Notes From A Small Island 5 – Isle of Wight

Football came relatively early to the Isle of Wight and, undoubtedly, Cowes were one of the first organised clubs on the island, being formed in 1881. However, the club failed to complete the 1899/1900 Southern League season, disbanding after a home League game against Tottenham Hotspur, which Cowes lost 6-1. The club was resurrected as the existing Cowes White Star club took over the Cowes name in 1903 and bought football back to the Brooklyn Ground in Park Road which boasted a stand to house 700 people. The pitch had a notorious slope but this had been levelled in 1898. Sadly, by 1912 the landlord wanted to build houses at Brooklyn so the club had to look for a new site in the Northwood Park area of the town. The resulting move to their current ground at Westwood Park in 1912 proved hugely beneficial and Cowes saw crowds regularly surpass four figures for Hampshire County Division matches. In 1917 Westwood hosted a match between Cowes and a Portsmouth ladies team, it was agreed the men’s team would play the match with their hands clasped behind their backs!

The current stand at Westwood Park was built in the mid 1920’s, apparently by local shipbuilders who who had been given 24 hours notice to erect it ahead of a match against Newport. Prior to then, a small stand with bench seating had been erected on the opposite side. It is recorded that the 1926 Good Friday match at Westwood against Ryde, attracted 3,400 people. In a smart move Cowes purchased the freehold of Westwood Park in 1945 for £665. In the 1980’s Cowes merged with Whites Sports to become Cowes Sports.

Cowes Sports

Newport were relatively late to the burgeoning growth of football on the island. The first mention of the club comes in January 1888 when they lost a game against Lugley House School. Newport moved to Church Litten, then called Well’s Field, around 1898 and erected a grandstand in 1920. The club bought the ground from Winchester College for £3,000 in 1924. Football was proving so popular the stand had to be extended further in 1928. The ground was big enough to allow 6,000 people to gather for the visit of Watford in the FA Cup in 1956. The pitch was eventually turned around ninety degrees meaning the main stand was behind the goal. By 1988 the club had accepted £2.5 million for the land which became a Morrisons supermarket, and a purpose built ground at St George’s Park. In a remarkable parallel to their Church Litten departure, the St George’s Park ground had only just had it’s 30th birthday, when the club were ousted from it at the end of the 2018/2019 campaign.

St.George’s Park, former home of Newport

The club were promised a new ground by the developers and entered into a temporary groundshare at East Cowes Victoria Athletic. Newport’s new ground, to be called WhiteFibre Park, is to be built near the Racecourse Roundabout between Newport and Wootton Bridge but the start has been delayed due to the global pandemic. The St.George’s Park Stadium lies derelict, a new Asda Superstore has been built next door and McDonald’s and Wickes have stated their intention to open units on the site of the old ground.

East Cowes Victoria Athletic were formed in 1885, and originally played at the Recreation Ground in York Avenue and then at the field near Norris Castle. Similar to Cowes they lost the use of their ground in 1912 and after considering a return to York Avenue they nearly moved to the Tower Road Recreation Ground but objections were raised by the neighbouring hospital. They then secured land at Beatrice Avenue and built a wooden grandstand which was replaced until the current stand in the mid 1990’s.

Newport playing a home game at East Cowes Victoria Athletic’s Beatrice Avenue ground

For clubs that don’t play in mainland leagues, the Isle of Wight league was formed in September 1898 with East Cowes Victoria Athletic being crowned inaugural champions. At that time Cowes, Ryde and Sandown Bay were competing on the mainland as members were of the Southern League. There had been organised football on the island before this with ad hoc leagues operating in both Cowes and Ryde featuring long lost teams such as Osborne Corinthians, Cowes St Mary’s Guild, Newport Excelsiors and St Helen’s Blue Star. It is perhaps also worth noting, as it was reported in the County Press newspaper, that at Christmas 1892 a match had taken place at Appuldurcombe between the Total Abstainers and the Moderate Drinkers!

The Isle of Wight league started with seventeen teams, of which founding members Brading Town, Bembridge and Ventnor still compete in the competition while fellow founders, East Cowes Victoria Athletic and Newport have competed in mainland leagues for many years.

One of the enduring memories of the Isle of Wight League came from Professor Barnes Wallis, inventor of the “Dambuster” bouncing bomb which had such a pivotal impact on World War II. As a young man in the 1920’s he worked for the aircraft manufacturer Saunders-Roe and latter in life he recalled a game involving the works team being played in torrential rain, possibly at Wroxall (his recall wasn’t clear and alas there was no record of whether he played in the game or was a spectator, although island folklore says he definitely played island football in his younger days). During the game the already heavy leather ball had become waterlogged and the pitch so awash with water a hefty clearance saw the ball bounce continuously across the surface of the water. He said the memory stayed with him and recalled how a heavy spherical object had its path controlled by repeatedly striking water was the inspiration for his bouncing bomb.

The league membership has fluctuated greatly over the years with in excess of 500 teams having participated in the competition. Sides like Long Common,Totland Bay, Ryde St John’s, Shanklin Rangers, Royal Ulster Rifles, Saro Sports, Cowes Denmark Road Old Boys and works teams like Plessey (electronics), J.Arthur Dixon (greetings cards), Ratseys (sailmakers) and the British Hovercraft Corporation have come and gone.

Currently the Isle of Wight League consists of two divisions of 23 clubs plus the reserves of Cowes Sports and the “A” team of Newport. Then there are two further Combination Leagues for the reserve and “A” teams of Isle of Wight League teams. Whilst many member clubs play on public parks with spartan facilities in this article I will highlight some of the more interesting grounds from the Isle of Wight League.

Brading Town have played at Vicarage Lane since their formation in 1871 although in the early days they also used a pitch at Beech Grove. Life at Vicarage Lane wasn’t always easy, for season 1938/39 the club had decided to charge admission for the first time, to which the Archdeacon would only give his consent if the club erected a canvas screen to block visibility of the pitch from the graveyard. The club now boast one of the best facilities in the island league mainly due to their lengthy stint in Hampshire/Wessex Leagues between 1973 and 2012. The clubhouse was built in the 1980’s and around the same time the floodlights were acquired from Erith & Belvedere. In more recent years the ramshackle old wooden cover has been replaced with modern modular units on either side of the pitch. In 2008 Vicarage Lane was renamed The Peter Henry Ground following the passing of a club stalwart who had given 62 unbroken years of service to the club.

Brading Town

Ryde Saints are the current incumbents of the Smallbrook Stadium in Ryde, primarily a speedway venue used by the Wight Warriors team. The traditional Ryde team, Ryde Sports, were formed in 1888 and enjoyed lengthy spells in the Hampshire League and a single season, 1898/99, in the Southern League. The club’s demise was precipitated by a move from their traditional home at Partlands which was sold to developers in 1990. The Smallbrook Stadium is somewhat out of town and despite arranging high profile friendlies against the likes of Aston Villa, Sheffield Wednesday and Southampton, the club struggled financially and failed to complete the 1997/98 season. They were briefly replaced by Ryde ‘98 but they too fell by the wayside. The stadium has one very long shallow stand more suited to watching speedway than football. Ryde Saints also struggle to attract support which must be a concern for of the island’s traditional footballing hotbeds.

Ryde Saints

Whitecroft & Barton Sports play at the Whitecroft Sports Ground and have won the last five completed Division One titles. Their ground, opened in 1904, is situated off Sandy Lane and boasts a sizeable clubhouse with a shallow seated stand attached to it. The ground has fine views of the listed clocktower of the former Whitecroft asylum.

Whitecroft & Barton Sports

Moving to the south of the island and the town of Ventnor provides stunning vistas of the English Channel. Ventnor FC play at the Watcombe Bottom Sports Centre which also provides facilities for Ventnor Rugby Club and Rew Valley Youth Football Club. Although Ventnor was used as a venue in the 1993 Island Games it wasn’t used during the 2011 Games, despite the football pitch having decent cover on the sizeable banking.

Ventnor

The best of the grounds to the east of the island is to be found in Seaview. The club are one of the oldest on the island with a history dating back to 1890 when they played on a field off Seagrove Manor Road before moving to Holgate Farm in 1935. The old wooden pavilion at the current ground, Seaview Park, was destroyed by fire in December 1974 and the current Seagrove Pavilion was opened the following year with the help of a fund-raising match against Portsmouth. It is a quite magnificent and well maintained structure, and the ground is augmented further by a large covered stand which replaced a smaller wooden stand. As if this venue couldn’t be any more perfect the far end provides stunning views of the English Channel.

Seaview

The western town of Freshwater has been represented by a number of clubs in the Isle of Wight League including Royal Garrison Artillery Freshwater and Freshwater Royal Artillery who were champions in 1906/07. However, the best known town team is West Wight who started life at Freshwater Comrades. In 1922 the club were asked by the Freshwater British Legion to drop the Comrades suffix as the Comrades of the Great War Society from where they had taken their name, had amalgamated with other associations to become the Royal British Legion. The club elected to change the name to West Wight Athletic. The Camp Road ground was railed off with a decent stand, largely due to a stint in the Hampshire League from the mid 1980’s. The old stand has since been replaced with a more modest structure, but one that will still keep spectators dry when needed.

West Wight

Other Isle of Wight League venues worthy of mention despite their lack of spectator accommodation are Shanklin’s County Ground, a substantial railed off venue which recently saw upgrading work being carried out to the clubhouse. Oakfield’s Recreation Ground is also a railed off pitch but has the added bonus of a dramatic backdrop of hillside houses. Sandown & Lake now use the Fairway Sports Complex having lost their traditional ground at Fairway Park which boasted a sizeable wooden grandstand.

Oakfield
Shanklin’s County Ground

While most other clubs play in public parks, the Clatterford Recreation Ground, home to Carisbrooke United, is no ordinary public park. While it is bereft of any football furniture of note it affords quite stunning views of the neighbouring castle parts of which date back to the twelfth century.

Carisbrooke United

A version of this article first appeared in the December 2020 issue of Groundtastic Magazine (Issue No.103)

Far Away In Time (Ekco Sports FC)

The story of Ekco Sports starts with the story of Eric Kirkham Cole, a genial engineer born in Rochford in 1901. He began manufacturing radios in the early 1920’s in a garden shed at his house in Beedell Avenue, but was taken by a newspaper article by William Verrells that espoused the potential benefits of mains powered rather than battery powered radios. Cole set about developing a battery eliminator radio and showed his invention to Verrells. He was so impressed the pair went into business in 1926 as E.K. Cole Ltd, initially based in Leigh-on-Sea. Within four years the firm moved to a much bigger site built on a former cabbage field at Priory Crescent in Southend.

The company boomed and while they diversified into many areas such as domestic appliances, car radios, heaters, Geiger counters, tape recorders, televisions, radar, aircraft and tank radios, they were most famous for the production of domestic radios housed in striking bakerlite cases. Initially Ekco imported the bakelite casings from AEG in Germany but prohibitive import duties saw Cole set up his own moulding plant next to his factory. He employed some well-known designers like the modernist designer Wells Coates (perhaps best remembered for the Isokon Buildings in Belsize Park) and it was Coates that designed the casing for Ekco’s iconic product, the AD-65 radio. Cole also similarly engaged the Russian born designer Serge Chermayeff who is best known for co-designing the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill.

The iconic Ekco AD-65

At its peak, Ekco employed 8,000 people and E.K. Cole even did a lot of secret government work on the Enigma code breaking machine during World War II. The company merged with Pye in 1960 and the plant diversified to electrical lighting before closing in the 1970’s, with the factory being sold to the credit card company Access. Cole himself met an unfortunate end, drowning in the Bahamas in 1966.

Cole was undoubtedly a caring employer, a real leader on providing apprenticeships, workplace pensions and paid holidays. He also provided excellent social and welfare facilities for his workers. Football and cricket (from 1935) for the men and netball for the factory’s numerous female employees. The works football team first started with friendlies in 1929 before entering competitive football for the 1930/31 season, fielding two teams in the Southend Borough Combination. The first team won Division Two in 1931/32 seeing off the challenge of runners up, Leigh Wesley. The team played in amber and green colours, the livery of works vans and of the flag flown above the factory. Initially games were played at Bournes Green Park and then at Rochford Corner before a sports field and pavilion was established at the factory site.

During the war Ekco’s sports teams had to adopt the name “Nomads” for security reasons, as the firm was involved in the production of components to aid the war effort. The footballers won the prestigious Southend Charity Cup under the Nomads moniker in 1944/45. Many of the companies’ workers either enlisted or were evacuated to Ekco’s other sites in safer areas. The two Ekco cricket teams, the Monarchs and Trojans, struggled to field sides and drafted in the help of professional footballers from Southend United, like Stan Montgomery (who had played first class cricket for Glamorgan), Frank Dudley, Jack French and Frank Walton.

In January 1946, Ekco travelled to Layer Road to take on the first team of Colchester United, then of the Southern League, in a friendly. A crowd of 2,000 watched the works team achieve a very creditable 3-3 draw. It was clear Ekco were ready for a higher level of football and they joined the London League for the 1946/47 season.

To coincide with their elevated status the club erected a stand at the ground. Many years later the stand was re-erected at the Victory Sports Ground in Eastern Avenue. Sadly, it didn’t last very long and with the area being an open public park it was soon badly vandalised and demolished for safety reasons. Unfortunately, to date, searches for a photo of the Ekco stand have proved elusive.

The London League had become an interesting competition with reserve teams of the likes of Chelmsford City, Guildford City and Bedford Town, as well as first teams of established clubs like Tilbury, Eton Manor, Woodford Town and Epsom. Other works teams such as Crittall Athletic and London Telecoms also rubbed shoulders with the likes of Leavesden Mental Hospital, Woolwich Polytechnic and Royal Naval Depot. Playing in a higher level meant entering the FA Cup for the first time. Ekco reached the second qualifying round in 1947/48, succumbing to Grays Athletic.

An Ekco programme from their London League days

Ekco spent three seasons in the London League before a bottom place finish in 1948/49 saw them elect to return to the Southend Borough Combination. Ekco won the title in their first season back in the competition relegating defending champions Gaslight (Southend) into the runners up spot. Ekco remained in the Borough Combination for many years, winning further titles in 1956/57 and 1965/66, and competed long after the company closed down. In 1981/82, and now called Ekco Social & Sports, the club moved up to the Essex Olympian League. A further name change occurred in 1996 to Ekco First Data, reflecting the change of site ownership to Access. The club left the now Essex Intermediate League at the end of the 1999/2000 season.

The club rejoined the Southend Borough Combination and merged with Thames Park. Ekco/Thames Park won the Premier Division in 2004/5 two points clear of Old Southendian, retaining the title the following season. The Ekco name disappeared from local adult football at the end of the 2008/09 season and Thames Park carried on under their own name. In the same year Ekco’s two cricket sides merged with Southend-on-Sea Cricket Club. The Ekco name does continue at youth level with the long established Ekco Whitecaps club. Whitecaps have also been fielding an adult team in the Borough Combination from 2015. While the team may have gone the sports ground and social club remain as actively used facilities to this day.

The whole site of the former factory was demolished to make way for a housing development and for a new site for Fair Haven’s hospice. In 2020, the long and fascinating history of Ekco and Eric Kirkham Cole has been marked with a superb statue, by sculptor Anne Schwegmann-Fielding, of Cole made out of 182 ceramic mosaic tiles of photos of the factory and its workers, standing atop of that iconic radio.

With grateful thanks to Vince Taylor of Groundtastic Magazine

Lost Clubs & Grounds of the Old Scottish Third Division

In the mid 1920’s the Scottish Football League ran an ill fated Third Division which lasted just three seasons before the 1925/26 season failed to finish. Several member clubs were struggling financially, and some fell by the wayside altogether after, or soon after, the collapse of the Third Division. It’s a fascinating period where doughty sides from very small towns briefly rubbed shoulders with the traditional big city clubs.

The Third Division began in season 1923/24 with clubs being elected largely from the Western League.

The first Third Division Champions were Arthurlie from the town of Barrhead. They played at Dunterlie Park and remained in the Scottish Second Division until they folded in 1929 being immediately replaced by a junior club of the same name who remain playing at the same ground. It should be noted Arthurlie have played at Dunterlie Park since 1919, although this is the third ground bearing the same name over the years.

Runners up in the inaugural season, and also promoted, were East Stirlingshire who played at Firs Park, their home ground until 2008, save for the 1964/65 spent at Kilbowie Park following the controversial, and short lived, merger with Clydebank. The club have since groundshared at Stenhousemuir and, currently, Falkirk and lost their place in the Scottish Football League in 2016. The club had used various grounds such as Burnhouse, Randyford Park and Merchiston Park before the latter was required for the expansion of a foundry. Firs Park in Firs Street became their home in 1921 and remnants of the old ground, derelict for a dozen years now, remain in an overgrown and unloved state.

Beith were originally formed in 1875 although the club had several periods of inactivity throughout its lifetime. In their early years they lead a nomadic existence playing at Gateside Toll, Marshalland, Knockbuckie, Juckes’ Meadow and Glebe Park before the First World War. Glebe Park must have been a substantial ground for the time as a 1905 Scottish Cup tie against Kilmarnock attracted a crowd of 4,000. Their lease at Glebe Park expired during wartime and, upon reforming in 1919, Beith had to play home games in Glengarnock at Kersland Field, home of Vale of Garnock. They completed the 1919/20 campaign back in Beith at Mains Park. In 1920 the club purchased their former field at Juckes’ Meadow, now called Muir Field, and renamed it Bellsdale Park in recognised of the work done by Archibald Bell, a local solicitor, in acquiring the site. Beith left the Third Division after the ill fated third season and joined the Scottish Football Alliance before eventually folding in 1938. They were immediately replaced by Beith Juniors who still play at Bellsdale Park in Meadowside.

Brechin City and Montrose played in all three seasons before leaving the Scottish League at the end of the uncompleted 1925/26 season. Brechin have played at Glebe Park since 1919 and Montrose at Links Park since 1887. Both clubs had nothing more than a brief hiatus from the Scottish League being readmitted to Division Two for 1929/30 when both Arthurlie and Bathgate failed to finish their fixtures. Queen of the South were runners up in the 1924/25 season and continue to play at Palmerston Park, their home since 1919.

Clackmannan were formed in 1885 and after playing at Tower Park and Glebe Park in their first year, they moved to a permanent home at Chapelhill Park for the 1886/87 season. The club played one season in the Scottish League Division Two in 1921/22 before dropping down to the Eastern League. The club folded in 1931 but the ground remained until the 1950’s when it was demolished for the construction of South Pilmuir Road and Chapelhill Road. The town’s current football ground, the King George V Playing Field, is a few hundred metres north of the old ground.

Dumbarton Harp were in the Western League when they were elected to the Third Division for the inaugural season. They finished tenth in the 1923/24 but failed to complete the following campaign, folding after seventeen games. One of their Scottish Qualifying Cup games from 1923/24, against Queen of the South, bought a huge crowd of 3,000 to Harp’s Meadow Park ground which had been their home since formation in 1894. Meadow Park, probably the same site as Broadmeadow, an early ground of Dumbarton FC, and remained in use for football until 1950 when all vestiges of the ground were removed. The area is to the west of Broadmeadow Industrial Estate and still has several football pitches on it.

Dykehead is a very small town next to Shotts in North Lanarkshire, and its football team were formed in 1880. They played at Dykehead Park, Youngston Park and Craigmillar Park in its early years although records show players changed in a public house called Kirkwoods at Dykehead Cross these venues could well be the same field with name changes as a result of ownership changes, or fields very close to each other. They moved to Parkside on Rosehall Road in the late 1890’s, playing their until they left Division Three for the Scottish Football Alliance and then the Provincial League until their demise in 1928. The ground was left to the YMCA and is still in use as Shotts YMCA Park.

Galston were formed in 1886 playing at Riverside Park. They moved to Portland Park in 1894 and in successive weekends in 1907, Motherwell and Rangers visited Galston both drawing gates of 4,000. This was more than the village’s entire population at the time. They played all three seasons in the Scottish Third Division before folding and re-emerging as a junior club which subsequently folded in 1940. Portland Park still exists in truncated form, there area where the football ground lay was consumed by the construction of the A71 bypass.

Helensburgh is a remote town, south west of Loch Lomond, and had three other town clubs before the club that would eventually play in the Scottish Third Division, were formed in 1874. The club had two spells at Ardencaple Park in between playing at Kirkmichael Park, off Old Luss Road (1876 to 1885) and Mossend Park, home of Victoria FC (1885-86). There is some debate as to the location of Ardencaple Park with some five sites under consideration. The most likely is to be the “upper” field north of the Helensburgh Cricket Club. The ground was said to have substantial terracing which allowed a crowd of 2,000 to gather for a cup game against Royal Albert in September 1925. Helensburgh were actually winning the Third Division when the 1925/26 season ended prematurely. The club folded two years later being replaced by a new amateur entity.

Mid-Annandale, from the town of Lockerbie, were formed in 1877 as Vale of Dryfe and played at Mill Field and Broomhouse Park before moving into Kintail Park in 1902. After competing in all three Third Division campaigns the club joined the Scottish Football Alliance. Kintail Park had a stand and a record gate of 2,100 gathered in November 1923 for the Division Three match against Queen of the South. The club later played in the South of Scotland League before folding in 1936. Kintail Park became a residential street. The current Mid-Annandale club were formed in 1959 as Lockerbie Boys Club and these days play at New King Edward Park which is close to the old Kintail Park ground.

Nithsdale Wanderers from Sanquhar won the Third Division in 1924/25 and were promoted to the second tier. However, they soon suffered a dramatic fall from grace when they failed to be re-elected after finishing bottom of the table in 1926/27, ending up in the Provincial League. Their rise had been equally swift, having been formed in 1897 they largely played friendlies and cup games only save for short stints in the Football Combination and Scottish Union Leagues. This changed when they moved from their basic pitch at Castleholm to a new home on the banks of the River Nith called Crawick Holm. This enabled them to join the Western League for 1922/23 and after a solitary season found themselves elected with many other clubs to form the new Scottish League Third Division. Nithsdale spent the post war years in the Ayrshire Region of the Western League before folding in 1964. Crawick Holm was developed sufficiently to allow 4,200 spectators for a Scottish Cup tie against Queen of the South in 1924/25. The ground remained into the 1970’s when a small factory was built right next to it. A now unenclosed pitch still remains next to the factory. The current South of Scotland club bearing the same name were formed in 2001 and still play in Sanquhar, at Lorimer Park.

Solway Star from Annan were formed in 1911 playing games at Greenlea Park, on a pitch known locally as “Old Mudhole”. The club moved to Kimmeter Park Green in 1921 which allowed then to rise to the Western League and then to the Scottish League. The new ground had a grandstand and over 2,000 people watched a cup tie with Vale of Leven in 1924. After losing their League place the club competed in the South of Scotland League until World War II. After the war they played a few friendlies but then folded with the recently formed Annan Athletic assuming the role of the town’s pre-eminent club. Intriguingly, the ground became grazing land and the lower half of the wooden grandstand remained as a cow shed well into the 21st century.

Peebles Rovers were formed in 1893 playing matches at Villa Park and Victoria Park, the latter being a still existent public park. The club moved to Whitestone Park in 1906 a ground they share to this day with Peebles County Cricket Club. After their three season stint in the Scottish League, Rovers have been stalwarts of the East of Scotland League.

Royal Albert from Larkhall were formed around 1878 although some sources quote five years earlier. They were members of the Western League that were the backbone of the new Third Division of the Scottish League in 1923. In a similar vein to others after their three season stint Royal Albert dropped into the Scottish Alliance for a season and then into the Provincial League for 1927/28 before folding. Once again, they were replaced by a junior club bearing the same name who took over occupancy at Raploch Park. Their record attendance was said to be 5,000 from a match against Celtic that was abandoned after 80 minutes. The ground is now covered by housing and was directly opposite Larkhall Thistle’s Gasworks Ground behind the houses on the north side of Raploch Road. The junior club played at Robert Smillie Park between 1964 and 2007 before sharing with Larkhall Thistle until 2013, when they took over Tileworks Park in Stonehouse, former ground of the defunct Stonehouse Violet.

The two clubs that dropped into the Third Division for the 1924/25 season were Vale of Leven and Lochgelly United. Vale enjoyed several stints in the Scottish League, but this ended with the third and final Third Division season. The club folded in 1928 and were replaced by the junior club of the same name. Their home remains the same since 1889, the magnificent Millburn Park.

Lochgelly United were formed in 1890 upon the amalgamation of Lochgelly Athletic and Fifeshire Hibernians. Early seasons were spent at Schools Park and Reid’s Park until settling at the enclosed Recreation Ground off North Street. The club folded in 1928 and decided against reforming as a junior club. The ground remained until 1934 and is now under residential houses in Timmons Park.

Leith Athletic joined the Third Division for 1924/25 rising from the Scottish Alliance. Formed in 1887 they played at a myriad of grounds during their first stint in the Scottish League between 1891 and 1915. Their two seasons in the Third Division saw them using one of their former grounds at Old Logie Green which had also been used by another Scottish League Club, St. Bernard’s. After the Third Division was dropped, the club were elected back to the Second Division in 1927/28 and stayed in the Scottish League until 1953, playing post War seasons in the “C” division. During this time their nomadism continued, playing home games at New Powderhall, Marine Gardens and Meadowbank, a venue that would become Meadowbank Stadium. After twelve ground moves in their history, none of which remain, Leith Athletic were liquidated with sizeable debts in May 1955. Old Logie Green now lies under a retail development. The current East of Scotland League club with the same name are a 1996 reformation and currently play at Peffermill.

The location of Old Logie Green, one of twelve grounds used by Leith Athletic

The two clubs that dropped into the third tier for that fateful 1925/26 season were Forfar Athletic and Johnstone. Forfar were playing, as they still do, at Station Park, their erstwhile home since 1888. They were in third position in the table when the season abruptly ended and were somewhat fortuitous to be elected back into the Second Division for 1926/27.

Johnstone were, however, less fortunate and after dropping into the Scottish Alliance for 1926/27, the club soon folded. Based a few miles west of Renfrew, Johnstone were formed in 1877 playing at Cartbank Park. They moved to a sizeable ground called Newfield Park in 1894 and it was sufficiently developed to allow 6,000 people in to witness a Scottish Cup tie with Hibernian in 1906. After Johnstone’s demise, the ground, named after Newfield House, a nearby property, remained for some time as disused land before being cleared for the construction of the A737 bypass.

So, there you have it, three seasons, 21 clubs with a variety of pathways taken after that brief, ill fated, attempt to get a third level started in the Scottish League.

Treasures of Yerevan

There has been a football stadium in Yerevan’s Vardanants Street since 1935 when the old Dinamo Stadium was opened. In 1931 the city’s Dinamo Sports Club had asked the City Council of Armenian Commissars to provide a suitable site for a new football stadium for the city. A centrally located 16 hectare site was provided and after two years of construction, the new stadium was inaugurated with a match between Dinamo’s arch rivals Spartak Yerevan (later Ararat Yerevan) and KBKT Moscow.

Despite several renovations the elegant curves and classical pillars survive into the modern era, and provide Yerevan with a visually stunning national stadium. The first major renovation of the Dinamo Stadium came in 1953 under the auspices of architect Koryun Hakobyan who was also partly responsible for Yerevan’s much lauded concert and indoor sports venue called the Hamalir. The Dinamo Stadium gained its wonderfully ornate western facade during this initial refurbishment. However, by the end of the 20th century the stadium played very much second fiddle to its crosstown rival, the mighty Hrazdan Stadium. Opened in November 1970 it was also the work of Hakobyan, a former weightlifter, he was a favourite of the Soviet Union’s Politburo and became known as the “People’s Architect”.

Koryan Hakobyan

In 1999, with the help of a sizeable injection of funds from UEFA, a two year project of upgrading the Dinamo Stadium began, costing €3 million. The beautifully sympathetic modernisation turned the venue into a fully covered all seater stadium for the first time. The classical colonnades and Hakobyan’s facade, adorned with flag poles and bas-reliefs, were retained and the stadium’s extraordinary new roof turned the venue into a modern, but beautiful, international standard venue capable of holding 16,000 spectators.

Even though the stadium was owned by the City of Yerevan it was renamed the Republican Stadium (Hanrapetaken in Armenian). The closing year of the century was a pivotal one in the Pink City’s long history. On October 27th 1999, five masked gunmen lead by dissident Nairi Hunanyan broke into the Armenian Parliament and killed eight people including prime minister and national hero Vazgen Sargsyan and the President of the National Assembly, Karen Demirchyan. Sargsyan had risen to prominence as the commander of Armenian forces in the 1989-1994 Nagorno-Karabakh War with Azerbaijan. He was appointed Defence Minister and had only become the eighth Prime Minister of Armenia in the June of the year of his assassination. As a remark of respect, the Republican Stadium became the Vazgen Sargsyan Republic Stadium and his image was incorporated into the entrance to the stadium.

The first game in the upgraded stadium came in October 2000 when Armenia took on Ukraine and raced into a two goal lead before the Ukrainians spoilt the occasion somewhat by rattling in three goals, two by Andrei Shevchenko, to take the points in a World Cup qualifying match.

The 16,000 capacity was reached in October 2003 when a European Championship qualifying match bought Spain to Yerevan. In 2008 the capacity was reduced to 14,403 when more VIP sections were installed by Israeli company Green Diversified.

Across town the Hrazdan Stadium and its iconic Soviet era floodlights dominate the city skyline. A proposal for a stadium in the gorge of the Hrazdan river was first muted in the 1950’s when Soviet First Deputy Chairman Anastas Mikoyan, a close ally of Stalin, visited the city and could see the natural amphitheatre of the gorge from where he was staying in the Presidential mansion.

However, work on the project did not start until 1969. Under the exacting eye of Koryun Hakobyan and fellow architect Gurgen Musheghyan, the work was remarkably completed in just eighteen months, no doubt more than a little pressure being exerted from Moscow to finish in 1970 to mark the 50th anniversary of the “Sovietisation” of Armenia.

The 75,000 capacity stadium cost five million roubles which included financial support from the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation. It was officially opened in November 1970 in front of General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev, although the planned parade had to be put back 24 hours due to heavy snow.

The magnificent stadium became home to the city’s powerhouse club, Ararat Yerevan, regular challengers in the Soviet Top League. The first official football match at the Hrazdan took place in May 1971 when an all time record attendance of 78,000 was set for the visit of Kazakstan’s Kairat Almaty.

The mountainous stadium became a fortress for Ararat and in 1973 they won the Soviet Top League and Soviet Cup double. It was the third season running the League had been won by a non-Muscovite club after successes for Dynamo Kyiv in 1971 and Zarya Voroshilovgrad (now known as Luhansk) a year later. The legendary 1973 Ararat side was commemorated in 2016 by Tigran Barseghyan and Vladimir Antashyan’s quite extraordinary bronze statues of 19 Ararat players and coaches standing behind the vast Soviet Top League trophy. Sadly, it was reported in May 2020 that four of the bronze statues had been stolen from their lofty position overlooking their fortress.

The Soviet Union national team even held two international matches, against Finland and Greece, at the Hrazdan in 1978. The stadium was privatised in 2003 and the new owners, the Hrazdan Holding CJSC, set about modernising the stadium. It became all seater for the first time with a reduced capacity of 54,208. The renovation was completed in 2008 and held an international for the first time in eight years when Armenia took on Turkey. It was something of an ironic opening fixture as one of the best views of the stadium is afforded from the Tsitsernakaberd Genocide memorial, erected in 1967 to remember the 1915 genocide of 1.5 million Armenians by Ottoman Turks.

The owners of Hrazdan spent €6 million on the stadium in 2012 with the view to obtaining the grading to enable the hosting of UEFA finals. Now trading as Hrazdan Leasehold Venture CJSC the owners fell out with the Armenian Football Association and the mighty stadium was mothballed in 2016 and a year later even the pitch was dug up.

Meanwhile, Ararat, who had been continuous members of the Soviet Top League from 1965 to Armenia’s independence in 1991, had a huge fall from grace. They have only one Armenian title, in 1993, and fell some way below the new dominate Yerevan club, FC Pyunik. Pyunik’s ten consecutive Armenian championships between 2001 and 2010 have come under serious scrutiny with allegations of bribery and corruption. Match-fixing in general has caused seemingly irreparable damage to attendances in Armenian League matches and Ararat have been forced to play home games in modest venues like the Mika Stadium and the Yerevan Academy Stadium, with only the odd bigger match being held at the fabulous Republican Stadium.

The most recent Governmental talks surrounding the Hrazdan Stadium leave it’s future still somewhat in limbo. Armenian FA President Arthur Vanetsyan has lobbied Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan for a new national stadium, calling Hrazdan “obsolete” for international competition. When pushed for a resolution with the impasse with the owners of Hrazdan, Vanetsyan stated negotiations were currently ongoing with a view to returning Armenian Championship football to this leviathan of a stadium. In many quarters, eyes would mist over at the prospect of Ararat, the mountain kings, returning to their spiritual home.

This article first appeared in the September 2020 edition of Groundtastic Magazine (No.102)

The Death Match

Should you ever go to the wonderful Valeriy Lobanovskyi Dynamo stadium in Kyiv, please take a moment to look at the small steel sculpture tucked behind the ticket office. The sculpture of four men gazing into a distant horizon is a memorial to the four former Dynamo players that lost their lives in as a result of the infamous “Death Match” in 1942.

The German army had invaded Ukraine in 1941, silencing the mighty roar of the Russian guns and forcing the population into a cruel level of starvation. During the German occupation of Ukraine, football was largely banned and Soviet clubs were dissolved. Dynamo, of course, were favoured by the NKVD (People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs), to the Nazi’s, therefore, the very embodiment of communism, and were immediately forced to disband. Many of the professional players in Kyiv joined the Red Army or the partisan resistance movement.

Charged with instilling a pacification process in the city, Lieutenant General Friedrich Georg Eberhardt suggested football matches be arranged between the local population and the occupying forces teams.

It was therefore, unwittingly, permitted that eight Dynamo players and three from Lokomotyv, who had remained in Kyiv and were now consigned to working in the Kyiv Bread Factory No.1 owned by a Dynamo supporter, could form a team called FC Start and play exhibition matches promoted as the “City of Kyiv All-Stars”.

Under the impression they were facing a team of bakers and blissfully unaware they had all been professional players, the first matches organised against Start were against a team of the Wermacht’s Hungarian and Romanian regiments. The match against the Hungarian regiment saw Start win easily by 6-2. They then defeated the Romanian regiment 11-0. It was reported that Start player Ivan Kuzmenko trained with a ball three times heavier than a standard ball so his shots were so hard the Romanian keeper would duck out of the way to prevent injury! Then a German army team were beaten 6-0.

The Germans then sent the stronger Hungarian team MSG Wal to play Start twice in a few days. Wal were beaten 5-1 and then again 3-2. The Germans by now trying to save face then sent their crack undefeated “all Ayrian” Luftwaffe side known as Flakelf to play Start, who defiantly wore red shirts, but they were humiliated 5-1. A rematch was ordered and despite commands for Start to “ease up”, the Kyiv side won yet again 5-3. Flakelf’s second and third goals had come in quick succession, after the Start goalkeeper had deliberately been knocked unconscious by some rough play by the Germans, and had pulled the score back to 3-3. He then came to his senses and Start roared back to claim yet another victory.

It was the last straw for the Germans. According to the Russian version of events, five Start players were arrested and tortured, Nikolai Korotkykh died during the torture and Olexander Tkachenko was never seen again. The other three players were sent to the labour camp at Syrets. During their internment there was an uprising against the camp’s administration and the remaining Start players Ivan Kuzmenko, Oleksey Klymenko and goalkeeper Nikolai Trusevich were singled out and executed by firing squad. Their bodies were tossed into the mass graves in the ravine at Babi Yar alongside nearly 34,000 bodies of Kyiv’s Jewish population, massacred in September 1941.

There has always been a historical dispute over the version of events surrounding the death of the Start players, the official German report into the atrocity cited the reason for the arrest of the Start players was not due to the Flakelf result at all and, indeed, the game had been played in good spirits in an unguarded stadium. According to the Germans, some days after the 5-3 game Start played another Ukrainian side, Rukh, and had soundly beaten them 8-0. Rukh’s trainer, Georgi Shvetsov, was said to be so incensed at the result that he told the Gestapo that certain Start players were working for the NKVD and it was for that reason, say the Germans, the five players were arrested.

The 5-3 match was played on August 9th 1942 at the Zenit Stadium in front of 2,000 spectators paying an entry fee of five rubles. This would have been considered prohibitively expensive at the time and was designed to deliberately keep the crowd small in case of further embarrassment to the Wermacht. They had also banned a lot of the local press from attending.

The Zenit Stadium was renamed the Start Stadium, and still stands in a very run down form in Sholudenka Street, a ten minute walk from the main train and metro station, Vokzalna. The entrance remains impressive with the name Start still proudly displayed in Cyrillic. The stadium appears to be no longer used for football, the remaining small stand is strewn with graffiti and the extensive wooden bench seating has been either vandalised or appears to be suffering from subsidence. The pitch is badly rutted and uncared for. Local children run around the wrecked turf, while parents sit smoking on the few serviceable benches left intact.

Also inside the dilapidated stadium, and notably having avoided the attention of the local vandals, is Anatoly Kharechko’s Death Match memorial sculpture. Unveiled in 1981, and cast in bronze, it depicts a naked athlete trying to kick a ball but being attacked by ungodly creatures. While the scene of this tragic episode in World War II may be crumbling into oblivion, the two memorials at both stadiums remain poignant reminders of this sombre time in Kyiv’s footballing history.

This article first appeared in the December 2019 issue of Groundtastic Magazine (No.100)

Stick a fork in I’m done with 2019/20

Here is a review of my itinerant football watching during the 2019/20 campaign.

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Total Matches Attended: 175 (last game of the season was 14.03.2020)

New Grounds Visited: 123

Total Goals Scored: 708 (Average of 4.05 goals per game, down on 4.10 last season, I saw four 0-0 draws this season)

Biggest Win: Brodsworth Main 12 Dearne & District 1

Biggest Crowd: 77,277 England v Montenegro

Grounds Abroad: 19 (Romania 6, Serbia 5, Israel 3, Ukraine 3, Belgium 2)

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BEST GROUNDS VISITED IN THE UK IN 2019/20

1. RAITH ROVERS – Stark’s Park

Quite why it has taken me so long to go here is beyond me as I knew it was a classic old school, hemmed in, football ground. That “L” shaped main stand is sublime and the view of the houses over the open side gives a real sense of community.

Raith

2. TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR – Tottenham Hotspur Stadium

All parts magnificent as a structure and I can forgive the travails of getting there for remaining in their heartland. Impressive enough that I went twice in it’s nascent season. However, it was denied top spot for choosing to call its stands “atriums”

Spurs

3. ABERTILLERY EXCELSIORS – Jim Owen Field

Who doesn’t like sweeping Welsh vistas? I’ll wait.

A Ex - JimOwen

4. NEWPORT CORINTHIANS – Coronation Park

The picture does the talking, the backdrop of the Grade I listed transporter bridge, opened in 1906, is just immense.

Newport Corries

  5. HORSHAM – Hop Oast

Perfect sightlines from an elevated main stand, superb clubhouse, leafy surroundings, what’s not to like? A fine new build.

Horsham

BEST GROUNDS VISITED ABROAD IN 2019/20

Slimmer pickings than usual due to the curtailed season but here are the best ones.

1. DYNAMO KIEV – Valeriy Lobanovskyi Dynamo Stadium

A real bucket list tick from boyhood memories of great and mysterious clubs from the old Soviet Union. It does not disappoint in any way, other than that Dynamo don’t play there!

Dinamo

2. BEITAR JERUSALEM – Teddy Stadium

I wanted to dislike it because of their notoriously racist ultras but the stadium itself is just magnificent. Bit of a shame the iconic multi coloured seats are gradually being replaced by ordinary blue ones.

Beitar

3. OLIMPIC COMARNIC – Stadionul din Comarnic

Not much of stadium in a very depressed town. However, the welcome and hospitality afforded by the locals will stay with me always.

Comarnic

4. ROMANIA – Arena Națională

A truly beautiful modern arena that looks even better at night.

Arena Nationala

5. NAPREDAK – Stadion Mladost

Really neat and attractive “English” style stadium in central Serbia.

Napredak

BEST PROGRAMMES BOUGHT IN 2019/20

(Based on status, resources, effort and originality)

1. Walthamstow

Walthamstow

2. Winsford United

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3. Kimberley Miners Welfare

Kimberley

4. Rainworth Miners WelfareRainworth

5. Hinckley AFC

Hinckley

BEST FOOD IN 2019/20

  1. Stovies (Raith Rovers)

Stovies - RR

2. Pasta (Whittlesey Athletic)

Pasta

3. Curry (Cheadle Heath Nomads)

Curry CHN

Setting Sons (Dumbarton)

Dumbarton were formed in 1872 making them the fourth oldest club in Scotland behind Queen’s Park, Kilmarnock and Stranraer. The club won the first two Scottish League championships, although the inaugural season the title was shared with Rangers after a deciding play-off was drawn 2-2 at Cathkin Park. Had the title been decided on goal difference, Dumbarton would have been outright champions.

The final table from that first season makes interesting reading with long lost clubs like 3rd Lanarkshire Rifle Volunteers, Cambuslang, Cowlairs and Abercorn competing alongside contemporaries such as Celtic, St. Mirren and Hearts. Renton were expelled from the league and their record expunged for paying their players.

Dumbarton played at Meadow Park (1872-75), Broomfauld Park (1875-76), Lowmans Park (1876-77) and Townend (1877-79) before moving to Boghead Park for the 1879/80 season. Boghead would become their base for the next 121 years making it, at the time, Scotland’s oldest ground in continuous use for football.

In 1913 the pitch was re-orientated by ninety degrees and the club built a tiny stand with 80 seats which became known as the Postage Box. The club also experimented with greyhound racing in an attempt to make ends meet. The Clydebank Greyhound Racing Syndicate began running races at Boghead from October 1932. By the early 1940’s the racing had stopped but the small Bookmakers Stand remained next to the main stand as additional covered accommodation.

1957 was a big year for Boghead, firstly floodlights were erected, inaugurated in a game against Celtic, and then the club acquired the station canopy from Turnberry railway station. The South Ayrshire station had once served the famous golf course as part of the Maidens and Dunure Light Railway but this had closed in March 1942. The canopy was erected on the large previously open terrace at the Overwood Drive end. The all time record attendance at Boghead was also set in 1957 when 18,001 watched the Scottish Cup tie with Raith Rovers.

In 1979 the old Postage Box stand was replaced with a larger modern stand, although the new edifice still only had 303 seats. In 1980, then Sons’ manager, Sean Fallon, nearly convinced the legendary Johan Cruyff to join Dumbarton after an unhappy spell with Los Angeles Aztecs. However, the Dutchman who was 33 at the time, admitted that he almost signed but was put off by the bleak weather!

In the mid 1980’s the ground had suffered fire damage and the board of directors decided against repairing it. Their collective view was that the club would be better off looking for a new home, or redeveloping the existing stadium in it’s entirety to a 9,000 all seated venue. Their plans for the latter floundered and by the 1990’s the ground had become very run down, even given the additional income from Clydebank moving in between 1996 and 1999 having vacated New Kilbowie Park.

The last thing of note to happen at the old Boghead ground was assuming the role of the home ground for the fictional club Kilnockie FC for the film “A Shot at Glory” starring Robert Duvall and Ally McCoist. The plot of the film was Kilnockie’s epic run to the Scottish Cup Final.

Boghead further transferred to popular culture when the Glaswegian band The Supernaturals immortalised the old stadium with their song, “High Tension At Boghead”.

Boghead Park was demolished in December 2000 and made way for an extension to Miller Street. By this time Dumbarton had moved to a new stadium at the foot of the iconic Dumbarton Rock, a volcanic basalt plug with a history dating back to the Iron Age. The 18th century Georgian castle affords fantastic views not only of Dumbarton Stadium but also the Kilpatrick hills, the River Clyde, Loch Lomond and on to Argyll. The club’s unusual nickname derives from “Sons of The Rock”, the eponymic reference to someone from Dumbarton.

The Dumbarton Stadium was built on the derelict site of the William Denny and Brothers Shipyard which had closed in 1963. It has just one stand containing 2,020 seats, making it one of the smallest stadiums in the Scottish Professional League. The surrounding area around the stadium is being engulfed with new housing and the scope for extending the stadium is extremely limited. The club have looked into relocating to a new 4,000 capacity stadium at Young’s Farm on the west side of town but initial plans were rejected by the council. The record attendance at Dumbarton Stadium remains at 1,978 for the visit of Rangers when both clubs were in the Championship in 2015.

This afternoon’s game against league leaders Raith Rovers is a dour affair in freezing conditions and pouring rain. A couple of amusing stand offs between some boisterous visiting fans and the youthfully exuberant “Young Sons” actually provide some welcome distraction. A goalless draw looks almost inevitable until the Sons’ captain Stuart Carswell dramatically scored with virtually the last kick of the match.

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Saturday February 29th 2020 – Scottish League Division 1

Dumbarton 1 (Carswell 90+3)

Raith Rovers 0

Attendance: 804

Entry £16, programme £2.50

Gallery

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Stayen (St.Truiden VV)

Sint-Truidense Voetbalvereniging were formed in 1924 from a merger between Union Sint-Truiden and FC Goldstar. Upon acceptance to the Royal Belgian FA they were assigned matricule number 373.

After humble beginnings, their first game against Cercle Tongeren attracted just nine spectators and realising gate receipts of 13.50 Belgian francs, STVV made steady progress becoming one of the strongest teams in the province of Limburg. They moved into the first incarnation of Stayen in 1927 but this version of their current ground was completely destroyed during bombing raids in 1944.

The club’s star player in the inter war years was Léopold “Pol” Appeltants who scored goals at a prodigious rate. Appeltants, at the age of just 16, scored 50 of STVV’s 93 goals in the 1938/39 season. St Truiden were elevated to the national second division for the first time in 1948 and Appeltants became the first St Truiden player to be capped by Belgium. He was the second divisions leading scorer in 1949/50 with 23 goals. In 20 years with St Truiden Appeltants played over 500 games for the Canaries.

After years of gradual progress, the club finally reached the top division of Belgian football for the 1958/59 season and managed to stay in the division finishing just ahead of relegated Tournai and Tilleur. The arrival of then unheralded young coach Raymond Goethals in 1959 sparked a purple patch in the clubs history culminating in 1965/66 when the Canaries finished runners up to Anderlecht to achieve their highest ever league placing. The stadium became known as “Hel van Stayen” (Hell of Stayen) as opposing teams could rarely win there.

In more recent years St.Truiden have won the Second Division in 1987, 1994, 2009 and 2015, an indication of their yo-yo existence between the top two tiers. Up until 2017 the club was owned by controversial businessman Roland Duchâtelet, who also owned Charlton Athletic until recently, and still owns Carl Zeiss Jena and Újpesti Dózsa. He sold St.Truiden to Japanese e-commerce company DMM, so home games are now attended by several hundred Japanese supporters.

Stayen was completely renovated in 2011 and now holds 14,600 spectators. It boasts a 77 room hotel, 20 of which overlook the pitch. Tonight’s game against AS Eupen would normally have cost a minimum of €20 but by sheer good luck as we queued for tickets we were offered the use for free of two VIP season tickets which, as well as padded seats, also included free food after the game! Standard VIP entry to the game was €80!

The game was one of breathless entertainment, the away side took the lead before a quite brilliant hat-trick from Ghanaian midfielder Samuel Asamoah. The spoilsport referee was less impressed, however, and when the celebrations for his third goal died down the petty official was waiting with a second yellow card as Asamoah had pulled his shirt up behind his head to reveal a message on his t-shirt underneath.

STVV

Saturday February 8th 2020 – Jupiler Pro League

Sint-Truidense V.V. 5 (Konate 13, Asamoah 42,45,63, Durkin 90)
KAS Eupen 2 (Prevljak 29, Cools 40)

Att: 4,194 (at Stayen)

Gallery

STVV (8)STVV (6)STVV (2)STVV (3)STVV (5)STVV (1)STVV (4)STVVSTVV (7)STVV (9)St Truiden teamsheet

Down The Lane (Oud-Heverlee Leuven)

Oud-Heverlee Leuven were formed in 2002 after a merger of three existing Leuven clubs into a city wide club that has so far spent four seasons in the top division of Belgian football, most recently in 2015/16.

Of the three merged clubs the most senior was Stade Leuven, one of Belgium’s oldest teams, having been formed in 1903 and boasting the low RBFA matricule number of 18. Stade spent once season in the top flight, 1950/51, but spent most of its history in the second and third division. They were in the third division at the time of the merger.

The second of the triumvirate of clubs was Daring Club Leuven who began life in 1922 and were assigned matricule 223. Daring’s heyday was in the 1950’s when they competed in the third division alongside Stade Leuven. Daring even joined Stade in the second tier for one season in 1951/52 following Stade’s relegation from the top level. Daring could only last that single season before relegation. At the time of the merger they were in the fifth level provincial leagues. Daring played at an athletics stadium, the Boudewijnstadion in Kessel-Lo, where their athletics wing still compete under the Daring Club banner. It’s now called the Arena Gaston Roelants after the legendary steeplechaser and marathon runner.

The youngest of the trio were Zwarte Duivels Oud-Heverlee who played at the still existent Gemeentelijk Sportstadion. At the time of the merger the Black Devils were the club in the ascendancy having been promoted to the third tier for the first time in 2000 after many seasons in the provincial leagues. Formed in 1957, the Black Devils has the matricule of 6142. Under the Belgian FA rules (sometimes loosely applied) in a case of a merger the more recent matricule is kept for the newly merged club, so 6142 was assigned to OH Leuven. However, in July 2018 the club successfully lobbied the Belgian FA to restore the coveted matricule of 18. The merged club created its distinctive crest from the colours of all three clubs, green (Stade), red (Daring Club) and black (Zwarte Duivels).

The newly merged Oud-Heverlee Leuven transformed Stade Leuven’s old Den Dreef (literally “The Lane”) into a 10,000 capacity stadium. The city of Leuven said they will build the club a new stadium if they could survive five seasons in the top flight. They didn’t survive, so the club play on at Den Dreef for the time being. Stade Leuven had played at the original Den Dreef since 1905 and interestingly some of the curved end terracing remains behind the current stands and serves as seating areas for fans in the beer, food and fan zones.

Following relegation the club were struggling financially in the 2016/17 season, not helped by a third party ownership wrangle involving then chairman Jimmy Houtput. The club were saved when, later that season, the King Power group, who also own Leicester City, purchased the club.

The ticket booths for the three home stands at Den Dreef are located on Kardinaal Mercierlaan whereas the visiting supporters access their stand from the main road called Tervuursevest. Entry to the stand behind the goal, where the livelier home support gathers, was 15 Euros. Free teamsheets were available from the supporters bar and every home seat had a nicely printed card with a player profile on it which could be folded into one of those dreadfully annoying clackers. Food and drink are purchased via a top up card available from a central point in each stand. Similar to many bigger Belgian clubs OH Leuven do not permit any type of bag into the stadium no matter how small, and security checks are quite strict. Today’s game sees around 50 Leicester City supporters taking advantage of a break in the Premier League to visit their “sister” club.

The match sees the league leaders hosting fourth place Lommel SK. OHL dominate the first half and deservedly take a two goal lead into the break. The second half was poor by comparison, Lommel offering scant resistance, OHL wrapped up the points with an injury time goal from a substitute. The official attendance was recorded as 8,603 but in reality there was around 3,500 people present, the stadium being around a third full.

OHL logo

Saturday February 8th 2020 – Belgium Proximus League

Oud-Heverlee Leuven 3 (Van den Bergh 29, Tshimanga 40, Perbet 90)

Lommel SK 0

Att: 8,603 (at Den Dreef)

Entry: €15, no programme

Gallery

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Leuven teamsheet

Leuven

Israeli Gears

Israel really needs no introduction, a wonderful melting point with a history almost as ancient as time itself.

It’s modern skyscraper beach side city of Tel Aviv is as cosmopolitan and bustling as any major city you could care to name and features some truly outstanding Bauhaus architecture. The high rise modernity of Tel Aviv gives way almost imperceptibly to the ancient port town of Jaffa which can boast a history dating back to 1,800 BC.

Jaffa is just stunning, beautiful old buildings and stunning vistas there is a photo opportunity around every corner. The scenery is delightfully complimented with a relaxed chilled out vibe.

The first game of the weekend is at nearby Petah Tivka, their HaMoshava Stadium is not only home to the two local second division (Liga Leumit) sides, Maccabi and Hapoel, it is also hosting the games of Ligat ha’Al (Israeli Premier League) sides Hapoel Kfar Saba, Hapoel Ra’anana and Sektzia Nes Tziona. This is because these three clubs’ traditional home grounds of the Levita Stadium, Karnei Oren Memorial Field and Ness Ziona Stadium respectively, are deemed to be inadequate for top level matches. Convenient ground sharing is a way of life in Israeli football. The ha’Al league currently has 14 clubs sharing just eight stadiums between them.

HaMoshava is a two sided stadium holding 11,500 people and is a carbon copy of the stadium in Netanya, north of Tel Aviv. There is plenty of parking space, although a total absence of stewarding means it’s a real log jam to leave after the game. Tickets are available at a dedicated ticket office at one end of the stadium. For this afternoons game a ticket costs 50 shekels (£11).

It is Hapoel Kfar Saba that are the host club and their are entertaining one of Israel’s traditional football powerhouses, 13 time champions, Hapoel Tel Aviv. The visiting fans are out in force, so much so that they overfill one side of the ground so there are people standing in gangways and on stairs. Eventually they allow Hapoel Tel Aviv fans into one sector of the stand housing the home support. The away support is noisy and passionate and easily drown out the attempts of the home side’s support to make themselves heard.

It’s a hugely entertaining game with a surprisingly good pace to it. The referee has his work cut out with two Tel Aviv goals ruled out by VAR, a plethora of yellow cards, and Kfar Saba being reduced to nine men in quick succession during the first half. The first player was shown a straight red for a horrendously late tackle and moments later another player joined him in the dressing room for two yellows in the same incident, one for the foul and a second for dissent.

Given the league table the hosts took a surprise early lead but were soon pegged back by the visitors. Tel Aviv enjoyed almost total domination especially with their numerical advantage. They squandered a hatful of chances before a bleached haired substitute finally got them a decisive lead. There was still time for Tel Aviv to have the “excitement” of another goal ruled by VAR out before the referee called an end to proceedings.

kfar

Saturday January 25th 2020 (3pm) – Israeli Ligat ha’Al

Hapoel Kfer Saba 1 (Reichert 8)
Hapoel Tel Aviv 2 (Barshazki 16, Buzaglo 61)

Att: c.7,000 (at HaMoshava Stadium, Petah Tivka)

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There seemed to be plenty of time to drive back to Tel Aviv in time for the 19.50pm kick off between the legendary Maccabi Tel Aviv and Ashdod. In reality, with parking not allowed near the stadium, a lot of time was spent trying to find somewhere to park which wouldn’t get you fined, clamped or towed away! Finally parked up in a side street it was time to locate the ticket booth and the newly rebuilt Bloomfield Stadium. The ticket office is by Gate 10 and there is a range of tickets priced from 70 to 110 shekels.

The rebuild has resulted in a much improved facility, although with only the central sections of both sides being under cover, its not a particularly great design for wet weather. That said it’s and eye-catching edifice and the two shallower ends afford nice city views from the more elevated sides. Bloomfield is shared not only between eternal rivals, Maccabi and Hapoel, a third top level club, Bnei Yehuda, also play their home games here.

Tonight it’s the reigning and 22 time champions of Israel, Maccabi Tel Aviv that are at home and the league leaders are facing mid table FC Ashdod. For those wondering why so many Israeli clubs are prefixed with Maccabi and Hapoel, Hapoel tends to be used by clubs of the “workers” aligned to the Histadrut Labor Federation, while Maccabi clubs traditionally draw support from various Zionist sports clubs. The Maccabees was originally a Jewish liberation movement, and Maccabi Sports Clubs were originally formed for Jews who had been banned from joining other sports clubs.

It’s a much poorer game than this afternoon’s effort, with Ashdod offering very little in the way of attacking prowess. Maccabi lead at half time and the only real surprise is that it takes them until the 78th minute to register a second goal. It comes by way of a blatant penalty when Ashdod’s goalkeeper took out an attacker and then feigned a serious leg injury to try and delay the taking of the spot kick.

Maccabi’s support only half fills the Bloomfield Stadium tonight and their ultras gather at one end. Some of the younger element go bare chested down the front of the stand in scenes reminiscent of a mosh pit at a thrash metal concert, there was even crowd surfing at one point!

MTA

Saturday January 25th 2020 (7.50pm) – Israeli Ligat ha’Al

Maccabi Tel Aviv 2 (Atzili 34, Cohen pen 78)
Ashdod 0

Att: c.15,000 (at Bloomfield Stadium)

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Many football fans will either have seen or at least know about Maya Zinshtein’s incendiary 2017 documentary “Forever Pure” about Beitar Jerusalem’s fans reaction to signing two muslim players from Chechnya in 2013. Beitar had already courted controversy being the only Israeli top flight club to have never signed an Arab player. “Death to all Arabs” would be sung from the stands and it was well know the club had an unofficial allegiance to the Zionist movement and the right wing political party Likud, led by Benjamin Netanyahu, a high profile Beitar supporter.

The film took its name from a banner displayed by Beitar’s ultras group “La Familia” in protest of the club signing Chechan players Zaur Sadayev and Dzhabrail Kadiyev from Terek Grozny. Despite having previously fielded Tajik, Albanian and African muslims the Chechens were subjected to concerted and abhorrent campaign of racism which saw them hounded out of the club. The film projects “La Familia” as “the most racist fans in the world”. It is harrowing viewing.

The club has been repeatedly punished for the behaviour of its fans and as recently as June 2019 La Familia issued a statement that a christian player from Niger, Ali Mohammed Al Faz should be made to change his name as “it sounds too Arab”. However, after a period of zero tolerance, Beitar announced that there had been no reported racist acts from the stands in the whole of 2019. Beitar had been formed in 1936 and was very much been regarded as a terrorist organisation in its formative years.

With all this in mind it was something of an ethical dilemma to attend Beitar’s game with rock bottom of the table Sektzia Nes Tziona in favour of a game at Maccabi Netanya. I was too intrigued with finding out whether the film had been overblown sensationalism or whether the club had genuinely fixed what was a dreadful problem for them. Although I don’t know any Hebrew, I am pleased to say I did not witness any racist chanting or any form of unnerving behaviour. What I did witness was unrelenting, passionate and noisy support for their team which was duly rewarded with a single goal victory in a pretty drab encounter.

Beitar’s Teddy Stadium is a bit of a cracker although it is still undergoing extensive renovations. It is named after Teddy Kollek, mayor of Jerusalem during its construction. Opened in 1991 it holds just shy of 32,000 people and tickets ranged between 50 and 60 shekels, the latter being in the covered upper tier. Previously the city only had one sports stadium, the YMCA Stadium, which was Beitar’s home before the move to Malha. The YMCA Stadium made way for a housing development in 2006.

The north stand has visually stunning multi coloured seats and the recent refurbishment has seen the south stand roofed for the first time to bring it in line with the rest of the arena. It is a stunning piece of architecture. As with Bloomfield, parking around the stadium is very limited.

Beitar

Sunday January 25th 2020 – Israeli Ligat ha’Al

Beitar Jerusalem 1 (Kriaf 6)
Sektzia Nes Tziona 0

Att: c.8,000 (at Teddy Stadium)

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I had hoped to take in a match in the Palestinian West Bank League and the game at the Faisal Al-Husseini International Stadium between Jabal Al Mukaber and Shabab Al Am’ari on the Saturday at 12pm seemed to fit the bill as it would allow time to get back to Tel Aviv for the Maccabi game. However, it proved problematic when the hire car company said that their cars are fitted with trackers and taking vehicles into the occupied territories is not permitted. I then found an option to get a Line 59 bus operated by Eggd from the Bar Ilan/Rabenu Gershom station in Jerusalem to Neve Ya’akov Boulevard. This would leave a ten minute walk to the stadium. At £3 each way and buses scheduled every fifteen minutes I thought I cracked it. However, the game of course was taking place slap bang in the middle of the sabbath and everything stops in Jerusalem. There would be no buses running until well after the match had finished. It would appear the only way of doing a game in the West Bank League during the sabbath is to risk uninsured driving and a potential penalty from the hire car company or pre-book an Arab driver to meet you at the border. I opted to invoke plan B and take in the game at Petah Tivka instead.

Israel is a fine country, steeped in history and offering so much to a visitor. Winter sun, great food and football, really what more would you want?

kfar ticket

mta ticket

Beitar ticket