Notes From A Small Island (Malta)

Maltese domestic football is a quite wonderful thing for groundhoppers. While the football may not be of the highest standard the sheer enthusiasm and history of football on this tiny Mediterranean island means the number of clubs at senior level far outweighs the number of grounds of any decent standard. This means many of the top clubs play “home” games at various grounds around the islands with a select few having the luxury of their own home venue which is also made available to stage other fixtures. All in all this means multiple fixtures at multiple grounds in any given weekend which of course is manna from heaven for the hopperati.

My first game this weekend was a Premier League fixture between St Andrews and Hibernians. The match was played at the Victor Tedesco Stadium, the home of Hamrun Spartans. The stadium was inaugurated in 1996 and commemorates a former Hamrun president who had overseen the home clubs renaissance period in the 1980’s and early 90’s. All facilities are on one side of the ground as the pitch is hemmed in by urban sprawl on all three remaining sides. Today’s game sees second placed Hibernians, one of the island’s traditional powerhouses, against bottom placed St.Andrews for home this is nominally a home game. €7 gets you a double header ticket which means you can stay on for the Quormi v Naxxar Lions if you wish. The first half is a drab affair with very few chances created. The second half sees Hibernians well on top and they take the lead with a penalty from Clayton Failla. Almost immediately St.Andrews get a penalty themselves which is converted by Joe Farrugia. Hibs look to have gained the expected victory when Gilmar scored in the 90th however Farrugia netted again for St.Andrews in the second minute of injury time.

BOV Maltese Premier League – January 30th 2016

St.Andrews 2 (J.Farrugia pen 57, 90)
Hibernians 2 (Failla pen 55, Gilmar 90)

Att: c.300 (at Victor Tedesco Stadium)

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Next up is San Gwann against Hamrun Spartans played at the Centenary Stadium. This stadium is adjacent to the Ta’Qali National Stadium and is owned and run by the Maltese FA. Opened in 1980 to mark the 100th year of the MFA all the facilities, including a big stand seating 2,500, are housed on one side of the ground. This includes a recently opened headquarters for the Malta Youth FA. The pitch is 3G and hosts huge amounts of games especially in the lower rungs of the League of Malta. Banger racing behind the far side punctuates the moans of the Spartans fans who object to many of the referees decisions, to be fair he did not have the best of games. Despite this Spartans grab the games only goal when Haruna Garba scrambled in from a set piece. Bizarrely immediately after the goal was awarded Spartans’ Martin Hrubsa was shown a straight red card after what I can only assume was an elbow, or similar, during the goal celebrations. What was noticeable from this second tier match was the drop in quality of player and fitness levels.

BOV Maltese First Division – Saturday January 30th 2016

San Gwann 0
Hamrun Spartans 1 (Garba 73)

Att: c.200 (at Centenary Stadium)

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Sunday’s first game was a Premier League clash between Pembroke Athleta and reigning champions Valletta. This was played at Hibernians’ ground in Paola. Opened in November 1986 Hibernians became the first Maltese club with their own stadium. The ground now holds 4,000 which was ample enough to host an Intertoto Cup match against Uralmash Ekaterinburg in 1996. Pembroke do have their own ground, the Luxol Stadium, which is right on the coast but as they are now a Premier League club the match against Valletta is moved to a bigger ground. Police are out in force as Valetta bring a sizeable amount of fans to Paola. Pembroke start brightly but look a little surprised to take the lead when Arab’s tame looking header managed to beat the outstretched arm of Henry Bonello in Valletta’s goal. The order of things is restored when the champions score through Romao’s powerful header. Remarkably Pembroke took the lead again through Villabolos before Briffa restored parity. It is left to the wily veteran, Michael Mifsud, to settle the game. Arguably Malta’s most famous player Mifsud has had an extensive career around Europe including spells with Coventry City and Barnsley, as well as gaining 113 caps for his country. His clever finish gave Valletta the points and returns them to the top of the table. Pembroke’s Paltemio Barbetti was then sent off for a challenge on Mifsud. Hibernians ground is a lovely ground, has real attention to detail such as memorials and planted shrubs, it also has a grass pitch. The backdrop of clanking cranes of Paola harbour and the mass of flats and church domes rising to the distance makes it a very nice place to watch a match.

BOV Maltese Premier League – Sunday January 31st 2016

Pembroke Athleta 2 (Arab 5,Villabolos 53)
Valletta 3 (Romao 14,Briffa 60,Mifsud 76)

Att: c.300 (at Hibernians FC)

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The final match of the weekend was a heavyweight clash between two of Malta’s best known clubs, Birkirkara and Floriana. The match is at the National Stadium in Ta’Qali which was opened in 1981 and lead to the mothballing of the iconic Empire Stadium in Gzira, the island’s pre-eminent stadium until that point. The National Stadium now holds 17,700 people having had a new East Stand, the Millennium, stand opened in 2000 providing the MFA with luxurious new headquarters. All fans are housed in the West stand with the VIP section separating the flag waving Birkirkara fans and the Floriana fans. What followed was 90 minutes of two teams completely cancelling each other out with barely any shots on goal registered. A goalless draw was pretty much inevitable and you had to feel sorry for those who had watched the game immediately before this one which was also a goalless draw between Mosta and Tarxien Rainbows!

BOV Maltese Premier League – Sunday January 31st 2016

Birkirkara 0 Floriana 0

Att: c.600 (at Ta’Qali National Stadium)

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A decent weekend in good weather, nice grounds and as long as your expectations aren’t too high for the standard of football then Malta has a lot going for it. Finally it is worth mentioning that the legendary Empire Stadium is still rotting away in the back streets of Gzira. A real relic of the past when sand pitches were the norm. Seems incredible that in February 1971, England played in front of 30,000 people in this long abandoned playground.

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The Path of a Lightning Bolt (Rayo Vallecano)

Ah Rayo Vallecano, red sashes (“Los Franjirrojos”, what a nickname!) on their white kit, a great three-sided stadium shoehorned into the urban sprawl of Vallecas and fantastic ultras in the Bukaneros, what’s not to love about Madrid’s very own “cult” club?

Well following a very public fall out between Rayo owner Rául Martin Presa and the Bukaneros and a wily manager in Paco Jémez who is constantly forced into sell his key players then you have a club lurching headlong into crisis.

According to posters around the ground the Bukaneros had called for a boycott of the match and forthcoming matches for a number of reasons. High on the list of complaints against Presa were the ban on materials used for the ultras famous animations (police recently raided the Bukaneros HQ and confiscated 400 flares) and alleged “discrimination” against anyone sporting any form of Bukaneros imagery. The ultras are also up in arms over the investment in Rayo OKC a new club based in Oklahoma City owned by Presa and licensed to compete in the NASL.

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The fans argue that their own club needs investment with the likes of Léo Baptistão (Atlético Madrid), Michu (Swansea City) and Borja López (AS Monaco) and several other quality players being sold in recent seasons to balance the books.

The story of Rayo Vallecano starts back in 1924 with the formation of Agrupación Deportiva El Rayo. They played in local leagues at a ground called Campo de la Calle de las Erillas which was very close to the current stadium. This was home until 1940 when it was required for urban expansion, and the club relocated to the Campo de El Rodival. The immediate post war years were pivotal for the club, they were now called AD Rayo Vallecano and had become effectively a subsidiary of Atlético Madrid. In 1949 the Rovidal was used by River Plate of Buenos Aires as a training facility ahead of a prestigious friendly against Real Madrid. To thank Rayo for their hospitality the Argentinians donated a full set of their kit to the club which created the long association with the iconic red sashed shirts.

In 1957 Rayo moved into the renovated Campo de Vallecas, a former home venue of Atlético. This remained home until the current venue was built between 1972 and 1976 which meant Rayo spent three seasons at the Campo de Vallehermoso in Chamberí.

During this period the club had bounced in between the Tercera and Segunda Divisions but after a record breaking unbeaten season in 1964/65 secured a return to the Segunda Rayo became a force to be reckoned with. Their return to the Nuevo Campo de Vallecas for the 1976/77 was topped off with a first ever promotion to La Primera.

The club continued to climb and enjoyed a first season in European competition in 2000/01 when wins against Constelació Esportiva, Molde, Viborg, Lokomotiv Moscow and Bordeaux saw Rayo in the Quarter Finals of the UEFA Cup. Paired against compatriots Deportivo Alavés. In a memorable pairing it was the Basques who won 4-2 on aggregate.

The club was run in these times by Teresa Rivero a President who failed to endear herself to the Vallecans by renaming the stadium after…herself! She also presided over the double relegations of 2002/03 and 2003/04. By 2011 Rivera was finally gone, the stadium name restored to Campo de Vallecas and better still the club had won promotion back to La Primera. The only downside was debts amounting to €22 million which has prompted the cautious housekeeping of recent years.

Today’s game sees both hosts and vistors, Málaga, perilously close to the drop zone and while there is still colour and noise from the home support the Fondo occupied by the Bukaneros is somewhat sparsely populated and palpably subdued. Rayo fielded Bebé and Manucho both remembered in England for their comically short careers at Manchester United. Bebé threatened at times but looked heavy and was outshone on the opposite wing by Lass Bangoura whose trickery produced the opening goal early on for the impressive Javi Guerra. However, the hosts failed to capitalise on their lead and Málaga deservedly secured the points with a winner late on in the match from the Croatian striker Duje Čop.

Rayo Vallecano is a club with a heart and a conscience in an increasingly murky sport. This is the club whose away kit and third kit are sold to support anti racism/homophobia charities and breast cancer awareness respectively. This is a club whose players agree to come to work on the metro to reduce their carbon footprint. This is a club who declared their support to the 2012 General Strike in Spain as a show of solidarity with its working class ethos. This a club whose coaching staff and players pay the rental costs for life on an apartment for 85 year old Vallecan resident Carmen Martínez Ayudo who was unceremoniously evicted after her son defaulted on loan secured on her property without her knowledge. This is a club who knows football without fans is nothing, a well used strap line President Presa would do well to remember.

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Sunday December 13th 2015 – La Liga Primera Division

Rayo Vallecano 1 (Javi Guerra 7)
Málaga CF 2 (Charles 59, Čop 87)

Att: 9,423 (at Campo de Fútbol de Vallecas)

Admission: €30 Programme: Free

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Deep Blue Something (Getafe CF)

The original Getafe club were formed in 1924 but were disbanded after just nine seasons. After the Spanish Civil War, to bring senior football back to the southern Madrid suburb, a meeting was held in a bar called La Marquesina, and Club Getafe Deportivo were born. A board was elected consisting of local men Enrique Condes García, Aurelio Miranda Olavaria, Antonio Corridor Lozano, Manuel Serrano Vergara and Miguel Cubero Francés, and a lease on a pitch was organised. The ground, known as Campo del Regimiento de Artillería, was rudimentary to say the least and even initially lacked goalposts! The ground proved so inadequate the club soon moved to another ground called Calle Vinagre.

As the club looked to progress they moved yet again, this time to an enclosed facility at Polideportivo Municipal San Isidro. Within five seasons the club had climbed into the then third tier Tercera Division for 1957/58. Remarkably they won the league at the first attempt but succumbed to Almeria in the promotion play-offs to the Segunda.

Getafe’s nomadic existence continued and in 1970 they moved to the newly built Campo Municipal de Las Margaritas. Six years later a first promotion to the second tier was finally secured. However, that was the zenith of their achievements, huge debts and unpaid wages saw the club demoted to the Tercera at the end of the 1981/82 season. A season later, having failed to win promotion, the board threw in the towel and the club officially folded.

Today’s club, Getafe Club de Fútbol, were formed as an immediate replacement and were officially a fusion of Getafe Deportivo Promesas (the old club’s reserve team) and Club Peña Getafe, who themselves were originally a team formed by the Getafe branch of the Real Madrid supporters club!

The club hovered around the nether reaches of the new third tier, Segunda B, on one occasion surviving the drop on an FA reprieve. At the end of the 1995/96 season their luck run out and relegation coincided with the final season at Las Margaritas which had been claimed for urban redevelopment.

After two seasons at the municipal stadium, Estadio de Juan de la Cierva which was almost adjacent to the old ground, Los Azulones (the Deep Blues) moved to the newly built Coliseum Alfonso Pérez. Named after a player that never actually played for his hometown club, Pérez played for Real Madrid, Barcelona and Betis and won 38 caps for Spain also winning a gold medal at the 1992 Olympics. A bust of Pérez is sited in a somewhat solitary position on the other side of the car park to the stadium.

By 2003 the club had been taken over by Ángel Torres Sánchez and the influx of new money had an immediate impact, Getafe reaching La Primera with a play off win over Tenerife. Having finished eleventh in the first ever season at the top flight the club expanded the still relatively new stadium. The fondos at either end were enlarged and the original roof on the west side was replaced by the much superior current arched cover. To their immense credit Getafe have remained a top tier club ever since.

The club thrived in their new surroundings and two losing Copa del Rey finals in 2007 and 2008 saw the club compete in Europe for the first time. In 2007/08 the club enjoyed a fantastic run in the UEFA Cup beating FC Twente, Tottenham, Anderlecht, AEK Athens and Benfica before bowing out to Bayern Munich in the quarter finals on the away goals rule.

Tonight’s match sees both Getafe and visitors Real Sociedad struggling at the wrong end of the table. The visitors, still reeling from the disastrous tenure of David Moyes, look the better side in the first half and lively winger Bruma really catches the eye in a pretty turgid opening period.

The second half sees the hosts up the tempo from the off and they score immediately when Pablo Sarabia’s header loops into the net. Sociedad though have some seasoned pros, Asier Illarramendi, Carlos Vela and Esteban Granero, and the class showed in the equaliser. A training ground free kick routine worked perfectly and front man Imanol Agirretxe tapped in unmarked at the far post right in front of the 300 or so travelling supporters. The match petered out into a draw which did not really help either side in their quests to stay in the top flight.

Much has been chronicled about the soulless nature of the Alfonso Pérez and the lack of atmosphere at the stadium, but I liked the stadium and two small pockets of noisy fans in the end I was sitting in tried to make some noise in what was a very poor crowd. Sociedad have a long standing reputation for travelling to away games in reasonable numbers and they also added to the spectacle.

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Friday December 11th 2015 – La Liga Primera Division

Getafe CF 1 (Sarabia 46)
Real Sociedad 1 (Agirretxe 68)

Att: 5,567 (at Coliseum Alfonso Pérez)

Admission: €30 Programme: Free

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Getafe ticket

Goodbye Gerland (Olympique Lyonnais)

The magnificent Stade de Gerland has a history long before Olympique Lyonnais took up residency in 1950 when the club was formed after a splintering of the Lyon Olympique Uninversitaire Club, themselves formed in 1899. That club had played at the Stade des Iris so the rebel group needed a new home and they found it across town at the Stade de Gerland.

The stadium was planned as long ago as 1910 when the mayor of Lyon, Édouard Herriot enlisted one of the nations most esteemed architects and urban planners, Tony Garnier, to build a new athletics track and velodrome in the seventh arrondissement of Gerland. Building got underway in 1914 just before war broke out and promptly bought a halt the plans. By 1920 using the labour of German prisoners of war the stadium was operational although it was not officially inaugurated until 1926. The amphitheatrical design echoed Garnier’s studies of ancient Rome but that in itself would become problematic in later modernisation attempts such was need to preserve his work yet cater for changing needs.

The record attendance at the ground came in 1982 when the derby against arch rivals Saint-Étienne attracted 48,552 to the Gerland.

The stadium and velodrome remained untouched until a revamp was needed for the 1984 European Championships. René Gargis’ plan included two new tribunes named after Jean Bouin (a famous French Olympian) and Jean Jaurès (former leader of the French Socialist Party). The Euros also saw the removal of the cycle track.

The present incarnation of the Stade de Gerland comes from the hosting of the World Cup in 1998 when both end stands were replaced with their twin rakish stands known as Virage Nord and Virage Sud, crafted impressively at the hand of architect Albert Constantin. The second tiers of the virages are particularly eye catching and resemble the opening of the petals of a flower. The entrance to the Stade de Gerland and its neighbouring swimming pool is guarded by two statues of lions.

The Gerland of course was the scene of the tragic collapse and death of Cameroon’s Marc-Vivien Foé during a match in the 2003 Confederations Cup.

Despite an impressive capacity of 40,500 the Gerland only holds a UEFA three star rating and it was this factor that has prompted the construction of a new 60,000 capacity stadium, Parc OL, in the suburb of Décines-Charpieu. This new stadium should be inaugurated when Lyon return to action after the brief winter break in January and it will, of course, be a host venue for Euro 2016. It is thought that the immediate future of the Gerland will be as a rugby venue.

Lyon are attempting a revival after a relatively quiet decade by their own high standards, having fallen behind the moneybags club from the capital, Paris St Germain. The first decade of the new millennium saw “Les Gones” (the kids) win no less than seven consecutive Ligue 1 titles between 2001 and 2008 which was a record unbroken run of titles for the French League.

Today’s game starts with a magnificent tifo in the Virage Sud, a stand covering flag descends as the players finish their warm up. As the players return to the pitch the whole stadium holds up blue and white paper for an “animation” that spells out he words “Stade de Gerland Lyon”. Then just before kick off red, white and blue flags are vigorously waved creating quite a spectacle.

Sadly for the hosts the current surprise packet in Ligue 1 this season, Angers, were in no mood to surrender the points in what was the last League match at this great old stadium. Lyon huff and puff and apart from Mathieu Valbuena’s effort that somehow hits the bar and bounces down the wrong side of the goal line before being cleared, the hosts seem to lack a cutting edge. Current darling of the Lyon crowd is Alexandre Lacazette but he looks desperately out of form. His performance is well and truly eclipsed by visiting attacking midfielder Cheikh Ndoye who scores two identical goals in either half, powerful headers when arriving unmarked in the Lyon goalmouth.

The defeat aside this is magnificent send off for the old Gerland. More than hundred former players are announced as they wonder around the pitch at the end of the match including legends from the seven title years like Juninho Pernambucano, Sonny Anderson and Sidney Govou. How the current team could have done with their creativity earlier!

Then dramatically the stadium is plunged into darkness as the floodlights are turned off. The ultras from the Virage Nord then light hundreds of flares for a tremendous pyro show. Then in the centre of the pitch five stages launch hundreds of fireworks into the night sky. What a rousing finale for this historic old stadium.

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Saturday December 5th 2015 – Ligue 1

Olympique Lyonnais 0
Angers SCO 2 (Ndoye 18,80)

Att: 36,068 (at Stade de Gerland)

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Keeping What’s Good (KFCO Beerschot-Wilrijk)

The original Beerschot club, Koninklijke Beerschot Voetbal en Atletiek Club, were formed in 1899, matricule 13, and had a glorious history including being seven time Belgian champions. From 1920 the club used the Antwerp Olympic Stadium, also known as Het Kiel (named after the district), as its home ground. The late 1960’s and 1970’s were a golden period for Beerschot as they often qualified for European competition. However, by 1999 the old club were consumed with financial problems and ended their centennial year my merging with Germinal Ekeren from the north of the city. The fused club called itself Germinal Beerschot and kept Ekeren’s matricule number of 3530 in order to maintain a place in the First Division.

The merger was attractive to Ekeren as their progress was being hampered by the restrictive confines of their ground at Veltwijckstadion. Germinal Beerschot adopted the purple colours of the old Beerschot VAC club and the yellow and red of Ekeren. Initially the merger was a success with a Belgian Cup win in 2005 and several sortie in European competitions. Germinal Beerschot changed its name in 2011 to Beerschot Antwerpen Club however just two seasons later Beerschot AC were no more. Liquidation followed their failure to present the Belgian FA with a suitable financial plan to secure a First Division operating licence.

After the collapse of Beerschot AC an unofficial merger took place with KFCO Wilrijk to produce the current club. KFC Wilrijk had been formed in 1921 and has the matricule number 155. The club enjoyed a brief stint in the Second Division in the 1930’s but spent most of their existence in either the third tier or in provincial football. In 1993 KFC Wilrijk merged with Olympia Wilrijk 72 forming KFC Olympia Wilrijk.

In order to tap into the traditional support of Beerschot, the newly merged club adopted Beerschot’s purple colours and took over the tenancy of the Olympisch Stadion. They adopted the Latin motto “Tene Quod Bene” which translates as “keep what is good”. Wise words indeed given their tempestuous recent history. The new club’s first game was in the Antwerpen Provincial League (level 5) against Ternesse VV and produced a crowd of 8,500 a record for the provincial leagues.

The new club won the Antwerp League in 2013/14 and the Promotion League in 2014/15 to climb into Division Three (Group B) for the current season. Today’s visitors are Hoogstraten VV who are perilously close to the relegation places. The hosts have continued to dominate the league and lead the table four points ahead of nearest rivals Oosterwijk. It is no surprise then that the hosts enjoy an easy win against a very lacklustre visiting team. Enjoying almost total possession the only surprise is Beerschot settle for just two goals, one in either half. On the evidence of this afternoon, few will back against Beerschot achieving a third straight promotion.

The Olympisch Stadion is less than half full today but still generates a good level of noise particularly in the main stand. Antwerp was the host city of the seventh modern Olympiad in 1920. The stadium hosted Athletics, hockey, gymnastics, equestrianism, rugby union, korfball as well as football. Many of the football matches had to be held elsewhere and the other venues used were the then newly opened Stade Joseph Marien in Brussels, Gent’s Jules Ottenstadion and the Stadion Broodstraat in Antwerp.

The Olympisch Stadion is thought to have significant input from legendary stadium architect Archibald Leitch as it is documented that he made several consultation visits to the site before it was opened. It was officially opened on May 23rd 1920 and had a sizeable capacity for the time of 27,250. The original stadium was oval in shape but much of the original stadium was demolished and replaced with three new stands in 1978. The modern day stadium has a capacity of 12,771 and is ideal for the sizeable support of Beerschot, a club with long associations with Antwerp’s bourgeoisie.

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Sunday November 8th 2015 – Third Division, Group B

KFCO Beerschot-Wilrijk (1) 2 (Ventôse 24, Vansimpsen 65)
Hoogstraten VV (0) 0

Att: 5,804 (at Olympisch Stadion)

Admission: €15

Programme: None

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The original Antwerp Olympisch Stadion, one of Archibald Leitch’s lesser known attributions.

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Casino Royale (SV Kohlscheid)

SV Kohlscheid were formed in 1927 and have somewhat lived in the shadow of the more senior club in the suburb of Herzogenrath of Kohlscheider BC whose formation came some fourteen years prior to SV Kohlscheid.

After a few seasons of both being in the same Kreisliga, Kohlscheider BC have once again become the more senior outfit, competing in the Bezirksliga. While Kohlscheider play across town at the Stadion Oststraße, SV have quietly been building a very acceptable home at their Sportplatz Casinostraße. For many years they had played at the Sportsplatz Forensberg, remembered by an etching in the clubhouse which itself was revamped in 2006. Until 2009 then Casinostraße had a clay pitch but the installation of a “kunstrasenplatz” (artificial pitch) has been a godsend for SV Kohlscheid in terms of youth development and additional revenue streams.

It has been a tough start to the season and the club recently dispensed with the services of their manager after a 6-0 defeat against Fortuna Weisweiler and then a 2-0 defeat to TV Konzen when Kohlscheid managed to score two own goals in a five minute period in the second half.

While the club lie next to bottom in the table there have been the early shoots of a revival under new coach Detlef Baczewski following a dramatic 5-4 win at FC Roetgen. This morning’s visitors are TSV Donnerberg who hold second spot in the league. The visitors are instantly in the ascendancy dominating possession and the hosts soon concede a penalty. Donnerberg take the lead when Marvin Meurer converts the spot kick. The first half ends with a horrendous injury to Kohlscheid’s Daniel Hensel. Initially it looked innocuous, no challenger, Hensel’s body twisted on the pitch but unfortunately his knee stayed in the same place and he collapsed in world of pain. Luckily an ambulance arrived within minutes and the stricken player was carted off to hospital.

Seeing their fallen comrade seemed to have a galvanising effect on the hosts and they really gave Donnerburg a battle in the second half but just could not get the goal their efforts deserved. They don’t look like an outfit with relegation haunting them and on today’s showing they should get enough points in the remainder of the campaign to stay at the top Kreisliga level. For casual visitors to Casinostraße, the club have produced an excellent glossy programme for the last ten seasons.

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Sunday November 8th 2015 – Kreisliga A (Aachen)

SV Kohlscheid (0) 0
TSV Donnerberg (1) 1 (Meurer pen 6)

Att: 91 (at Sportsplatz Casinostraße)

Entry: €2
Programme: Free

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Sunflower (SSVg Velbert 02)

Sport und Spielvereinigung Velbert were originally formed in 1902 as Velberter FC 02. The club underwent a number of mergers and demergers including an enforced wartime merger with Borussia Velbert due to a shortage of players. In the immediate post World War II years the town had two rival clubs SSV and VfB but by 1961 SSV had become the dominant force, competing at the then third tier Amateurliga Niederrhein. VfB struggled and eventually threw the towel in and merged with SSV in 1964.

The merged club rose to the second tier of the Regionalliga West by 1969 but a steady decline followed and by the end of the century Velbert were in the sixth division of German football.The turn of the century saw the club performing better on the field, winning the Oberliga Nordrhein but insufficient financial guarantees saw them denied a promotion to the Regionalliga West in 2003.

Velbert finally climbed to the fourth tier in 2012 winning the Oberliga Niederrhein. Their stay lasted just two seasons although they gained an immediate return winning the Oberliga at the end of last season. The man that guided them to promotion was Lars Leese who after a modest career with minor German clubs suddenly found himself keeping goal for Barnsley during their brief stint in the Premier League. Leese surprisingly left Velbert for DSK Köln in the close season.

Velbert play at the delightful Stadion Sonnenblume which can hold 4,702 people. The stadium was opened in October 1969 and incredibly the whole stadium was built in under five months. Velbert’s first opponents at the new ground were TSV Marl-Hüls. Their second match was against near neighbours SV Wuppertaler, and this set the all time attendance record at the Sonnenblume of 13,000. Prior to the opening of the Sonnenblume Velbert had played most of their existence at a ground called Platz Am Wasserturmhochaus. This venue was considered unsuitable for Regionalliga football and the first seven games of the 1969/70 were spent playing in Ratingen before the Sonnenblume was ready for inauguration.

Known since a 2012 sponsorship deal as the Christopeit Sports Arena the ground boasts a covered grandstand and open terrace one side and a long open terrrace on the far side. This area is segregated and today houses a decent sprinkling of visiting fans from Rot-Weiß Oberhausen. Both ends are curved with ample terracing some of which has seen nature take over with grass covering the concrete steps.

This afternoon’s game is a very one sided affair as Oberhausen dominate proceedings from the off. Aside from a brief period when a towering header from Velbert skipper Niklas Andersen got the hosts back in the game the result was never truly in doubt. Andersen then scuppered his sides chances of a comeback when an injudicious challenge was punished with a second yellow card.

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Saturday November 7th 2015 – Regionalliga West

SSVg Velbert 1 (Andersen 59)

SC Rot-Weiß Oberhausen 4 (Reinert 18, Jansen 27, Steinmetz 65, Engelmann 79)

Att: 640 (at Stadion Sonnenblume)

Entry: €8

Programme: Free

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