Manx Tales

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Tubize, or not Tubize, that is the question? (AFC Tubize)

The current AFC Tubize is the result of a 1990 merger between F.C. Tubize and Amis Réunis de Tubize. The former had begun life in 1919 as Athletic Club Tubizien while Amis Réunis appeared on the scene in 1974. The old Tubize club had merged with several other clubs over the years so a merger of the two remaining clubs representing this small Walloon city made sense if the town was to compete at the highest level.

The combined club progressed quickly under the astute coaching of Theo Buelinckx and in seven seasons Tubize moved from the third division of the provincial league to the third division of the national league, a remarkable four promotions.

After Buelinckx retired the club still continued their meteoric rise, promotion to the second tier came in 2002/03 and five seasons later they were promoted to the top division for the first time in their history. 

Unfortunately for Tubize the Belgian FA decided to reduce the top division from 18 clubs to 16 for the 2008/09 season and after finishing 17th the club slipped through the trap door with Dender and Mons, Roeselare surviving in the relegation play-offs. Tubize’s one season in the top flight had required the club to increase the capacity at the Stade Leburton from 5,000 to 8,000 seats and vastly improve media facilities.

The club has remained in the Second Division without really challenging for a return to the Pro League. The most recent time the club caused some headlines was in 2013 when they signed the former Korean international Hwang Jin-Sung. The signing provoked such interest in Tubize from his homeland that in August 2014 the Korean sports marketing firm, Sportizen, bought the club in its entirety.

The Stade Leburton has a modern stand on one side with plush corporate facilities and restaurants. Behind the far end goal is a huge seated stand which has one sector segregated off for away fans. Opposite the main stand is a small well elevated covered terrace where a small band of ultras congregate. Behind the near goal is a smart clubhouse. On the approach to the ground are two enormous statues of a Belgian forward and goalkeeper, they are quite an extraordinary sight.

Something Tubize may have to work on is their customer service. The ticket seller indicated that the seated stand was not available (there were loads of empty seats), and the stewards then said all bags of any type were not permitted into the stadium! There were only 500 people in attendance and they could have easily searched all those with bags but instead insisted that they were returned to cars. Quite what someone unaware of this ridiculous rule would do with their bag if arriving by public transport is beyond me. If that doesn’t rub you up the wrong way enough the insistence of checking your ticket every time you leave or go into the stand is a considerable annoyance. The standing ticket only gets you into one sector and you cannot physically get into another sector, so the checking of tickets is absolutely pointless.

On the field Tubize are soundly beaten today by an impressive looking Lommel side. The hosts’ cause is not helped by the dismissal on the half hour mark of Mamadou Diallo for apparently elbowing an opponent. The defeat had repercussions for the Tubize coach, Thierry Goudet, who after just three months in the job was relieved of his duties in the days after this heavy loss.

Aside from the poor stewarding of the ground the Leburton is a modern venue set in a wooded hollow and makes for a pleasant afternoon. The food kiosk sells a “country” sausage which was extremely tasty. 

With this being the first season of the smaller eight team professional Division 1B, it must be a concern to the club that they only managed to pull in 500 customers for this game. It will be interesting to see how this modest club from out in the sticks will compete with the more traditional powerhouses like Antwerp, Lierse and Union Saint-Gilloise.

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Proximus League – 14/08/2016

AFC Tubize 0

Lommel United 4 (Berben 17, Cauwenberg  40, De Bruyn 68, Adesanya 90)

Att: 500

Admission €8 (standing) Programme Free

Gallery

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Tubize ticket