When West Auckland Ruled The World

The story behind West Auckland Town’s claim to be two time World Champions is a really fascinating one and tells of a time when English teams playing matches outside of the United Kingdom, were rare indeed.

The story starts with Sir Thomas Johnstone Lipton, a self made millionaire from his grocery stores and tea merchants. He was a keen sportsman himself, being a regular competitor for the Americas Cup. He was awarded the honour of a Knight Commander of the Victorian Order and had honours bestowed upon him throughout Europe and America. The City of Nîs in Serbia made him an honorary citizen for his work in the catastrophic typhus epidemic of 1915. Earlier he had been honoured by the Italian government and ever humble he asked what he could do in return. The reply from King Victor Emmanuel III was a request to organise an international football tournament to be contested in Turin in 1909.

IMG_2744

Sir Thomas Lipton

The FA’s of England, Germany and Switzerland were contacted and asked to provide a suitable club to take part. The English FA flatly refused permission for any Football League team to compete so it would be an amateur team that was sent over as they did not need the acquiescence of the Football Association. Quite why the honour fell to West Auckland is shrouded in mystery. Local myth suggests Woolwich Arsenal were Lipton’s ideal choice but the letter went astray and was sent to another WAFC instead! More likely is the theory that a trusted employee of Lipton had links to the Northern League and one of their sides was to be selected to represent England.

West Auckland were a team of coal miners and were struggling in their league in 1909. Even though the players’ pit wages would be stopped during the tournament they readily made the trip to Turin.

In the semi final West Auckland defeated Stuttgarter Sportfreunde 2-0 to set up the “World Cup Final” with the representatives from Switzerland, FC Winterthur. The Swiss had overcome a Torino XI (mixed from Torino and then amateur side Juventus) by two goals to one. The men from County Durham beat Winterthur 2-0 in the final with goals from Bob Jones and Jock Jones. The team including memorable names like Charlie “Dirty” Hogg, “Tot” Gubbins and “Ticer” Thomas.

Two years later West Auckland returned to Italy to defend their trophy. FC Zurich were Switzerland’s representatives this time and West Auckland won their semi-final 2-0. In the other semi final Juventus beat Torino.

In the final they drubbed Juventus 6-1 with goals from Bob “Drol” Moore 2, Fred Dunn 2, Andy “Chips” Appleby and Joe Rewcastle. Interesting only two of the team from 1909, Bob Jones and Charlie Hogg, played in both tournaments as the others simply could not afford to lose their wages for a second time.

It was this second competition and the cost of travelling over that actually put West Auckland in severe financial trouble upon their return the north east. A condition set out by Thomas Lipton stated any club winning the trophy twice consecutively could keep it. Heavily indebted, the club actually folded in 1912 and in order to clear their debts, the club reluctantly put the trophy up for sale. It was duly sold for £40 to Mrs Lanchester, the landlady of the Wheatsheaf Hotel which was the club’s headquarters at the time. The club reformed in 1914 and competed in local leagues. It was 1934 before they returned to the Northern League on a permanent basis.

In 1960, Mrs Lanchester was still alive and agreed to sell the trophy back to the club for £100. The trophy was displayed in the Eden Arms owned by Syd Douthwaite, West Auckland’s secretary. However, after the Jules Rimet trophy was stolen in Westminster in March 1966, the trophy was locked away for safekeeping for several years before coming back out of storage for display in the Working Mens Club on Front Street.


In January 1994 the trophy was stolen and despite the offer of a sizeable reward it was never recovered. A replica was funded by public donations and was recreated by Jack Spencer of Sheffield. It remains on display in the Working Mens Club but in a specially constructed security casing. Ironically the original trophy nearly never made it back to England in the first place. The 1909 team managed to leave the trophy on the platform of the Gard du Nord station in Paris and returned home empty handed. Fortunately the club was reunited with their trophy a couple of days later.

In August 2009 the current West Auckland Town team returned to Turin to take part in a rematch of the final against Juventus. The Northern Leaguers were pitted against the under 20 side of the Italian giants and were promptly hammered 7-1. Sadly the club reported that Juventus were less than hospitable towards them, providing them with bowls of crisps as a post match meal and presenting them with a blank plaque and two books on flowers at half-time of the match.

In October 2013, after several delays, a statue commemorating the centenary of this remarkable story was unveiled on the village green, a lofty goal kick away from West Auckland’s Darlington Road ground. The two bronze figures of a footballer and a coal miner sit on top of a stone plinth using stone from the Dunhouse quarry. The two figures share the same face and the height of the kicking foot is said to be the exact height of the mine shaft at the West Auckland Colliery where the players worked in horrendous conditions. The statue cost £167,374 and is the work of sculptor Nigel Boonham. The magnificent statue was jointly unveiled by Sir John Hall, actor Tim Healy who starred in a TV drama “A Captain’s Tale” about the West Auckland story, long before his success in “Auf Wiedersehen, Pet”, and ex-England international David Ticer Thomas. It was his grandfather, who bore the same name, who captained the first Auckland team in Italy.

IMG_2574IMG_2658IMG_2566

The story of this amazing period in Northern League football is recounted in a display in the covered terrace at the Darlington Road ground. It is truly refreshing that a club is so reverential to its history, three cheers for West Auckland Town.

IMG_2660IMG_2610IMG_2613

Advertisements

Upon This Rock (Gibraltar)

The Gibraltar Football Association (GFA) was formed in 1895 and is one of the oldest operating national associations in the world. Football on the isthmus dates from the 1890’s and were kickabout games on the British Garrison which had been built in 1704. In 1901 the first organised match was reported between a civilian Gibraltarian XI and side representing the military, which would become known as Prince of Wales FC. The match took place on a grass pitch inside the racetrack that had been laid on the flat land between Gibraltar and the frontier with Spain and is believed to have been close to the site of the present day Victoria Stadium.

The first golden period for Gibraltarian football came with the reconstruction of the Victoria Stadium in period at the end of World War II. The site was originally a military pitch and had been in use since 1926. The new facility attracted many professional clubs and GFA representative sides took on the like of Real Madrid (a notable 2-2 draw!), Atlético Madrid, Real Valladolid and more exotic opposition like Red Star Belgrade, Hajduk Split and Wacker Innsbruck. In the period 1949 to 1955 many UK nationals did their military service in Gibraltar and military football leagues proliferated. The Army had three pitches out by Europa Point and there was another pitch in the town centre, generally known as the Naval Ground.

This period of unprecedented success for the GFA ended when in 1956 the Spanish government banned their clubs from playing on the peninsula and four years later the UK ended National Service reducing the number of military personnel in Gibraltar by some 90%. In 1971 the Victoria Stadium was again rebuilt, this time by the Royal Engineers. The GFA upgraded the pitch and athletics track in 1991.

Gibraltar’s first attempted to join UEFA in 2007, but their bid was overwhelmingly rejected. Spain had lobbied FIFA citing the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 as a basis for declaring the proposed national stadium of Gibraltar as being built on disputed land and was contrary to FIFA’s constitution. However, an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sports, found in favour of Gibraltar and UEFA had to agree to provisional membership. By 2013 the GFA were formerly voted into full membership with only Belarus and Spain voting against them. This allowed the tiny nation of just 30,000 people access to all international and European club competitions. Similarly to the Armenia and Azerbaijan scenario, Spain and Gibraltar will be kept apart in competition draws.

The GFA’s problems, however, did not end there even when finally elected to UEFA they could not host games on a stadium they did not wholly own. Ownership of the venue was largely with the Government of Gibraltar. The 54th member nation of UEFA then had to play its home international matches in Portugal in the Estádio do Algarve in Loulé. There were schemes to build a new national stadium at Europa Point and also Lathbury Barracks but neither came to fruition.

The issue was resolved by the Government selling the stadium to the GFA for £16.5m, largely funded by grants from UEFA. The sale price would be reinvested in other venues for sports displaced by the sale and in upgrading venues in time for the 2019 Island Games. The new Victoria Stadium will be UEFA Category 4 compliant with a capacity of 8,000. The new project will start in early 2019 and take two years to complete. Football will continue to be played while work progresses but there it was decided there would be no football tournament in the Island Games due to the construction plans. This tournament will be held instead on Anglesey in June 2019.

Gibraltarian clubs’ European matches had been held at the Victoria Stadium, including Lincoln Red Imps’ famous 1-0 win over Celtic in July 2016, but the move into sole ownership allowed national team games to be staged in Gibraltar from the start of the new UEFA Nations League.

On the domestic scene a Gibraltarian Football League has existed since the 1895/6 season when Gibraltar FC were the inaugural winners. The most successful side were the military side Prince of Wales FC, who had won 19 titles by the time they disbanded in 1953. It has taken the rise of Lincoln Red Imps in recent years to overhaul that total and they now stand on 23 titles of which includes 16 of the 18 championships contested since the turn of the new millennium. Only wins by Gibraltar United (2001/02) and Europa (2016/17) have punctuated their dominance.

The first game today is between St. Joseph’s, the oldest club in the Gibraltarian League system having being formed in 1912, and Gibraltar Phoenix. The two sides are very evenly matched and lie fourth and fifth in the ten team table at the start of play. It ends goalless although it is a reasonably interesting game. Despite free entry a very modest crowd gathers for this 4pm kick off.

Saturday November 24th 2018 (16.00pm) – Gibraltar First Division

St.Joseph’s 0
Gibraltar Phoenix 0

Att:62 (at Victoria Stadium)

IMG_0575IMG_0606IMG_0608IMG_0607

Such is the conveyor belt use of the artificial surface at the Victoria Stadium, only half an hour separates this game from another First Division contest between Lynx and Mons Calpe, named after one of the two Pillars of Hercules. Lynx are struggling in eighth place in the table while Mons Calpe are fourth. The match goes true to form and Mons coast to very comfortable 3-0 in pouring rain. Lynx are a noticeably poorer team than the other three watched today despite having one of the famous Chipolina brothers, Kenneth, in their rearguard.

Saturday November 24th 2018 (18.15pm) – Gibraltar First Division

Lynx 0
Mons Calpe 3 (Sastrie 24, Pereyra 33, Pegalajar 90)

Att:71 (at Victoria Stadium)

IMG_0613IMG_0615IMG_0618

There was an option to see a third straight game at 20.30pm, a second tier clash between Manchester 62 FC and College 1975, but it was nice to have an evening meal in the old part of this historic area.

As a footnote occasionally planes cannot land at Gibraltar airport in high winds and bad weather. This can result in planes landing at Malaga airport instead, and the obvious delays that ensues. Could be worth factoring this possibility into your travel plans.

Nov 2018 074

Postcards from Užice (Serbian Groundhop 5)

The fifth organised Groundhop in Serbia in conjunction with Aleks Peković, Bogdan Mitrović and Teodora Rebić of Groundhopping Serbia took place over the last weekend of October. This time the hop was mainly based in the south-west of the country among the stunning mountainous scenery of the Zlatibor and Moravica districts.

With 12 of the 22 attendees arriving late on the Thursday the fixture gods were kind to us and threw up a second tier Prva Liga fixture between the ethnic Hungarian club TSC Bačka Topola and the predominantly Muslim team from the southern city of Novi Pazar. Interestingly TSC are playing their home games this season at the ground of fourth tier club FK Senta of the PFL Subotica, some 25 miles east of Bačka Topola. This is because their old Gradski Stadion is due for demolition with a 3,800 capacity stadium UEFA compliant arena being built on the same footprint.

Stadion Senta does not have floodlights so we have a 14.30pm kick off with today’s opponents having endured a six hour trip north on a rickety looking municipal bus rather than a coach. Unsurprisingly the home side coasted to a very comfortable 6-0 win. Despite playing some distance from their hometown Bačka are well supported and include a group of ultras known as the Blue Betyars (Outlaws), who on the 56th minute unveil a tifo which says “Respect to the Heroes of ‘56”, referencing the Hungarian Uprising.

Friday October 26th 2018 – Prva Liga

TSC Bačka Topola 6 (Galić 12, Milićević 18,21, Siladi 41, Milisavljević 47, Bastajić 72)
FK Novi Pazar 0

Att:258 (played at FK Senta)

Backa Topola (4)

It was an early rise on the Saturday morning for an 8.45am kick off in the Belgrade suburb of Makiš. None of us recall attending and earlier kick off. It was an under 19 encounter between FK Lokomotiva and FK Zemun and proved to be an entertaining game in a quirky venue surrounded by old locomotives and train carriages.

Saturday October 27th 2018 – Belgrade Prva Liga Omladinska

FK Lokomotiva U18s 0
FK Zemun U18s 1 (Njamculović 42)

Att:59

Lokomotiva
We then began a lengthy drive south through the towns of Čačak and Užice, to the mountainous region of Zlatibor, named after Serbia’s tallest mountain whose highest peak, Tornik, measures 1,496 metres. The local team, FK Zlatibor, were in the Zlatibor District League as recently as 2014 but won the Srpska Liga Zapad last season to gain promotion to the second tier, Prva Liga, for the first time in their history. The club is not particularly well liked being dubbed as a “plastic” club being heavily financed through to their current level. The play in nearby Čajetina at the modest Stadion Švajcarija and we obtain our 200 dinar (£1.50) tickets at the entrance to the stand. Today’s encounter sees top placed FK Inđija visiting second place Zlatibor. It’s a tight encounter settled in favour of the hosts with a tidy finish from Dejan Vidić.

Saturday October 27th 2018 – Prva Liga

FK Zlatibor 1 (Vidić 8)
FK Inđija 0

Att:397 (at Stadion Švajvarija)

Oct 2018 040
After a late breakfast at the Hotel Zlatibor, quite the worst hotel any of us could ever remember, we made the short drive to the Stadion Krčagovo, home of FK Jedinstvo Putevi. This morning’s entertainment would be a fourth level Zona Zapadno-Moravska match against near neighbours FK Polimlje Prijepolje. The stadium is very photogenic sat in the sprawling hillside suburbs of Užice and a stunning wooded valley which was playfully sporting its glorious autumnal colours. A poor, badly rutted pitch meant the game wasn’t the highest quality and it was the visitors that took their few chances to win the game 2-0.

Sunday October 28th 2018 – Zona Zapadno-Moravska

FK Jedinstvo Putevi 0
FK Polimlje 2 (Hamzić pen 51, Džanović 73)

Att:154 (at Stadion Krčagovo)

Jedinstvo (1)

One member of the Groundhopping Serbia crew, Teodora, kindly left the game early to obtain a hearty warm, doughy snack of komplet lepinja, which is traditionally consumed alongside a drink of runny yoghurt. Our skilful bus driver, Aleksandr, then drove north west to the Mačva region via some truly stunning mountain scenery. We had a fairly tight timeline to make the start of the star attraction of the weekend, the visit of reigning Super Liga champions, Crvena Zvezda to the humble abode of FK Mačva Šabac. It was clearly a big deal in what is a very small provincial town, and we welcomed the police escort to the ground, I mean don’t you know who we are??!!

After picking up our pre-reserved tickets costing 500 dinar (£3.70) each, we faced big queues at the Stadion Šabac entrances. Our sector in the west stand had clearly been massively oversold with people standing due to lack of seats and also sitting on stairways. The free-for-all scramble for spare seats saw a lot of us housed in the sector adjacent to the Delije, Red Star’s world famous ultras. As always their support was noisy, pyro based and utterly relentless, sound tracking a perfunctory 2-0 win for the champions. The home side had a small band of ultras housed in a stand behind the goal. The Šaneri (“The Thieves”) tried to make themselves heard but were massively outnumbered by Red Star’s support.

Sunday October 28th 2018 – Super Liga

FK Mačva Šabac 0
FK Crvena Zvezda 2 (Pavkov 39, Jovančic 60)

Att:7,000 (at Stadion Šabac)

Red Star at Macva Sabac (3)

After the horrific night at the Stalag Zlatibor the welcoming bosom of the Hotel Slavija was looked on by all with a renewed affection. For most of the tour party it was their last night in Belgrade before departing for various flights home from Nikola Tesla airport. For the remaining handful of travellers there was the attraction of a midday kick off for the under 19 teams of FK BASK and Red Star. We had first visited the Stadion Careva Ćuprija on the inaugural Serbian Groundhop weekend. They have an excellent ground close to the hippodrome and it’s easily reached by tram.It was an interestingly tactical match with Red Star dominating possession but failing to create many chances. BASK equalised an early Red Star penalty midway through the second half before rising star Dejan Joveljić bagged a late winner.

Monday October 29th 2018 – Omladinska Liga U19s

FK BASK U19s 1 (Pavlovic 65)
FK Crvena Zvezda U19s 2 (Joveljić pen 5,87)

Att:116

FK BASK

With seven of the party on Wizz’s 7pm flight back to Luton there was time to shoehorn one more game into the groundhop with another under 19 match taking place on the 3G pitch next to OFK Beograd’s wonderfully crumbling Omladinski Stadion in the Karaburma district of the city. The main stadium is in an advanced state of decay and its 20,000 capacity is severely restricted these days. For the Romantičari (The Romantics) it’s a sorry state of affairs and light years away from their heyday of a Cup Winners Cup semi final defeat to Spurs in 1963 and glorious European wins against the likes of Napoli, Feyenoord, Juventus and Panathinaikos.

Today’s match sees OFK’s under 19’s take on youth product specialists FK Brodarac who have recent appearances in the UEFA Youth League to their credit. The match was a total contrast to the BASK – Red Star game the previous day, being fast and furious. Similarly to the main stadium the 3G pitch is in very poor condition with lots of holes and patches of low quality replacement surface. OFK’s youngsters look like they are going to win a hard fought contest before the referee awards Brodarac a late and very soft penalty to square the result at 2-2.

Monday October 29th 2018 – Omladinska Liga U19s

OFK Beograd U19s 2 (Pavlović pen 54, Mijailović 75)
FK Brodarac U19s 2 (Vukosavljević 70, Lukić pen 90)

Att:129

OFK v Brodarac

This particular groundhop was a logistical nightmare to arrange with kick offs not being finalised until the Tuesday before we departed on the Thursday! For news of any future events please follow @GroundhopSerbia on Twitter or join the Facebook group Serbian Football Weekends. For more pictures of this latest trip you can use the hashtag #SerbianGH5 across all forms of social media.

A much expanded version of this piece will feature in a future edition of Football Weekends magazine.

Blessed Bucovina (Football In Heaven 2)

Almost a year had elapsed since the inaugural Football In Heaven tour in glorious Bucovina as we touched down in a boiling Suceava Airport. Organisers Emanuel Roșu and Ciprian Anton had once again met us at the airport with the minibus for the Suceava FA being made available to us for the whole weekend.

Zipping through the suburbs of Suceava we dumped our bags at one of our bases from last year, the Continental in Strada Mihai Viteazul. Later we arrived in the city of Paşcani on the Siret river around 15 minutes before the start of a third division match between the local side, CSM Paşcani and SCM Gloria Buzău.

What is remarkable about the CFR Stadium is that in dates from the 1920’s and some thirty years ago a decision was made to rebuild the place and work started on huge main stand supported with an impressive forest of pre-cast concrete buttresses. Not untypical in Romania, ambition outstripped finance and the huge edifice is still largely incomplete with fatiguing iron poles sticking out of unfinished walls and roof tresses. It’s a health and safety nightmare but here no-one bats an eyelid and yes nobody gets hurt. However, its Gloria who dominate proceedings on the pitch this evening as they ease to a 3-0 win.

Friday September 28th 2018 – Romanian III Liga

CSM Paşcani 0

Gloria Buzău 3 (Truta 15,53, Tanase 75)

Att:176 (at Stadionul CFR Paşcani)

IMG_6698

It’s an early start in the morning as we pack up in readiness for the journey west into the Carpathian Mountains and two nights in the pretty ski resort of Vatra Dornei. However, before we take the winding ascent we have two fourth tier matches in the south west of the region.

First up is the fascinating ground of ACS Șomuzul Preuteşti who are entertaining AS Amatorii Rarău Câmpulung. While there is no stand at Șomuzul’s ground it becomes immediately apparent that spectators stand or sit on plastic chairs on a railway line that runs right next to the touchline. The hosts barely break sweat in a 3-1 win and delight their foreign visitors with a full colour programme and a meal after the game of mici (mixed meat parcels) and chips.

Saturday September 29th 2018 – Romanian IV Liga

ACS Șomuzul Preuteşti 3 (Clim 39, Pânzariu 44, Gigicâ 59)

AS Amatorii Rarău Câmpulung 1 (Sâlâgeau 90)

Att:85

IMG_6808

Before we leave Preuteşti the president of the opposition, Rarău Câmpulung, extends an open invitation to see a game at their ground in the future. We are passing the town of Câmpulung Moldovenesc on the way to our second game of the day so while the bus is refuelled it seems the obvious thing to do an have a look at their ground. It is an absolute belter with a ornate entrance giving way to a large stand set in a forested hillside. The obligatory scoreboard and a cracking press box ensure this ground will be high on the wish list for any future edition of this wonderful tour.

IMG_6837

For four of us who attended the first Football In Heaven tour the second game of the day is a revisit to the stunning stadium of FC Pojorîta. Backdropped by rolling hills, shepherds huts, forested slopes and a huge church it has the first time visitors positively foaming at the mouth at its immense beauty. Pojorîta win 6-1 after their opponents, ACS Viitorul Vereşti, fade badly after a bright start.

Saturday September 29th 2018 -Romanian IV Liga

FC Pojorîta 6 (Prundean 7, Bâlan 31,65, Ilie 45,80, Vicliuc 48)

ACS Viitorul Vereşti 1 (Palaghianu 15)

Att:98

IMG_6873

After a meal in Pojorâta nightfall was rapidly descending as we ascended into the Carpathians. We arrive at Pension di David in Vatra Dornei, a base we had also used last year.

Sunday morning saw us with some free time so we had a little surprise for the unsuspecting group. We had tried to do the Telescaun chairlift on the previous tour, but strong winds had put paid to our plan. 25 Lei (£5) gets you a return ticket and at first it seemed like it might be a fruitless exercise as the route up was engulfed in thick fog. Magically during the 25 minute accent on rickety wooden chairs, the fog lifted and upon reaching the summit of 1,268 metres (almost as lofty as Ben Nevis), we are truly blessed with uninterrupted views of snow capped peaks and Vatra Dornei looking tiny from our elevated perch. The vista is truly breathtaking, no wonder this area is known as “Heaven”.

We then head south west to the small town of Mădei which sees us cross into Neamț County from Suceava County. The local team, ACS Bradu Borca, moved from their own ground in Borca a few years ago.

We catch Bradu on a bad day as they are well and truly humped 6-1 by a decent looking Speranţa Răuceşti side on a pitch where there is gravel in the goal mouth instead of grass. A boisterous crowd of over 200 watch the game in another stunning setting.

Sunday September 30th 2018 – Romanian IV Liga

ACS Bradu Borca 1 (Crengamis 86)

FC Speranţa Răuceşti 6 (Gheorghe 8, Apostol 20,64, Cucos 38,45, Ciccoiu 88)

Att:208

IMG_7020

On the way to the Borca game we had passed the ground of AS Bistriţa Broşteni and while empty it looked nothing special but it is quite wonderful how a patch of grass comes to life when players and supporters gather. There is a small dressing room big enough only for the home team, the officials change in a nearby pub and the visitors, the superbly named Forestierul Frumosu, change in their minibus.

The ground is in a clearing amongst a steep forest and is on the banks of the beautiful and fast flowing Bistriţa river. It is the river that causes the club some real problems. Footballs are lost regularly and the current is too strong and the banks too steep to retrieve them. The river has also clearly burst its banks at some point and deposited rocks onto the pitch many of which still protrude out of the penalty area at the north end of the ground. It takes brave men to play football on a pitch like this.

Broşteni take to the field in vivid pink shirts and only then do you notice the backs are sporting names like “Kelly” and “McDermott”, they are Gaelic football shirts donated by the Aireagal Chiaráin club from County Tyrone. Forestierul Frumosu aren’t without their quirks as well, their No.7 is quite the shortest player we, collectively, had ever seen. The match was very even throughout on a very difficult surface and just as it looked like Frumosu would grab a single goal victory, the hosts lash in an injury time equaliser.

IMG_7055Sunday September 30th 2018 – Romanian V Liga

AS Bistriţa Broşteni 1 (Catea 90)
AS Forestierul Frumosu 1 (Andronicescu 61)

Att:142

Monday sees us with just one game and its a 5pm kick off back in Suceava. So after a later breakfast we leave Vatra Dornei and embark on a little sightseeing on the return journey. Firstly we take a winding climb, more than 1,500 metres above sea level, in the Rarău Mountains and alight at a purpose built viewing platform. We have come higher than the clouds with the two rift valleys below shrouded in white. It is a jaw-dropping scene. Up here the air is so pure and rarified, it enlivens the senses and revives the soul.

After retracing our path down the mountain we head for a second surprise for the group. The Bucovina region is renowned for its hand painted monasteries and there cannot me many more beautiful that the medieval monastery at Voroneţ. Built in 1488 and hand painted inside and out to commemorate the Battle of Vaslui. it is quite rightly one of UNESCO’s World Heritage sites.

We arrive back in Suceava just ahead of kick off for the fourth tier match between Liceul Program Sportiv Suceava and ACS Juniorul Suceava. The ground is a 3G pitch surrounded by steep grass banking. Communist era tenements and an attractive church known as the Biserica Sfinţii Trei Ierarhi. LPS survive some late goalmouth scrambles to win 2-1.

Monday October 1st 2018 – Romanian IV Liga

LPS Suceava 2 (Placintâ pen 32,72)

ACS Juniorul Suceava 1 (Holca 75)

Att:161

IMG_7163

After a final night in the Continental hotel we wake to find the story of our football tour has made the pages of the regional newspaper, the Bucovina Obiectiv. Our wonderful hosts extend a final act of kindness to us by dropping us back to the airport for our flight back to the UK.

A hugely expanded version of this review will appear in issue 40 of Football Weekends magazine (December 2018)

For more pictures from this tour and news of any future events please follow @Emishor on Twitter, join the Facebook group “Football In Heaven”, or search the hashtag #Bucovina2018 across all forms of social media.

Thunderstruck (Iceland)

Following Iceland’s dramatic performance at Euro 2016 and subsequent flop at Russia 2018, I was interested to know if the spectacular success of a remote island of 338,000 inhabitants had resulted in an upsurge of interest in domestic football.

Sep 2018 043Hallgrímskirkja

Like many smaller UEFA nations the cream of Icelandic talent has always been quickly whisked away to more high profile clubs and leagues around Europe. Indeed the squad recently called up for the new UEFA Nations League matches included only one home based player, the veteran defender Birkir Sævarsson,who has spent most of his career in Norway and Sweden, before returning this season to play for champions elect Knattspyrnufélagið Valur.

Much has been documented about the sheer quality of coaching available to young players in Iceland. The success of the national team will have come as no little surprise to informed observers, especially under the astute guidance of Heimir Hallgrímsson after he stepped out of the shadow of a joint head coach role with the more heralded Swede Lars Lagerbäck in 2016. It is interesting to note that when Hallgrímsson joined Lagerbäck at the helm of the national team, Iceland were ranked 141 in the world. When he returned to his dental practice a few months ago they had been ranked as high as 18th.

Looking back in history it is interesting to note the influence of British coaching in the Icelandic game with Scot’s Murdo McDougall, John Devine, Alex Weir and Duncan McDowell, plus English coaches Freddie Steele and Tony Knapp all having stints in charge of the national team in the first 40 years after World War II.

The roots of the success were sown at the turn of the current century when the KSA, the Icelandic FA, began a huge investment programme on indoor training facilities. These were staffed by paid UEFA licensed coaches who took the roles as a supplement to their “normal” professions, no longer would clubs and academies be reliant on enthusiastic but unqualified volunteers. It was transformational with a huge influx of kids, male and female, undergoing proper coaching. You walk around Reykjavik now and you can barely turn a corner without seeing the faces of “golden generation” heroes like Gylfi Sigurðsson, Aron Gunnarsson and Alfreð Finnbogason being used to promote all sorts of products.

My first taste of Iceland football came on the Friday evening. There was only one mens game in the whole country and that was an under 19 match on the island of Vestmannaeyjar and while it was taking place on the bucket list ground of Hásteinsvöllur after a day of travelling and sightseeing the need to catch a ferry wasn’t appealing. There was, however, a full schedule in the second tier (1. Dield Konur) of women’s football. So the choice was UMF Afturelding/Fram against visitors from the east of the island, Sindri, in the attractive surroundings of the N1-Völlurinn Varma in Mosfellsbær, about a 20 minute drive north east of Reykjavík.

The visitors were bottom of the table and had several American players in their team and it was one of them, Katelyn Nebesnick, who broke the deadlock when, against the run of play, her speculative long range shot somehow found its way into the net. The hosts, with two Ghanian players in their side, then got a grip of the match and rattled in five unanswered goals. As an infrequent watcher of women’s football, it proved to be a decent standard and considerable skill was on view.

IMG_6011

Friday September 14th 2018 – 1.Dield Konur

Afturelding/Fram 5 (Ómarsdóttir 38, Grétsrsdóttir 45, Birgisdóttir 54, Egyr 56, Ásþórsdóttir 72)

Sindri 1 (Nebesnick 20)

Att:53 Admission ISK 1,000 (£7)

IMG_5663Sep 2018 032IMG_5662Sep 2018 030Sep 2018 037

With the Icelandic Cup Final due to be played at the national stadium on Saturday evening, it made perfect sense to tick off the Valbjarnarvöllur the small stadium adjacent to the national stadium and home to second tier outfit Knattspyrnufélagið Þróttur since 1999. The club had its origins in the impoverished western sector of Reykjavík in 1949 where most residents lived in Nissan huts. In 1969 they moved to the east side of Reykjavik before celebrating their 50th anniversary in their new surroundings of Laugardal.

Today’s second tier match sees Thór Akureyri make the five hour, 250 mile journey from the north of the island. A modest crowd gathers for what proved to be a highly entertaining game which was won by the visitors when their young Spanish import, Álvaro Calleja, completed a very impressive hat-trick before home centre forward, Viktor Jónsson, complete his own hat-trick in stoppage time. Þróttur are a well run and friendly club and the ground is certainly well worth a visit.

IMG_6010

Saturday September 15th 2018 – Inkasso Dieldin

Þróttur Reykjavík 3 (Jónsson 8,39,90)

Þór Akureyri 4 (Calleja 27,84,87, Sigurbergsson 29)

Att:104 Admission ISK 1,400 (£10)

Sep 2018 045IMG_5784IMG_5817IMG_5834IMG_5833IMG_5778

As entertaining as the Þróttur game was the Cup Final between Stjarnan and Breiðablik was a huge disappointment. Tickets went on sale promptly at 4pm and it appeared that both clubs had been given lots of free tickets for their junior players and to make an event of it a milk company provided free chocolate cake and milk. Sadly another company also provided free foldable cardboard clackers for both sets of supporters. Even though football programmes have no real tradition in Iceland, it was still a surprise nothing was published for the final.

It has to be said even with only the main stand open, the atmosphere was excellent with in particular the Stjarnan fans using English football tunes with their own lyrics. They even did several renditions of that cultural Icelandic phenomenon, the Viking Thunderclap, BANG! CLAP! HUH! It was all pretty decent apart from the 120 minutes of watching an astonishingly abject imitation of a football match being played out on the pitch. Yes the rain in the second half was biblical in quantity but does that really stop you from passing to someone in the same coloured shirt or producing anything remotely resembling an accurate cross? A goalless draw was inevitable and Stjarnan won the ABBA format penalty shoot out 4-1 when Breiðablik contrived to miss their second and third kicks therefore denying themselves an opportunity to even take a fourth kick.

The National Stadium, Laugardalsvöllur, took eight years to open, starting in 1949 and taking until 1957 before Iceland took on Norway in the first game at the stadium. The huge west stand was expanded between 1965 and 1970 and was joined in 1997 by the smaller east stand. Temporary stands were used to accommodate the 20,204 people present for a friendly against Italy in 2004. The stadium only acquired floodlights as recently as 1992 and, in truth, the venue could really do with modernisation.

Saturday September 15th 2018 – KSI Cup Final

Stjarnan 0 Breiðablik UBK 0

After Extra Time. Stjarnan win 4-1 on penalties

Att:3,814 Entry 2,000 Kr (£15)

 

Tickets 004

It goes without saying that Iceland is a wonderful (if a tad expensive) place to visit. Vast tundra plains and volcanic extrusions give a sense of other worldliness. Fissures in the crust of the earth belch plumes of thermally heated water with a seemingly malodorous intent at the geysers of Haukadalur. Surely the waterfalls of Gullfoss should be as well known as those of Niagra, Iguazu and Victoria? The fury and force of water tumbling unrelentingly into chasms below is truly mind blowing. The serenity and deep green and blue colours of the vast crater of Kerið has a beauty beyond any adequate description. It is no surprise that tourism in Iceland has grown exponentially in recent years, its safe, liberal, accessible and simply glorious.

IMG_5601Gullfoss

Sep 2018 014Strokkur

Sep 2018 019Haukadalur

IMG_5642Kerið

IMG_5710Harpa

IMG_5703Sun Voyager

 

Stick a fork in I’m done with 2017/18

Here is a review of my itinerant football watching during the 2017/18 campaign.

Me 060513

Total Matches Attended: 258

New Grounds Visited: 185

Total Goals Scored: 984 (Average of 3.81 goals per game, down on 3.91 last season, seven 0-0 draws this season)

Biggest Win: Southampton 12 QK Southampton 0

Biggest Crowd: 42,679 Tottenham Hotspur v APOEL

Games Abroad: 43 (Serbia 14, Romania 9, Slovakia 4, Belgium 3. Cyprus 3, Latvia 3, Austria 2, Isle of Man 2, Liechtenstein 1, Lithuania 1, Northern Cyprus 1).

MMMM 097

BEST GROUNDS VISITED IN THE UK 2017/18

1.   FORT WILLIAM – Claggan Park

One of the most beautifully scenic grounds in the world let alone the UK. Set in front of Càrn Dearg, one of the foothills of Ben Nevis, the thought of this ground closing for football sent many scurrying up to the Highlands this season. Fortunately the club live to fight another campaign at this wondrous place.

Fort William 140418 028

2.   GREENOCK MORTON – Cappielow

Classic grandstand and terracing, iconic floodlights and maritime cranes. One of the UK’s finest surviving old school football stadiums.

IMG_0947

3.  TON PENTRE – Ynys Park

Steeped in a century’s worth of history. Boasting a superb example of covered terracing, even with no one it, Ynys Park is the type of place that just crackles with atmosphere.

Feb 2018 013

4.  JK SILVERTOWN – Lyle Park

A fine ground hidden away by East London industry. Nearly 100 years old and what a rich story that lies within.

Lyle Park (12)

5. BRECON CORINTHIANS – The Rich Field

Lovely little ground in a fantastic town, one of those sort of places you wouldn’t mind moving to and following the Corries.

Aug 2017 094

BEST GROUNDS VISITED ABROAD 2017/18

1. AS TRENČÍN  – Stadion na Sihoti

Despite undergoing a rebuild the floodlights and medieval castle backdrop at this stadium are stuff of dreams.

IMG_9730

2. FC TRIESENBERG – Sportplatz Leitawies

I had always known this was a beautiful setting but it truly defies description

IMG_0143

3. CSM SCOLAR RESITA – Stadion Mircea Chivu

Hewn rather than built into a valley, this is a magical ground. You will not be disappointed.

IMG_8948

4. FC POJORÂTA – Stadion Pojorâta

Like watching football on a fantasy movie set, just stunning.

Oct 2017 159

5. RSD JETTE – Stade Communal de Jette

Crumbling terracing in a decreasing curve from start to end. Really unusual and yet another on the never ending list of sublime Belgian football grounds.

IMG_8399

BEST PROGRAMMES BOUGHT IN 2017/18

(based on status, resources, effort and originality)

1.   BOSHAM

IMG_0726

2.   HORNSEY & HIGHGATE

IMG_0720

3.   OSSETT ALBION

IMG_0725

4.   CANVEY ISLAND

IMG_0713

5.   BARRY TOWN UNITED

IMG_0722

A special mention for the tournament programme for the CONIFA World Football Cup held in London. Superbly produced and very informative.

BEST FOOD IN 2017/18

1. AYA NAPA – Koupes

IMG_4845

2. BISHOPS LYDEARD – Thai Curry

Bishops Lydeard (1)

3. SUTTON UNITED – Fish Finger Roll

Sutton

Night On A Bare Mountain (FC Triesenberg)

Liechtenstein hold the unique place among the 55 members of UEFA as they do not have a domestic league, instead its seven clubs are assimilated into varying levels of the Swiss pyramid. By far the most successful are FC Vaduz who play at the impressive Rheinpark Stadion and currently reside at the second level of Swiss football. There is a Liechtenstein Cup, the winners of which qualify for the Europa League. The other clubs are FC Balzers, FC Schaan, FC Triesen, FC Triesenberg, USV Eschen/Mauren and FC Ruggell.

Boasting just 38,000 inhabitants, Fürstentum (the principality of) Liechtenstein is the sixth smallest independent nation in the world, some eight square miles smaller than the Marshall Islands and less than half the size of England’s smallest county of Rutland. Bordered to its western border by the mighty River Rhine its location in the Alps means with every turn of your head is a stunning vista.

It could be a matter of some debate which of the seven grounds has the most scenic setting but for me it has to be that of FC Triesenberg, a small town set some 900 metres above sea level close to the Grauspitz, the countries’ highest peak and gazing over a stunning sweep of the upper Rhine valley, the river gleaming lustrously in the early morning sun.

FC Triesenberg were formed in 1972 and currently play in the III.Liga which is the seventh level of Swiss football. In 2009/10 the club won III.Liga and were elevated to the II.Liga for the only time in its history.

Their stadium, Sportplatz Leitawies took two years to build due to the need to effectively place the ground on stilts above a two story car park such is the paucity of flat land in Triesenberg. The first game took place on September 19th 1973 and the club have played there ever since. Originally the covered area which houses the board room and dressing rooms had terracing to one side constructed from alpine boulders. In a recent revamp this has been turned into a raised viewing platform level with the covered area. The stadium can hold 800 people, not that it is likely to be tested. Surprisingly, Leitawies still has a grass pitch, testament to the relatively mild climate in Liechtenstein.

Today’s game is an important one Triesenberg lie in third place level on points with second placed visitors FC Rheineck. It’s a feisty encounter with some spectacular goals and of a standard generally much higher than anticipated. The home goalkeeper proved pivotal with a fine penalty save that meant the sides shared the points in a 3-3 draw.

While the stadium is more an impressive feat of mountainside engineering than a design classic, the incredible location is utterly breathtaking. If you have an iota of soul in your body, Leitawies really should be on your bucket list.

index

Saturday May 26th 2018 – Meisterschaft III Liga Gruppe 2

FC Triesenberg 3 (Barandun 7, J.Beck 37, Zorić 79)
FC Rheineck 3 (Ibrahimi 20,80, Zinko 76)

Attendance:98 Entry: 5 CHF (£3.80)

Gallery

IMG_0067IMG_0144IMG_0133IMG_0142IMG_0143IMG_0116May 2018 009IMG_0145May 2018 014IMG_0065