Setting Sons (Dumbarton)

Dumbarton were formed in 1872 making them the fourth oldest club in Scotland behind Queen’s Park, Kilmarnock and Stranraer. The club won the first two Scottish League championships, although the inaugural season the title was shared with Rangers after a deciding play-off was drawn 2-2 at Cathkin Park. Had the title been decided on goal difference, Dumbarton would have been outright champions.

The final table from that first season makes interesting reading with long lost clubs like 3rd Lanarkshire Rifle Volunteers, Cambuslang, Cowlairs and Abercorn competing alongside contemporaries such as Celtic, St. Mirren and Hearts. Renton were expelled from the league and their record expunged for paying their players.

Dumbarton played at Meadow Park (1872-75), Broomfauld Park (1875-76), Lowmans Park (1876-77) and Townend (1877-79) before moving to Boghead Park for the 1879/80 season. Boghead would become their base for the next 121 years making it, at the time, Scotland’s oldest ground in continuous use for football.

In 1913 the pitch was re-orientated by ninety degrees and the club built a tiny stand with 80 seats which became known as the Postage Box. The club also experimented with greyhound racing in an attempt to make ends meet. The Clydebank Greyhound Racing Syndicate began running races at Boghead from October 1932. By the early 1940’s the racing had stopped but the small Bookmakers Stand remained next to the main stand as additional covered accommodation.

1957 was a big year for Boghead, firstly floodlights were erected, inaugurated in a game against Celtic, and then the club acquired the station canopy from Turnberry railway station. The South Ayrshire station had once served the famous golf course as part of the Maidens and Dunure Light Railway but this had closed in March 1942. The canopy was erected on the large previously open terrace at the Overwood Drive end. The all time record attendance at Boghead was also set in 1957 when 18,001 watched the Scottish Cup tie with Raith Rovers.

In 1979 the old Postage Box stand was replaced with a larger modern stand, although the new edifice still only had 303 seats. In 1980, then Sons’ manager, Sean Fallon, nearly convinced the legendary Johan Cruyff to join Dumbarton after an unhappy spell with Los Angeles Aztecs. However, the Dutchman who was 33 at the time, admitted that he almost signed but was put off by the bleak weather!

In the mid 1980’s the ground had suffered fire damage and the board of directors decided against repairing it. Their collective view was that the club would be better off looking for a new home, or redeveloping the existing stadium in it’s entirety to a 9,000 all seated venue. Their plans for the latter floundered and by the 1990’s the ground had become very run down, even given the additional income from Clydebank moving in between 1996 and 1999 having vacated New Kilbowie Park.

The last thing of note to happen at the old Boghead ground was assuming the role of the home ground for the fictional club Kilnockie FC for the film “A Shot at Glory” starring Robert Duvall and Ally McCoist. The plot of the film was Kilnockie’s epic run to the Scottish Cup Final.

Boghead further transferred to popular culture when the Glaswegian band The Supernaturals immortalised the old stadium with their song, “High Tension At Boghead”.

Boghead Park was demolished in December 2000 and made way for an extension to Miller Street. By this time Dumbarton had moved to a new stadium at the foot of the iconic Dumbarton Rock, a volcanic basalt plug with a history dating back to the Iron Age. The 18th century Georgian castle affords fantastic views not only of Dumbarton Stadium but also the Kilpatrick hills, the River Clyde, Loch Lomond and on to Argyll. The club’s unusual nickname derives from “Sons of The Rock”, the eponymic reference to someone from Dumbarton.

The Dumbarton Stadium was built on the derelict site of the William Denny and Brothers Shipyard which had closed in 1963. It has just one stand containing 2,020 seats, making it one of the smallest stadiums in the Scottish Professional League. The surrounding area around the stadium is being engulfed with new housing and the scope for extending the stadium is extremely limited. The club have looked into relocating to a new 4,000 capacity stadium at Young’s Farm on the west side of town but initial plans were rejected by the council. The record attendance at Dumbarton Stadium remains at 1,978 for the visit of Rangers when both clubs were in the Championship in 2015.

This afternoon’s game against league leaders Raith Rovers is a dour affair in freezing conditions and pouring rain. A couple of amusing stand offs between some boisterous visiting fans and the youthfully exuberant “Young Sons” actually provide some welcome distraction. A goalless draw looks almost inevitable until the Sons’ captain Stuart Carswell dramatically scored with virtually the last kick of the match.

 Dumbarton badge

Saturday February 29th 2020 – Scottish League Division 1

Dumbarton 1 (Carswell 90+3)

Raith Rovers 0

Attendance: 804

Entry £16, programme £2.50

Gallery

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Stayen (St.Truiden VV)

Sint-Truidense Voetbalvereniging were formed in 1924 from a merger between Union Sint-Truiden and FC Goldstar. Upon acceptance to the Royal Belgian FA they were assigned matricule number 373.

After humble beginnings, their first game against Cercle Tongeren attracted just nine spectators and realising gate receipts of 13.50 Belgian francs, STVV made steady progress becoming one of the strongest teams in the province of Limburg. They moved into the first incarnation of Stayen in 1927 but this version of their current ground was completely destroyed during bombing raids in 1944.

The club’s star player in the inter war years was Léopold “Pol” Appeltants who scored goals at a prodigious rate. Appeltants, at the age of just 16, scored 50 of STVV’s 93 goals in the 1938/39 season. St Truiden were elevated to the national second division for the first time in 1948 and Appeltants became the first St Truiden player to be capped by Belgium. He was the second divisions leading scorer in 1949/50 with 23 goals. In 20 years with St Truiden Appeltants played over 500 games for the Canaries.

After years of gradual progress, the club finally reached the top division of Belgian football for the 1958/59 season and managed to stay in the division finishing just ahead of relegated Tournai and Tilleur. The arrival of then unheralded young coach Raymond Goethals in 1959 sparked a purple patch in the clubs history culminating in 1965/66 when the Canaries finished runners up to Anderlecht to achieve their highest ever league placing. The stadium became known as “Hel van Stayen” (Hell of Stayen) as opposing teams could rarely win there.

In more recent years St.Truiden have won the Second Division in 1987, 1994, 2009 and 2015, an indication of their yo-yo existence between the top two tiers. Up until 2017 the club was owned by controversial businessman Roland Duchâtelet, who also owned Charlton Athletic until recently, and still owns Carl Zeiss Jena and Újpesti Dózsa. He sold St.Truiden to Japanese e-commerce company DMM, so home games are now attended by several hundred Japanese supporters.

Stayen was completely renovated in 2011 and now holds 14,600 spectators. It boasts a 77 room hotel, 20 of which overlook the pitch. Tonight’s game against AS Eupen would normally have cost a minimum of €20 but by sheer good luck as we queued for tickets we were offered the use for free of two VIP season tickets which, as well as padded seats, also included free food after the game! Standard VIP entry to the game was €80!

The game was one of breathless entertainment, the away side took the lead before a quite brilliant hat-trick from Ghanaian midfielder Samuel Asamoah. The spoilsport referee was less impressed, however, and when the celebrations for his third goal died down the petty official was waiting with a second yellow card as Asamoah had pulled his shirt up behind his head to reveal a message on his t-shirt underneath.

STVV

Saturday February 8th 2020 – Jupiler Pro League

Sint-Truidense V.V. 5 (Konate 13, Asamoah 42,45,63, Durkin 90)
KAS Eupen 2 (Prevljak 29, Cools 40)

Att: 4,194 (at Stayen)

Gallery

STVV (8)STVV (6)STVV (2)STVV (3)STVV (5)STVV (1)STVV (4)STVVSTVV (7)STVV (9)St Truiden teamsheet

Israeli Gears

Israel really needs no introduction, a wonderful melting point with a history almost as ancient as time itself.

It’s modern skyscraper beach side city of Tel Aviv is as cosmopolitan and bustling as any major city you could care to name and features some truly outstanding Bauhaus architecture. The high rise modernity of Tel Aviv gives way almost imperceptibly to the ancient port town of Jaffa which can boast a history dating back to 1,800 BC.

Jaffa is just stunning, beautiful old buildings and stunning vistas there is a photo opportunity around every corner. The scenery is delightfully complimented with a relaxed chilled out vibe.

The first game of the weekend is at nearby Petach Tivka, their HaMoshava Stadium is not only home to the two local second division (Liga Leumit) sides, Maccabi and Hapoel, it is also hosting the games of Ligat ha’Al (Israeli Premier League) sides Hapoel Kfar Saba, Hapoel Ra’anana and Sektzia Nes Tziona. This is because these three clubs’ traditional home grounds of the Levita Stadium, Karnei Oren Memorial Field and Ness Ziona Stadium respectively, are deemed to be inadequate for top level matches. Convenient ground sharing is a way of life in Israeli football. The ha’Al league currently has 14 clubs sharing just eight stadiums between them.

HaMoshava is a two sided stadium holding 11,500 people and is a carbon copy of the stadium in Netanya, north of Tel Aviv. There is plenty of parking space, although a total absence of stewarding means it’s a real log jam to leave after the game. Tickets are available at a dedicated ticket office at one end of the stadium. For this afternoons game a ticket costs 50 shekels (£11).

It is Hapoel Kfar Saba that are the host club and their are entertaining one of Israel’s traditional football powerhouses, 13 time champions, Hapoel Tel Aviv. The visiting fans are out in force, so much so that they overfill one side of the ground so there are people standing in gangways and on stairs. Eventually they allow Hapoel Tel Aviv fans into one sector of the stand housing the home support. The away support is noisy and passionate and easily drown out the attempts of the home side’s support to make themselves heard.

It’s a hugely entertaining game with a surprisingly good pace to it. The referee has his work cut out with two Tel Aviv goals ruled out by VAR, a plethora of yellow cards, and Kfar Saba being reduced to nine men in quick succession during the first half. The first player was shown a straight red for a horrendously late tackle and moments later another player joined him in the dressing room for two yellows in the same incident, one for the foul and a second for dissent.

Given the league table the hosts took a surprise early lead but were soon pegged back by the visitors. Tel Aviv enjoyed almost total domination especially with their numerical advantage. They squandered a hatful of chances before a bleached haired substitute finally got them a decisive lead. There was still time for Tel Aviv to have the “excitement” of another goal ruled by VAR out before the referee called an end to proceedings.

kfar

Saturday January 25th 2020 (3pm) – Israeli Ligat ha’Al

Hapoel Kfer Saba 1 (Reichert 8)
Hapoel Tel Aviv 2 (Barshazki 16, Buzaglo 61)

Att: c.7,000 (at HaMoshava Stadium, Petach Tivka)

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There seemed to be plenty of time to drive back to Tel Aviv in time for the 19.50pm kick off between the legendary Maccabi Tel Aviv and Ashdod. In reality, with parking not allowed near the stadium, a lot of time was spent trying to find somewhere to park which wouldn’t get you fined, clamped or towed away! Finally parked up in a side street it was time to locate the ticket booth and the newly rebuilt Bloomfield Stadium. The ticket office is by Gate 10 and there is a range of tickets priced from 70 to 110 shekels.

The rebuild has resulted in a much improved facility, although with only the central sections of both sides being under cover, its not a particularly great design for wet weather. That said it’s and eye-catching edifice and the two shallower ends afford nice city views from the more elevated sides. Bloomfield is shared not only between eternal rivals, Maccabi and Hapoel, a third top level club, Bnei Yehuda, also play their home games here.

Tonight it’s the reigning and 22 time champions of Israel, Maccabi Tel Aviv that are at home and the league leaders are facing mid table FC Ashdod. For those wondering why so many Israeli clubs are prefixed with Maccabi and Hapoel, Hapoel tends to be used by clubs of the “workers” aligned to the Histadrut Labor Federation, while Maccabi clubs traditionally draw support from various Zionist sports clubs. The Maccabees was originally a Jewish liberation movement, and Maccabi Sports Clubs were originally formed for Jews who had been banned from joining other sports clubs.

It’s a much poorer game than this afternoon’s effort, with Ashdod offering very little in the way of attacking prowess. Maccabi lead at half time and the only real surprise is that it takes them until the 78th minute to register a second goal. It comes by way of a blatant penalty when Ashdod’s goalkeeper took out an attacker and then feigned a serious leg injury to try and delay the taking of the spot kick.

Maccabi’s support only half fills the Bloomfield Stadium tonight and their ultras gather at one end. Some of the younger element go bare chested down the front of the stand in scenes reminiscent of a mosh pit at a thrash metal concert, there was even crowd surfing at one point!

MTA

Saturday January 25th 2020 (7.50pm) – Israeli Ligat ha’Al

Maccabi Tel Aviv 2 (Atzili 34, Cohen pen 78)
Ashdod 0

Att: c.15,000 (at Bloomfield Stadium)

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Many football fans will either have seen or at least know about Maya Zinshtein’s incendiary 2017 documentary “Forever Pure” about Beitar Jerusalem’s fans reaction to signing two muslim players from Chechnya in 2013. Beitar had already courted controversy being the only Israeli top flight club to have never signed an Arab player. “Death to all Arabs” would be sung from the stands and it was well know the club had an unofficial allegiance to the Zionist movement and the right wing political party Likud, led by Benjamin Netanyahu, a high profile Beitar supporter.

The film took its name from a banner displayed by Beitar’s ultras group “La Familia” in protest of the club signing Chechan players Zaur Sadayev and Dzhabrail Kadiyev from Terek Grozny. Despite having previously fielded Tajik, Albanian and African muslims the Chechens were subjected to concerted and abhorrent campaign of racism which saw them hounded out of the club. The film projects “La Familia” as “the most racist fans in the world”. It is harrowing viewing.

The club has been repeatedly punished for the behaviour of its fans and as recently as June 2019 La Familia issued a statement that a christian player from Niger, Ali Mohammed Al Faz should be made to change his name as “it sounds too Arab”. However, after a period of zero tolerance, Beitar announced that there had been no reported racist acts from the stands in the whole of 2019. Beitar had been formed in 1936 and was very much been regarded as a terrorist organisation in its formative years.

With all this in mind it was something of an ethical dilemma to attend Beitar’s game with rock bottom of the table Sektzia Nes Tziona in favour of a game at Maccabi Netanya. I was too intrigued with finding out whether the film had been overblown sensationalism or whether the club had genuinely fixed what was a dreadful problem for them. Although I don’t know any Hebrew, I am pleased to say I did not witness any racist chanting or any form of unnerving behaviour. What I did witness was unrelenting, passionate and noisy support for their team which was duly rewarded with a single goal victory in a pretty drab encounter.

Beitar’s Teddy Stadium is a bit of a cracker although it is still undergoing extensive renovations. It is named after Teddy Kollek, mayor of Jerusalem during its construction. Opened in 1991 it holds just shy of 32,000 people and tickets ranged between 50 and 60 shekels, the latter being in the covered upper tier. Previously the city only had one sports stadium, the YMCA Stadium, which was Beitar’s home before the move to Malha. The YMCA Stadium made way for a housing development in 2006.

The north stand has visually stunning multi coloured seats and the recent refurbishment has seen the south stand roofed for the first time to bring it in line with the rest of the arena. It is a stunning piece of architecture. As with Bloomfield, parking around the stadium is very limited.

Beitar

Sunday January 25th 2020 – Israeli Ligat ha’Al

Beitar Jerusalem 1 (Kriaf 6)
Sektzia Nes Tziona 0

Att: c.8,000 (at Teddy Stadium)

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I had hoped to take in a match in the Palestinian West Bank League and the game at the Faisal Al-Husseini International Stadium between Jabal Al Mukaber and Shabab Al Am’ari on the Saturday at 12pm seemed to fit the bill as it would allow time to get back to Tel Aviv for the Maccabi game. However, it proved problematic when the hire car company said that their cars are fitted with trackers and taking vehicles into the occupied territories is not permitted. I then found an option to get a Line 59 bus operated by Eggd from the Bar Ilan/Rabenu Gershom station in Jerusalem to Neve Ya’akov Boulevard. This would leave a ten minute walk to the stadium. At £3 each way and buses scheduled every fifteen minutes I thought I cracked it. However, the game of course was taking place slap bang in the middle of the sabbath and everything stops in Jerusalem. There would be no buses running until well after the match had finished. It would appear the only way of doing a game in the West Bank League during the sabbath is to risk uninsured driving and a potential penalty from the hire car company or pre-book an Arab driver to meet you at the border. I opted to invoke plan B and take in the game at Petach Tivka instead.

Israel is a fine country, steeped in history and offering so much to a visitor. Winter sun, great food and football, really what more would you want?

kfar ticket

mta ticket

Beitar ticket

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

Gallery

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Fearless (Atromitos)

Atromitos (meaning “Fearless”) were formed in 1923 and initially played at Aris Park, the home of both Panathinaikos and Panellinios. Within five years Atromitos had won the Athens League. 1928 was the first time the Greek season ended with a Pan Hellenic Championship to decide the overall national champions. Atromitos could only finish third behind champions Aris Thessaloniki and Ethnikos, however, it was a promising start for a fledgling club.

The club quickly found themselves in the shadow of Panathinaikos and were struggling to attract support. In 1932 the decision was made to move to Peristeri and merge with local side Astir Peristeriou. Astir or “Star” is where the prominent blue stat comes from on the club crest.

The club spent much of its time in the second tier but enjoyed a golden period in the 1970’s when they were regulars in the top division. They have spent much of the 21st century in the Super League and had some really impressive seasons in recent years finishing third in 2012-13 and had fourth place finishes in 2011-12, 2013-14 and 2014-15. They were also Greek Cup runners up in 2010-11 and 2011-12 losing to AEK and Olympicos respectively.

When Atromitos first moved to Peristeri in 1932 the played at a modest ground called Gennaiótita which was located beyond the boundary of a shanty town known as Evangelistria. In 1947 they moved to the the present stadium although this was not properly finished until 1953.

My €10 ticket is for the uncovered side opposite the main stand. This side has a sector fenced off for their ultras group which is called called Fentagin.

Tonight’s game is against a woeful Levadiakos side and plays out for a predictable home win with a fine goal by Congolese striker Clarck N’Sikulu, settling the game with the opposition barely mustering a chance worthy of the name. All the graffiti in and around the stadium promotes an anti fascist message, so it is almost beyond belief that Levadiakos’ black players, Souleymane Sawadogo and Tackey Diogo were subjected to repeated monkey chants.

That unsavoury aspect aside it’s a great ground to visit and good to see a smaller club trying to become a force in a league that has traditionally been dominated by just a few clubs.

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Sunday February 10th 2019 – Greek Super League

Atromitos 1 (N’Sikulu 16)
Levadiakos 0

Att:435 (at Stádio Peristeri)

Entry €10, free programme

Gallery

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Atromitos prog

They Might Be Giants (AEK Athens)

AEK stands for the Athletic Union of Constantinople, with the founding members being Greek refugees displaced from Constantinople and Anatolia after the Greco-Turkish War. Prior to the war Constantinople had two dominant Greek clubs, Énosis Tatávlon and Ermís and it was former members of these clubs who met in a Athens sports shop in 1924 to form AEK.

Domestically AEK are the third most successful Greek side behind Olympiacos and Panathinaikos with 12 championship wins and 15 Greek Cup triumphs.

In the post WWII period AEK had some success under English coach Jack Beby who had a modest career in England with the likes of Darlington, Bristol Rovers, Gillingham and Leicester City. Under Beby AEK won two Greek cups and the Athens regional championship, although sadly the Pan Hellenic Championship to decide the overall champion wasn’t played that season.

AEK have a proud record in European competition with their best performance in the European Cup being quarter-finalists in 1968-69 when they were beaten by Spartak Trnava of Slovakia having eliminated Jeunesse Esch and AB Gladsaxe. In the UEFA Cup of 1976-77 they beat Dynamo Moscow, Derby County, Red Star Belgrade and Queens Park Rangers before a semi-final defeat to eventual winners Juventus.

AEK’s traditional home, since inauguration in 1930, was the Nikos Goumas Stadium in Nea Filadelfeia. Sadly the stadium had to be demolished in 2003 following damage sustained in the terrible earthquake of 1999. The club do have a new stadium, Agia Sophia Stadium, under construction in their traditional heartland of Nea Filadelfeia. After years of political wrangling permission was formally granted in July 2017. Until it is ready, AEK have somewhat reluctantly shared the Olympic stadium with Panathinaikos, although Pana occasionally return for spells at their own ground, the Apostolos Nikolaidis Stadium.

Today’s game sees the visit of lowly OFI Crete to the Olympic Stadium. Unfortunately, it’s a pretty poor game, OFI offering scant resistance and the hosts win by a single goal scored by the fans favourite, the Croatian striker Marko Livaja. There is an ultras section of around 800 of AEK’s Original 21 ultras, lead by a capo of colossal proportions who is stood bouncing on a very rickety looking tower. They belt out a relentless catalogue of chants. The ultras are profoundly left wing and have a “triangle of brotherhood” with Livorno and Marseille as well as friendships with St Pauli and Fenerbahçe. It was all rather impressive and made up for the turgid game and some of the worst sight lines at a modern football stadium I can ever remember.

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Sunday February 10th 2019 – Greek Super League

AEK Athens 1 (Livaja 37)
OFI Crete 0

Att: 7,580 (at Olympiakó Stádio Spiros Louis)

Entry €10, no programme

Gallery

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Exodus (Panionios GSS)

Panionios are the oldest Greek club and have an interesting history dating back to 1890 when they were formed as Orpheus Music and Sport Club. The club was originally based in Smyrna (modern day Izmir in Turkey) but as the Greeks lost the 1919-1922 Greco-Turkish war the club found themselves part of the mass population exchange, when Greeks were banished from what was then Asia Minor. Panionios were relocated to Athens and then to a new suburb called Nea Smyrni.

Panionios have spent nearly all its time in the top tier of Greek football missing only two seasons of the competition as it morphed from the Pan-Hellenic Championship to the Alpha Ethniki and into the current Super League format of sixteen clubs. They have never won the league but were runners up to Olympiacos and AEK in 1950-51 and 1970-71 respectively. Panionios have won the Greek Cup twice most recently in 1997-98 when they beat Panathinaikos 1-0 in the final.

The cup triumph meant they qualified for the UEFA Cup Winners Cup for 1998-99, the last season before its merger with the UEFA Cup. Panionios performed well defeating Valkeakosken Haka of Finland (5-1 on aggregate) and Apollon Limassol of Cyprus (4-2) before going out in the quarter finals, losing 7-0 on aggregate to eventual winners, Lazio. They were coached during this run by former Liverpool stalwart, Ronnie Whelan, and I had a conversation with the club shop manager discussing Whelan’s managerial prowess as he had been sacked by my club, Southend United, that summer after a terrible spell in charge at Roots Hall.

The club has always been a multi sport organisation and have been recognised for bringing basketball and volleyball to Greece. They remain the only sports club to be awarded the Golden Cross from the Athens Academy for their past and continued enrichment of Greek culture and society.

Panionios play in an eye catching blue and red kit, reputedly chosen to represent the blue of Greece and red for the blood of Greeks persecuted throughout history. The club also has one of the oldest ultras groups in Greece with “The Panthers” being formed in 1983.

Panionios play at the impressive looking Nea Smyrni Stadium which looks bigger than its’ current capacity of 11,700. Built in 1939, the record attendance was set against Panathinaikos in 1974 when 20,950 packed into the stadium before it became mainly all seater. It is said that the record attendance was actually set by US thrash gods Metallica, in what was there first ever concert in Greece in 1993.

Tonight, mid table Panionios take on rock bottom Apollon Smyrnis. Apollon were founded in 1891 by former members of Orpheus, and found themselves in an identical position to their old rivals following the military defeat and were also relocated to Athens. It’s €10 for a ticket in the uncovered side.

Given Apollon’s perilous league position and the clubs’ historical relationship it would be hard not to look on this ninety minutes with a degree of suspicion, such was the lack of effort from the home team. They scarcely mustered a shot on goal in the entire game and lost to an Apollon goal midway through the second half.

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Saturday February 9th 2019 – Greek Super League

Panionios GSS 0
Apollon Smyrnis 1 (Vafeas 73)

Att: 1,126 (at Stadió Néas Smírnis)

Entry €10, no programme

Gallery

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When West Auckland Ruled The World

The story behind West Auckland Town’s claim to be two time World Champions is a really fascinating one and tells of a time when English teams playing matches outside of the United Kingdom, were rare indeed.

The story starts with Sir Thomas Johnstone Lipton, a self made millionaire from his grocery stores and tea merchants. He was a keen sportsman himself, being a regular competitor for the Americas Cup. He was awarded the honour of a Knight Commander of the Victorian Order and had honours bestowed upon him throughout Europe and America. The City of Nîs in Serbia made him an honorary citizen for his work in the catastrophic typhus epidemic of 1915. Earlier he had been honoured by the Italian government and ever humble he asked what he could do in return. The reply from King Victor Emmanuel III was a request to organise an international football tournament to be contested in Turin in 1909.

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Sir Thomas Lipton

The FA’s of England, Germany and Switzerland were contacted and asked to provide a suitable club to take part. The English FA flatly refused permission for any Football League team to compete so it would be an amateur team that was sent over as they did not need the acquiescence of the Football Association. Quite why the honour fell to West Auckland is shrouded in mystery. Local myth suggests Woolwich Arsenal were Lipton’s ideal choice but the letter went astray and was sent to another WAFC instead! More likely is the theory that a trusted employee of Lipton had links to the Northern League and one of their sides was to be selected to represent England.

West Auckland were a team of coal miners and were struggling in their league in 1909. Even though the players’ pit wages would be stopped during the tournament they readily made the trip to Turin.

In the semi final West Auckland defeated Stuttgarter Sportfreunde 2-0 to set up the “World Cup Final” with the representatives from Switzerland, FC Winterthur. The Swiss had overcome a Torino XI (mixed from Torino and then amateur side Juventus) by two goals to one. The men from County Durham beat Winterthur 2-0 in the final with goals from Bob Jones and Jock Jones. The team including memorable names like Charlie “Dirty” Hogg, “Tot” Gubbins and “Ticer” Thomas.

Two years later West Auckland returned to Italy to defend their trophy. FC Zurich were Switzerland’s representatives this time and West Auckland won their semi-final 2-0. In the other semi final Juventus beat Torino.

In the final they drubbed Juventus 6-1 with goals from Bob “Drol” Moore 2, Fred Dunn 2, Andy “Chips” Appleby and Joe Rewcastle. Interesting only two of the team from 1909, Bob Jones and Charlie Hogg, played in both tournaments as the others simply could not afford to lose their wages for a second time.

It was this second competition and the cost of travelling over that actually put West Auckland in severe financial trouble upon their return the north east. A condition set out by Thomas Lipton stated any club winning the trophy twice consecutively could keep it. Heavily indebted, the club actually folded in 1912 and in order to clear their debts, the club reluctantly put the trophy up for sale. It was duly sold for £40 to Mrs Lanchester, the landlady of the Wheatsheaf Hotel which was the club’s headquarters at the time. The club reformed in 1914 and competed in local leagues. It was 1934 before they returned to the Northern League on a permanent basis.

In 1960, Mrs Lanchester was still alive and agreed to sell the trophy back to the club for £100. The trophy was displayed in the Eden Arms owned by Syd Douthwaite, West Auckland’s secretary. However, after the Jules Rimet trophy was stolen in Westminster in March 1966, the trophy was locked away for safekeeping for several years before coming back out of storage for display in the Working Mens Club on Front Street.


In January 1994 the trophy was stolen and despite the offer of a sizeable reward it was never recovered. A replica was funded by public donations and was recreated by Jack Spencer of Sheffield. It remains on display in the Working Mens Club but in a specially constructed security casing. Ironically the original trophy nearly never made it back to England in the first place. The 1909 team managed to leave the trophy on the platform of the Gard du Nord station in Paris and returned home empty handed. Fortunately the club was reunited with their trophy a couple of days later.

In August 2009 the current West Auckland Town team returned to Turin to take part in a rematch of the final against Juventus. The Northern Leaguers were pitted against the under 20 side of the Italian giants and were promptly hammered 7-1. Sadly the club reported that Juventus were less than hospitable towards them, providing them with bowls of crisps as a post match meal and presenting them with a blank plaque and two books on flowers at half-time of the match.

In October 2013, after several delays, a statue commemorating the centenary of this remarkable story was unveiled on the village green, a lofty goal kick away from West Auckland’s Darlington Road ground. The two bronze figures of a footballer and a coal miner sit on top of a stone plinth using stone from the Dunhouse quarry. The two figures share the same face and the height of the kicking foot is said to be the exact height of the mine shaft at the West Auckland Colliery where the players worked in horrendous conditions. The statue cost £167,374 and is the work of sculptor Nigel Boonham. The magnificent statue was jointly unveiled by Sir John Hall, actor Tim Healy who starred in a TV drama “A Captain’s Tale” about the West Auckland story, long before his success in “Auf Wiedersehen, Pet”, and ex-England international David Ticer Thomas. It was his grandfather, who bore the same name, who captained the first Auckland team in Italy.

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The story of this amazing period in Northern League football is recounted in a display in the covered terrace at the Darlington Road ground. It is truly refreshing that a club is so reverential to its history, three cheers for West Auckland Town.

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Upon This Rock (Gibraltar)

The Gibraltar Football Association (GFA) was formed in 1895 and is one of the oldest operating national associations in the world. Football on the isthmus dates from the 1890’s and were kickabout games on the British Garrison which had been built in 1704. In 1901 the first organised match was reported between a civilian Gibraltarian XI and side representing the military, which would become known as Prince of Wales FC. The match took place on a grass pitch inside the racetrack that had been laid on the flat land between Gibraltar and the frontier with Spain and is believed to have been close to the site of the present day Victoria Stadium.

The first golden period for Gibraltarian football came with the reconstruction of the Victoria Stadium in period at the end of World War II. The site was originally a military pitch and had been in use since 1926. The new facility attracted many professional clubs and GFA representative sides took on the like of Real Madrid (a notable 2-2 draw!), Atlético Madrid, Real Valladolid and more exotic opposition like Red Star Belgrade, Hajduk Split and Wacker Innsbruck. In the period 1949 to 1955 many UK nationals did their military service in Gibraltar and military football leagues proliferated. The Army had three pitches out by Europa Point and there was another pitch in the town centre, generally known as the Naval Ground.

This period of unprecedented success for the GFA ended when in 1956 the Spanish government banned their clubs from playing on the peninsula and four years later the UK ended National Service reducing the number of military personnel in Gibraltar by some 90%. In 1971 the Victoria Stadium was again rebuilt, this time by the Royal Engineers. The GFA upgraded the pitch and athletics track in 1991.

Gibraltar’s first attempted to join UEFA in 2007, but their bid was overwhelmingly rejected. Spain had lobbied FIFA citing the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 as a basis for declaring the proposed national stadium of Gibraltar as being built on disputed land and was contrary to FIFA’s constitution. However, an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sports, found in favour of Gibraltar and UEFA had to agree to provisional membership. By 2013 the GFA were formerly voted into full membership with only Belarus and Spain voting against them. This allowed the tiny nation of just 30,000 people access to all international and European club competitions. Similarly to the Armenia and Azerbaijan scenario, Spain and Gibraltar will be kept apart in competition draws.

The GFA’s problems, however, did not end there even when finally elected to UEFA they could not host games on a stadium they did not wholly own. Ownership of the venue was largely with the Government of Gibraltar. The 54th member nation of UEFA then had to play its home international matches in Portugal in the Estádio do Algarve in Loulé. There were schemes to build a new national stadium at Europa Point and also Lathbury Barracks but neither came to fruition.

The issue was resolved by the Government selling the stadium to the GFA for £16.5m, largely funded by grants from UEFA. The sale price would be reinvested in other venues for sports displaced by the sale and in upgrading venues in time for the 2019 Island Games. The new Victoria Stadium will be UEFA Category 4 compliant with a capacity of 8,000. The new project will start in early 2019 and take two years to complete. Football will continue to be played while work progresses but there it was decided there would be no football tournament in the Island Games due to the construction plans. This tournament will be held instead on Anglesey in June 2019.

Gibraltarian clubs’ European matches had been held at the Victoria Stadium, including Lincoln Red Imps’ famous 1-0 win over Celtic in July 2016, but the move into sole ownership allowed national team games to be staged in Gibraltar from the start of the new UEFA Nations League.

On the domestic scene a Gibraltarian Football League has existed since the 1895/6 season when Gibraltar FC were the inaugural winners. The most successful side were the military side Prince of Wales FC, who had won 19 titles by the time they disbanded in 1953. It has taken the rise of Lincoln Red Imps in recent years to overhaul that total and they now stand on 23 titles of which includes 16 of the 18 championships contested since the turn of the new millennium. Only wins by Gibraltar United (2001/02) and Europa (2016/17) have punctuated their dominance.

The first game today is between St. Joseph’s, the oldest club in the Gibraltarian League system having being formed in 1912, and Gibraltar Phoenix. The two sides are very evenly matched and lie fourth and fifth in the ten team table at the start of play. It ends goalless although it is a reasonably interesting game. Despite free entry a very modest crowd gathers for this 4pm kick off.

Saturday November 24th 2018 (16.00pm) – Gibraltar First Division

St.Joseph’s 0
Gibraltar Phoenix 0

Att:62 (at Victoria Stadium)

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Such is the conveyor belt use of the artificial surface at the Victoria Stadium, only half an hour separates this game from another First Division contest between Lynx and Mons Calpe, named after one of the two Pillars of Hercules. Lynx are struggling in eighth place in the table while Mons Calpe are fourth. The match goes true to form and Mons coast to very comfortable 3-0 in pouring rain. Lynx are a noticeably poorer team than the other three watched today despite having one of the famous Chipolina brothers, Kenneth, in their rearguard.

Saturday November 24th 2018 (18.15pm) – Gibraltar First Division

Lynx 0
Mons Calpe 3 (Sastrie 24, Pereyra 33, Pegalajar 90)

Att:71 (at Victoria Stadium)

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There was an option to see a third straight game at 20.30pm, a second tier clash between Manchester 62 FC and College 1975, but it was nice to have an evening meal in the old part of this historic area.

As a footnote occasionally planes cannot land at Gibraltar airport in high winds and bad weather. This can result in planes landing at Malaga airport instead, and the obvious delays that ensues. Could be worth factoring this possibility into your travel plans.

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Baltic State

Having enjoyed a football weekend in the Estonian capital of Tallinn a few years ago I decided it was high time I ticked off the other two Baltic states, Latvia and Lithuania.

Arriving in Rīga on Ryan Air’s joy filled red eye flight from Stansted the Latvian capital soon wins you over with its imminent walkability and stunning architecture including several Art Nouveau structures. But before you even think about your transfer from the airport to the city you must take a look at the stunning Military Aircraft Museum next to the terminal and opposite car park P3. Once you have satisfied your Cold War intrigue a transfer to the heart of Rīga takes twenty minutes. It is worth stating that car hire is very good value and you can take the vehicle you hire into either of the other Baltic nations without any extra charge or additional insurance.

Football in Latvia is beset by money problems and poor support. Since independence in 1991 Skonto Rīga was always the biggest club in Latvia, winning 14 league titles in a row before Liepajas Metalurgs ended their monopoly in 2005. Skonto would only win one more championship before suffering a calamitous and fatal bankruptcy in December 2016. The Skonto Stadions is a very decent stadium, albeit three sided, and is now used by FC Rīga.

The SynotTip Virsliga (Higher League) operates with just eight clubs, six of which have only been formed since the turn of the 21st century. My first taste of Latvian football comes at Rīgas Futbola Skola. The RTU (Rīgas Tehniskās universitātes) Stadions has a large temporary looking bleacher style stand on the near side with in excess of 200 seats. On the opposite side there are two small terracing units one labelled for the away side and one for the home team “ultras”. Less than ten away fans from reigning Higher League champions Spartaks Jūrmala.

It is €5 entry on the day although e-tickets can be bought in advance for €3. Just before kick off the RFS “ultras” arrive bedecked in shirts and scarves and banging drums. Despite their fervour the home side barely muster a shot on goal and Spartaks coast to a 2-0 win. The official attendance was 330 although my head count made it considerably less.

Saturday April 28th 2018 – Latvian SYNOTtip Virsliga

FK Rīgas Futbola Skola 0
FK Spartaks Jūrmala 2 (Svārups 34, Dmitriev 77)

Att:330 Entry €5

Luckily the game did not overrun so the ten minute dash back across the river was made in time to see the 3pm kick off between Metta/Latvijas Universitāte and Valmiera Glass VIA get underway. Metta play at another very basic ground called the Rīgas Hanzas Vidusskolas laukums just a few minutes from the Skonto Stadions. It is €4 entry and there is again a long bleacher style seated stand down one side. This was a real slow boiler of a game, after an hour of mind numbingly tedious tiki-taka passing the two sides shared four goals in the closing stages including a couple of superb strikes.

Saturday April 28th 2018 – Latvian SYNOTtip Virsliga

FK Metta/Latvijas Universitāte 2 (Dzhamalutdinov pen 77,87)

FK Valmiera Glass Via 2 (V.Jaunzems 62, Cipe 83)

Att:250 Entry €4

An evening in old town Rīga capped a fine day out with a cross border trip to Lithuania to look forward to in the morning. It is worth mentioning here that there seems to be an issue with Lithuanian top flight where matches can change location at quite short notice. Thankfully the Lithuania FA website (lff.lt) is just as accurate and informative as its Latvian equivalent. My planned double was the 1pm kick off between Kauno Zalgiris and FK Atlantas, which had already been moved to the Nacionalinė Futbolo Akademija, and then the 6pm match between FK Stumbras and FK Trakai at the S.Dariaus ir S.Gireno Stadionas.

However, a quick check up before the three hour drive south from Riga to Kaunas showed that the Stumbras game had also been moved to the Nacionalinė Futbolo Akademija, which left the obvious dilemma of waiting around for a few hours for a match at the same venue or find an alternative match. I quickly found a 4pm kick off in the Lithuanian Cup at Šiauliai but it would be impossible to make kick off in time. A quick look into the murky depths of the Pirmā Liga, the Latvian second tier found a very handy 7pm match in Olaine for the intriguingly named FK Super Nova.

The Lithuanian top flight game was interesting, a more pacy English style of match instead of the short passing games witnessed north of the border. It was to prove a very entertaining match in a very basic venue normally used by Zalgiris’ and Stumbras’ second teams. The game ended 2-3 to the visitors who thoroughly deserved their win although the hosts nearly levelled in injury time.

Sunday April 2018 – Lithuanian A Lyga

FK Kauno Žalgiris 2 (Kloniūnas 13, Joan Figuereido 87)
FK Atlantas 3 (Baniulis 7,54, Šinkus 85)

Att:155 Entry €3

The gap between matches meant a comfortable drive back to Olaine which lies around 15 miles south of the capital. FK Super Nova were formed as recently as 2000 and previously played at the Ostvalda Vidusskola Stadions some twelve miles away in Imanta. They seemingly have quite good support and totally unexpectedly a modest but colourful programme was handed out free of charge. The Olaines Stadions turned out to be the best one of the weekend, a large back of seats with the central section covered with a roof. Opposite this a church and railway track provides a scenic backdrop. Super Nova now share this ground with local side, AFA Olaine.

The standard of football was pretty poor with a seeming inability to stop giving the ball away at every opportunity. The game was won by the hosts when a rare half decent cross was knocked into the net to the evident delight of the home fans. It seemed to me that the match was more a social event for families with the actual match being a secondary concern. The club are clearly trying to generate a family atmosphere and have an angry looking star as a mascot!

Sunday April 29th 2018 – Latvian Komanda Pirmā Liga

SK Super Nova 1 (Strautiņš 77)
FK Smiltene/BJSS 0

Att:228 Free entry, free programme

It proved an interesting break in two of European football’s backwaters.

An expanded version of this review will appear in a future issue of Football Weekends Magazine.