Long live the European Football Weekend


Whilst Danny Last’s famous site closed its doors just over a year ago, the EFW is still as big as ever.  This weekend Danny himself, Big Deaksy, Kenny Legg, Huddo Hudson, Spencer Webb and myself got familiar with the German beer, sausages and football at the weekend, our paths almost crossed with the Daggers Diary team who made the foray into Düsseldorf territory as part of their four game, three countries road trip.

About a year ago, Neil, Dagenham Dan and I made a trip into Europe to take in a game in four different countries over the course of one weekend. Even as we were making our way back from Oostende to Calais to catch the train back home, there were already plans to repeat (or improve) on the trip in 2013.

Despite the schedule of four games in such a short space of time, the only mad rush between games was between Koln and Venlo, and that was comfortably achieved without too much drama.

So this year, we thought we should try to do it all again. Obviously with different venues (fixtures permitting), but to attempt to repeat our 2012 trip would be great. A weekend was selected, and then we set about going through the games, seeing which ones we could feasibly attend. We selected four games, and unlike last year, they would all be in the top division of the respective leagues. Except that the French league was causing a bit of a problem, and after all of the others were more or less confirmed, we were kind of hoping that Lille would be scheduled for the Sunday evening, so that we could get a fifth game in. Unfortunately, that wasn’t to happen, so we would have to make do with just the four.

Of course, while we have got lucky with the fixtures and kick off times, there have been other things where we (or more specifically Neil), haven’t been so fortunate. Last year, about a week before the trip, Neil had an accident in the car, which meant that we ended up hiring a vehicle for the weekend. This year, the car hasn’t been the problem, but instead over the New Year period, Neil managed to break his wrist. This meant that, for a few days the trip was in the balance before the hospital proclaimed that the break should be healed in about a month’s time, and in plenty of time for the trip.

I say we have been lucky with the fixtures, and to a certain degree, we have. While Dan and I will be attending four new grounds (it’s two for Neil), we have potentially missed out on a couple of other games. For example, Anderlecht have a home game on the Friday of our trip, while Borussia Dortmund are at home on the Saturday night. Having already booked tickets for the other games as well as the hotels, we have decided to stick to the planned games. However, both clubs are ones that we all want to visit, but as we have found out before, getting tickets for Dortmund can be difficult.

So, now that we are half way through February, Neil’s fracture is healed, and we are on our way through the channel tunnel towards our first stop on the trip, Nijmegen.

Meeting Dan at Chafford at just before eight in the morning, we were lucky enough that the Dartford bridge was not too clogged up, and once across, we were able to make good progress on to our meeting point with Neil at Folkestone services. Arriving just after nine, we were able to sort out payment for Dan’s car parking before we carried on towards the Channel Tunnel. Booked on the 10.50 crossing, we were (after having breakfast in the terminal), through and onto a train, earlier than planned.

The trip to Nijmegen takes about three hours, and so once we emerged into the French sunshine at Calais, we hit the motorway and headed east to the Netherlands. Continue reading

On the twelfth day of TBIR Christmas – The Best game


Seeing over 100 games in 2012 means we have seen a few corkers.  And what better way to finish our 12 Days of Christmas than with our best three 90 minutes.  Well, in fact two of the three were only 45 minute games technically but made up want to stand up and cry “We love this beautiful game”.  Two of our favourites were international games, which was very surprising, and our winner only had two goals in, just to prove it is not always about the number of goals but the passion, drama and incident in the rest of the game.

So, thank you dear readers for coming with us on the past twelve days as we have waxed lyrical about all that was good (and bad) about our footballing adventure in 2012.  Same time, same place next year? Oh go on then.

3rd Place – Boston Town 4 Loughborough University 3
sam_3567Boston who?  You might say but United Counties Premier League sides Boston Town and Loughborough served up an absolute feast back in September.  I only arrived at half-time after watching the more famous Boston (United) play but the 22 players were obviously waiting for my arrival before putting on the real show.  The visitors were 2-0 when I made my appearance, and by the sound of it were running away with the game.  ”Bloody students…when you want them to be hungover from last night they bloody turn up looking like whippets” a local told me when I asked what the score was.  Over the next twenty minutes the score went 1-2, 1-3 and then 2-3 with just a minute to go.  The away keeper who had been in fine form then had a 90 seconds to forget.  First he let a simple shot squirm under his body and then with the last kick of the game Boston took the lead for the first time in the game when he was beaten with ease at his far post.  Just a shame there was only 55 people there to see it along with me.

2nd Place – England 2 Netherland 3
6797039632_aae5b301ec_bAn England game?  Are you mad?  Good old London Underground did their best to ruin the evening by delaying every possible route to Wembley and we didn’t get into the stadium until well into the first half but fortunately all the action was reserved for the final 33 minutes.  The Dutch showed their sheer class with three outstanding goals, whilst the English showed some true grit.  This was supposed to be the game that welcomed ‘Appy ‘Arry but a week is a long time in football, whilst a minute can sometimes be even longer as we saw in the 90th minute of this game when Ashley Young equalised for England then with the very next attack Robben curled an absolute peach into the top corner.  If all England games at Wembley were half as exciting they would be sold out every time.

Best game in 2012 – Egypt 1 New Zealand 1
7671833872_53594da8a5_bOlympic football in Manchester wasn’t supposed to get the general public on the edge of their seats, but the 60,000 who witnessed this warm up game to Brazil v Belarus on a sunny, but bloody cold day in late July saw one of the best games of football in decades.  Sure, there was only two goals but it simply was end to end action for 90 minutes.  Both, yet neither team deserved to win due to their attacking intent and last gasp defending.  Both keepers were heroes and to a man we all rose to applaud their efforts when they finished doing battle after an hour and a half.  Brazil may have been billed as the stars, but the extras but on an Oscar performance.

The Champions League road ends for Ajax


Being a man of many talents, our regular reporter for The Ball is Oval, Michael Miles headed over the North Sea to Holland for the Champions League game between Ajax and Borussia Dortmund last week.  

The man in front of me in the queue at the ticket office was very, very upset. He had a ticket for the match but because it was not in the German section he and his friends had been refused entry by the stewards. In excellent English he was demanding of the harassed clerk that she not only refund the cost of his ticket but his airfare and his hotel.

I never did find out how things panned out with him as she waved her hand at me and I thrust my confirmation letter in front of her. She had regained her composure sufficiently to ask if I too were German. I reminded her that the e-mail in front of her had my London address on it. She pushed two tickets, our 10-euro Arena card and two game scarves in our direction and we were away to leave her to her new German friend.

Buying tickets through the Ajax web site had been easy enough. I had forked out 273 euros and that included a mysterious 15 euro handling fee. A year previously I had watched a league game at the same stadium and paid half that sum. Such is the inflationary value of the Champions League.

On the packed metro to the Amsterdam Arena were a group of West Ham fans. I am a Hammers supporter, so good to meet some like-minded souls among all the Ajax fans thought I. But they were already into a two-days drinking binge and weren’t interested in me. My Chelsea-supporting friend had just found the courage to put his Chelsea cap on, something which seemed to vastly amuse the West Ham gang who entertained themselves trying to snatch it from his head. They weren’t even going to the game, but to a Status Quo concert.

Such are the joys of foreign football travel.

The Champions League is the ideal place for Ajax’s youngsters to gain some much needed experience on the continental stage, although they would probably have wanted a slightly easier group. Nevertheless they had taken four points off Manchester City, and had only lost 0-1 in Madrid. The Dutch champions, with an average age of about 23, have the competition’s youngest squad.

Winners of the last two Bundesliga titles, Dortmund probably don’t need reminding that the last time they claimed two consecutive domestic crowns (1995 and 1996) they wet on to become European champions the following season. Last season they came bottom of their group with only one win, but this time around Jurgen Klopp’s young side have started impressively. Manchester City were very lucky to emerge with a point from the game at the Ethiad when the German side were the much superior side, and impressed many people with the fluency of their football.

Ajax 1 Borussia Dortmund 4 – Amsterdam ArenA – Wednesday 21st November 2012
On the pitch tonight, 20-year old Mario Gotze inspired Borussia Dottmund as they produced a ruthlessly efficient performance to win 4-1 in the Amsterdam Arena.3-0 up at half time they progressed to the last 16 as Group D winners, with one game to go-home to a foundering Manchester City.Gotze had a hand in each of his teams goals, scoring the second himself and setting up two for Robert Lewandowski, as Dortmund looked capable of scoring every time they broke.

Substitute Daniel Hoesen’s late goal for Ajax was little consolation for the home team and did little to dampen the spirits of the jubilant away support, proud to have witnessed such a superb display from their side. I only hope the fan in front of me at the ticket office got in to see it.

Frank de Boer, the Ajax coach, commented “We got a lesion in efficiency from Dortmund but I am also very angry about the way we defended.”  He had every right to be.

The most passionate football nation in Europe


Two weeks ago I met a chap from Iceland at Copenhagen airport.  His first words to me were “I’m the most passionate football fan in the world”.  He had seen my Lewes FC Owners badge and knew exactly who the Rooks were, what league they were in and where they were in the league.  In fact when I randomly fired obscure non league teams at it he could answer every single question on location, league and position.  Curzon Ashton, Lincoln Moorlands Railways, Quorn.  You name it, he knew the answer.  He told me he watched about twenty games a week on the TV and Online, and devoted his whole life to following the beautiful game.  He showed me his list of “favourite” teams from across Europe.  Now I thought Andy Hudson had more favourites than a teenagers most visited adult websites, but this was taking it to the extreme.  His main team was KR Reykjavik back at home but also he avidly followed (deep breath here):-

Celtic,Rosenborg, Basel, Benfica, Helsingborgs, Rapid Wien, Olympiakos, Liverpool, AC Milan, Barcelona, Brondby, HJK Helsinki, Skendija Tetovo, Buducnost Podgorica, Hadjuk Split and BATE Borisov.

But this meeting got me thinking.  Which nation are the most passionate about their own domestic league?  My new “friend” in the thumbs up Inbetweeners way had claimed the Icelanders were – with just 12 clubs and a population of 328,000 he thought that more people watched top flight football in Iceland as a percentage than any other nation.

So in a spare moment (OK, hour) last week I fed all the relevant information into the TBIR super computer to see what the results were.  Now, it is hard to be very exact and so I had to make a couple of assumptions.

  • Population figures were taken from the CIA database
  • To calculate the attendance of the league I took the league average attendance per game from 2010/11 (or 2011 in case of summer leagues) and multiplied by the teams in the league – this would roughly show the number of people who went to top flight football in a two week period (i.e a home game for each club). The bible for any statistical world is of course European Football Statistics.
  • Obviously there is a small amount of overlap with away fans attending games so I took off 10% from the total to avoid double counting.
  • I was unable to find league attendances for Andorra, San Marino or Malta. In addition there isn’t a league in Liechtenstein as their teams play in the Swiss league.  However, the remaining 49 UEFA-affiliated Leagues were included.

The results were indeed very surprising.  The top ten “most passionate” countries about their own domestic league have an average FIFA ranking of 53 (and a UEFA one of 23).  There is only three countries in the top ten that are in the FIFA top ten, and the top three are all ranked by FIFA at over 118, and over 44 in Europe.  So in true TBIR Top of the Pops style let’s countdown from 10 to 1.

10th place – Switzerland (1.32% of the population watch a top flight match in 2010/11 season – Average attendance was 11,365 – Top supported club FC Basel who averaged 29,044)
Despite its peaceful aspect of mountains, cow bells and lakes, football in Switzerland is a passionate affair that often boils over into violence. The best supported team, FC Basel are now a regular in the Champions League Group Stages which has seen their average attendance rise to nearly 30,000.  Their average attendance for the Axpo Super League would be better if the two teams from Zürich realised their potential.  One cloud on the horizon in Switzerland is the financial stability of clubs – we have this season seen Neuchâtel Xamax go to the wall and several others are in a precarious position.  However, football is still seen as the number one sport, and with top flight clubs distributed across the country it is clear to see the appeal of the domestic game, especially as on the national side they have had a good few years. Continue reading

Harry’s game


Boredom has been responsible for many things in history. Some say that the reasons the Vikings invaded England was out of boredom of the long Nordic nights and lack of Marmite. Others say that Michelangelo only ever meant to touch up a bit of plaster in the Sistine Chapel but was bored on that Sunday afternoon, and six years later he had finished his masterpiece, the Last Judgement. My story is not really a game-changer, or a milestone in history. Back in December when work was slow I was surfing the FA’s website and noticed an advert for the game versus Holland. Two minutes later I was the proud owner of two tickets for the game, my first visit to Wembley for an England game since 1st April 2009 when Ukraine were the visitors.

There wasn’t one particular reason for my absence. I had actually been to a dozen away games since then. But England and Wembley had never been my favourite couple. Despite a relatively simple journey to and from the stadium (about an hour and one change from home), good ticket pricing (£35 for a good seat), a great stadium (still one of my favourite in the world) and being able to watch some of the best players in the world it just didn’t float my boat. Whether it be the poor public transport organisation that sees fans queueing for an hour plus to get into the station post game (more of that later), ridiculous priced food and drink, or the stale atmosphere which is only made worse by stewards who can barely speak English, let along understand the English fan mentality I was just not in love. But perhaps the major issue had been the fact that neither the team nor the management ever appeared to give a toss. Continue reading