Football in Fort William arrived late as the Western Highlands region is much more interested in shinty, a traditional Scottish Gaelic game played with wooden sticks. Comann Camanachd A’ Ghearasdain (Fort William Shinty Club) date from 1893 and Kilmallie Shinty Club from 1929 so their long standing foothold in the town meant that the town did not have a football club until 1974.The club has always played at Claggan Park, an enclosed pasture in the foothills of the Ben Nevis mountain range. The stunning backdrop is rightly lauded as one of the best in Europe but the peak is not actually Ben Nevis itself, but a hill called Meall an t-Suidhe. The venue itself has a decrepit covered stand on one side of the pitch but this is now fenced off and condemned. There are now two identical modular Arena Seating units with around 70 seats each on the opposite side. The pitch is close to the River Nevis and is prone to waterlogging. In an attempt to help the pitch recover from the shocking winter the club turned the pitch ninety degrees in December which has left the playing surface decidedly narrow and the stands now behind either goal. Fort William FC initially contested friendlies and entered cup competitions such as the Scottish Qualifying Cup, the Inverness Cup and the North of Scotland Club. The clubs’ remote location meant there was no obvious league competition for the fledgling club to join. The club eventually joined the North Caledonian League for the 1983/84 season and finished runners-up to Muir of Ord before winning the title the following season. The club were in the ascendancy and joined the Highland League for 1985/86. It’s been another tough season on the field for The Fort, with five games left they have already conceded 156 goals including a 2-12 loss at home to Cove Rangers, a 0-10 at home to Fraserburgh. However, the nadir came when they visited reigning champions, Brora Rangers, at Dudgeon Park. The 16-0 thumping was just one goal away from Fort’s record defeat of 17-0 against Peterhead in 1998.Assuming Fort do finish bottom of the table this season it will mean they have been wooden spoonists 16 times in the 33 seasons they have been in the Highland League. This includes a run of four seasons finishing in last place, the fourth of which, 2008/09, saw them secure just one point all season in a 1-1 draw with Wick Academy. The size of their problem can be measured by looking between 1996/97 and 2013/14 when in those 18 seasons the club were bottom of the table 14 times.Their on field struggles have been well documented, but its immediate future lies off the field as all six board members announced in January that they will be stepping down at the end of the current campaign. This includes primary benefactors Stewart Maclean and Gerald McIntyre whose cash injections have kept the club afloat and funded the tortuous road trips needed in the Highland League. Despite a thriving academy set up the Forts have always struggled to attract players of sufficient quality often resorting to shipping in players from Glasgow and Inverness. Their traditional dragnet for local talent is from the surrounding areas of Lochaber, Oban and Speyside as well as the Isle of Skye. However, this flow of talent has dwindled since the closure of the Lochaber Welfare League, a summer competition, in 2016. Fort William has produced players of a very decent standing, Bolton Wanderers legend, John McGinlay, started his career at Claggan Park, while ex Chelsea and Swindon forward Duncan Shearer was also born in the town.The club have notified the Highland League that they are likely to resign from the competition at the end of the current campaign. The club have an EGM this week to decide whether the club will join either the Scottish Amateur set up or rejoin the North Caledonian League. Another option, should there be no offers of new blood and financing, would be to fold the club altogether.If the club rejoin the North Caledonian League for the new season their nearest opposition would be Inverness Athletic who are located in Muir of Ord. The away trip to Thurso would take over four hours each way on the 173 mile journey.It would be a real tragedy if this doughty but luckless club call it a day. Claggan Park is an iconic British football ground but undoubtedly these are troubled times at this remote outpost of the beautiful game.Saturday April 14th 2018 – Highland LeagueFort William (0) 0Formartine United (3) 6 (Barbour 22,35,51, Rodger 38, Gethins pen 59, Crawford 65)Attendance: 94 Admission £7, free teamsheetGallery
FC Basel were formed in 1893 and are one of Switzerland’s most successful clubs with twenty Swiss Super League/ Nationalliga A titles to their name. Only Grasshoppers Zurich with 27 have more although they haven’t won the championship since 2003. FC Basel have dominated the Super League recently, their first title did not come until 1952/53 but eight of their titles have come in the last eight seasons such has been their superiority.
They were formed after a meeting in the Schuhmachern-Zunft restaurant and one of their early captains was Hans “Joan” Gamper who went on to form FC Barcelona. From the early days FC Basel played at the Landhof stadium in Kleinbasel which still exists as a football ground with a large stand and clubhouse. The Landhof even held a few international matches for Switzerland, including a 9-0 win for England in 1909. Since FC Basel vacated in 1967 the club used it as a training ground but since the 1990’s it just been used by local sports clubs.
The club moved into the old St Jakob-Park stadium which was replaced with the current arena style stadium between 1998 and 2001. During this time FCB played their home games at BSC Old Boys’ Stadion Schützenmatte. As the stadium, designed by Herzog and De Meuron and known locally as “Joggeli”, was chosen to host six games in Euro 2008 St Jakob-Park was expanded to hold 42,500, although some seats were later removed to a more manageable 37,500. The venue also hosted the 2016 Europa League Final between Liverpool and Sevilla.
The arena is surrounded by retail outlets and the shell of the stadium is wrapped in translucent membrane which can be illuminated. It was not lit up today on a very soggy afternoon and looked, I have to say, a little uninviting from the outside. Inside though is a different story, food outlets and souvenir stalls are abundant and a very healthy crowd gathers for what is expected to be an easy win for the hosts who had already mathematically won the league.
The visitors, FC Thun, are in no mood to roll over for the perennial champions and lead 1-0 and 2-1 before Basel scored a third goal a minute from time to capture what looked to be three more points. However, Thun’s Serbian forward Dejan Sorgić spoilt the celebrations with a deserved equaliser with the last kick of the game, a goal which completely a highly impressive hat-trick.
FC Basel have that air of a well run club from top to tail, their reserves play in the third tier at the Stadion Rankhof which is also used by their official feeder team, the fourth tier club, Concordia Basel.
St Jakob Park is easy to find and most spectators catch the No.14 tram from the city centre.
Sunday May 14th 2017 – Raiffessen Super League
FC Basel (1893) 3 (Steffen 24, Elyounoussi 76, Die 89)
FC Thun 3 (Sorgić 17,64,90)
Att: 26,844 (at St.Jakob Park)
Admission: CF20 (£16) free programme
Győri Egyetértés Torna Osztály Football Club or ETO FC Győr as they are more commonly known were formed in 1904 and have a rich history of European competition participation and the no little matter of 69 seasons in the Hungarian top flight, the Nemzeti Bajnokság I.
The club are four time champions of Hungary, the most recent of which came in 2012/13. So why you might be asking are the club currently languishing in the murky depths of the regionalised third division? Győr’s most recent season in NB I was 2014/15 when despite finishing eighth in the then 16 team league the club were found guilty of breaching licensing and financial regulations and were demoted to the third tier.
The Győr club has undergone many name changes over the years and these Include the name of Rába Vasas ETO Győr for which they are probably best known to English football fans. This was the club’s name in the 1984/85 when they were drawn against Manchester United in the old Cup Winner Cup competition.
Győr’s past European pedigree is truly impressive. They had been crowned Hungarian champions for the first time in 1963/4 and the success meant a tilt at the European Cup the following season. The green and whites defeated Chemie Leipzig, Lokomotiv Sofia and somewhat forgotten Dutch club Door Wilskracht Sterk before drawing the mighty Benfica in the semi final. The home leg was played in front of 62,000 people at the old Népstadion in Budapest and the Portuguese won 1-0. Braces from the legendary Eusebio and José Torres in the second leg ended Hungarian hopes of success.
Continued success in Europe saw the club move into a new stadium in 1967, the ETO Stadion. Initially it had a capacity of 25,000 but in its later existence this had been savagely cut to 14,000. In 2008 Győr moved again to a new stadium, hotel and a total white elephant of a shopping centre complex on the eastern edge of town called ETO Park. It has two huge modern double tiered stands on either side, one end has nothing other than a scoreboard while the hotel end has a blink and you will miss it tiny section of terracing for away fans. After the old Ferenc Puskás Stadion in Budapest was decommissioned and the Groupama Arena was opened the Hungarian national team played several home internationals at ETO Park.
After the success of clinching the NB I championship in 2012/13, the club faced huge problems when in 2015 its owners, Quaestor Financial Hrurira, went bankrupt. Unable to operate ETO Györ declared debts of 200 million florints (over £500,000) to the Hungarian FA. The enforced demotion was inevitable as the club looked to just survive and regroup in the third tier.
This season has been one of hope for Győr as they are challenging for promotion from NB III and also enjoying a run in the Magyar Kupa. Having already eliminated top flight Debrecen (1-0) and Komárom (7-1), the draw was harsh for the green and whites as they were pitted against NB I league leaders Vasas FC.
Tonight Győr played some scintillating attacking football with Lukas Szabó really catching the eye up front. The hosts were never out of this contest until virtually the last kick of the game when Vasas substitute Yevhen Pavlov prodded home an undeserved winner.
Tuesday November 29th 2016 – Magyar Kupa 8th Round
ETO FC Győr 2 (Rácz pen 39, Szabó 46)
Vasas FC 3 (Saglik 11, Remili 80, Pavlov 90)
Admission HUF 1,000 (£3) Programme Free
The last thirty years of the League of Ireland have seen a myriad of clubs attempting to bridge the gap from county football to the national league. The likes of Kilkenny City (1985-2008), Monaghan United (1985-2012), St.Francis (1996-2001), Dublin City (1999-2006), Kildare County (2002-09), Sporting Fingal (2007-11), Mervue United (2008-13), Salthill Devon (2008-13) have all tried and largely failed to hold down a place in the competition for anything other than a limited period of time.
Cabinteely are the latest such aspirant joining the League of Ireland for the 2015/16 season. Cabinteely is a small town in the southern part of County Dublin and had a couple of clubs, Cabinteely Blues and Cabinteely Boys representing the town before the current club were formed in 1967 as Auburn FC. Five years later they changed their name to Cabinteely Boys, dropping the suffix in recent years following the assimilation of several female teams into their roster of 60 teams at all age levels. To date probably their most famous alumni is Andy Keogh who played for Scunthorpe and Wolves and is currently with Perth Glory in Australia.
In order to gain admittance to the League of Ireland Cabinteely had to relocate from their very basic Kilbogget Park to Stradbrook Road the home of Blackrock College rugby club. The ground has a licensed capacity of 1,300 and only has uncovered terracing down one side of the pitch. It also has floodlights and a TV gantry so even without a stand as such it is a big step up from their old home. Cabo’s first season in the national league saw them finish bottom of the table of eight clubs.
This season has not seen much progress with Cabo again propping up the table before today’s game with their visitors from Athlone just a point above them. The result of this game was beyond doubt when young centre forward Joe Doyle completed a hat-trick with 7 minutes and 20 seconds on the clock. Doyle added a fourth to send Cabinteely in at the break in total command of the match. Athlone pulled back a consolation goal midway through the second half before an Oscar Brennan volley sealed a truly impressive victory for the hosts. It was their biggest win since joining the League of Ireland.
Just how long Cabinteely can survive at this level will be interesting to observe given the chequered history of recent entrants to this division. Should the club find themselves in a promotion position there would be a fair amount of upgrading needed for Stradbrook Road. Support is modest but enthusiastic, “We are Cabo” scarves sell well, and who knows, this very result might just light a fire in an upwards trajectory for Cabo.
League of Ireland Division 1 – (01/07/2016)
Cabinteely 5 (Doyle 2, 4, 8, 27, Brennan 87)
Athlone Town 1 (Monaghan 68)
Admission: €10 No Programme (internet version only)
The history of Shamrock Rovers is absolutely fascinating, a heady mix of on field success, the Hoops have won a record 17 League of Ireland titles, and boardroom politics and shenanigans. Even the clubs’ own formation date is disputed traditionally always quoted as 1901, recent study has unearthed unequivocal proof that Shamrock Rovers were playing matches as early as April 1899. What is not in dispute is how the clubs’ name was chosen. One of the first meetings held to discuss the formation of the new club was held in Shamrock Avenue and it was decided to call the new club by that national symbol rather than a particular locality.
The highs and lows of the Hoops can be mirrored by their struggles in finding a home ground to call their own. Initially the majority of games were played at Ringsend Park before the club spent the 1915/16 season at Shelbourne’s then home ground of Shelbourne Park Stadium, now exclusively a greyhound racing venue. Rovers then played at Windy Arbour near Dundrum before using a pitch on the Milltown Road which was in the heartland of their supporter base. Finally, in 1926 the club opened its brand new ground in Milltown situated in Dublin’s south side. The land was leased from the Jesuit Order and the ground was mainly built by the clubs’ supporters. In the 1930’s the Cunningham family bought Shamrock Rovers and the stadium was renamed Glenmalure Park after the ancestral home of the new owners.
Glenmalure Park was the base for huge success for the Rovers although some of their biggest European Cup matches, including their debut in the competition, against Manchester United, would be staged at Bohemians’ superb and commodious Dalymount Park. The Cunninghams completed the ground providing more terracing and a cover for the terrace opposite the main stand. The capacity now stood at some 20,000 but in 1968 the visit of Waterford to Glenmalure saw the all time record gate of 28,000 gather for a Rovers game.
The Cunningham Family sold Rovers to the Kilcoynes in 1972 and by 1987 the new owners had also purchased the land from the Jesuit Order. In the 15 years of Kilcoyne ownership Glenmalure had become run down due to a lack of maintenance and investment. The motive soon became clear when a plan was announced to sell Glenmalure and move Rovers across town to Tolka Park to groundshare with then occupants Home Farm.
The Rovers fans boycotted and picketed games at Tolka Park which ended up bankrupting the Kilcoynes. Rovers fans collected money to buy Glenmalure but when they could not match an offer from a property developer the stadiums fate was sealed. Glenmalure was knocked down in 1990 and eight years later the supporters trust erected a memorial at the site of the old stadium.
In 1990 the now nomadic Rovers moved from Tolka Park to the magnificent arena of the Royal Dublin Society Showground in Ballsbridge, a venue first opened in 1881. Primarily of course it is an equine events venue but has also staged rock concerts, religious gatherings and since 2005 has been the home to Leinster rugby. The new grandstand was built in 2006 while the vintage and just stunning Anglesea Road stand with its glorious elevated terrace dates from 1927, although there are plans to replace this historic beauty.
The RDS Showground
Shamrock Rovers left the RDS in 1996 and limped on playing “home” games at Shelbourne, St.Patricks Athletic and the Morton Stadium, an athletics venue in Santry with a long history of hosting League of Ireland matches. In March 2000 Taoiseach Bertie Ahern cut the first sod at Rovers’ new Tallaght Stadium but it would be nine years before the first match would be staged there.
Financial problems beseeched the project, planning permission expired and to cap it all in 2006 a local gaelic football club Thomas Davis GAA took legal action against the club and South Dublin County Council stating the new facility should have a pitch big enough to stage senior GAA matches. Thomas Davis eventually lost the case and the original football only plan proceeded. The club had hit the rocks though and were only saved by a consortium of 400 fans who took over the debts of the club ensuring its survival.
The Tallaght Stadium finally opened in March 2009 with a game against Sligo Rovers, ironically the same opponents for the last game at Glenmalure Park. In July of that year the club held a lucrative “Festival of Football” welcoming Newcastle United, Real Madrid and Hibernian to the new stadium. The fan run club has tried to be innovative as well, becoming the first club to run a “B” team in the First Division of the League of Ireland.
Tonight sees the first leg of a Europa League first qualifying round tie with little known Finnish opponents Rovaniemen Palloseura, better known as RoPS. They hail from close to the Arctic circle and Rovaniemi is the official hometown of Santa Claus! Tonight however Shamrock are just awful and look like a team in pre-season rather than mid-season. RoPS win easily barely breaking sweat and on this evidence the second leg in the frozen north of Finland should be a mere formality.
Tallaght Stadium is not a particularly attractive venue, exposed and already weathered concrete and with two open ends, but considering the near fatal journey it took to get there at least it is finally a home for Ireland’s most successful club.
Europa League 1st Qualifying Round (30/06/2016)
Shamrock Rovers 0
Rovaniemen Palloseura 2 (Lahdenmäki 26, Saksela 74)
Admission €15 Programme €4
The second Scottish Lowland League groundhop got underway at Raydale Park home of phoenix club Gretna 2008. The old club spectacularly imploded when owner Brooks Mileson’s money stopped funding the clubs’ meteoric rise to the Scottish Premier League. While the “Boy’s Own” goalscoring exploits of Doctor Kenny Deuchar and his teammates are just a fading memory, the current club have manfully persisted in trying to maintain a football presence in the border town.
Raydale Park had been opened in 1946 and was only a modest ground when Gretna played in the English non-league pyramid. English businessman Brooks Mileson took over the club in 2002 after it had been elected into the Scottish Football League in place of Airdrie. Mileson had made a fortune from both construction and insurance and he pumped large sums of money into his new project. Raydale Park could not keep up with the teams’ progress and a plan to move to an “eco stadium” in neighbouring Gretna Green came to nothing. Gretna played their last season,2007/08, at Motherwell’s Fir Park before Mileson fell ill and the club went out of business.
Gretna 2008 rose from the ashes and initially played at Everholm before gaining security of tenure at Raydale when it was sold to the Raydale Community Partnership. The ground has not aged particularly well with the pitch length cover on the far side now roofless. The main feature is the stand behind the goal, a large modern cover build over temporary bleacher style seating. The main stand and dressing rooms remain on the near side.
Tonight’s game against near neighbours Dalbeattie Star is an attritional affair with two very evenly matched teams bludgeoning each other into submission, two fine displays of goalkeeping ensured the scorers were not troubled in this game.
Friday March 11th 2016 – Scottish Lowland League
Gretna (2008) 0
Dalbeattie Star 0
Att: 366 (at Raydale Park)
The hop moved east for days two and three to the fine city of Edinburgh and its surrounding area.
Whitehill Welfare’s Ferguson Park got the day underway with Gala Fairydean Rovers providing the opposition. The hosts were formed in 1953 and went on to dominate the East of Scotland League with a record 16 championship wins, the club also being more than a match for Scottish League opposition in the Scottish Cup. The club is based in the small Midlothian village of Rosewell and were formed by staff of the Whitehill Colliery which was closed only eight years after the clubs formation.
The village originally had two clubs, junior outfit Rosewell Rosedale played on a field in the centre of town which was eventually swallowed up for housing. Both clubs needed a new home and Ferguson Park was opened having been named after the farmer who supplied the turf for the new ground. The Rosedale club folded in 1957 leaving Whitehill Welfare as the sole occupants. The ground has undergone extensive modernisation since the old pavilion was demolished in 1997 and is now a very well presented ground with a sizeable seated stand.
The game is a one sided affair with three very high quality goals from the hosts being punctuated by our very own “Rosewell Incident” when Gala’s captain, Jamie Gibson, reacted to a heavy challenge by punching the aggressor and earning himself a straight red card. Not a good day for the men from the “San Siro”.
Saturday March 12th 2016 – Scottish Lowland League
Whitehill Welfare 3 (Connolly 17, Muir 29, Devlin 76)
Gala Fairydean Rovers 0
Att: 324 (at Ferguson Park)
The hop then moved east to Prestonpans where things to a decidedly unexpected turn. Upon arrival at Pennypit Park visibly distraught club officials greeted us with the terrible news that the referee had called the game off due to a small area of “soft” turf near the halfway line that he deemed was unsafe. Despite appeals to reconsider the man was not for turning and months of planning and not inconsiderable financial outlay were cast asunder by one over zealous official.
After heartfelt commiserations were extended attention turned to an alternative fixture for the afternoon slot. Broxburn, Bonnyrigg Rose, Dalkeith Thistle, Linlithgow Rose and Civil Service Strollers were the choice of some but I opted for nearby Tranent of the East Region Juniors.
Forrester’s Park has a smart new pavilion and 3G facilities next to the old ground which has a large cover on one side of the venue. A healthy crowd gather and the pitch is immaculate, being barely three miles away from poor old Preston Athletic. Crucially, of course, Tranent is on higher ground than its coastal neighbour.
The hosts are top of the table and give their toothless opponents a real mauling, scoring some terrifically well worked goals. An enjoyable if somewhat unexpected digression.
Saturday March 12th 2016 – East Region (South)
Tranent Juniors 6 (Fisher 5, McMillan 10,23,37, Manion 72,90)
Easthouses Lily MW 0
Att:185 (at Forrester’s Park)
Back in the heart of the city for the 5pm kick off at Ainslie Park a massive modern sports complex and home to inaugural Lowland League champions The Spartans.
The pitch us state of the art 3G and is accompanied by a sizeable stand and impressive clubhouse with an elevated viewing veranda. The homogeny of it all coupled with some petty and over officious stewarding make this a slightly sterile experience. It is a certainly a far cry from the homely City Park which I visited in 1998 and had been Spartans home ground between 1976 and 2009. Strangely Spartans’ record gate at City Park came just three years before its demise when 3,346 watched a Scottish Cup tie against St.Mirren.
In 2008 with Ainslie Park still a year away from inauguration Spartans applied to take the place of the ill-fated Gretna in the Scottish Football League. Unsurprisingly given the ageing facilities at City Park, Spartans were overlooked in favour of electing Annan Athletic.
Similar to the Gretna match the previous night the hosts and visitors Stirling University pretty much cancelled each other out until Keith Murray scored a sucker punch winner on the stroke of full time.
Saturday March 12th 2016 – Scottish Lowland League
Spartans 1 (Murray 90)
Stirling University 0
Att:435 (at Ainslie Park)
The final match of a gruelling day came at the magnificently fading splendour of the Meadowbank Stadium. Built for the 1970 Commonwealth Games it is a concrete lovers paradise. Despite renovations in the mid and late 1990’s this beast of stadium (capacity 16,500 with 7,500 seats) looks like it has suffered from a lack of investment. The erstwhile home of Ferranti and Meadowbank Thistle has been earmarked for demolition or redevelopment since 2006, however the favoured Sighthill Stadium project ran into problems and the council are currently reconsidering options for this under occupied venue.
The current club are a 1986 reformation of a club original formed in 1928. The old club had a dismal spell in the Scottish Football League before the war after they had beaten Nithsdale Wanderers in a ballot to replace Clydebank in the Scottish League in 1931.
The club played at City Park but in 1955 were refused a new lease and went in immediate abeyance. Eleven years later a club called Postal United were formed and in 1986 they successfully applied to use the long lost name of Edinburgh City. The club has twice unsuccessfully applied for Scottish Football League status in 2002 and 2008 following the liquidation of Airdrieonians and Gretna. However, with a promotion route now available to the Scottish Football League, via a Highland and Lowland League play off process, the club must have a very good chance of returning Scottish League football to this ailing leviathan of a venue.
Saturday March 12th 2016 – Scottish Lowland League
Edinburgh City 1 (Paterson 67)
East Kilbride 1 (Hastings 24)
Att: 418 (at Meadowbank Stadium)
I was taken by Meadowbank’s fading star that I went back the following morning for some daylight shots.
Sunday bought just the one game in the delightful surroundings of Peffermill, the home since 1978 of Edinburgh University. The football club has been sectioned off from an impressive looking hockey venue and is now called East Peffermill. Behind the modern modular seating unit is the brooding south side of Arthur’s Seat while to the south were stunning views of the Pentland Hills on what was a pleasantly mild morning. The club are most welcoming and friendly and a perfect remedy to yesterday’s trials and tribulations.
The University formed its football section in 1878 and the club is steeped in history and success, being the most successful University side in Scotland. They played at Corstorphine, Craiglockhart and Canal Field before acquiring the land which became Peffermill Playing Field. Initially it was little more than a field with changing rooms but recent investment has given the club a most acceptable venue with a 3G training pitch as well.
The hosts race into an early two goal lead with great finishes from Nathan Evans and the impressive Jack Guthrie. A wonder strike from Selkirk’s Ross King then reduced the arrears before half time. The visitors have the hugely experienced former Hibs, Birmingham City, Lokomotiv Moscow and Tom Tomsk striker Garry O’Connor in their team and despite being a little on the heavy side, his endeavour bought a well deserved equaliser four minutes from time. The home side pressed for a winner and when the visiting goalkeeper dropped a routine cross at the feet of Ross Patterson the winger didn’t need to be asked twice to notch the winning goal.
Sunday March 13th 2016 – Scottish Lowland League
Edinburgh University 3 (Evans 7, Guthrie 14, Patterson 88)
Selkirk 2 (King 19, O’Connor 86)
Att: 294 (at East Peffermill)