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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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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Amazing Floodlights

Why are many football stadium enthusiasts so keen on floodlight pylons? Sparingly used although essential to the development of the game since the 1950’s what draws a man to these electrical landmarks? I think the answer is just that, they are invariably the first sighting of a football ground when arriving in a distant town or foreign field for the initial time. Like viaducts, textile mills, canal locks they are also fast becoming somewhat redolent of bygone times.

Darwen FC claim to have staged the first ever football match under floodlights as long ago as 1878. Of course there was no national grid then so any use of artificial lighting would be battery powered and seemed dependant on luck rather than a sustainable power supply. Bramall Lane and the ground of Thames Ironworks, the forebears of West Ham United, also conducted early experiments with floodlighting.

That forward thinking innovator on the pitch, Herbert Chapman, also saw the light earlier than most when he had lights installed at Highbury in the 1930’s. However, Arsenal could not gain Football League sanction to use them. So once the authorities caught up some twenty years later it fell to Southampton to become the first club to “officially” use floodlights to stage a match. The friendly against Bournemouth and Boscombe Athletic was a resounding success and electrical lighting was here to stay. It opened a new source of income for many clubs with European friendlies against exotic opponents becoming de rigueur in the 1950’s.

Sadly a modern trend with ever increasing stadium sizes that the traditional pylons at many grounds have been replaced by roof mounted lighting, Old Trafford, Elland Road and Anfield were among the first to ditch their traditional corner pylons. Newer builds like Huddersfield’s John Smith’s Stadium and Wigan’s DW Stadium have thankfully been constructed with traditional corner pylons. There has also been a modern trend towards “stick” pylons replacing the big industrial looking pylons of “proper” grounds. To the purist these stick pylons are very much an anathema.

There are, of course, multiple different floodlight manufacturers and stadium architects, so the purpose of this article is to highlight some of the more amazing floodlight pylons from around the globe. Here are some of my personal favourites in no particular order.

Real Betis – Estadio Benito Villamarin (Spain)

Real Betis

Spartak Trnava – Štadíon Antona Malatinského (Slovakia)

Spartak Trnava

MSK Zilina – MSK Stadion (Slovakia)

MSK Zilina

Erzgebirge Aue – Sparkassen Erzgebirgsstadion (Germany)

Erzgebirge Aue

Las Palmas – Estadio Las Palmas (Spain)

Las Palmas

Widzew Łódź – Stadion Ludwika Sobolewskeigo (Poland)

Widzew Lodz

Carl Zeiss Jena – Ernst Abbe Stadion (Germany)

Carl Zeiss Jena

Bolton Wanderers – Reebok Stadium (England)

Reebok Stadium

AIK Solna – Råsunda Stadion (Sweden)

rasunda-stadion-871

Dynamo Moscow – Dynamo Stadium (old) (Russia)

Dinamo Moscow

Barakaldo CF – Estadio Neuvo Lasesarre (Spain)

Barakaldo

FC Vysočina Jihalva – Stadion Jiráskové Ulici (Czech Republic)

Vysocina Jihlava

Levski Sofia – Vasil Levski Stadium (Bulgaria)

Vasil Levski

Újpest Dosza – Szusza Ferenc Stadion (Hungary)

Ujpest Dozsa

FC Hradec Králové – Všesportovni Stadion (Czech Republic)

Hradlec Kralove

FC Viktoria Plzeń – Štruncovy Sady (Czech Republic)

Plzen

1.FC Slovacko – Mestsky Fotbalovy Stadion (Czech Republic)

Slovacko

AS Trenčín – Stadion na Sihoti (Slovakia)

AS Trencin

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20 Glorious Non-League Grounds

There are literally hundreds of eye poppingly beautiful non-league grounds in England, here are just twenty good ones with some background and pictures. Before any arguments ensue they are ranked in no particular order!

Bexhill United – The Polegrove (Sussex League Division Two)

The Polegrove, Brockley Road, Bexhill-on-Sea, East Sussex TN39 3EX

Bexhill United have only ever played at The Polegrove since their formation in 1926. The superb mock Tudor brick and timber built grandstand was opened in 1929. The spectacular stand houses the teams changing rooms and a smaller officials room. Adjacent to the stand on the seafront side of the ground is the clubhouse which was completed in 1987. The club has spent recent years in the lower reaches of the Sussex County League, but are rightly proud of their grandstand, one of the most attractive in the country. In the summer of 2002 the old Bexhill Town club merged with Bexhill Amateur Athletic Club to be renamed as Bexhill United.

Bexhill United (3) Bexhill United (1)

Bodmin Town – Priory Park (South West Peninsula League Premier Division)

Priory Park, Bodmin, Cornwall PL31 2AE

As you arrive in Bodmin on the A389 the huge site that is Priory Park lies in the shallow valley to the left and its photogenic stand looks great from the roadside. Adjacent to the ground is Athelston House and behind it the valley banks up sharply and the superb vista is completed by the distant focal point of Gilbert’s Monument. The stunning pitched roof stand was opened in September 1958 some ten years after the club started leasing the site from Bodmin Council. At the time the stand cost some £2,500 to construct but was worth every penny as it remains one of the best in the area. However, the club have lofty aspirations and either a move or substantial redevelopment remains a possibility. For stadium purists these plans are sacrilegious.

Bodmin Town - Priory Park (1) Bodmin Town - Priory Park (3)

Brimscombe & Thrupp – The Meadow (Hellenic League Division One West)

The Meadow, London Road, Brimscombe, Gloucestershire GL5 2SH

One of the many picture postcard grounds that grace the Gloucestershire countryside. Opened in 1946, The Meadow was levelled off to form a useable playing surface and much of the earth was compacted to form a sizeable bank on the London Road side of the ground. A wooden cover was erected into a cutting in the bank and although appearing somewhat precarious, provides a marvellous view of the match. The pitch is set off by a smart white post and rail fence. Looking past the stand and bank, the overall picture is complete by extensive woodland rising sharply in the distance. Brimscombe and Thrupp, a modest club with a pretty little home.

 

Update: This picturesque stand was replaced during the summer of 2013 by a modern kit build stand at the request of the Hellenic League.
Brimscombe & Thrupp Brimscombe & Thrupp (7)

Buxton – The Silverlands (Northern Premier League Premier Division)

The Silverlands, Silverlands, Buxton, Derbyshire SK17 6QH

Buxton is an ancient spa town in the beautiful area of the Peak District and is one of the highest towns above sea level. Buxton claim to have the most elevated ground in the country, although the good folk of Tow Law Town came very close on a battle of the altimeters. The club played their first match at Silverlands in November 1884, when it was little more than an unenclosed field. The first covered accommodation was erected in 1890, primarily “to encourage lady supporters to the ground”. Soon after a grandstand was opened and stood until it was replaced by the present main stand in 1965. In 1980 the dressing rooms were replaced with new facilities under the main stand. The club invested in a new drainage system in 1979 and the move has paid dividends, with waterlogging in this area of copious precipitation being a rare occurence. In the early 1990’s the terracing was re-laid and the old covers replaced. A visit to this ancient sports ground and delightful town is a must for any stadium buff.

Buxton

Buxton (2)

Chorley – Victory Park (Northern Premier League Premier Division)

Victory Park, Duke Street, Chorley, Lancashire PR7 3DU

Victory Park is a quite magnificent venue, its main stand, built in 1947, is a national treasure. The roof is supported by an impossible amount of criss-crossing metalwork. Following the discovery of asbestos recently the ancient roof has been sympathetically replaced with more modern material. Both ends at Victory Park have large covered terraces, the car park end, the elder of the two, is another design classic with a myriad of roof supports. The ground, however, has had its share of disasters with the original Pilling Lane end being blown down in a gale in 1929 and the first grandstand being reduced to a pile of smouldering ash in 1945. The side opposite the main stand has substantial grass banking and has never seen any real development. The club’s catering hut even sells the local delicacy of butter pies! Victory Park has survived the push for modernity intact and is a welcome reminder of how grounds used to look. A truly classic venue.

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Crook Town – Millfields (Northern League Division Two)

Millfield, West Road, Crook, County DurhamDL15 9PW

A very famous club from the old amateur days, being five times winners of the F.A. Amateur Cup. The club is renowned throughout Europe and even played the mighty Barcelona no less than ten times between 1913 and 1922, losing only four times. So close were their ties with the Catalan club that they even borrowed Barca’s famous goalkeeper, Ricardo Zamora for one game. Crook also went on tour to Norway in 1963 and, famously, to India in 1976 when crowds in excess of 100,000 flocked to see the side from the Northern League. In 1898 the club left their Welfare Ground at Bankfoot having purchased a new site in West Road for the princely sum of £625. The ground at Millfield expanded rapidly and the original grandstand was replaced by the current 500 seater in 1925 at a cost of £1,300. The rest of the ground was steeply banked with ash to create a massive capacity. Millfield was packed for an Amateur Cup tie against Walton & Hersham in 1952 when the official record gate of 17,500 was set. Contemporary press reports put the real crowd as being in excess of 20,000 as entrance gates were barged down. In the late 1940’s and fifties the ground never saw a match with a crowd of less than 4,000, remarkable for such a small town with a population then of 12,000! The stand was joined on the same side in 1960 by a large section of covered terrace. The old grandstand, however, was condemned in 1989 but sympathetic renovation has seen it restored to its former glory. Although the crowds are long gone, Millfield remains a classic venue, albeit one under constant threat of redevelopment or relocation.

Crook Town (1) Crook Town (2)

Ebbsfleet United – Stonebridge Road (Conference)

Stonebridge Road, Northfleet, KentDA11 9EN

This classic ground has been home to Northfleet United and the latterly merged Gravesend & Northfleet club since 1905, and is leased from the cement manufacturers, Blue Circle. The vast main stand was erected in 1914 and complemented a smaller stand on the Stonebridge Road side of the ground erected some six years later. The smaller stand was later demolished and replaced by the present large covered terrace in 1959 which matched the then seven year old cover behind the East goal. In 1980 the Swanscombe End was reterraced to modern safety standards. All the developments at the ground over the years, including the installation additional seating, have been sympathetic and in keeping with the site’s great age, but have been done in such a manner that Stonebridge Road remains well up to modern ground-grading criteria. For that the club’s management should take a well deserved bow.

Update: the covered terrace on the Stonebridge Road side of the ground was replaced with a modern seated stand which by summer 2017 had still not been finished as the contractor has gone bust.

Ebbsfleet United (25)

Ebbsfleet United (26)

Esh Winning – West Terrace (Northern League Division Two)

West Terrace, Waterhouses, County DurhamDH7 9NQ

Several incarnations of Esh Winning have been in existence since the village’s first club, Esh Winning Rangers were formed in 1889. Many of the clubs played at the Stag Hill Recreation Ground but all subsequently disbanded until a Sunday side were formed in 1967 under the curious title of Esh Winning Pineapple. The club secured the use of the Welfare Ground of the disbanded Waterhouses Colliery, eventually purchasing the venue. They only converted to Saturday football, losing their interesting suffix in the process, as recently as 1980 by which time the ground had been developed to the first class venue it is now. Originally the ground had twin stands with the unusual lofted roof spans, lucky one still soldiers on. The ground’s location in the beautiful Deerness Valley makes this a truly evocative and peaceful venue.

Esh Winning (9) Esh Winning (15)

Great Yarmouth Town – Wellesley Recreation Ground (Eastern Counties League Division One)

Wellesey Recreation Ground, Wellesey Road, Great Yarmouth, Norfolk NR30 1EY

Without doubt the 120 year old grandstand at the Wellesey is the single most photographed ground in non-league history. It is understandable as everything about its construction is aesthetically pleasing. From the dog-tooth fascia board, turned roof supports, roof gable and pierced roof ends down to ornate dressing room window frames it is just a joy. The opposite side of the ground has a not unattractive run of covered benching. However it is the 1,000 seater stand, built in the summer of 1892, that is the ground’s pride and joy. It even manages to avert the eye from the ghastly all-weather athletics track that replaced a cinder track in the early 1990’s. It was also during that time that the stand was closed for patronage under the Safety of Sports Ground Act due to the presence of large amounts of inflammable timber. However, the preservation order on the stand assures its survival for many future generations to enjoy.

Great Yarmouth Town 121

Great Yarmouth Town 118

Harwich & Parkeston – Royal Oak (Essex & Suffolk Border League Premier Division)

Royal Oak, Main Road, Dovercourt, Essex CO12 4AA

One of the most historic of Essex grounds, The Royal Oak ground opened for business in 1898. It was a good financial move for The Shrimpers as their ground at the Phoenix Field was so close to the North Sea that the club went through a considerable amount of footballs during the course of a season! The ground has suffered the loss of a superb covered terrace, opposite the main stand, in 1979 and 16 years later the open terrace at the south end was deemed unsafe and was demolished. The removal of the terrace has left the dressing rooms stranded on there own someway distant from the rest of the ground. However, the ground retains its famous main stand, erected in November 1948. Its fame, or perhaps infamy, stems from the unusually sharp sightlines caused by the angle of construction of the stand. Visitors of vertiginous disposition may need to view the game from ground level. The current ground is completed by the covered terrace at the Main Road end which features quite possibly the deepest steps of terracing in the country. One time FA Amateur Cup Finalists, the club has fought valiantly with severe financial woes and now finds itself in the somewhat reduced circumstances of the Essex and Suffolk Border League. In short the Royal Oak is an essential and quirky visit. The most recent of many threats to this dear old ground comes with the local council wishing to sell the adjacent car park for new housing.

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Hastings United – The Pilot Field (Ryman League Premier Division)

The Pilot Field, Elphinstone Road, Hastings, East Sussex TN34 2AX

The Pilot Field and “the upper ground” known as The Firs, formerly the home of St.Leonards and Stamco, have had a quite remarkable and at times torrid history. Hastings Town were formed in 1894 and had three separate spells playing at the top pitch. However, the club played at The Pilot Field between 1923 and 1948. The council had opened both grounds in 1921 at a cost of £32,000. In 1923 the present vast main stand at the Pilot Field was opened at an additional cost of £8,000. In 1948 a professional club, Hastings United, were formed and Town returned to the smaller ground at The Firs. Speedway had come to the Pilot Field in 1948 and some of the old track still remains today. However after one season racing was banned by the council after complaints of noise from neighbours. The 1950’s saw some huge crowds at the Pilot Field, the largest being 12,727 for the visit in an FA Cup tie of Norwich City in January 1954. However by 1985 Hastings United had folded following bankruptcy. Town seized the opportunity to return to the Pilot Field and took United’s place in the Southern League. The club remain in this vast venue despite modest support, and to complicate the story still further Hastings Town opted to change its name during the summer of 2002 to… Hastings United!

Hastings United - Pilot Field 003 Hastings United - Pilot Field 006

Kings Lynn Town – The Walk (Northern Premier League Division 1 South)

The Walks, Tennyson Road, Kings Lynn, Norfolk PE30 5PB

The long trek for a visitor to this remote part of North Norfolk will be rewarded with a truly classic venue. The Walks has been home to the club since its formation in 1879 as Lynn Town. The vast main stand was built in 1956 and replaced an older wooden stand. As well as seating 1,200 people, the stand also houses the clubhouse, dressing rooms and club offices. Opposite the main stand is a long covered terrace, although originally this had additional seating. The seats were disposed with in 1968, but still live on at Hereford United’s Edgar Street ground. The rest of the ground has ample terracing. The club’s heyday was undoubtedly the 1950’s and 60’s when large crowds thronged to The Walks, including nearly 13,000 for a 1951 FA Cup tie with Exeter. Between 1956 and 1962 the club made seven successive, but ultimately unsuccessful, applications for Football League membership. Another run in 1962 culminated in a third round tie at Everton where a 45,366 gate secured a share of gate receipts of £4,341, which cleared all debts and paid up mortgages for houses owned by the club. The old Kings Lynn club collapsed financially in 2009 and reformed as Kings Lynn Town. Even by today’s stringent safety guidelines, The Walks has a capacity of 8,200 and with Kings Lynn having a potential catchment area of 150,000 people, you can’t help but think that the club really should have achieved so much more.

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Lancaster City – The Giant Axe (Northern Premier League Division 1 North)

The Giant Axe, West Road, Lancaster, Lancashire LA1 5PE

The then Lancaster Town’s first two games were at a field adjacent to the current ground which was known as Quay Meadow. Since then home has always been the unusually named Giant Axe Ground. Now 100 years old, The Giant Axe has undergone numerous changes over its lifetime, most recently in November 1976 when two wooden grandstands were gutted by fire. The ground now has amazingly fortified retaining walls to try and put off would be vandals. The old clubhouse was also left as charred remains after an arson attack. The impressive main stand was built on the site of the burnt out stands. There is also ample covered accommodation, all of recent vintage, to give The Giant Axe a thoroughly modern outlook. The oldest remaining part of the ground is the wooden pavilion that serves as the changing rooms, just about the only part of the ground that has survived the attention of the local delinquents.

Lancaster City 04 Lancaster City 09

March Town United – GER Sports Ground (Eastern Counties League Division One)

G.E.R. Sports Ground, Robin Goodfellows Lane, March, Cambridgeshire PE15 8HS

The obvious focal point of the GER sports ground is the superb wooden main stand. Originally striped in club colours of yellow and blue, with an intensity of palette straight out of a gaudy modernist painting, nowadays a wash of plain blue suffices. The ground was originally opened in 1925 when it was home to GER United. However, this club did not reappear after the shutdown of football during World War II and March Town, who had lead a nomadic life before the hostilities, took over the venue. The ground was originally called Shepperson’s Field and was owned by the March Grammar School before GER bought the site. Although the pitched roof wooden stand is certainly impressive to look at, the view from within is hampered by the presence of no less than twelve roof supporting struts, a floodlight pylon and the modern two story administration block that obstructs the view of the goal areas for many of the seats. On the opposite side is a covered terrace erected in 1950. There was originally a greyhound track around the pitch but this has long been grassed over and the pitch widened slightly to bring the action nearer to the stands. A truly diverse sporting venue, the ground has played host to a large number of sports over the years including cricket until 1960.

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Marlow – Alfred Davis Memorial Ground (Hellenic League Division Premier Division)

Alfred Davis Memorial Ground, Oak Tree Road, Marlow, Buckinghamshire SL7 3ED

The Alfred Davis Memorial ground has been home to Marlow since 1924. Marlow were formed in 1870 and were one of the 15 clubs in the very first FA Cup competition. The clubs ground at Crown Meadow had been sold during World War I and after five years at the basic and unsatisfactory Star Meadow, the club secured the use of a field just off Oak tree Road. The finances had been organised by club secretary Alfred Davis who sadly passed away before the ground was opened. Fittingly the committee named the new venue in his memory. The wonderful main stand was built in 1930 and looks as good now as it has ever done. Lovingly kept and with only the slightly unsightly addition of steel fire escapes in recent years, the stand is a masterpiece of construction. The cover opposite was opened in 1950 and was joined behind the goal by one of a modern design in 1992. The top goal has a shallow open terrace behind which is an all weather surface opened in 1991. The club has gained an extra source of revenue by turning over one corner of the ground to a small electricity generator. The retro feel of the ground is augmented by the presence of 1970’s R.Whites Lemonade steel rubbish bins dotted around pitch side. However, the ground remains picturesque and a more than fitting tribute to Alfred Davis.

Marlow FC (2) Marlow FC (11)

 

Matlock Town – Causeway Lane (Northern Premier League Premier Division)

Causeway Lane, Matlock, Derbyshire DE4 3AR

Another ground that has now well passed its’ centenary having been home to Matlock Town since 1895. The Causeway Lane ground is set in one of the most picturesque towns in the Peak District. It has a splendid setting with panoramic views of the Matlock Dales with RiberCastle perched on high overlooking the ground. The ground had a ramshackle wooden stand which had been erected in 1920 but had sadly reached the end of its serviceable life. A £300,000 redevelopment programme has seen a new modern stand taking its place, with provision for 500 seats. Refreshingly it was built with considerable assistance from local steel specialist Twiggs. The Causeway Lane side has a simple wooden cover. Without a doubt the new stand has bought the ground kicking and screaming into the 21st Century.

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Nanpean Rovers – Victoria Bottoms (East Cornwall League Division One)

Victoria Bottoms, Fore Street, Nanpean, Cornwall.

Victoria Park has gained cult status amongst ground aficionados over the last two decades. It was carved out of a clay quarry in 1936 and the resulting banking has created a unique footballing venue. The banks are covered in grass, trees and bushes and are criss-crossed by numerous pathways. Behind both goals are white shelters, useful in inclement weather, but the regular followers of The Rovers could choose a different vantage point for every home game during a season and would still have plenty more to try out! The attractive pavilion also doubles as a memorial to lads from the village killed in World War II. Victoria Park is a football watcher’s paradise, plenty to look at around the ground if the on pitch action is not too great!

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Penzance – Penlee Park (South West Peninsula League Premier Division)

Penlee Park, Alexandra Place, Penzance, Cornwall TR18 4NE

Another of Cornwall’s many glorious grounds, and another like Falmouth and Bodmin that looks older than it really is. What makes Penlee Park special is the fact that it was built solely from volunteer labour. Many tonnes of soil were moved by hand as the pitch was levelled and drainage laid. Due to appalling weather, the workers would often return to find their previous day’s toils washed away by torrential rain. The ground finally opened in time for the 1952/53 season and the club enjoyed their halcyon days at their new home. However in recent years the club fell on hard times and Penlee fell into a state of considerable disrepair not helped by the unwanted attention of local vandals. In the late 1990’s the club undertook extensive repairs, fencing was reinstated, and the stand and the ground’s ornate entrance were restored to their former glory. The original builders, some of whom still attend matches, would have been proud as Penlee Park is once again a beautiful venue and a suitable monument to their endeavour.

Penzance - Penlee Park (7)Penzance - Penlee Park (1)

 

Stonehouse Town – Oldends Lane (Gloucestershire Northern Senior League)

Oldends Lane, Stonehouse, Gloucestershire GL10 2DG

Of the many wondrous grounds in Gloucestershire, Oldends Lane remains my personal favourite, it positively reeks of atmosphere and cries out for a large crowd to gather. A large crowd did gather in September 1951 when 5,500 packed in to Oldends Lane, then two years old, when the FA Cup brought GloucesterCity to Stonehouse. The ground is essentially the same now, except for a few coats of paint, as it was when it was opened by Wolves and England captain Billy Wright in August 1949. The ground has a magnificent seated stand on one side and a large covered stand on top of a grass bank at the car park end of the ground. The club enjoyed some heady days in the Somerset Senior League, but fell into decline due to loss of revenue incurred when the clubhouse was sold off. Encouragingly the club has reinstated the covered stand behind the goal and undertaken considerable work around the ground. The days of four figure crowds are long gone but to me it is a splendid reminder of how village football used to be.

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Stourbridge – War Memorial Athletic Ground (Southern League Premier Division)

War Memorial Athletic Ground, High Street, Amblecote, West Midlands DY8 4HN

Now well past its 120th year the War Memorial Ground is most unusual, but has suffered from the loss in 1990 of the old High Street end wooden stand during its centenary year. At the opposite end of the ground is a large cavernous covered terrace which has stood since before World War II. At the same time the unusually roofed seated main stand was also built, but was joined after the war by its less aesthetically pleasing wing extensions. The most recent developments at the ground came in the sixties when floodlights, as well as a new clubhouse and changing rooms, were provided. Several plans of relocation, including one to the old Brierley Hill Town ground, have luckily come to nought and this ancient venue struggles manfully onwards.

Stourbridge (1)

Stourbridge (2)