Football in Fort William arrived late as the Western Highlands region is much more interested in shinty, a traditional Scottish Gaelic game played with wooden sticks. Comann Camanachd A’ Ghearasdain (Fort William Shinty Club) date from 1893 and Kilmallie Shinty Club from 1929 so their long standing foothold in the town meant that the town did not have a football club until 1974.The club has always played at Claggan Park, an enclosed pasture in the foothills of the Ben Nevis mountain range. The stunning backdrop is rightly lauded as one of the best in Europe but the peak is not actually Ben Nevis itself, but a hill called Meall an t-Suidhe. The venue itself has a decrepit covered stand on one side of the pitch but this is now fenced off and condemned. There are now two identical modular Arena Seating units with around 70 seats each on the opposite side. The pitch is close to the River Nevis and is prone to waterlogging. In an attempt to help the pitch recover from the shocking winter the club turned the pitch ninety degrees in December which has left the playing surface decidedly narrow and the stands now behind either goal. Fort William FC initially contested friendlies and entered cup competitions such as the Scottish Qualifying Cup, the Inverness Cup and the North of Scotland Club. The clubs’ remote location meant there was no obvious league competition for the fledgling club to join. The club eventually joined the North Caledonian League for the 1983/84 season and finished runners-up to Muir of Ord before winning the title the following season. The club were in the ascendancy and joined the Highland League for 1985/86. It’s been another tough season on the field for The Fort, with five games left they have already conceded 156 goals including a 2-12 loss at home to Cove Rangers, a 0-10 at home to Fraserburgh. However, the nadir came when they visited reigning champions, Brora Rangers, at Dudgeon Park. The 16-0 thumping was just one goal away from Fort’s record defeat of 17-0 against Peterhead in 1998.Assuming Fort do finish bottom of the table this season it will mean they have been wooden spoonists 16 times in the 33 seasons they have been in the Highland League. This includes a run of four seasons finishing in last place, the fourth of which, 2008/09, saw them secure just one point all season in a 1-1 draw with Wick Academy. The size of their problem can be measured by looking between 1996/97 and 2013/14 when in those 18 seasons the club were bottom of the table 14 times.Their on field struggles have been well documented, but its immediate future lies off the field as all six board members announced in January that they will be stepping down at the end of the current campaign. This includes primary benefactors Stewart Maclean and Gerald McIntyre whose cash injections have kept the club afloat and funded the tortuous road trips needed in the Highland League. Despite a thriving academy set up the Forts have always struggled to attract players of sufficient quality often resorting to shipping in players from Glasgow and Inverness. Their traditional dragnet for local talent is from the surrounding areas of Lochaber, Oban and Speyside as well as the Isle of Skye. However, this flow of talent has dwindled since the closure of the Lochaber Welfare League, a summer competition, in 2016. Fort William has produced players of a very decent standing, Bolton Wanderers legend, John McGinlay, started his career at Claggan Park, while ex Chelsea and Swindon forward Duncan Shearer was also born in the town.The club have notified the Highland League that they are likely to resign from the competition at the end of the current campaign. The club have an EGM this week to decide whether the club will join either the Scottish Amateur set up or rejoin the North Caledonian League. Another option, should there be no offers of new blood and financing, would be to fold the club altogether.If the club rejoin the North Caledonian League for the new season their nearest opposition would be Inverness Athletic who are located in Muir of Ord. The away trip to Thurso would take over four hours each way on the 173 mile journey.It would be a real tragedy if this doughty but luckless club call it a day. Claggan Park is an iconic British football ground but undoubtedly these are troubled times at this remote outpost of the beautiful game.Saturday April 14th 2018 – Highland LeagueFort William (0) 0Formartine United (3) 6 (Barbour 22,35,51, Rodger 38, Gethins pen 59, Crawford 65)Attendance: 94 Admission £7, free teamsheetGallery
The Cyprus Football League consists of a three division national league system called Divisions 1, 2 and 3 with 14, 14 and 16 clubs in respectively. The top level splits into a championship and relegation pool at the end of February after a 26 round regular season.
Of the 78 League championships contested to date, three clubs have dominated the league. APOEL Nicosia (26), Omonia Nicosia (20) and Anorthosis Famagusta (13) account for 59 of the league titles between them.
The first game of my trip was the Friday evening game in Division 2 between AO Ayia Napa and EN THON Lakatamias, somewhat surprisingly being televised. When Ayia Napa played in the top division their home ground was considered unsuitable for top flight football and games were played at the 5,800 capacity Tasos Markou Stadium in Paralimni. After relegation the club has returned to the Dimotiko (Municipal) Stadium which has a nominal capacity of 2,000.
A ticket costing €10 is available at the north end of the ground. The spectator facilities are all on one side of the ground, an uncovered pitch length run of wooden bench seating provides the only accommodation. The excellent kantina sells a good variety of snacks including fresh koupes (also known as kibbeh) a snack made of bulgar wheat and minced meat, really popular in the whole Levantine region.
The far side of the ground has changing rooms and offices while the south end of the ground is used for the storage of small boats and sun loungers! The north end of the ground has a super mural of a former captain and the name “Kastros”.
Based on the league table, the hosts in fourth place should have had a comfortable time of things against Lakatamias who were hovering just one place above the relegation zone. It wasn’t a game of the highest technical ability but a goal either side of half time for the visitors meant a fair result as the hosts barely mustered a shot on target.
Friday February 23rd 2018 – Cyprus League Division 2
AO Ayia Napa 0
EN THOI Lakatamias 2 (Pechlivanopoulos 42, Siapanis 47)
Att:116 Entry €10
The next Cypriot League game of the weekend was in the capital, Nicosia for a derby match between Olympiakos and APOEL who have won the last five Cypriot League titles. Olympiakos are one of the smaller clubs in the capital although they had a bit of a purple patch in the late sixties winning all three of their league titles between 1967 and 1971. The two big Nicosia clubs, APOEL and Omonia, have played at the modern national stadium which opened in 1999. Known as the GSP (Pancyprian Gymnastic Association) Stadium it is situated south of the city in Strovolos. Prior to this they both played at tonight’s venue, the ageing Makario Stadium in Makedonitissa.
Olympiakos, fellow top flight club Doxa Katokopias and third tier Digenis Akritas Morphou, all currently have to share this stadium. The over use of the ground leads to a convenient late kick off for another televised game. A turgid and forgettable first half, notable only for a low flying drone dangling a message, gave way to a highly entertaining second period where Olympiakos belie their lowly league position and give the reigning champions a real fright. This culminated in a 94th minute equaliser for the hosts with an stunning overhead kick from Portuguese striker Romeu Torres. Quite unbelievably though APOEL snatched the points with a last kick of the match goal from Nicolas Ioannou. With the three points secured APOEL retook the lead in the championship ahead of Apollon Limassol.
Saturday February 24th 2018 – Cyprus League Division 1
Olympiakos Nicosia 2 (Sotiriou 50, Torres 90+4)
APOEL Nicosia 3 (Sallai 33, Dellatorre 78, Ioannou 90+6)
Attendance: 2,200 (my estimate was c.1,200) Entry €15
The final game of the weekend was at the western tip of the island in the holiday resort of Pafos. Yet another televised game saw a 6pm kick off under the lights of the Stelios Kyriakides Stadium (previously known as the Pafiako Stadium).
Pafos FC were only formed as recently as 2014 following a merger of AEP Paphos and AEK Kouklia. It was a marriage borne out of mutual convenience. AEP, themselves a result of a merger of APOP Paphos and Evagoras in 2000, were in severe financial trouble in the second tier while Kouklia had just been relegated from the top flight. The aim was to form a more financially stable club competing regularly in the top division. The club were promoted into the First Division in 2016/17 as runners up to champions Alki Oronklini.
Pafos have made a reasonable go of their inaugural top flight season although they will compete in the relegation pool for the closing stages of the season. The hosts have recently appointed a Scottish coaching team led by former Falkirk, Coventry City and Fleetwood Town manager Steven Pressley.
The stadium was built in 1985 and currently holds just over 9,000 people. A renovation in 2003 saw plastic seating installed in what is essentially a two sided ground. The rake of the main stand means you can see the sea from the upper rows of seats. In May 2017, K.O.A (Cyprus Athletic Association) decided to rename the Pafiako Stadium after Stelios Kyriakides, an athlete who won the 1946 Boston marathon. He came from the nearby village of Statos-Agios Fotios.
It looked like Pafos, featuring Diego Poyet in their starting eleven, would win the match after French striker Kévin Bérigaud scored for the hosts after 73 minutes. However, AEK Larnaca were awarded a free kick in the 94th minute and one of eight Spaniards in their match-day squad, Jorge Larena, beat the wall and found the corner of the net. The game didn’t even restart as the referee blew for full time, much to the disappointment of the home fans. Again the official attendance appeared to be grossly exaggerated as I estimated no more than 800 were present for the match.
February 25th 2018 – Cyprus League Division 1
Pafos FC 1 (Béricaud 73)
AEK Larnaca 1 (Jorge Larena 90)
Attendance:2,500 (my estimate was c.800) Entry €15
Even though Cyprus is a four hour plus flight from England, and given that standard is not the highest you will ever see, I would still recommend Cyprus for a winter break for guaranteed football in pleasant warm temperatures surrounded by beguiling coastal and mountain scenery.
I am not sure why it has taken me so long to visit the Isle of Man (or Ellan Vannin in the historical Manx language). A crown dependency in the middle of the Irish Sea it’s easy enough to get to, ferry from Heysham or a short flight from Birmingham. The latter sets you down at the Ronaldsway airport in good time for a scoot around the island to check out some of the island’s football grounds with the plan being a 2pm kick off at Castletown Metropolitan followed by the under 18 representative match at The Bowl in Douglas.
With the weather less than obliging it was prudent to check out Castletown ahead of their top of the table clash with rivals Pulrose United. Chairman Patty Quinney was at the Malew Road ground and confirmed the pitch would be no problem despite the weather. A nice little ground, dating from the 1950’s, boasting a small stand and a bit of cover the encounter with Pulrose had a bit of needle as both clubs are striving for promotion. The Isle of Man has a First and Second Division and then two Combination Leagues for second teams.
Castletown Metropolitan AFC – Malew Street
Our scoot around the island started at Peel’s superb Douglas Road ground which has recently benefited from a new pitch (after sand containing glass was accidentally spread on the pitch last season!) and a make over of the stand with new plastic seats and a liberal lick of red paint around the place. The ground also boasts an indoor 3G surface.
A very pleasant drive up the west coast road found us in Ramsey, their own game had been called off earlier in the week as several of their players were selected for the representative game against Norfolk. What a fantastic ground Ballacloan Stadium is, named after the large house behind the far goal this end of the ground has quite scarily vertiginous stone terracing which sadly has out of bounds signs on it these days. A great shame must have been incredible to stand on these steep but shallow steps. There is also a decent stand with substantial terracing either side. The stadium sits in between a boating lake on North Shore Road and Mooragh Park and is particularly scenic.
Ramsey AFC – Ballacloan Stadium
Laxey AFC were formed in 1910 and play at the Henry Bloom Moore Recreation Ground on Glen Road near the picturesque harbour. A substantial stretch of terracing is set off by a footpath that disappears up the cliff to higher ground.
Laxey AFC – Henry Bloom Moore Recreation Ground
Next was the Isle of Man’s equivalent to Cowdenbeath’s Central Park in as much that Onchan Raceway is primarily a motor sport venue with a football pitch in the middle. Home to Onchan AFC it was securely locked on this visit which was a shame as it looked to have a couple of stylish concrete stands.
Onchan AFC – Onchan Raceway
By now Patty from Castletown had contacted us to say that their game had sadly bitten the dust, not due to a waterlogged pitch but for the fact that the pitch markings had completely washed away despite his best attempts to renew them! A quick decision was made to return to Peel and watch their Combination side take on their counterparts from Colby. A tight first half was succeeded by an avalanche of Peel goals in the second half. The game finished 8-1 with the impressive Shaun Kelly netting a double hat-trick. A very friendly club in a truly wonderful setting.
Peel AFC – Douglas Road Ground
A quick dash to the island’s capital Douglas saw us in the Isle of Man FA Ground at The Bowl in good time for the 5pm kick off. This was a quarter-final in the FA County Youth Cup and a decent crowd of 279 turned out on a very soggy evening. The stadium was substantially renovated in 2011, and has an artificial surface. There is seating for 3,000 with one side covered with a tented style roof. A well contested game saw the visitors from Norfolk win 2-1 in extra time.
The Bowl Stadium
Heading back to the airport on the Sunday morning afforded the opportunity to visit one final ground right on the southern tip of the island in Port Erin. Croit Lowey is the home of Rushen United and has a clubhouse on an elevated platform above the pitch and this has a substantial section of cover running the length of the building.
Rushen United – Croit Lowey
Despite the poor weather it was a memorable trip to this scandalously overlooked island. One can’t help thinking how ideal Isle of Man football would be for an organised groundhop. Decent facilities, friendly folk and a real tradition in football and nowhere particularly far from anywhere else it is tailor made for a groundhopping extravaganza.
The fixture gods had truly smiled on us for the third Serbian Groundhop, as there appeared to be a Friday 13.30pm kick off in the fifth tier Opštinska Liga Lučani between FK Bratstvo Dljin and FK Jedinstvo which would dovetail perfectly with the 5pm game at Mladost. With no ground in the tiny village of Djlin the club play at a sports complex in Lučani so we set off in good time for this game. Almost immediately entering Lučani you see the tall floodlights of Mladost. Unsure whether the Dljin game would be on the small ground next to the stadium we hopped of the bus to inquire further. The president of Mladost greeted us warmly but imparted the news that the normally reliable SrbjiaSport website was wrong and Djlin were playing tomorrow. The blow of losing our first game, although it had seemed too good to be true anyway, was tempered by the Mladost’s presidents insistence that we all have free tickets for the derby against Radnički Niš later that evening. We were also kindly invited for a complimentary drink at the nearby player’s hotel.
Serbian Groundhop Weekend legends Stephen Carpenter, Bogdan Mitrovic and Aleks Pekovic.
A plan was hatched to spend the time before kick off visiting a couple of nearby stadiums. We trundled over to Sloboda Užice and once we had negotiated a path through a market that seemed to sell only cabbages we were allowed into the stadium for a quick walk around. It’s an absolutely cracking stadium surrounded by housing and shrouded in low cloud. To a man the 20 English guys, 1 Scot, 1 Dane and 2 Serbs agreed that it is a must visit stadium for a match during a future groundhop.
We then took in the Stadion Kraj Valjaonice, home of FK Sevojno. A fascinating club who hit the headlines in 2009 by beating Red Star in the semi final of the Serbian Cup before going down to Partizan in the final.
A quick dash back to Lučani saw us in position in the main stand in time for the kick off of the evening’s televised game between Mladost Lučani and Radnički Niš. For a relatively local derby it’s a paltry looking crowd of under 250 that gather on a cold, wet evening. Our complimentary tickets had the cost of 300RSD on then which is around £3.75, relatively expensive by Super Liga standards. We witnessed an entertaining 2-2 draw with the major taking point being a very dubious penalty being awarded to Niš. The locals were justifiably livid and spent the rest of the game shouting “lopovi” (thieves) to any of the match officials who came within earshot.
Friday April 17th 2017 (5pm) – Super Liga
Mladost Lučani 2 (Radivojević 7, Trifanović 75)
Radnički Niš 2 (Stojanović 19, Pavkov pen 33)
Att:229 (at Stadion Mladost)
The first game of the Saturday was the third tier (Srpske Liga Vojvodina) clash between the wonderfully named FK Cement and Radnički Nova Pazova. Despite some pretty atrocious roads on the way to Beočin we arrived early enough to have a quick nose at the 16th century monastery which dates from the Ottoman Turkish occupancy of the region.
We arrived at the Gradski Stadion which sits in front of the cement factory. It’s a little dilapidated and crumbling and first impressions show it not to be a glowing advert for the product! However, thanks to a talk from the club president we learn the ground is as old as the club itself so at 104 years of age the stadium is entitled to be a little crumbly around the edges. The club’s emblem is a blue elephant which is a by line for their cement which is “as strong as an elephant”. It is a decent stadium with a lofted stand situated over uncovered seating. We are made very welcome by the club and witness a comfortable 2-0 home win.
Saturday November 18th 2017 (1pm) – Srpska Liga Vojvodina
FK Cement Beočin 2 (Gajić 32, Sekulić 57)
Radnički Nova Pazova 0
Att:103 (at Gradski Stadion)
The top club in the region are Super Liga heavyweights FK Vojvodina. We had blagged a stadium tour on the April trip and vowed to come back for a game. The Stadion Karađorđe is named after “Black George” Đorđe Petrović, a Serbian national hero from the First Uprising against the Ottomans in the early 19th century. It’s a superb bowl shaped ground and the crowd of around 700 (officially 500) looks a little lost in it despite it being less than £2 to attend the game. Sadly the match does not live up to the surroundings and the visitors, FK Radnik, from the southern city of Surdulica defend for a point from the outset. The result ended goalless with scarcely even a shot on goal to remember!
Saturday November 18th 2017 (5pm) – Super Liga
FK Vojvodina 0
FK Radnik Surdulica 0
Att:500 (at Stadion Karađorđe)
It’s an early start on the Sunday morning as we have a 10am kick off in the fourth tier Vojvođanska Liga “Jug” between FK Index and league leaders Sloga Erdevik. The Stadion Đačko Igralište is a modest ground on the banks of the Danube some seating one side of the ground and a small section of terracing on the far side. Index are essentially an academy team that moves its better players on to bigger clubs. A dour attritional encounter was settled late on with a top class finish from Sloga’s Stefan Cvijić.
The highlight of the visit was meeting former top flight referee Miroslav Radoman and former Red Star manager Milorad Kosanović who regaled us with stories from their extensive careers.
Sunday November 19th 2017 (10 am) – Vojvodanska Liga “Jug”
FK Index 0
FK Sloga Erdevik 1 (Cvijić 85)
Att:161 (at Stadion Đačko Igralište)
Next we motored about an hour to the north to the tiny Hungarian speaking village of Mali Iđoš where the local sixth level team Eđšeg Mali Iđoš were taking on Obilić Zmajevo. Before we entered the ground the guys from Groundhopping Serbia handed out some smart pin badges and Aleks asked that one be placed on the grave of David Rattenberry who had come on both previous hops and who had sadly passed away days before he was due to join us for this trip. It was a very touching moment and meant a lot to us.
When trying to slot in an afternoon game between Index and the evening game at Subotica I consulted Serb football grounds expert Sasa Grujić (@grujas on Twitter) who runs the excellent website groundhoppingsrb.blogspot.co.uk From my shortlist of four possibles Sasa recommended this one and what a great choice it was. A cracking ground with a smart entrance and large pitched roof stand. A 4-3 home victory on a bobbly pitch was superb entertainment. The home club were genuinely pleased to host their bus load of unexpected foreign guests and insisted on photos being taken for the wall of their clubhouse.
Sunday November 19th (1.30pm) – MFL Bačka Topola
FK Eđšeg Mali Iđoš 4 (Vujović 3, Itali 17, pen 42, 62)
Obilić Zmajevo 3 (Bukić 9,73, Tosić 84)
Att:76 (at Stadion Mali Iđoš)
We arrived at the City Stadium in Subotica with about 15 minutes to kick off and Sasa, a big Spartak fan, was waiting to usher us in to VIP for the evening. It was a lovely gesture but none of us were ready for what we were about to witness. The visitors for this Super Liga clash were Borac Čačak rooted to the bottom of the table amid internal problems over unpaid salaries.
The guests turned the league table upside down by opening the scoring and Spartak huffed and puffed trying to level the scores and moments before halftime the referee awarded a hotly disputed penalty (my instant thought was that it was a penalty, but others did not). The Borac players were incensed, Lazar Jovanović was sent off for pushing and then aiming a headbutt at the referee and he was swiftly followed to the dressing room by Amer Dupovac for his protestations. When order was restored the penalty was dispatched and the whistle went for halftime.
Borac took ages to return for the second half and when they did their nine players promptly sat down with their backs to the referee! After five minutes where it looked like the game would be abandoned the Borac coach signalled for them to get up and restart the game. The second half was farcical with the Borac keeper, Vladimir Bajić, deliberately kicking the ball out of the stadium at every available opportunity. If that wasn’t enough the Serbian press quickly discovered we were watching the game from our social media accounts and suddenly it was all over the internet “25 English tourists witness the shame of Serbian football”. It was a crazy end to another fantastic Serbian Football Weekend.
Sunday November 19th 2017 (5pm) – Super Liga
FK Spartak Subotica 3 (Savković pen 45, Torbica 54, Radovanović pen 85)
FK Borac Čačak 1 (Jovanović 27)
Att:570 (at Gradski Stadion)
A much extended version of this article will appear in a future edition of “Football Weekends” magazine.
Well isn’t that just typical you wait ages for someone to organise a groundhop in Romania and then two come along within a few weeks of each other. This one was to be in the stunning Bucovina region in the north east of the country close to the borders of the Ukraine to the north and Moldova to the east. The event was publicised as “Football In Heaven”.
Organising this adventure into the Carpathian mountains and sharing with us his stunning home province was Emanuel Rosu, World Soccer’s Romanian correspondent (@Emishor on Twitter). Emi had combined with the regions Football Association president, Ciprian Anton, to open up the region to groundhoppers. Very kindly this extended to providing a minibus free of charge for the weekend and Emi, Ciprian and the bus were duly waiting to collect 11 hoppers at a slightly chilly Suceava airport, early on the Friday afternoon. We were also joined by local journalist Chidoveţ Dănuţ and film maker Daniel Vatamanu.
We arrived a little late at the Stadionul Vasilica Onofrei home of fifth tier Viitorul Adâncata, but when you have “El Presidente” of the local FA on board your bus the game waits for you and duly kicked off some 25 minutes late! Now ok this wasn’t much of a ground, a few benches to the right hand side and a cabbage patch of a pitch but we witnessed a decent 90 minutes which saw the hosts win 4-2 in an entertaining encounter with local rivals Voinţa Zvoriştea.
Now what happened after the game, as darkness enveloped the ground rapidly, is the sort of heart warming thing you find on these trips to remote and far flung places. Behind one goal was a raised covered platform and this was covered with trestle tables laden with food. A woman laboured over hot pots and pans to produce some delicious sarmale (pork, rice and cabbage parcels), platters of cold meats, bread and drink (including whiskey and brandy) are provided free of charge for everyone in attendance. It wasn’t a one off for the president and some strange foreign guests either, it’s done at every home game, such is the milk of human kindness at a small village club like Adâncata.
Friday October 27th 2017 – Romania Liga V
AS Viitorul Adâncata 4 (Bilţ 15, Ujeniuc 19, Munteanu og 45, Atomei 49)
Voinţa Zvoriştea 2 (Munteanu 20, Bejinariu pen 90)
Att:107 (at Stadionul Vasilica Onofrei)
After a pretty decent breakfast at the Hotel Continental in Suceava, we ambled down to the Stadionul Areni home of second division Foresta Suceava Friday for an 11am kick off against UTA Arad . The visitors had endured a hellish nine hour 350 mile journey from western Romania to fulfil this fixture. Tickets costing 10 Romanian Lei (£1.90) were purchased from kiosks outside the ground. The ground is a typical 1960’s concrete and breeze block affair with more recent touches of an electronic scoreboard and some plastic seating being the only concessions to modernity. Someone however has taken the time and trouble to liberally paint the concrete in the clubs’ colours of yellow and green the result is a fine looking venue. Foresta have been battling hard with financial woes of late a desperately need a win. The hosts duly go in front of around 700 spectators before UTA fire a double quick salvo before halftime, the second a quite monumental header from the centre back. Foresta work hard in the second half and manage to find an equaliser and it looks like a share of the spoils until UTA, cruelly, score again with virtually the last kick of the match.
Saturday October 28th 2017 – Romanian Liga II (11am kick off)
Foresta Suceava 2 (Renquin 29, Acolatse 84)
UTA Arad 3 (Hlistei 35, Ciucă 37, Păcurar 90)
Att:678 (at Stadionul Areni) Admission 10 Lei (£1.90)
The bus then whisks us up into the foothills of the Carpathians as we head for a fourth tier match between Victoria Vatra Moldoviței and Foresta’s reserve team. Well what can you say about this ground? Set in a hollow surrounded by tall forest where bear sightings are not uncommon. Behind one goal there are stunning mountain vistas. The pitch is noticeably wet and had standing water on the dressing room side. Of course this not being England, there is no doubt the game will take place and a small crowd gathers in the spectator accommodation. This consists of a long row of bench seating at the top of the bank the seating is just inside the crash barrier of the D17 highway. Cars whizz by and lorries trundle by some slowing down for a sneaky look at the game. It gives you a great vantage point for the game but this is a seriously dangerous place to be a spectator! If the location isn’t memorable enough about fifteen minutes into the game a pick up truck screeches into the small clearing on the other side of the road and a bearded man with leathery skin and welly boots leaps out and marches down the road banging an enormous drum. He certainly livens up what is a poor quality encounter which went the way of the hosts with a solitary goal in the second half.
Saturday October 28th 2017 – Romanian Liga IV (4pm kick off)
Victoria Vatra Moldoviței 1 (Pelinar 59)
ACS Foresta Suceava II 0
Overnighting in the mountain town of Vatra Dornei, we arrive at the ground of fifth division Vânătorul Dorna Candrenilor in rain and morning temperatures of -2 but the welcome is warm and a buffet of food and some scarily strong firewater fortify us for the trek to the stand. It’s an excellent stand for the level and was built two years ago. Vânătorul are top of the league and race into a two goal against Sporting Poieni Solca. There is a flurry of late goals and the result of 3-2 suggests it was closer than it actually was.
Sunday October 29th 2017 – Liga V (11am kick off)
Vânătorul Dorna Candrenilor 3 (Clanetariu 18,30, Iosub 80)
Sporting Poieni Solca 2 (Hamcescu 70, Martolea 85)
Att:76 (at Stadionul Dorna Candrenilor)
Everyone races back to the bus to warm up and we head back down the mountains to Pojorâta. The local side, Bucovina Pojorita have suffered a couple of bankruptcies in recent seasons and are now in the fourth tier. The main stand sits at the foot of a contoured hill dotted with shepherd’s huts, heavy forestation sweeps up almost as high as the eye can trace. It really is like watching a football match on a “Lord of the Rings” film set. To heighten the state of frenzy of the hoppers further the club have also produced a programme albeit a modest four pager. The hosts win at a canter by two goals to nil.
Sunday October 29th 2017 – Liga IV (3pm kick off)
ACS Bucovina Pojorita 2 (Tomco 23, Timpau 71)
ACS Şomuzul Preuteşti 0
Att:87 (at Stadionul Pojorita)
Our hosts were magnificent and as for the scenery, well sometimes words just fail to come out when you try to speak. There is already talk of a “Football In Heaven 2” next year, do yourself a favour and move heaven and earth to get yourself on it, you won’t regret it.
Some years ago an ageing long haired American rocker sang “This could be just like living in paradise” spending a few days in this astonishing place he could well have been talking about beautiful Bucovina! The second line of that chorus certainly hit home waiting in the departure lounge as David Lee Roth sings “and I don’t want to go home”.
A much expanded version of this article will appear in a future edition of “Football Weekends” magazine.
For the third Romanian Groundhop the fixture gods had been unkind in city of Timişoara itself so the ever resourceful Andrei Otineanu had to cast his net for suitable matches to the wider area of Timiş County. It would mean lower level matches but given our experiences in previous organised hops in Bucharest, there had to be some cracking grounds, right? A short list of about ten were identified and once kick off times and distance between grounds had been calculated a more than decent looking itinerary was established.
Saturday morning saw a reasonably early start for a slow winding trundle south west of Timişoara to the small town of Gătaia. Local fourth tier side CS Progresul Gătaia had an 11am kick off against AS Pobeda Dudeştii Vechi. We arrived in good time and after putting a voluntary donation in the wooden box at the entrance gate the band of hoppers were confronted with a decent size ground in a quite delightful state of dilapidation. On one side a sort of scaffold and wooden plank stand took a leap of faith to climb up into and take advantage of its vertiginous rake in a narrow confined area behind the dugouts. On the far side was a big covered stand painted in club colours but certainly had seen better days. An entertaining 1-1 draw was witnessed on a blisteringly warm morning.
Saturday September 23rd 2017 – Romania IV Liga (Timis)
CS Progresul Gătaia 1 (Pelg 71)
AS Pobeda Dudeștii Vechi 1 (Kalapis 35)
Att:119 (at Stadionul Progresul)
I was really looking forward to the afternoon game as I knew the ground of CSM Şcolar Reşiţa was very decent. Upon arrival we were all opened jawed at the Stadionul Mircea Chivu. This is an incredible stadium at the foot of a steep and heavily wooded valley. The near side has a smart open seated stand but opposite is an incredible feat of engineering, the valley slope and trees have been cleared and a stepped plateau of concrete laid out. Hundreds of plastic seats have been bolted on to form a quite unique stand. Both ends of the stadium have uncovered terracing too. It’s a real beauty to behold and many in attendance now had a new entry in their own “Top Ten Best Grounds ever” lists. After the glory of the stadium the third division match felt almost incidental as the hosts, champions of Romania in 1930/31, easily dealt with scant resistance from visitors CS Gloria Lunca Teuz Cermei. Their 2-0 win was watched by around 430 people, again with free entry, this included a small band of enthusiastic ultras.
Saturday September 23rd 2017 – Romania III Liga (Serie 4)
CSM Şcolar Reşiţa 2 (Costin 55,Beloescu 89)
CS Gloria Lunca Teuz Cermei 0
Att:430 (at Stadionul Mircea Chivu)
On the Sunday, Andrei and I played our trump card which we had held back from the rest of the party. In the whittling down the shortlist of matches it became clear that our only option for Sunday morning was watching the sixth tier game at the home of ASO Deta reserves! A quick Google of the ground found photos of a cracking ground however a cross check of the fixtures website found that disappointingly the reserves had their own basic ground in a village outside of Deta. Reluctant to pass up the opportunity of watching a game at their superb first team ground, I suggested Andrei should ring the club and ask if they would consider moving the match to the first team ground. After confirming that ten English people and two Germans were definitely coming and it wasn’t some sort of wind up, the club said they would be only too happy to move the game for us!
The Stadionul Arena Parc is set in a wooded park and is really delightful. The 1953 wooden stand looks far older and the club had already repaired the tiled roof after it had suffered some damage in storms that hit the region the previous weekend. It is clearly their pride and joy and built very much in the English style of grandstands. The little separate booths, like VIP seating, at the front of bench seating are truly magnificent. The hosts put on a great show by besting a hapless opposition, Vointa Ionel, by six goals to one. A smashing club, amazing ground and a morning to remember.
Sunday September 24th 2017 – Romanian VI Liga (Timis,Serie 2)
ASO Deta II 6 (Mihalache 11, Toader 21, Ruyan 52, Minea 59, Radu 68,86)
Vointa Ionel 1 (Valcan 41)
Att:52 (at Stadionul Arena Parc)
The final port of call on our groundhopping extravaganza was at FC Unirea Tomnatic who hold the distinction of being the first village club to make the second tier of Romanian football. Those heady days are long behind them though as they had slumped down to the fifth tier before winning the division last season. The Stadionul Fenşi Petre more than lived up to standard of stadiums set in the weekend so far. An eye catching red and white pitch length stand replete with billowing flags stood regally on the far side. The dressing room side of the ground had two smaller covered stands as well. It really is a very pretty ground indeed.
Sunday September 24th 2017 – Romanian IV Liga (Timiş)
FC Unirea Tomnatic 3 (Antemie 19, Hota 82, Vladuti 84)
AS Seceani 4 (Berar 57, Ramneantu 61, Plopeanu 74, Maranescu 80)
Att:125 (at Stadionul Fenşi Petre)
If you would like to join Andrei Otineanu on his next adventure promoting the weird and wonderful grounds of Romania, please connect with him across all forms of social media and his website RomanianGroundhopper.com and Facebook page.
An extended version of this article will appear in a future edition of “Football Weekends” magazine.
Sporting Club Union et Progrès (SCUP) Jette were formed in 1922 and were one of a myriad of clubs in the area which included Avenir Jette, La Jettoise, Excelsior Jette, Saint-Anne Jette, Dieleghem Jette, Union and Progrès Jette, and Sporting Club Jettois. None of the clubs had registered with the Belgian FA so SC Jettois and Union et Progrès did this in 1926 and were awarded the matricules of 474 and 493 respectively. Less than a year later these two clubs came together under the Sporting Club matricule.
The newly named SCUP were initially fairly successful rising up out of the provisional leagues in the national leagues (third tier) for the first time in 1931. However, as the Second World War broke out the club had returned to the Brabant league. The post War years saw success return to Jette and following a substantial reorganisation of Belgian football they won promotion from the new Vierde Klasse (fourth tier) to the third in 1954/55. The rest of the century was fairly uneventful for SCUP Jette as they spent the majority of their life in provincial football interspersed with the odd spell in the national leagues.
In 2002 the club merged with old rivals Étoile Dieleghem, and the fused club became Royal SCUP Dieleghem Jette. However, the club slipped down into the second level of the Brabant League in 2008 but eventually got themselves together to win the division, and with it promotion back to Division One, for the 2016/17 campaign.
Today’s game sees them play FC Kosova Scharbeek, a club formed in 1991 and using the excellent Stade Chazal, the former home of the defunct US Albert Schaerbeek. It’s only the second round of league fixtures and Kosova opened their campaign with a 3-0 home defeat to Sporting Bruxelles whilst Jette drew 2-2 at Stockel.
It is something of a surprise then when Kosova stormed into a two goal lead and in all honesty could have had more in the opening period. Jette pulled one back when a Kosova defender unfortunately stood on the ball in his penalty area and toppled over landing on the ball with his hand. Kosova though just didn’t turn up for the second half and Jette ran in three unanswered goals to rise to second in the fledgling league table.
The stadium in the Avenue de l’Exposition was built in 1953 under the auspices of Corneille Slachmuylder, the forward thinking Alderman for Sport in the area. There is a homely clubhouse on the left as you enter the ground and this area also houses the changing rooms. The Basilica of Koekelberg looms over the roof of the clubhouse. To the right begins a vast semi circle of superb terracing with a small stand in the middle which has been renovated to have three rows of modern plastic bucket seats. These days Jette share the main pitch with BX Brussels, the club owned since 2013 by Vincent Kompany.
Behind the main stand is a set of steps leading to the B team ground which has an artificial surface. Amazingly there is also a huge amount of terracing at the far end and this sweeps around down half of one side as well. It really is extraordinary. Initially this ground was used by Royal Avenir FAC de Jette who are the oldest football club in the town. Avenir were formed in April 1921 in the back room of a small printing shop owned by Corneille De Clercq, Jette’s first socialist councillor. Nowadays the second pitch is used by Jette’s multiple youth teams and also for games in the ABSSA, a Brussels amateur league.
Built on a simply audacious scale for the level of football in Jette its size is reflective of the post war boom in attendances at football matches. Sadly nowadays a crowd into three figures is fast becoming a rarity for RSD Jette. The Stade Communal de Jette, however, more than merits a place in pantheon of great Belgian football grounds.
Sunday September 10th 2017 – Brabant Provincial League Div.1
RSD Jette 4 (Kalulika pen 18, Matos 66,71, Gharbi 81)
Kosova Schaerbeek 2 (Salihu pen 8, Libonge 12)
Att:83 Admission €5, free teamsheet