About peterrmiles

Lifelong Southend United fan and football ground bore. Itinerant pan-European football watcher.

Fearless (Atromitos)

Atromitos (meaning “Fearless”) were formed in 1923 and initially played at Aris Park, the home of both Panathinaikos and Panellinios. Within five years Atromitos had won the Athens League. 1928 was the first time the Greek season ended with a Pan Hellenic Championship to decide the overall national champions. Atromitos could only finish third behind champions Aris Thessaloniki and Ethnikos, however, it was a promising start for a fledgling club.

The club quickly found themselves in the shadow of Panathinaikos and were struggling to attract support. In 1932 the decision was made to move to Peristeri and merge with local side Astir Peristeriou. Astir or “Star” is where the prominent blue stat comes from on the club crest.

The club spent much of its time in the second tier but enjoyed a golden period in the 1970’s when they were regulars in the top division. They have spent much of the 21st century in the Super League and had some really impressive seasons in recent years finishing third in 2012-13 and had fourth place finishes in 2011-12, 2013-14 and 2014-15. They were also Greek Cup runners up in 2010-11 and 2011-12 losing to AEK and Olympicos respectively.

When Atromitos first moved to Peristeri in 1932 the played at a modest ground called Gennaiótita which was located beyond the boundary of a shanty town known as Evangelistria. In 1947 they moved to the the present stadium although this was not properly finished until 1953.

My €10 ticket is for the uncovered side opposite the main stand. This side has a sector fenced off for their ultras group which is called called Fentagin.

Tonight’s game is against a woeful Levadiakos side and plays out for a predictable home win with a fine goal by Congolese striker Clarck N’Sikulu, settling the game with the opposition barely mustering a chance worthy of the name. All the graffiti in and around the stadium promotes an anti fascist message, so it is almost beyond belief that Levadiakos’ black players, Souleymane Sawadogo and Tackey Diogo were subjected to repeated monkey chants.

That unsavoury aspect aside it’s a great ground to visit and good to see a smaller club trying to become a force in a league that has traditionally been dominated by just a few clubs.

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Sunday February 10th 2019 – Greek Super League

Atromitos 1 (N’Sikulu 16)
Levadiakos 0

Att:435 (at Stádio Peristeri)

Entry €10, free programme

Gallery

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Atromitos prog

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They Might Be Giants (AEK Athens)

AEK stands for the Athletic Union of Constantinople, with the founding members being Greek refugees displaced from Constantinople and Anatolia after the Greco-Turkish War. Prior to the war Constantinople had two dominant Greek clubs, Énosis Tatávlon and Ermís and it was former members of these clubs who met in a Athens sports shop in 1924 to form AEK.

Domestically AEK are the third most successful Greek side behind Olympiacos and Panathinaikos with 12 championship wins and 15 Greek Cup triumphs.

In the post WWII period AEK had some success under English coach Jack Beby who had a modest career in England with the likes of Darlington, Bristol Rovers, Gillingham and Leicester City. Under Beby AEK won two Greek cups and the Athens regional championship, although sadly the Pan Hellenic Championship to decide the overall champion wasn’t played that season.

AEK have a proud record in European competition with their best performance in the European Cup being quarter-finalists in 1968-69 when they were beaten by Spartak Trnava of Slovakia having eliminated Jeunesse Esch and AB Gladsaxe. In the UEFA Cup of 1976-77 they beat Dynamo Moscow, Derby County, Red Star Belgrade and Queens Park Rangers before a semi-final defeat to eventual winners Juventus.

AEK’s traditional home, since inauguration in 1930, was the Nikos Goumas Stadium in Nea Filadelfeia. Sadly the stadium had to be demolished in 2003 following damage sustained in the terrible earthquake of 1999. The club do have a new stadium, Agia Sophia Stadium, under construction in their traditional heartland of Nea Filadelfeia. After years of political wrangling permission was formally granted in July 2017. Until it is ready, AEK have somewhat reluctantly shared the Olympic stadium with Panathinaikos, although Pana occasionally return for spells at their own ground, the Apostolos Nikolaidis Stadium.

Today’s game sees the visit of lowly OFI Crete to the Olympic Stadium. Unfortunately, it’s a pretty poor game, OFI offering scant resistance and the hosts win by a single goal scored by the fans favourite, the Croatian striker Marko Livaja. There is an ultras section of around 800 of AEK’s Original 21 ultras, lead by a capo of colossal proportions who is stood bouncing on a very rickety looking tower. They belt out a relentless catalogue of chants. The ultras are profoundly left wing and have a “triangle of brotherhood” with Livorno and Marseille as well as friendships with St Pauli and Fenerbahçe. It was all rather impressive and made up for the turgid game and some of the worst sight lines at a modern football stadium I can ever remember.

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Sunday February 10th 2019 – Greek Super League

AEK Athens 1 (Livaja 37)
OFI Crete 0

Att: 7,580 (at Olympiakó Stádio Spiros Louis)

Entry €10, no programme

Gallery

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Exodus (Panionios GSS)

Panionios are the oldest Greek club and have an interesting history dating back to 1890 when they were formed as Orpheus Music and Sport Club. The club was originally based in Smyrna (modern day Izmir in Turkey) but as the Greeks lost the 1919-1922 Greco-Turkish war the club found themselves part of the mass population exchange, when Greeks were banished from what was then Asia Minor. Panionios were relocated to Athens and then to a new suburb called Nea Smyrni.

Panionios have spent nearly all its time in the top tier of Greek football missing only two seasons of the competition as it morphed from the Pan-Hellenic Championship to the Alpha Ethniki and into the current Super League format of sixteen clubs. They have never won the league but were runners up to Olympiacos and AEK in 1950-51 and 1970-71 respectively. Panionios have won the Greek Cup twice most recently in 1997-98 when they beat Panathinaikos 1-0 in the final.

The cup triumph meant they qualified for the UEFA Cup Winners Cup for 1998-99, the last season before its merger with the UEFA Cup. Panionios performed well defeating Valkeakosken Haka of Finland (5-1 on aggregate) and Apollon Limassol of Cyprus (4-2) before going out in the quarter finals, losing 7-0 on aggregate to eventual winners, Lazio. They were coached during this run by former Liverpool stalwart, Ronnie Whelan, and I had a conversation with the club shop manager discussing Whelan’s managerial prowess as he had been sacked by my club, Southend United, that summer after a terrible spell in charge at Roots Hall.

The club has always been a multi sport organisation and have been recognised for bringing basketball and volleyball to Greece. They remain the only sports club to be awarded the Golden Cross from the Athens Academy for their past and continued enrichment of Greek culture and society.

Panionios play in an eye catching blue and red kit, reputedly chosen to represent the blue of Greece and red for the blood of Greeks persecuted throughout history. The club also has one of the oldest ultras groups in Greece with “The Panthers” being formed in 1983.

Panionios play at the impressive looking Nea Smyrni Stadium which looks bigger than its’ current capacity of 11,700. Built in 1939, the record attendance was set against Panathinaikos in 1974 when 20,950 packed into the stadium before it became mainly all seater. It is said that the record attendance was actually set by US thrash gods Metallica, in what was there first ever concert in Greece in 1993.

Tonight, mid table Panionios take on rock bottom Apollon Smyrnis. Apollon were founded in 1891 by former members of Orpheus, and found themselves in an identical position to their old rivals following the military defeat and were also relocated to Athens. It’s €10 for a ticket in the uncovered side.

Given Apollon’s perilous league position and the clubs’ historical relationship it would be hard not to look on this ninety minutes with a degree of suspicion, such was the lack of effort from the home team. They scarcely mustered a shot on goal in the entire game and lost to an Apollon goal midway through the second half.

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Saturday February 9th 2019 – Greek Super League

Panionios GSS 0
Apollon Smyrnis 1 (Vafeas 73)

Att: 1,126 (at Stadió Néas Smírnis)

Entry €10, no programme

Gallery

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When West Auckland Ruled The World

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

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

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Sir Thomas Lipton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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Upon This Rock (Gibraltar)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

St.Joseph’s 0
Gibraltar Phoenix 0

Att:62 (at Victoria Stadium)

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

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

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

Att:71 (at Victoria Stadium)

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

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

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Postcards from Užice (Serbian Groundhop 5)

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

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

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

Friday October 26th 2018 – Prva Liga

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

Att:258 (played at FK Senta)

Backa Topola (4)

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

Saturday October 27th 2018 – Belgrade Prva Liga Omladinska

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

Att:59

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

Saturday October 27th 2018 – Prva Liga

FK Zlatibor 1 (Vidić 8)
FK Inđija 0

Att:397 (at Stadion Švajvarija)

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

Sunday October 28th 2018 – Zona Zapadno-Moravska

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

Att:154 (at Stadion Krčagovo)

Jedinstvo (1)

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

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

Sunday October 28th 2018 – Super Liga

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

Att:7,000 (at Stadion Šabac)

Red Star at Macva Sabac (3)

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

Monday October 29th 2018 – Omladinska Liga U19s

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

Att:116

FK BASK

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

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

Monday October 29th 2018 – Omladinska Liga U19s

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

Att:129

OFK v Brodarac

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

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

Blessed Bucovina (Football In Heaven 2)

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

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

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

Friday September 28th 2018 – Romanian III Liga

CSM Paşcani 0

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

Att:176 (at Stadionul CFR Paşcani)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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.