The eye of the Tiger


As post season tournaments go the La Liga World Challenge takes some beating. Not for the quality or even the sides involved. No, this is simply for the random nature and complexity of the format. Even the most savvy of football experts I know failed to explain it to me other than it was a chance for some of the lesser La Liga sides to get some sunshine and play a bit of pressure-free football. Valencia in Ohio, Espanyol in Ecuador and Europa League champions, Sevilla in Morocco all playing a single game, if there is a format to the challenge then it’s as clear as mud how it works.

I’ve already made my feelings known about these post-season games but being in Brisbane for a work event when the game between The Roar and Villarreal was taking place was an opportunity not to miss. The games played this week in Sydney with Chelsea and Spurs the guests had been played out in front of huge attendances (83,500 and 71,500 respectively). Would the same interest rub off on the locals in Queensland?

17813466433_d5e84c38f4_kIf Melbourne was an AFL dominated city then Brisbane’s passion was Rugby League. Then Union, Cricket, AFL and finally “soccer”. The Brisbane Roar are one of the most successful A-League franchises, winning the Champions title in 2011, 2012 and 2014. Calling the 52,000 capacity Suncorp Stadium home is both a benefit and a disadvantage for the club. The plus side is the ultra-modern facilities and a passionate band of fans who took up residence in the north stand. With such facilities they can attract commercial revenues that some other clubs can’t. However, with 52,000 seats to fill each and every home, the stadium can sometimes have a sparse feel.

The Suncorp Stadium sits a few minutes walk from the Brisbane River. From the South Bank area of the city centre it’s a short hop over the William Jolly bridge, not forgetting to look to your right as you do and the impressive city skyline. Then up the hill passed the backpacker hostels and all the beauty they bring before you hang a left into Caxton Street, a downhill stretch of superb bars and restaurants that buzz on a match day. The tip here, so the locals tell me is not too peak too early. The trap is at the top of the hill – Honey B’s, which should need no explanation and is best left until after the game when you can share your emotions with the locals.

17811489664_6efc0f8784_k (1)The road wasn’t exactly rocking when I wandered down an hour before kick off. The locals seemed as perplexed as I was about this game. The Australian A-League finished 3 weeks ago with Melbourne Victory taking the crown after beating Sydney in the Grand Final. La Liga concluded 10 days ago with Villarreal finishing in an impressive 6th place and qualifying for the Europa League.

With the rest of my work colleagues deciding to stay behind in one of the steak restaurants up the road I’d gone out on a limb here. We can get good steak, served by some of the “friendliest” waitresses and washed down with some decent local brews any time right? Football with a cold meat pie and a pint of XXXX is much more important…surely?

Brisbane Roar 3 Villarreal 0 – Suncorp Stadium – Wednesday 3rd June 2015
In the 68th minute Villarreal’s night was complete. Two-nil down and any chance of a way back into the game had been lost when Vietta’s “cheeky” chipped penalty clipped the top of the bar. After a long season in La Liga the faces of the players told of a journey too far. The Spaniards had arrived in Australia last week, taking in and beating Adelaide United before arriving on the Gold Coast.

18246292718_52cdca54d9_kThe sparse crowd of just 9,000 suggested a couple of things to a neutral like me. Firstly, based on the comments I heard from a number of fans was that they hadn’t actually heard of Villarreal, which wouldn’t entice them from the bars of South Bank. Secondly, whilst Brisbane Roar get some decent crowds, averaging 11,600 for their A-League games down significantly from last season’s almost record high of 18,000, a post-season meaningless, despite what the marketing spin said, was a game to miss, especially as thirdly, ticket prices weren’t exactly set at a level that would encourage the locals to attend.

This was my first taste of watching an A-League team and I have to say I was impressed. New manager, ex-Portsmouth and Coventry City striker John Aloisi watched on, with former Ipswich Town Dutch maestro Frans Thijssen overseeing his last game in the dug out, the Roar passed the ball up, down, left and right with consummate ease. They were always looking for that killer ball behind the Villarreal back four.

The major surprise was it took 40 minutes (aka two beers) for the home side to take the lead. The intricate Brisbane passing play finally found teenage midfielder Devante Clut on the edge of the area and his shot easily beat Carlos Sanchez in the Villarreal goal. They doubled their lead on the stroke of half-time when Solorzano finished from close range after a sublime pass from playmaker Thomas Broich.

The second half saw much of the same from the home side. Roared on my the noise of the fans from The Den they went in search of the third goal. The boos of disapproval at the decision by the referee to give a penalty against Brisbane’s Hingert when the Argentinian Luciano Vietto clearly dived, as the big screen TV’s verified. However the officials blushes were spared when Vietto tried to take the piss with his resulting spot kick, trying to dink the ball over the Roar keeper. Boos turned to cheers when his kick bounced off the top of the bar and over. To add insult to injury Clut added a third after a well-worked effort a few minutes later.

17813451083_353f6e0908_zThree-nil wasn’t probably a fair reflection of the possession or attacking intent. The Australians dominated a tired-looking Villarreal and could have put them to the sword. But with a watching audience back home, and the Spanish commercial partners invested in the concept of the La Liga World Challenge, perhaps the Australians took their foot off the gas towards the end. I doubt it will be the same situation next month when Liverpool are the guests. That night the stadium will be close to capacity, the fans will be in full voice, the bars and restaurants of Caxton Street will be pumping and Honey B’s will certainly be buzzin’.

Five things from….Spain 0 Chile 2


I could have taken the easy (sensible) option and just gone straight to bed after the Australia game.  I did have good intentions and went back to the hotel but I made the mistake of turning the TV on and there on Channel 1 was the lovely Lucy Zelic, seducing me to stay with her for this “enthralling match”.  “If Chile win, then Spain can pack their bags and fly home tomorrow” she told me.  As if!  They didn’t become World Champions and the most dominant force in global football by bottling it under pressure.  I mean, they weren’t the new France were they?

1. Spain are the new France – OK we were all wrong.  Hands up who genuinely thought Spain would be the first team eliminated from the World Cup (well, technically joint first as this result also sent Australia home)?  Their patient, passing game simply didn’t faze the Chileans who played around their holding midfielders and got the ball into the danger areas, putting the shaky Casillas under pressure time and time again, leading to one of the two goals.

2. Brazil are the big winners, probably – Defeat for Spain means that the Netherlands only need a point from their last game against Chile to capture top spot and line up a second round tie with either Mexico or Croatia.  They will be happy with that, as probably Spain were prior to the tournament when they mapped out their route to Rio.  The second place team, most predicted as Netherlands, would face Brazil.  However, the group has now been thrown up in the air and it is probably Chile who will now face Brazil – a game that they will fancy more than having to play either of the Europeans.

3. “Too hot to handle” gags – The result was a headline writers dream, with a number of news agencies immediately posting headlines in relation to Chile’s win.  I’d personally gone with “Abdication”….I’ll get my coat.

4. Brand names galore – Spain had Alba (cheap stereos), Costa and Koke…Chile had Bravo, Vidal and Medel – massive opportunity missed there for sponsors…unless of course they had got in on the act years ago and the players had changed their names already.

5. Chilean fans – Once again they surpassed themselves, taking almost every seat in the stadium, with colorful dress.  Some even themed their outfits for the game, whilst others tried any possible means to get into the game including breaking into the stadium’s press box and trying to hide there.

Due to the hour of the day, there was no Beer World Cup

Five things from….Spain 1 Netherlands 5


Timing is everything and so as soon as the referee halted proceedings in Natal I was hot-footing it up Borough High Street with a San Miguel in one hand and a Heineken in the other.  This one would be a difficult one to call both on pitch and on my sofa.  The first clash of the titans.  To me, it would all come down to the socks, and I have to say, Spain were the pre-match favourites in terms of lower leg wear but were torn to shreds in a second half when the rain fell and the Heineken kept its head right to the bottom of the glass.

1. Change kits – Spain – Red, Netherlands – Orange…kit clash.  But why do they both have to play in their away kits?  What is wrong with Spain in white, Netherlands in Orange?  Or Spain in Red, Netherlands in Blue….Or is it blue?  My daughter Lolly says it is “Hard Lilac”.  All those Dutch fans in the crowd who had bought up every orange item in every shop in Brazil and the team can’t even be bothered to wear their proper kit.

10581754375_f9f3128833_b2.  Arjen Robben – Unbelievable he is only 30 years old.  He seems to have looked near retirement for a decade.  He is either having a tantrum or is the best player in the world. Tonight he was like a petulant child for 50 minutes and then BOSH…the best player in the world. Granted Casillas was having a Robert Green Day but even so…still didn’t see many of his team mates celebrate the first with him…Far too many tantrums in big games – you can see when he retires he will be trying to blag his way into restaraunts with a “Don’t you know I once scored two goals against the World Champions?” A great player when he can be bothered, but some of the time he just seems to piss off his team mates.

3. Assistant to the Assistant referee – A brief glimpse of the Spanish bench and you had Vincente del Bosque and Jose Antonio Grande looking very smart in their white shirts and red ties.  But next to them they appear to have two referees.  That’s just cheating.  No wonder they are World Champions.

4. Brilliant head gear – Alonso steps up, slots it into the corner of the net and immediately runs over to celebrate with three chaps in the crowd, face painted, wearing hats made of a green cardboard square with two little goals on and a little bull on the top with a ball.  Pure class from the Spanish proving you don’t have to be young, female and just wearing bodypaint to get on TV.  However, the Dutch response of the chaps wearing Orange airline pilot outfits restored the equilibrium in terms of strange outfits.

5. Blue Transit van – At the end to the right there was a blue transit van parked at an angle in the gap between the stands.  It could have been an ambulance but it didn’t have any windows or lights.  So perhaps it was just the builders van, still there waiting for the tarmac on the drive to dry.  Can’t believe that a sponsor somewhere hadn’t whacked a logo on it.

Beer World Cup

A real humdinger with a final sip win for the Dutch after the Spanish had taken a first half pint lead but were ultimately thrashed by the Dutch brew that kept its head (to seal in the freshness the Heineken master brewer once told me) until the final whistle.

San Miguel 2 Heineken 3

New kids on the Rock


Three weeks ago the European footballing world officially welcomed its 54th member when Gibraltar were included in the draw for the 2016 European Championship qualifying.  Their journey for acceptance on the world footballing stage has been a tortuous one, filled with inconsistencies and back-stabbing that has dogged the governing bodies for years.  Despite not being “at war” or even military-ready against any other nation, it has taken longer for Gibraltar to be allowed to compete than the former Balkan states, Armenia-Azerbaijan, Russia and Georgia or even Greece and Turkey.  And that has been because one nation has disputed their authenticity to be considered an equal member.  One against fifty-two other nations – no brainer? Well, it would be in most circumstances but when that nation is the most successful footballing country of the last fifty years then the rules change.

13173336393_571287081d_bFormed in 1895 by British sailors, The Football Association of Gibraltar first applied to FIFA back in 1997 and despite not actually having a stadium capable of hosting an international game the Swiss big cheeses said a big Yes in 1999 and passed the manilla folder down the road to Nyon to UEFA.  Immediately Spain started to throw their castanets out of the pram.  Whilst the rest of Europe was moving to closer, forgiving not forgetting the conflicts of the past, Spain were creating a problem over a 2.3 square mile rock that they hadn’t owned for over 300 years ago.  It seemed that their lobbying worked as in 2001 UEFA changed its statutes so that only associations in a country “recognised by the United Nations as an independent State” could become members. On such grounds, UEFA denied the Gibraltar’s application.  Of course that ruling should have meant the immediate expulsion of England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales but that never happened.  Whilst the rest of Europe started qualifying for the 2004 European Championships hosted by Portugal, Gibraltar consoled themselves with a trip to Guernsey to take part in the Island Games Tournament.

There was still a hope that FIFA would allow them to take part in qualifying for the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany.  Other British Overseas Territories such as Bermuda, British Virgin Islands and Anguilla were allowed to line up in the qualifying tournament but the invite to Gibraltar got lost in the post it seemed.  Instead of a shot at a trip to Bavaria to enjoy a month of football, Fräuleins and frikadellen, Gibraltar headed to the Shetland Islands for another shot at the Island Games title. Continue reading

Messi back to prove a point


Faced with another weekend of rain and cancellations, the Daggers Diary team headed to the Costa del Messi to do a scouting report on Manchester City’s next opponents.

In November 2012, Dagenham Dan, Neil and I were on our way back from a trip to Borussia Moenchengladbach, when the subject of Dan’s impending marriage to Aimee came up. Having wondered aloud about whether we would be able to continue our trips abroad for football, we had an idea as we made our way back to the hotel.

1655894_10153812848150223_1876244631_nFast forward to the wedding last July, and Neil is making his best man speech at the aforementioned wedding. About half way through, Neil produces a copy of the contract written up in the back of the car from that Germany trip, which allows Dan to continue his trips abroad with certain conditions. One of these is that Aimee will continue to come along with us on a Barcelona trip at least once a season, but will have unfettered access to Dan’s credit card for the duration of the weekend. So, in front of all of the assembled guests, Aimee signed the contract, and so it is with this in mind, that we find ourselves here in Barcelona for the weekend.

It has been an interesting few weeks for Barca. There has been the announcement of the stadium redevelopment, in favour over a move to a new stadium; we’ve had the resignation of club president Sandro Rosell, over the Neymar transfer from last summer, as well as a home defeat by Valencia, and Dani Alves criticising fans for staying away from the home leg of the cup semi final against Real Sociedad, which to be fair did start at 10pm on a Wednesday night. Given that the game was also on local television, it’s probably why many stayed away, although an attendance of nearly forty thousand still wasn’t that bad.

Throughout the week leading up to this trip, the weather dominated the news programmes. Whether it be the flooding in Somerset, or the Thames lapping up against the western suburbs of London, it was the seemingly endless wind and rain that dominated the bulletins. Continue reading

Plymouth away or double Barca? Tough choice


Plymouth Argyle away on the cold and wet English Channel or Barcelona v Granada on the sunny Med?  Difficult choice for the Daggers Diary team.

Today, the Daggers travel to Plymouth, hoping to maintain an impressive start to the season that has seen us in the dizzy heights of a play off spot. Given my pre-season pessimism, I would have said that would have been an insane thought had anyone bought up the possibility back in August.

Dagenham Dan and I though are not heading west. Instead, we are flying out from the Eddie Stobart Aerodrome (a.k.a. Southend Airport) for our first trip of the season to Barcelona.

Up until a couple of months ago, kick off times were not confirmed until around ten days before the game, meaning that booking flights was a nightmare. We could never be sure of when the game you were going to was going to start, meaning that we might be able to book an early flight for the Saturday, but would invariably end up coming back on the Monday. On our early trips to Spain, we would fly in and out of Girona, coming back on the first flight home on the Monday morning. This would mean getting to the bus station for 3am, for an hour’s journey to the airport. There were a couple of occasions where the game had finished around 11pm, so after just a couple of hours sleep, we were on our way home, bleary eyed and very tired. The sight of a conga of people waiting to board the plane back to Stansted in an otherwise deserted departure building is not one I wish to see for some time.

As these trips become more frequent though, the planning has got better. Now, we go for the home game preceding a Champions League fixture. In one of his less busy times, Dan went through the fixtures for the last few years and discovered that Barcelona almost always played on a Saturday before playing in Europe. That kind of detail has helped us out several times, and certainly it has done with this weekend, as we depart early Saturday, and return on Sunday evening. The schedule has us out of the country for about thirty six hours, which is plenty of time for three games. Continue reading