About peterrmiles

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

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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Sep 2018 019Haukadalur

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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

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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.

Postcards From Belgrade (Serbian Groundhop 4)

The fourth organised Serbian Groundhop took place across a balmy weekend in April with an ambitious but exciting looking eight game extravaganza in and around the Belgrade area.

One of the six Super Liga grounds in Belgrade that sparks a lot of interest and wonder is that of FK Voždovac but somehow they had always seemed to be away from home when we had selected a date for our weekends. Until 2011 the club played at the crumbling Bojan Majić Stadium when they received a most unusual offer. A developer offered to place a new stadium on top of their proposed six story shopping centre in the heart of the Voždovac district. Initially the plan was to have a stadium with two sides and no end stands, however, this was changed at a late stage to a four sided fully UEFA compliant stadium.

For us, as luck would have it, the proposed Arena Sport televising of the Vojvodina v Spartak game was switched at short notice to the relegation group battle between Voždovac and Napredak. This meant the assembled group had a Friday evening game a short taxi ride away from our base at Belgrade’s equivalent of Fawlty Towers, the very cheap and sometimes cheerful Hotel Slavija.

On arrival at the “Stadium Shopping Center” in Zaplanjska Street you can’t help but look up and see the roofs of the stands protruding outwards and up from a run of the mill shopping centre.

It was a pretty lifeless encounter won by the hosts with an early goal. With the lack of excitement on the pitch you tend to lose the sense of location except for the occasional glance to a corner, where netting is in place to stop the obvious threat of wayward balls, and you glimpse Belgrade suburbia from your lofty perch.

You also notice the poor construction of the stadium despite it ticking all the UEFA requirement boxes. The rake of the steps is vertiginous but the steps are very narrow with no handrails for descending. The vast majority of the seats in the main West Stand will be obscured by the media centre, VIP area or camera gantries. Tickets are purchased at a desk inside the shopping centre and there is also a small merchandise shop within a newsagents on the same level.

Friday April 20th 2018 – Serbian Super Liga

FK Voždovac 1 (Stuparević 7)
FK Napredak 0

Att:439 Entry 200 RSD (£1.50)

After some Friday evening free time in Belgrade, we reconvened at the Slavija ahead of a morning fixture at Brodarac to see their highly successful under 19 side. On the second Serbian Groundhop we saw Brodarac thrash their counterparts from Partizan on their way to winning the Serbian under 19 league. This meant Brodarac qualified for this season’s UEFA Youth League. They were drawn at home in the qualifying play-off against Manchester United. The match was moved to Voždovac and the home side put up a brave fight before going down 2-0. The Brodarac first team are currently in the fourth tier, Belgrade Zona Liga, so their youth and academy success is truly admirable. Brodarac translates as “winners”.

Their stadium lies under the Stari Savski Most one of the oldest bridges across the River Sava and initially is most notable for the large JAT advert on the roof of its indoor facility. JAT was Jugoslovenski Aerotransport, the old state owned airline long replaced by Air Serbia. As you look around the immediate vicinity of the stadium you become aware of the history around it. The ground is built on the site of the notorious Staro Sajmište World War II concentration camp. The under 19s are taking on their equivalents from Voždovac and again play an exciting and energetic attacking game and win far more easily than the 2-1 score suggested.

Saturday April 20th 2018 – Serbian Under 19 Liga

FK Brodarac U19s 2 (L.Jovanović 69, D.Jovanović 73)
FK Vojvodina U19s 1 (Mrdja 90)

Att:112

Our next port of call was completely diametrically opposed to the sobering location of our morning match. Ada Ciganliga is an island in the Sava that has been artificially turned in to a peninsular with a lake and beach (part of which is nudist if you’re into that sort of thing) where locals flock in their thousands to relax, sunbathe and play sport. It is also a area for artwork, light displays and nightlife. There is a toll to come onto the island payable in kiosks at the barrier on the approach road.

The island is also home to the Belgrade FA stadium which has two artificial pitches one boasting a large pitch length stand. These are used to stage numerous matches in the lower reaches of the Belgrade leagues and as the main stadium has lights as many as six or seven matches a day take place at the weekends.

FK Dedinje are a 2014 reformation of a pre-WWII Belgrade club that played close to the site of Red Star’s Marakana stadium. Dedinje do not have a home ground of their own so have shared at Grafičar and Brodarac before using Ada Ciganliga. The club are nicknamed the “Millioneri” due to its historic location in one of Belgrade’s most exclusive areas. Somewhat annoyingly their pre-match huddle ends with a group shout of “Who is Belgrade’s richest club….Dedinje”. After that initial bluster they turn in a poor performance in unrelenting heat and opponents FK 011 (named after the dial code for Belgrade) canter to a 2-0 win.

Saturday April 20th 2018 – Meduopštinska Liga (Grupa A)

FK Dedinje 0
FK 011 Beograd 2 (Andrić 62, Jovanović pen 90)

Att:58

We then travel outside the city to Obrenobac where the local regional league has 5pm kick offs on a Saturday afternoon. We arrive at FK Rojkovac only to find that their opponents, FK Ljubinić have failed to show up and have forfeited the game. Very kindly a local man offers to guide us to another ground in the next village of Rvati, just as well as its remote location down unmade paths would have been very difficult to locate. The locals are truly astonished when their unexpected foreign guests arrive a few minutes after kick off.

Stadion Rvati is a run down gem of a ground, similar to the village ground of FK Vrčín on the inaugural hop. The football is not of the highest standard but the hosts turn on the jet packs and coast to a memorable 8-3 victory. There is something to be said for visiting these of the beaten track, ramshackle old grounds to gain a true perception of football outside the glamour of Super Liga and the like.

Saturday April 20th 2018 – Opštinska Liga Obrenovac

OFK Rvati 8 (Joksić 17,51,73, Nedeljković 29, Vučićević 33,81, Jakovljević pen 65, Petrović 77)

FK Sloga Ratari 3 (Kozlica 42, pen 45, Jovičić 78)

Att:60

We feasted on traditional Serbian meat platters at a roadside restaurant called Mali Raj on Kralja Aleksandra in Obrenovac. Bellies full and thirst satiated we headed back to the city for something completely different. One time Aston Villa striker Savo Milošević is now Vice President of the Serbian Football Association, heading up their anti-corruption purge, he is also a part time actor and tonight is in a theatrical performance at Akademija 28. The audience appears to be almost entirely female and pleasingly Savo appears as promised after the show. After a somewhat turbulent post playing career including alcohol problems following his father being shot dead by his grandfather, he looks fit and well and seemingly still very much a heartthrob as he was during his playing days which saw him win 102 international caps. He seems happy to talk to English football fans about his time at Villa and comes across as an extremely nice guy.

Sunday’s itinerary began with an early morning kick off at FK Žarkovo located on the north side of Danube in Novi Beograd The club are flying high at the top of the Belgrade region third tier Srpske Liga. The ground has a new stand and restaurant in order to cope with Prva Liga football. Joining our party for this game was Nenad Mijaljević, well known in England for producing top notch programmes for non-league clubs like South Shields, Jarrow Roofing and Seaham Red Star. A huge Red Star fanatic he tells me he has recently taken up groundhopping and now “gets” why people do it. It’s a competitive game with opponents FK IMT extremely unlucky not to get at least a point from the match. It’s the runaway league leaders that come out on top in a 2-1 in front of a decent crowd.

Sunday April 22nd 2018 – Srpske Liga Beograd

FK Žarkovo 2 (Rajić 15, Garić pen 19)
FK IMT 1 (Šarić 25)

Att:240 Entry 200 RSD (£1.50)

We have a leisurely lunch at one of our usual haunts, Konoba, under the Pančevo bridge. We have a riverside table set aside and enjoy their signature fish stew followed by yet more meat! A surprisingly swollen Danube laps gently against the terrace.

At the risk of sounding like “Savo stalkers” we bump into him again at Prva Liga club FK Bežanija, he is there with his family watching his eldest son Nikola play and score twice for the home side against FK Budućnost. It’s a blisteringly hot afternoon and an enterprising nut seller augmented the usual “kikiriki and semenke” (peanuts and seeds) with skewers of strawberries.

The stadium in Bežanija is set in an old quarry and at one end steep quarry walls afford an amazing view of the city. Behind the opposite goal is the beautiful Crkva Svetog Đorđa (Church of St George). Some people say football is a religion, well the priest from the church joined the crowd for the last twenty minutes of this game but the home side needed no divine intervention as Milošević’s brace was enough to secure the points.

Sunday April 22nd 2018 – Serbian Prva Liga

FK Bežanija 2 (Milošević 6,29)
FK Budućnost Dobanovci 0

Att:233 Entry 200 RSD (£1.50)

The Sunday evening game was a revisit for most of us as Partizan took on cross city opposition in Čukarički. The Partizan stadium always seems to have an intimidating atmosphere even when sparsely attended. The ultra group Grobari has warring factions resulting in the three factions being segregated into different parts of the stadium. Heeding the advice of co-organiser Aleks we all opt for tickets in the “posh” west stand (Zapad) for the princely sum of 450 dinar (£3.30). Partizan unsurprisingly take the points when the impressive Zoran Tošić nets his second goal of the game towards the end.

Sunday April 22nd 2018 – Serbian Super LigaFK Partizan 2 (Tošić 18,81)
FK Čukarički 1 (Belaković 46)

Att: 2,500 Entry 450 RSD (£3.30)

Some of the party have opted to return to the UK (and Germany and Denmark!) on the Monday so its a smaller bunch that head back to the island paradise of Ada Ciganliga for an under 18 match between FK 011 and Voždovac.

Monday April 23rd 2018 – Serbian U18 League

FK 011 Beograd U18s 0
FK Voždovac U18s 2 (Nadj 21, Mijailović 37)

Att:23

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We then head north out of Belgrade for the 4pm Prva match at FK Inđija. En route we stop at the Serbian FA headquarters in Stara Pazova. A centre of excellence like St.Georges Park, this UEFA funded facility has six pitches two of which have spectator accommodation.

The Gradski Stadion in Inđija is top notch with some old stands on one side and a newer big uncovered stand on the opposite a left over from the clubs’ brief Super Liga stint in 2010/11. The stadium is right next the railway with passenger and freight trains rattling past regularly. This harks back to the clubs origins as Železničar Inđija, with the prefix being attached to railroad workers. Also at this end a towering factory belches and crackles constantly. A decent crowd gathers for the match against Novi Pazar, but the visitors miss a penalty and don’t really trouble the hosts as they ease to a 2-0 win.

Monday April 23rd 2018 – Serbian Prva Liga

FK Inđija 2 (Kovačevic 22, Gajić 45)
FK Novi Pazar 0

Att:310 Entry 100 RSD (70p)

It’s a great coda to another sublime weekend in the company of Groundhopping Serbia (Aleks Peković, Bogdan Mitrović and Teodora Rebić) and we end the day enjoying some of the Hotel Moscow’s world renowned cake, Moskva šnit. It also dawns on us that our nine matches have cost us a little over £8 in entrance money! We hope to run a fifth Groundhop early in the new season taking in the delights of Southern Serbia this time and maybe also a game in the Srpske Republic enclave in Bosnia. To join us or just keep up to date with our plans please follow me and the lads on Twitter (@PeterRMiles and @GroundhopSerbia), or Facebook at Serbian Groundhop Weekends.
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A much expanded version of this article will appear in a future edition of Football Weekends magazine.