In the Hall of the Mountain Kings (FC Ararat Yerevan)

As a boy some of the mystical names of Soviet football really fascinated me, exciting names like Zenit Leningrad, Torpedo Moscow, Dinamo Tbilisi and Ararat Yerevan seem so beguiling yet somehow impossibly distant. It comes with unbridled joy on my behalf to have visited two of those boyhood wonderments in one trip.

Ararat Yerevan were formed in 1935 as Spartak Yerevan and spent many seasons in the second tier of the Transcaucasian League where their main rivals were Dinamo Tbilisi. Yerevan made it to the Soviet Top League for the first time in 1949 but it was the 1960’s that was to prove the making of the club, a decade which also saw them change their name from Spartak to Ararat in homage to the mighty and iconic mountain peaks that backdrop the city of Yerevan like a shrouded pathway to another continuum.

Despite relegation in 1963 the “White Eagles” surged back to the top tier in 1966 and stayed there until the break up of the Soviet Union in 1991. Winners of the Soviet Top League had been few and far between outside of the major cities of Moscow, Kiev and Leningrad. The turn of the decade, though, saw something stirring in the South Caucuses when Ararat finished as runners up in the Soviet League to Dynamo Kiev. Despite changing managers half way through the 1973 season new incumbent Nikita Simonyan oversaw a sensational league and cup double as Ararat won the league by three points ahead of Dynamo Kiev and also defeated Kiev in the Soviet Cup Final. The feat is immortalised by a huge statue of all the players and the trophy that looks out towards Ararat’s long time home, the gargantuan Hrazdan Stadium.

The Hrazdan Stadium and the statue commemorating Ararat Yerevan’s 1973 Soviet Union League and Cup double and 1975 Soviet Cup win.

The championship naturally meant competing in the European Cup for the first time an Ararat distinguished themselves by defeating Viking Stavanger and Cork Celtic before bowing out at the quarter-final stage to mighty Bayern Munich. Ararat won the Soviet Cup again in 1975 defeating Zorya Voroshilovgrad in the final but the following years runners up positions in both the League and the Cup signalled the end of a golden era for the “Wings of the Soviets”. Their second round defeat to West Ham United in the 1975/76 Cup Winners Cup tournament was their last foray into European competition for two decades and not before the dissolution of the Soviet Union and a return to Armenian football.

The Armenian League started in 1992 and Ararat won the League and Cup double the following season. However, it has proven to be their last championship to date and despite four more Armenian Cup successes in 1994, 1995, 1997 and 2008 the league has been dominated by city rivals FC Pyunik who have won 14 of the 25 Armenian championships since independence. Ararat’s last sortie into European competition was in the 2008/09 UEFA Cup but they lost ignominiously to Swiss side Bellinzona, 4-1 over two legs, in the first qualifying round.

This season has been a real struggle for the once mighty White Eagles and they have propped up the six team league since the opening rounds. With such a small number of teams it means clubs play each other six times in a season and although they technically occupy a relegation spot the Armenian First League is made up almost entirely of reserve sides. Of the two first teams in the second tier, Erebuni will finish a distant last and the other side, Kotayk Abovian pulled out of the league and their results were expunged.

Between 1971 and 2015 Ararat played their home games at the incredible Hrazdan Stadium, hewn into a hillside its tiers lurch above the cityscape and its four iconic floodlight pylons can be seen for miles around. The ownership of the stadium fell into private hands and after a falling out between the owners and the Armenian FA over a proposed renovation programme to obtain a UEFA four star rating, no one has played there and, indeed, even the pitch was ripped up and not replaced. Since their eviction Ararat have played at the equally superb Republican Stadium but recently, due to poor results and lack of support, the more modest Ministry of Finance Stadium (also known as the Mika Stadium) has hosted their matches.

Despite free entry to the Mika there is scant interest in today’s game against FC Shirak from Gyumri. Officially 500 are in attendance although in reality less than half that figure was present, football fans in Armenia are apathetic due to constant allegations of bribery and corruption in the game. Seemingly more interest and excitement was obtained at the adjacent sports hall for an important Futsal match. Ararat look a poor side and the visitors, backed by a small band of supporters who have made the trip to the capital, soon rack up a three goal lead. Ararat did pull one back just before halftime but rarely threatened a comeback until an injury time goal made the final score seem closer than it actually was.

It is an enduring tragedy of Armenian football that its best loved and traditionally its best supported club languish so far away from their competitors. Sadly with finance a problem and a dispute between Ararat’s owners and the Armenian FA, it would seem that position is unlikely to change in the immediate future.

images

Saturday May 20th 2017 – Armenian Premier League

FC Ararat Yerevan 2 (Safaryan 44, S.Mkrtchyan 90)

FC Shirak Gyumri 3 (Hovsepyan 7, Prljevic 36, Poghosyan 43)

Att: 217 (head count, officially 500 present, played at the MF Mika Stadium)

No admission charged, no programme

Gallery

IMG_4231IMG_4271IMG_4237IMG_4270May 2017 130May 2017 112May 2017 132IMG_4272May 2017 129May 2017 151May 2017 136

Advertisements

From Landhof to Joggeli (FC Basel)

FC Basel were formed in 1893 and are one of Switzerland’s most successful clubs with twenty Swiss Super League/ Nationalliga A titles to their name. Only Grasshoppers Zurich with 27 have more although they haven’t won the championship since 2003. FC Basel have dominated the Super League recently, their first title did not come until 1952/53 but eight of their titles have come in the last eight seasons such has been their superiority.

They were formed after a meeting in the Schuhmachern-Zunft restaurant and one of their early captains was Hans “Joan” Gamper who went on to form FC Barcelona. From the early days FC Basel played at the Landhof stadium in Kleinbasel which still exists as a football ground with a large stand and clubhouse. The Landhof even held a few international matches for Switzerland, including a 9-0 win for England in 1909. Since FC Basel vacated in 1967 the club used it as a training ground but since the 1990’s it just been used by local sports clubs.

The club moved into the old St Jakob-Park stadium which was replaced with the current arena style stadium between 1998 and 2001. During this time FCB played their home games at BSC Old Boys’ Stadion Schützenmatte. As the stadium, designed by Herzog and De Meuron and known locally as “Joggeli”, was chosen to host six games in Euro 2008 St Jakob-Park was expanded to hold 42,500, although some seats were later removed to a more manageable 37,500. The venue also hosted the 2016 Europa League Final between Liverpool and Sevilla.

The arena is surrounded by retail outlets and the shell of the stadium is wrapped in translucent membrane which can be illuminated. It was not lit up today on a very soggy afternoon and looked, I have to say, a little uninviting from the outside. Inside though is a different story, food outlets and souvenir stalls are abundant and a very healthy crowd gathers for what is expected to be an easy win for the hosts who had already mathematically won the league.

The visitors, FC Thun, are in no mood to roll over for the perennial champions and lead 1-0 and 2-1 before Basel scored a third goal a minute from time to capture what looked to be three more points. However, Thun’s Serbian forward Dejan Sorgić spoilt the celebrations with a deserved equaliser with the last kick of the game, a goal which completely a highly impressive hat-trick.

FC Basel have that air of a well run club from top to tail, their reserves play in the third tier at the Stadion Rankhof which is also used by their official feeder team, the fourth tier club, Concordia Basel.
St Jakob Park is easy to find and most spectators catch the No.14 tram from the city centre.

IMG_4178

Sunday May 14th 2017 – Raiffessen Super League

FC Basel (1893) 3 (Steffen 24, Elyounoussi 76, Die 89)
FC Thun 3 (Sorgić 17,64,90)

Att: 26,844 (at St.Jakob Park)

Admission: CF20 (£16) free programme

Gallery

IMG_4036IMG_4037Basel May 2017 172IMG_4039Basel May 2017 171Basel May 2017 193Basel May 2017 196Basel May 2017 192Basel May 2017 185Basel May 2017 209Basel May 2017 204IMG_4042IMG_4175

IMG_4054

Misnomer (Basel Sport Club Old Boys)

Basel Sport Club Old Boys were formed in 1894, a year after the cities’ biggest club FC Basel. It was the football wing of a club that also had a track and field team. The tennis section was added in 1927 but after eight years split away to form Tennis Club Basel whose most famous member is seven time Wimbledon champion, Roger Federer.

The club were initially successful and were Swiss Serie A runners up in 1898/99, 1903/04 and 1912/13. In the final group stage in what was then an regionalised league, Old Boys finished behind Anglo-American Club, St.Gallen and Lausanne Sports and were never quite able to win the overall title. In 1932 Old Boys fell out of the professional leagues and did not return until the 1987/88 when they returned to the Nationalliga B. Their city rivals FC Basel had been relegated from the top flight so Basel saw its first league derbies for many decades. Old Boys stayed in the second tier until being relegated at the end of the 1995/96. They remain at the third tier in the Promotion League, a national third tier created in 2012.

The club play at the 8,000 capacity Stadion Schützenmatte of which 2,000 are seated in the impressive grandstand. The stadium is located in the quiet suburb of Bachletten which is easily walked from the centre of Basel. Originally the played at The Margaret Field close to the main railway station until the site was needed by Industrielle Werke Basel whose new headquarters were built in 1978. The club were relocated to the present venue which also boasts facilities for athletics and swimming.

Today a couple of hundred fans gather for this match against FC Sion II. The guests are marooned in mid table with little to play for but for Old Boys its a must win game in their battle to avoid relegation to the fourth tier “Classic” League.

Despite their reserves turning up in a posh coach Sion’s players seem listless and uninterested and after missing a few great chances Old Boys rattle in three goals without reply, earning a very valuable three points. The win sees them climb out of the drop zone with United Zurich replacing them with just two games of the season remaining.

Just in case you are thinking Old Boys are just a team of veterans, the average age of their starting eleven was just 24.7 years!

IMG_4177

Saturday May 13th 2017 – Promotion League

BSC Old Boys 3 (Limanaj 60, Barry 73, Mbarga 90)
FC Sion II 0

Att:229 (at Stadion Schützenmatte)

Admission CF10 (£8) free programme

Gallery

IMG_4001IMG_3984IMG_4003IMG_4002IMG_4004Basel May 2017 107Basel May 2017 068Basel May 2017 091Basel May 2017 071Basel May 2017 075Basel May 2017 088

IMG_4176

IMG_4055

Bucharest Days (Romanian Groundhop 2)

It seems impossible that a year ago 14 groundhoppers from the UK, Germany and Denmark headed to Bucharest for Andrei Otineanu’s first Romanian Groundhop. We witnessed so much to celebrate about this amazing hobby and also saw the incredibly sad side of football when Dinamo’s Cameroonian player Patrick Ekeng passed away in front of our eyes. Much has changed in the interim, Andrei’s idea of promoting sport in Bucharest for his thesis has seen him move to Łódź in Poland to continue his studies and the undoubted stars of last years hop, Fratia, have disappeared amid allegations of cooking the books. The Brotherhood of rejected players is no more and those that wanted to carry on playing have found other clubs.

So could Andrei organise a second Groundhop from his new base in a foreign country? Would it be too much work without being present to chase people up and get enough interest for it to happen? Of course he could! His energy and enthusiasm plus the help of his good friend Alexandru Fieraru on the front line in Bucharest meant all the second edition of the Romanian Groundhop needed was hoppers!

Eventually the number of attendees settled at a creditable 21 with 18 from the UK, Juergen Schneider and Carsten Pikulik from Germany and France’s very own Pierre-Julien Pera who runs he excellent Eastern European-centric website Footballski.fr

With the hop due to start at Comprest on Friday afternoon many flew into Bucharest on the Thursday to afford a bit of time for sightseeing. Then, as is the wont of Eastern European football, the Comprest game got moved. As luck would have it another game, the second tier game at CS Balotești got moved as well to Friday morning!

Balotești were hosting Olimpia Satu Mare who endured an arduous ten hour, 352 mile, coach ride from their home close to the Ukrainian border. To the delight of Balotești’s unexpected foreign guests the club issued a small four page programme for the game and these were snapped up in double quick time. With the hosts just one place above the relegation spots and Olimpia in seventh in the table an away win was expected. Maybe it was the ridiculous journey that took its toll on the visitors but they never got their act together and Balotești earned a much needed win with a terrific header from Alexandru Eugen Nica separating the sides.

Liga II – Friday May 5th 2017 (11 am)

CS Balotești 1 (Nica Eugen 22)
Olimpic Satu Mare 0

Att:117 (at Stadion Central Balotești)

May 2017 086May 2017 089May 2017 059May 2017 079

So with the unexpected bonus game out of the way, Andrei duly appeared with the bus at 4pm ready for the first official game of the hop the First Liga game between FC Voluntari and ACS Poli Timișoara. Voluntari were formed as recently as 2010, the short termism of clubs in Romania is frightening!
Voluntari play at the Stadion Anghel Iordănescu, a burly and prolific centre forward for Steaua and Romania, which was built in 2010 for the new club in what appears to be a new town to the north east of the city. The hosts took the lead but were pegged back when visiting centre forward, Pedro Henrique, successfully conned the referee into awarding a penalty. Justice was done, however, when the hosts bagged what proved to be the winner just after the break.

The home team had been backed throughout by a small band of ultras in our sector. What made them special was that their average age must have been well into their 60’s. They banged drums and yelled through megaphones for the whole game with the elderly “capo” resplendent in a sailor’s cap! We had noticed our bus had been well and truly been boxed-in in the car park which made the 35 minute trip to the 8.30pm kick off at Concordia extremely tight with just a 45 minute window between games.

Liga I – Friday May 5th 2017 (6 pm)

FC Voluntari 2 (Balaur 9, Popaduic 49)
ACS Polu Timisoara 1 (Pedro Henrique pen 26)

Att:960 (at Stadion Anghel Iordănescu)

May 2017 091IMG_3552May 2017 102IMG_3551

We arrived in Chiajna with six minutes elapsed into Concordia’s bottom of the table clash with bankruptcy bound ASA Târgu Mureș. With 8 games of the play out series completed both sides had only managed one win and seven goals between them so we hadn’t exactly missed much. The game looked nailed on as a 0-0 until the hosts unexpectedly scored twice in eight minutes mid way through the second half. The Stadionul Concordia was opened in 2007 and luckily had a 3G surface so the massive thunderstorm that broke out did not threaten the game. It’s a traditional English style ground with four rectangular stands and has the Biserica Sfântul Nicolae as an imposing backdrop.

Liga I – Saturday May 5th 2017 (8.30 pm)

CS Concordia Chiajna 2 (Grădinaru 71, Cristescu 79)
ASA Târgu Mureș 0

Att:672 (at Stadion Concordia)

IMG_3554May 2017 138May 2017 139IMG_3573

The Satuday morning game took us to the small town of Snagov. Until 2016 FC Snagov had been plying their trade in the third tier of Romanian football before suffering relegation. Then in the summer of 2016 FC Snagov found themselves taken over lock, stock and barrel by Metalul Reșița.

This season has been tough for Metalul having to field a very young side and today’s opponents where FC Brașov, a club with a decent top flight and European pedigree. After the opponents dominated the first half they held a one goal cushion, and a comfortable away win seemed on the cards until one of Metalul’s more experienced players, Mihai Dina, delighted a modest crowd (despite free entry) with a high quality equaliser on a bobbly surface at the otherwise excellent Stadion Voinţa.

Liga II – Saturday May 6th 2017 (11.30 am)

CSM Metalul Reșița 1 (Dina 63)
FC Brașov 1 (Răchişan 24)

Att:155 (at Stadion Voinţa)

May 2017 160May 2017 158May 2017 150May 2017 171

After lunch we toddled over to the ground of FC Metaloglobus to see the second string of FCSB (the preposterous new name of Steaua, long story) take on Atletic Bradu. As we arrived the adjacent ground, the Sport Complex Ion Tiriac, was hosting a fifth level game between CSM Unirea Dobroești and VK Soccer. It had not long kicked off so the majority opted to sit in the sun and watch a 3-0 win for the home team.

Liga V – Saturday May 6th 2017 (4 pm)

CSM Unirea Dobroești 3 VK Soccer 0

Att:58 (at Complex Sportiv Ion Tiriac)

IMG_4102IMG_4107IMG_4108IMG_4109

Metaloglobus have won promotion to the second tier for next season and its no surprise Steaua opt to use their excellent facilities for their reserve team matches. FCSB dominated the game with a slick passing game, but couldn’t find the net leaving the visitors with a single goal victory.

Liga III – Saturday May 6th 2017 (6 pm)

FC Steaua București II 0
Atletic Bradu 1 (Ruţă 36)

Att:86 (at Stadion Metaloglobus)

IMG_4105IMG_4101IMG_4104IMG_4106

Sunday began with an 12 o’clock kick off at Stadion Spartac, home of Progresul Spartac ’44 who we had seen on the hop last year when their first team played at the excellent Electromagnetica ground. Today is a fifth tier clash between Progresul’s reserves and the optimistically titled Power Team. Progresul’s ultras, who we had so enjoyed their company last year, turned up en masse for this one and blue smoke bombs were let off for the occasion. The home side won easily, 7-3, in a stadium that has been decorated with the ultras cartoon versions of themselves.

Liga V – Sunday May 7th 2017 (12 pm)

Progresul Spartac II 7 (Diț 11,14, Georgescu 36,Cirdeiu 43,53, Calancea 49,60)
Power Team 3 (Burlacu 50,80, Gheorghe 65)

Att:57 (at Stadion Progresul Spartac)

May 2017 221May 2017 227May 2017 243May 2017 215

The hop ended by kind of going full circle with a game at AS Romprim. Much of the disbanded Fratia set up that won our hearts on last years hop have moved here including their coach from the Congo, Aime Lema, and Tudorel Mihailescu, the 51 year old goalkeeper who still plays in the fourth tier despite only having one arm. Sadly today they are no match for AS Tricolor who field a beast of a striker and his hat-trick paved the way for an easy 5-1 win as lightning crackled alarmingly close the ground during a heavy thunderstorm. The Stadion Romprim is excellent with sizeable stands on both sides and, wait for it, a bar that sells beer during the game! It also boasts an old school scoreboard at one end of the ground.

Liga IV – Sunday May 7th 2017 (5 pm)

AS Romprim 1 (Batchabi 83)
AS Tricolor 5 (G.Pristoliam 19,28,62, Ologeahu 70,Parvu 78)

Att:45 (at Stadion Romprim)

IMG_4098May 2017 258May 2017 281May 2017 261

With a great mix of stadiums and games as well as eating and drinking like kings the second Romanian groundhop was a tremendous success and enjoyed by all in attendance. Young Andrei is a knowledgeable and likeable host who puts tremendous effort into these trips. You cannot fault his enthusiasm either as he has announced the date of the third Romanian Groundhop already! It will take place in and around Timișoara with the date being the weekend of September 22nd to 24th 2017.

Andrei left and Alexandru right

An expanded version of this post will appear in a future edition of Football Weekends magazine. To order your copy please visit:
https://www.footballweekends.co.uk/about-our-mag/

Alone Again In The Lap of Luxury (PFC Slavia Sofia)

PFC Slavia Sofia were formed in 1913 by students and the new clubs’ first president, Dimitar Blagoev-Palio, was only 21 years old at the time. Since those formative years the club has won seven League titles and seven Bulgarian Cups to its honours list. Their most recent League success came in 1996, the year they also last won the Bulgarian Cup defeating Levski 4-0 in the final.

Slavia had their best run in Europe in the 1966/67 Cup Winners Cup when they defeated Swansea City, Racing Club Strasbourg and Servette before bowing out to Rangers at the semi final stage. In 1969 Slavia briefly merged with Lokomotiv Sofia under the name of ZhSK Slavia. However, the merger last just two years after 100,000 supporters demanded the the clubs be allowed to operate as separate entities once again.

Originally the club played at the ground of its predecessor club Sport Club Razvitie. The club was then allocated land adjacent to the Russian Monument in Sofia where they played until they moved to their own Slavia Stadium in 1960. The stadium is located in South West Sofia in the area known as Ovcha Kupel.

After several attempts at renovation the Slavia Stadium holds a little over 25,000 people and also hosts the under 21 matches of the Bulgarian national team. Paradoxically new stadium criteria bought in by the Bulgarian FA means Slavia cannot play home games at their own stadium as there are no floodlights! For this season it means all their home matches are being staged at the 43,000 capacity Vasil Levski National Stadium well away from their traditional support. Their attendances have been ridiculously low, even though it is only 5 Lev (£2.50) to get in at the Vasil Levski. For today’s game it appeared that there were around 200 people rattling around this vast empty amphitheatre with around 40 in the sector allocated to fans from Plovdiv. The official attendance, presumably just the paid ticket sales, was 90 which makes the whole exercise frankly embarrassing for the League and for Slavia. Hopefully the Bulgarians can follow the Hungarian model in bringing their ageing stadia up to a decent standard.

Today’s game is part of the First League’s relegation pool. This has two groups of four whose top two proceed to a play off for a Europa League spot while the bottom two in each group go into a relegation play-off. Today Botev Plovdiv are the visitors to the capital and they easily outplay a dispirited looking Slavia. There is a small group of around 50 Slavia ultras in this vast stadium and unfortunately they seem happy, in between bouts of their anthem “Samo Slavia” (“Alone Slavia”), to direct monkey chants towards Botev’s French striker Omar Kossoko. However, almost immediately after the chants started Kossoko responded in the best way possible with a clinical finish following a poor attempt to save a shot by the home goalkeeper. The visitors doubled their lead before half time when Antonio Vutov, on loan from Italian side Udinese, waltzed through a cumbersome Slavia defence before finding the net with some aplomb. Kossoko netted the third in the second period and the visitors ended up as very easy winners.

Feels such a shame that such a vast modern stadium has a few dozen people watching matches with little or no atmosphere. Surely common sense should prevail and Slavia will be allowed to play games in front of something resembling a crowd at their own stadium.

Saturday April 22nd 2017 – PFG First League

PFC Slavia Sofia 0
PFC Botev Plovdiv 3 (Kossoko 34,53, Vutov 44)

Att:90 (at Stadion Vasil Levski)
Admission: 5 Lev (the Main A stand only open)

Gallery

April 2017 202April 2017 203April 2017 246April 2017 204April 2017 263IMG_3015IMG_3014April 2017 273April 2017 274April 2017 305April 2017 319IMG_3013

IMG_3048

Whatever Happened To All Of The Heroes? (PFC Levski Sofia)

PFC Levski Sofia were formed in 1914 and are one of Bulgaria’s most successful clubs with 26 championships, only CSKA with 31, have more titles. They were formed as a football wing of the Levski Sports Club who had taken their name from the Bulgarian national hero, Vasil Levski. Born Vasil Ivanov Kunchev, Levski he would be the spearhead for Bulgaria independence from the Ottomans. Sadly he would never see the end of his revolution, he was hanged by the Ottomans at the age of 35.

Levski originally played their home games on Levski Field (Grishte Levski) a stadium that would eventually hold 10,000 people. The stadium had only a short life, finished in 1934 it was knocked down 15 years later to make way for the new National Stadium. Levski were moved to the Yunak Stadium which was almost adjacent to their own ground. Here they shared with other clubs like FC 13 Sofia. Eventually the site of the Yunak was also needed for the National Stadium project and Levski had to find a new home.

Under the auspices of architect Lazar Parashkevanov the new Levski Stadium began construction in 1960 in the Suhata reka district of Sofia. Although the Levski Stadium was its official name the fans dubbed it “Gerena” (the flood plain) after the area it was located in. The stadium was opened officially in 1963 with a game against Spartak Pleven. It held some 36,000 spectators with the main stand being covered.

In 1969 the authorities merged Levski and Spartak Sofia and the stadium became a multi sport venue catering for boxing, gymnastics, volleyball and weightlifting. The adjacent training ground with four pitches was also built at this time. For a brief period following trouble at the Cup Final of 1985 against CSKA, the authorities changed Levski’s name to Vitosha Sofia. While some players and officials were banned for life, the club were allowed to re-adopt the name Levski after four years had passed under the Vitosha moniker. In 1990 the stadium was renamed in honour of one of Levski’s greatest players, Georgi Asparuhov. Known as Gundi he was one of the most prolific scorers of his generation and an icon for the Levski supporters. He was killed in a car crash in 1971 aged only 28.

From 1992 the plan was to turn the stadium into an all seater arena. Due to economic problems the project took seven years to complete with Levski having to play hone games at the National Stadium in the interim. The eyecatching scoreboard surrounded by the Cyrillic letter for “L” (Л), was built in 2006. Plans for the total redevelopment of the ground were announced in 2011 but so far only the new main stand, opened in April 2016, has materialised. Strangely this leaves the stadium without a roof on any part. The stadium which has held 60,000 on two occasions, against Górnik Zabrze in 1970 and four years later against Pirin Blagoevgrad, now holds a more modest 25,000 and is currently called the Vivacom Arena following sponsorship.

Tonight’s game is against FC Dunav from the northern town of Ruse close to the border with Romania. It is part of the end of season round of games when the league table splits in to a championship and relegation pool. With Razgrad based side Ludogorets looking odds on to win a sixth successive title, the chase is on for the other European competition places. On a bitterly cold night, there are periodic flurries of snow, a meagre crowd of 620 gather in the Asparuhov Stadium. The majority gather at the south end of the stadium where the Levski ultras sing constantly and let off a token bit of pyro in the second half. In the away end around 20 hardy Dunav fans who have made the long trip to the capital.

The game’s opening goal came as early as the sixth minute when a free kick from the impressive Spanish midfielder Añete took a flick off the head of Dunav’s Miroslav Budinov and nestled into the net beyond the reach of the goalkeeper. The rest of the game was played out in snowy conditions and just when it looked like Dunav would not find an equaliser, Lebanese midfielder Samir Ayass seized on a poor clearance to drill home from ten yards.

With Levski’s last Championship back in 2009 and a rich heritage of heroes like Vasil Levski and Gundi Asparuhov casting such a voluminous shadow the club are in real need of a new hero to help end the domestic dominance of Ludogorets and bring success back to the capital.

Friday April 21st 2017 – PFG First League
PFC Levski Sofia 1 (Budinov og 6)
FC Dunav Ruse (2010) 1 (Ayass 76)

Att:620 (at Stadion Georgi Asparuhov)

Admission: 20 Lev (c.£10) to main stand although tickets to other parts of the ground were priced at 5 and 10 Lev.

Gallery

IMG_2896April 2017 037April 2017 058IMG_2912IMG_2905April 2017 060April 2017 072April 2017 074April 2017 091April 2017 109April 2017 094April 2017 116

IMG_3049

Postcards From Belgrade 2 (Serbian Groundhop 2017)

Following last years pioneering Groudhop to Belgrade a second one was arranged for the first weekend of April 2017 with no less than 45 groundhoppers attending.

The first match on the agenda was the match between Dinamo Vranje and ČSK Celarevo Pivara. Vranje is a city in the Pčinja district of Southern Serbia, just 25 miles from the border with Macedonia and 40 miles from Bulgaria. The club were formed in 1947 and have spent much of their recent history in between the second and third tiers of Serb football. However, as recently as 2013/14 they were in the fourth tier but after two straight promotions they have returned to the Prva Liga. Dinamo play at the Yumco Stadion, Yumco have their HQ next door to the stadium and produce the uniforms for the Serbian military.

The stadium is a quirky two sided affair with separate entrances for both sides meaning you had to leave the stadium and walk round the perimeter to gain access to the open terrace on the far side. What set the ground apart was its location beneath the triple peaks of the Pljačkovica, Krstilovice and Pržar mountains, as initially the sun shone it really was a most beautiful vista.

Prva Liga (07/04/2017)

FK Dinamo Vranje 2 (Djokić 51, Suraka 62)

FK ČSK Pivara 1 (Mezei 89)

Att: c.600 (at Yumco Stadion) Free admission

The footballing offering for Saturday morning was restricted to under 19 matches in the Omladinska Liga. We opted for the game between second placed FK Partizan and league leaders FK Brodarac. They play at the Sports Centre Partizan-Teleoptik in Zemun which is also known as as “Zemunelo”. As well as being Partizan’s training ground it is the home ground of FK Teleoptik who currently lead the third tier Srpska Liga Beograd Zona.

A healthy crowd of almost 400 gather to watch a scintillating performance from Brodarac who win comfortably by four goals to one. Among the crowd was former PSV, Chelsea and Atlético Madrid striker Mateja Kežman who was very friendly and seemed happy to sign autographs and pose for photos.

Omlandiska Liga (08/04/2017, 10am)

FK Partizan U19s 1 (Maksimović 78)
FK Brodarac U19s 4 (Lukić 23,53, Bjelobrk 40, Kojić 66)

Att:397 (at SC Partizan Teleoptik)

The early evening game saw a trip to Stadion Partizan for the match against southern Serbian club Radnik Surdulica. Tension in and around the stadium, despite the modest crowd, was palpable with Red Star ultras apparently trying to steal Partizan flags. The mood wasn’t helped by Radnik taking an unexpected lead early on.

The second half thankfully was less worrying and Partizan almost inevitably came back to win 2-1 thanks to the awarding of a very soft penalty.
Partizan and Red Star have been at loggerheads since both were formed in 1945 after all pre War clubs were formally dissolved. Red Star have won 27 National championships to Partizan’s 26 so you can imagine the intense rivalry between the two on derby day. The Večiti derbi, the Eternal Derby,really is one of Europe’s greatest footballing experiences.

Super Liga (08/04/2017, 5pm)

FK Partizan 2 (Janković 53, Durdević pen 78)

FK Radnik Surdulica 1 (Arsenijević 18)

Att:1,500

On Sunday we could have stayed in Belgrade for the easy option of Grafičar but instead we decided on the derby of Mladenovac! Upon entering the ground of FK Selo Mladenovac you see an old railway carriage which is used as a refreshments bar! On the far side is a pitch length uncovered terrace whose concrete steps have been almost subsumed by weeds and wild flowers. Behind the terrace is the eye catching feature of a disuse mill tower. Behind the dressing rooms is the disused factory of Petar Drapšin which manufactured tanks for the old Eastern bloc countries.

Again the club are most welcoming and insist we don’t pay to get in. The hosts need to defeat OFK Mladenovac to remain in the division and a spirited comeback in the second sees them grab the points with a 4-2 triumph.

1.Beogradska Liga Grupa C (09/04/2017, 10am)

FK Selo Mladenovac 4 (Mitrović 46, Tolić pen 64,74, Vujić 79)

OFK Mladenovac 2 (Arsić 43, Stefanović 84)

Att:79

We headed back to Belgrade for the highly anticipated match between FK Rad and Red Star. We had reserved tickets in the “neutral” sector were charged 700 Serb dinar (£5) instead of the normal 400 dinar. To our surprise the ground was not even half full and our tickets had 400 RSD written on them. The club had charged us 300 dinar per ticket for “reservation” for a game that we could have just walked up to and paid to get in. The poor experience with Rad was compounded by the searches conducted at the gates which saw all manner of items confiscated, the strangest being a packet of mints!

On the pitch zvezda eased to a 4-0 win helped by the referee failing to give Rad a clear penalty with the score at 0-1. The Rad ultras were housed in a section of uncovered terracing behind the goal and had just returned after their racist chanting had seen the club forced to play the previous three home games behind closed doors. Save for the odd bout of vigorous flag waving and a blue smoke bomb the ultras of Rad appeared to be on their best behaviour.

Super Liga (09/11/2017, 5pm)

FK Rad 0

FK Crvena Zvezda 4 (Plavšić 34,70, Ristić 65, Petković 73)

Att:2,000 (at Stadion Kralj Petar I)

With a few of the hoppers staying till Tuesday a bonus opportunity of the Prva Liga match between FK Proleter and FK Indija appeared from the fixture gods. We headed north to the stunning city of Novi Sad in good time for the 15.30pm start.

Arriving unannounced just before kick off at the Stadion Slana Bara (“salty pond”) the FK Proleter president insisted we would be his guests and again free entry was given as well as very welcome cold bottle of Coke or Fanta on a blisteringly hot afternoon.
Both Proleter and Indija have struggled for goals this season and prior to today’s match had both managed to score only 18 goals in twenty matches. A competitive and occasionally feisty encounter saw the hosts win 3-1 in front of 500 people with their third being an absolute peach of a free kick.

Prva Liga (10/04/2017)

FK Proleter Novi Sad 3 (Novaković 26,85, Mirosavljev 56)

FK Indija 1 (Marković 23)

Att:500 (at Stadion Slana Bara)

With grateful thanks to our Serbian friends Aleks Peković, Bodgan Mitrović and Teodora Rebić, Stephen Carpenter and I hope to arrange a third Serbian Groundhop in during the 2017/18 season.

IMG_2124

An extended review of Belgrade Groundhop 2017 will appear in the June 2017 edition of “Football Weekends” magazine. To order your copy please visit http://www.footballweekends.co.uk