Arrogantwerp (Royal Antwerp FC)

Royal Antwerp were formed as Antwerp Athletic Club in 1880 by English students living in the city. It is generally accepted that the club is the oldest in Belgium so when the Royal Belgian FA introduced its matricule system, the revered inventory of registration and hierarchy, Antwerp were awarded the coveted matricule No.1.

The club has won the Belgian Championship on four occasions but since their last relegation from the top flight in 2004 the club has experienced some particularly lean years. One of the last highlights for the Reds came in 1992/3 when they defeated Glenavon, Admira Wacker, Steaua Bucharest and Spartak Moscow on their way to the European Cup Winners Cup Final. They were defeated 3-1 in the final at Wembley by Parma but had the tournaments top scorer with 7 goals by Belgian International Alex Czerniatynski.

Those somewhat distant glory games were of course played in front of packed houses at the mythical Bosuilstadion, home to the club since 1923. Prior to this the Reds played at another substantial ground called the Stadion Broodstraat which had been opened in 1908 and was used as a primary football venue for the 1920 Summer Olympics held in the city.

The Bosuilstadion has held many famous matches including the 1964 Cup Winners Cup final between Sporting Club Portugal and MTK Budapest as well as numerous international matches for the Belgian national team. Markedly there has been no Belgian internationals played at the venue since 1988. The stadium is something of an oddity, the two ends are relatively modern with one being a glazed VIP stand, opened in 1991, for those with enough money to want to watch live football minus any semblance of the atmosphere. The structure has been branded “the fishbowl” for obvious reasons. The atmosphere at the Bosuilstadion is so legendary that it became widely known as the “Hell of Derne” such was the intimidating environment for visiting teams. At its peak the Bosuil (Dutch for “Tawny Owl”) could accommodate some 60,000 spectators.

The two sides of the stadium have ancient edifices, both in some considerable need of renovation. The poor state of repair meant that the stadium was not considered as a host venue for Euro 2000 although the new stand behind the goal is testament to failed plans for a total renovation in readiness for an application. In more recent years the two ancient stands have deteriorated further, signs have been put up that read “do not jump, danger of collapse”. It took an injury to a supporter in the vintage 1923 main stand to provoke some work to the interior of this old leviathan. This is now the most expensive area of the stadium in which to sit, VIP area excluded. The central seats for this game were €60 while modern plastic seats to either side can be yours for €25 a piece. Had I remained in my allocated seat both goals would have been totally obscured by a rail barrier from the old configuration of the stand. A small and unused terraced paddock area has been created underneath the seating but looks awkward and incongruous with the rest of the stand. Typically the renovations look like they have been done cheaply rather than investing properly for the future. The stand is still hampered by a leaking roof, temporary toilet facilities and a lack of lighting on the way out.

The majority of “the Great Old’s” season ticket holders are housed in the magnificent curved Tribune 2 opposite the main stand, replete with original bench seating. It too is in a pretty poor shape the top right hand corner is fenced off due to safety concerns. The noise from this tribune, however, is immense and a veritable sonic boom erupts when the players enter the field or Antwerp find the net.

They do that only once tonight against plucky visitors from West Flanders, KSV Roeselare. The goal came from the most impressive player on the pitch, the tricky little winger, Stallone Limbombe and it was enough to secure a first win of the new season for The Great Old.

So what to make of the Bosuilstadion? Old school stands, massive floodlights (albeit only 3 of them since one blew down in a storm), and terrific support tick many people’s boxes. However, expensive tickets, quite frankly dangerous infrastructure and a lack of direction of the future of the stadium must be a concern. The previous board of the club seemed content to plod knowing they could rely on the unswerving support of the fans yet offering them little in the way of creature comforts. Maybe it was the old board espousing the long held opinion that Antwerp natives are “superior” and often arrogant in demeanour, several locals at the game wore tee shirts with the phrase “Arrogantwerp” emblazoned on them. Clever use of language but the arrogance and presumptuousness of the old Antwerp board could have resulted in a serious stadium incident. Hopefully the more progressive board now in power will provide the magnificent fans of this club with the kind of future they absolutely deserve.

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Proximus League – 13/08/2016

Royal Antwerp 1 (Limbombe 59) SV Roeselare 0

Att: 11,118 (at Bosuilstadion)

Admission €25 Programme €2

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Antwerp ticket

 

 

Well Red (Valenciennes AFC)

Valenciennes Football Club was first established in 1913 just before resources would become meagre due the outbreak of the First World War. This resulted in a merger three years later which produced the new combined name of Union Sportive Valenciennes Anzin. After a modest start in local amateur football the club turned professional in 1933 and engaged several foreign players including the Englishmen Peter O’Dowd, previously with the likes of Chelsea and Burnley, and George Gibson who had struggled to make the grade with both Sunderland and Leicester City.

The club gained promotion to Ligue 1 for 1935/36 but struggled in the exalted company and were promptly relegated. It was the first of 38 seasons in the top flight enjoyed by “The Athénians”. The intervening years passed relatively unremarkably until 1993 when Valenciennes were caught up in the Marseille bribery scandal which let to OM being stripped of their European Cup win. The man at the centre of the scandal was Marseille chairman Bernard Tapie who was found guilty of bribing Valenciennes players, Jorge Burruchaga, Christophe Robert and Jacques Glassman. The three accepted the bribe to “take it easy” against Marseille as they had the European Cup Final just a few days after a league encounter.

Players left the club in droves out of embarrassment or not wanting to be tarnished with the scandal and subsequently Valenciennes dropped down in successive seasons to the third tier. By 1996 the club were bankrupt and reformed as Valenciennes AFC in the fourth tier Championnat de France Amateur.

The road to recovery started in 2004/05 when the club won the Championnat National and a year later captured the Ligue 2 title as well. After eight season in the top flight Valenciennes were relegated at the end of the 2012/13 campaign and with came a new financial plight. The club were threatened with a return once again to the amateur ranks at level four before a last minute takeover by Jean-Louis Borloo steadied the ship sufficiently to allow the club to continue at level two.

The Stade du Hainaut was opened in July 2011 at a mind boggling cost of €75 million. It holds 25,000 people but at Ligue 2 level the capacity is never tested. Previously the club had played at the adjacent Stade Nungesser, which was demolished in 2012, except for the entrance gates at the Avenue de Reims end of the old venue. The Nungesser had been opened in 1929, named after after Charles Nungesser a locally born fighter pilot, and was pivotal in the clubs ascent into the professional ranks.

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The remains of the entrance to the old Stade Nungesser

The Stade du Hainaut is quite magnificent, a space age chrome wrap is the only deference to an ocular assault in vivid red. With 25,000 seats it is undoubtedly too big for the club while the club languish in the second tier but the latest man tasked with changing that is the respected Bosnian coach Faruk Hadžibegić. He joined the club in January 2016 but could so little to stop the team finishing in mid table.

Today’s match against Stade de Reims is a turgid affair in stultifying heat. The two sides cancel each other out with the contest bogged down in midfield skirmishes and a considerable amount of stoppages due to injuries. Both goalkeepers were rarely tested with anything resembling a goalscoring chance and therefore it was no surprise that at full time neither side had troubled the scoreboard operator.

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Ligue 2 – 13/08/2016

Valenciennes 0 Stade de Reims 0

Att: 6,727 (at Stade du Hainaut)

Admission €17 Programme free

Gallery

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Valenciennes ticket

Rimet’s Boys (Red Star FC)

Red Star were formed in 1897 by Ernest Weber and none other than Jules Rimet. The clubs anglicised name is a little bit of a mystery with two theories existing for its origin. The first theory is that it was chosen in recognition of the symbol sported by William “Buffalo Bill” Cody who relentlessly toured his “Buffalo Bill’s Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders of the World” show throughout western Europe during the 1890’s. The other theory for calling the club Red Star rather than Étoile Rouge is that in the early days the club adopted a English governess known as “Miss Jenny” as a sort of matriarchal figure, and when the name of the new club was debated she suggested calling it after the Red Star Line, a well known shipping company.

The club was hugely successful in the 1920’s with four of its five Coupe de France wins coming during that decade. The club also won Ligue 2 twice before the Second World War.

Initially the nascent club played at Champ de Mars however this proved to be an unsuitable home and the club quickly secured rental of a field on a flat terrace in Meudon adjacent to the River Seine. By 1904 Jules Rimet has become president of the club and three years later the club moved to Grenelle following a merger with Amical Football Club. The club really found it’s home, however, in 1909 when they moved to the working class banlieue of Saint-Ouen.

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Share certificate for the Stade de Paris

The Stade de Paris, as it was known, was inaugurated in October 1909 with a match against Old Westminsters and was to remain the home of Red Star for more than  a century. It was used in the 1924 Olympics and after the Second World War the stadium became known as the Stade Bauer, after the resistance leader Dr. Jean-Claude Bauer who in 1942 was arrested and shot by the authorities. The road outside the stadium was also renamed as a mark of respect of his bravery during the Nazi occupation.

In the immediate post war years the stadium was enlarged and in 1948 an all time record crowd of 23,000 gathered for the visit of Olympique Marseille. In 1971/72 the Stade Bauer also staged the matches of the newly formed Paris St Germain while the Parc des Princes was rebuilt.

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Stade Bauer

By 1999 the stadium was a pale reflection of its former self. Lack of investment followed by a damaging storm left the stadium with a licensed capacity of only 3,000. Aside from a synthetic pitch laid in 2010 little had been done to improve the stadium. So when Red Star somewhat unexpectedly won the Championnat National (third tier) in 2014/15 elevation to Ligue 2 presented a huge problem for the club.

Promotion was a huge surprise for the club who had languished in the sixth tier as recently as 2005, and the Bauer was clearly not going to be permitted to host second tier games. The back up plan was also a shock for the clubs’ small but loyal band of supporters. The club announced that for the 2015/16 season the clubs home matches would be played some 48 miles north of Paris at the Stade Pierre Brisson, home of AS Beauvais Oise. The move to Beauvais saw the club have a dramatic season under the management of Rui Almeida. Red Star challenged for promotion to the top flight all season before fading in the final straight. The Greens eventually finished fifth, ten points behind champions Nancy. Despite a great season on the field at Beauvais the experiment was not attractive to supporters, Red Star only averaged 1,915 supporters through the gates. The board decided that the club needed to be playing in Paris in order to sustain a real tilt at promotion.

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Stade Pierre Brisson – AS Beauvais Oise

The club decided to groundshare at the Stade Jean Bouin, home to Stade Français rugby, a venue itself that had been completely rebuilt during 2010-11 and now holds 20,000 people. From a neutrals perspective the fact that Red Star now play home games right next door to the all conquering behemoth of PSG is highly intriguing let alone amusing!

Given that the opening game against Auxerre attracted 6,193 and tonight’s game against Stade Brestois saw 3,467 through the gates, if the figures are to be believed (and I really doubt the validity of tonight’s figure) then the move back to the capital should be an unqualified success. However, a repeat of last seasons promotion push is looking less likely with Red Star well beaten tonight and failing to even score a goal in their opening three fixtures. Last season’s twin goal threat of the Equatorial Guinean striker Anatole Ngamukol and the Algerian international, Hameur Bouazza (once of Watford) cannot find their shooting boots quickly enough to get the Greens’ season going.

While the Stade Bouin will never be truly home for Red Star, its eye-catching external wrap and sweeping modern roof makes it a suitable venue for someone of the stature of their founding father, Jules Rimet, a man who left his indelible mark on the game in so many ways.

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Ligue 2 – 12/08/2016

Red Star 0

Stade Brestois 3 (Maupay 40, Grougi 44, Labidi 83)

Att: 3,467 (at Stade Jean Bouin)

Admission €10 Programme free

Gallery

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Red Star ticket

 

 

Cabo Verde (Cabinteely FC)

The last thirty years of the League of Ireland have seen a myriad of clubs attempting to bridge the gap from county football to the national league. The likes of Kilkenny City (1985-2008), Monaghan United (1985-2012), St.Francis (1996-2001), Dublin City (1999-2006), Kildare County (2002-09), Sporting Fingal (2007-11), Mervue United (2008-13), Salthill Devon (2008-13) have all tried and largely failed to hold down a place in the competition for anything other than a limited period of time.

Cabinteely are the latest such aspirant joining the League of Ireland for the 2015/16 season. Cabinteely is a small town in the southern part of County Dublin and had a couple of clubs, Cabinteely Blues and Cabinteely Boys representing the town before the current club were formed in 1967 as Auburn FC. Five years later they changed their name to Cabinteely Boys, dropping the suffix in recent years following the assimilation of several female teams into their roster of 60 teams at all age levels. To date probably their most famous alumni is Andy Keogh who played for Scunthorpe and Wolves and is currently with Perth Glory in Australia.

In order to gain admittance to the League of Ireland Cabinteely had to relocate from their very basic Kilbogget Park to Stradbrook Road the home of Blackrock College rugby club. The ground has a licensed capacity of 1,300 and only has uncovered terracing down one side of the pitch. It also has floodlights and a TV gantry so even without a stand as such it is a big step up from their old home. Cabo’s first season in the national league saw them finish bottom of the table of eight clubs.

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This season has not seen much progress with Cabo again propping up the table before today’s game with their visitors from Athlone just a point above them. The result of this game was beyond doubt when young centre forward Joe Doyle completed a hat-trick with 7 minutes and 20 seconds on the clock. Doyle added a fourth to send Cabinteely in at the break in total command of the match. Athlone pulled back a consolation goal midway through the second half before an Oscar Brennan volley sealed a truly impressive victory for the hosts. It was their biggest win since joining the League of Ireland.

Just how long Cabinteely can survive at this level will be interesting to observe given the chequered history of recent entrants to this division. Should the club find themselves in a promotion position there would be a fair amount of upgrading needed for Stradbrook Road. Support is modest but enthusiastic, “We are Cabo” scarves sell well, and who knows, this very result might just light a fire in an upwards trajectory for Cabo.

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League of Ireland Division 1 – (01/07/2016)

Cabinteely 5 (Doyle 2, 4, 8, 27, Brennan 87)
Athlone Town 1 (Monaghan 68)

Att: 146

Admission: €10 No Programme (internet version only)

Review

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Cabinteely ticket

Jumping Through Hoops (Shamrock Rovers FC)

The history of Shamrock Rovers is absolutely fascinating, a heady mix of on field success, the Hoops have won a record 17 League of Ireland titles, and boardroom politics and shenanigans. Even the clubs’ own formation date is disputed traditionally always quoted as 1901, recent study has unearthed unequivocal proof that Shamrock Rovers were playing matches as early as April 1899. What is not in dispute is how the clubs’ name was chosen. One of the first meetings held to discuss the formation of the new club was held in Shamrock Avenue and it was decided to call the new club by that national symbol rather than a particular locality.

The highs and lows of the Hoops can be mirrored by their struggles in finding a home ground to call their own. Initially the majority of games were played at Ringsend Park before the club spent the 1915/16 season at Shelbourne’s then home ground of Shelbourne Park Stadium, now exclusively a greyhound racing venue. Rovers then played at Windy Arbour near Dundrum before using a pitch on the Milltown Road which was in the heartland of their supporter base. Finally, in 1926 the club opened its brand new ground in Milltown situated in Dublin’s south side. The land was leased from the Jesuit Order and the ground was mainly built by the clubs’ supporters. In the 1930’s the Cunningham family bought Shamrock Rovers and the stadium was renamed Glenmalure Park after the ancestral home of the new owners.

Glenmalure Park was the base for huge success for the Rovers although some of their biggest European Cup matches, including their debut in the competition, against Manchester United, would be staged at Bohemians’ superb and commodious Dalymount Park. The Cunninghams completed the ground providing more terracing and a cover for the terrace opposite the main stand. The capacity now stood at some 20,000 but in 1968 the visit of Waterford to Glenmalure saw the all time record gate of 28,000 gather for a Rovers game.

The Cunningham Family sold Rovers to the Kilcoynes in 1972 and by 1987 the new owners had also purchased the land from the Jesuit Order. In the 15 years of Kilcoyne ownership Glenmalure had become run down due to a lack of maintenance and investment. The motive soon became clear when a plan was announced to sell Glenmalure and move Rovers across town to Tolka Park to groundshare with then occupants Home Farm.

The Rovers fans boycotted and picketed games at Tolka Park which ended up bankrupting the Kilcoynes. Rovers fans collected money to buy Glenmalure but when they could not match an offer from a property developer the stadiums fate was sealed. Glenmalure was knocked down in 1990 and eight years later the supporters trust erected a memorial at the site of the old stadium.

Memorial

In 1990 the now nomadic Rovers moved from Tolka Park to the magnificent arena of the Royal Dublin Society Showground in Ballsbridge, a venue first opened in 1881. Primarily of course it is an equine events venue but has also staged rock concerts, religious gatherings and since 2005 has been the home to Leinster rugby. The new grandstand was built in 2006 while the vintage and just stunning Anglesea Road stand with its glorious elevated terrace dates from 1927, although there are plans to replace this historic beauty.

The RDS Showground

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Shamrock Rovers left the RDS in 1996 and limped on playing “home” games at Shelbourne, St.Patricks Athletic and the Morton Stadium, an athletics venue in Santry with a long history of hosting League of Ireland matches. In March 2000 Taoiseach Bertie Ahern cut the first sod at Rovers’ new Tallaght Stadium but it would be nine years before the first match would be staged there.

Financial problems beseeched the project, planning permission expired and to cap it all in 2006 a local gaelic football club Thomas Davis GAA took legal action against the club and South Dublin County Council stating the new facility should have a pitch big enough to stage senior GAA matches. Thomas Davis eventually lost the case and the original football only plan proceeded. The club had hit the rocks though and were only saved by a consortium of 400 fans who took over the debts of the club ensuring its survival.

The Tallaght Stadium finally opened in March 2009 with a game against Sligo Rovers, ironically the same opponents for the last game at Glenmalure Park. In July of that year the club held a lucrative “Festival of Football” welcoming Newcastle United, Real Madrid and Hibernian to the new stadium. The fan run club has tried to be innovative as well, becoming the first club to run a “B” team in the First Division of the League of Ireland.

Tonight sees the first leg of a Europa League first qualifying round tie with little known Finnish opponents Rovaniemen Palloseura, better known as RoPS. They hail from close to the Arctic circle and Rovaniemi is the official hometown of Santa Claus! Tonight however Shamrock are just awful and look like a team in pre-season rather than mid-season. RoPS win easily barely breaking sweat and on this evidence the second leg in the frozen north of Finland should be a mere formality.

Tallaght Stadium is not a particularly attractive venue, exposed and already weathered concrete and with two open ends, but considering the near fatal journey it took to get there at least it is finally a home for Ireland’s most successful club.

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Europa League 1st Qualifying Round (30/06/2016)

Shamrock Rovers 0
Rovaniemen Palloseura 2 (Lahdenmäki 26, Saksela 74)

Att: 1,908

Admission €15 Programme €4

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Shamrock ticket

More Northern Skies

The days before and after any Swedish Groundhop offer a plethora of options for those wishing to extend there stay in this summer football season part of the world.

For the few that remained in Sweden Kim Hedwall organised a minibus to take in a couple of Monday matches on what was a National Day holiday in his homeland.

First up was a pit stop at Enköping to admire the modern and attractive stadium of the two local clubs. Enavallen hosts both Enköping SK, who were an Allsvenskan club as recently as 2003, and Enköping IS. The main stand is visually very pleasing and Kim has mooted this as a potential hop venue of the future.

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A few minutes later we arrive at fourth tier side Håbo FF and their Björkvallen ground is already teeming with people on this glorious afternoon. The Swedish national anthem is sung beautifully by a young lady before over 600 people watched the local side rattle in four hugely impressive first half goals. The visitors from IK Franke rallied briefly in the second half but a quick fire double from Håbo one of which saw the visiting keeper dismissed ensured the points were staying deservedly with the host club. Björkvallen is a relatively basic Idrottsplats style ground, the officials and visitors change in a building outside the ground for example, and these limitations could hamper the progress of this rapidly rising club.

Sweden Div. 2 Norra Svealand (06/06/2016)

Håbo FF 6 (Kristiansson 19, 29, 82, Aras 23, Danilo 32, Yilmaz pen 81)
IK Franke 2 (Applefeldt 51, pen 71)

Att: 615 (at Björkvallen)

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After heading south we arrive at the impressive Södertalje Futbollarena which plays host to two clubs with their roots firmly in the Assyrian community which first starting arriving in the city in 1967, fleeing from conflicts in Turkey, Iraq and Syria. Over 40% of the cities’ population is from an immigrant background so it is no surprise that two clubs, Assyriska (1973) and Syrianska (1977) have flourished, the later enjoying three seasons in the Allsvenskan. The stadium was opened in 2005 and boasts one enormous stand with open terracing on the opposite side and a segregated section for away fans. This afternoon’s match is a Superettan game between Assyriska and GAIS from Gothenburg. A modest crowd gathers for this game and a well contested encounter is enjoyed by all especially when the hosts level with an injury time penalty when the GAIS captain inexplicably concedes an unnecessary foul.

Sweden Superettan (06/06/2016)

Assyriska FF 2 (Söderström 34, pen 90)
GAIS 2 (Singh 21, Moënza 63)

Att: 1,308 (at Södetalje Futbollarena)

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Tuesday evening sees a Tunnelbana ride east to the suburb of Hässelby where you will find Grimsta Idrottsplats home of IF Brommapojkarna, officially the world’s biggest football club! This claim is based on over 3,000 registered players for its 250 teams! The team have suffered a double relegation since the heady days of a return to Allsvenskan in 2012. Now in Division 1 Norra the team is coached by former Aston Villa legend Olof Mellberg. They sit top of the division and on tonight’s evidence of a totally dominant performance against Akropolis, few would seriously bet against a swift return to the Superettan. Grimsta was opened in 1963 and despite periodic refurbishment had always had just one stand running the length of one side of the pitch. Now though a new main stand is partially erected on the opposite side of the ground. Now looking like a proper stadium rather than an idrottsplats hopefully the investment will see BP return to the higher levels of the Swedish game.

Sweden Div.1 Norra (07/06/2016)

IF Brommapojkarna 3 (Brandeborn 32, 74, Gustafsson pen 90)
Akropolis IF 0

Att: 738 (Grimsta IP)

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The trip then heads to Finland and a much cooler Helsinki, draped in heavy cloud it’s not looking its finest when the top level Veikkausliiga runs a full midweek programme on Thursday evening. The game of choice is IFK Helsingfors against PK-35 Vantaa now managed by Shefki Kuqi. IFK, or Idrottsföreningen Kamraterna i Helsingfors, are an old club having been formed in 1897. Known by the nickname “Stadens stolthet” (The city’s pride) the club were originally solely patronised by the Swedish speaking middle classes while the Finns traditionally support their great rivals HJK. After seven Mestaruussarja titles IFK suffered severe financial problems in 2002 and had to take the place of their reserve team at level five. To their immense credit they have regrouped, opened a share issue for fans to invest, and have ultimately returned to the top flight after winning the Ykkönen Liga in 2014. IFK were playing at the Töölön Pallokenttä but following top flight promotion the club have groundshared with HJK at the 10,700 seater Sonera Stadium which is adjacent to the Olympic Stadium.

Tonight’s game, however, is a poor one for the hosts despite some great vocal backing from their supporters. Vantaa are two goals to the good, including one from the manager’s kid brother Njazi before IFK even muster a chance. The hosts pull one back in the second half but really look like a side who don’t believe they can score a second time.

Finland Veikkausliiga (09/06/2016)

IFK Helsingfors 1 (Salmikivi 53)
PK-35 Vantaa 2 (Kaufmann 12, Kuqi 41)

Att: 2,816 (at Sonera Stadion)

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Another day, another country and a ferry crossing the Gulf of Finland to Tallinn and two games in the murky nether regions of Estonian football.

The first game takes place in the 3G ground adjacent to the Kalevi Keskstaadion, home of Estonian Esiliiga (second tier) side JK Tallinna Kalev. It’s a fifth tier match tonight between Castovanni Eagles and JK Retro who are an interesting team almost entirely made up of ex Estonian internationals including 89 cap Andrei Stepanov who once played two minutes for Watford. They are managed by Erko Saviauk who himself won 60 caps and play purely for fun these days. This point is stretched as they start with ten men until 45 year old, 3 cap, Arvo Kraam arrived belatedly in a speeding taxi 25 minutes into the first half! With even numbers the ageing but more skilful veterans begin to outclass their younger, fitter opponents and eventually claim a deserved victory with a late winner.

Estonia III Liga (10/06/2016)

Tallinna Castovanni Eagles 1 (Naariste 66)
JK Retro 2 (Rist 60, Silkin 85)

Att: 9 (at Kalevi Keskstaadion Kunstmuruväljak)

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Saturday brings a 12pm kick off in the Wismari Staadion, a short walk past the magnificent Aleksandr Nevski cathedral. The Wismari is normally the home of JK Tallinna Legion, however, this match is between Tallinna Dünamo and Lokomotiv Jöhvi who have travelled some 100 miles for this fourth level match. The pitch is again 3G though the surface is in poor condition and the surroundings are vastly inferior to those of the previous evening. Lokomotiv are far too strong for the side from the capital and win easily, barely breaking sweat.

Estonia II Liga (11/06/2016)

Tallinna Dünamo 0
Lokomotiv Jöhvi 4 (Vender 36, Makarov 44, Smirnov 64, Bazjukin 68)

Att:41 (at Wismari Staadion)

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There you have it a thoroughly enjoyable extension to the annual pilgrimage to Sweden. Great part of the world to enjoy summer football on warm days!

Northern Skies (Swedish Groundhop 2016)

Twenty odd groundhoppers (as in about 20 as opposed to a comment on mental state or peculiarities) flew into Stockholm Arlanda airport for the tenth annual Swedish Groundhop organised as always by the legendary Kim Hedwall.

This hop for many has become a fine coda to the football season and by and large the glorious weather in the Stockholms region at this time of year has showcased this stunning region in all it majesty.

The bus whisked us towards the capital our first port of call was for a guided tour of Torben Grut’s iconic 1912 Olympic Stadium, until 2013 the home of Djurgårdens IF. Ground grading fripperies mean their Allsvenskan side now has to groundshare at Hammarby’s Tele2Arena. It is my third time at this quite magnificent arena, all carved wood and eye-catching detail, the only real concession to modernity being a large electronic scoreboard. We are guided by a club official called Pelle and he kindly invites us back to the Stockholms Stadion for Djurgårdens’ forthcoming friendlies against Kalmar and Groningen for which plastic tip up seats are not a mandatory requirement!

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After checking in at an old favourite for the hop, the Scandic Järva Krog we are taken to the nearby Ursviks Idrottsplats for the first game of the hop. Typical of its kind a 3G pitch, bleacher style stand and dressing room block. The officials are welcoming and coffee is provided while the team manager gives us a power point presentation on how he plans for his team to win this match. His homework paid dividends as Ursviks triumphed in an entertaining match with Martin Kullberg taking the plaudits with a well taken hat-trick.

Stockholms Div 4 Mellersta (03/06/2016)

Ursviks IK 4 (Kullberg 36, 73, 89, Papathanasiou 81)
Reymersholms IK 2 (Ryckert 54, Höjer 58)

Att: 75 (at Ursviks IP)

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The programme for Saturday has three matches on the agenda and the first is another short bus ride to Danderydsvallen and impressive sports complex where the clearly very proud club officials tell us of the history of the sports club, its ethos of using only local players, and answering our questions. They present us with scarves and other souvenirs and ask us to join in singing a traditional Swedish drinking song with a complementary beer and glass of local firewater.

It’s early and warm and sadly the home side seem a little dozy as their guests and league leaders Husby win far more comfortably than the final scoreline suggests.

Stockholms Div 4 Norra (04/06/2016)

Danderyds SK 2 (Issa 20, Pharmanson 90)
Husby FF 3 (Hien 8, 48, Tsegal 76)

Att: 57 (at Danderydsvallen)

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Next we move onto the swanky suburb of Djursholm wealthy enough to attract Björn Ulvaeus from Abba to its costly neighbourhood. Another welcome talk tells us that Djursholms priority is to produce young players and mould them into professional standard players and recoup coaching costs through Moderclub (“mother club”) which sees a percentage of future transfer fees going back to a players club of origin.

Today the first team, who are mainly aged 19 and under, have a task on their hands against the league leaders, IFK Österåker. The visitors duly flex their muscles and race into a 6-1 lead before the hosts stage a comeback which sadly they just run out of time to complete.

Stockholms Div 4 Norra (04/06/2016)

FC Djursholm 4 (Tollis 54, Linnér 83, Croon 85, 88)
IFK Österåker 6 (Sindemark 27, 35, Tuhcic 40, Sjöstrand 53, Musa 63, 66)

Att: 112 (at Djursholms IP)

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There is then a quick dash up to Uppsala for the Superettan match at the fabulous Studenternas IP, home of IK Sirius. If displays are to be believed around the stadium this venue is about to undergo serious redevelopment so it’s great to catch it in its original state. Studenternas has been home to Sirius since their formation in 1909. The bandy stadium next door is equally impressive. The hosts huff and puff their way to a valuable three points to send most of the modest crowd home happy after this televised match.

Superettan (04/06/2016)

IK Sirius FK 2 (Björkebaum 67, Bergman 79)
Trelleborgs FF 1 (Jovanović 30)

Att: 1,170 (at Studenternas IP)

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Sunday has a more sedate two game programme which commenced with a lengthy drive into the countryside to a village called Kårsta which has a population of around 500 people and whose tiny rail station marks the end of the line for the province of Stockholms Lan. After locating Kårevallen, a glorious oasis at the end of a dusty unmade road a huge voice booms a welcome through a loudhailer. The voice belonged to Staffan Hassius, president of GoIF Kåre and as soon as you heard his infectious Klopp like enthusiasm you just knew this was going to be fun. It seemed most of this tiny village had given up their Sunday morning to welcome their foreign guests. Staffan told us about the club and made us so welcome even hoisting a union jack above the clubhouse. None of us had been to a hop game where musical entertainment had been supplied with a male duo playing a mix of English and Swedish songs followed by a lady wearing odd shoes who played the euphonium beautifully. Kårevallen is one of those idyllic Swedish grounds set into the side of a rocky hill. Spectator accommodation provided by two handmade wooden bleachers and sustenance came courtesy of delicious reindeer kebabs.

The match itself was an attritional affair, Kåre needing a win to take over from Fanna at the top of the table. After much endeavour on a hot day a goal from Daniel Zachrison sealed a very popular home victory. Its clubs like GoIF Kåre, run solely by volunteers that make you realise this is where the true spirit of football lies not in the festering money ruined vortex of the Premier League. Someday more people will see the light.

Upplands Div 5 Södra (05/06/2016)

GoIF Kåre 1 (Zachrison 64)
Unik FK 0

Att: 126 (at Kårevallen)

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The bus wound its way to Rosersbergs a hefty goal kick away from Arlanda airport for the final match of the hop. The Råbergsvallen is bathed in glorious sunshine. Another warm welcome and some very tasty cake was enjoyed before a tense encounter between the hosts a Fanna ensues. Rosersbergs take a deserved lead when a penalty is awarded when a defender injudiciously clips a home forward in the area. Fanna look a good side but struggle to break down the hosts. That is until a free kick is awarded late on and Rami Abbas sneakily moves the ball back a couple of yards to allow him a chance to get the ball over the wall and down again. He duly accomplished this which was very harsh on Rosersbergs.

Upplands Div 5 Södra (05/06/2016)

Rosersbergs IK 1 (Lyngbrant pen 34)
Fanna BK 1 (Abbas 88)

Att: 121 (at Råbergsvallen)

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So the tenth anniversary Swedish groundhop, masterfully crafted by Kim Hedwall once again, ended all too soon for many though as usual some had decided to stay on just a little bit longer…