Stick a fork in I’m done with 2017/18

Here is a review of my itinerant football watching during the 2017/18 campaign.

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Total Matches Attended: 258

New Grounds Visited: 185

Total Goals Scored: 984 (Average of 3.81 goals per game, down on 3.91 last season, seven 0-0 draws this season)

Biggest Win: Southampton 12 QK Southampton 0

Biggest Crowd: 42,679 Tottenham Hotspur v APOEL

Games Abroad: 43 (Serbia 14, Romania 9, Slovakia 4, Belgium 3. Cyprus 3, Latvia 3, Austria 2, Isle of Man 2, Liechtenstein 1, Lithuania 1, Northern Cyprus 1).

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BEST GROUNDS VISITED IN THE UK 2017/18

1.   FORT WILLIAM – Claggan Park

One of the most beautifully scenic grounds in the world let alone the UK. Set in front of Càrn Dearg, one of the foothills of Ben Nevis, the thought of this ground closing for football sent many scurrying up to the Highlands this season. Fortunately the club live to fight another campaign at this wondrous place.

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2.   GREENOCK MORTON – Cappielow

Classic grandstand and terracing, iconic floodlights and maritime cranes. One of the UK’s finest surviving old school football stadiums.

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3.  TON PENTRE – Ynys Park

Steeped in a century’s worth of history. Boasting a superb example of covered terracing, even with no one it, Ynys Park is the type of place that just crackles with atmosphere.

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4.  JK SILVERTOWN – Lyle Park

A fine ground hidden away by East London industry. Nearly 100 years old and what a rich story that lies within.

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5. BRECON CORINTHIANS – The Rich Field

Lovely little ground in a fantastic town, one of those sort of places you wouldn’t mind moving to and following the Corries.

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BEST GROUNDS VISITED ABROAD 2017/18

1. AS TRENČÍN  – Stadion na Sihoti

Despite undergoing a rebuild the floodlights and medieval castle backdrop at this stadium are stuff of dreams.

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2. FC TRIESENBERG – Sportplatz Leitawies

I had always known this was a beautiful setting but it truly defies description

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3. CSM SCOLAR RESITA – Stadion Mircea Chivu

Hewn rather than built into a valley, this is a magical ground. You will not be disappointed.

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4. FC POJORÂTA – Stadion Pojorâta

Like watching football on a fantasy movie set, just stunning.

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5. RSD JETTE – Stade Communal de Jette

Crumbling terracing in a decreasing curve from start to end. Really unusual and yet another on the never ending list of sublime Belgian football grounds.

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BEST PROGRAMMES BOUGHT IN 2017/18

(based on status, resources, effort and originality)

1.   BOSHAM

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2.   HORNSEY & HIGHGATE

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3.   OSSETT ALBION

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4.   CANVEY ISLAND

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5.   BARRY TOWN UNITED

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A special mention for the tournament programme for the CONIFA World Football Cup held in London. Superbly produced and very informative.

BEST FOOD IN 2017/18

1. AYA NAPA – Koupes

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2. BISHOPS LYDEARD – Thai Curry

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3. SUTTON UNITED – Fish Finger Roll

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Night On A Bare Mountain (FC Triesenberg)

Liechtenstein hold the unique place among the 55 members of UEFA as they do not have a domestic league, instead its seven clubs are assimilated into varying levels of the Swiss pyramid. By far the most successful are FC Vaduz who play at the impressive Rheinpark Stadion and currently reside at the second level of Swiss football. There is a Liechtenstein Cup, the winners of which qualify for the Europa League. The other clubs are FC Balzers, FC Schaan, FC Triesen, FC Triesenberg, USV Eschen/Mauren and FC Ruggell.

Boasting just 38,000 inhabitants, Fürstentum (the principality of) Liechtenstein is the sixth smallest independent nation in the world, some eight square miles smaller than the Marshall Islands and less than half the size of England’s smallest county of Rutland. Bordered to its western border by the mighty River Rhine its location in the Alps means with every turn of your head is a stunning vista.

It could be a matter of some debate which of the seven grounds has the most scenic setting but for me it has to be that of FC Triesenberg, a small town set some 900 metres above sea level close to the Grauspitz, the countries’ highest peak and gazing over a stunning sweep of the upper Rhine valley, the river gleaming lustrously in the early morning sun.

FC Triesenberg were formed in 1972 and currently play in the III.Liga which is the seventh level of Swiss football. In 2009/10 the club won III.Liga and were elevated to the II.Liga for the only time in its history.

Their stadium, Sportplatz Leitawies took two years to build due to the need to effectively place the ground on stilts above a two story car park such is the paucity of flat land in Triesenberg. The first game took place on September 19th 1973 and the club have played there ever since. Originally the covered area which houses the board room and dressing rooms had terracing to one side constructed from alpine boulders. In a recent revamp this has been turned into a raised viewing platform level with the covered area. The stadium can hold 800 people, not that it is likely to be tested. Surprisingly, Leitawies still has a grass pitch, testament to the relatively mild climate in Liechtenstein.

Today’s game is an important one Triesenberg lie in third place level on points with second placed visitors FC Rheineck. It’s a feisty encounter with some spectacular goals and of a standard generally much higher than anticipated. The home goalkeeper proved pivotal with a fine penalty save that meant the sides shared the points in a 3-3 draw.

While the stadium is more an impressive feat of mountainside engineering than a design classic, the incredible location is utterly breathtaking. If you have an iota of soul in your body, Leitawies really should be on your bucket list.

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Saturday May 26th 2018 – Meisterschaft III Liga Gruppe 2

FC Triesenberg 3 (Barandun 7, J.Beck 37, Zorić 79)
FC Rheineck 3 (Ibrahimi 20,80, Zinko 76)

Attendance:98 Entry: 5 CHF (£3.80)

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The Brat Pack

A weekend in Bratislava is not usually for the faint hearted given it is a mecca for the stag weekend set but surely it has more to offer the discerning traveller?

My first port of call on this weekend involved an drive of about an hour to the north west of the capital although the historic town of Trenčín. Some would say Trenčín is famous for its superb medieval castle, but anyone into their football will know it is synonymous with the incredible lollipop floodlights that loom over the Štadión na Sihoti.

The history of Asociácia športov Trenčín can be traced to 1992 when TJ Ozeta Dukla Trenčín were formed and entered into the third tier of Czechoslovakian football. A year later the club merged with the town’s traditional club, Trencsény Torna Egyesület Trenčín whose lineage began in 1904. The club has had various name changes and were called Araver a Synot Trenčín when in 2015 they merged with a local handball team and changed the AS to its’ current version.

The stadium dates from 1960 and originally held 22,000 mainly in uncovered terracing. In 2015 the club began demolishing the old terracing with a view to building a new modern arena around the existing main stand, luckily the iconic floodlights are to remain in situ for the new stadium. Levelling work has taken place and for this season on the main stand has been open as well as a small section of crumbling terrace for any away fans. Once the current season is finished the rebuild will start in earnest and the club will spend much of the 2018/19 campaign playing in Myjava.

The stadium has had an artificial surface since 2005 so the clubs’ under 19 games also take place here. Today’s game is against their academy counterparts from Podbrezová. A reasonably entertaining 1-1 draw eschewed but really a visit to na Sihoti invariably means you are looking skywards to those floodlights and the stunning castle. For anyone this stadium and its’ setting will make it a bucket list, must visit, venue.

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Saturday May 19th 2018 – Slovakian Under 19 Liga

AS Trenčín U19s 1 (Cibula 9)

FK Železiarne Podbrezová U19s 1 (Ončák 39)

Att:68 Free entry, free teamsheet

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Back in the capital in good time for the 4pm kick off at the Štadion Pasienky for the game between Slovakia’s most successful club, ŠK Slovan Bratislava, and MŠK Žilina. Slovan were formed in 1919 and have won 20 Czechoslovakian and Slovakian league titles.

Originally the club played in Petržalka but nearly all sports facilities were destroyed following Nazi occupation. Their new stadium was built in the Tehelné pole area and was opened in 1940. In its’ pomp it held 50,000 people. The club vacated the Tehelné pole in November 2009 as there was a need to build a UEFA compliant stadium for not only Slovan but for international matches too. However, the €68m project was hugely delayed and since 2009 Slovan have been playing at the Stadion Pasienky, close by but hated as it was the traditional home of Slovan’s bitter rivals FK Inter.

The stadium is currently being boycotted by the Slovan fans and particularly their ultras groups Belasá šlachta and ŠK Slovan Pressburg. This is is an interesting choice of name, Pressburg being the Austrian/German name of the city before 1919. The boycott is likely to remain in place until the new Tehelné pole is opened towards the end of 2018.

A spartan crowd gathers for an important game in the race for Europa League places. The scoreline suggest a close encounter but it wasn’t the case as Slovan took the points comfortably thanks to an outstanding performance by their Serbian striker, Aleksandar Čavrić, formerly of OFK Beograd.

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Saturday May 19th 2018 – Fortuna Liga

ŠK Slovan Bratislava 3 (Holman pen 18, Čavrić 33, 56)

MŠK Žilina 2 (Kaša 11, Mráz 64)

Att:1,365 Entry €10 (main stand) €4 (other stands), programme €0.50

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Sunday begins early with a 10.30am kick of in the III.Liga (Bratislava region) between FC Petržalka Akadémia. The club has had a long and chequered history which dates back to 1898 and the formation of Pozsonyi Torna Egyesület. It has undergone no less than seventeen name changes, the most significant being the 1993 change to Artmedia Petržalka following a hook up with an advertising company. The club won two Super Ligas in the 2000’s as Artmedia Bratislava and famously held Rangers to two draws in the Champions League.

By 2009 Artmedia pulled out of their sponsorship with the club which left them in dire straits. Now rebranded as MFK Petržalka the club fell rapidly and in 2012 lost its Štadión Petržalka home, demolished despite only being 22 years old. The new stadium, Stadium FC Petržalka 1898, opened the same year and currently has 800 seats with plans to increase this to 1,500.

In 2016/17 FC Petržalka won their division of the IV. Liga and have also stormed through the third division this season losing only once, to the reserves of Slovan Bratislava. Today they put FK Vajnory to the sword and could have easily scored more than the six they managed. Similarly to Slovan, Petržalka’s ultras sang songs referencing the old German name of the town, Engerau. The place has a good vibe about it and it is great to see the club recover from financial disaster.

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Sunday May 20th 2018 – TIPOS III.Liga (Bratislava)

FC Petržalka Akadémia 6 (Turčák 3,38,77, Polonyi 17, Kondrlik 50, Hitka 72)

FK Vajnory 0

Att:800 Entry €3

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The final match of the weekend was in the sleepy village of Bernolákovo, a twenty minute drive from the city and close to the airport. The Športový areál Jána Popluhára is a surprisingly good venue with substantial cover on both sides of the pitch. The venue is dedicated to Ján Popluhár, who was born in the village, and won 62 caps for Czechoslovakia.

The club were formed in 1921 as Cseklészi amatéri torna egyesület, the village being called Čeklís in those days and have spent most of their existence in the regional leagues. On a very hot afternoon the game is very much a stalemate with few chances of note but it is a friendly club with a cracking food and bar facility.

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Sunday May 20th 2018 – TIPOS III.Liga (Bratislava)

ŠK Bernolákovo 0

ŠK Slovan Bratislava II 0

Att:263 Entry €1

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Postcards From Belgrade (Serbian Groundhop 4)

The fourth organised Serbian Groundhop took place across a balmy weekend in April with an ambitious but exciting looking eight game extravaganza in and around the Belgrade area.

One of the six Super Liga grounds in Belgrade that sparks a lot of interest and wonder is that of FK Voždovac but somehow they had always seemed to be away from home when we had selected a date for our weekends. Until 2011 the club played at the crumbling Bojan Majić Stadium when they received a most unusual offer. A developer offered to place a new stadium on top of their proposed six story shopping centre in the heart of the Voždovac district. Initially the plan was to have a stadium with two sides and no end stands, however, this was changed at a late stage to a four sided fully UEFA compliant stadium.

For us, as luck would have it, the proposed Arena Sport televising of the Vojvodina v Spartak game was switched at short notice to the relegation group battle between Voždovac and Napredak. This meant the assembled group had a Friday evening game a short taxi ride away from our base at Belgrade’s equivalent of Fawlty Towers, the very cheap and sometimes cheerful Hotel Slavija.

On arrival at the “Stadium Shopping Center” in Zaplanjska Street you can’t help but look up and see the roofs of the stands protruding outwards and up from a run of the mill shopping centre.

It was a pretty lifeless encounter won by the hosts with an early goal. With the lack of excitement on the pitch you tend to lose the sense of location except for the occasional glance to a corner, where netting is in place to stop the obvious threat of wayward balls, and you glimpse Belgrade suburbia from your lofty perch.

You also notice the poor construction of the stadium despite it ticking all the UEFA requirement boxes. The rake of the steps is vertiginous but the steps are very narrow with no handrails for descending. The vast majority of the seats in the main West Stand will be obscured by the media centre, VIP area or camera gantries. Tickets are purchased at a desk inside the shopping centre and there is also a small merchandise shop within a newsagents on the same level.

Friday April 20th 2018 – Serbian Super Liga

FK Voždovac 1 (Stuparević 7)
FK Napredak 0

Att:439 Entry 200 RSD (£1.50)

After some Friday evening free time in Belgrade, we reconvened at the Slavija ahead of a morning fixture at Brodarac to see their highly successful under 19 side. On the second Serbian Groundhop we saw Brodarac thrash their counterparts from Partizan on their way to winning the Serbian under 19 league. This meant Brodarac qualified for this season’s UEFA Youth League. They were drawn at home in the qualifying play-off against Manchester United. The match was moved to Voždovac and the home side put up a brave fight before going down 2-0. The Brodarac first team are currently in the fourth tier, Belgrade Zona Liga, so their youth and academy success is truly admirable. Brodarac translates as “winners”.

Their stadium lies under the Stari Savski Most one of the oldest bridges across the River Sava and initially is most notable for the large JAT advert on the roof of its indoor facility. JAT was Jugoslovenski Aerotransport, the old state owned airline long replaced by Air Serbia. As you look around the immediate vicinity of the stadium you become aware of the history around it. The ground is built on the site of the notorious Staro Sajmište World War II concentration camp. The under 19s are taking on their equivalents from Voždovac and again play an exciting and energetic attacking game and win far more easily than the 2-1 score suggested.

Saturday April 20th 2018 – Serbian Under 19 Liga

FK Brodarac U19s 2 (L.Jovanović 69, D.Jovanović 73)
FK Vojvodina U19s 1 (Mrdja 90)

Att:112

Our next port of call was completely diametrically opposed to the sobering location of our morning match. Ada Ciganliga is an island in the Sava that has been artificially turned in to a peninsular with a lake and beach (part of which is nudist if you’re into that sort of thing) where locals flock in their thousands to relax, sunbathe and play sport. It is also a area for artwork, light displays and nightlife. There is a toll to come onto the island payable in kiosks at the barrier on the approach road.

The island is also home to the Belgrade FA stadium which has two artificial pitches one boasting a large pitch length stand. These are used to stage numerous matches in the lower reaches of the Belgrade leagues and as the main stadium has lights as many as six or seven matches a day take place at the weekends.

FK Dedinje are a 2014 reformation of a pre-WWII Belgrade club that played close to the site of Red Star’s Marakana stadium. Dedinje do not have a home ground of their own so have shared at Grafičar and Brodarac before using Ada Ciganliga. The club are nicknamed the “Millioneri” due to its historic location in one of Belgrade’s most exclusive areas. Somewhat annoyingly their pre-match huddle ends with a group shout of “Who is Belgrade’s richest club….Dedinje”. After that initial bluster they turn in a poor performance in unrelenting heat and opponents FK 011 (named after the dial code for Belgrade) canter to a 2-0 win.

Saturday April 20th 2018 – Meduopštinska Liga (Grupa A)

FK Dedinje 0
FK 011 Beograd 2 (Andrić 62, Jovanović pen 90)

Att:58

We then travel outside the city to Obrenobac where the local regional league has 5pm kick offs on a Saturday afternoon. We arrive at FK Rojkovac only to find that their opponents, FK Ljubinić have failed to show up and have forfeited the game. Very kindly a local man offers to guide us to another ground in the next village of Rvati, just as well as its remote location down unmade paths would have been very difficult to locate. The locals are truly astonished when their unexpected foreign guests arrive a few minutes after kick off.

Stadion Rvati is a run down gem of a ground, similar to the village ground of FK Vrčín on the inaugural hop. The football is not of the highest standard but the hosts turn on the jet packs and coast to a memorable 8-3 victory. There is something to be said for visiting these of the beaten track, ramshackle old grounds to gain a true perception of football outside the glamour of Super Liga and the like.

Saturday April 20th 2018 – Opštinska Liga Obrenovac

OFK Rvati 8 (Joksić 17,51,73, Nedeljković 29, Vučićević 33,81, Jakovljević pen 65, Petrović 77)

FK Sloga Ratari 3 (Kozlica 42, pen 45, Jovičić 78)

Att:60

We feasted on traditional Serbian meat platters at a roadside restaurant called Mali Raj on Kralja Aleksandra in Obrenovac. Bellies full and thirst satiated we headed back to the city for something completely different. One time Aston Villa striker Savo Milošević is now Vice President of the Serbian Football Association, heading up their anti-corruption purge, he is also a part time actor and tonight is in a theatrical performance at Akademija 28. The audience appears to be almost entirely female and pleasingly Savo appears as promised after the show. After a somewhat turbulent post playing career including alcohol problems following his father being shot dead by his grandfather, he looks fit and well and seemingly still very much a heartthrob as he was during his playing days which saw him win 102 international caps. He seems happy to talk to English football fans about his time at Villa and comes across as an extremely nice guy.

Sunday’s itinerary began with an early morning kick off at FK Žarkovo located on the north side of Danube in Novi Beograd The club are flying high at the top of the Belgrade region third tier Srpske Liga. The ground has a new stand and restaurant in order to cope with Prva Liga football. Joining our party for this game was Nenad Mijaljević, well known in England for producing top notch programmes for non-league clubs like South Shields, Jarrow Roofing and Seaham Red Star. A huge Red Star fanatic he tells me he has recently taken up groundhopping and now “gets” why people do it. It’s a competitive game with opponents FK IMT extremely unlucky not to get at least a point from the match. It’s the runaway league leaders that come out on top in a 2-1 in front of a decent crowd.

Sunday April 22nd 2018 – Srpske Liga Beograd

FK Žarkovo 2 (Rajić 15, Garić pen 19)
FK IMT 1 (Šarić 25)

Att:240 Entry 200 RSD (£1.50)

We have a leisurely lunch at one of our usual haunts, Konoba, under the Pančevo bridge. We have a riverside table set aside and enjoy their signature fish stew followed by yet more meat! A surprisingly swollen Danube laps gently against the terrace.

At the risk of sounding like “Savo stalkers” we bump into him again at Prva Liga club FK Bežanija, he is there with his family watching his eldest son Nikola play and score twice for the home side against FK Budućnost. It’s a blisteringly hot afternoon and an enterprising nut seller augmented the usual “kikiriki and semenke” (peanuts and seeds) with skewers of strawberries.

The stadium in Bežanija is set in an old quarry and at one end steep quarry walls afford an amazing view of the city. Behind the opposite goal is the beautiful Crkva Svetog Đorđa (Church of St George). Some people say football is a religion, well the priest from the church joined the crowd for the last twenty minutes of this game but the home side needed no divine intervention as Milošević’s brace was enough to secure the points.

Sunday April 22nd 2018 – Serbian Prva Liga

FK Bežanija 2 (Milošević 6,29)
FK Budućnost Dobanovci 0

Att:233 Entry 200 RSD (£1.50)

The Sunday evening game was a revisit for most of us as Partizan took on cross city opposition in Čukarički. The Partizan stadium always seems to have an intimidating atmosphere even when sparsely attended. The ultra group Grobari has warring factions resulting in the three factions being segregated into different parts of the stadium. Heeding the advice of co-organiser Aleks we all opt for tickets in the “posh” west stand (Zapad) for the princely sum of 450 dinar (£3.30). Partizan unsurprisingly take the points when the impressive Zoran Tošić nets his second goal of the game towards the end.

Sunday April 22nd 2018 – Serbian Super LigaFK Partizan 2 (Tošić 18,81)
FK Čukarički 1 (Belaković 46)

Att: 2,500 Entry 450 RSD (£3.30)

Some of the party have opted to return to the UK (and Germany and Denmark!) on the Monday so its a smaller bunch that head back to the island paradise of Ada Ciganliga for an under 18 match between FK 011 and Voždovac.

Monday April 23rd 2018 – Serbian U18 League

FK 011 Beograd U18s 0
FK Voždovac U18s 2 (Nadj 21, Mijailović 37)

Att:23

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We then head north out of Belgrade for the 4pm Prva match at FK Inđija. En route we stop at the Serbian FA headquarters in Stara Pazova. A centre of excellence like St.Georges Park, this UEFA funded facility has six pitches two of which have spectator accommodation.

The Gradski Stadion in Inđija is top notch with some old stands on one side and a newer big uncovered stand on the opposite a left over from the clubs’ brief Super Liga stint in 2010/11. The stadium is right next the railway with passenger and freight trains rattling past regularly. This harks back to the clubs origins as Železničar Inđija, with the prefix being attached to railroad workers. Also at this end a towering factory belches and crackles constantly. A decent crowd gathers for the match against Novi Pazar, but the visitors miss a penalty and don’t really trouble the hosts as they ease to a 2-0 win.

Monday April 23rd 2018 – Serbian Prva Liga

FK Inđija 2 (Kovačevic 22, Gajić 45)
FK Novi Pazar 0

Att:310 Entry 100 RSD (70p)

It’s a great coda to another sublime weekend in the company of Groundhopping Serbia (Aleks Peković, Bogdan Mitrović and Teodora Rebić) and we end the day enjoying some of the Hotel Moscow’s world renowned cake, Moskva šnit. It also dawns on us that our nine matches have cost us a little over £8 in entrance money! We hope to run a fifth Groundhop early in the new season taking in the delights of Southern Serbia this time and maybe also a game in the Srpske Republic enclave in Bosnia. To join us or just keep up to date with our plans please follow me and the lads on Twitter (@PeterRMiles and @GroundhopSerbia), or Facebook at Serbian Groundhop Weekends.
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A much expanded version of this article will appear in a future edition of Football Weekends magazine.

Border Crossing (Gençlík Gücü TSK)

On the 20th of July 1974 Turkey launched Operation Attila, a military invasion of the island of Cyprus. After a month of hostilities the military junta running Cyprus had collapsed and Turkey had captured some 40% of the island. Around 150,000 Greek Cypriots were expelled from the captured northern part of the island this was approximately a quarter of the entire population of the island found itself displaced. A year or so later around 60,000 Turkish Cypriots were similarly expelled to the occupied North.

A still existent “Green Line” was established and monitored by by the United Nations and in 1983 the occupied area was declared independent as the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. In the intervening years only Turkey has recognised the independence, to the UN the area very much remains a disputed territory.

Since April 2003, however, relations thawed sufficiently for border crossings to be opened between the north and south. There are five principle crossings the main one is called Agios Dometios (also signposted Metehan or Kermiya) and is in the west of Nicosia close to the racecourse. The other crossing points where you can cross with a vehicle, bicycle or by foot are at Dhekelia (also known as Beyarmudu, Pergamos or Pile), Akyar (also called Strovilia or Azios Nikolaos) in the British Eastern Sovereign Base Area on the Larnaca to Famagusta road and also Yesilirmak (also known as Limnitis) near Guzelyurt (Morpho). There is another crossing near the Ledra Palace in central Nicosia but is only open to pedestrians, cyclists and diplomatic vehicles only.

The catch with vehicle access in a hire car is insurance. Neither areas recognise each others insurance and while you can buy additional insurance at Agios Dometios hire car companies in the south strongly advise you park at the border and cross on foot. Their insurance states you will be fully liable for the cost of the entire car if it is damage or held in Northern Cyprus for any reason.

However, crossing on foot is simple enough, a cursory glance of your passport and your in, no visa required. There are taxis available on the Turkish side and after a short wait one dropped us at the Lefkoşa Atatürk Stadium. The taxis will also accept euros. Lefkoşa is the Turkish name for Nicosia which is also known as “The City that Smells of Jasmine”.

The KTFF (Kibris Türk Futbol Federasyonu) operates two 16 club divisions called the SüperLig and 1.Lig. Today’s game at the Atatürk Stadium is a SüperLig clash between Gençlík Gücü and Ozanköy who are third bottom and bottom of the table respectively. The stadium also hosts the home games of Çetinkaya and Yenicami so plenty of options for matches here.

The stadium looks older but was opened as recently as 1990 and features epic terracing and old school floodlight pylons. The most noticeable feature however is the huge Turkish Northern Cyprus flag gauged into the Pentadactilos mountain range.

The Atatürk Stadium has a capacity of 24,000 but only the inauguration match, between Istanbul giants Fenerbaçhe and Sarıyer, attracted a crowd anywhere near that capacity. Today’s game cost 20 Turkish lira (around £4) to get into. Despite both clubs struggling in the league the football is a very decent standard and there is a good vibe among the small crowd. A wide range of snacks and drinks are available in a pop up kantina. A pot of sweetcorn with grated cheese seems very popular at 10 lira. A really entertaining encounter sees the hosts win 4-2.

On this exciting trip I found the people of North Nicosia friendly and welcoming and highly recommend a detour to this overlooked part of this wonderful island.

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February 24th 2018 – KTFF K-Pet SüperLig

Gençlík Gücü TSK 4 (Karacanoglu 19, Museci 28,31, Ogurseye 53)

Ozanköy SK 2 (Kibar 20, El Abia 40)

Att:182 Entry 20 Lira (£4)

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The Struggle Within (Fort William F.C.)

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.indexSaturday 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 teamsheetGalleryIMG_7411IMG_7409IMG_7342IMG_7408IMG_7381Fort William 140418 028IMG_7355Fort William 140418 018_edited-1ticket

Through Cyprus Hills

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.