The Brat Pack

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

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

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

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

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

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Saturday May 19th 2018 – Slovakian Under 19 Liga

AS Trenčín U19s 1 (Cibula 9)

FK Železiarne Podbrezová U19s 1 (Ončák 39)

Att:68 Free entry, free teamsheet

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

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

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

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

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Saturday May 19th 2018 – Fortuna Liga

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

MŠK Žilina 2 (Kaša 11, Mráz 64)

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

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

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

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

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

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

FK Vajnory 0

Att:800 Entry €3

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

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

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

ŠK Bernolákovo 0

ŠK Slovan Bratislava II 0

Att:263 Entry €1

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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.

The Landed Gentry (Lierse SK)

Lierse Sportkring have played at the Herman Vanderpoortenstadion since 1925. The stadium is named after a former town mayor and politician but thankfully most people refer to it as Het Lisp as it is located on Lispersesteenweg, the road to the Lier suburb of Lisp. Prior to the current name the stadium was known as Lisperstadion.

The move to Het Lisp was a precursor to Lierse joining the top division of Belgian football for the first time in 1927/28. The club had been formed in 1906 and were playing on land owned by the local Graf (Earl) Marnix de Sainte-Aldegonde. This upset local farmers and the police banned the club from playing any more matches on the field! The clubs’ founder Gustaaf Van Den Roye was summonsed to explain himself to the landowner. Van Den Roye won him over with his plans for a football club to represent the whole town of Lier and the Earl promised to find them suitable land for football. The Earl was good to his word and became the clubs’ Honorary Chairman.

The club consolidated in the top flight and have to date won four Belgian championships, a fifth was captured in 1940/41 but was during an unofficial War season and is therefore not recognised. Lierse had the services of the legendary  Bernard Voorhoof between 1927 and 1948, he scored an unbelievable 365 times for them in 529 matches and remains Belgium’s all time top scorer with 30 international goals, a feat subsequently equalled by the great Paul Van Himst.

Lierse have also contesting nearly 50 matches in European competitions, their most memorable night came in September 1971 when having lost a home leg 2-0 to Leeds United the Yellow and Blacks arrived at Elland Road for the second leg. On an unforgettable night Lierse incredibly won 4-0 and the holders of the Inter Cities Fairs Cup were eliminated.

Perhaps an even bigger shock came in 1996/97 when up against the wealth and might of the likes of Anderlecht and Club Brugge, “the biggest small club in the world”, Lierse, won a fourth Belgian title, losing only three times all season under the management of veteran former international Eric Gerets. To round off a great decade for the club Lierse won a second Belgian Cup in 1999 defeating Standard Liège 3-1 in the final.

With most good things, however, comes a fall and the club were relegated at the end of the 2014/15 campaign and are now in the new Division 1B of Belgian football. This is only their twelfth season outside the top flight since 1927 so new Egyptian owner, Maged Samy (who also owns KV Turnhout) will be looking for a rapid return to the top tier.

On today’s performance few would back against them, tight at the back and with dynamic options upfront Lierse made short work of dispatching visitors Cercle Brugge. Admittedly the hosts’ task was made all the easier when Cercle’s French centre back Pierre Bourdin conceded a penalty and was sent off. The impressive Aurélien Joachim netted the spot kick with some ease for his second goal of the game.

The stadium is a good one. Upon arrival you are confronted with a big modern reinforced concrete stand which is actually behind one of the goals. The two sides have a modern seated stand one side and an older structure with a large paddock style terrace on the deck below seating. It is one corner of the seating that Lierse’s boisterous ultras gather for some serious flag waving and drumming. Behind the far goal is a temporary looking seated stand for away fans. The stadium looks far bigger than its modest 16,000 capacity and on today’s evidence produces a great atmosphere.

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Proximus League – 14/08/2016

Lierse SK 2 (Joachim 28, pen 54)

Cercle Brugge 0

Att: 4,589 (at Herman Vanderpoortenstadion)

Admission €12 (standing) Programme Free

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