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)

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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

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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.

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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)

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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.

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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)

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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)

 

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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.

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Stick a fork in I’m done with 2017/18

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

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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).

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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.

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2.   GREENOCK MORTON – Cappielow

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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2. FC TRIESENBERG – Sportplatz Leitawies

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

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3. CSM SCOLAR RESITA – Stadion Mircea Chivu

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

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4. FC POJORÂTA – Stadion Pojorâta

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

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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.

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BEST PROGRAMMES BOUGHT IN 2017/18

(based on status, resources, effort and originality)

1.   BOSHAM

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2.   HORNSEY & HIGHGATE

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3.   OSSETT ALBION

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4.   CANVEY ISLAND

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5.   BARRY TOWN UNITED

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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

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2. BISHOPS LYDEARD – Thai Curry

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3. SUTTON UNITED – Fish Finger Roll

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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.

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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)

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The Brat Pack

A weekend in Bratislava is not usually for the faint hearted given it is a mecca for the stag weekend set but surely it has more to offer the discerning traveller?

My first port of call on this weekend involved an drive of about an hour to the north west of the capital although the historic town of Trenčín. Some would say Trenčín is famous for its superb medieval castle, but anyone into their football will know it is synonymous with the incredible lollipop floodlights that loom over the Štadión na Sihoti.

The history of Asociácia športov Trenčín can be traced to 1992 when TJ Ozeta Dukla Trenčín were formed and entered into the third tier of Czechoslovakian football. A year later the club merged with the town’s traditional club, Trencsény Torna Egyesület Trenčín whose lineage began in 1904. The club has had various name changes and were called Araver a Synot Trenčín when in 2015 they merged with a local handball team and changed the AS to its’ current version.

The stadium dates from 1960 and originally held 22,000 mainly in uncovered terracing. In 2015 the club began demolishing the old terracing with a view to building a new modern arena around the existing main stand, luckily the iconic floodlights are to remain in situ for the new stadium. Levelling work has taken place and for this season on the main stand has been open as well as a small section of crumbling terrace for any away fans. Once the current season is finished the rebuild will start in earnest and the club will spend much of the 2018/19 campaign playing in Myjava.

The stadium has had an artificial surface since 2005 so the clubs’ under 19 games also take place here. Today’s game is against their academy counterparts from Podbrezová. A reasonably entertaining 1-1 draw eschewed but really a visit to na Sihoti invariably means you are looking skywards to those floodlights and the stunning castle. For anyone this stadium and its’ setting will make it a bucket list, must visit, venue.

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Saturday May 19th 2018 – Slovakian Under 19 Liga

AS Trenčín U19s 1 (Cibula 9)

FK Železiarne Podbrezová U19s 1 (Ončák 39)

Att:68 Free entry, free teamsheet

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Back in the capital in good time for the 4pm kick off at the Štadion Pasienky for the game between Slovakia’s most successful club, ŠK Slovan Bratislava, and MŠK Žilina. Slovan were formed in 1919 and have won 20 Czechoslovakian and Slovakian league titles.

Originally the club played in Petržalka but nearly all sports facilities were destroyed following Nazi occupation. Their new stadium was built in the Tehelné pole area and was opened in 1940. In its’ pomp it held 50,000 people. The club vacated the Tehelné pole in November 2009 as there was a need to build a UEFA compliant stadium for not only Slovan but for international matches too. However, the €68m project was hugely delayed and since 2009 Slovan have been playing at the Stadion Pasienky, close by but hated as it was the traditional home of Slovan’s bitter rivals FK Inter.

The stadium is currently being boycotted by the Slovan fans and particularly their ultras groups Belasá šlachta and ŠK Slovan Pressburg. This is is an interesting choice of name, Pressburg being the Austrian/German name of the city before 1919. The boycott is likely to remain in place until the new Tehelné pole is opened towards the end of 2018.

A spartan crowd gathers for an important game in the race for Europa League places. The scoreline suggest a close encounter but it wasn’t the case as Slovan took the points comfortably thanks to an outstanding performance by their Serbian striker, Aleksandar Čavrić, formerly of OFK Beograd.

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Saturday May 19th 2018 – Fortuna Liga

ŠK Slovan Bratislava 3 (Holman pen 18, Čavrić 33, 56)

MŠK Žilina 2 (Kaša 11, Mráz 64)

Att:1,365 Entry €10 (main stand) €4 (other stands), programme €0.50

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Sunday begins early with a 10.30am kick of in the III.Liga (Bratislava region) between FC Petržalka Akadémia. The club has had a long and chequered history which dates back to 1898 and the formation of Pozsonyi Torna Egyesület. It has undergone no less than seventeen name changes, the most significant being the 1993 change to Artmedia Petržalka following a hook up with an advertising company. The club won two Super Ligas in the 2000’s as Artmedia Bratislava and famously held Rangers to two draws in the Champions League.

By 2009 Artmedia pulled out of their sponsorship with the club which left them in dire straits. Now rebranded as MFK Petržalka the club fell rapidly and in 2012 lost its Štadión Petržalka home, demolished despite only being 22 years old. The new stadium, Stadium FC Petržalka 1898, opened the same year and currently has 800 seats with plans to increase this to 1,500.

In 2016/17 FC Petržalka won their division of the IV. Liga and have also stormed through the third division this season losing only once, to the reserves of Slovan Bratislava. Today they put FK Vajnory to the sword and could have easily scored more than the six they managed. Similarly to Slovan, Petržalka’s ultras sang songs referencing the old German name of the town, Engerau. The place has a good vibe about it and it is great to see the club recover from financial disaster.

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Sunday May 20th 2018 – TIPOS III.Liga (Bratislava)

FC Petržalka Akadémia 6 (Turčák 3,38,77, Polonyi 17, Kondrlik 50, Hitka 72)

FK Vajnory 0

Att:800 Entry €3

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The final match of the weekend was in the sleepy village of Bernolákovo, a twenty minute drive from the city and close to the airport. The Športový areál Jána Popluhára is a surprisingly good venue with substantial cover on both sides of the pitch. The venue is dedicated to Ján Popluhár, who was born in the village, and won 62 caps for Czechoslovakia.

The club were formed in 1921 as Cseklészi amatéri torna egyesület, the village being called Čeklís in those days and have spent most of their existence in the regional leagues. On a very hot afternoon the game is very much a stalemate with few chances of note but it is a friendly club with a cracking food and bar facility.

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Sunday May 20th 2018 – TIPOS III.Liga (Bratislava)

ŠK Bernolákovo 0

ŠK Slovan Bratislava II 0

Att:263 Entry €1

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Big Match On A Small Island (Muratti Vase 2018)

The Muratti Vase is an annual event on the Channel Islands and has been contested since 1905. As football matches go the final is a really big deal attracting sizeable crowds. The smallest competing island, Alderney, contest a semi-final usually against the island not hosting the final. Alderney have one vase win to their credit way back in 1920 when they secured 1-0 wins against Jersey in the semi-final and Guernsey in the Final. They haven’t been in a final since 1938, and in 1994 lost their semi final to Jersey by 18-0! Alderney, though, have improved massively since 2016 by competing as Alderney FC in Guernsey’s domestic Priaulx League.

Muratti is cigarette brand by the Philip Morris company but escaped the change in advertising laws regarding tobacco as it was not sold in the Channel Islands. After using several venues for matches including Belgrave Wanderers’ magnificent The Track in Guernsey and Westmount in Jersey, the finals are played alternately at Footes Lane, the ground used in the Bostik League by Guernsey FC, and Springfield Stadium in St.Helier. Alderney always have home advantage in the semi final and these games are contested at The Arsenal Ground in Mount Hale.

This year’s tournament is the 102nd competition and started with Guernsey defeating Alderney 2-0 in the semi final in March. It’s the turn of Springfield Stadium to host the final two years after the final was marred by crowd trouble. Tensions clearly run high during this annual clash as the Jersey Museum has a small feature on Muratti finals which says the 1983 final in Guernsey was also blighted by rival fans fighting each other. The security at the stadium is heavy following posts on social media that Guernsey fans planned to “paint Jersey green” with smoke bombs. None were let off during the game so the rigorous bag searches either saw them confiscated or it was something of a wind-up ahead of the final.

Springfield Stadium was opened as a showground in 1885 and hosted the first Muratti final on the 27th April 1905. The record attendance came in 1971 when the visit of Manchester United attracted an incredible 11,100 people to the arena. The current grandstand was opened in 1997 and seats 960 people. In 2015 a state of the art artificial surface was laid ahead of the hosting of the Island Games. It has to be said that the metal cage fencing not only blocks the view of many of the seats in the stand but for your £10 standing ticket for the Muratti final you get to look in through the cage from the park effectively outside the ground. I am not sure the redevelopment has worked from a spectators’ perspective.

This years final is a tight affair, Jersey’s side comprising mainly of players from reigning league champions, St.Paul’s while Guernsey’s team was made up of players that either play or have played for Guernsey FC in the Bostik League. The manager and goalkeeper for Guernsey is ex-Football League player Chris Tardif.

It is the 39 year old ex Pompey custodian that decides the match when he upended Jersey’s Calvin Weir and Jack Cannon coolly dispatched the spot kick. Jersey remained the better side throughout the game and it was the right result at the end of ninety minutes. One further moment of note was when Jersey substitute Jay Reid came on from the closing minutes, promptly kicked Charlton Gauvain up in the air from behind and walked off the pitch with a red card waving in his direction.

With flights from Gatwick there and back in a day this proved to be interesting day out at a big match on a small island.

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Saturday May 12th 2018 – Muratti Vase Final

Jersey FA 1 (Cannon pen 14)
Guernsey FA 0

Att:1,800 Entry £10 Programme £3

Gallery

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Baltic State

Having enjoyed a football weekend in the Estonian capital of Tallinn a few years ago I decided it was high time I ticked off the other two Baltic states, Latvia and Lithuania.

Arriving in Rīga on Ryan Air’s joy filled red eye flight from Stansted the Latvian capital soon wins you over with its imminent walkability and stunning architecture including several Art Nouveau structures. But before you even think about your transfer from the airport to the city you must take a look at the stunning Military Aircraft Museum next to the terminal and opposite car park P3. Once you have satisfied your Cold War intrigue a transfer to the heart of Rīga takes twenty minutes. It is worth stating that car hire is very good value and you can take the vehicle you hire into either of the other Baltic nations without any extra charge or additional insurance.

Football in Latvia is beset by money problems and poor support. Since independence in 1991 Skonto Rīga was always the biggest club in Latvia, winning 14 league titles in a row before Liepajas Metalurgs ended their monopoly in 2005. Skonto would only win one more championship before suffering a calamitous and fatal bankruptcy in December 2016. The Skonto Stadions is a very decent stadium, albeit three sided, and is now used by FC Rīga.

The SynotTip Virsliga (Higher League) operates with just eight clubs, six of which have only been formed since the turn of the 21st century. My first taste of Latvian football comes at Rīgas Futbola Skola. The RTU (Rīgas Tehniskās universitātes) Stadions has a large temporary looking bleacher style stand on the near side with in excess of 200 seats. On the opposite side there are two small terracing units one labelled for the away side and one for the home team “ultras”. Less than ten away fans from reigning Higher League champions Spartaks Jūrmala.

It is €5 entry on the day although e-tickets can be bought in advance for €3. Just before kick off the RFS “ultras” arrive bedecked in shirts and scarves and banging drums. Despite their fervour the home side barely muster a shot on goal and Spartaks coast to a 2-0 win. The official attendance was 330 although my head count made it considerably less.

Saturday April 28th 2018 – Latvian SYNOTtip Virsliga

FK Rīgas Futbola Skola 0
FK Spartaks Jūrmala 2 (Svārups 34, Dmitriev 77)

Att:330 Entry €5

Luckily the game did not overrun so the ten minute dash back across the river was made in time to see the 3pm kick off between Metta/Latvijas Universitāte and Valmiera Glass VIA get underway. Metta play at another very basic ground called the Rīgas Hanzas Vidusskolas laukums just a few minutes from the Skonto Stadions. It is €4 entry and there is again a long bleacher style seated stand down one side. This was a real slow boiler of a game, after an hour of mind numbingly tedious tiki-taka passing the two sides shared four goals in the closing stages including a couple of superb strikes.

Saturday April 28th 2018 – Latvian SYNOTtip Virsliga

FK Metta/Latvijas Universitāte 2 (Dzhamalutdinov pen 77,87)

FK Valmiera Glass Via 2 (V.Jaunzems 62, Cipe 83)

Att:250 Entry €4

An evening in old town Rīga capped a fine day out with a cross border trip to Lithuania to look forward to in the morning. It is worth mentioning here that there seems to be an issue with Lithuanian top flight where matches can change location at quite short notice. Thankfully the Lithuania FA website (lff.lt) is just as accurate and informative as its Latvian equivalent. My planned double was the 1pm kick off between Kauno Zalgiris and FK Atlantas, which had already been moved to the Nacionalinė Futbolo Akademija, and then the 6pm match between FK Stumbras and FK Trakai at the S.Dariaus ir S.Gireno Stadionas.

However, a quick check up before the three hour drive south from Riga to Kaunas showed that the Stumbras game had also been moved to the Nacionalinė Futbolo Akademija, which left the obvious dilemma of waiting around for a few hours for a match at the same venue or find an alternative match. I quickly found a 4pm kick off in the Lithuanian Cup at Šiauliai but it would be impossible to make kick off in time. A quick look into the murky depths of the Pirmā Liga, the Latvian second tier found a very handy 7pm match in Olaine for the intriguingly named FK Super Nova.

The Lithuanian top flight game was interesting, a more pacy English style of match instead of the short passing games witnessed north of the border. It was to prove a very entertaining match in a very basic venue normally used by Zalgiris’ and Stumbras’ second teams. The game ended 2-3 to the visitors who thoroughly deserved their win although the hosts nearly levelled in injury time.

Sunday April 2018 – Lithuanian A Lyga

FK Kauno Žalgiris 2 (Kloniūnas 13, Joan Figuereido 87)
FK Atlantas 3 (Baniulis 7,54, Šinkus 85)

Att:155 Entry €3

The gap between matches meant a comfortable drive back to Olaine which lies around 15 miles south of the capital. FK Super Nova were formed as recently as 2000 and previously played at the Ostvalda Vidusskola Stadions some twelve miles away in Imanta. They seemingly have quite good support and totally unexpectedly a modest but colourful programme was handed out free of charge. The Olaines Stadions turned out to be the best one of the weekend, a large back of seats with the central section covered with a roof. Opposite this a church and railway track provides a scenic backdrop. Super Nova now share this ground with local side, AFA Olaine.

The standard of football was pretty poor with a seeming inability to stop giving the ball away at every opportunity. The game was won by the hosts when a rare half decent cross was knocked into the net to the evident delight of the home fans. It seemed to me that the match was more a social event for families with the actual match being a secondary concern. The club are clearly trying to generate a family atmosphere and have an angry looking star as a mascot!

Sunday April 29th 2018 – Latvian Komanda Pirmā Liga

SK Super Nova 1 (Strautiņš 77)
FK Smiltene/BJSS 0

Att:228 Free entry, free programme

It proved an interesting break in two of European football’s backwaters.

An expanded version of this review will appear in a future issue of Football Weekends Magazine.