If I Should Fall From Grace With God (Brechin City)

Brechin City must rank as one of Scottish Professional Football League’s more remote outposts. This small town in the sparsely populated region of Angus lies forty miles south of Aberdeen and nearly thirty miles north of Dundee. Despite it’s modest size, Brechin is an ancient cathedral city and is also one end of the famous Caledonian Railway, Montrose being its opposite end. The eleventh century Irish style round tower which now forms part of the cathedral is one of only two remaining examples in Scotland. The ancient tower has seen of a feud between the Church of Scotland and the Episcopalians and was ransacked during the Jacobite uprisings. Thankfully these days Brechin is a more sedate and quiet place but its football club are facing troubled times, rooted to the foot of the Scottish Second Division and looking odds on for a third consecutive relegation and demotion from the Scottish League.

The football club were formed in 1906 when a meeting was called in the local Temperance Hall to form a senior club to represent the town. There had been a previous attempt at senior football in the town but the original and unrelated Brechin City only lasted eight years between 1888 and 1896.

Represented at the meeting were two of Brechin’s existing junior clubs, Brechin Hearts and Brechin Harp. Together with Brechin Rovers these were the main clubs in the city at the time. Harp were particularly successful and in January 1905 an extraordinary crowd of 3,000 watched their Scottish Junior Cup fourth round match against Glasgow Parkhead. Such was the rabid interest in the match it had to be moved to Clepington Park in Dundee (now known as Tannadice Park). In a standout season for football in Brechin, both Hearts and Harp also reached the semi final of the East of Scotland Cup.

Brechin Harp were playing at Nursery Park at the time of the meeting while Hearts had moved to a new ground, Central Park, for the start of the 1905/06 season, having previously played at Viewforth Park. The motion to form a new senior club was passed with Harp throwing their lot in with the new club while Hearts decided to carry on as a junior club. The new Brechin City club would take over at Nursery Park, a field rented from the local cricket club.

The new Brechin City made an almost immediate impact winning it’s first major trophy, the Forfarshire Cup, in 1909/10 defeating Arbroath 4-1 in the final at Dens Park. The Great War interrupted Brechin’s progress, not only did they lose six players, past and present, in the hostilities their ground at Nursery Park was dug up and rendered useless by the time football resumed in 1919.

As luck would have it City secured the use of Glebe Park, previously used by Brechin Renton who had failed to revive after the War. At the time the ground had just one small portable stand which had been acquired from the Perth agricultural showground. Sited on land formerly owned by the Church of Scotland Glebe Park is wedged between the Glencadam distillery and the former East and St Columba’s Parish Church, the stunning spire of which serves as a photogenic backdrop for the main stand at Glebe Park, which has plenty of character if not age, having been opened in 1981. Floodlights had come to Glebe Park in in 1977, inaugurated against Hibernian, and upgraded four years later as the club determinedly looked to the future.

Brechin City had first been in the Scottish League for the 1923/24 season but along with many other clubs, such as Solway Star, Lochgelly United, Johnstone, Clackmannan and Galston found themselves out of the League at the end of the 1925/26 when the Third Division was axed as member clubs had struggled financially.

City were re-elected, along with fellow Angus club, Montrose, to the Scottish League Division Two in 1929 after Bathgate and Arthurlie had resigned before the end of the previous season. For their return to the League, a pavilion was erected and the Cemetery End terrace was covered. The club continued to struggle at League level and after the Second World War were placed in the C Division which also contained reserve teams.

The all time record attendance at Glebe Park came in February 1973 when Aberdeen were the visitors in the Scottish Cup. A crowd of 8,123 were shoehorned into the stadium, which putting into context is comfortably more people than the entire population of Brechin itself.

City had to wait decades for their first League championship when they finally won the Second Division in the 1982/83, season finishing a point ahead of Meadowbank Thistle. In 1989/90 they won the Second Division for a second time. They were promoted to the First Division for a third time in 1992/93 but were relegated straight away and this was followed by a second straight relegation to the new third division for 1995/96. The early 1990’s had also seen the new David H. Will stand built behind the Trinity Road which houses 1,228 seats. Aside from two floodlight pylons now attached to mobile telecommunications masts, this massive stand is Glebe Park’s sole nod modernity and compared to it’s surroundings its a little incongruous, almost like an uninvited guest at the most perfect of weddings.

In the early 2000’s Brechin had enjoyed a double promotion up to the second tier. More recently in 2016/17 City finished fourth in the now renamed Division One (third tier) but won the play offs to win a place in the Championship. Sadly the 2017/18 season was an unmitigated disaster failing to win a game all season and obtaining just four points from their 36 matches. The following season was not much better with Brechin finishing bottom of Division One and being relegated alongside Stenhousemuir.

City have struggled once again this season, securing just seven points from their opening 13 matches. Today’s visitors are Stenhousemuir who are also not setting the world on fire. It’s another tough afternoon for the Angus men as the visitors just about deserve the win on a freezing cold afternoon.

Troubles aside, Glebe Park is just simply glorious, the famous hedge running half way down the distillery side of the ground, resplendent in its autumnal ochre plumage. Then there is the sublime cranked covered terrace at the Cemetery End and the cracking main stand. Sadly it is looking increasingly likely that Brechin will finish bottom again this season and face the brutal play off against the Highland/Lowland League play off winner. It would be tragic for the Scottish League to lose this truly wonderful venue from it’s roster. There is, of course, no divine right to stay in the League, but I for one wish Brechin City the very best of luck.

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Saturday November 30th 2019 – Scottish League Division 2

Brechin City 1 (McCord 50)

Stenhousemuir 2 (Cook 17, Dykes 70)

Attendance: 401

Entry £13, no programme, teamsheet 20p

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The Stanks

The Stanks is the named given to a small grass area at the foot of the Elizabethan rampart walls of Berwick-upon-Tweed, Northumbria. The name of The Stanks derives from an ancient Scottish word meaning a ditch or a swampy place. The patch of rough grass is just about large enough for a football pitch to be marked out and it’s been the site of ad hoc football matches, mainly charity fundraisers, for over 100 years.

Google Earth showing the pitch and ramparts

Prior to being infilled and grassed over the area of pitch at The Stanks was originally the defensive moat between Brass Bastion and Windmill Mount Bastion, but in the 18th and 19th century had been turned over for another use entirely. The area tended to be in permanent shade so it was ideal to freeze it over and the local fishermen would dig out the ice they required to keep their hauls of salmon as fresh as possible on their journey south to London.

The current Berwick Charities Cup is played annually between May and July and has been contested continuously since 1948. It was nearly abandoned in 2017 when initially only nine clubs entered. But after publicity drive there was enough interest for the competition to take place. Even a crowd funding page was set up to help local charities cater for the anticipated shortfall in funding provided by this tournament. The competition raises annual sums of between £5,000 and £8,000. The competition also ran into problems in 2004, when there was a shortage of referees following two regular whistlers pulling out due the abuse they had endured having given their services free of charge. One match was even abandoned that year when two players from Greenlaw Geriatrics were sent off, and then furious spectators surrounded the referee.

The Stanks was no stranger to fundraising football matches beneath its historic walls. From 1922 there was and annual tournament for the Berwick Infirmary Cup. Cinematic footage exists of the final between Eyemouth Rangers and Belford which took place on June 29th 1929. This article features stills from that incredible footage where several thousand people gather to watch the match. The man with the trophy is quite possibly Councillor W.J. Dixon, who provided the sizeable cup for the competition.

Stills from 1929 film (6)Stills from 1929 film (2)Stills from 1929 film (7)

The Infirmary Cup competition caused controversy in the late 1930’s when the North Sunderland club was suspended for several years by the Football Association. The suspension was issued for persistent misconduct by continuing to field players who had played “illegal football” on The Stanks at Berwick!

Earlier still the Berwick Advertiser reported on a match staged at The Stanks on Thursday June 17th 1915 to raise funds for the nurses at the Queen’s Hospital. The game saw Berwick Rovers take on a side from the 2/10th Royal Scots Guard. The Guards team included players from the likes of Queensferry St. Andrews, Bathgate Primrose, Wemyss Athletic, Armadale Rangers, Vale of Grange and Linlithgow Rose. A huge attendance was described as being “without doubt a larger crowd has never gathered at the Stanks” and a princely sum of donations totalled eight pounds and ten shillings. The Guards won the game by a single goal to nil.

The walls of The Stanks have a huge historical significance being a rare intact survivor of the Elizabethan period. The fortifications were built in an Italianate style, designed to withstand sea and land launched artillery and also accommodate its own artillery fire power. Largely attributed to renowned military engineer, Sir Richard Lee, the fortifications were described as “the most expensive undertaking of the Elizabethan period” costing a quite extraordinary £128,648. Unsurprisingly this rare example of Tudor military building is a scheduled monument and also enjoys Grade I listed status. The wall that runs behind the goal is the wall of the Brass Bastion and has been known to cause many a head injury for onrushing players misjudging the short run off from the goal line.

The players change in a small communal building the other side of an arch within the rampart walls. Above the door to the changing room is the date 1755. It has always been thought that the changing room pavilion at Lesser Hampden, which dates from the early 1800’s, was the oldest building in use for football in the world. Although it’s debatable that “football changing room” is its primary use, this little stone room in Berwick is significantly older.IMG_4531There is also a far more recent historical link to The Stanks and that is to Britain’s favourite artist, L.S.Lowry. He first visited Berwick in 1936 on the advice of his doctor to take “the sea air” to recuperate from the stress of caring for his bedridden mother, who was totally dependent on him, and the death of his father. He became a huge admirer of the town and visited it often by train, frequently staying at the Castle Hotel. It is a well known fact that Lowry was a big football fan, his most well known football work, “Going To The Match” was based on Burnden Park, and was purchased by the Professional Footballers Association, at auction in 1999, for £1.9 million. Among his many scenes of Berwick, is a small undated pencil drawing known as “Football Match” showing a crowd watching a game of football at The Stanks. There is the one of the goals some players and a crowd gathered on either side of the pitch. The ramparts have more spectators and there is a church spire. Maybe Lowry did the sketch from memory as the Church of the Holy Trinity was built it in the 1650’s and never had a spire or tower. While L.S.Lowry still does not have a published catalogue raisonné, a definitive list of genuine works issued by the likes of the Wildenstein Institute, the unsigned work has been indisputably attributed to him.Football Match by LS LowryYou can travel the globe in search of stunning football locations or photogenic grounds, but perhaps the most photogenic of them all was right under our noses all this time.

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The original version of this article appeared in issue 98 of Groundtastic Magazine

Stick a fork in I’m done with 2018/19

Here is a review of my itinerant football watching during the 2018/19 campaign.

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Total Matches Attended: 280

New Grounds Visited: 202

Total Goals Scored: 1,147 (Average of 4.10 goals per game, up on 3.81 last season, I saw seven 0-0 draws this season)

Biggest Win: Bestwood Miners Welfare 15 NG Vikings 0

Biggest Crowd: 59,903 West Ham United v Liverpool

Grounds Abroad: 49 (Romania 12, Serbia 12, Germany 11, Greece 3, Iceland 3, Italy 3, Bosnia 1, Bulgaria 1, Gibraltar 1, Netherlands 1, San Marino 1)

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BEST GROUNDS VISITED IN THE UK IN 2018/19

1.THE STANKS


An amateur pitch marked out on a rough piece of grass against the Elizabethan fortified walls of Berwick-upon-Tweed. If it was good enough for L.S.Lowry to draw then it’s good enough for me. An absolute bucket list footballing experience.
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2. HOPEMAN – Sea Park
The Moray Welfare League is a summer competition played on parched pitches across the Morayshire region. Hopeman play on a pitch adjacent to the sea and harbour and the view from up on the hill towards the High Street is just stunning. Sea Park should be a new entry on anyone’s iconic football venues list.
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3. FORRES MECHANICS – Mosset Park

A sturdy main stand, ample banking around the rest of the ground. One of the best grounds in a league full of decent venues.

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4.KILSYTH RANGERS– Duncansfield Park

Huge covered terrace on one side and sweeping curves of terrace around the rest of the ground. To cap it all there is player’s tunnel that goes under the terracing before rising up to pitch level. Steadfastly Junior and all power to its elbow.

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5.ELGIN CITY– Borough Briggs

A traditional old ground completing a strong Scottish bias to this season’s awards list. Magically old school and seeming untouched by the rampant need to modernise.

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BEST GROUNDS VISITED ABROAD IN 2018/19

1.BOLOGNA – Stadio Renato Dall’Ara

Just an incredible footballing amphitheatre. Built in the 1920’s with so many amazing architectural features from the Littoral, the cover walkway on the open side of the ground to Nervi’s masterpiece tower. Despite a fairly recent revamping for the 1990 World Cup, it would seem the owners, the City of Bologna, are keen to modernise it further, you would trust the traditional features are retained but who knows?

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2.RHEYDTER SV – Jahnstadion

When you get to hear that an old school stadium is to soon be “modernised” you experience two emotions. One is the pang of sadness of another lost playground and then that’s superseded by the urge to go and see it as it is before the “improvements” destroy the essential character. The Jahnstadion will have its 20,000 capacity terracing removed in its entirety and just a revamped grandstand will be left. Work is scheduled to start on this latest act of social vandalism in early 2020, be warned!

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3.ASC OLIMPIC ZARNESTI – Stadion Celuloza

Dramatic mountain setting, ancient wooden stand somehow held together for more than 80 years and a bright red pavilion. Just a stunning place to watch football.

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4.FK ŽAK KIKINDA – Stadion ŽAK

Features a big old grandstand and a perimeter wall made from about a million roof tiles stood on their ends. An indescribably good football ground.

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5.ALTONA ‘93 – Adolf Jäger Kampfbahn

One of the oldest remaining stadiums in Germany, perfect in every way. Coupled with a great fan scene, this a must do venue before their muted plans to move come to fruition.

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BEST PROGRAMMES BOUGHT IN 2018/19

(based on status, resources, effort and originality)

1. Clapton Community FC

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2.Lower Breck

Lower Breck

3. St. Helens Town

St Helens

4. Aberystwyth

Aberystwyth

5. Steeton

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BEST FOOD IN 2018/19

  1. Curry (Queens Park Crescents)

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2. Scouse (Litherland REMYCA)

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3. Jerk Chicken (Enfield Borough)

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Notes From A Small Island 4 (Anglesey)

The Island Games are a biennial multi sport festival held to encourage sporting development among tiny islands, peninsulas and archipelagos. From the initial event in the Isle of Man where 15 islands entered the event has become increasingly popular with the most recent staging being in Gotland in 2017. There were 2,500 athletes representing 23 islands across 14 sports on Sweden’s largest island.

The 18th Island Games were awarded to Gibraltar and it meant a severe logistical problem given that the peninsula’s only major sporting facility, the Victoria Stadium, would be earmarked for track and field athletics. This meant for the first time since 1989 there would be no football tournament at the Island Games, cycling and volleyball would also miss out for the first time.

The decision to omit football was particularly controversial as its one of the major and most popular of the attractions. Into the breach stepped prospective 2025 Island Games hosts, Ynys Môn (Anglesey) who offered to stage a football tournament run on similar lines to the Island Games. In addition to the hosts a further nine islands agreed to send a mans team and six would send womens squads to what was dubbed the Inter-Islands Games. An oddity of this event is Gibraltar sending a womens team to the event but being unable to field a mens team due to their membership of UEFA.

Eleven football grounds of varying sizes and facilities were selected as host venues including some from very small communities like Aberffraw FC from the tiny village of Tŷ Croes and Bro Goronwy FC from the north east coastal village of Moelfre, home to barely 1,000 inhabitants.

Some interesting tweaks on the normal rules were announced for this event. Drawn group games would be settled on penalties as a means to separate teams in the eventuality of two having identical records. Entrants were allowed to make five substitutions but in an attempt to speed up potentially ten changes per game, teams had to make them in batches up to five (eg a triple substitution then two single substitutions).

Having already enjoy games at six of the eleven host grounds I decided to baulk on the crazy early start needed to make the 11am Jersey v Orkney opener at Llangefni Town’s excellent Cae Bob Parry. Instead my first action of this tournament would be a special one as it marked the international debut of a representative team from the south Atlantic island nation of St.Helena. It’s a British Overseas Territory and incorporates the islands of Ascension and Tristan da Cunha as well. The population of 4,500 people is one of the remotest in the world and only got a commercial airport as recently as 2017!

Cae Cynlas is a fairly basic ground with a railed off pitch and a spare dugout pressed into service as a small area of cover but it’s not needed as pre-match rain drifts off in the opposite direction. With around 50 St Helena fans present there is a good, colourful vibe to the place but the Shetlands, Island Games veterans and winners of the tournament at their own games in 2005, are in no mood to roll over for the far flung debutants. The Shetland side are limited in numbers due to injuries but are no match for St Helena, the Atlantic islanders struggling to deal with the physicality and the strong buffeting wind. The Scots win 6-1 although Ronan Legg has the honour of scoring St. Helena’s first ever international goal from the penalty spot. There are nearly 500 people watching and there is mayhem outside with cars parked everywhere, Tŷ Groes will have never seen the like before!

Sunday June 16th 2019 2pm – Inter-Island Games Group C

Shetland 6 (Leask 12,17, Bradley 25, Arthur 27,85, Smith 45)
St.Helena 1 (Legg pen 36)

Att:462 (at Aberffraw FC)

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The next game is at the main stadium in the island capital of Holyhead. Intriguingly the old Holyhead Hotspur is still in decent condition despite being vacated in 2007 for the New Oval next door. Evidently the old ground is still used for local matches. The place is busy with the hosts, Ynys Môn, making their entry into the tournament with a game against another Scottish entrant, the Western Isles (Outer Hebrides). It’s a much tighter game with the hosts enjoying a larger portion of the possession but it’s the Western Islanders that silence the crowd with the opening goal on the stroke of halftime. The forecast rain duly arrives and it’s standing room only in the main stand and the covered stand, repurposed from a Stena Line gangway, it also full as over a 1,000 people try in vain to stay dry. Ynys Môn come good in the second half and while some speed off to make the tight kick off time at Cemaes Bay, the majority of the crowd at Holyhead go home happy.

Sunday June 16th 2019 5pm – Inter-Island Games Group A

Ynys Mon 2 (McGinness 60, Morris 67)
Western Isles 1 (L.Mackay 45)

Att: 1,025 (at Holyhead Hotspur FC)

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Most of the arrivals from Holyhead just about make kick off thanks to Cemaes Bay prudently opening a field adjacent to the School Lane ground for parking. The rain has now reached monsoon proportions as Channel Islanders take on Hitra, an island archipelago off the west coast of Norway.

Few Welsh clubs can have fallen as far as Cemaes Bay. Although football started in the north coast town in 1870, the current club started life in 1976 and played at a ground on the Wylfa Nuclear Power Station for much of the time, except for a short period in 1980, at a ground next to the Gadlys Hotel. The move to School Lane in 1988 coincided with a period of heavy investment as the club moved from the Anglesey League to winning the Welsh Alliance in 1993 and the Cymru Alliance in 1995. The latter resulted in an historic promotion to the Welsh Premier League. After two seasons the finance was pulled and by 2005 the club had been relegated to the Gwynedd League. After a short period in abeyance the club went full circle and rejoined the Anglesey League for the 2018/19 season.

Despite the appalling weather Alderney and Hitra put on a highly entertaining match in front of a doubtless weather effected crowd of slightly over 200. It’s a fine, if a little soggy end, to an excellent days entertainment.

Sunday June 16th 2019 7.30pm – Inter-Island Games Group B

Alderney 2 (Benfield 26, J. Concanen 67)
Hitra 4 (Kvakland 24, Jorgensen 27, Hansen 45, Johansen 74)

Att:206 (at Cemaes Bay FC)

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With the first game of day two not scheduled to 3.30pm there is plenty of time to see some of the beguiling sights of this stunning little island. From Beaumaris Castle in the east to South Stack lighthouse there really is something for everyone here. Thankfully the rain had relented but it was still very windy.

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IMG_5859Cliff side church at Llanbadrig

IMG_5855Headland at Bull Bay

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The afternoon game is a Bodedern Athletic’s compact Cae Tŷ Cristion ground. This club took over from the old disbanded CPD Bodedern in 2007, initially playing at Cae’r Ysgol until securing a return to Bodedern’s traditional ground at Tŷ Cristion. The new Bodedern club have risen quickly to the Welsh Alliance Division One and finished runners up to Llangefni Town this season.

It’s another tight game as Guernsey take on an injury depleted Shetland team. Guernsey take a 2-0 lead before halftime, bizarrely the fourth game running where a goal was scored in the 45th minute. Shetland pulled one back with a rebound from a saved penalty kick but it wasn’t to be for the North Sea team.

Monday June 17th 2019 3.30 pm – Inter-Island Games Group C

Guernsey 2 (Marsh 21, Hall 45)
Shetland 1 (Leask 52)

Att:208 (at Bodedern Athletic FC)

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So with just a two day taste of the tournament it was a massive thumbs up to the organisers. Everything ran like clockwork and there was enough volunteers to cater for the crowds. The tournament programme was excellent and informative at £3. Only wished I could have stayed a little longer. Roll on Guernsey 2021, Orkneys 2023 and, all being well, Anglesey in 2025, they would deserve it on this showing.

Island Games Programme

Rheydt On Time (Rheydter SV)

Rheydter Spielverein (pronounced Ride-ter) were formed in 1905 by members of the Rheydter Turnverein, a gymnastics club formed in 1847. The gymnastics club refused to diverge into football so a separate club was formed which nowadays not only maintains a football club it has handball, tennis, table tennis and hockey sections. Within three years of forming the club had won the Rheinisch-Westfälische district league.

The club are based in the outskirts of Mönchengladbach and have played at the incredible Jahnstadion since September 1922. During its heyday, following expansion in 1947, the stadium could accommodate 40,000 spectators. In 1950 Rheydter had reached the top level of German football, the Oberliga West, and enjoyed a further season at that level in 1954.

The club steadily declined from this heady zenith and the Jahnstadion grew older in the way only football stadiums can. The terraces began crumbling and became overgrown with moss and other vegetation. At one end of the ground the war memorial with the names of fifty odd lost sons grew a little more faded. The only cosmetic change to it came in the mid 1990’s when RSV acquired the scoreboard from Borussia’s old Bökelberg Stadion and it was sited on the opposite end to the memorial. Times grew tougher for RSV and they eventually sold the scoreboard back to Borussia so it could be used by their second team whose home games are played in the Grenzlandstadion, an athletics stadium next to the Jahnstadion. It still has vintage floodlights which emit a strangely ethereal greeny/orange glow and look like it they would fry anything that happens to fly too close to them.

RSV last played at level five of German football in season 2002/03 when a sixteen season stay in the now obsolete Oberliga Nordrhein ended in a bottom place finish. More recently the club has been toling away in the murky depths of the Bezirksliga, the seventh level of German football. With home games rarely in three figures these days the local authorities have decided there is no longer a need for such a vast stadium in Rheydt, albeit these days with a reduced capacity of 20,000. The plan is to renovate the main stand and effectively have a one sided ground with all the terracing removed. This will make space for two full size artificial pitches for the club which will see new revenue streams open up.

While it was initially stated the work would begin at the end of the 2018/19 season the club have been told they will be staying put at least until the end of 2019. So if you want to see this magnificent relic before it’s substantial reduced in size and appeal make sure you visit before Christmas. For an old stadium romantic like me the planned downsizing will be an act of social vandalism, terracing is as elemental to a grandstand as the sun is to rain.

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Friday May 17th 2019 – Bezirksliga Niederrhein Gruppe 3

Rheydter SV 2 (Berberoglu 24, Haklaj 58)
SV Schwafheim 3 (Boyacilar 40, Derikx pen 70, Hilla 71)

Att:138 (at RSV-Stadion)

Entry €5, free programme

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Rheydter prog

Postcards From Belgrade (Serbian Groundhop 6)

The sixth Serbian groundhop weekend in May 2019 kicked off on the Friday evening with an enticing looking derby in the fourth level Zonska Liga Beograd. Home side TEK Sloga from the town of Veliki Crljeni were second in the table on goal difference to FK Sremčica from the neighbouring town. OFK Mladenovac were also on the same number of points in third place. Veliki Crljeni is an industrial town fifty minutes south west of the capital.

Due to heavy traffic in Belgrade, we arrived close to kick off and it was immediately obvious this was a big deal locally with a large crowd gathering. TEK stands for Thermoelectric Kolubara and Stadion TEK is adjacent to the huge power plant fired by clunking hoppers of lignite, mined in the surrounding coal basin, continuously dumping their contents into the generator. This serious piece of heavy metal provides and incredible backdrop to the small stadium which has an uncovered stand down one side of it with a sector fenced off for away fans. There are over 600 people present with around 80 in the away sector and RSD200 (£1.50) gets us into the ground for this battle for promotion to the national leagues. The home side dominate the proceedings going 2-0 up in the first half. As with a lot of games in Serbia they choose to defend their lead in the second half rather than go for more goals and nearly came a cropper when Sremčica were awarded, and scored, a very soft penalty in the final minute of normal time.

TEK Sloga

The Super Liga and Prva Liga fixtures had only been confirmed on the Tuesday before we left London but sadly all games had been fixed for 4pm on Saturday which clashed with our plans for a game in the Srpske Republic. As many of the tour party wanted to “tick” a new country with the game in Bosnia we plumped for the game at Radnik Bijeljina as they were entertaining one of Bosnia’s traditional powerhouses, FK Željezničar from Sarajevo.

With the game in Bosnia not kicking off until 5pm we had plenty of time for a morning game in Belgrade and chose the third tier Srpske Liga game between FK Grafičar and FK Brodarac. The game wasn’t being played at Grafičar’s own ground in Senjak but at the second pitch at Red Star’s Stadion Ratko Mitić. The complex behind the south stand has been significantly upgraded for Zvezda’s youth level teams and has two 3G pitches, one with a seated stand for 500 and a grass pitch with a similar stand. Grafičar have a link up with Zvezda and many young Red Star players are on loan to them so maybe that was the explanation for the change of venue. It was RSD200 admission and a Grafičar, rather than a Red Star ticket, that was issued upon entry. We were grateful for the shade provided by the new stand as the sun beat down relentlessly. Grafičar treated us to a masterclass of attacking football and dominated the game from start to finish netting five times without reply.

Graficar v Brodarac

After some electrical problems with the bus the previous day we were all relieved that we had a large and small mini bus turn up for our Trans Balkan express to Bosnia. We followed the E-70 west of the capital which basically follows the route of the mighty River Sava which after dropping south on the M18 its the river which forms the border between the two countries with border control and customs on either side. The crossing was fairly time consuming and we arrived at the Gradski Stadion in Bijeljina about twenty minutes before kick off. Our buses were ushered into a parking area beyond the grandstand and we were told by a club official we were guests of the president and didn’t need to pay. With the Bosnian Cup Final being contested between the top two clubs in the league FK Sarajevo and Široki Brijeg our game had a potential additional Europa League place at stake with the fifth place hosts taking on fourth place FK Željezničar. The club from Sarajevo are one of the powerhouse clubs from Bosnia and are followed by feared ultras group Manijaci (Maniacs). There were two reasons why we chose this game over an above a similar distance game at Zvijezda, the first was Zvijezda weren’t using their own ground and the second was the anticipation of Željezničar bringing a decent following with them. It was therefore a little disappointing that only a handful of away fans were evident and the reason for this quickly became apparent when social media quickly showed an astounding video of a Željezničar coach been ambushed and attacked by fans of their arch rivals FK Sarajevo. The match was also a bit of a damp squib with the away side scored early then easily defended their lead.

Radnik

Several years ago on a Belgrade derby weekend, I had done a game at the cracking ground of FK Hajduk Lionu, set in amid the urban sprawl of south east Belgrade. I took a few pictures at that game and in one of the shots was Aleks Peković and Stephen Carpenter, both unknown to me at the time. The roots of our Serbian Groundhop weekends lie in that chance meeting of strangers that morning. It was therefore a feeling of going full circle for the three of us to bring the hoppers to this most interesting of venues.

It’s essentially a two sided ground with flats and a restaurant tightly packed against both ends of the ground. On the nearside is a large scaffold and board stand and on the far side is steep open terracing. Sadly Hajduk legend Bogić “Bobi” Popović, who we had met at the original match, was in Germany for this weekend. He was a centre forward and is still the third top scorer in Serbian League history, his proud father is Hajduk president. Sadly Hajduk’s glory days have passed them by and they languish well adrift at the bottom of the fourth tier Zonska Liga Beograd. Today’s opponents, BSK 1926 Baćevac, put three past a hapless Hajduk who miss so many chances to score it beggared belief, where was Bobi when they needed him?Hajduk 2

After leaving Hajduk we head north-east to Kikinda for the city derby at Stadion ŽAK between ŽAK and OFK and RSD100 (75p) gets us into their stadium, which itself is a bit of a bobby dazzler as well. It boasts a more modern version of the magnificent and protected stand at OFK, and the perimeter wall is bizarrely made up of thousands of terracotta roof slates stood up side by side. It would have taken weeks and weeks to build it. It’s the railway workers (“Željeznički Athletic Klub”) that race into the lead finding the net after just 36 seconds. OFK, though roar back and win a hugely entertaining game by four goals to two in front of nearly 600 people.

Derby of Kikinda.jpeg

Usually the Monday throws up a televised Prva Liga fixture we can go to but with the play offs and play outs in full swing the fixture gods were somewhat unkind to us this time. What we did find was a relegation play off in the top division in Bulgaria between Vitisha Bistritsa and Dunav Ruse. Bistritsa is on the outskirts of Sofia so not too far from the southern Serbian border. The bulk of the route is on the excellent and cheap A1 toll highway albeit best part of a five hour journey. We also found an under 17 game taking place at 1pm in Niš to break up the long journey south.

We duly arrive at Stadion na Bubnju, home of third tier FK Car Konstantin and its a really unusual ground with plenty of character. On the dressing room side there is a tiny elevated stand and opposite a large grass bank and stepped terracing which actually sits outside the ground. Car Konstantin are name after the Roman Emperor Konstantin who was born in Niš when it was known as Naisus. Today we are watching FC Real Niš a specialist youth development club whose under 17 team compete in the highest level division for their age group, the Kadetska Liga Srbije, against all the big name clubs like Red Star, Partizan and today’s opponents FK Čukarički, who have Lazar Kežman, son of the former Chelsea forward, in their team. The game is relatively unexciting on a poor, rutted pitch but we are treated to three goals in the last ten minutes with the visitors from Belgrade coming out on top. It’s certainly a worthy stopover on the way to the day’s main game.

Grandstand Car Konstantin

Vitosha Bistritsa’s stadium is located up a windy road from the Sofia bypass. Bistritsa itself is a modest village sited high up in foothills of Mount Vitosha, a dome shaped peak some 2,290 metres tall. The stadium is a modest two sided affair with about 20 Dunav fans behind the goal having made an equally torturous 5 hour journey from Ruse this on the northern border with Bulgaria. The first leg of the relegation play off ended goalless in Ruse but Dunav score early and then successfully defend their lead against a totally disinterested looking Vitosha side.

Vitosha

It’s a satisfactory end to the tour and we cross back into Serbia with no issues or delays at the borders despite seeing huge queues of lorries waiting to get through. Mainly for the benefit of our two drivers we stop at a roadside kafana for sustenance and despite it being after their closing of midnight they rustle up some cevapi, beer and coffee for a weary band of travellers.

It’s been over 3,000 miles travelled since we left Luton airport and just short of a 1,000 of those spent on the roads of Serbia, Bosnia and Bulgaria in the fantastic company of Aleks and Bogdan from Groundhopping Serbia. You couldn’t wish to meet two finer friends on the road than these two.

TEK Sloga ticketGraficar ticketRadnikHajdukZAK ticketVitosha

 

A much extended version of this review features in Issue 49 of Football Weekends Magazine. For news of future Serbian Groundhopping Weekends please follow @GroundhopSerbia on Twitter

Part Of The Union (HFC Falke)

Hamburger FC Falke were formed in 2014 by disillusioned fans of Hamburger SV. Frustrated by the over commercialisation of their club they took a lead from the success of the FC United of Manchester club who have rapidly climbed climbed the ladder in England and have also built their own ground at Broadhurst Park. Falke are completely fan owned and financed.

They give an interesting account of how they found a suitable ground to use, not yet having the means to build their own. They considered a number of factors and grounds with artificial surfaces were immediately ruled out for aesthetic reasons. Limiting their scope in this way saw the fledgling board cast their net all around the Hamburg area for a club willing to share their natural grass pitch. They also wanted a clubhouse on site, sufficient capacity and a “facility with charm”.

One club that responded positively were SC Union 03 Altona, whose fantastic home at the Rudi Barth Sportplatz in Waidmannstraße ticked all of Falke’s boxes. They had previously sublet to the second team of Sankt Pauli so talks were held, and as the fit seemed right for both parties, a lease was duly signed for Falke’s first season in 2015/16. The Rudi Barth Sportplatz has a decent clubhouse, opened in September 1961, and the pitch is surrounded on three sides by steep terracing and a listed capacity of 6,500. The stadium takes its name from Rudolf Barth who was elected to the board of Union 03 in 1906 at the tender age of just 16. He would serve Union in numerous capacities for over 50 years. Originally Union had played in Langenfelde but had quickly moved to a better facility adjacent to the old Kaltenkirchener station. While they still attracted big crowds the ground never really recovered from losing the grandstand totally destroyed in the 1943 air raids, a fateful occasion as Union also lost all their club records. Eventually , this area was cleared when the current parcel sorting office was built in Kaltenkirchener Platz. Union were offered a piece of land a little to north of their old ground which became the Rudi Barth Sportplatz.

Union 03 were a major force in the 1920’s, qualifying for the North German championship round nine times and boasting a membership in excess of 2,000 people. They also played at a high level in the post World War II seasons but by 1963 when German football was reorganised, Union failed to qualify for the Oberliga Nord. This precipitated a sharp decline for Union who by the turn of the millennium had asked Altona ‘93 about a possible merger, a request that ultimately failed. Union struggled on and by 2012 had sunk as low as the ninth tier Kreisliga, although they soon won promotion to the Bezirksliga West they will be in the Kreisliga again in 1919/20 having finished nine points adrift at the bottom of the table this season.

HFC Falke though are heading in the opposite direction winning Kriesliga 2 in their first season they are competing in the Bezirksliga Nord this season. At the start of this season Falke welcomed Dulwich Hamlet in a pre-season friendly played at SC Nienstedten. Falke are riding high in the table when the reserves of Victoria Hamburg arrive for this morning’s game. After getting out the at Diebstiech S-Bahn station its a five minute walk to the stadium where entry is €5 and a further 50 cents gets you a very decent glossy programme. It’s immediately obvious that the Falke fans have tried to do something different and have cultivated a very friendly social vibe to attending a football match. There is a well stocked merchandise stall and a DJ plays some vintage 70’s and 80’s music from the likes of Buzzcocks, The Members, Cock Sparrer and the UK Subs! There is, of course, a barbeque and beer tent but also a pop up homemade cider stall and pétanque style game set up to encourage the social aspect. It has worked well, there are nearly 300 people enjoying the early morning sun including a higher than average proportion of women and children. Something good is building with Falke and the team continue to climb, going top of the table with a 2-0 goals with both goals coming in the last seven minutes of the match.

Footnote

HFC Falke have the motto “dankbar rückwärts mutig vorwärts” which translates as “grateful backwards, courageously forwards” so it’s a shame to say the season petered out someone with the club finishing third and missing a promotion spot on goal difference. The club also announced after four happy seasons at the Rudi Barth Sportplatz they will spend the 2019/20 season at least at the Sportzentrum Steinwiesenweg, home of SV Krupunder/Lohkamp. They also marked their fifth birthday with another prestigious friendly against Belgian side YB SK Beveren on July 13th.IMG_4964
Saturday April 6th 2019 – Bezirksliga Nord

HFC Falke 2 (Nicolae 83, Schönfeld 89)
SC Victoria Hamburg II 0

Att:290 (at Rudi Barth Sportplatz)

Gallery

IMG_9202April 2019 272April 2019 277IMG_9183IMG_9154IMG_9161IMG_9187IMG_9191IMG_9193IMG_9189IMG_9194

The original version of this article was published in issue 31 of STAND fanzine.