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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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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Through Cyprus Hills

The Cyprus Football League consists of a three division national league system called Divisions 1, 2 and 3 with 14, 14 and 16 clubs in respectively. The top level splits into a championship and relegation pool at the end of February after a 26 round regular season.

Of the 78 League championships contested to date, three clubs have dominated the league. APOEL Nicosia (26), Omonia Nicosia (20) and Anorthosis Famagusta (13) account for 59 of the league titles between them.

The first game of my trip was the Friday evening game in Division 2 between AO Ayia Napa and EN THON Lakatamias, somewhat surprisingly being televised. When Ayia Napa played in the top division their home ground was considered unsuitable for top flight football and games were played at the 5,800 capacity Tasos Markou Stadium in Paralimni. After relegation the club has returned to the Dimotiko (Municipal) Stadium which has a nominal capacity of 2,000.

A ticket costing €10 is available at the north end of the ground. The spectator facilities are all on one side of the ground, an uncovered pitch length run of wooden bench seating provides the only accommodation. The excellent kantina sells a good variety of snacks including fresh koupes (also known as kibbeh) a snack made of bulgar wheat and minced meat, really popular in the whole Levantine region.

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The far side of the ground has changing rooms and offices while the south end of the ground is used for the storage of small boats and sun loungers! The north end of the ground has a super mural of a former captain and the name “Kastros”.

Based on the league table, the hosts in fourth place should have had a comfortable time of things against Lakatamias who were hovering just one place above the relegation zone. It wasn’t a game of the highest technical ability but a goal either side of half time for the visitors meant a fair result as the hosts barely mustered a shot on target.

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Friday February 23rd 2018 – Cyprus League Division 2

AO Ayia Napa 0

EN THOI Lakatamias 2 (Pechlivanopoulos 42, Siapanis 47)

Att:116  Entry €10

The next Cypriot League game of the weekend was in the capital, Nicosia for a derby match between Olympiakos and APOEL who have won the last five Cypriot League titles. Olympiakos are one of the smaller clubs in the capital although they had a bit of a purple patch in the late sixties winning all three of their league titles between 1967 and 1971. The two big Nicosia clubs, APOEL and Omonia, have played at the modern national stadium which opened in 1999. Known as the GSP (Pancyprian Gymnastic Association) Stadium it is situated south of the city in Strovolos. Prior to this they both played at tonight’s venue, the ageing Makario Stadium in Makedonitissa.

Olympiakos, fellow top flight club Doxa Katokopias and third tier Digenis Akritas Morphou, all currently have to share this stadium. The over use of the ground leads to a convenient late kick off for another televised game. A turgid and forgettable first half, notable only for a low flying drone dangling a message, gave way to a highly entertaining second period where Olympiakos belie their lowly league position and give the reigning champions a real fright. This culminated in a 94th minute equaliser for the hosts with an stunning overhead kick from Portuguese striker Romeu Torres. Quite unbelievably though APOEL snatched the points with a last kick of the match goal from Nicolas Ioannou. With the three points secured APOEL retook the lead in the championship ahead of Apollon Limassol.

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Saturday February 24th 2018 – Cyprus League Division 1

Olympiakos Nicosia 2 (Sotiriou 50, Torres 90+4)

APOEL Nicosia 3 (Sallai 33, Dellatorre 78, Ioannou 90+6)

Attendance: 2,200 (my estimate was c.1,200)  Entry €15

The final game of the weekend was at the western tip of the island in the holiday resort of Pafos. Yet another televised game saw a 6pm kick off under the lights of the Stelios Kyriakides Stadium (previously known as the Pafiako Stadium).

Pafos FC were only formed as recently as 2014 following a merger of AEP Paphos and AEK Kouklia. It was a marriage borne out of mutual convenience. AEP, themselves a result of a merger of APOP Paphos and Evagoras in 2000, were in severe financial trouble in the second tier while Kouklia had just been relegated from the top flight. The aim was to form a more financially stable club competing regularly in the top division. The club were promoted into the First Division in 2016/17 as runners up to champions Alki Oronklini.

Pafos have made a reasonable go of their inaugural top flight season although they will compete in the relegation pool for the closing stages of the season. The hosts have recently appointed a Scottish coaching team led by former Falkirk, Coventry City and Fleetwood Town manager Steven Pressley.

The stadium was built in 1985 and currently holds just over 9,000 people. A renovation in 2003 saw plastic seating installed in what is essentially a two sided ground. The rake of the main stand means you can see the sea from the upper rows of seats. In May 2017, K.O.A (Cyprus Athletic Association) decided to rename the Pafiako Stadium after Stelios Kyriakides, an athlete who won the 1946 Boston marathon. He came from the nearby village of Statos-Agios Fotios.

It looked like Pafos, featuring Diego Poyet in their starting eleven, would win the match after French striker Kévin Bérigaud scored for the hosts after 73 minutes. However, AEK Larnaca were awarded a free kick in the 94th minute and one of eight Spaniards in their match-day squad, Jorge Larena, beat the wall and found the corner of the net. The game didn’t even restart as the referee blew for full time, much to the disappointment of the home fans. Again the official attendance appeared to be grossly exaggerated as I estimated no more than 800 were present for the match.

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February 25th 2018 – Cyprus League Division 1

Pafos FC 1 (Béricaud 73)

AEK Larnaca 1 (Jorge Larena 90)

Attendance:2,500 (my estimate was c.800)  Entry €15

Even though Cyprus is a four hour plus flight from England, and given that standard is not the highest you will ever see, I would still recommend Cyprus for a winter break for guaranteed football in pleasant warm temperatures surrounded by beguiling coastal and mountain scenery.

Venice in Peril (Venezia FC)

Opened in 1913 the elegantly dilapidated Stadio Pier Luigi Penzo (named after a famous war time pilot and who is remembered with a statue in the nearby public gardens) is regarded as the second oldest in Italy behind the Luigi Ferraris in Genoa which had opened two years previously but was completely, and gloriously, rebuilt by Vittorio Gregotti for the 1990 World Cup. However, Milan’s neoclassical Arena Civica would argue that it is the oldest football stadium, not only in Italy but the entire world. The Arena Civica was opened in August 1807 and was used by Internazionale for their biggest matches in their early days and staged all their home games between 1930 and 1947 when they moved into the San Siro. Today this ancient sporting venue is still used for football by Brera Calcio and for rugby by Amatori Rugby Milano.

The stadium initially had just wooden decked seating but this was soon replaced in the 1920’s by a grandstand, the central section of which survives today. The stadium was extended significantly in the late 1930’s which coincided with Venezia reaching Serie A in 1939. The ground remained unchanged and in 1966 a scarcely believable 26,000 people gathered at the Penzo for the home game with AC Milan. Just four years later the stadium was severely damaged by a storm that directly hit the island of Sant’Elena. Much of the stadium was deemed unsafe and the capacity was slashed to 5,000. The return of the club to Serie C1 in 1988 and Serie B in 1991 saw temporary tubular stands erected over the athletics track on the long neglected “popular” side, giving the Penzo an enhanced capacity of 16,500. Natural disaster befell the Penzo again in the summer of 2012 when a vicious tornado again lashed the ancient edifice and caused severe damaged to the external walls, leaving the stadium unsecure. The authorities deemed it unsafe and temporary refuge was sought at the ground of Rino Mercante di Bassano del Grappa in Bassano Virtus. Hasty repairs were carried out at the Penzo but on the eve of the clubs’ return it was noticed that one of the floodlight towers had been badly damaged so the club had to play home games for an extended period at the Stadio Piergiovanni Mecchia in Portogruaro.

The Penzo sits on the island of Sant’Elena and is most commonly approached by boat. It sits adjacent to a 15th Century monastery and the beguiling bell tower of San Giovanni Battista. During the club’s heady days of Serie A membership in the 1990’s then owner Maurizio Zamporini pursued a new stadium project on the mainland by the airport at Tessera. However, the project floundered when the civil aviation authorities (ENAC) refused to conduct a feasibility study for the impact of the new stadium on the airport.

The original Associazione Calcio Venezia were formed in 1907 following a merger of two amateur teams Palestra Marziale and Costantino Reyer. The club played its nascent seasons at the Campo San Bartolomeo. Initially the club played in Red and Blue halved shirts, identical to Genoa, but soon changed to a Green and Black livery.

The club notably won the Coppa Italia in 1940/41 when they defeated Roma 1-0 in a replay following a 3-3 draw in the capital. The team would finish third in Serie A the following season which would be an all time high for the Lagunari. The Venezia side in those days including Ezio Loik and Valentino Mazzola both of home would become part of the legendary “Il Grande Torino” side that tragically perished in the Superga air crash of 1949. A poignant memorial to the illustrious pair can be found at the southern end of the grandstand at the Penzo.

In 1987 the club merged with AC Mestre and incorporated their orange kit in their new and eye catching “arancioneroverdi” colour scheme. The club enjoyed a revival in the late 1990’s after finishing runners up in Serie B to Salernitana in 1997/98. Venezia boasted some fine players including Felipe Maniero, Christian Vieri and the mercurial Uruguayan Álvaro Recoba. The club we relegated at the end of 2001/02 and volatile owner Maurizio Zamporini upped an left for US Palermo citing frustration with the team and lack of progress over the new stadium as a reason. Within three years of his departure AC Venezia were insolvent. A new club was born, Società Sportiva Calcio Venezia and started the 2005/06 season in Serie C2. After just four seasons of existence the new club were also declared bankrupt.

Yet again a new club emerged, Unione Venezia starting in the non-professional Serie D. In 2011 the new club was taken over by a Russian businessman Yuri Korablin, former mayor of Khimki. Legend has it that he was visiting the ancient city as a tourist and on a particularly wet day he went into a shop to buy some more suitable footwear. His eye was diverted by the orange, green and black replica shirt of Unione Venezia and his interest was aroused. The investment initially paid off, promotion was secured to Serie C and they also won the Scudetto Dilettanti, the end of season tournament to decide the overall champion of the nine regional divisions of Serie D.

At the end of the 2014/15 season the Russian’s patience with the authorities of the clubs’ near twenty year quest for a new stadium ran out and he withdrew his support of Unione Venezia. For the third time in ten years the cities’ senior football club was declared bankrupt. For the current season yet another phoenix club has been formed to play at the crumbling Penzo. In today’s Serie D match Venezia FC take on Liventina, and the locals welcome another new president, Joe Tacopina, an American lawyer, to the stadium for the first time.

The new club have shown their intent already by winning their first six league games and take only three minutes to open the scoring on a sunbaked afternoon. Halfway through the opening period the Lagunari double their lead, both goals come from Liventina’s inability to clear the ball. The hosts look very comfortable and play well within themselves during the second half while their guests huff and puff to create even a slight chance. They finally succeed two minutes into injury time but the referee, who had made a long trip from Reggio di Calabria in the deep south, promptly blew his whistle. 

Cost of entry was €15 in the grandstand which afforded great views of the monastery next door and of the sea beyond. Cheaper tickets could be had behind the goal on the temporary style seating but tall fencing and netting gave a pretty poor view for the enthusiastic flag waving “ultras” that gather in the curva sud.

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Serie D, Girone C – 11/10/2015

Venezia 2 (Innocenti 3, Gualdi 22)
Liventina 1 (Grandin 90)

Att: c.1,500 (at Stadio Pier Penzo)

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Venezia ticket

La Triestina Durera (US Triestina)

The original club dates it original formation to a 1918 merger of FC Trieste and Ponziana. However, in a catalogue of financial disaster the club reformed in 1994 only to collapse again eighteen years later. The current club are now known as Unione Triestina 2012 Società Sportiva Dilettantistica and currently play in Serie D, level four of Italian football. This competition is the last level that is realistically deemed to be semi-professional, and is the trap door to the regionalised amateur Eccellenza levels.

With a population in excess of 200,000 it seems baffling that an historic city like Trieste does not have a highly successful football club. The local commune must have felt the same when in 1992 the new municipal stadium, the Stadio Nereo Rocco, was opened at an eye-popping cost of 100 billion lira. With an all seated capacity of 32, 454 Trieste now boasted one of the finest stadiums in all of Italy. Named after the famous Italian coach and Trieste native, Nereo Rocco, the stadium is a dazzling construction of interlinked steel girders ingeniously designed to cut out the effect of the katabatic wind, the Bora, so prevalent on this coast. It really is a stunning piece of architecture by three Trieste natives Carlo and Luciano Celli and Dario Tognon. Built on the site of the municipal slaughterhouse, the new stadium was opened on October 18th 1992 with a Serie C1 match between Triestina and Vis Pesaro. The venue has held four full Italian international matches to date and numerous concerts by acts such as Pearl Jam and Bruce Springsteen. The Nereo Rocco also staged some matches for Udinese while their own Stadio Friuli was renovated.

The Nereo Rocco is based on the English style of rectangular stadia with four interlocking stands and no running track. The two ends are identical and are named the Curva Guglielmo Trevisan and Curva Stefano Furlan, the first after a former Triestina player and coach and the latter after the “capo” of Ultras Trieste (formed in 1976) who died in 1984 from head injuries received during a beating at a police station. The culprit was jailed for only twelve months. This is where the predominantly right wing ultras gather and there is a strong nationalistic leaning to their stickers, flags and chants. There is a firm belief that Dalmatia and Istria should have remained in Italian hands after the conflict with Yugoslavia.

The Nereo Rocco is sited adjacent to the clubs’ previous ground the Stadio Littorio which was opened in 1932 in time for the 1934 World Cup held in Italy. The stadium which held 8,000 hosted the match between Romania and Czechoslovakia. In 1943 the Littorio was renamed the Stadio di Valmaura, and 24 years later was changed again to honour Superga air crash victim Giuseppe Grezar who had been with Triestina before transferring to Torino. Triestina played at the venue from 1932 to 1992 but the Grezar remains in use for minor football and athletics and was itself renovated substantially in 2004 at a cost of €13.4 million. It now has 6,200 seats.

Triestina were highly successful and were founder members of Serie A in 1929 remaining in the top flight until relegation in 1957. By 1971 they had slipped to Serie D but by 1991 were back in the second tier and looking forward to a bright future at their new home. Three years later they went out of business and were forcibly relegated to the fourth tier. The reformed club, US Triestina Calcio, forced its way back up to Serie B but symptomatic of the clubs modern era, the club went through no less than five coaches in the 2005/06 season. At the end of the 2009/10 season Triestina finished in a relegation place but were spared the drop by Ancona’s insolvency. By June 2012 the court of Trieste declared the club bankrupt and the team was disbanded. The reformed club started back in the regional Eccellenza competition and gained promotion to Serie D in 2012/13.

Yet again though the current team struggles at the wrong end of the Serie D (Group C) table. The first half is evenly contested with Congolese striker Kabangu holding the ball up very well and looking a threat in front of goal. However, with an early strike in the second half from the visitors, Triestina visibly wilted and heads went down. Cecchel made it two for Montebelluna and then Loperfido got himself sent off for a second yellow card to compound the hosts’ miserable day at a soggy Nereo Rocco. The defeat left them bottom of the Serie D table after ten rounds of matches, with just three points accrued so far.

So what does the future hold for Triestina? Will they persist in underachieving or will someone come in and back the club financially. One thing is for certain this magnificent stadium deserves to shine rather than becoming one of Europe’s overlooked leviathans.

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Sunday November 9th 2014 – Serie D, Gruppa C

US Triestina Calcio 0
Calcio Montebelluna 2 (Masiero 52, Cecchel 71)

Attendance: 1,000 (at Stadio Nereo Rocco)

Triestina:

1. Nicholas Di Piero, 2. Federico Celli, 3. Eugenio Gianetti, 4. Daniele Proia (c) 5. Luca Piscopo, 6. Anselmo Antonelli, 7. Luca Crosato, 8. Davide Giorgino, 9. François Kabangu, 10. Stefano Aquilani, 11. Andrea Loperfido

Subs: 12.Damiano Pontrelli; 13.Francesco Zucca; 14. Crasso Mauccio; 15. Simone Pennicchi; 16. Stefano Spadari (for 4, 73 mins); 17.Marco Sittaro; 18. Domenico Giordano; 19. Massimiliano Lionetti (for 10, 59 mins); 20. Giacomo Gasparotto (for 8, 83 mins).

Montebelluna

1. Nicola Rigo, 2. Gabriele Fabbian, 3. Nicola De Fido, 4. Nicolò Severgnini (c), 5.Marco Guzzo, 6. Marco Bressan, 7. Manuel Perosin, 8. Matteo Nicoletti, 9. Nicolò Masiero, 10. Matteo Giglio, 11. Mattia Cecchel.

Subs: 12.Matteo Baù, 13.Matteo Biral;14.Luca Frassetto (for 5,46 mins); 15.Giacomo Cusinato; 16. Tiziano Slongo (for 8,81 mins); 17.Luca Gerini;18.Davide Scarpa (for 9,76 mins).

Yellow Cards: Loperfido, Gianetti, Giorgino, Gasparotto (all Triestina), Nicoletti (Montebelluna).

Red Card: Loperfido (Triestina).

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Regaining Identity (FC Luka Koper)

Football in Koper started in 1920 when the western part of Slovenia was then under Italian rule. The original club was formed by port workers and fishermen and was called Circolo Sportivo Capodistriano. The new club played on a sand pitch near the sea which was regularly flooded. The clubs early opponents were Italian clubs like Trieste, Vicenza and Mestre. Under the fascist Italian regime of the 1930’s the club changed its name to Unione Sportiva Capodistriana and then Unione Liberi Calciatori. During the war there was heavy damage to the town of Koper and only five clubs in the area re-emerged when football restarted. These clubs were NK Izola (who had played in the Italian professional leagues), Colaussi, Unione Ragazzi Juventini, Combi and Virtus.

The present day club, NK Koper, dates from 1955 and came about as a merger of two town clubs called Aurora Koper and Koper Medusa. In the mid 1990’s the club suffered severe financial problems and had to fold, re-emerging as FC Koper. Further problems were encountered in the mid 2000’s when then owner Georg Suban decamped to Prva Liga rivals NK Mura taking most of the Koper team with him. Since then the club has been fan owned and owes a debt of gratitude to the Serbian/American businessman Milan Mandarić who wrote off the club’s entire debt just so they could carry on playing.

NK Koper moved to their current stadium in 1962 (although it had been built in 1947) and this was renovated in 1996. Prior to this the all time record crowd at the Bonifika was 10,000 who gathered for a match against NK Olimpija Ljubljana in 1987. However the Bonifika was completely rebuilt and modernised in 2010, re-opening in October of that year, and now boasts a more than suitable 4,047 seats on all four sides of the ground. The rebuild coincided with Koper winning the Slovenian Prva Liga for the first time and qualification for the Champions League. The team have also been runners up twice in the competition which has run since the 1991 independence from Yugoslavia. The club changed its name to FC Anet Koper in 2003 and five years later changed it again to FC Luka Koper, Luka being Slovene for port, to identify more closely with its maritime heritage.

Despite being runners up to Maribor in the Prva Liga last season the Kanarčki (The Canaries) have struggled somewhat this season and go into tonight’s match lying in sixth place in the table of ten clubs. Koper’s guests from Rudar Velenje are a place below them in seventh. The hosts started brightly and playmaker Mitja Lotrič was the architect of several chances for Koper with some clinical passing. When it came to finishing the excellent approach play the home team were somewhat lacking, and at the break only had a Damir Hadžić header, unmarked at the far post, to show for their efforts. The visitors from Velenje restored parity soon after and the break through Kleman Bolha. The key moment of the match arrived on the 65th minute when goalscorer Hadžić lunged in somewhat on Rudar’s Denis Klinar and was shown a second yellow card followed by a red. After that point, and the inexplicable substitution of Lotrič, the home side struggled for possession and the visitors rattled in two more goals to seal their first win in Koper for five years.

Koper aside from the working port has a lovely old town and is well worth a visit to soak up some sun and some its convoluted history.

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Saturday November 8th 2014 – Telekom Slovenije Prva Liga

FC Luka Koper (1) 1 (Hadžić 21)
NK Rudar Velenje (0) 3 (Bolha 52, Krefl 73,Trifković 89)

Attendance: 500 (at Stadion Bonifika)

Koper:

1. Ermin Hasić, 3. Miha Gregorič, 4. Denis Šme, 10. Mitja Lotrič, 16. Denis Halilović, 18. Leo Štulac, 20. Domen Črnigoj, 21. Nenad Srečković, 27. Damir Hadžić, 30. Jaka Štromajer, 49. Matej Pučko.

Subs: 2. Aleks Petrovčić, 5. Miha Blažić, 6. Nik Mršič, 7. Ivica Guberac (for 30, 81 mins), 8. Urban Žibert (for 10, 72 mins), 12. Primož Bužan, 19. David Vidaković.

Rudar:

12. Matjaž Rozman, 5. Nemanja Stjepanović, 7. Ivan Firer, 8. Aljaž Krefl, 9. Damjan Trifković, 14. Milan Kocić, 23. Denis Klinar, 25. Kleman Bolha, 26. Elvedin Džinić, 29. Ivan Knezović, 33. Mario Babić.

Subs: 6. Uroš Rošer (for 33, 76 mins), 11. Nejc Plesec, 13. Matej Radan, 21. Nikola Tolimir, 24. Enis Saramati, 27. Rusmin Dedić (for 23, 69 mins), 28. Dalibor Radujko (for 29, 60 mins).

Yellow Cards: Hadžić, Halilović (Koper); Kocić, Klinar, Džinić, Bolha, Trifković, Stjepanović, Rošer (all Rudar)

Red Card: Hadžić (Koper)

Gallery

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