Stick a fork in I’m done with 2018/19

Here is a review of my itinerant football watching during the 2018/19 campaign.

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Total Matches Attended: 280

New Grounds Visited: 202

Total Goals Scored: 1,147 (Average of 4.10 goals per game, up on 3.81 last season, I saw seven 0-0 draws this season)

Biggest Win: Bestwood Miners Welfare 15 NG Vikings 0

Biggest Crowd: 59,903 West Ham United v Liverpool

Grounds Abroad: 49 (Romania 12, Serbia 12, Germany 11, Greece 3, Iceland 3, Italy 3, Bosnia 1, Bulgaria 1, Gibraltar 1, Netherlands 1, San Marino 1)

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BEST GROUNDS VISITED IN THE UK IN 2018/19

1.THE STANKS


An amateur pitch marked out on a rough piece of grass against the Elizabethan fortified walls of Berwick-upon-Tweed. If it was good enough for L.S.Lowry to draw then it’s good enough for me. An absolute bucket list footballing experience.
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2. HOPEMAN – Sea Park
The Moray Welfare League is a summer competition played on parched pitches across the Morayshire region. Hopeman play on a pitch adjacent to the sea and harbour and the view from up on the hill towards the High Street is just stunning. Sea Park should be a new entry on anyone’s iconic football venues list.
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3. FORRES MECHANICS – Mosset Park

A sturdy main stand, ample banking around the rest of the ground. One of the best grounds in a league full of decent venues.

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4.KILSYTH RANGERS– Duncansfield Park

Huge covered terrace on one side and sweeping curves of terrace around the rest of the ground. To cap it all there is player’s tunnel that goes under the terracing before rising up to pitch level. Steadfastly Junior and all power to its elbow.

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5.ELGIN CITY– Borough Briggs

A traditional old ground completing a strong Scottish bias to this season’s awards list. Magically old school and seeming untouched by the rampant need to modernise.

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BEST GROUNDS VISITED ABROAD IN 2018/19

1.BOLOGNA – Stadio Renato Dall’Ara

Just an incredible footballing amphitheatre. Built in the 1920’s with so many amazing architectural features from the Littoral, the cover walkway on the open side of the ground to Nervi’s masterpiece tower. Despite a fairly recent revamping for the 1990 World Cup, it would seem the owners, the City of Bologna, are keen to modernise it further, you would trust the traditional features are retained but who knows?

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2.RHEYDTER SV – Jahnstadion

When you get to hear that an old school stadium is to soon be “modernised” you experience two emotions. One is the pang of sadness of another lost playground and then that’s superseded by the urge to go and see it as it is before the “improvements” destroy the essential character. The Jahnstadion will have its 20,000 capacity terracing removed in its entirety and just a revamped grandstand will be left. Work is scheduled to start on this latest act of social vandalism in early 2020, be warned!

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3.ASC OLIMPIC ZARNESTI – Stadion Celuloza

Dramatic mountain setting, ancient wooden stand somehow held together for more than 80 years and a bright red pavilion. Just a stunning place to watch football.

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4.FK ŽAK KIKINDA – Stadion ŽAK

Features a big old grandstand and a perimeter wall made from about a million roof tiles stood on their ends. An indescribably good football ground.

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5.ALTONA ‘93 – Adolf Jäger Kampfbahn

One of the oldest remaining stadiums in Germany, perfect in every way. Coupled with a great fan scene, this a must do venue before their muted plans to move come to fruition.

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BEST PROGRAMMES BOUGHT IN 2018/19

(based on status, resources, effort and originality)

1. Clapton Community FC

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2.Lower Breck

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3. St. Helens Town

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4. Aberystwyth

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5. Steeton

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BEST FOOD IN 2018/19

  1. Curry (Queens Park Crescents)

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2. Scouse (Litherland REMYCA)

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3. Jerk Chicken (Enfield Borough)

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Stick a fork in I’m done with 2017/18

Here is a review of my itinerant football watching during the 2017/18 campaign.

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Total Matches Attended: 258

New Grounds Visited: 185

Total Goals Scored: 984 (Average of 3.81 goals per game, down on 3.91 last season, seven 0-0 draws this season)

Biggest Win: Southampton 12 QK Southampton 0

Biggest Crowd: 42,679 Tottenham Hotspur v APOEL

Games Abroad: 43 (Serbia 14, Romania 9, Slovakia 4, Belgium 3. Cyprus 3, Latvia 3, Austria 2, Isle of Man 2, Liechtenstein 1, Lithuania 1, Northern Cyprus 1).

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BEST GROUNDS VISITED IN THE UK 2017/18

1.   FORT WILLIAM – Claggan Park

One of the most beautifully scenic grounds in the world let alone the UK. Set in front of Càrn Dearg, one of the foothills of Ben Nevis, the thought of this ground closing for football sent many scurrying up to the Highlands this season. Fortunately the club live to fight another campaign at this wondrous place.

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2.   GREENOCK MORTON – Cappielow

Classic grandstand and terracing, iconic floodlights and maritime cranes. One of the UK’s finest surviving old school football stadiums.

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3.  TON PENTRE – Ynys Park

Steeped in a century’s worth of history. Boasting a superb example of covered terracing, even with no one it, Ynys Park is the type of place that just crackles with atmosphere.

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4.  JK SILVERTOWN – Lyle Park

A fine ground hidden away by East London industry. Nearly 100 years old and what a rich story that lies within.

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5. BRECON CORINTHIANS – The Rich Field

Lovely little ground in a fantastic town, one of those sort of places you wouldn’t mind moving to and following the Corries.

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BEST GROUNDS VISITED ABROAD 2017/18

1. AS TRENČÍN  – Stadion na Sihoti

Despite undergoing a rebuild the floodlights and medieval castle backdrop at this stadium are stuff of dreams.

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2. FC TRIESENBERG – Sportplatz Leitawies

I had always known this was a beautiful setting but it truly defies description

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3. CSM SCOLAR RESITA – Stadion Mircea Chivu

Hewn rather than built into a valley, this is a magical ground. You will not be disappointed.

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4. FC POJORÂTA – Stadion Pojorâta

Like watching football on a fantasy movie set, just stunning.

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5. RSD JETTE – Stade Communal de Jette

Crumbling terracing in a decreasing curve from start to end. Really unusual and yet another on the never ending list of sublime Belgian football grounds.

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BEST PROGRAMMES BOUGHT IN 2017/18

(based on status, resources, effort and originality)

1.   BOSHAM

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2.   HORNSEY & HIGHGATE

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3.   OSSETT ALBION

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4.   CANVEY ISLAND

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5.   BARRY TOWN UNITED

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A special mention for the tournament programme for the CONIFA World Football Cup held in London. Superbly produced and very informative.

BEST FOOD IN 2017/18

1. AYA NAPA – Koupes

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2. BISHOPS LYDEARD – Thai Curry

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3. SUTTON UNITED – Fish Finger Roll

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Fading Elegance (Mouloudia Club Marrakech)

Until the opening of the Grande Stade de Marrakech in 2012, the Stade El Harti was the biggest football ground in this great city. Built in the period of the French protectorate it would still easily hold 10,000 spectators. Situated just outside the old city walls in the Avenue du President Kennedy, the old stadium is the very definition of fading elegance.

Since Marrakech’s biggest club, Kawkab Athletic Club, moved into the new Gregotti Associates designed arena, which is situated some way out of town in Ouahat Sidi Brahim, the El Harti has been reduced to hosting games for Marrakech’s clubs that currently compete in the third and fourth tier competition, the Moroccan Amateur League. Of the tenant clubs, Olympique Marrakech are best placed to bring Botola Pro football back to the El Harti. In fact they only dropped out of the Pro League Second Division at the end of the 2012/13 season when they finished bottom of the table ten points adrift of safety. It was a year that saw Kawkab win the Second Division to return to the top flight. Olympique were formed in 2001 by the owner of the famous Marrakechi restaurant Chez Ali, and currently stand in a promotion place for a return to the Pro League. The city’s other third tier club Najm Marrakech still play at the Stade 20th August which is in Avenue Oued Lmakhazine in the suburb of Menara.

The El Harti’s other occupant is today’s host club MCM Mouloudia Marrakech who play in the fourth tier of Moroccan football, the Amateur League Second Division. It’s been a sharp decline for Mouloudia who spent a single season in the Moroccan top flight in 1980/81 but finished next to bottom of the eighteen team league. The club were formed in 1948 as Alioria Marrakech with most of the team coming from the Bab Doukkala district of the old medina. They initially played at the old Terrain Akecich before sharing the Stade 20th August with Najm Marrakech. All their first team games these days are played on the 3G surface of the El Harti. The Mouloudia club have a currently much more successful handball team.

The Stade El Harti is built from the distinctive terracotta coloured stone associated with Morocco and has an impressive main stand with a roof supported by some seriously reinforced concrete. The stadium in its heyday would have looked great, the external stairways are artistically decorated and the entrance to the stadium is a real masterpiece. Today the fascia of the stadium bearing its name has been smashed and a chunk of masonry has fallen off the stunning arch. It’s a shame big crowds no longer gather here and little maintenance, save for the installation of an artificial pitch, has taken place in recent years. The rest of stadium is made up of two end curves of open terracing and a terrace opposite the main stand which is partially covered to provide some shade from the unrelenting Maghreb sun.

Today’s game sees Hilal Tarrast make the long four hour trip from Agadir for this fixture. No admission is charged and no information is available as to who is playing for either team. There was a goalless first half which was held up for seven minutes when the manager of the visitors was asked to leave the technical area and refused to do so, encouraging his team to leave the pitch instead. Order was eventually restored and the coach cut a solitary figure sat alone in the covered terrace for the remainder of the game. It was the hosts that took the lead after 67 minutes when their captain nodded in a dangerous corner. It looked like that would be the winner until four minutes from time when the opposition’s centre forward, who had spent the entire game play acting and diving, gleefully lashed home a loose ball which really should have been cleared. It was a poor quality game on an artificial surface that has not been maintained well and had some disarming bounce to it.

Should Olympique successfully return to the Pro League it would be nice to think some money could be lavished on the old El Harti in its dotage.

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Moroccan Amateur League Deuxiéme Division – Sunday January 18th 2015 

Mouloudia Club Marrakech (0) 1

Hilel Tarrast Agadir (0) 1

Att: c. 160

Gallery

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The Perennial Struggle (East Stirlingshire)

The East Stirlingshire Football Club have an official formation date of 1881 although it roots go back a year earlier to a club called Britannia in the nearby town of Bainsford. The new club took over Randyford Park in Grangemouth Road from neighbours Falkirk who had decamped to a ground called Blinkbonny.

However, Randyford proved problematic and within months East Stirlingshire moved to Merchiston Park. The club remained at this ground until it was purchased to extend the adjacent Burnbank Iron Foundry. Shire then opened their new town centre ground, Firs Park, in August 1921. Although modest in dimensions the ground managed to accommodate 11,500 spectators for a 1968 Scottish Cup tie against Hibernian.

Life at Firs Park was never dull, in 1964 the incumbent board relocated the club to New Kilbowie Park and an ill-fated merger with Clydebank. After twelve months of litigation the Shire returned to Falkirk. During their absence the cover from the standing enclosure and the floodlights had gone to Kilbowie and local vandals had also held sway in the unoccupied ground. New lights and a replacement cover were erected before football returned to Firs Park. The small barrelled roof main stand became something of an icon of Scottish stadium architecture. Since the 1964 debacle the club has periodically considered further relocation, with Grangemouth Athletics Stadium being considered on more than one occasion.

The club played its last game at Firs Park in 2008 when the momentous decision was taken that the old ground would be prohibitively expensive to upgrade to the new ground grading criteria imposed by the Scottish League. The club signed an initial five year deal to play at Stenhousemuir’s ancient Ochilview Park while the club actively looked for a new site in the Falkirk area. In May 2014 East Stirlingshire signed a deal with LK Galaxy Sports to develop a new ground with the preferred site being the former BP Club ground in Grange Road, Grangemouth. Strangely this would mean both of Falkirk’s senior teams will have moved out of their own town to the same town.

Ochilview is one of Scotland’s oldest grounds having opened in 1890. It has been substantially modernised since 1994 when Stenhousemuir failed in their attempts to sell the ageing ground to a supermarket chain. A new main stand replaced the south stand terrace in 1995 and four years later the old “Dolls House” stand was refused a safety licence and was subsequently demolished. This side is now used for car parking and community 3G pitches and has left the stadium with a modest capacity of 3,750 and a distinctly open feel to it. The Tryst Road terrace was covered in 2004 with volunteer labour from supporters. The club has also installed a FIFA approved artificial playing surface in recent years.

Many casual fans follow East Stirlingshire seemingly annual battle to avoid the wooden spoon in Scotland’s fourth tier. The Shire have finish tenth and last of the Scottish League’s lowest tier for seven out of of the last twelve seasons, although last season they finished a heady eighth with Elgin City and Queen’s Park finishing below them. The club won the Scottish League Division C (the old fourth tier) in 1947/48. They have not won anything since.

This season has once again been a struggle for the Shire the league table shows them a point above bottom placed Elgin so today’s Scottish Cup game against Championship side Dunfermline Athletic must have been eyed with no little trepidation.

To the Shire’s credit they keep their guests from the Championship quiet for more that half and hour with some resolute defending. Dunfermline look the better side with Faissal El Bakhtaoui looking the pick of the visitors eleven. It’s no surprise that the young French/Moroccan playmaker opens the scoring with a deft finish just before half time. He doubles the visitors total just after the hour with another impressive strike.

The men from East End Park effectively seal the victory when Shaun Byrne picked up a loose ball in his own half and outpaced the home defence to score with some aplomb. East Stirlingshire’s biggest goal threat comes from the burly Ivorian striker Guy Tahin who bizarrely is only currently permitted to play in cup ties and friendlies. However, Tahin is well shackled today by Gregor Buchanan. Shire continue to press forward and suddenly reduce the arrears with a powerful strike from distance by David Greenhill, his shot finding the net via the inside of the post.

Visibly irked by conceding a goal Dunfermline take charge again and the pressure pays off when Connor Greene makes an injudicious challenge in the area and Ross Millen nets the spot kick with a cheeky “Panenka” style chip down the middle of the goal.

Although well beaten today you have to admire the indefatigable spirit of East Stirlingshire. Homeless and regular wooden spoonists they dig in week after week and you have to salute them for that.

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Sunday November 2nd 2014 – Scottish Cup Third Round

East Stirlingshire (0) 1 (Greenhill 79)
Dunfermline Athletic (1) 4 (El Bakhtaoui 37,62, Byrne 76, Millen pen 84)

Attendance: 991 (at Ochilview, Stenhousemuir F.C.)

Shire:

1. Richie Barnard (c), 2. Connor Greene, 3. Lloyd Kinnaird, 4. Michael Bolochoweckyj, 5. Chris Townsley, 6. Graeme MacGregor, 7. Andy Kay, 8. Neil McCabe, 9. Guy Tahin, 10. David McKenna, 11. David Greenhill.

Subs: 12. Billy Vidler, 14. Steven Brisbane (for 6,62 mins), 15. Martyn Shields, 16. Ross Gilmour, 17. Sean Quinn, 18. Paul Brennan (for 9,71 mins), 19. Alan Deans.

Dunfermline:

1. Ryan Scully, 2. Ross Millen, 3. Alex Whittle, 4. Stuart Urquhart, 5. Gregor Buchanan, 6. Andy Geggan (c), 7. Faissal El Bakhtaoui, 8. Lewis Spence, 9. Michael Moffat, 10. Ross Forbes, 11. Shaun Byrne.

Subs: 12. Ryan Thomson (for 10,77 mins), 14. Andy Stirling, 15. Allan Smith, 16. Chiogozie Ugwu (for 9,72 mins), 17. Ryan Williamson, 18. James Thomas for 7,72 mins), 20. Ryan Goodfellow.

Yellow Cards: Bolochoweckyj , MacGregor, Townsley, Greene (all Shire)

Gallery

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Shire prog

Red Light (Arbroath)

The remote Angus coastal burgh of Arbroath is famous for two reasons, the “smokie” a kiln smoked salted haddock and for the fact that the town’s football team hold the record for the biggest victory in senior football.

In September 1885 Arbroath defeated the hapless Bon Accord by an incredible score of 36-0. Arbroath forward Jocky Petrie helped himself to thirteen of the goals, itself an individual scoring record. Amazingly on the very same day Dundee Harp missed their chance of lasting fame by only racking up 35 unanswered goals against Aberdeen Rovers.

The club has the nickname of “the Red Lichties” which was derived from the red lights that were illuminated on the harbour front to safely guide the fishing boats back home.

Arbroath were formed in 1878 and initially played on a basic pitch between the sea and the railway line. It was known as the Hospital Field. In 1880 the club moved to a new site which was called Old Gayfield. It was tightly hemmed in and on one side the external wall was yards from the touchline meaning spectators could not watch from that side. The first game at the ground was against Rob Roy. However, the new ground irked mighty Rangers who complained that “the back green” they had just lost on was too small for purpose. The Scottish FA acquiesced to their demands for a replay which the Glaswegians won 8-1. Old Gayfield was subsequently enlarged with the acquisition of seashore owned by the local railway company.

The club played their last match at Old Gayfield in March 1925 against King’s Park before moving the ground around sixty yards south west. The old seaside stand was demolished and a new stand erected on the Dundee Road side of the new orientation of the ground now called Greater Gayfield. The ground was ready for the new season and 7,000 people packed in to see the Earl of Strathmore declare the venue open before a game against East Fife.

In 1949 the record attendance of 13,510 was set at Gayfield when another visit from Rangers passed without complaint. The floodlights at Gayfield have a chequered history to say the least. The first temporary set were erected in 1955 and in only their second game against Dundee United an Arbroath player caused much merriment by smashing one of the lights with a wayward boot of the ball. These were replaced with lights bought from Aberdeen in 1970 although sixteen years later they were sold on again to Eastwood Town.

Gayfield survived a serious fire to the main stand in September 1958, the alarm being raised by Partick Thistle players lodging in the hotel opposite the ground. The old stand suffered significant damage and was replaced by the present brick and concrete structure. Two of the three covers were erected in 1979 and the fabled “seaside” stand was covered a year later. It truly must be the closest football stand to the sea in the land, both Gay Meadow and Craven Cottage being merely riverside rather than adjacent to the howling, elemental and endless North Sea. The word “bracing” somehow just doesn’t cut muster.

Today’s game is played in a strong wind and fair light and Gayfield rocks to an early penalty kick which is comfortably dispatched by Paul McManus. The hosts failed to build on it though and only lead their Highland League visitors by a one goal margin at the turn around.

Arbroath double their lead when left back Scott McBride powers in an impressive header from a corner. Almost immediately after the restart there is concern for the home goalkeeper who was subject to a heavy but fair challenge. He is down for some five minutes receiving treatment and has to be replaced. As the sun sets over Gayfield it is the visitors of Nairn that push forward, Sean Webb reduces the arrears two minutes from time. There is of course lengthy stoppage time and Nairn pile on the pressure seeking to take the tie back to Station Park for a replay. They can count themselves unlucky that the equaliser didn’t materialise and the Red Lichties held on for the victory.

Gayfield is just glorious, there is no other word for it. Sweeping terraces and hefty covers built, no hewn, to withstand this unforgiving coast and its unrelenting wind, sea, salt and weather. This is visceral, primordial football not only do you have to outwit your opponent but you also have to do battle with the unpredictable elements. It’s not too glib to say this is an iconic lower league ground, ridiculously photogenic, all big skies and lucent light. I excitedly snapped photograph after photograph, until the red light indicated battery power down. This ground has a mythical feel to it, truly up there with the best grounds in the kingdom.

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Saturday November 1st 2014 – Scottish Cup Third Round

Arbroath 2 (McManus pen 22, McBride 67)
Nairn County 1 (Webb 88)

Attendance: 682 (at Gayfield Park)

Arbroath:

1. David Crawford, 2. Ricky Little, 3. Scott McBride, 4. Kevin Nicoll, 5. Aldin El-Zubaidi, 6. Mark Whatley, 7. Bobby Linn, 8. Keiran Stewart, 9. Paul McManus (c), 10. Simon Murray, 11. Jordan Lowdon.

Subs: 12. Kevin Buchan (for 9,78 mins), 14. Michael Travis, 15. Johnny Lindsay, 16. Michael Wallace, 17. Connor Birse, 18. Craig Johnstone (for 11, 63 mins), 21. Scott Morrison (for 1,71 mins).

Nairn:

20. Callum Antell, 2. Sean Webb 3. Glenn Main, 4. Michael Morrison (c), 5. Martin MacDonald, 6. Wayne MacKintosh, 7. Bradley Halsman, 8. Alan Pollock, 9. Robert Duncanson, 10. Conor Gethins, 11. Kyle Wilkie.

Subs: 1. Michael MacCallum, 12. Paul Macleod, 14. Ross Naismith (for 11,82 mins), 15. Sam Urquhart (for 9,73 mins), 16. Adam Naismith, 17. Chris Moir, 18. Matthew Murphy.

Yellow Card: Morrison (Nairn)

Gallery

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Lichties prog

 

Union City Blue (Union St.Gilloise)

Royale Union Saint-Gilloise were formed in 1897 (matricule number 10) and were arguably the most successful of all Belgian clubs in the pre-World War II era, securing no less than eleven Belgian First Division titles. Their run of titles included four straight championships between 1903/4 and 1906/7. A hat-trick of title wins came in the 1930’s and with it a still unbeaten Belgian record of 60 consecutive matches without defeat.

The end of the magnificent unbeaten run came when Union lost to city rivals Daring Club of Bruxelles (later Racing White Daring of Molenbeek) and was a key point in the intense rivalry between Union and Daring in the inter-War years. Daring were the older club (matricule 2) but had won less championships than Union. The great rivalry even transcended the football field and was made into a highly successful theatrical play “Bossemans and Coppenolle”, the eponymous characters being fans of either club. Even as late as the 1980’s when both clubs were in the Second Division, 20,000 people would attend the great city derby. Sadly the old RWDM club folded in 2002.

Union were also a force in the early pre-UEFA European competitions, winning both the Coupe Ponthoz (three times) and the Coupe Dupuich. They also competed well in UEFA competitions in the late 1950’s with the pinnacle being a semi-final appearance in the old Inter Cities Fairs Cup. Lokomotive Leipzig and AS Roma were defeated over two legs on the way to a semi-final meeting with Birmingham City. The English side won both legs by four goals to two, before losing to Barcelona.

The 1950’s were, however, to be the last of the golden years for Union, by 1963 they had dropped into the Second Division and only 17 years later they were in the fourth tier. These days they compete in Division Three.

The club derived their name from the site of their original home of St. Gilles, a department of Brussels and also a twin town of Tower Hamlets. The St.Gilles name itself comes from a seventh century Greek Christian hermit, venerated for establishing a large abbey in the Provence region of France, and also for his work in suppressing the spread of bubonic plague.

Prior to the current ground the club played on a number of pitches including a field called La Cambre which was adjacent to the velodrome. In the early 1920’s the club moved to the neighbouring Forest area to take up residency at the Stade Joseph Marien. The stadium and the stadium is set in the pleasant surroundings of Duden Park and had originally been built in 1919 to host some of the football matches of the following years summer Olympiad held in Brussels. At that time it had a modest grandstand and the changing rooms were on the opposite side of the pitch.

The wonderful clubhouse shows the plans for the incredible facade of the present stand and are dated 1922. However, it was not until August 1926 when, in the presence of Prince Charles of Belgium, the new stand was officially inaugurated. It is an absolute masterpiece of design and construction, very much up to the standard of contemporary Leitch constructions at Rangers, Aston Villa and Fulham. In the intervening years the stadium is pretty much unchanged save for the addition of roof mounted floodlights and the annexing of some crumbling old terracing behind one goal. The modern day capacity of the Marien is set at 8,000. The large open terracing opposite the grandstand is truly magnificent and sports a veritable forest of crush barriers. Interestingly one of the flags on display is the Belgian tricolour with the club crests of USG, RFC Liège and Cercle Bruges, two other clubs that share Union’s stance on history and the very fabric of their identity.

The first half of this Third Division encounter was goalless and was probably shaded by the visitors, Sprimont-Comblain, although they could not capitalise on a number of good chances, mainly due to the fine form of home goalkeeper, Anthony Sadin. The home side came out from the break with renewed vigour and within four minutes managed to break the deadlock with a superb strike from the Italian Ignazio Cocchiere.

The game then became the Yahya Boumediene show. The young Belgian of Morrocan extraction, runs the Sprimont defence ragged with a super display of trickery and pace. It is no surprise when he sets up Union’s second goal. He dances into the visitors penalty area yet again and selflessly squares the ball to Esteban Casagolda. He clips the ball around the keeper and slots the ball into an empty net. With just eight minutes left there is no way back for Sprimont and Union run out deserving winners.

As some unseasonably late summer sun beat down on this magnificent arena it really felt like there were few better places to watch a game of football. A great club, fascinating history well preserved and cherished by the current board, and a most welcoming set of staff and supporters. I would say that it Union Saint-Gilloise have got everything just about spot on.

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Belgium Division 3 (Group B) – 29/09/2013

Royale Union Saint-Gilloise (0)2 (Cocchiere 49, Casagolda 82)

Royale Sprimont-Comblain Sport (0)0

Attendance: c.700 (at the Stade Joseph Marien)

USG

19. Anthony Sadin; 4. Anthony Cabeke (c); 17. Steven Godfroid; 21. Robby Vanhamel; 13. Vincent Vandiepenbeeck; 24. Yahya Boumediene; 5. Aaron Verwilligen; 8. Steve Dessart; 15. Ignazio Cocchiere; 9. Esteban Casagolda; 18. Gregoty Bilstein.

Subs: 1. Bilen Mrabet Yousfi; 3. Kevin Dieme (for 4,73 mins); 6. Sadjaliou Sow (for 8,78 mins); 7. Lionel Gendarme (for 18,84 mins)

Sprimont

1. Gwennael Jaa; 2. Pierre Gobiet; 21. Bruno Carvalho-Fernandes; 27. Sebastien Van Aerschot; 5. Gilles Bernard; 16. Michael Wiggers; 8. Alexandre Bury; 24. Jerome Colinet; 7. Jacques Beckers (c); 17. Arnaud Lakaye; 18. Anthony Manfredi.

Subs: 3. Nicolas Birti (for 21,66 mins); 4. Aloys Lambert; 10. Stefano Henrot (for 2,56 mins); 20. Quentin Simonis.

Yellow Card: Lakaye (Sprimont)

Gallery

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(With grateful thanks to Stéphane Lievens)

A Racing Heart (Racing Mechelen)

The need to watch a game at Racing Mechelen was not only due to their magnificent Oscar Vankesbeeckstadion but also for the fact that my beloved Southend United played a friendly at this very ground in 1953. Racing won the game by a score of 3-2. It is something of an ongoing research/travel piece visiting the still existent venues the club played a game at in their prodigious touring throughout the 1950’s and early 60’s.

In those days they were known by the French version of their name Racing Malines. Racing also visited Southend, at the Grainger Road Stadium, for a friendly in 1951 as part of the extensive Festival of Britain celebrations.

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Racing were formed in 1904, just a few months before crosstown rivals KV Mechelen and were awarded the low matricule number of 24. They were always the senior of the two Mechelen clubs and in their heyday finished in third place in First Division for 1949/50 and 1950/51 and runners ups the very next season. Decline set in, however, and while Racing dropped down to the third tier, FC (now KV) Mechelen assumed the status of the city’s highest ranked club. Worse news still for Racing came in 2010 when they were relegated to the fourth tier for the first time in their history. Mercifully they were promoted back to Division Three after just one season.

The club had become very popular in its formative years as their original ground at Rodekruisplein was in the heart of the working class area around the river and associated industries. Racing then moved to the magnificent Oscar Vankesbeeckstadion which was originally opened in 1923. It commemorates a Flemish liberal politician who also had a six year tenure in charge of the Belgian FA. Van Kesbeeck was also elected the first chairman of Racing Mechelen back in 1905 when aged only 18.

The stadium has a generous capacity of 13,687 (1,900 seats) and is comfortably the largest in the Belgian third tier. Following bombing damage in the war which saw the original main stand destroyed, the stadium was substantially renovated and enlarged in 1947. The glorious main stand was modelled on the “English style” of elevated grandstand and remains a quite stunning edifice. The players tunnel is truly impressive and displays the clubs motto of “Where there’s a will, there is a way”. The Vankesbeeckstadion lies around a mile from arch rival KV’s Achter de Kazerne stadium and is just north of the city centre over the River Dijle.

The ground displays some cracking flags, many in the English language, and several celebrating the Mechelen skyline. The lofty grandstand affords tremendous views across the city, notably visible is the illuminated tower of St.Rumbold’s Cathedral.

This early evening kick off sees Racing as favourites for a win as they had amassed five victories in their opening eight League encounters. Visitors Gent-Zeehaven are in a mid-table position. A goalless first half saw few chances for either side but a more open second period promised some goals. Against the run of play it’s the visitors that take the lead when Munoz netted as Racing failed to clear their lines. The home side pressured for a equaliser while Gent-Zeehaven seemed content to time waste at every opportunity, notably when their goalkeeper limped off injured. It was a ploy that would backfire on them. Mechelen deservedly equalised six minutes from time with a great strike from Mathyssen. Criminally the home side let in an identical goal to go 1-2 down with visiting skipper Criel the beneficiary of some poor defending. However, it was Racing that had the last word, levelling through Hmouda deep in the substantial period of stoppage time.

A very entertaining match in a cracking football ground, just what Oscar Van Kesbeeck would have enjoyed.

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Belgium Division 3 (Group A) – 28/09/2013

Racing Club Mechelen (0) 2 (Mathyssen 84, Hmouda 90)

RRC Gent-Zeehaven (0) 2 (Munoz 55, Criel 88)

Attendance: c.900 (at the Oscar Vankesbeeckenstadion)

Racing:

19. Lars Knipping; 2. Tom Pietermaat; 4. Morad Gloub; 7. Modeste Gnakpa; 8. Achraf Essikal; 9. Dirk Mathyssen; 10. Kevin Spreutels (c); 11. Megan Laurent; 13. Rachid Hmouda; 15. Arne Naudts; 16. Seppe Brulmans.

Subs: 5. Bert Tuteleers (for 11,46 mins); 12. Jessy Salut (for 4,80 mins); 14. Dylan Carton; 17. Max Beeckmans.

Gent-Zeehaven:

12. Kersten Lauwerys; 3. Jan Criel (c); 4. Othman Felix Kieran; 5. Quenten Schollaert; 6. Mathieu Welvaert; 7. Kevin Franck; 9. Nicolas De Lange; 15. Brecht Van Cauwenberge; 17. Gus Vandekerckhove; 20. Antonio Herrera Munoz; 21. Mackim Joos.

Subs: 1. Nick Heyman (for 12,72 mins); 8. Imad Amazou (for 15,46 mins); 11. Fabio Lo Giudice; 13. Niels Elewaut (for 17,52 mins).

Yellow Cards: Mathyssen, Tuteleers (Racing); Felix Kieran, Van Cauwenberge and Joos (all Gent-Zeehaven),

Gallery

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