Cabo Verde (Cabinteely FC)

The last thirty years of the League of Ireland have seen a myriad of clubs attempting to bridge the gap from county football to the national league. The likes of Kilkenny City (1985-2008), Monaghan United (1985-2012), St.Francis (1996-2001), Dublin City (1999-2006), Kildare County (2002-09), Sporting Fingal (2007-11), Mervue United (2008-13), Salthill Devon (2008-13) have all tried and largely failed to hold down a place in the competition for anything other than a limited period of time.

Cabinteely are the latest such aspirant joining the League of Ireland for the 2015/16 season. Cabinteely is a small town in the southern part of County Dublin and had a couple of clubs, Cabinteely Blues and Cabinteely Boys representing the town before the current club were formed in 1967 as Auburn FC. Five years later they changed their name to Cabinteely Boys, dropping the suffix in recent years following the assimilation of several female teams into their roster of 60 teams at all age levels. To date probably their most famous alumni is Andy Keogh who played for Scunthorpe and Wolves and is currently with Perth Glory in Australia.

In order to gain admittance to the League of Ireland Cabinteely had to relocate from their very basic Kilbogget Park to Stradbrook Road the home of Blackrock College rugby club. The ground has a licensed capacity of 1,300 and only has uncovered terracing down one side of the pitch. It also has floodlights and a TV gantry so even without a stand as such it is a big step up from their old home. Cabo’s first season in the national league saw them finish bottom of the table of eight clubs.

Kilbogget Park

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This season has not seen much progress with Cabo again propping up the table before today’s game with their visitors from Athlone just a point above them. The result of this game was beyond doubt when young centre forward Joe Doyle completed a hat-trick with 7 minutes and 20 seconds on the clock. Doyle added a fourth to send Cabinteely in at the break in total command of the match. Athlone pulled back a consolation goal midway through the second half before an Oscar Brennan volley sealed a truly impressive victory for the hosts. It was their biggest win since joining the League of Ireland.

Just how long Cabinteely can survive at this level will be interesting to observe given the chequered history of recent entrants to this division. Should the club find themselves in a promotion position there would be a fair amount of upgrading needed for Stradbrook Road. Support is modest but enthusiastic, “We are Cabo” scarves sell well, and who knows, this very result might just light a fire in an upwards trajectory for Cabo.

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League of Ireland Division 1 – (01/07/2016)

Cabinteely 5 (Doyle 2, 4, 8, 27, Brennan 87)
Athlone Town 1 (Monaghan 68)

Att: 146

Admission: €10 No Programme (internet version only)

Review

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Cabinteely ticket

Jumping Through Hoops (Shamrock Rovers FC)

The history of Shamrock Rovers is absolutely fascinating, a heady mix of on field success, the Hoops have won a record 17 League of Ireland titles, and boardroom politics and shenanigans. Even the clubs’ own formation date is disputed traditionally always quoted as 1901, recent study has unearthed unequivocal proof that Shamrock Rovers were playing matches as early as April 1899. What is not in dispute is how the clubs’ name was chosen. One of the first meetings held to discuss the formation of the new club was held in Shamrock Avenue and it was decided to call the new club by that national symbol rather than a particular locality.

The highs and lows of the Hoops can be mirrored by their struggles in finding a home ground to call their own. Initially the majority of games were played at Ringsend Park before the club spent the 1915/16 season at Shelbourne’s then home ground of Shelbourne Park Stadium, now exclusively a greyhound racing venue. Rovers then played at Windy Arbour near Dundrum before using a pitch on the Milltown Road which was in the heartland of their supporter base. Finally, in 1926 the club opened its brand new ground in Milltown situated in Dublin’s south side. The land was leased from the Jesuit Order and the ground was mainly built by the clubs’ supporters. In the 1930’s the Cunningham family bought Shamrock Rovers and the stadium was renamed Glenmalure Park after the ancestral home of the new owners.

Glenmalure Park was the base for huge success for the Rovers although some of their biggest European Cup matches, including their debut in the competition, against Manchester United, would be staged at Bohemians’ superb and commodious Dalymount Park. The Cunninghams completed the ground providing more terracing and a cover for the terrace opposite the main stand. The capacity now stood at some 20,000 but in 1968 the visit of Waterford to Glenmalure saw the all time record gate of 28,000 gather for a Rovers game.

The Cunningham Family sold Rovers to the Kilcoynes in 1972 and by 1987 the new owners had also purchased the land from the Jesuit Order. In the 15 years of Kilcoyne ownership Glenmalure had become run down due to a lack of maintenance and investment. The motive soon became clear when a plan was announced to sell Glenmalure and move Rovers across town to Tolka Park to groundshare with then occupants Home Farm.

The Rovers fans boycotted and picketed games at Tolka Park which ended up bankrupting the Kilcoynes. Rovers fans collected money to buy Glenmalure but when they could not match an offer from a property developer the stadiums fate was sealed. Glenmalure was knocked down in 1990 and eight years later the supporters trust erected a memorial at the site of the old stadium.

Memorial

In 1990 the now nomadic Rovers moved from Tolka Park to the magnificent arena of the Royal Dublin Society Showground in Ballsbridge, a venue first opened in 1881. Primarily of course it is an equine events venue but has also staged rock concerts, religious gatherings and since 2005 has been the home to Leinster rugby. The new grandstand was built in 2006 while the vintage and just stunning Anglesea Road stand with its glorious elevated terrace dates from 1927, although there are plans to replace this historic beauty.

The RDS Showground

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Shamrock Rovers left the RDS in 1996 and limped on playing “home” games at Shelbourne, St.Patricks Athletic and the Morton Stadium, an athletics venue in Santry with a long history of hosting League of Ireland matches. In March 2000 Taoiseach Bertie Ahern cut the first sod at Rovers’ new Tallaght Stadium but it would be nine years before the first match would be staged there.

Financial problems beseeched the project, planning permission expired and to cap it all in 2006 a local gaelic football club Thomas Davis GAA took legal action against the club and South Dublin County Council stating the new facility should have a pitch big enough to stage senior GAA matches. Thomas Davis eventually lost the case and the original football only plan proceeded. The club had hit the rocks though and were only saved by a consortium of 400 fans who took over the debts of the club ensuring its survival.

The Tallaght Stadium finally opened in March 2009 with a game against Sligo Rovers, ironically the same opponents for the last game at Glenmalure Park. In July of that year the club held a lucrative “Festival of Football” welcoming Newcastle United, Real Madrid and Hibernian to the new stadium. The fan run club has tried to be innovative as well, becoming the first club to run a “B” team in the First Division of the League of Ireland.

Tonight sees the first leg of a Europa League first qualifying round tie with little known Finnish opponents Rovaniemen Palloseura, better known as RoPS. They hail from close to the Arctic circle and Rovaniemi is the official hometown of Santa Claus! Tonight however Shamrock are just awful and look like a team in pre-season rather than mid-season. RoPS win easily barely breaking sweat and on this evidence the second leg in the frozen north of Finland should be a mere formality.

Tallaght Stadium is not a particularly attractive venue, exposed and already weathered concrete and with two open ends, but considering the near fatal journey it took to get there at least it is finally a home for Ireland’s most successful club.

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Europa League 1st Qualifying Round (30/06/2016)

Shamrock Rovers 0
Rovaniemen Palloseura 2 (Lahdenmäki 26, Saksela 74)

Att: 1,908

Admission €15 Programme €4

Gallery

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Shamrock ticket

More Northern Skies

The days before and after any Swedish Groundhop offer a plethora of options for those wishing to extend there stay in this summer football season part of the world.

For the few that remained in Sweden Kim Hedwall organised a minibus to take in a couple of Monday matches on what was a National Day holiday in his homeland.

First up was a pit stop at Enköping to admire the modern and attractive stadium of the two local clubs. Enavallen hosts both Enköping SK, who were an Allsvenskan club as recently as 2003, and Enköping IS. The main stand is visually very pleasing and Kim has mooted this as a potential hop venue of the future.

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A few minutes later we arrive at fourth tier side Håbo FF and their Björkvallen ground is already teeming with people on this glorious afternoon. The Swedish national anthem is sung beautifully by a young lady before over 600 people watched the local side rattle in four hugely impressive first half goals. The visitors from IK Franke rallied briefly in the second half but a quick fire double from Håbo one of which saw the visiting keeper dismissed ensured the points were staying deservedly with the host club. Björkvallen is a relatively basic Idrottsplats style ground, the officials and visitors change in a building outside the ground for example, and these limitations could hamper the progress of this rapidly rising club.

Sweden Div. 2 Norra Svealand (06/06/2016)

Håbo FF 6 (Kristiansson 19, 29, 82, Aras 23, Danilo 32, Yilmaz pen 81)
IK Franke 2 (Applefeldt 51, pen 71)

Att: 615 (at Björkvallen)

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After heading south we arrive at the impressive Södertalje Futbollarena which plays host to two clubs with their roots firmly in the Assyrian community which first starting arriving in the city in 1967, fleeing from conflicts in Turkey, Iraq and Syria. Over 40% of the cities’ population is from an immigrant background so it is no surprise that two clubs, Assyriska (1973) and Syrianska (1977) have flourished, the later enjoying three seasons in the Allsvenskan. The stadium was opened in 2005 and boasts one enormous stand with open terracing on the opposite side and a segregated section for away fans. This afternoon’s match is a Superettan game between Assyriska and GAIS from Gothenburg. A modest crowd gathers for this game and a well contested encounter is enjoyed by all especially when the hosts level with an injury time penalty when the GAIS captain inexplicably concedes an unnecessary foul.

Sweden Superettan (06/06/2016)

Assyriska FF 2 (Söderström 34, pen 90)
GAIS 2 (Singh 21, Moënza 63)

Att: 1,308 (at Södetalje Futbollarena)

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Tuesday evening sees a Tunnelbana ride east to the suburb of Hässelby where you will find Grimsta Idrottsplats home of IF Brommapojkarna, officially the world’s biggest football club! This claim is based on over 3,000 registered players for its 250 teams! The team have suffered a double relegation since the heady days of a return to Allsvenskan in 2012. Now in Division 1 Norra the team is coached by former Aston Villa legend Olof Mellberg. They sit top of the division and on tonight’s evidence of a totally dominant performance against Akropolis, few would seriously bet against a swift return to the Superettan. Grimsta was opened in 1963 and despite periodic refurbishment had always had just one stand running the length of one side of the pitch. Now though a new main stand is partially erected on the opposite side of the ground. Now looking like a proper stadium rather than an idrottsplats hopefully the investment will see BP return to the higher levels of the Swedish game.

Sweden Div.1 Norra (07/06/2016)

IF Brommapojkarna 3 (Brandeborn 32, 74, Gustafsson pen 90)
Akropolis IF 0

Att: 738 (Grimsta IP)

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The trip then heads to Finland and a much cooler Helsinki, draped in heavy cloud it’s not looking its finest when the top level Veikkausliiga runs a full midweek programme on Thursday evening. The game of choice is IFK Helsingfors against PK-35 Vantaa now managed by Shefki Kuqi. IFK, or Idrottsföreningen Kamraterna i Helsingfors, are an old club having been formed in 1897. Known by the nickname “Stadens stolthet” (The city’s pride) the club were originally solely patronised by the Swedish speaking middle classes while the Finns traditionally support their great rivals HJK. After seven Mestaruussarja titles IFK suffered severe financial problems in 2002 and had to take the place of their reserve team at level five. To their immense credit they have regrouped, opened a share issue for fans to invest, and have ultimately returned to the top flight after winning the Ykkönen Liga in 2014. IFK were playing at the Töölön Pallokenttä but following top flight promotion the club have groundshared with HJK at the 10,700 seater Sonera Stadium which is adjacent to the Olympic Stadium.

Tonight’s game, however, is a poor one for the hosts despite some great vocal backing from their supporters. Vantaa are two goals to the good, including one from the manager’s kid brother Njazi before IFK even muster a chance. The hosts pull one back in the second half but really look like a side who don’t believe they can score a second time.

Finland Veikkausliiga (09/06/2016)

IFK Helsingfors 1 (Salmikivi 53)
PK-35 Vantaa 2 (Kaufmann 12, Kuqi 41)

Att: 2,816 (at Sonera Stadion)

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Another day, another country and a ferry crossing the Gulf of Finland to Tallinn and two games in the murky nether regions of Estonian football.

The first game takes place in the 3G ground adjacent to the Kalevi Keskstaadion, home of Estonian Esiliiga (second tier) side JK Tallinna Kalev. It’s a fifth tier match tonight between Castovanni Eagles and JK Retro who are an interesting team almost entirely made up of ex Estonian internationals including 89 cap Andrei Stepanov who once played two minutes for Watford. They are managed by Erko Saviauk who himself won 60 caps and play purely for fun these days. This point is stretched as they start with ten men until 45 year old, 3 cap, Arvo Kraam arrived belatedly in a speeding taxi 25 minutes into the first half! With even numbers the ageing but more skilful veterans begin to outclass their younger, fitter opponents and eventually claim a deserved victory with a late winner.

Estonia III Liga (10/06/2016)

Tallinna Castovanni Eagles 1 (Naariste 66)
JK Retro 2 (Rist 60, Silkin 85)

Att: 9 (at Kalevi Keskstaadion Kunstmuruväljak)

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Saturday brings a 12pm kick off in the Wismari Staadion, a short walk past the magnificent Aleksandr Nevski cathedral. The Wismari is normally the home of JK Tallinna Legion, however, this match is between Tallinna Dünamo and Lokomotiv Jöhvi who have travelled some 100 miles for this fourth level match. The pitch is again 3G though the surface is in poor condition and the surroundings are vastly inferior to those of the previous evening. Lokomotiv are far too strong for the side from the capital and win easily, barely breaking sweat.

Estonia II Liga (11/06/2016)

Tallinna Dünamo 0
Lokomotiv Jöhvi 4 (Vender 36, Makarov 44, Smirnov 64, Bazjukin 68)

Att:41 (at Wismari Staadion)

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There you have it a thoroughly enjoyable extension to the annual pilgrimage to Sweden. Great part of the world to enjoy summer football on warm days!

Northern Skies (Swedish Groundhop 2016)

Twenty odd groundhoppers (as in about 20 as opposed to a comment on mental state or peculiarities) flew into Stockholm Arlanda airport for the tenth annual Swedish Groundhop organised as always by the legendary Kim Hedwall.

This hop for many has become a fine coda to the football season and by and large the glorious weather in the Stockholms region at this time of year has showcased this stunning region in all it majesty.

The bus whisked us towards the capital our first port of call was for a guided tour of Torben Grut’s iconic 1912 Olympic Stadium, until 2013 the home of Djurgårdens IF. Ground grading fripperies mean their Allsvenskan side now has to groundshare at Hammarby’s Tele2Arena. It is my third time at this quite magnificent arena, all carved wood and eye-catching detail, the only real concession to modernity being a large electronic scoreboard. We are guided by a club official called Pelle and he kindly invites us back to the Stockholms Stadion for Djurgårdens’ forthcoming friendlies against Kalmar and Groningen for which plastic tip up seats are not a mandatory requirement!

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After checking in at an old favourite for the hop, the Scandic Järva Krog we are taken to the nearby Ursviks Idrottsplats for the first game of the hop. Typical of its kind a 3G pitch, bleacher style stand and dressing room block. The officials are welcoming and coffee is provided while the team manager gives us a power point presentation on how he plans for his team to win this match. His homework paid dividends as Ursviks triumphed in an entertaining match with Martin Kullberg taking the plaudits with a well taken hat-trick.

Stockholms Div 4 Mellersta (03/06/2016)

Ursviks IK 4 (Kullberg 36, 73, 89, Papathanasiou 81)
Reymersholms IK 2 (Ryckert 54, Höjer 58)

Att: 75 (at Ursviks IP)

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The programme for Saturday has three matches on the agenda and the first is another short bus ride to Danderydsvallen and impressive sports complex where the clearly very proud club officials tell us of the history of the sports club, its ethos of using only local players, and answering our questions. They present us with scarves and other souvenirs and ask us to join in singing a traditional Swedish drinking song with a complementary beer and glass of local firewater.

It’s early and warm and sadly the home side seem a little dozy as their guests and league leaders Husby win far more comfortably than the final scoreline suggests.

Stockholms Div 4 Norra (04/06/2016)

Danderyds SK 2 (Issa 20, Pharmanson 90)
Husby FF 3 (Hien 8, 48, Tsegal 76)

Att: 57 (at Danderydsvallen)

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Next we move onto the swanky suburb of Djursholm wealthy enough to attract Björn Ulvaeus from Abba to its costly neighbourhood. Another welcome talk tells us that Djursholms priority is to produce young players and mould them into professional standard players and recoup coaching costs through Moderclub (“mother club”) which sees a percentage of future transfer fees going back to a players club of origin.

Today the first team, who are mainly aged 19 and under, have a task on their hands against the league leaders, IFK Österåker. The visitors duly flex their muscles and race into a 6-1 lead before the hosts stage a comeback which sadly they just run out of time to complete.

Stockholms Div 4 Norra (04/06/2016)

FC Djursholm 4 (Tollis 54, Linnér 83, Croon 85, 88)
IFK Österåker 6 (Sindemark 27, 35, Tuhcic 40, Sjöstrand 53, Musa 63, 66)

Att: 112 (at Djursholms IP)

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There is then a quick dash up to Uppsala for the Superettan match at the fabulous Studenternas IP, home of IK Sirius. If displays are to be believed around the stadium this venue is about to undergo serious redevelopment so it’s great to catch it in its original state. Studenternas has been home to Sirius since their formation in 1909. The bandy stadium next door is equally impressive. The hosts huff and puff their way to a valuable three points to send most of the modest crowd home happy after this televised match.

Superettan (04/06/2016)

IK Sirius FK 2 (Björkebaum 67, Bergman 79)
Trelleborgs FF 1 (Jovanović 30)

Att: 1,170 (at Studenternas IP)

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Sunday has a more sedate two game programme which commenced with a lengthy drive into the countryside to a village called Kårsta which has a population of around 500 people and whose tiny rail station marks the end of the line for the province of Stockholms Lan. After locating Kårevallen, a glorious oasis at the end of a dusty unmade road a huge voice booms a welcome through a loudhailer. The voice belonged to Staffan Hassius, president of GoIF Kåre and as soon as you heard his infectious Klopp like enthusiasm you just knew this was going to be fun. It seemed most of this tiny village had given up their Sunday morning to welcome their foreign guests. Staffan told us about the club and made us so welcome even hoisting a union jack above the clubhouse. None of us had been to a hop game where musical entertainment had been supplied with a male duo playing a mix of English and Swedish songs followed by a lady wearing odd shoes who played the euphonium beautifully. Kårevallen is one of those idyllic Swedish grounds set into the side of a rocky hill. Spectator accommodation provided by two handmade wooden bleachers and sustenance came courtesy of delicious reindeer kebabs.

The match itself was an attritional affair, Kåre needing a win to take over from Fanna at the top of the table. After much endeavour on a hot day a goal from Daniel Zachrison sealed a very popular home victory. Its clubs like GoIF Kåre, run solely by volunteers that make you realise this is where the true spirit of football lies not in the festering money ruined vortex of the Premier League. Someday more people will see the light.

Upplands Div 5 Södra (05/06/2016)

GoIF Kåre 1 (Zachrison 64)
Unik FK 0

Att: 126 (at Kårevallen)

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The bus wound its way to Rosersbergs a hefty goal kick away from Arlanda airport for the final match of the hop. The Råbergsvallen is bathed in glorious sunshine. Another warm welcome and some very tasty cake was enjoyed before a tense encounter between the hosts a Fanna ensues. Rosersbergs take a deserved lead when a penalty is awarded when a defender injudiciously clips a home forward in the area. Fanna look a good side but struggle to break down the hosts. That is until a free kick is awarded late on and Rami Abbas sneakily moves the ball back a couple of yards to allow him a chance to get the ball over the wall and down again. He duly accomplished this which was very harsh on Rosersbergs.

Upplands Div 5 Södra (05/06/2016)

Rosersbergs IK 1 (Lyngbrant pen 34)
Fanna BK 1 (Abbas 88)

Att: 121 (at Råbergsvallen)

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So the tenth anniversary Swedish groundhop, masterfully crafted by Kim Hedwall once again, ended all too soon for many though as usual some had decided to stay on just a little bit longer…

Stick a fork in I’m done with 2015/16

Here is a review of my itinerant football watching during the 2015/16 campaign.

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Total Matches Attended: 244

New Grounds Visited: 200

Total Goals Scored: 885 (Average of 3.63 goals per game, up on 3.45 last season, though still eight 0-0 draws this season!)

Biggest Win: KFC Uerdingen 12 TSV Bockum 0

Biggest Crowd: 46,781 Combined attendance for Non League Finals Day (Wembley Stadium)

Games Abroad: 50 (Belgium 9, Sweden 9, Germany 7, Serbia 7, Romania 5, Malta 4, Estonia 2, Netherlands 2, Spain 2, Italy 1, Finland 1, France 1)

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BEST GROUNDS VISITED IN THE UK 2015/16

1. AYR UNITED – Somerset Park

A visit to Somerset Park is a 90 minute wallow in the way things used to be. An utterly brilliant ground.

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2. BARROW – Holker Street

Finally managed to get to Holker Street after several previous attempts failed due to poor weather. Great ground that has retained character along with modernisation.

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3. MERTHYR TOWN – Penydarren Park

A weather enforced revisit but a timely reminder of this majestically ageing leviathan, not a minute too soon as bulldozers loom over the old main stand like vultures over roadkill.

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4. BILSTON TOWN – Queen Street

A very well maintained big ground at odds with the declining fortunes of the team. One of the many great grounds of the Black Country.

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5. WENDRON UNITED – The Underlane

Not often a ground in the UK catches me by surprise but this one did. Such a welcome panacea to see something different to the usual kit made stands favoured by so many progressive clubs. Built on an audacious scale for the the level club not to mention with sustainable energy incorporated into the construction. Magnificent!

WENDRON

BEST GROUNDS VISITED ABROAD 2015/16

1. RFC TILLEUR – Stade du Bureaufosse

Massive weed strewn terrace, big pitched roof main stand, sizeable covered terrace. A truly magical place.

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2. KFC BERINGEN – Mijnstadion

Tenant free for a number of years the chance to this fantastic stadium for a reunion match was too good to resist.

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3. RAYO VALLECANO – Campo de Vallecas

Hemmed in among the urban sprawl of the Vallecas, working class, passionate and resonant. An absolute must do venue.

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4. RRC BOITSFORT- Stade des Trois Tilleuls

Built on a preposterous scale, huge sweeping terraces immaculately crafted. A quite wonderful arena.

BOITSFORT

5. KFC UERDINGEN – Grotenburg Stadion

Built on a vast scale before the club collapsed financially, the Grotenburg is big on concrete and floodlights.

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BEST ATMOSPHERE 2015/16

Olympique Lyonnias v Angers SCO

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MOST UNUSUAL GROUND VISITED 2015/16

Fratia Bucharest, home to the lost and lonely, seemingly bonded by uncommon blood. An utterly unique and life affirming experience.

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BEST PROGRAMMES BOUGHT IN 2015/16

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

1. Whitehill Welfare

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2. AFC St Austell

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3. Elstow Abbey

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4. Airbus UK

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5. Barrow

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BEST FOOD IN 2015/16

1. Sporting Khalsa – Chicken tikka wrap

Sporting Khalsa

2. Brackley Town-  Sausage baguette
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=3. GoIF Kåre – Reindeer kebab


=3.Coventry Sphinx – Pasta and chips

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Triumph and Tragedy (Bucharest Groundhop 2016)

So after much hard work and promotion by organiser Andrei Otineanu, an ensemble of groundhoppers (11 English, 1 Scottish, 1 German and 1 Dane) flew into Bucharest from all points to gather for this much anticipated event.

After careful planning by our host, the itinerary was to take in seven matches over Friday to Sunday with a decent mix of three top flight games and four lower level matches. Well that was the plan but events would see the schedule torn up and thrown in the bin!

We gathered excitedly at the Ibis hotel adjacent to the preposterously enormous Palatul Parlamentului building. Our welcome packs of English language programmes and pin badges were handed out as we headed of to the first of two Friday evening games.

AS Olimpic Bucharest play at the Energoutilaj Ground in Drumul Bercenarului and currently play in the Fifth League (Bucharest). The ground is located near to Gara Progresul in the southern suburbs of the city. The modest ground lies in the shadow of the huge Statie de Betoane cement factory. The eye-catching stand is the on the right as you enter and is a decent size if a little difficult to ascend into! The pitch is noticeably poor, rutted and grassless in places and patches of mushrooms proliferate on the surface.

As an amateur ground it has everything and we witness a surprisingly skilful game given the awful playing surface. The visitors were 3-2 ahead when, having used all their substitutes at half time, three outfield players had to leave the game with various injuries leaving them reduced to just eight players. Weight of numbers told and Olimpic took full advantage scoring two late goals to seal the victory.

Friday May 6th 2016, 17.00 pm – Bucharest 5th League

AS Olimpic Bucharest 4 (Buscó 40, Cristeo 56, Mihacoche 82, Calin 84)
Benfica Noua Generatie 3 (Smarande 26, 63, Stoianis 54)

Att: 44 (at Energoutilaj Ground)

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After a hasty but excellent kebab from Calif, it is time for the second game of the evening and it’s the 20.30pm kick off for the top division play-off match between FC Dinamo and FC Viitorul Constanta. The match resulted in the tragic death of Dinamo midfielder Patrick Ekeng from a cardiac arrest, more of which can be read here: https://peterrmiles.wordpress.com/2016/05/11/when-football-cries-again-fc-dinamo-bucharest/

The morning saw the party gather in the reception of the hotel as we desperately waited for news of the fate of the weekend’s planned matches. A distraught Andrei continuously punched refresh on his phone internet browser as the very real prospect of a blanket cancellation of all matches loomed. Plans were hatched to, if necessary, dash over the border with Bulgaria to potentially take in matches in the border towns of Ruse and Svishtov. However, the consensus, in the absence of any news, was to head over to the National Stadium for some photos while a decision was made. En route the news came through that the National Leagues matches were cancelled as a mark of respect which meant we would not be visiting Concordia Chiajna and FC Voluntari. A great shame but the good news was that the lower leagues were allowed to make their own decision on cancellations and thankfully the Bucharest FA agreed games should proceed but with a minutes silence as a mark of respect to the fallen player.

While we were not allowed access to the National Stadium despite an open gate we enjoyed catching half an hour or so of a youth team match on the quirky Electroaparataj Ground between CS6 and Automatica.

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We then had time to look at the photogenic stepped street of Strada Xenofon before heading to the first match of the day at Progresul.

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Progresul Bucharest were formed in 1944 as BNR Bucharest a team from the banking industry. This gives rise to one of their nicknames of the “Bankers” but I have to say I prefer “Cavalerii frunzei de platan” which translates as “The Knights of the Sycamore Leaf”! Their history is steeped in success including 32 seasons of top flight football. However in 2009 it all came crashing down as the club went into financial meltdown and were evicted from their Cotroceni Stadium home due to unpaid rent. Worse was to follow as they were forcibly relegated to the fourth level by the Romanian FA.

Normally the club play at spartan Viitorul Ground in the shadow of the National Stadium but as May 10th marks the club formation date they have hired the superior Electromagnetica Ground normally used by the reserve side of Rapid Bucharest. It is a quite magnificent venue with a stylish concrete stand painted in a dusty pink colour. There is an enormous and blue wooden scoreboard, erected in 1939, in one corner, and adjacent to this the venue has its own chicken coop. Well why wouldn’t it! Since their enforced demotion Progresul have become something of hipster club and attract a modest band of ultras who back the team for the whole game and periodically release blue smoke bombs and flares. It’s a great atmosphere for such a modest level and the home team do their bit by easing to a comfortable 2-0 success against AS Termo.

Saturday May 7th 2016, 13.00 pm – Bucharest 4th League

FC Progresul 2 (Sidek pen 45, Nias 61)
AS Termo 0

Att: 132 (at Electromagnetica Ground)

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A hearty late lunch of chicken soup and mititei was enjoyed with some tasty unfiltered local brews at the excellent Nenea Iancu restaurant in Strada Covaci.

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The next stop is at Stadionul Biruinta, home of Venus Bucharest, a 2014 reformation of a famous name in Romanian football. The original club we formed in 1914 and were known as Negrii (The Blacks) because of their distinctive all black kit which featured a white eight pointed star as a badge. Venus were the most successful club in Romania winning eight championships before being dissolved by the Communist government in 1949. They played at the legendary Venus Stadium between 1931 and the clubs dissolution. The stadium was demolished in 1953. A bunch of enthusiasts wanted to bring football back to the district of Venus and the only pitch in the area was the former training ground of Juventus Bucharest. This was spruced up with a new clubhouse which is now festooned with a myriad of scarves and pennants from clubs across the world. The players change in a small building in the far corner of the ground adjacent to an indoor tennis centre. The Biruinta ground has three metal bleacher style stands on one side which unfortunately have no roofs.

The visitors for this Fourth League encounter rejoice in the name ACS Lucky Sport Management, but there it nothing fortunate about their victory as they easily dismantle the hosts on another very suspect pitch.

Saturday May 7th 2016, 18.00 pm – Bucharest 4th League

FC Venus Bucharest 0
ACS Lucky Sports Management 3 (Gheorghe 21, Militaru pen 37, C.Achim 60)

Att: 38 (at Stadionul Biruinta)

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Our evening meal is at a traditional Romanian eatery of Pub Horezu in Bulevardul Pache Protopopescu. The food is just superb, especially the creamy doughnut dessert.

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Sunday has been reduced to just the 17.30pm match at ASF Fratia so there is plenty of free time in the morning and I opt to wander the streets of the old town area with Stephen and Andrew.

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Then the whole group gathers for a quick visit to the incredible Giulest-Valentin Stanescu Stadium, home of Rapid Bucharest.

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Nenea Iancu was the venue for lunch once again before we headed to Fratia.

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Ah Fratia, what can you say about this place? Located behind a disused factory the ground is epically rudimentary. It can really only be accessed by walking across a field of cabbages for around half a mile! The club are welcoming as any I have ever experienced. The concept of the club was to provide a home for players that could not get a game anywhere else. They are coached by a Congolese man, Aime Lema, and famously have a one armed goalkeeper, Tudorel Mihailescu, a life affirming character whose battle to live out his dream to play football has been featured in the New York Times.

Today is Tudorel’s 50th birthday and the venue is in celebratory mood. Herve Phanzu gives the hosts an early lead against Progresul Spartac but it is a close encounter and victory is not secured until skipper Daniel Sebanescu stabs in a second amid joyous scenes of celebration, so much so he actually injures himself and has to limp off!

The Fratia-Vulcan ground is just amazing, plastic bags and assorted underwear are used for corner flags, a massive scoreboard sits unloved in one corner and a multi coloured bleacher style stand creeks alarmingly under the weight of spectators. If you want to see the real Romania it is encapsulated in this one glorious place.

Sunday May 8th 2016, 17.30 pm – Bucharest 5th League

ASF Fratia 2 (Phanzu 23, Sebanescu 85)
Progesul Spartac 0

Att: 70 (at Fratia-Vulcan Ground)

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Another fabulous meal at Pub Horezu completes the day and as dawn breaks it is time to head off to Otopeni airport for the flight home.

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What an epic weekend organised so well by young Andrei who hopes to base his university thesis on this weekend, be sure to follow the Romanian Groudhopper and #BucharestGH across all forms of social media.

When Football Cries (Again) – (FC Dinamo Bucharest)

(In memory of Patrick Ekeng Ekeng)

FC Dinamo București were formed in May 1948 and have since become one of Romania’s most successful clubs winning 18 national titles and 13 Romanian cups. The formation was the result of a merger between Unirea Tricolor București and Ciocanul București, a merger coerced by the Interior Affairs Ministry.

The club moved to the present stadium in 1951 with the inaugural match taking place against Locomotiva Timișoara. While sporadic renovation has occurred invariably funding issues have seen few projects fully realised. Cosmetic improvements like new floodlights in 2001 and more recently a modern LED scoreboard have given the old ground a fresher feel although the capacity remains a modest 15,000. There are plans to rebuild it into a modern arena style stadium but as the wheels of bureaucracy grind slowly several of the clubs’ bigger matches have been staged at the National Stadium. Since 2015 FC Voluntari have groundshared with Dinamo as they look to replace their ageing Stadionul Anghel Iordansecu in the north east of the city.

The Dinamo Stadium has the unfortunate nickname of Groapa which translates as “the Hole”, not a reflection of the facilities, but due to the fact that the ground was dug out to fit the stands into a bowl rather than raising the stands vertically.

Dinamo’s golden era was undoubtedly the 1970’s and 80’s when they annexed eight of their League titles and enjoyed considerable success in European competition. Their zenith in Europe came in the 1982/83 season when they defeated Kuusysi Lahti of Finland, Hamburg SV and Dinamo Minsk on the way to a semi-final defeat to eventual winners Liverpool.

Tonight’s game is one in a baffling series of play off matches for European places and sees Dinamo draw 3-3 with FC Viitorul Constanța.

The reason for the relatively short mention of the match is the result was very much immaterial because in the 70th minute of the match Dinamo’s Cameroonian international midfielder Patrick Ekeng Ekeng, who had been on the pitch barely seven minutes, keeled over backwards with nobody else near him. While concern was immediate amongst players action from medical staff was appallingly inept. There appeared to be two ambulances at the stadium and these were stationed at the north end of the stadium behind a gate that appeared to be locked. Vital time was lost as a steward battled to open the gate. Once the ambulance headed to the pitch a white suited doctor with a case ran on from the same end like some sort of keystone cop. The prone player was attended to for some minutes but I saw no defribulator engaged and not even heart massage appeared to be performed. Ekeng was rushed to Floreasca hospital which was just minutes away but was tragically pronounced dead some two hours later. Unbelievably the match continued to a conclusion with players from both teams visibly distraught with the severity of what they had seen.

A subsequent police inquest has already revealed inconsistencies in the stories of the ambulance doctor, Dinamo’s club doctor, the hospital spokesman and the official match observer, Vasele Marcel, who has astonishingly already stated he does not even know what a defribulator is. The truth must come out and those found criminally negligent must stand trial for their actions on this fateful night.

The private company contracted to provide ambulance and medical services to Dinamo have been suspended from trading and find them $6,000 after checks revealed their ambulances had defribulators with uncharged batteries and hopelessly out of date medical supplies. Ekeng’s agent Hasan Anil Eken is adamant he knows that none of the ambulances on duty at the stadium was equipped with a defribulator.

With sudden heart defects seemingly increasingly prevalent in young fit athletes there must be action taken. FIFPRO, the world union for professional players has openly criticised Romania for “skimping on medical care” for players in the past. Indeed Dinamo themselves have seen a similar tragedy as recently as 2000 when their captain, Cătălin Hîldan, collapsed and died of a heart attack at the age of 24 during a game against FC Oltenița. Only four years ago 21 year old Nigerian player Henry Chinonso Ihelewere, sufgered a similar fair when he died during a game between his side CS Delta Tulcea and FC Balotesti. The Romanian professional players union, AFAN, tried to get a deal passed where clubs would have state of the art medical resources at every game for as little as €400 per game but clubs evidently decided against the proposal.

In the light of this latest, and I am convinced utterly preventable tragedy, I believe it should be mandatory for the issue of any professional operating licence to a football club for them to prove that they have appropriate medical screening and emergency contingencies in place for all matches. I don’t ever want to witness this happening again and it’s time for football to stop crying about these tragic events and enforce measures to fix it. That’s the least this cash rich sport owes the likes of Patrick Ekeng Ekeng.

Sleep well Indomitable Lion Ekeng.

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Friday May 6th 2016 – Romanian First League Play-Off

Dinamo Bucharest (1) 3 (Gnohere 8, pen 49, Rotariu 55)
FC Viitorul Constanța (2) 3 (Marin 10, Tanese pen 34, Matan pen 84)

Attendance: 2,881 (at Dinamo Stadium)

Gallery

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Dinamo ticket

Tributes to Patrick Ekeng
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