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.

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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

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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 prog

Red Star ticket

 

 

Raising The Standaard (Standaard Wetteren)

Royal Standaard Wetteren were formed in 1948 as Standaard Molenhoek and as an amateur side originally registered with the KBVB (Katholieke Vlaamsch Sportverbond Oost-Vlaanderen) which was at the time a big rival federation to the Royal Belgian Football Association. In 1951 the club changed its name to Standaard Wetteren and joined the URBSFA (l’Union Royale Belge des Sociétés de Football Association). The newly renamed club were given the matricule number of 5479 and were placed in the third tier provincial league and fair very well during the rest of the decade but without gaining promotion.

In 1963 a local businessman, Marcel De Kerpel, took over the club and made plans for the club to be a regular in the new regionalised third tier rather than be restricted to provincial football. In 1982 the club won the provincial league but were not granted promotion as their Kuipke ground was found to be too small for national standards. De Kerpel vowed to address this immediately and a patch of land was secured at Dasseveld. The president appointed himself chief architect and foreman of the project and in no time at all the club had a smart new home ready for national football. The club finally won the provincial “promotion” league again in 1988/89 and took their place in the third tier, being placed in Group A of the two section Division Three. They remained in the third tier until 2000/01 with their best performance being a fifth place finish in 1997/98. The 1999/2000 season should have been a warning to the club as they just survived relegation in the end of season play-offs but the following season they were not so fortunate finishing rock bottom of the sixteen clubs.

The club rebuilt under a young coach Wim de Corte and in 2002/03 they won the Promotion League and returned to Division 3 Group A. Sadly De Kerpel did not live to see the club’s return to the third tier. The club continue to improve under De Corte and nearly secured promotion in 2005/06 losing a final round game against Racing Waregem. Wetteren persisted and finally achieved promotion to the second tier by winning the championship in 2008/09. De Corte guided the yellow and greens to two mid table finishes before accepting the post of assistant manager at Beerschot. He currently holds a similar post at Pro League Wassland-Beveren.

Under a new coach, Kris Van der Haegen, the club finished bottom of Division Two and were relegated. Worse still befell the club last season when they finished bottom of Division 3 Group A and plummeted back to the fourth tier.

The Marcel De Kerpelstadion, named after their visionary former president, is a fine ground, with a capacity of 6,000 of which 420 people can find a seat. It has ample covered accommodation and it feels like a real privilege to see a game here. Today’s match sees the hosts top of the Promotion League Group A table after seven rounds with visitors, Sporting West Harelbeke, in third place.

The game itself does not live up to its surroundings being a tight contest between two evenly matched sides. The play gets bogged down in midfield and stray passes proliferate. The match looks destined to head to a goalless draw when the hosts piled on the pressure in the closing moments. Finally Harelbeke’s rearguard crumbled and a towering header from substitute Jonas Droessaert stole the victory right at the death.

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Sunday October 12th 2014 – Belgium Promotion League Group A

Standaard Wetteren (0) 1 (Droessaert 90)

Sporting West Harelbeke (0) 0

Attendance: 273 (at the Marcel De Kerpelstadion)

Wetteren:

18. Nathan Baele; 4. Rob Van Der Wilt; 5. Kjeld Fort; 8. Ilias Sbaa; 10. Thibeau De Vos; 12. Stijn Minne (c); 15. Michael Delaruelle; 17. Robbe Van Ruyskesvelde; 20. Kim Van Den Bergh; 23. Kevin Elaut; 77. Zaven Yagan.

Subs: 1. Preben Van Buynder; 9. Jonas Droessaert (for 12, 64 mins); 11. Amrani Nidikumana (for 23, 71 mins); 22. Gillis Pringels (for 10, 76 mins).

Harelbeke:

35. Pieter Merlier; 4. Rob Claeys (c); 6. Jens Noppe; 7. Kerim Vanstechelman; 8. Jenci Dejonghe; 10. Giovanni Delannoy; 15. Johnathan Meerschman; 17. Jeroen Doornaert; 18. Valentin Romont; 20. Niels De Loof; 29. Timothy Van De Wouwer.

Subs: 1. Thierry Coppens; 2. Vinny Mayele Mansengina (for 20, 65 mins); 9. Christophe Pype (for 18, 46 mins); 11. Gianny Vanhaecke (for 7, 83 mins).

Yellow Cards: Delaruelle, Droessaert (Wetteren); Noppe (Harelbeke).

Gallery

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Wett ticket

 

 

 

The Vertigo of Bis (Nyköping BIS)

Nyköpings BIS were formed in 1966 when two struggling clubs, Nyköpings SK and Nyköpings AIK pooled their resources. Since then the club have predominantly played in the third and fourth tiers of Swedish football, although the Bissarna enjoyed ten seasons, in two spells, playing in the second tier between 1971 and 1984. They are not related to IFK Nyköping who play at the truly wonderful Folkungavallen (http://wp.me/p2DKc8-8I) across town.

The club are in something of an vertiginous upward trajectory of late as they won Division 2 Södra Svealand in 2012, winning by a ten point margin from runners up Carlsbad United. The club were agonisingly close to making it two successive promotions when they finished a point adrift of the promotion play-off place in Division 1 Norra. The title was won by IK Sirius with the fast rising, predominantly Kurdish, Dalkurd FF taking the play-off spot.

The club play at a modest athletics stadium called the Rosvalla Idrottsplats which opened in 2003. It has one large stand on the east side and grass banking all the way around the remainder of the ground. Despite having a small band of ultras the club is not well supported and the official capacity of 1,000 is rarely tested. The stadium is part of a much larger sports centre which caters for skating, tennis and bowling and also has a multi-purpose hall which holds 5,500 people and currently plays host to Nyköping’s ice hockey team.

Nyköpings BIS are the most southerly club currently completing in the northern section of Division One. They have some hellishly long journeys to the likes of IFK Luleå and FC Umeå in the far north. Even today’s visitors, Skellefteå FF, have a 540 mile journey south to play this fixture. This season has not been so kind to the hosts and after sixteen rounds they lie tenth in the table (of 14 clubs) while the visitors are a place below having an inferior goal difference.

BIS take an early lead when a speculative shot from Gillström clips the inside of the post and finds the net. The killer blow came when the lively Eid scored an excellent second just as the half entered stoppage time. The hosts double the score in the second half and in truth should have had several more. This visiting keeper will have had better days and his side barely mustered a shot on goal during the whole game. Survival for them will be tough in the third tier.

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Sunday August 31st 2014 – Division 1 Norra

Nyköpings BIS 4 (Gillström 6,82, Eid 45, Djoković 61)
Skellefteå FF 0

Attendance: 326 (at Rosvalla)

BIS:

23. Anton Fagerström, 13. Lennart Johansson, 14. Simon Esséus, 3. Per Pettersson, 6. Ishmael Koroma, 25. Adis Djoković, 16. Yousef Yousef, 8. Suad Gruda, 22. Ethan Gage (c), 9. Andreas Gillström, 11. Mahmoud Eid.

Subs: 4. Emil Larnesjö (for 3,74mins), 19. Ludvig Hellman (for 22,71 mins), 20. Alen Ahmetović (for 11,79 mins), 26. Andreas Guillén, 24. Alexander Lind, 1. Pontus Lindh, 7. Sagvan Abdulsakar.

Skellefteå:

1. Frederik Enberg (c), 2. Daniel Söderström, 24. Linus Marklund, 5. Joakim Vikberg, 17. Alexander Brinkmann, 10. Jonas Desai, 7. Krister Andersson, 15. Robin Nilsson, 19. Patrik Broman, 45. Petter Thelin, 25. Chika Francis Ezeh.

Subs: 6. Kevin Forss-Nordlund (for 15,74 mins), 9. Andreas Bergström (for 7,61 mins), 18. Yosif Ayuba (for 10,65 mins), 22. Alexander Sorgić, 31. Johan Sjöberg.

Yellow cards: Gruda (BIS); Marklund, Ezeh, Ayuba, Forss-Nordlund (Skellefteå)

Gallery

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The Rosvalla features a giants’ lost front door key. No reason.

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BIS Prog

Linking Parks (Montrose)

Montrose FC were formed in 1879 and initially played on the local golf links before moving to the original Links Park. This venue was close to the current ground on Dorward Road. This venue had very spartan facilities and the club hankered after its own ground. In 1887 the club obtained the site in Wellington Street now known as Links Park having raised capital by hiring out their old pitch to travelling circuses and for grazing animals.

While the new venue was certainly a step up for the club, being enclosed meant admission charges could be levied, it was still fairly rudimentary. It wasn’t until 1920 that Links Park had any form of spectator accommodation when a small wooden grandstand was acquired from the a local Highland Games venue for a princely sum of £150.

Soon after the ground improvements Montrose were elected as founder members if the new Scottish League Third Division for the 1923/4 season. Joining them in the 16 team competition were near neighbours Brechin City. In fact aside from these two only two other founder members remain in League membership, these being East Stirlingshire and Queen of the South. Long gone are the likes of Clackmannan, Helensburgh, Dumbarton Harp, Galston and Solway Star.

Montrose finished fourth in that inaugural campaign although the competition itself would only last a further two season before being disbanded due to the financial hardships suffered by most of the member teams. For the 1929/30 season Montrose were re-elected to the Scottish League as members of the Second Division.

One of the clubs’ finest hours came in 1938/39 when they knocked reigning Scottish Cup holders East Fife out of the competition, thumping the men from Methil 9-1 on their own Bayview Park pitch. A great day indeed for the Gable Endies of Montrose, a nickname derived from the heyday of the town as a working port. The rich merchants and sea captains would augment their already ostentatious homes with a gable on the roof which would face the street as if to advertise their wealth and status, hence the name “Gable Endies”.

Links Park was further enhanced in the 1960’s when the Wellington Street end was covered with an unusual stand that was cranked at the far end. Links Park remained relatively untouched until the modern era when improvements have transformed the venue. A new 1,300 seater grandstand came first in the late 1995 followed by a 3G pitch laid in 2007 thanks to a £250,000 grant from GlaxoSmithKline. Links Park also boasts natty modern floodlights with a unusual circular configuration of lamps. These replaced the old set of pylons which had stood since 1971.

Aside from a few brief stints in the second tier, notably in the 1970’s, the Gable Endies have been used to life in the lower tiers of the Scottish League. In fact the club now begin their 19th straight season in the bottom tier and on the evidence of today it might be another long season of struggle for them. Today’s visitors are Peterhead now of Division One following play off success last season. Peterhead race into a three goal lead inside half an hour. If this League Cup wasn’t already over after that, the hosts ensured their own demise when both Graham Webster and Garry Wood were red carded for overly robust challenges.

The final whistle was greeted with much gnashing of teeth and head shaking by the majority of the 347 hardy souls in attendance. It seemed scarcely conceivable that this compact little stadium once shoehorned nearly 9,000 people into its confines for a Scottish Cup quarter final with Dundee. But then again they were undoubtedly better days for the Gable Endies.

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Petrofac Cup 1st Round – Saturday July 26th 2014

Montrose (0) 0

Peterhead (3) 3 (Rodgers 5,26, McAllister 17)

Attendance: 347 (at Links Park)

Montrose:

1. Stuart McKenzie; 2. Graham Webster; 3. Craig Bell; 4. Steven Robb; 5. Ross Graham; 6. Alan Campbell; 7. Stephen O’Neill; 8. Ross McCord; 9. Garry Wood; 10. Scott Johnson; 11. Paul Watson.

Subs: 12. Terry Masson (for 7,62 mins); 14. Danny Cavanagh (for 4,77 mins); 15. Bryan Deasley (for 10,83 mins); 16. Stephen Day; 17. Kieran Sturrock.

Peterhead:

1. Graeme Smith; 2. Graeme Sharp; 3. Steven Noble; 4. Ross Smith; 5. Scott Ross; 6. Reece Donaldson; 7. Andy Rodgers; 8. Jamie Redman; 9. Rory McAllister; 10. James Stevenson; 11. Ryan Strachan.

Subs: 12. David Cox (for 6,52 mins); 14. Jordan Brown (for 5,56 mins); 15. Ryan McCann (for 7,77 mins)

Yellow Cards: Johnson (Montrose)

Red Cards: Webster and Wood (Montrose)

Gallery

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Going to Tourcoing (US Tourcoing)

Union Sport Tourcoing was formed in May 1898 by the head of the Lycée Gambetta, Albert Fromentin, and Charles Van de Veegaete, an international standard referee who would become Tourcoing’s greatest benefactor. The English professor at the school, Monsieur Beltete advocated the formation of a football team, which came into being in 1902.

Upon the death of Charles Van de Veegaete in 1958 the club elected to change the name of their ground from Stade Albert Fromentin to its current name, the Stade Van de Veegaete. The club have also erected a large bust of their long serving patron at the ground. The club have played at their current ground in Rue de Gand since their early years although the current grandstand is believed to have built in the 1970’s.

The club really hit the ground running and within eight years had won the Championship of France, a tournament run by the Union of French Societies of Athletic Sports. Initially it had been a competition for Parisien clubs but had been extended out to the provinces. Amazingly for a final, they trounced Stade Helvétique de Marseille by seven goals to two, clinching the trophy in fine style at the Parc des Princes. They also reached the semi finals of the competition on three occasions. They also reached the semi-final of the Coupe de France in 1921. Tourcoing vanquished SC Choisy le Roi, Stade Français, AS Française and Racing Union Calais before bowing out to the powerful Olympique Paris 3-2 in extra time at Lille. Tourcoing’s last Coupe de France run of any note came in 1937/38 when they reached the last 32 losing to then Second Division FCO Charleville by a single goal.

Even though Tourcoing remained strictly amateur several of the players were selected for the national team. Eventually the club turned professional in 1933, becoming founder members of Ligue 2. However, their first venture into the paid ranks would last just five years. After World War II the club had a brief alliance with Roubaix, forming CO Roubaix-Tourcoing, before demerging in 1957 to become UST once again. The club spent many seasons in the amateur ranks before merging with a top amateur club AS-Jean Macé Tourcoing in 1990. UST incorporated AS’ yellow colours with their own black and white. Around this time the now named Tourcoing FC became a magnet for youth development and due to some clever mother club stipulations, Tourcoing have financially benefited from transfer fees for their two most famous alumni, Didier Drogba and Yohan Cabaye, who both spent their formative years with Tourcoing. In 2010 the club reverted to the US Tourcoing name and also went back to black and white shirts.

This season has been Tourcoing’s most successful for many years and today’s match is something of a celebration as they have won the top division of the regional Nord Pas de Calais competition with some ease. This allows promotion to the fifth tier CFA2 which, although still amateur, it is a national rather than regional competition. Today is the last game of a highly successful campaign and before the party really gets going the club say a classy farewell to 35 year old centre back Cédric Leman who is named captain for the day. He lasts 40 minutes before he leaves the field to a genuinely respectful ovation. In warm conditions the hosts struggle with the heat and their decision to dye their hair white in celebration of the title win proves foolhardy as the dye ruins their genuinely unusual, and dare I say audaciously designed, pink kit. A goal looks increasingly unlikely with both keepers more than up to the efforts being sent their way in what is a pretty dour encounter. The home side make a change and introduce Adnane Nsangou to the fray. Moments later the lanky striker recently signed from Wasquehal bursts through a labouring Dunkerque defence. He totally miscues his shot which catches the keeper by surprise. Kashala can only parry the mishit shot to his left and Nsangou steers the stray ball into an unguarded net. It’s a sloppy goal that somehow sums up this most typical end of season encounter. The welcoming locals, noisy and enthusiastic throughout, doubtless celebrated their rare success well into the night.

Tourcoing is proudly French and was the scene of an especially fierce battle in 1794 between the French and the defeated British and Austrian troops. Given the town’s proximity to Belgium, which lies less than two miles away, Flemish influence is particularly evident in the bar as all beers available were Belgian.

As for the title of this piece disappointingly Tourcoing is not pronounced Tor-co-ing but in fact it’s Tor-kwang, but given it is so late in the season I am exerting some poetic licence for once.

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Sunday June 1st 2014 – Nord Pas de Calais Ligue Division Honneur

US Tourcoing (0) 1 (Nsangou 68)

USL Dunkerque II (0) 0

Attendance: 357 (at Stade Van de Veegaete)

Tourcoing:

1. Samuel Reschid, 2. Sudney Badohoun, 3. Nicolas Renard, 4. Nadir Touhami, 5. Cédric Leman (c), 6. Oceana Periera, 7. Kevin Alves, 8. Julien Merreillie, 9. Yassine Delbergue, 10. Kevin Gallo, 11. Laurent Petitpierre.

Subs: 12. David Duquesnay (for 5,41 mins), 13. Adnane Nsangou (for 7,66 mins), 14. Serkan Ozsaglam.

Dunkerque II:

1. Tshianke Kashala, 2. Martin Pollet, 3. Gregory Terriere, 4. Hugo Demary, 5. Florian Haelewyck, 6. Sebastien Henaux, 7. Abdelwahab Baalla, 8. Mike Kinsley Guillaume, 9. Joveta Mateus Nhanga, 10. Gabriel Oudjani, 11. Yan Kabon.

Subs: 12. Julien Popieul (for 10,65 mins), 13. Antoine Alvarez (for 7,76 mins), 14. Valentin Venza (for 2,65 mins).

Gallery

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Tourcoing ticket