding play-off was drawn 2-2 at Cathkin Park. Had the title been decided on goal difference, Dumbarton would have been outright champions.

The final table from that first season makes interesting reading with long lost clubs like 3rd Lanarkshire Rifle Volunteers, Cambuslang, Cowlairs and Abercorn competing alongside contemporaries such as Celtic, St. Mirren and Hearts. Renton were expelled from the league and their record expunged for paying their players.

Dumbarton played at Meadow Park (1872-75), Broomfauld Park (1875-76), Lowmans Park (1876-77) and Townend (1877-79) before moving to Boghead Park for the 1879/80 season. Boghead would become their base for the next 121 years making it, at the time, Scotland’s oldest ground in continuous use for football.

In 1913 the pitch was re-orientated by ninety degrees and the club built a tiny stand with 80 seats which became known as the Postage Box. The club also experimented with greyhound racing in an attempt to make ends meet. The Clydebank Greyhound Racing Syndicate began running races at Boghead from October 1932. By the early 1940’s the racing had stopped but the small Bookmakers Stand remained next to the main stand as additional covered accommodation.

1957 was a big year for Boghead, firstly floodlights were erected, inaugurated in a game against Celtic, and then the club acquired the station canopy from Turnberry railway station. The South Ayrshire station had once served the famous golf course as part of the Maidens and Dunure Light Railway but this had closed in March 1942. The canopy was erected on the large previously open terrace at the Overwood Drive end. The all time record attendance at Boghead was also set in 1957 when 18,001 watched the Scottish Cup tie with Raith Rovers.

In 1979 the old Postage Box stand was replaced with a larger modern stand, although the new edifice still only had 303 seats. In 1980, then Sons’ manager, Sean Fallon, nearly convinced the legendary Johan Cruyff to join Dumbarton after an unhappy spell with Los Angeles Aztecs. However, the Dutchman who was 33 at the time, admitted that he almost signed but was put off by the bleak weather!

In the mid 1980’s the ground had suffered fire damage and the board of directors decided against repairing it. Their collective view was that the club would be better off looking for a new home, or redeveloping the existing stadium in it’s entirety to a 9,000 all seated venue. Their plans for the latter floundered and by the 1990’s the ground had become very run down, even given the additional income from Clydebank moving in between 1996 and 1999 having vacated New Kilbowie Park.

The last thing of note to happen at the old Boghead ground was assuming the role of the home ground for the fictional club Kilnockie FC for the film “A Shot at Glory” starring Robert Duvall and Ally McCoist. The plot of the film was Kilnockie’s epic run to the Scottish Cup Final.

Boghead further transferred to popular culture when the Glaswegian band The Supernaturals immortalised the old stadium with their song, “High Tension At Boghead”.

Boghead Park was demolished in December 2000 and made way for an extension to Miller Street. By this time Dumbarton had moved to a new stadium at the foot of the iconic Dumbarton Rock, a volcanic basalt plug with a history dating back to the Iron Age. The 18th century Georgian castle affords fantastic views not only of Dumbarton Stadium but also the Kilpatrick hills, the River Clyde, Loch Lomond and on to Argyll. The club’s unusual nickname derives from “Sons of The Rock”, the eponymic reference to someone from Dumbarton.

The Dumbarton Stadium was built on the derelict site of the William Denny and Brothers Shipyard which had closed in 1963. It has just one stand containing 2,020 seats, making it one of the smallest stadiums in the Scottish Professional League. The surrounding area around the stadium is being engulfed with new housing and the scope for extending the stadium is extremely limited. The club have looked into relocating to a new 4,000 capacity stadium at Young’s Farm on the west side of town but initial plans were rejected by the council. The record attendance at Dumbarton Stadium remains at 1,978 for the visit of Rangers when both clubs were in the Championship in 2015.

This afternoon’s game against league leaders Raith Rovers is a dour affair in freezing conditions and pouring rain. A couple of amusing stand offs between some boisterous visiting fans and the youthfully exuberant “Young Sons” actually provide some welcome distraction. A goalless draw looks almost inevitable until the Sons’ captain Stuart Carswell dramatically scored with virtually the last kick of the match.

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Saturday February 29th 2020 – Scottish League Division 1

Dumbarton 1 (Carswell 90+3)

Raith Rovers 0

Attendance: 804

Entry £16, programme £2.50

Gallery

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Stayen (St.Truiden VV)

Sint-Truidense Voetbalvereniging were formed in 1924 from a merger between Union Sint-Truiden and FC Goldstar. Upon acceptance to the Royal Belgian FA they were assigned matricule number 373.

After humble beginnings, their first game against Cercle Tongeren attracted just nine spectators and realising gate receipts of 13.50 Belgian francs, STVV made steady progress becoming one of the strongest teams in the province of Limburg. They moved into the first incarnation of Stayen in 1927 but this version of their current ground was completely destroyed during bombing raids in 1944.

The club’s star player in the inter war years was Léopold “Pol” Appeltants who scored goals at a prodigious rate. Appeltants, at the age of just 16, scored 50 of STVV’s 93 goals in the 1938/39 season. St Truiden were elevated to the national second division for the first time in 1948 and Appeltants became the first St Truiden player to be capped by Belgium. He was the second divisions leading scorer in 1949/50 with 23 goals. In 20 years with St Truiden Appeltants played over 500 games for the Canaries.

After years of gradual progress, the club finally reached the top division of Belgian football for the 1958/59 season and managed to stay in the division finishing just ahead of relegated Tournai and Tilleur. The arrival of then unheralded young coach Raymond Goethals in 1959 sparked a purple patch in the clubs history culminating in 1965/66 when the Canaries finished runners up to Anderlecht to achieve their highest ever league placing. The stadium became known as “Hel van Stayen” (Hell of Stayen) as opposing teams could rarely win there.

In more recent years St.Truiden have won the Second Division in 1987, 1994, 2009 and 2015, an indication of their yo-yo existence between the top two tiers. Up until 2017 the club was owned by controversial businessman Roland Duchâtelet, who also owned Charlton Athletic until recently, and still owns Carl Zeiss Jena and Újpesti Dózsa. He sold St.Truiden to Japanese e-commerce company DMM, so home games are now attended by several hundred Japanese supporters.

Stayen was completely renovated in 2011 and now holds 14,600 spectators. It boasts a 77 room hotel, 20 of which overlook the pitch. Tonight’s game against AS Eupen would normally have cost a minimum of €20 but by sheer good luck as we queued for tickets we were offered the use for free of two VIP season tickets which, as well as padded seats, also included free food after the game! Standard VIP entry to the game was €80!

The game was one of breathless entertainment, the away side took the lead before a quite brilliant hat-trick from Ghanaian midfielder Samuel Asamoah. The spoilsport referee was less impressed, however, and when the celebrations for his third goal died down the petty official was waiting with a second yellow card as Asamoah had pulled his shirt up behind his head to reveal a message on his t-shirt underneath.

STVV

Saturday February 8th 2020 – Jupiler Pro League

Sint-Truidense V.V. 5 (Konate 13, Asamoah 42,45,63, Durkin 90)
KAS Eupen 2 (Prevljak 29, Cools 40)

Att: 4,194 (at Stayen)

Gallery

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Down The Lane (Oud-Heverlee Leuven)

Oud-Heverlee Leuven were formed in 2002 after a merger of three existing Leuven clubs into a city wide club that has so far spent four seasons in the top division of Belgian football, most recently in 2015/16.

Of the three merged clubs the most senior was Stade Leuven, one of Belgium’s oldest teams, having been formed in 1903 and boasting the low RBFA matricule number of 18. Stade spent once season in the top flight, 1950/51, but spent most of its history in the second and third division. They were in the third division at the time of the merger.

The second of the triumvirate of clubs was Daring Club Leuven who began life in 1922 and were assigned matricule 223. Daring’s heyday was in the 1950’s when they competed in the third division alongside Stade Leuven. Daring even joined Stade in the second tier for one season in 1951/52 following Stade’s relegation from the top level. Daring could only last that single season before relegation. At the time of the merger they were in the fifth level provincial leagues. Daring played at an athletics stadium, the Boudewijnstadion in Kessel-Lo, where their athletics wing still compete under the Daring Club banner. It’s now called the Arena Gaston Roelants after the legendary steeplechaser and marathon runner.

The youngest of the trio were Zwarte Duivels Oud-Heverlee who played at the still existent Gemeentelijk Sportstadion. At the time of the merger the Black Devils were the club in the ascendancy having been promoted to the third tier for the first time in 2000 after many seasons in the provincial leagues. Formed in 1957, the Black Devils has the matricule of 6142. Under the Belgian FA rules (sometimes loosely applied) in a case of a merger the more recent matricule is kept for the newly merged club, so 6142 was assigned to OH Leuven. However, in July 2018 the club successfully lobbied the Belgian FA to restore the coveted matricule of 18. The merged club created its distinctive crest from the colours of all three clubs, green (Stade), red (Daring Club) and black (Zwarte Duivels).

The newly merged Oud-Heverlee Leuven transformed Stade Leuven’s old Den Dreef (literally “The Lane”) into a 10,000 capacity stadium. The city of Leuven said they will build the club a new stadium if they could survive five seasons in the top flight. They didn’t survive, so the club play on at Den Dreef for the time being. Stade Leuven had played at the original Den Dreef since 1905 and interestingly some of the curved end terracing remains behind the current stands and serves as seating areas for fans in the beer, food and fan zones.

Following relegation the club were struggling financially in the 2016/17 season, not helped by a third party ownership wrangle involving then chairman Jimmy Houtput. The club were saved when, later that season, the King Power group, who also own Leicester City, purchased the club.

The ticket booths for the three home stands at Den Dreef are located on Kardinaal Mercierlaan whereas the visiting supporters access their stand from the main road called Tervuursevest. Entry to the stand behind the goal, where the livelier home support gathers, was 15 Euros. Free teamsheets were available from the supporters bar and every home seat had a nicely printed card with a player profile on it which could be folded into one of those dreadfully annoying clackers. Food and drink are purchased via a top up card available from a central point in each stand. Similar to many bigger Belgian clubs OH Leuven do not permit any type of bag into the stadium no matter how small, and security checks are quite strict. Today’s game sees around 50 Leicester City supporters taking advantage of a break in the Premier League to visit their “sister” club.

The match sees the league leaders hosting fourth place Lommel SK. OHL dominate the first half and deservedly take a two goal lead into the break. The second half was poor by comparison, Lommel offering scant resistance, OHL wrapped up the points with an injury time goal from a substitute. The official attendance was recorded as 8,603 but in reality there was around 3,500 people present, the stadium being around a third full.

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Saturday February 8th 2020 – Belgium Proximus League

Oud-Heverlee Leuven 3 (Van den Bergh 29, Tshimanga 40, Perbet 90)

Lommel SK 0

Att: 8,603 (at Den Dreef)

Entry: €15, no programme

Gallery

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Leuven teamsheet

Leuven

Israeli Gears

Israel really needs no introduction, a wonderful melting point with a history almost as ancient as time itself.

It’s modern skyscraper beach side city of Tel Aviv is as cosmopolitan and bustling as any major city you could care to name and features some truly outstanding Bauhaus architecture. The high rise modernity of Tel Aviv gives way almost imperceptibly to the ancient port town of Jaffa which can boast a history dating back to 1,800 BC.

Jaffa is just stunning, beautiful old buildings and stunning vistas there is a photo opportunity around every corner. The scenery is delightfully complimented with a relaxed chilled out vibe.

The first game of the weekend is at nearby Petach Tivka, their HaMoshava Stadium is not only home to the two local second division (Liga Leumit) sides, Maccabi and Hapoel, it is also hosting the games of Ligat ha’Al (Israeli Premier League) sides Hapoel Kfar Saba, Hapoel Ra’anana and Sektzia Nes Tziona. This is because these three clubs’ traditional home grounds of the Levita Stadium, Karnei Oren Memorial Field and Ness Ziona Stadium respectively, are deemed to be inadequate for top level matches. Convenient ground sharing is a way of life in Israeli football. The ha’Al league currently has 14 clubs sharing just eight stadiums between them.

HaMoshava is a two sided stadium holding 11,500 people and is a carbon copy of the stadium in Netanya, north of Tel Aviv. There is plenty of parking space, although a total absence of stewarding means it’s a real log jam to leave after the game. Tickets are available at a dedicated ticket office at one end of the stadium. For this afternoons game a ticket costs 50 shekels (£11).

It is Hapoel Kfar Saba that are the host club and their are entertaining one of Israel’s traditional football powerhouses, 13 time champions, Hapoel Tel Aviv. The visiting fans are out in force, so much so that they overfill one side of the ground so there are people standing in gangways and on stairs. Eventually they allow Hapoel Tel Aviv fans into one sector of the stand housing the home support. The away support is noisy and passionate and easily drown out the attempts of the home side’s support to make themselves heard.

It’s a hugely entertaining game with a surprisingly good pace to it. The referee has his work cut out with two Tel Aviv goals ruled out by VAR, a plethora of yellow cards, and Kfar Saba being reduced to nine men in quick succession during the first half. The first player was shown a straight red for a horrendously late tackle and moments later another player joined him in the dressing room for two yellows in the same incident, one for the foul and a second for dissent.

Given the league table the hosts took a surprise early lead but were soon pegged back by the visitors. Tel Aviv enjoyed almost total domination especially with their numerical advantage. They squandered a hatful of chances before a bleached haired substitute finally got them a decisive lead. There was still time for Tel Aviv to have the “excitement” of another goal ruled by VAR out before the referee called an end to proceedings.

kfar

Saturday January 25th 2020 (3pm) – Israeli Ligat ha’Al

Hapoel Kfer Saba 1 (Reichert 8)
Hapoel Tel Aviv 2 (Barshazki 16, Buzaglo 61)

Att: c.7,000 (at HaMoshava Stadium, Petach Tivka)

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There seemed to be plenty of time to drive back to Tel Aviv in time for the 19.50pm kick off between the legendary Maccabi Tel Aviv and Ashdod. In reality, with parking not allowed near the stadium, a lot of time was spent trying to find somewhere to park which wouldn’t get you fined, clamped or towed away! Finally parked up in a side street it was time to locate the ticket booth and the newly rebuilt Bloomfield Stadium. The ticket office is by Gate 10 and there is a range of tickets priced from 70 to 110 shekels.

The rebuild has resulted in a much improved facility, although with only the central sections of both sides being under cover, its not a particularly great design for wet weather. That said it’s and eye-catching edifice and the two shallower ends afford nice city views from the more elevated sides. Bloomfield is shared not only between eternal rivals, Maccabi and Hapoel, a third top level club, Bnei Yehuda, also play their home games here.

Tonight it’s the reigning and 22 time champions of Israel, Maccabi Tel Aviv that are at home and the league leaders are facing mid table FC Ashdod. For those wondering why so many Israeli clubs are prefixed with Maccabi and Hapoel, Hapoel tends to be used by clubs of the “workers” aligned to the Histadrut Labor Federation, while Maccabi clubs traditionally draw support from various Zionist sports clubs. The Maccabees was originally a Jewish liberation movement, and Maccabi Sports Clubs were originally formed for Jews who had been banned from joining other sports clubs.

It’s a much poorer game than this afternoon’s effort, with Ashdod offering very little in the way of attacking prowess. Maccabi lead at half time and the only real surprise is that it takes them until the 78th minute to register a second goal. It comes by way of a blatant penalty when Ashdod’s goalkeeper took out an attacker and then feigned a serious leg injury to try and delay the taking of the spot kick.

Maccabi’s support only half fills the Bloomfield Stadium tonight and their ultras gather at one end. Some of the younger element go bare chested down the front of the stand in scenes reminiscent of a mosh pit at a thrash metal concert, there was even crowd surfing at one point!

MTA

Saturday January 25th 2020 (7.50pm) – Israeli Ligat ha’Al

Maccabi Tel Aviv 2 (Atzili 34, Cohen pen 78)
Ashdod 0

Att: c.15,000 (at Bloomfield Stadium)

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Many football fans will either have seen or at least know about Maya Zinshtein’s incendiary 2017 documentary “Forever Pure” about Beitar Jerusalem’s fans reaction to signing two muslim players from Chechnya in 2013. Beitar had already courted controversy being the only Israeli top flight club to have never signed an Arab player. “Death to all Arabs” would be sung from the stands and it was well know the club had an unofficial allegiance to the Zionist movement and the right wing political party Likud, led by Benjamin Netanyahu, a high profile Beitar supporter.

The film took its name from a banner displayed by Beitar’s ultras group “La Familia” in protest of the club signing Chechan players Zaur Sadayev and Dzhabrail Kadiyev from Terek Grozny. Despite having previously fielded Tajik, Albanian and African muslims the Chechens were subjected to concerted and abhorrent campaign of racism which saw them hounded out of the club. The film projects “La Familia” as “the most racist fans in the world”. It is harrowing viewing.

The club has been repeatedly punished for the behaviour of its fans and as recently as June 2019 La Familia issued a statement that a christian player from Niger, Ali Mohammed Al Faz should be made to change his name as “it sounds too Arab”. However, after a period of zero tolerance, Beitar announced that there had been no reported racist acts from the stands in the whole of 2019. Beitar had been formed in 1936 and was very much been regarded as a terrorist organisation in its formative years.

With all this in mind it was something of an ethical dilemma to attend Beitar’s game with rock bottom of the table Sektzia Nes Tziona in favour of a game at Maccabi Netanya. I was too intrigued with finding out whether the film had been overblown sensationalism or whether the club had genuinely fixed what was a dreadful problem for them. Although I don’t know any Hebrew, I am pleased to say I did not witness any racist chanting or any form of unnerving behaviour. What I did witness was unrelenting, passionate and noisy support for their team which was duly rewarded with a single goal victory in a pretty drab encounter.

Beitar’s Teddy Stadium is a bit of a cracker although it is still undergoing extensive renovations. It is named after Teddy Kollek, mayor of Jerusalem during its construction. Opened in 1991 it holds just shy of 32,000 people and tickets ranged between 50 and 60 shekels, the latter being in the covered upper tier. Previously the city only had one sports stadium, the YMCA Stadium, which was Beitar’s home before the move to Malha. The YMCA Stadium made way for a housing development in 2006.

The north stand has visually stunning multi coloured seats and the recent refurbishment has seen the south stand roofed for the first time to bring it in line with the rest of the arena. It is a stunning piece of architecture. As with Bloomfield, parking around the stadium is very limited.

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Sunday January 25th 2020 – Israeli Ligat ha’Al

Beitar Jerusalem 1 (Kriaf 6)
Sektzia Nes Tziona 0

Att: c.8,000 (at Teddy Stadium)

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I had hoped to take in a match in the Palestinian West Bank League and the game at the Faisal Al-Husseini International Stadium between Jabal Al Mukaber and Shabab Al Am’ari on the Saturday at 12pm seemed to fit the bill as it would allow time to get back to Tel Aviv for the Maccabi game. However, it proved problematic when the hire car company said that their cars are fitted with trackers and taking vehicles into the occupied territories is not permitted. I then found an option to get a Line 59 bus operated by Eggd from the Bar Ilan/Rabenu Gershom station in Jerusalem to Neve Ya’akov Boulevard. This would leave a ten minute walk to the stadium. At £3 each way and buses scheduled every fifteen minutes I thought I cracked it. However, the game of course was taking place slap bang in the middle of the sabbath and everything stops in Jerusalem. There would be no buses running until well after the match had finished. It would appear the only way of doing a game in the West Bank League during the sabbath is to risk uninsured driving and a potential penalty from the hire car company or pre-book an Arab driver to meet you at the border. I opted to invoke plan B and take in the game at Petach Tivka instead.

Israel is a fine country, steeped in history and offering so much to a visitor. Winter sun, great food and football, really what more would you want?

kfar ticket

mta ticket

Beitar ticket

If I Should Fall From Grace With God (Brechin City)

Brechin City must rank as one of Scottish Professional Football League’s more remote outposts. This small town in the sparsely populated region of Angus lies forty miles south of Aberdeen and nearly thirty miles north of Dundee. Despite it’s modest size, Brechin is an ancient cathedral city and is also one end of the famous Caledonian Railway, Montrose being its opposite end. The eleventh century Irish style round tower which now forms part of the cathedral is one of only two remaining examples in Scotland. The ancient tower has seen of a feud between the Church of Scotland and the Episcopalians and was ransacked during the Jacobite uprisings. Thankfully these days Brechin is a more sedate and quiet place but its football club are facing troubled times, rooted to the foot of the Scottish Second Division and looking odds on for a third consecutive relegation and demotion from the Scottish League.

The football club were formed in 1906 when a meeting was called in the local Temperance Hall to form a senior club to represent the town. There had been a previous attempt at senior football in the town but the original and unrelated Brechin City only lasted eight years between 1888 and 1896.

Represented at the meeting were two of Brechin’s existing junior clubs, Brechin Hearts and Brechin Harp. Together with Brechin Rovers these were the main clubs in the city at the time. Harp were particularly successful and in January 1905 an extraordinary crowd of 3,000 watched their Scottish Junior Cup fourth round match against Glasgow Parkhead. Such was the rabid interest in the match it had to be moved to Clepington Park in Dundee (now known as Tannadice Park). In a standout season for football in Brechin, both Hearts and Harp also reached the semi final of the East of Scotland Cup.

Brechin Harp were playing at Nursery Park at the time of the meeting while Hearts had moved to a new ground, Central Park, for the start of the 1905/06 season, having previously played at Viewforth Park. The motion to form a new senior club was passed with Harp throwing their lot in with the new club while Hearts decided to carry on as a junior club. The new Brechin City club would take over at Nursery Park, a field rented from the local cricket club.

The new Brechin City made an almost immediate impact winning it’s first major trophy, the Forfarshire Cup, in 1909/10 defeating Arbroath 4-1 in the final at Dens Park. The Great War interrupted Brechin’s progress, not only did they lose six players, past and present, in the hostilities their ground at Nursery Park was dug up and rendered useless by the time football resumed in 1919.

As luck would have it City secured the use of Glebe Park, previously used by Brechin Renton who had failed to revive after the War. At the time the ground had just one small portable stand which had been acquired from the Perth agricultural showground. Sited on land formerly owned by the Church of Scotland Glebe Park is wedged between the Glencadam distillery and the former East and St Columba’s Parish Church, the stunning spire of which serves as a photogenic backdrop for the main stand at Glebe Park, which has plenty of character if not age, having been opened in 1981. Floodlights had come to Glebe Park in in 1977, inaugurated against Hibernian, and upgraded four years later as the club determinedly looked to the future.

Brechin City had first been in the Scottish League for the 1923/24 season but along with many other clubs, such as Solway Star, Lochgelly United, Johnstone, Clackmannan and Galston found themselves out of the League at the end of the 1925/26 when the Third Division was axed as member clubs had struggled financially.

City were re-elected, along with fellow Angus club, Montrose, to the Scottish League Division Two in 1929 after Bathgate and Arthurlie had resigned before the end of the previous season. For their return to the League, a pavilion was erected and the Cemetery End terrace was covered. The club continued to struggle at League level and after the Second World War were placed in the C Division which also contained reserve teams.

The all time record attendance at Glebe Park came in February 1973 when Aberdeen were the visitors in the Scottish Cup. A crowd of 8,123 were shoehorned into the stadium, which putting into context is comfortably more people than the entire population of Brechin itself.

City had to wait decades for their first League championship when they finally won the Second Division in the 1982/83, season finishing a point ahead of Meadowbank Thistle. In 1989/90 they won the Second Division for a second time. They were promoted to the First Division for a third time in 1992/93 but were relegated straight away and this was followed by a second straight relegation to the new third division for 1995/96. The early 1990’s had also seen the new David H. Will stand built behind the Trinity Road which houses 1,228 seats. Aside from two floodlight pylons now attached to mobile telecommunications masts, this massive stand is Glebe Park’s sole nod modernity and compared to it’s surroundings its a little incongruous, almost like an uninvited guest at the most perfect of weddings.

In the early 2000’s Brechin had enjoyed a double promotion up to the second tier. More recently in 2016/17 City finished fourth in the now renamed Division One (third tier) but won the play offs to win a place in the Championship. Sadly the 2017/18 season was an unmitigated disaster failing to win a game all season and obtaining just four points from their 36 matches. The following season was not much better with Brechin finishing bottom of Division One and being relegated alongside Stenhousemuir.

City have struggled once again this season, securing just seven points from their opening 13 matches. Today’s visitors are Stenhousemuir who are also not setting the world on fire. It’s another tough afternoon for the Angus men as the visitors just about deserve the win on a freezing cold afternoon.

Troubles aside, Glebe Park is just simply glorious, the famous hedge running half way down the distillery side of the ground, resplendent in its autumnal ochre plumage. Then there is the sublime cranked covered terrace at the Cemetery End and the cracking main stand. Sadly it is looking increasingly likely that Brechin will finish bottom again this season and face the brutal play off against the Highland/Lowland League play off winner. It would be tragic for the Scottish League to lose this truly wonderful venue from it’s roster. There is, of course, no divine right to stay in the League, but I for one wish Brechin City the very best of luck.

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Saturday November 30th 2019 – Scottish League Division 2

Brechin City 1 (McCord 50)

Stenhousemuir 2 (Cook 17, Dykes 70)

Attendance: 401

Entry £13, no programme, teamsheet 20p

Gallery

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Postcards From Kruševac (Serbian Groundhop 7)

The seventh Serbian groundhop weekend took place in early November 2019 with the majority of the party landing in Belgrade early on Friday on Wizz Air’s budget friendly flight from its Luton hub. The usual lottery of waiting for the Serbian FA to set the SuperLiga and Prva Liga kick off times and days as late as the preceding Tuesday threw us a totally unexpected Friday afternoon fixture in Bačka Palanka, a ninety minute bus ride from Nikola Tesla airport.

The Prva Liga fixture against Dinamo Vranje, a six hour journey from the deep south of Serbia, was set for a 1.30pm kick off which left things a little tight time wise but we made it to the Stadion Slavko Maletin Vava with ten minutes to kick off. A ticket cost 200RSD (£1.50) and you gain access to the seated main stand. It’s a two sided ground with an open terrace on the far side which is seldom used for any matches other than visits of Red Star and Partizan. Bačka’s three season stay in the SuperLiga, their first time in the top division, ended in relegation last season. The visitors from Vranje also had their first ever top level season in 2018/19 but also in ended in relegation, via the play offs, last season.

We weren’t sure of Dinamo’s travel arrangements up from the south of the country, but they certainly made a lethargic start to the game going behind in the opening ten minutes. Their task was made all the harder when Mladen Popović picked up two yellow cards in quick succession before half time. Bačka dominated the remainder of the match and a second goal for Nikola Žakula ensured an easy home win.

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Friday November 1st 2019 – Prva Liga

OFK Bačka Palanka 2 (Žakula 9,67)
FK Dinamo Vranje 0

Att:248

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Back in Belgrade, some opted for an early night after the dawn departure from Luton while others sampled the drinking houses on offer around Slavija Square and Knez Mihailova with a new craft beer bar called Tri Kralja Beer Bar on Njegoševa proving particularly popular.

Saturday morning meant checking out of the Slavija as we were to spend Saturday night in Central Serbia. First up we had a two hour road trip to Gorjni Milanovac for a double header of matches on grounds that were adjacent to each other. At FK Metalac’s impressive looking stadium we were greeted by Ivan and Ivan two big Metalac fans who had agreed to give us a stadium tour before our first game at 1.30pm. They were immensely proud of their stadium which had been opened in 2011. Built by the parent company, Metalac is famous for its steel products like pots and pans, the club have grown from a works team formed in 1961 to a progressive club that has serious SuperLiga intentions, having last been in the top flight in 2016/17.

Time was ticking on towards the 1.30pm kick off at neighbours FK Takovo so we said farewell and the two Ivan’s told us to come to the main entrance after the first game and we would have complimentary seats in the VIP section of the main stand. Kindness and hospitality like this has been so prevalent during all our tours here.

After paying the 100 RSD (75p) entry we make the third tier game at FK Takovo just before kick off but in time to see the impressive stadium clock installed in the scoreboard. Bizarrely this precious time piece was removed at half time and reinstalled for the second half! Takovo were formed in 1911 and are the oldest club in Central Serbia. The stadium has large terraced steps on one side with seats installed in the middle of them in the colours of the Serbian flag.

Unfortunately for the lovely hosts, the away side, FK Loznica, scored twice in the six minutes before half time. Takovo make a better fist of the second half and their captain reduces the arrears on the hour. They batter the away team but just cannot fashion a deserve equaliser. A hugely entertaining game on a terrible pitch, the second half also saw an impressive amount of pyro from three Takovo fans but music from the Metalac PA system almost drowns this out. Takovo do not like their noisy neighbours (“They tried to put us out of business”), although it was interesting to find out the club presidents of both clubs are actually related!

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Saturday November 2nd 2019 – Srpske Liga Zapad

FK Takovo 1 (Mirković 61)
FK Loznica 2 (Bogdanović 39, Matić 41)

Att:187

Stadion TakovoTakovo v LoznicaTakovo ticket

The game finishes promptly so there is sufficient time to take the short walk back to Metalac’s stadium where one of the Ivan’s is waiting to escort us to our VIP seats. I am asked what the score was by Ivan and I said Takovo lost 2-1 and he said “good”, there is clearly no love lost between these two clubs! Ivan then took his lucky season ticket seat for this “must win” game against Radnički Pirot.

Despite Metalac’s excellent start to the season there are less than 300 people present for this match which season the home side’s captain, Aleksandar Ješić netting the only goal of the game after ten minutes. You do wonder how SuperLiga aspirant clubs can succeed with such small attendances.

Metalac logo

Saturday November 2nd 2019 – Prva Liga

FK Metalac 1 (Ješić 10)
FK Radnički Pirot 0

Att:289

Main Stand at MetalacMetalac v Radnicki PirotMetalac ticket

It’s been a truly great day and we adjourn to Grill G in Vojvode Mišića, a restaurant used by the Metalac players. We are joined at our reserved table by the Takovo president and in another room the Metalac president and directors and the match officials also arrive for food. The food is exceptional especially the smoked pig neck and the pljeskavica, a delicious spiced meat patty. The food and drink cost a little over £10 a head. The Takovo president, now completely sozzled, appears to want to get on our bus but is persuaded to leave after a lengthy speech where he tells us how excited he has been to meet us and that we are all “true football men”. Absolutely stuffed from the meat feast we leave Gornji Milanovac to head around two hours east to our overnight stop in the medieval city of Kruševac. Founded in 1371 by Prince Lazar Hrebeljanović ruler of Moravian Serbia, a powerful leader who was killed 16 years later in the Battle of Kosovo.

Kruševac is surprisingly lively on a Saturday night with a number of decent bars and cafes. We check out of our hotels for a 9.30am departure to Paraćin around a 45 minute drive to the north. We are at a third tier (Srpske Liga Istok) game at SFS Borac Paraćin. It’s a pretty basic ground, albeit with free entry, set in a large oval shape with a large bleacher style stand outside the perimeter fence. The early kick off suits our agenda but its played havoc for the visitors Trstenik PPT who can only muster a bare eleven players for this game which is over an hour away for them. No surprise that a fast and skilful Borac side put six past them without really breaking into a sweat.

Borac Paracin Logo

Sunday November 3rd 2019 – Srpske Liga Istok

SFS Borac Paraćin 6 (Zlatković 11, Stojanović 37, Gajić 43, Sibinović 63, 70,76)
Trstenik PPT 0

Att:119

Borac v Trstenik

Before heading back to Kruševac for our final game at FK Napredak we have time to visit Paraćin’s hidden gem, the Gradski (Town) Stadion, home of FK Jedinstvo Paraćin. Formed in 1925, the club have a rich history including some great runs in the old Yugoslav Cup. In 1984 they reached the quarter finals losing to the mighty Hajduk Split and in 1997 they beat RFK Novi Sad and BSK Batajnica before losing in the semi final to FK Vojvodina. They spent some time in the second tier but now languish in the fourth tier Zona Zapad. Their stadium holds 12,000 and is a truly magnificent old school stadium. The main stand side is crumbling and graffiti welcomes the visitor to “Green Hell”. The opposite side and far end have large uncovered terraces which were painted blue in 2012 as the stadium was used in a film called “Montevideo, Taste of a Dream“ directed by Dragan Bjelogrlić. The place absolutely reeks of history and has definitely gone on to the future match visit list.

Jedinsvto Paracin (1)Jedinsvto Paracin (3)Jedinsvto Paracin (2)

We arrived back in Kruševac in good time for the 3pm kick off at SuperLiga club FK Napredak. It’s a heady 300 RSD (£2.25) for a seat in the main west stand (Zapad) which is marked with a superb mural honouring Prince Lazar. The stadium is one of the best equipped outside Belgrade and hosted the 2012 Serbian Cup Final between Red Star and Borac Čačak. It also held the recent match between Serbia and Paraguay. The Mladost Stadion is an English style stadium with four rectangular stands and can hold 10,000 people. The capacity is not troubled this afternoon with only just over 500 gathering for this match against visitors from the far north of Serbia, Spartak Subotica. Around 20 of Napredak’s ultras group, Jakuza, gather in the north stand and attempt to create a bit of an atmosphere.

It’s a fairly ordinary game which Spartak win 1-0. The highlight was the dismissal on the hour mark of visiting goalkeeper Ivan Dokić. This means a debut for 19 year old Montenegrin keeper Miso Dubljanić, who promptly saved the penalty with his first touch in professional football.

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Sunday November 3rd 2019 – SuperLiga

FK Napredak 0
FK Spartak Subotica 1 (Shormaz 28)

Att:520

Napredak v RadnikJakusa Napredak UltrasNaprdeak muralNapredak ticket

All too soon we are heading back to Belgrade, it’s been another laughter filled weekend in the company of Aleks Peković, Bogdan Mitrović and Teodora Rebić from Groundhopping Serbia. There are bound to be more organised adventures in this great country so please follow @GroundhopSerbia on Twitter or Serbian Groundhop Weekends on Facebook to keep yourself informed of any future trips. #SerbianGH7

Scenes around Kruševac

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A much expanded version of this article appeared in edition No.53 of Football Weekends Magazine in March 2020.

Valeriy (Dynamo Kyiv)

Dynamo Kyiv were formed as the Kyivan Proletarian Sport Society in May 1927 as the football wing of the existing sports and fitness club, Dynamo Sports Club. It was the favoured club of the GPU, the Soviet secret police. The first Dynamo teams were selected from chekists (members of the secret police) and the best players from the Kyiv area.

The first Soviet Championship was not competed for until 1936 and after limited initial success Dynamo became often the only tangible challenge to the hegemony of the Muscovite clubs although it took until 1961 before Dynamo won its first of 13 Soviet Championships. During the Soviet era Dynamo would also win nine Soviet cups. Since the break up of the Soviet Union, Dynamo have won a record fifteen Ukrainian League titles including a run of nine successive championships between 1992 and 2001. During the latter years of the Soviet First League Dynamo defiantly wore kit in the national colours of Ukraine.

The two stars on the Dynamo club crest represent the club’s two UEFA Cup Winners Cup successes. The first of these came in 1974-75 when Dynamo saw off CSKA Sofia, Eintracht Frankfurt, Bursaspor and PSV Eindhoven before crushing Ferencváros 3-0 in the final held at St. Jakob Stadium in Basel. Dynamo would also thrash Bayern Munich 3-0 in the European Super Cup Final.

Dynamo’s second Cup Winners Cup triumph came eleven years later in the 1985-86 season. Their route to the final saw them defeat Celtic, Bangor City, Red Star Belgrade and Bayer Uerdingen before coming up against Atlético Madrid in the final held at Lyon’s Stade de Gerland. It was another 3-0 triumph for the men from the East.

Scoring in both finals was the legendary Dynamo striker Oleg Blokhin. He won more caps (112) and scored more goals (42) than any other Soviet player. For Dynamo he scored 211 times in 432 appearances. The other name synonymous with Dynamo is Valeriy Lobanovskyi, a former player and much decorated coach during three spells at the club which were interspersed with stints as national team manager. Lobanovskyi passed away suddenly in 2002 and the Dynamo Stadium was renamed in his honour. To mark the first anniversary of his death a sculpture of the great man, sat on a trainers bench, was unveiled to the right of the magnificent entrance to this stunning stadium.

The Dynamo Stadium was built in 1934 as part of the relocation of the Soviet Ukraine capital from Kharkiv to Kyiv. It was inaugurated as the Vsevolod Balitsky Dynamo Stadium and was built on the site of the greenhouses and allotments that grew vegetables and fruit for the nearby Mariyinskyi Palace. Next to the greenhouses was a restaurant called Château de Fleur.

The original stadium was completely destroyed during the Second World War and Dynamo had to play their home games at the Nikita Khrushchev Stadium where the current NSC Olympiyskyi Stadium is sited. The Dynamo Stadium was rebuilt in 1956 and upgraded further in 1980 for use as a training venue for the Olympic Games. It was remodelled solely for football once again in 1990 with a little under 17,000 seats. Set in woodland you can walk around the top perimeter of the woods and look down on this beautiful stadium. The ornate entrance from Hrushevsky Street sets this stadium off as a truly iconic football venue. The area outside the entrance was a key area for the civil unrest of the 2013 Euromaidan revolution which let to the downfall of the Viktor Yanukovych led government.

Since 2011, Dynamo have played all their home games at the 70,000 capacity National Sports Complex Olimpiyskiy which was totally remodelled for Euro 2012. Their iconic Dynamo Stadium is a fifteen minute walk from Maidan Nezalezhnosti metro station (Line 2) and apart from Dynamo’s reserve team, Arsenal Kyiv and the exiled Olimpik Donetsk club play their home games here.

After seeing Dynamo beat Oleksandria at the Olimpiyskiy it was a quick dash over to the Dynamo Stadium for the evening game between Olimpik and Vorskla. Tickets and, unexpectedly, a small glossy programme, are available at the kiosk by the main entrance. The ticket was 50 hryvnia (£1.70) which must be one of the cheapest top flight tickets I will ever purchase! The exiled Olimpik club also have a small pop up merchandise stand on the slope up to the stadium. Only the main stand is open for the 329 people that gather for this match including some visiting fans from Poltava. Unfortunately Vorskla don’t really turn up for this game and two Olimpik goals in the middle of the second half from Teixiera and Lukyanchuk secure a comfortable “home” win for the exiles.

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Ukranian Premier League – Sunday October 20th 2019

FC Olimpik Donetsk 2 (Teixiera 67, Lukyanchuk 75)

FC Vorskla Poltava 0

Att: 329 (Stadium Dynamo, Kyiv) Entry: 50 hryvnia (£1.70), programme 20 hryvnia

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A Brush With Braşov (Football in Heaven 4)

Even before touching down at the Henri Coandă airport in Otopeni, the schedule for the fourth Football In Heaven tour seemed like it was going to make for an extra special trip. The idea was to bookend the usual lower league stuff at ridiculously scenic grounds with Romania’s two Euro 2020 qualifiers against Spain and Malta. As luck would have it the two international matches were being held in two different cities, Bucharest and Ploieşti respectively so was tailor made for out planned base in and around the beautiful city of Braşov.

I had already said to organiser and good friend, Emmanuel Roşu, that we would need a bigger bus than our previous trips to Bucovina and Sibiu and boy was I right. Discounting a couple of last minute call-offs 53 people from a staggering ten European nations (Romania, England, Scotland, Wales, Norway, France, Germany, Czechia, Spain and Denmark) had booked to come on the trip. Unless anyone knows different we believe this to be a record number of people attending an organised groundhopping weekend outside of the UK!

With the kick off for the Spain game at the Arena Națională set for 21.45pm on the Thursday evening it gave everyone ample time to settle into their hotel before meeting the bus. Emi had managed to arrange with the Romanian FA that we would be allowed to park out bus inside the stadium which was perfect as traffic around the Arena was totally gridlocked. The Romanian FA also provided tickets and pitch side passes, for the more serious photographers among us, to both internationals completely free of charge to 53 strangers. In all my years of travelling scarcely have I come across a more generous and hospitable nation.

The Arena was packed for the visit of three time European champions Spain, although there was only a very small turn out of Spanish fans. Of course the world famous Valencia and Spain fan, Manolo “El Bombo”, was in the house and his famous bass drum manfully battled all night to be heard amid the noisy locals. Every great story needs a pantomime villain and the Spanish captain, Sergio Ramos, fulfils that role better than most. Jeered with every touch of the ball, even before he dispatched a very softly awarded penalty, you have to grudgingly admire what a master of his side of the game he really is. Romania were caught napping at the start of second half and were made to pay when Borussia Dortmund’s Paco Alcácer made it 2-0 from close range.

Much to the delight of the vast majority of the crowd of 50,024, Romania staged a storming comeback and pulled one back through on loan Galatasaray striker Florin Andone. They threw the kitchen sink at an impressively steadfast Spanish rearguard and were also denied a seemingly certain penalty towards the end. It was tough on the hosts who probably deserved a point against a star studded Spain side.

Romania fa

Thursday September 5th 2019 – UEFA Euro 2020 Qualifiers Group F

Romania 1 (Andone 59)
Spain 2 (Sergio Ramos pen 29, Paco Alcácer 47)

Att:50,024 (at Arena Naţională, Bucharest)

Arena Nationala (2)Arena NationalaManolo Spain's famous fan

Romania prog

Spain ticket

Our route to our base in beautiful Braşov afforded the time for several  sightseeing stops but still left us in good time to make the 5pm kick off at the sixth level match between ACS Caraimanul Buşteni and ACS Viitorul Aricești. Five Lei (£1) secured entry and, much to the delight of us groundhoppers, a programme! As it transpired this was not just for our benefit but for means of introducing the Caraimanul side to the locals as this was their first home game in eight years having not been able to muster a team in that time. The ground was a delight, sun bathed mountains to one end and densely wooded slopes to the other. The stand was a rusty, creaking, partially derelict leviathan. Over 200 locals had gathered for the homecoming but sadly the visitors from Aricești had not followed the script and were the better side in a comfortable 2-0 win.

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Friday September 6th 2019 – Liga B, Seria Vest (Prahova County)

ACS Caraimanul Buşteni 0
ACS Viitorul Aricești 2 (Răducanu 56, Ivan 74)

Att:261 (at Stadionul Caraimanul)

CaraimanulCaraimanul (1)Busteni prog

Saturday arrived and it was a beautiful morning in Braşov, with the early morning sun relentlessly beating down on us. We had two games on the agenda for today, the first of which was in Braşov itself at the main Stadionul Silviu Ploeșteanu. It was previously known as Stadionul Tineretului but was rededicated in memory of the legendary coach of Steagul Roșu Braşov who had turned them into a powerhouse of Romanian football during a twenty year spell as coach. SR Braşov would eventually morph into FC Braşov but they suffered a calamitous bankruptcy in 2017, almost immediately being reformed by their supporters as AS SR Braşov.

It’s not the traditional Braşovia club we are watching this morning but a new rival club, Corona Braşov. Viewed by SR fans as a cuckoo in their nest, Corona seem to be attracting little in the way of support from the locals. However, today Corona are very good, rattling in four unanswered goals against a sorry looking Ciucas Tarlungeni.

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Saturday September 7th 2019 – Liga IV (Brașov County)

CSM Corona Brașov 4 (Roșu 1, Buga 19, Aliupoaie 56, Ivan 90+3)
ACS Ciucas Tarlungeni 0

Att:181 (at Stadionul Silviu Ploeșteanu)

Corona BrasovCorona Brasov (1)

During the many discussions between Emi and I for sorting out the itinerary for this Groundhop weekend he had asked if I thought the guys would like a ground with a 14th century citadel in the background. I had smiled to myself, knowing already to which ground he was referring to, and answered “Oh go on then”. We arrived at in Rupea in time for a tour of the Cetatea Rupea, which dates from a mindblowing 1324. From the fortress crenellations we spy the ground of AS Prietenii Rupea un the valley below: Similarly to the earlier game at Corona, this was a fourth level Braşov County match with the opposition being Inter Cristian. Prietenii’s club president made himself very busy providing beers and soft drinks to a thirsty bunch of travellers for which he flatly refused to take any money for.

The ground is a cracker, a long bleacher style stand is on the dressing room
side of the venue but the best view is from the grass bank on the opposite side. The elevated bank gives you panoramic view of the action but also of the fortress in the background, it really is a most stunning vista. The visitors are the better side and scored three times in the last 20 minutes to secure a 3-0 triumph.

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Saturday September 7th 2019 – Liga IV (Brașov County)

AS Prietenii Rupea 0
CS Inter Cristian 3 (Dobran pen 68, Vîrcan 72, Afrasinei 84)

Att:113 (at Stadionul Cetatea)

PrieteniiPrietenii (1)

Sunday promised to be a cracking day with the second of the two Euro 2020 qualifiers taking place at 7pm at the Stadionul Ilie Oană in Ploieşti. We found an enticing looking fixture back in neighbouring Prahova county which fitted nicely in with the Romania game.

We left our various hotels and set off for the town of Comarnic which was en route to Ploieşti. Unfortunately we hit very heavy traffic around Buşteni and ended up arriving at the ground after the scheduled 2pm kick off. We needn’t have worried however as kick off was delayed for our arrival but what happened next was totally surreal. We were ushered onto the pitch and saw a large number of people in the stand opposite. They displayed a banner in English that stated “This Is Heaven!” as a reference to the name of our tour. They then applauded us and set off a huge amount of blue and white smoke bombs. It was a truly humbling moment and we heartily returned the applause.

Olimpia Comarnic were only formed in 2018 after the town lost the predecessor club Vulturul Comarnic but they have assembled a formidable team who sweep aside CS Șirna Varnița by six goals to nil. Bearing in mind this is effectively a district level game, the attendance of 720 is just astounding and the fervour of the locals in backing their players was an absolute privilege to witness.

Aside from the incredible fans the ground is a cracker too, being surrounded by derelict factories and with super long freight trains rumbling by, there is almost too much to take in. After the match everyone gathers at the top end of the ground for a barbecue. Anyone speaking English was provided with delicious mici (spiced ground mixed beef rolls) and something to drink free of charge. Fortunately Olimpia’s ultras, the “Mountain Boys”, have set up their own charity to support a sick local child, so we happily contributed to this in lieu of their most generous hospitality and welcome. This amazing hobby sometimes affords you the most incredibly satisfying and life affirming experiences, and Olimpia Comarnic is right up there with the best of them.

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Sunday September 8th 2019 – Liga B, Seria Vest (Prahova County)

AS Olimpia Comarnic 6 (Urdea 9,26, Plumb 47, Chiorcau 60, Marin 66, Negotei 88)
CS Șirna Varnița 0

Att:720 (at Stadionul Comarnic)

ComarnicComarnic (1)Comarnic (2)

The final match on Football In Heaven 4 was Romania’s Euro 2020 qualifier with Malta. Being staged at the excellent Stadionul Ilie Oană in Ploieşti, it fitted in perfectly with our return journey to Bucharest. It’s a modern compact stadium with a capacity of 15,000 and was opened in 2011. It was built on the site of FC Petrolul’s old stadium, originally opened in 1937, and also named after Ilie Oană, a former Șoimii Sibiu and Petrolul player who went onto manage Romania.

The game is by no means a classic with Malta sticking ten men behind the ball and playing for a draw from the off. Romania eventually manage to puncture the resolute Maltese defence just once, with the deciding goal being a bullet header from Reading’s George Pușcaș at the start of the second half.

Romania fa

Sunday September 8th 2019 – UEFA Euro 2020 Qualifiers Group F

Romania 1 (Pușcaș 47)
Malta 0

Att:13,376 at Stadionul Ilie Oană, Ploiești)

IMG_9824IMG_9832IMG_1359_edited-1Malta ticket

It seemed to be a unanimous verdict that this had been a quite extraordinary adventure in a truly amazing country. Organiser Emi is hoping to run a fifth edition of the tour, so if you fancy seeing a little bit of heaven please follow him on Twitter (@Emishor) or join the Football In Heaven Facebook group.

Scenes around Brașov

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A much expanded version of this article appeared in edition No.52 of Football Weekends magazine (February 2020) #FIH4

The Stanks

The Stanks is the named given to a small grass area at the foot of the Elizabethan rampart walls of Berwick-upon-Tweed, Northumbria. The name of The Stanks derives from an ancient Scottish word meaning a ditch or a swampy place. The patch of rough grass is just about large enough for a football pitch to be marked out and it’s been the site of ad hoc football matches, mainly charity fundraisers, for over 100 years.

Google Earth showing the pitch and ramparts

Prior to being infilled and grassed over the area of the pitch at The Stanks was originally the defensive moat between Brass Bastion and Windmill Mount Bastion, but in the 18th and 19th century had been turned over for another use entirely. The area tended to be in permanent shade so it was ideal to freeze it over and the local fishermen would dig out the ice they required to keep their hauls of salmon as fresh as possible on their journey south to London.

The current Berwick Charities Cup is played annually between May and July and has been contested continuously since 1948. It was nearly abandoned in 2017 when initially only nine clubs entered. But after publicity drive there was enough interest for the competition to take place. Even a crowd funding page was set up to help local charities cater for the anticipated shortfall in funding provided by this tournament. The competition raises annual sums of between £5,000 and £8,000. The competition also ran into problems in 2004, when there was a shortage of referees following two regular whistlers pulling out due the abuse they had endured having given their services free of charge. One match was even abandoned that year when two players from Greenlaw Geriatrics were sent off, and then furious spectators surrounded the referee.

The Stanks was no stranger to fundraising football matches beneath its historic walls. From 1922 there was and annual tournament for the Berwick Infirmary Cup. Cinematic footage exists of the final between Eyemouth Rangers and Belford which took place on June 29th 1929. This article features stills from that incredible footage where several thousand people gather to watch the match. The man with the trophy is quite possibly Councillor W.J. Dixon, who provided the sizeable cup for the competition.

Stills from 1929 film (6)Stills from 1929 film (2)Stills from 1929 film (7)

The Infirmary Cup competition caused controversy in the late 1930’s when the North Sunderland club was suspended for several years by the Football Association. The suspension was issued for persistent misconduct by continuing to field players who had played “illegal football” on The Stanks at Berwick!

Earlier still the Berwick Advertiser reported on a match staged at The Stanks on Thursday June 17th 1915 to raise funds for the nurses at the Queen’s Hospital. The game saw Berwick Rovers take on a side from the 2/10th Royal Scots Guard. The Guards team included players from the likes of Queensferry St. Andrews, Bathgate Primrose, Wemyss Athletic, Armadale Rangers, Vale of Grange and Linlithgow Rose. A huge attendance was described as being “without doubt a larger crowd has never gathered at the Stanks” and a princely sum of donations totalled eight pounds and ten shillings. The Guards won the game by a single goal to nil.

The walls of The Stanks have a huge historical significance being a rare intact survivor of the Elizabethan period. The fortifications were built in an Italianate style, designed to withstand sea and land launched artillery and also accommodate its own artillery fire power. Largely attributed to renowned military engineer, Sir Richard Lee, the fortifications were described as “the most expensive undertaking of the Elizabethan period” costing a quite extraordinary £128,648. Unsurprisingly this rare example of Tudor military building is a scheduled monument and also enjoys Grade I listed status. The wall that runs behind the goal is the wall of the Brass Bastion and has been known to cause many a head injury for onrushing players misjudging the short run off from the goal line.

The players change in a small communal building the other side of an arch within the rampart walls. Above the door to the changing room is the date 1755. It has always been thought that the changing room pavilion at Lesser Hampden, which dates from the early 1800’s, was the oldest building in use for football in the world. Although it’s debatable that “football changing room” is its primary use, this little stone room in Berwick is significantly older.IMG_4531There is also a far more recent historical link to The Stanks and that is to Britain’s favourite artist, L.S.Lowry. He first visited Berwick in 1936 on the advice of his doctor to take “the sea air” to recuperate from the stress of caring for his bedridden mother, who was totally dependent on him, and the death of his father. He became a huge admirer of the town and visited it often by train, frequently staying at the Castle Hotel. It is a well known fact that Lowry was a big football fan, his most well known football work, “Going To The Match” was based on Burnden Park, and was purchased by the Professional Footballers Association, at auction in 1999, for £1.9 million. Among his many scenes of Berwick, is a small undated pencil drawing known as “Football Match” showing a crowd watching a game of football at The Stanks. There is the one of the goals some players and a crowd gathered on either side of the pitch. The ramparts have more spectators and there is a church spire. Maybe Lowry did the sketch from memory as the Church of the Holy Trinity was built it in the 1650’s and never had a spire or tower. While L.S.Lowry still does not have a published catalogue raisonné, a definitive list of genuine works issued by the likes of the Wildenstein Institute, the unsigned work has been indisputably attributed to him.Football Match by LS LowryYou can travel the globe in search of stunning football locations or photogenic grounds, but perhaps the most photogenic of them all was right under our noses all this time.

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The original version of this article appeared in issue 98 of Groundtastic Magazine

Stick a fork in I’m done with 2018/19

Here is a review of my itinerant football watching during the 2018/19 campaign.

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Total Matches Attended: 280

New Grounds Visited: 202

Total Goals Scored: 1,147 (Average of 4.10 goals per game, up on 3.81 last season, I saw seven 0-0 draws this season)

Biggest Win: Bestwood Miners Welfare 15 NG Vikings 0

Biggest Crowd: 59,903 West Ham United v Liverpool

Grounds Abroad: 49 (Romania 12, Serbia 12, Germany 11, Greece 3, Iceland 3, Italy 3, Bosnia 1, Bulgaria 1, Gibraltar 1, Netherlands 1, San Marino 1)

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BEST GROUNDS VISITED IN THE UK IN 2018/19

1.THE STANKS


An amateur pitch marked out on a rough piece of grass against the Elizabethan fortified walls of Berwick-upon-Tweed. If it was good enough for L.S.Lowry to draw then it’s good enough for me. An absolute bucket list footballing experience.
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2. HOPEMAN – Sea Park
The Moray Welfare League is a summer competition played on parched pitches across the Morayshire region. Hopeman play on a pitch adjacent to the sea and harbour and the view from up on the hill towards the High Street is just stunning. Sea Park should be a new entry on anyone’s iconic football venues list.
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3. FORRES MECHANICS – Mosset Park

A sturdy main stand, ample banking around the rest of the ground. One of the best grounds in a league full of decent venues.

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4.KILSYTH RANGERS– Duncansfield Park

Huge covered terrace on one side and sweeping curves of terrace around the rest of the ground. To cap it all there is player’s tunnel that goes under the terracing before rising up to pitch level. Steadfastly Junior and all power to its elbow.

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5.ELGIN CITY– Borough Briggs

A traditional old ground completing a strong Scottish bias to this season’s awards list. Magically old school and seeming untouched by the rampant need to modernise.

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BEST GROUNDS VISITED ABROAD IN 2018/19

1.BOLOGNA – Stadio Renato Dall’Ara

Just an incredible footballing amphitheatre. Built in the 1920’s with so many amazing architectural features from the Littoral, the cover walkway on the open side of the ground to Nervi’s masterpiece tower. Despite a fairly recent revamping for the 1990 World Cup, it would seem the owners, the City of Bologna, are keen to modernise it further, you would trust the traditional features are retained but who knows?

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2.RHEYDTER SV – Jahnstadion

When you get to hear that an old school stadium is to soon be “modernised” you experience two emotions. One is the pang of sadness of another lost playground and then that’s superseded by the urge to go and see it as it is before the “improvements” destroy the essential character. The Jahnstadion will have its 20,000 capacity terracing removed in its entirety and just a revamped grandstand will be left. Work is scheduled to start on this latest act of social vandalism in early 2020, be warned!

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3.ASC OLIMPIC ZARNESTI – Stadion Celuloza

Dramatic mountain setting, ancient wooden stand somehow held together for more than 80 years and a bright red pavilion. Just a stunning place to watch football.

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4.FK ŽAK KIKINDA – Stadion ŽAK

Features a big old grandstand and a perimeter wall made from about a million roof tiles stood on their ends. An indescribably good football ground.

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5.ALTONA ‘93 – Adolf Jäger Kampfbahn

One of the oldest remaining stadiums in Germany, perfect in every way. Coupled with a great fan scene, this a must do venue before their muted plans to move come to fruition.

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BEST PROGRAMMES BOUGHT IN 2018/19

(based on status, resources, effort and originality)

1. Clapton Community FC

Clapton CFC

2.Lower Breck

Lower Breck

3. St. Helens Town

St Helens

4. Aberystwyth

Aberystwyth

5. Steeton

Steeton

 

BEST FOOD IN 2018/19

  1. Curry (Queens Park Crescents)

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2. Scouse (Litherland REMYCA)

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3. Jerk Chicken (Enfield Borough)

Enfield Boro