Late December Back In ’59 (ETB Schwarz-Weiß Essen)

Essener Turnerbund (ETB) was a gymnastics club formed in 1881 although the football wing, ETB Schwarz-Weiß Essen, wasn’t formalised until 1900. As with many embryonic German clubs finding a suitable place to stage games wasn’t easy and initially the members fashioned a playable surface from a disused brick field at the Ernestine colliery in Essen-Stoppenberg.

In 1903 the club moved to a field in Kruppstraße and ten years later to an existing site in Meisenburgstraße which was home to Fortuna Bredeney. Schwarz-Weiß invested 50,000 Deutschmarks in the facility, capital raised from a share issue and generous donations. By 1914 Meisenburgstraße was good enough to host an international match between Germany and the Netherlands.

The club grew rapidly and had great success in the Ruhrgau championship. In 1922 the club made a momentous decision to construct its own stadium as Meisenburgstraße would only ever be leased to them. Despite the City of Essen failing to deliver money promised to the club for the new stadium, the 3,500 members at the time raised an astonishing 750,000 DM in order to purchase a large area of land which became the Uhlenkrugstadion. In a time when wood was king grandstand construction Schwarz-Weiß lavishly invested in a large stand built from iron. It was the most modern stadium in all of Germany and the club became a household name, attracting a visit from MTK Budapest in 1925 and competing in a high profile tournament in Paris in 1932 that featured Red Star and Kispest Budapest (Honvéd).

Schwarz-Weiß were assigned to the Gauliga Niederrhein when German football was reorganised by the Third Reich and were unlucky to finish runners up to Fortuna Düsseldorf for three consecutive seasons from 1938 to 1940. The stadium capacity was expanded further in the war years and in 1951 held 45,000 people as Germany took on Luxembourg.

The 1950’s were a purple patch for the club which culminated in the greatest achievement to date, winning the DFB Pokal in 1959. ETB beat Westfalia Herne, Hertha BSC and Hamburger SV before beating Borussia Neunkirchen 5-2 in the final, staged in front of 20,000 people at the Auestadion in Kassel. With neighbours Rot-Weiß Essen having won the DFB Pokal six years early it meant that Essen became only the second German city to provide two Pokal winners, Munich being the other (Bayern 19 wins and 1860 twice)

The advent of the Bundesliga in 1963 saw ETB excluded from the new set up and consigned to the Regionalliga West. It was the period which saw city rivals Rot-Weiß Essen overtook them as the city’s senior club. ETB would run into serious financial problems in the early 1970’s and were forced to sell the stadium to the City of Essen to survive. The stadium had deteriorated so badly the the DFB decreed it wasn’t fit for second tier games and for a while ETB played home games at the Essen Grugastadion.

Fortunately the City of Essen funded renovations and the Uhlenkrugstadion was soon hosting football again. ETB were last in the 2.Bundesliga in 1978 and nowadays lurk in the fifth tier Oberliga Niederrhein. The Uhlenkrugstadion still has delicious swathes of open terracing but the City have once again announced plans to upgrade the stadium with a new grandstand. In many ways it will be a shame as the old stand is not in bad condition and is rather unusual. It also has a secret under stand drinking den at the far end.

Today’s game has a rather end of season feel to it with the hosts rarely getting out of first gear. Visitors, TuRU Düsseldorf, canter to an easy win including a quite sumptuous free kick towards the end.

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Sunday May 19th 2019 – Oberliga Niederrhein

ETB Schwarz-Weiß Essen 0
TuRU Düsseldorf 2 (Ucar 76, Munoz-Bonilla 84)

Att:258 (at Uhlenkrugstadion)

Entry €8, no programme

Gallery

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SW Essen ticket_edited-1

 

 

Postcards From Belgrade (Serbian Groundhop 6)

The sixth Serbian groundhop weekend in May 2019 kicked off on the Friday evening with an enticing looking derby in the fourth level Zonska Liga Beograd. Home side TEK Sloga from the town of Veliki Crljeni were second in the table on goal difference to FK Sremčica from the neighbouring town. OFK Mladenovac were also on the same number of points in third place. Veliki Crljeni is an industrial town fifty minutes south west of the capital.

Due to heavy traffic in Belgrade, we arrived close to kick off and it was immediately obvious this was a big deal locally with a large crowd gathering. TEK stands for Thermoelectric Kolubara and Stadion TEK is adjacent to the huge power plant fired by clunking hoppers of lignite, mined in the surrounding coal basin, continuously dumping their contents into the generator. This serious piece of heavy metal provides and incredible backdrop to the small stadium which has an uncovered stand down one side of it with a sector fenced off for away fans. There are over 600 people present with around 80 in the away sector and RSD200 (£1.50) gets us into the ground for this battle for promotion to the national leagues. The home side dominate the proceedings going 2-0 up in the first half. As with a lot of games in Serbia they choose to defend their lead in the second half rather than go for more goals and nearly came a cropper when Sremčica were awarded, and scored, a very soft penalty in the final minute of normal time.

TEK Sloga

The Super Liga and Prva Liga fixtures had only been confirmed on the Tuesday before we left London but sadly all games had been fixed for 4pm on Saturday which clashed with our plans for a game in the Srpske Republic. As many of the tour party wanted to “tick” a new country with the game in Bosnia we plumped for the game at Radnik Bijeljina as they were entertaining one of Bosnia’s traditional powerhouses, FK Željezničar from Sarajevo.

With the game in Bosnia not kicking off until 5pm we had plenty of time for a morning game in Belgrade and chose the third tier Srpske Liga game between FK Grafičar and FK Brodarac. The game wasn’t being played at Grafičar’s own ground in Senjak but at the second pitch at Red Star’s Stadion Ratko Mitić. The complex behind the south stand has been significantly upgraded for Zvezda’s youth level teams and has two 3G pitches, one with a seated stand for 500 and a grass pitch with a similar stand. Grafičar have a link up with Zvezda and many young Red Star players are on loan to them so maybe that was the explanation for the change of venue. It was RSD200 admission and a Grafičar, rather than a Red Star ticket, that was issued upon entry. We were grateful for the shade provided by the new stand as the sun beat down relentlessly. Grafičar treated us to a masterclass of attacking football and dominated the game from start to finish netting five times without reply.

Graficar v Brodarac

After some electrical problems with the bus the previous day we were all relieved that we had a large and small mini bus turn up for our Trans Balkan express to Bosnia. We followed the E-70 west of the capital which basically follows the route of the mighty River Sava which after dropping south on the M18 its the river which forms the border between the two countries with border control and customs on either side. The crossing was fairly time consuming and we arrived at the Gradski Stadion in Bijeljina about twenty minutes before kick off. Our buses were ushered into a parking area beyond the grandstand and we were told by a club official we were guests of the president and didn’t need to pay. With the Bosnian Cup Final being contested between the top two clubs in the league FK Sarajevo and Široki Brijeg our game had a potential additional Europa League place at stake with the fifth place hosts taking on fourth place FK Željezničar. The club from Sarajevo are one of the powerhouse clubs from Bosnia and are followed by feared ultras group Manijaci (Maniacs). There were two reasons why we chose this game over an above a similar distance game at Zvijezda, the first was Zvijezda weren’t using their own ground and the second was the anticipation of Željezničar bringing a decent following with them. It was therefore a little disappointing that only a handful of away fans were evident and the reason for this quickly became apparent when social media quickly showed an astounding video of a Željezničar coach been ambushed and attacked by fans of their arch rivals FK Sarajevo. The match was also a bit of a damp squib with the away side scored early then easily defended their lead.

Radnik

Several years ago on a Belgrade derby weekend, I had done a game at the cracking ground of FK Hajduk Lionu, set in amid the urban sprawl of south east Belgrade. I took a few pictures at that game and in one of the shots was Aleks Peković and Stephen Carpenter, both unknown to me at the time. The roots of our Serbian Groundhop weekends lie in that chance meeting of strangers that morning. It was therefore a feeling of going full circle for the three of us to bring the hoppers to this most interesting of venues.

It’s essentially a two sided ground with flats and a restaurant tightly packed against both ends of the ground. On the nearside is a large scaffold and board stand and on the far side is steep open terracing. Sadly Hajduk legend Bogić “Bobi” Popović, who we had met at the original match, was in Germany for this weekend. He was a centre forward and is still the third top scorer in Serbian League history, his proud father is Hajduk president. Sadly Hajduk’s glory days have passed them by and they languish well adrift at the bottom of the fourth tier Zonska Liga Beograd. Today’s opponents, BSK 1926 Baćevac, put three past a hapless Hajduk who miss so many chances to score it beggared belief, where was Bobi when they needed him?Hajduk 2

After leaving Hajduk we head north-east to Kikinda for the city derby at Stadion ŽAK between ŽAK and OFK and RSD100 (75p) gets us into their stadium, which itself is a bit of a bobby dazzler as well. It boasts a more modern version of the magnificent and protected stand at OFK, and the perimeter wall is bizarrely made up of thousands of terracotta roof slates stood up side by side. It would have taken weeks and weeks to build it. It’s the railway workers (“Željeznički Athletic Klub”) that race into the lead finding the net after just 36 seconds. OFK, though roar back and win a hugely entertaining game by four goals to two in front of nearly 600 people.

Derby of Kikinda.jpeg

Usually the Monday throws up a televised Prva Liga fixture we can go to but with the play offs and play outs in full swing the fixture gods were somewhat unkind to us this time. What we did find was a relegation play off in the top division in Bulgaria between Vitisha Bistritsa and Dunav Ruse. Bistritsa is on the outskirts of Sofia so not too far from the southern Serbian border. The bulk of the route is on the excellent and cheap A1 toll highway albeit best part of a five hour journey. We also found an under 17 game taking place at 1pm in Niš to break up the long journey south.

We duly arrive at Stadion na Bubnju, home of third tier FK Car Konstantin and its a really unusual ground with plenty of character. On the dressing room side there is a tiny elevated stand and opposite a large grass bank and stepped terracing which actually sits outside the ground. Car Konstantin are name after the Roman Emperor Konstantin who was born in Niš when it was known as Naisus. Today we are watching FC Real Niš a specialist youth development club whose under 17 team compete in the highest level division for their age group, the Kadetska Liga Srbije, against all the big name clubs like Red Star, Partizan and today’s opponents FK Čukarički, who have Lazar Kežman, son of the former Chelsea forward, in their team. The game is relatively unexciting on a poor, rutted pitch but we are treated to three goals in the last ten minutes with the visitors from Belgrade coming out on top. It’s certainly a worthy stopover on the way to the day’s main game.

Grandstand Car Konstantin

Vitosha Bistritsa’s stadium is located up a windy road from the Sofia bypass. Bistritsa itself is a modest village sited high up in foothills of Mount Vitosha, a dome shaped peak some 2,290 metres tall. The stadium is a modest two sided affair with about 20 Dunav fans behind the goal having made an equally torturous 5 hour journey from Ruse this on the northern border with Bulgaria. The first leg of the relegation play off ended goalless in Ruse but Dunav score early and then successfully defend their lead against a totally disinterested looking Vitosha side.

Vitosha

It’s a satisfactory end to the tour and we cross back into Serbia with no issues or delays at the borders despite seeing huge queues of lorries waiting to get through. Mainly for the benefit of our two drivers we stop at a roadside kafana for sustenance and despite it being after their closing of midnight they rustle up some cevapi, beer and coffee for a weary band of travellers.

It’s been over 3,000 miles travelled since we left Luton airport and just short of a 1,000 of those spent on the roads of Serbia, Bosnia and Bulgaria in the fantastic company of Aleks and Bogdan from Groundhopping Serbia. You couldn’t wish to meet two finer friends on the road than these two.

TEK Sloga ticketGraficar ticketRadnikHajdukZAK ticketVitosha

 

A much extended version of this review features in Issue 49 of Football Weekends Magazine. For news of future Serbian Groundhopping Weekends please follow @GroundhopSerbia on Twitter

Fearless (Atromitos)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sunday February 10th 2019 – Greek Super League

Atromitos 1 (N’Sikulu 16)
Levadiakos 0

Att:435 (at Stádio Peristeri)

Entry €10, free programme

Gallery

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Atromitos prog

They Might Be Giants (AEK Athens)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sunday February 10th 2019 – Greek Super League

AEK Athens 1 (Livaja 37)
OFI Crete 0

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

Entry €10, no programme

Gallery

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Exodus (Panionios GSS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Saturday February 9th 2019 – Greek Super League

Panionios GSS 0
Apollon Smyrnis 1 (Vafeas 73)

Att: 1,126 (at Stadió Néas Smírnis)

Entry €10, no programme

Gallery

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Panionios ticket_edited-1

 

Upon This Rock (Gibraltar)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

St.Joseph’s 0
Gibraltar Phoenix 0

Att:62 (at Victoria Stadium)

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

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

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

Att:71 (at Victoria Stadium)

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

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

Nov 2018 074

Postcards from Užice (Serbian Groundhop 5)

The fifth organised Groundhop in Serbia in conjunction with Aleks Peković, Bogdan Mitrović and Teodora Rebić of Groundhopping Serbia took place over the last weekend of October. This time the hop was mainly based in the south-west of the country among the stunning mountainous scenery of the Zlatibor and Moravica districts.

With 12 of the 22 attendees arriving late on the Thursday the fixture gods were kind to us and threw up a second tier Prva Liga fixture between the ethnic Hungarian club TSC Bačka Topola and the predominantly Muslim team from the southern city of Novi Pazar. Interestingly TSC are playing their home games this season at the ground of fourth tier club FK Senta of the PFL Subotica, some 25 miles east of Bačka Topola. This is because their old Gradski Stadion is due for demolition with a 3,800 capacity stadium UEFA compliant arena being built on the same footprint.

Stadion Senta does not have floodlights so we have a 14.30pm kick off with today’s opponents having endured a six hour trip north on a rickety looking municipal bus rather than a coach. Unsurprisingly the home side coasted to a very comfortable 6-0 win. Despite playing some distance from their hometown Bačka are well supported and include a group of ultras known as the Blue Betyars (Outlaws), who on the 56th minute unveil a tifo which says “Respect to the Heroes of ‘56”, referencing the Hungarian Uprising.

Friday October 26th 2018 – Prva Liga

TSC Bačka Topola 6 (Galić 12, Milićević 18,21, Siladi 41, Milisavljević 47, Bastajić 72)
FK Novi Pazar 0

Att:258 (played at FK Senta)

Backa Topola (4)

It was an early rise on the Saturday morning for an 8.45am kick off in the Belgrade suburb of Makiš. None of us recall attending and earlier kick off. It was an under 19 encounter between FK Lokomotiva and FK Zemun and proved to be an entertaining game in a quirky venue surrounded by old locomotives and train carriages.

Saturday October 27th 2018 – Belgrade Prva Liga Omladinska

FK Lokomotiva U18s 0
FK Zemun U18s 1 (Njamculović 42)

Att:59

Lokomotiva
We then began a lengthy drive south through the towns of Čačak and Užice, to the mountainous region of Zlatibor, named after Serbia’s tallest mountain whose highest peak, Tornik, measures 1,496 metres. The local team, FK Zlatibor, were in the Zlatibor District League as recently as 2014 but won the Srpska Liga Zapad last season to gain promotion to the second tier, Prva Liga, for the first time in their history. The club is not particularly well liked being dubbed as a “plastic” club being heavily financed through to their current level. The play in nearby Čajetina at the modest Stadion Švajcarija and we obtain our 200 dinar (£1.50) tickets at the entrance to the stand. Today’s encounter sees top placed FK Inđija visiting second place Zlatibor. It’s a tight encounter settled in favour of the hosts with a tidy finish from Dejan Vidić.

Saturday October 27th 2018 – Prva Liga

FK Zlatibor 1 (Vidić 8)
FK Inđija 0

Att:397 (at Stadion Švajvarija)

Oct 2018 040
After a late breakfast at the Hotel Zlatibor, quite the worst hotel any of us could ever remember, we made the short drive to the Stadion Krčagovo, home of FK Jedinstvo Putevi. This morning’s entertainment would be a fourth level Zona Zapadno-Moravska match against near neighbours FK Polimlje Prijepolje. The stadium is very photogenic sat in the sprawling hillside suburbs of Užice and a stunning wooded valley which was playfully sporting its glorious autumnal colours. A poor, badly rutted pitch meant the game wasn’t the highest quality and it was the visitors that took their few chances to win the game 2-0.

Sunday October 28th 2018 – Zona Zapadno-Moravska

FK Jedinstvo Putevi 0
FK Polimlje 2 (Hamzić pen 51, Džanović 73)

Att:154 (at Stadion Krčagovo)

Jedinstvo (1)

One member of the Groundhopping Serbia crew, Teodora, kindly left the game early to obtain a hearty warm, doughy snack of komplet lepinja, which is traditionally consumed alongside a drink of runny yoghurt. Our skilful bus driver, Aleksandr, then drove north west to the Mačva region via some truly stunning mountain scenery. We had a fairly tight timeline to make the start of the star attraction of the weekend, the visit of reigning Super Liga champions, Crvena Zvezda to the humble abode of FK Mačva Šabac. It was clearly a big deal in what is a very small provincial town, and we welcomed the police escort to the ground, I mean don’t you know who we are??!!

After picking up our pre-reserved tickets costing 500 dinar (£3.70) each, we faced big queues at the Stadion Šabac entrances. Our sector in the west stand had clearly been massively oversold with people standing due to lack of seats and also sitting on stairways. The free-for-all scramble for spare seats saw a lot of us housed in the sector adjacent to the Delije, Red Star’s world famous ultras. As always their support was noisy, pyro based and utterly relentless, sound tracking a perfunctory 2-0 win for the champions. The home side had a small band of ultras housed in a stand behind the goal. The Šaneri (“The Thieves”) tried to make themselves heard but were massively outnumbered by Red Star’s support.

Sunday October 28th 2018 – Super Liga

FK Mačva Šabac 0
FK Crvena Zvezda 2 (Pavkov 39, Jovančic 60)

Att:7,000 (at Stadion Šabac)

Red Star at Macva Sabac (3)

After the horrific night at the Stalag Zlatibor the welcoming bosom of the Hotel Slavija was looked on by all with a renewed affection. For most of the tour party it was their last night in Belgrade before departing for various flights home from Nikola Tesla airport. For the remaining handful of travellers there was the attraction of a midday kick off for the under 19 teams of FK BASK and Red Star. We had first visited the Stadion Careva Ćuprija on the inaugural Serbian Groundhop weekend. They have an excellent ground close to the hippodrome and it’s easily reached by tram.It was an interestingly tactical match with Red Star dominating possession but failing to create many chances. BASK equalised an early Red Star penalty midway through the second half before rising star Dejan Joveljić bagged a late winner.

Monday October 29th 2018 – Omladinska Liga U19s

FK BASK U19s 1 (Pavlovic 65)
FK Crvena Zvezda U19s 2 (Joveljić pen 5,87)

Att:116

FK BASK

With seven of the party on Wizz’s 7pm flight back to Luton there was time to shoehorn one more game into the groundhop with another under 19 match taking place on the 3G pitch next to OFK Beograd’s wonderfully crumbling Omladinski Stadion in the Karaburma district of the city. The main stadium is in an advanced state of decay and its 20,000 capacity is severely restricted these days. For the Romantičari (The Romantics) it’s a sorry state of affairs and light years away from their heyday of a Cup Winners Cup semi final defeat to Spurs in 1963 and glorious European wins against the likes of Napoli, Feyenoord, Juventus and Panathinaikos.

Today’s match sees OFK’s under 19’s take on youth product specialists FK Brodarac who have recent appearances in the UEFA Youth League to their credit. The match was a total contrast to the BASK – Red Star game the previous day, being fast and furious. Similarly to the main stadium the 3G pitch is in very poor condition with lots of holes and patches of low quality replacement surface. OFK’s youngsters look like they are going to win a hard fought contest before the referee awards Brodarac a late and very soft penalty to square the result at 2-2.

Monday October 29th 2018 – Omladinska Liga U19s

OFK Beograd U19s 2 (Pavlović pen 54, Mijailović 75)
FK Brodarac U19s 2 (Vukosavljević 70, Lukić pen 90)

Att:129

OFK v Brodarac

This particular groundhop was a logistical nightmare to arrange with kick offs not being finalised until the Tuesday before we departed on the Thursday! For news of any future events please follow @GroundhopSerbia on Twitter or join the Facebook group Serbian Football Weekends. For more pictures of this latest trip you can use the hashtag #SerbianGH5 across all forms of social media.

A much expanded version of this piece will feature in a future edition of Football Weekends magazine.