Whatever Happened To All Of The Heroes? (PFC Levski Sofia)

PFC Levski Sofia were formed in 1914 and are one of Bulgaria’s most successful clubs with 26 championships, only CSKA with 31, have more titles. They were formed as a football wing of the Levski Sports Club who had taken their name from the Bulgarian national hero, Vasil Levski. Born Vasil Ivanov Kunchev, Levski he would be the spearhead for Bulgaria independence from the Ottomans. Sadly he would never see the end of his revolution, he was hanged by the Ottomans at the age of 35.

Levski originally played their home games on Levski Field (Grishte Levski) a stadium that would eventually hold 10,000 people. The stadium had only a short life, finished in 1934 it was knocked down 15 years later to make way for the new National Stadium. Levski were moved to the Yunak Stadium which was almost adjacent to their own ground. Here they shared with other clubs like FC 13 Sofia. Eventually the site of the Yunak was also needed for the National Stadium project and Levski had to find a new home.

Under the auspices of architect Lazar Parashkevanov the new Levski Stadium began construction in 1960 in the Suhata reka district of Sofia. Although the Levski Stadium was its official name the fans dubbed it “Gerena” (the flood plain) after the area it was located in. The stadium was opened officially in 1963 with a game against Spartak Pleven. It held some 36,000 spectators with the main stand being covered.

In 1969 the authorities merged Levski and Spartak Sofia and the stadium became a multi sport venue catering for boxing, gymnastics, volleyball and weightlifting. The adjacent training ground with four pitches was also built at this time. For a brief period following trouble at the Cup Final of 1985 against CSKA, the authorities changed Levski’s name to Vitosha Sofia. While some players and officials were banned for life, the club were allowed to re-adopt the name Levski after four years had passed under the Vitosha moniker. In 1990 the stadium was renamed in honour of one of Levski’s greatest players, Georgi Asparuhov. Known as Gundi he was one of the most prolific scorers of his generation and an icon for the Levski supporters. He was killed in a car crash in 1971 aged only 28.

From 1992 the plan was to turn the stadium into an all seater arena. Due to economic problems the project took seven years to complete with Levski having to play hone games at the National Stadium in the interim. The eyecatching scoreboard surrounded by the Cyrillic letter for “L” (Л), was built in 2006. Plans for the total redevelopment of the ground were announced in 2011 but so far only the new main stand, opened in April 2016, has materialised. Strangely this leaves the stadium without a roof on any part. The stadium which has held 60,000 on two occasions, against Górnik Zabrze in 1970 and four years later against Pirin Blagoevgrad, now holds a more modest 25,000 and is currently called the Vivacom Arena following sponsorship.

Tonight’s game is against FC Dunav from the northern town of Ruse close to the border with Romania. It is part of the end of season round of games when the league table splits in to a championship and relegation pool. With Razgrad based side Ludogorets looking odds on to win a sixth successive title, the chase is on for the other European competition places. On a bitterly cold night, there are periodic flurries of snow, a meagre crowd of 620 gather in the Asparuhov Stadium. The majority gather at the south end of the stadium where the Levski ultras sing constantly and let off a token bit of pyro in the second half. In the away end around 20 hardy Dunav fans who have made the long trip to the capital.

The game’s opening goal came as early as the sixth minute when a free kick from the impressive Spanish midfielder Añete took a flick off the head of Dunav’s Miroslav Budinov and nestled into the net beyond the reach of the goalkeeper. The rest of the game was played out in snowy conditions and just when it looked like Dunav would not find an equaliser, Lebanese midfielder Samir Ayass seized on a poor clearance to drill home from ten yards.

With Levski’s last Championship back in 2009 and a rich heritage of heroes like Vasil Levski and Gundi Asparuhov casting such a voluminous shadow the club are in real need of a new hero to help end the domestic dominance of Ludogorets and bring success back to the capital.

Friday April 21st 2017 – PFG First League
PFC Levski Sofia 1 (Budinov og 6)
FC Dunav Ruse (2010) 1 (Ayass 76)

Att:620 (at Stadion Georgi Asparuhov)

Admission: 20 Lev (c.£10) to main stand although tickets to other parts of the ground were priced at 5 and 10 Lev.

Gallery

IMG_2896April 2017 037April 2017 058IMG_2912IMG_2905April 2017 060April 2017 072April 2017 074April 2017 091April 2017 109April 2017 094April 2017 116

IMG_3049

Alone Again In The Lap of Luxury (PFC Slavia Sofia)

PFC Slavia Sofia were formed in 1913 by students and the new clubs’ first president, Dimitar Blagoev-Palio, was only 21 years old at the time. Since those formative years the club has won seven League titles and seven Bulgarian Cups to its honours list. Their most recent League success came in 1996, the year they also last won the Bulgarian Cup defeating Levski 4-0 in the final.

Slavia had their best run in Europe in the 1966/67 Cup Winners Cup when they defeated Swansea City, Racing Club Strasbourg and Servette before bowing out to Rangers at the semi final stage. In 1969 Slavia briefly merged with Lokomotiv Sofia under the name of ZhSK Slavia. However, the merger last just two years after 100,000 supporters demanded the the clubs be allowed to operate as separate entities once again.

Originally the club played at the ground of its predecessor club Sport Club Razvitie. The club was then allocated land adjacent to the Russian Monument in Sofia where they played until they moved to their own Slavia Stadium in 1960. The stadium is located in South West Sofia in the area known as Ovcha Kupel.

After several attempts at renovation the Slavia Stadium holds a little over 25,000 people and also hosts the under 21 matches of the Bulgarian national team. Paradoxically new stadium criteria bought in by the Bulgarian FA means Slavia cannot play home games at their own stadium as there are no floodlights! For this season it means all their home matches are being staged at the 43,000 capacity Vasil Levski National Stadium well away from their traditional support. Their attendances have been ridiculously low, even though it is only 5 Lev (£2.50) to get in at the Vasil Levski. For today’s game it appeared that there were around 200 people rattling around this vast empty amphitheatre with around 40 in the sector allocated to fans from Plovdiv. The official attendance, presumably just the paid ticket sales, was 90 which makes the whole exercise frankly embarrassing for the League and for Slavia. Hopefully the Bulgarians can follow the Hungarian model in bringing their ageing stadia up to a decent standard.

Today’s game is part of the First League’s relegation pool. This has two groups of four whose top two proceed to a play off for a Europa League spot while the bottom two in each group go into a relegation play-off. Today Botev Plovdiv are the visitors to the capital and they easily outplay a dispirited looking Slavia. There is a small group of around 50 Slavia ultras in this vast stadium and unfortunately they seem happy, in between bouts of their anthem “Samo Slavia” (“Alone Slavia”), to direct monkey chants towards Botev’s French striker Omar Kossoko. However, almost immediately after the chants started Kossoko responded in the best way possible with a clinical finish following a poor attempt to save a shot by the home goalkeeper. The visitors doubled their lead before half time when Antonio Vutov, on loan from Italian side Udinese, waltzed through a cumbersome Slavia defence before finding the net with some aplomb. Kossoko netted the third in the second period and the visitors ended up as very easy winners.

Feels such a shame that such a vast modern stadium has a few dozen people watching matches with little or no atmosphere. Surely common sense should prevail and Slavia will be allowed to play games in front of something resembling a crowd at their own stadium.

Saturday April 22nd 2017 – PFG First League

PFC Slavia Sofia 0
PFC Botev Plovdiv 3 (Kossoko 34,53, Vutov 44)

Att:90 (at Stadion Vasil Levski)
Admission: 5 Lev (the Main A stand only open)

Gallery

April 2017 202April 2017 203April 2017 246April 2017 204April 2017 263IMG_3015IMG_3014April 2017 273April 2017 274April 2017 305April 2017 319IMG_3013

IMG_3048

Postcards From Belgrade 2 (Serbian Groundhop 2017)

Following last years pioneering Groudhop to Belgrade a second one was arranged for the first weekend of April 2017 with no less than 45 groundhoppers attending.

The first match on the agenda was the match between Dinamo Vranje and ČSK Celarevo Pivara. Vranje is a city in the Pčinja district of Southern Serbia, just 25 miles from the border with Macedonia and 40 miles from Bulgaria. The club were formed in 1947 and have spent much of their recent history in between the second and third tiers of Serb football. However, as recently as 2013/14 they were in the fourth tier but after two straight promotions they have returned to the Prva Liga. Dinamo play at the Yumco Stadion, Yumco have their HQ next door to the stadium and produce the uniforms for the Serbian military.

The stadium is a quirky two sided affair with separate entrances for both sides meaning you had to leave the stadium and walk round the perimeter to gain access to the open terrace on the far side. What set the ground apart was its location beneath the triple peaks of the Pljačkovica, Krstilovice and Pržar mountains, as initially the sun shone it really was a most beautiful vista.

Prva Liga (07/04/2017)

FK Dinamo Vranje 2 (Djokić 51, Suraka 62)

FK ČSK Pivara 1 (Mezei 89)

Att: c.600 (at Yumco Stadion) Free admission

The footballing offering for Saturday morning was restricted to under 19 matches in the Omladinska Liga. We opted for the game between second placed FK Partizan and league leaders FK Brodarac. They play at the Sports Centre Partizan-Teleoptik in Zemun which is also known as as “Zemunelo”. As well as being Partizan’s training ground it is the home ground of FK Teleoptik who currently lead the third tier Srpska Liga Beograd Zona.

A healthy crowd of almost 400 gather to watch a scintillating performance from Brodarac who win comfortably by four goals to one. Among the crowd was former PSV, Chelsea and Atlético Madrid striker Mateja Kežman who was very friendly and seemed happy to sign autographs and pose for photos.

Omlandiska Liga (08/04/2017, 10am)

FK Partizan U19s 1 (Maksimović 78)
FK Brodarac U19s 4 (Lukić 23,53, Bjelobrk 40, Kojić 66)

Att:397 (at SC Partizan Teleoptik)

The early evening game saw a trip to Stadion Partizan for the match against southern Serbian club Radnik Surdulica. Tension in and around the stadium, despite the modest crowd, was palpable with Red Star ultras apparently trying to steal Partizan flags. The mood wasn’t helped by Radnik taking an unexpected lead early on.

The second half thankfully was less worrying and Partizan almost inevitably came back to win 2-1 thanks to the awarding of a very soft penalty.
Partizan and Red Star have been at loggerheads since both were formed in 1945 after all pre War clubs were formally dissolved. Red Star have won 27 National championships to Partizan’s 26 so you can imagine the intense rivalry between the two on derby day. The Večiti derbi, the Eternal Derby,really is one of Europe’s greatest footballing experiences.

Super Liga (08/04/2017, 5pm)

FK Partizan 2 (Janković 53, Durdević pen 78)

FK Radnik Surdulica 1 (Arsenijević 18)

Att:1,500

On Sunday we could have stayed in Belgrade for the easy option of Grafičar but instead we decided on the derby of Mladenovac! Upon entering the ground of FK Selo Mladenovac you see an old railway carriage which is used as a refreshments bar! On the far side is a pitch length uncovered terrace whose concrete steps have been almost subsumed by weeds and wild flowers. Behind the terrace is the eye catching feature of a disuse mill tower. Behind the dressing rooms is the disused factory of Petar Drapšin which manufactured tanks for the old Eastern bloc countries.

Again the club are most welcoming and insist we don’t pay to get in. The hosts need to defeat OFK Mladenovac to remain in the division and a spirited comeback in the second sees them grab the points with a 4-2 triumph.

1.Beogradska Liga Grupa C (09/04/2017, 10am)

FK Selo Mladenovac 4 (Mitrović 46, Tolić pen 64,74, Vujić 79)

OFK Mladenovac 2 (Arsić 43, Stefanović 84)

Att:79

We headed back to Belgrade for the highly anticipated match between FK Rad and Red Star. We had reserved tickets on the advice of the Rad secretary as he anticipated a sell out. To get into the “neutral” sector he would charge us 700 Serb dinar (£5) instead of the normal 400 dinar. To our surprise the ground was not even half full and our tickets had 400 RSD written on them. The club had charged us 300 dinar per ticket for “reservation” for a game that we could have just walked up to and paid to get in. The poor experience with Rad was compounded by the searches conducted at the gates which saw all manner of items confiscated, the strangest being a packet of mints!

On the pitch zvezda eased to a 4-0 win helped by the referee failing to give Rad a clear penalty with the score at 0-1. The Rad ultras were housed in a section of uncovered terracing behind the goal and had just returned after their racist chanting had seen the club forced to play the previous three home games behind closed doors. Save for the odd bout of vigorous flag waving and a blue smoke bomb the ultras of Rad appeared to be on their best behaviour.

Super Liga (09/11/2017, 5pm)

FK Rad 0

FK Crvena Zvezda 4 (Plavšić 34,70, Ristić 65, Petković 73)

Att:2,000 (at Stadion Kralj Petar I)

With a few of the hoppers staying till Tuesday a bonus opportunity of the Prva Liga match between FK Proleter and FK Indija appeared from the fixture gods. We headed north to the stunning city of Novi Sad in good time for the 15.30pm start.

Arriving unannounced just before kick off at the Stadion Slana Bara (“salty pond”) the FK Proleter president insisted we would be his guests and again free entry was given as well as very welcome cold bottle of Coke or Fanta on a blisteringly hot afternoon.
Both Proleter and Indija have struggled for goals this season and prior to today’s match had both managed to score only 18 goals in twenty matches. A competitive and occasionally feisty encounter saw the hosts win 3-1 in front of 500 people with their third being an absolute peach of a free kick.

Prva Liga (10/04/2017)

FK Proleter Novi Sad 3 (Novaković 26,85, Mirosavljev 56)

FK Indija 1 (Marković 23)

Att:500 (at Stadion Slana Bara)

With grateful thanks to our Serbian friends Aleks Peković, Bodgan Mitrović and Teodora Rebić, Stephen Carpenter and I hope to arrange a third Serbian Groundhop in during the 2017/18 season.

IMG_2124

An extended review of Belgrade Groundhop 2017 will appear in the June 2017 edition of “Football Weekends” magazine. To order your copy please visit http://www.footballweekends.co.uk

 

 

Distant ETO

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.

200px-gyori_eto_fc_logo

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)

Att: c.2,000

Admission HUF 1,000 (£3) Programme Free

Gallery

img_0749

nov-2016-311

img_0760

img_0759

nov-2016-308

nov-2016-315

nov-2016-331

img_0762

gyor-prog

gyor-ticket

Jumping Through Hoops (Shamrock Rovers FC)

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.

Memorial

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

IMG_7282

IMG_7283

Copy of IMG_7284

Copy of IMG_7285

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.

logo

Europa League 1st Qualifying Round (30/06/2016)

Shamrock Rovers 0
Rovaniemen Palloseura 2 (Lahdenmäki 26, Saksela 74)

Att: 1,908

Admission €15 Programme €4

Gallery

June 2016 131

June 2016 135

June 2016 142

June 2016 140

June 2016 152

June 2016 154

June 2016 155

June 2016 192

June 2016 203

June 2016 209

June 2016 210

June 2016 211

prog

Shamrock ticket

More Northern Skies

The days before and after any Swedish Groundhop offer a plethora of options for those wishing to extend there stay in this summer football season part of the world.

For the few that remained in Sweden Kim Hedwall organised a minibus to take in a couple of Monday matches on what was a National Day holiday in his homeland.

First up was a pit stop at Enköping to admire the modern and attractive stadium of the two local clubs. Enavallen hosts both Enköping SK, who were an Allsvenskan club as recently as 2003, and Enköping IS. The main stand is visually very pleasing and Kim has mooted this as a potential hop venue of the future.

June 2016 838

June 2016 837

A few minutes later we arrive at fourth tier side Håbo FF and their Björkvallen ground is already teeming with people on this glorious afternoon. The Swedish national anthem is sung beautifully by a young lady before over 600 people watched the local side rattle in four hugely impressive first half goals. The visitors from IK Franke rallied briefly in the second half but a quick fire double from Håbo one of which saw the visiting keeper dismissed ensured the points were staying deservedly with the host club. Björkvallen is a relatively basic Idrottsplats style ground, the officials and visitors change in a building outside the ground for example, and these limitations could hamper the progress of this rapidly rising club.

Sweden Div. 2 Norra Svealand (06/06/2016)

Håbo FF 6 (Kristiansson 19, 29, 82, Aras 23, Danilo 32, Yilmaz pen 81)
IK Franke 2 (Applefeldt 51, pen 71)

Att: 615 (at Björkvallen)

June 2016 820

June 2016 831

June 2016 830

June 2016 822

After heading south we arrive at the impressive Södertalje Futbollarena which plays host to two clubs with their roots firmly in the Assyrian community which first starting arriving in the city in 1967, fleeing from conflicts in Turkey, Iraq and Syria. Over 40% of the cities’ population is from an immigrant background so it is no surprise that two clubs, Assyriska (1973) and Syrianska (1977) have flourished, the later enjoying three seasons in the Allsvenskan. The stadium was opened in 2005 and boasts one enormous stand with open terracing on the opposite side and a segregated section for away fans. This afternoon’s match is a Superettan game between Assyriska and GAIS from Gothenburg. A modest crowd gathers for this game and a well contested encounter is enjoyed by all especially when the hosts level with an injury time penalty when the GAIS captain inexplicably concedes an unnecessary foul.

Sweden Superettan (06/06/2016)

Assyriska FF 2 (Söderström 34, pen 90)
GAIS 2 (Singh 21, Moënza 63)

Att: 1,308 (at Södetalje Futbollarena)

June 2016 814

June 2016 260

June 2016 267

June 2016 292

Tuesday evening sees a Tunnelbana ride east to the suburb of Hässelby where you will find Grimsta Idrottsplats home of IF Brommapojkarna, officially the world’s biggest football club! This claim is based on over 3,000 registered players for its 250 teams! The team have suffered a double relegation since the heady days of a return to Allsvenskan in 2012. Now in Division 1 Norra the team is coached by former Aston Villa legend Olof Mellberg. They sit top of the division and on tonight’s evidence of a totally dominant performance against Akropolis, few would seriously bet against a swift return to the Superettan. Grimsta was opened in 1963 and despite periodic refurbishment had always had just one stand running the length of one side of the pitch. Now though a new main stand is partially erected on the opposite side of the ground. Now looking like a proper stadium rather than an idrottsplats hopefully the investment will see BP return to the higher levels of the Swedish game.

Sweden Div.1 Norra (07/06/2016)

IF Brommapojkarna 3 (Brandeborn 32, 74, Gustafsson pen 90)
Akropolis IF 0

Att: 738 (Grimsta IP)

June 2016 767

June 2016 768

June 2016 406

June 2016 774

The trip then heads to Finland and a much cooler Helsinki, draped in heavy cloud it’s not looking its finest when the top level Veikkausliiga runs a full midweek programme on Thursday evening. The game of choice is IFK Helsingfors against PK-35 Vantaa now managed by Shefki Kuqi. IFK, or Idrottsföreningen Kamraterna i Helsingfors, are an old club having been formed in 1897. Known by the nickname “Stadens stolthet” (The city’s pride) the club were originally solely patronised by the Swedish speaking middle classes while the Finns traditionally support their great rivals HJK. After seven Mestaruussarja titles IFK suffered severe financial problems in 2002 and had to take the place of their reserve team at level five. To their immense credit they have regrouped, opened a share issue for fans to invest, and have ultimately returned to the top flight after winning the Ykkönen Liga in 2014. IFK were playing at the Töölön Pallokenttä but following top flight promotion the club have groundshared with HJK at the 10,700 seater Sonera Stadium which is adjacent to the Olympic Stadium.

Tonight’s game, however, is a poor one for the hosts despite some great vocal backing from their supporters. Vantaa are two goals to the good, including one from the manager’s kid brother Njazi before IFK even muster a chance. The hosts pull one back in the second half but really look like a side who don’t believe they can score a second time.

Finland Veikkausliiga (09/06/2016)

IFK Helsingfors 1 (Salmikivi 53)
PK-35 Vantaa 2 (Kaufmann 12, Kuqi 41)

Att: 2,816 (at Sonera Stadion)

June 2016 717

June 2016 709

June 2016 707

June 2016 708

June 2016 545

Another day, another country and a ferry crossing the Gulf of Finland to Tallinn and two games in the murky nether regions of Estonian football.

The first game takes place in the 3G ground adjacent to the Kalevi Keskstaadion, home of Estonian Esiliiga (second tier) side JK Tallinna Kalev. It’s a fifth tier match tonight between Castovanni Eagles and JK Retro who are an interesting team almost entirely made up of ex Estonian internationals including 89 cap Andrei Stepanov who once played two minutes for Watford. They are managed by Erko Saviauk who himself won 60 caps and play purely for fun these days. This point is stretched as they start with ten men until 45 year old, 3 cap, Arvo Kraam arrived belatedly in a speeding taxi 25 minutes into the first half! With even numbers the ageing but more skilful veterans begin to outclass their younger, fitter opponents and eventually claim a deserved victory with a late winner.

Estonia III Liga (10/06/2016)

Tallinna Castovanni Eagles 1 (Naariste 66)
JK Retro 2 (Rist 60, Silkin 85)

Att: 9 (at Kalevi Keskstaadion Kunstmuruväljak)

June 2016 692

June 2016 691

June 2016 689

June 2016 690

Saturday brings a 12pm kick off in the Wismari Staadion, a short walk past the magnificent Aleksandr Nevski cathedral. The Wismari is normally the home of JK Tallinna Legion, however, this match is between Tallinna Dünamo and Lokomotiv Jöhvi who have travelled some 100 miles for this fourth level match. The pitch is again 3G though the surface is in poor condition and the surroundings are vastly inferior to those of the previous evening. Lokomotiv are far too strong for the side from the capital and win easily, barely breaking sweat.

Estonia II Liga (11/06/2016)

Tallinna Dünamo 0
Lokomotiv Jöhvi 4 (Vender 36, Makarov 44, Smirnov 64, Bazjukin 68)

Att:41 (at Wismari Staadion)

June 2016 679

June 2016 676

June 2016 677

June 2016 678

There you have it a thoroughly enjoyable extension to the annual pilgrimage to Sweden. Great part of the world to enjoy summer football on warm days!

Postcards from Belgrade (Serbian Groundhop 2016)

The first organised groundhop in Serbia got underway with an unexpected bonus match with the fixture gods having a Friday match as Radnički Niš against Novi Pazar was being broadcast by one of Serbia’s pay per view channels. An extra day of mini bus use was hastily arranged and the group headed south on the two and a half hour drive to Niš.

 
Niš is the third largest city in Serbia after Novi Sad and the capital Belgrade and the club was formed in 1923. Radnički translates as “Workers”. The club were always a consistent member of the top division of the old Yugoslavian League and in 1981/2 they reached the semi final of the UEFA Cup having eliminated Napoli, Grasshoppers, Feyenoord and Dundee United. They were drawn against Hamburg SV and Radnički won the first leg 2-1 in Niš. The second leg at the Volksparkstadion saw the Serbs collapse to a 5-1 defeat. Legend has it that the club accepted a bribe of a set of floodlights from the Hamburg chairman to throw the second leg.

 
A shock relegation in 1985 bought an end to a golden era for the club. Serbia’s independence following the Balkan War saw the club in the top division of the new league but by 2008 they dropped into the third tier regional Srpska Liga East. Happily by 2011/12 they were back in the top flight and this coincided with a return to the home stadium Čair, their home since 1963, which had undergone an €11 million revamp.

 
Tonight’s match against Novi Pazar sees the hosts in fifth place in the Jelen Super Liga while their guests occupied twelfth spot. What followed were two teams completely cancelling each other out and the 0-0 result was somewhat inevitable. Some local fans who were surprised by the English presence in their stadium told us they suspected the result had been agreed in advance between the two clubs and they feared this was common place among the smaller clubs in Serbia.

Friday 18th March 2016 – Jelen Super Liga

 

FC Radnički Niš 0

Novi Pazar 0

 
Att: 2,000 (at Gradski Stadion Čair)


The evening was concluded with a quick stroll around Niš Fortress before getting sustenance in the lively bohemian quarter of the city. As JJ Burnel once (nearly) sung it really was “So nice in Niš”. The party then headed back to our headquarters in Belgrade’s Slavija Square.

March 2016 139

 
Saturday’s busy schedule started early with a 10 am kick of at third division BASK (Beogradski Akademski Sportski Klub). The club were formed in April 1903 SK Soko as a football wing of a long established gymnastics club. That formation date means BASK are the oldest club in the kingdom of Serbia.
Initially the club used a tight field on Jugovićeva Street but this was too confined so they moved to a new field known as Bara Venecija but after a few years of use this was completely destroyed when the mighty River Sava burst its’ banks. SK Soko then moved to a new ground in Topčider but after 27 years this was lost to railway expansion. Having changed their name to BASK in 1933 the club moved to yet another new venue behind an electrical plant in Novi Beograd. Ironically after World War II this venue became home to today’s opponents, Radnički Novi Beograd.

 
In the early post War years BASK merged with Senjak and gained use of the current stadium in Topčider Park close to the former home of SK Soko. The club has enjoyed great success at the Stadion Careva Ćuprija and as recently as 2009/10 and 2010/11 they achieved a double promotion from third tier to the Super Liga. However the BASK board decided the top flight would be too much of a financial risk for the club and they sold their place in the Super Liga to FK Novi Pazar.

 
The black and whites are now back in the third tier and their stadium now boasts a 3G surface and a large pitch length stand down one side and a more modest cover behind one goal. The adjacent hotel houses player from Super Liga club Spartak Subotica, in town for the match against Red Star, and a few of them drift in to watch the game. The hosts grab an early lead with a deft left footed drive from Dejan Pajović. The visitors from Novi Beograd, in second place in the table, spend most of the game trying to score but just as they appeared to have given up they snatch the points with two very late goals.

 
Saturday March 19th 2016 – Srpska Liga Beograd
 

BASK 1 (Pajović 11)

Radnički Novi Beograd 2 (Stajić 89, Dalifi 90)

 
Att: 161 (at Stadion Careva Ćuprija)

We then head over to the suburb of Karaburma and next up is the 2pm kick off at the once mighty Stadion Omladinski, home of OFK Beograd. Omladinski Fudbalski Klub Beograd were formed as Beogradski Sport Klub in 1911 and won five national championships before World War II. The club became Metalac in 1945 before reverting five years later to BSK. In 1957 the club became OFK with Omladinski translating as “Youth”. The club won the Yugoslav Cup four times in the 1950’s and 60’s and were rarely out of the top six in the league. They were regulars in European competition until the mid 1970’s and hold victories over the likes of Napoli, Juventus, Feyenoord and Panathinaikos. In 1962/3 they reached the semi-final of the Cup Winners Cup but fell to Tottenham Hotspur.

 
Then almost without warning the Romantičari fell from grace and spent two decades flitting between the first and second levels. Only in the 2000’s did European competition return to the Omladinski. The club has always struggled for support living in the shadow of Red Star and Partizan, but in 2016 it finds itself in dire straits. The stadium looks much older than it’s’ 58 years and its poor state of repair and lack of investment is evident for all to see. The club has been toward the bottom of the table all season and with relegation a real possibility what support they had has all but deserted the club amid stories of current players deliberately losing matches.

 
Only 300 people gather for this match with Vojvodina from Novi Sad and only one side of the stadium is open. A bulldozer sits on top of a terrace and is working on footing for floodlights, a luxury the stadium has never sported previously. Hopefully this will mark some much needed refurbishment at stadium that can hold some 20,000 people.

 
If OFK players are deliberately losing matches this season then they disguise it well today as they work extremely hard against a compact and tidy visiting team. A sustained spell of OFK pressure in the second half produces a towering header from Vuk Martinović to secure three much needed points for the hosts.

 
Saturday March 19th 2016 -Jelen Super Liga

 
OFK Belgrade 1 (Martinović 71)

FK Vojvodina 0

 
Att: 300 (at Stadion Omladinski)


A pleasant interlude was then spent at a restaurant on the Danube where fish soup and cevapcici was eaten before the main event at the Marakana, home of the famous Red Star Belgrade. It was also great to catch up with legendary Zvezda fan Nenad Mijaljević who many of you will know as the editor of match programmes for Seaham Red Star, Jarrow Roofing and South Shields.

 
I had been to the Marakana (or Stadion Crvena Zvezda or Stadion Rajko Mitić, take your pick) before for the legendary Eternal Derby against Partizan so I was more than interested to see what support, particularly that from the ultras “Delije”, for an ordinary league game when the hosts have a 30 point lead at the top of the table. The crowd might have been a quarter of the gathering for a derby match but the noise and support from the north stand was loud and relentless and carried on long after Zvezda cruised to a 4-0 win against Spartak Subotica. Of course there was pyro galore illuminating the night sky at regular intervals.

 
Red Star, and indeed Partizan, were formed in 1945 when several existing clubs were dissolved by Marshal Tito as they had played matches during the war without permission. One such club was SK Jugoslavija who had played on the site of the current stadium since 1927. The new club, Crvena Zvezda, were given the stadium of the old Jugoslavija while the club formed by the Yugoslav People’s Army (the JNA) were appeased with a piece of land not half a mile away which would in 1951 be ready for use and is still the stadium FK Partizan use today.

 
The old Jugoslavija Stadium held 20,000 and after Red Star’s ill fated match against Manchester United in 1958 had to be moved to Partizan’s ground to cope with demand, it became clear to the board the popularity of the “people’s club” meant a much bigger stadium was needed. The old Jugoslavija Stadium was razed to the ground and Zvezda decamped to Partizan’s ground for a few seasons.

 
By the time the stadium was ready for inauguration in September 1963, people eagerly clambered the vomitories to see the vast new bowl which could hold 110,000 people on its terraces. The locals at once declared “It looks like the Maracana” after Rio’s famous amphitheatre and so the nickname was created. It’s all time record attendance was set in 1975 when 117,000 people watched a match against the Hungarian club Ferencvaros. Nowadays its all seater, though seats are removed from the away end for derby matches, and has a more manageable capacity of 55,000.  To date Zvezda have won 26 championships and, of course, were crowned European champions when that magical side which included Dejan Savećević, Darko Pancev, Robert Prosinecki, and Vladimir Jugović defeated Marseille on penalties.

 
It is great to see this famous club back on top of the table and in the Marakana they still have one of Europe’s most iconic stadiums. In the Delije they have some of the best ultras in the world.
Saturday March 19th 2016 – Jelen Super Liga

 
Crvena Zvezda 4 (Ibanez pen 45, pen 65, Ristić 47, Oliveira 59)

Spartak Subotica 0

 
Att: 12,173 (at Stadion Crvena Zvezda “Marakana”)


The evening is wound down with a night in a typical Serbian kafana, Restoran Klopka on Stanislava Sremčevića, where quite frankly preposterous amounts of meat were consumed.

 
With many of the party still a little listless from the previous nights gastronomic excesses most a grateful for a slightly later 11 am kick off for a third tier game at FK Dorćol. Their ground is down on the banks of the Danube and the first surprise is that they now only use their own pitch, replete with an ornate stand, for training and now share the pitch of their immediately adjacent neighbours GPS Polet.

 
The ground is fairly unremarkable except that it is back dropped by the vast Kalemegden fortress which is bathed in beautiful hazy morning sun.
FK Dorćol were formed in 1952 and as recently as 2002 had a one season spell in the second tier.

 
Today’s match sees them take on FK Brodarac 1947 and the unseasonably warm weather sees both sides having to work hard to create chances on what is a pretty poor and heavily rutted pitch. It’s no surprise that the game is decided by a penalty in the visitors’ favour which is converted by their goalkeeper, Milos Lazarević.

 
In a special treat for us we are hen introduced to Ljupko Petrović, legendary coach of Red Star’s 1991 European Cup winning side. The veteran coach was more than happy to pose for photos.

 
Sunday March 20th 2016 – Srpska Liga Beograd

 
FK Dorcól 0

FK Brodarac 1 (Lazarević pen 59)

 
Att: 179 (at Stadion Polet)


A brief spell is spent wandering around Kalemegden fortress and the Pobednik statue which regally overlooks the beguiling confluence of the two great Serbian rivers of the Sava and the Daunav (Danube). It is ridiculously warm and shirt sleeves and ice cream are the order of the hour.

 
Next we travel half an hour south of Belgrade to a small Vrčín, this is co-organiser Aleks’ secret ground. We are warmly welcomed by the club president into what can only be described as a delightfully ramshackle ground. The clubhouse has a viewing gallery where a bunch of real characters sit to cheer on the team/harangue the referee (delete as applicable), some of our party who will remain nameless join them an get rather pickle on some indeterminate local poteen.

 
On the far side of the pitch is the concrete carcass of a large stand started in 1993 when Vrčín were in the third tier of the old Yugoslav third tier. The municipality then pulled the funding for it and now it has a couple of hundred plastic seats acquired from FK Partizan bolted to it.

 
Vrčín have had an awful season with just eight points gained from 15 matches and they sit bottom of the table with the visitors, PKB Padinska Skela, in tenth. A healthy crowd gathers to cheer on the team (or look at the strange group of British interlopers) in what is a must win game for the club.

 
Luckily for us we catch Vrčín on a good day and the hard working giant of a centre forward, Vanja Savić nets a well deserved brace of goals to lift this super friendly club off the bottom of the table.

 
Sunday March 20th 2016 – Beogradska Zone

 
FK Vrčín 2 (Savić 53, 73)

PKB Padinska Skela 0

 
Att: 154 (at Stadion Želežnički)


The tours final match is another Super Liga encounter between “the Hillmen” of FK Čukarički and FK Partizan. The hosts were formed in 1926 and spent many years in the amateur ranks. By 1971 they had reached the Yugoslav Second Division and twelve years later they climbed into the top division for the first time.

 
Since 2012 Čukarički have been owned by Dragan Obradović, a construction magnate, and heavy investment saw the club finish third last season and gain a Europa League place. They beat Slovenian side NK Domžale in the first qualifying round but then succumbed to the Azerbaijani side SC Gabala.
Stadion Čukarički was opened in 1969 and is also known as the Stadion na Banovom Brdu. It has undergone massive improve in recent seasons but is still a relatively small two sided venue.

 
The hosts take a shock lead after 47 seconds when Bandalovski turns a cross into his own net and Partizan’s poor season looks set to continue. However, urged on by their flare wielding, tribal drumming ultras, the Grobari, Partizan turn it around with the winning goal being scored by the ex Manchester City and Bulgaria striker Valeri Bojinov, who looks to be carrying a fair amount of weight these days.

 
Saturday March 20th 2016 -Jelen Super Liga

 
FK Čukarički 1 (Bandalovski og 1)

FK Partizan 2 (M.Stevanović 49, Bojinov 67)

 
Att: 1,500 (at Stadion Čukarički)


The evening is spent in the bohemian quarter of Belgrade called Skadarlija in the upmarket restaurant Tri Sesira where the food is once again top notch.

 

 

Tastes of Belgrade

 

Sights of Belgrade


So there it was the first ever Serbian groundhop superbly hosted by our good friends Aleks Peković and Bogdan Mitrović. After such an excellent time few would bet against a second groundhop occurring in 2017!