On the eleventh day of TBIR Christmas – The best website

The days of us sitting in front of the TV, furiously pressing “next page” on our remotes as we tried to follow our games on Ceefax are unfortunately long-gone.  But that was then and this is now.  We all get our kicks these days online.  Apparently, football result web pages are the most viewed on the Internet, more than those strange red tube things.

So here are our most used websites of 2014, those that have helped us navigate across the world as well as staying up to date.  Alas, the news that Swiss Ramble has fired up the Financial Rambler engine again in the last week of 2014 means he has missed the cut this year, but sure as Allardyce will hoof the ball long to Andy Carroll, he will be back in contention in 12 months time.

3rd Place – 500 Reasons to Love Football
When we are bored at work, or simply want cheering up then we head over to 500 RTLF.  We may be biased, being one of the authors of this ground-breaking site which, like that cathedral in Barcelona, still remains unfinished on 492 different reasons.  But we love it, and so should you – there’s something for all the family here.  Who knows, one day there could be a film…

2nd Place – Soccerway
Got a work trip coming up to Singapore?  Well, obviously you want to know if there is a game on whilst you are there…or is that just my mentality? No, of course not.  Nobody wants to really see the Singapore Flyer, the Night Safari or sip a Singapore Sling in the Long Bar at Raffles, but everyone wants to go and watch Albirext Niigata.  That does require some planning, but thankfully those top chaps over at Soccerway have taken all the hard work out of that for you.  Every (and we mean every) country in the world, every league in the world is features, showing up to date fixtures, league tables and even a little map as to where the grounds are.  Any Football Tourist worth their salt knows that Soccerway is the essential bookmark on your smartphone when you go travelling.

1st Place – Football Web Pages
CaptureWhilst we may laugh at those characters who straddle up next to you, transistor radio pressed to their ear, randomly shouting out scores no one one in particular, deep down we want to ask them how Shepshed Dynamo are getting on but we are too embarrassed to ask.  But one website spares our blushes.  Not only does it deliver the latest scores from the Premier League right the way down to the Ryman League South but it also gives us the facts and stats that would shut any anorak up.  Want to know which team in the Evostik South have the best current form?  How about the lowest attendance in the Vanerama Conference? Or even who Albion Rovers are playing next (Spalding United, Wrexham v Grimsby Town and Annan Athletic as you asked).  You could spend hours on the website, planning your whole season…or is that just me?  Top work chaps – please keep it up!

So one day to go in our TBIR 12 Days of Christmas…stay tuned same time, same place tomorrow to find out what the final gift is.

On the tenth day of TBIR Christmas – Our wish list for 2015

On one of my regular, heavily delayed trips to work thanks to South Eastern Trains we thought about our forthcoming trips and where we could end up.  Every year we should set ourselves stretching personal goals, and what better way than starting to plan our trips for 2015.  New stadiums, old stadiums.  New cities, old cities.  Heck even some old stadiums in old cities if the mood takes us.  But the three below are the ones that we are looking forward to the most, those that really get the pulses racing….

So without further ado, let me introduce you to our 2015 bucket list. Come along, enjoy the ride.

3rd Place – Toumbas Stadium, Salonika
ΠΟΔΟΣΦΑΙΡΟ ΚΥΠΕΛΛΟ ΕΛΛΑΔΟΣ ΠΑΟΚ ΟΛΥΜΠΙΑΚΟΣ“Stu, we are going to see Panthessalonikeios Athlitikós Ómilos Konstantinoupoliton in April”, Danny tells me.  My answer of course, is if you can say it, I’ll pay for it.  And so in April we will be heading off the Salonika, Greece’s 2nd city to watch the chaps from PAOK.  In terms of hostile atmosphere it is up there with the most riotous in the world.  Flares, fire, fans, football.  Apparently beer isn’t allowed, but with the entrance to Hades right next to you, it’s probably best to be sober.

2nd Place – The National Stadium, Singapore
national-stadim-Singapore“Stu, can you head over to Singapore again in February.  I know it’s the third time in a year but I’m sure you can find something to amuse yourself outside of work”.  They had me on Singapore.  Last year when I was in the perfectly manicured city the final touches were being made to the 55,000 all seater national stadium.  Today, it is open.  And boy, does it look good.  The largest domed structure in the world, with specific automatic seating arrangements for football, rugby, cricket and athletics, public transport on the door steps and beer pumped to every seat…well may be.  Basically, it looks like the best thing since Philleas Fogg’s Singapore Sunset.

1st Place – The New San Mamés, Bilbao
imagesThere was very little wrong about a EFW in Bilbao.  Outstanding food, brilliant beer, outrageous architecture and a football ground that oozed atmosphere and history.  So how can you improve on that?  Well, how about building one of the most state of the art and modern stadiums in the world slap-bang next to the old one?  The new stadium fully opened in September 2013 and looks an absolute peach, sitting on the banks of the river with just over 53,000 seats.  Sexy isn’t a word you can use often to describe a football stadium, but this is one such occasion.  The question isn’t when can we go but how often.

Tomorrow – Day eleven of this riotous joyride through 2014 with the best football website.

On the ninth day of TBIR Christmas – The best Non-League Tales

Professional football is as dull as dishwater if you are familiar with the Non-League game. We don’t just have player injured with a calf strain, we have players missing after falling asleep in a bin on a stag do in Marbella and missing their flight home.  What about when the game has to be delayed because there are no more balls available? Weekly occurrences in the grass-roots game.  So here are three stories from this year that made us chuckle.

3rd Place – Hands up who wants to go in goal?
gattsOn the 27th December, Peacehaven & Telscombe faced a bit of a dilemma.  Their regular keeper, Tony di Bernando had decided to head to Canada for his Christmas holidays, and without any junior sides, they went into the game against high-flying Maidstone United without a keeper.  Step forward midfielder, and former Sussex County cricketer, Joe Gatting (nephew of Mike) to go between the sticks.  Not only did free-scoring Maidstone only beat Gatting once but then in the last-minute when The Magpies were awarded a penalty, Joe stepped up as the regular penalty taker to slam the ball home without any fuss.

2nd Place – Oops…
stream_imgGuernsey are at a slight disadvantage when it comes to playing away, having to rely on the elements more than any other team when they need to fly to the main land.  There have been a few times when flights have been cancelled or severely delayed due to the weather but back in October their game at Carshalton Athletic had to be cancelled after the Green Lions turned up for the wrong flight.

It hasn’t been the best of seasons so far away from the island as the team struggle to get all of their players available due to work commitments to travel.  Cue heavy defeats at Merstham (8-0) and Hythe Town (6-0) but they never got the chance to take the field in Surrey after a misunderstanding made by secretary Mark Le Tissier saw them turn up at the airport for a 8.30am flight, some 90 minutes after their actual booking had left the tarmac.  Oops.

1st Place – The team of the season so far?
In the 2014/15 season, which English team had the longest unbeaten run?  Of course it’s Chelsea! Wrong…look a bit further down the league.  Past Crewe and Hartlepool at the foot of League Ones and Two respectively.  Down past the Vanarama and even underneath the Ryman Premier League to the South Division.  Here among the likes of Three Bridges, South Park and of course, Walton Casuals is Burgess Hill Town.  They finished 2014 in third place in the league – nothing so special about that really, but they still haven’t lost a league game.  In fact, in all competitions, Dartford are the only team to have beaten the Hillians.  Still in the League Cup, the County Cup and of course, The FA Trophy after a stunning win away at Aldershot Town, three leagues above.  Their talisman, Greg Luer signed off his time at the club in the last game of 2014 away at Worthing with a hatrick before he heads for a dream move to Hull City.

Tomorrow – Day ten and we look forward to where we want to go in 2015

On the eighth day of TBIR Christmas – The Best Atmosphere

Happy New Year one and all…I hope last night wasn’t too hard on you all mentally and have your winter woollies on ready for a day at football.

What do you get when you cross the Best Game with the Best Grounds?  Well, that would be the Best Atmosphere of course!  Last year the winners were AS Roma, Bayern Munich and the All-German Champions League final at Wembley.  The dilemma of being a Non-League fan is that the atmosphere at games is generally poor.  You don’t really have high expectations in terms of noise, colour and flare(s) when your fellow supporters all have carrier bags to keep their programmes in or dogs with scarves on.  At some grounds the silence is punctuated with the stir of a cup of tea or the news that Walton & Hersham have taken the lead against South Park.  And I appreciate the beauty and serenity of the Non-League game.  But sometimes we want noise.  We want passion.  We want people waving fireworks around above their heads.  So let’s raise a glass to three grounds we visited in 2014 that had just that.

3rd Place – Lithuania v Estonia, LFF Stadion, Vilnius
A cold, chilly night in Lithuania isn’t many people’s idea of fun, but add in the spice of a Baltic derby, played at a time when the national team are playing some of their best football in history and you have a decent night out in one of Europe’s best, undiscovered cities.  The downside?  A three sides, mainly open-air stadium.  The upside, passionate locals who had fueled up on on cheap local spirits. Noise galore, roaring their team on to another, surprising victory.  Lithuania is the new Mallorca – you heard it here first.

2nd Place – Holstein Kiel 1 1860 Munich 2, Holstein Stadion, Kiel
The Pokal is taken very seriously in German Football.  None of this putting out the reserve/kids XI out – clubs take it very seriously.  Bayern Munich, arguably the best team in the world, want to win it every year – why wouldn’t they?  The rules means that the lower-ranked team plays at home, with no replays.  When the draw this season was made, 3rd tier Holstein Kiel were to host 1860 Munich – a near one thousand mile round trip.  But, without any surprises, the game was a sell out with nearly a thousand 1860 fans making the journey to bring their colour, songs and bad dress sense (well, a few anyway) to the famous port city in Northern Germany. The home fans did themselves proud on and off the pitch with a riot of colour, flag waving and singing.  Oh, and beer.  Lots of beer.

1st Place – Romania v Northern Ireland, Stadium National, Bucharest
15170367364_fc78920572_k (1)
Nearly an hour after the end of this European Championship qualifier had ended, the noise was still reverberating around my head.  The result was in some way irrespective – the noise in the enclosed Stadium National was turned up to 15 and this was despite various sections being closed due to crowd trouble in the last game against Hungary.  The Irish, whilst outnumbered nearly 30 to 1 played their part, never stopping their soundtrack, but it was the home side, with their cheering, coupled with the odd fire cracker and flare that kept the cold at bay.  Domestic football in Romania may not be much to write home about, but when the national team take to the field, expect something special.

Tomorrow, the festive journey continues with our look at the best tales from Non-League football.


A kick in the privates

Two facts that you may not know about Goole. Firstly, when you type it into any Apple device, it will try to suggest to you that you really meant Google, and secondly it’s bloody cold. I can’t help think that the club have missed a trick with this whole naming thing. Perhaps the town could create their own global search engine or an email service? Goole Chrome has a good ring to it, Goole Drive could be a new road name whilst the local newspaper could rebrand as Goole Buzz – bound to be more successful than Google’s attempts. The domain name, Goole.com has actually been registered since 1999, almost at the same time Larry Page and Sergey Brin started making their magic in a Stanford University dorm room, whilst the town itself can trace its history back to 1629. Any court in its right mind would surely side with the people from the East Ridings of Yorkshire.

As we leave the M62 Northern Steve asks the valid question, in my opinion, as to whether the residents of the town refer to themselves as “Goolies”? His motivation for the question seemed to be the phallic looking structure on the horizon, which after a quick “Gooling” (using my new local Search Engine website) turns out to be a water tower. Such architectural follies are so British, so Victorian, so wonderful.

15979360558_6b25b4746f_kWe were keeping the Victorian theme by heading to the Pleasure Grounds (using Goole Maps as our guide) as one should do on annual days of rest. Alas, the Pleasure Grounds here do not have the traditional bandstand, rides, an orangery, menageries or even a zoo for exotic animals, such as those that used to exist in 19th century London. Instead the Goole version has two goalposts, a stand, some beer and pies (always with peas in these parts) home not of fine Victorian gentlemen but The Vikings of the Evostik League North, First Division South. The water towers, nicknamed salt and pepper, that overlook the ground act as beacons, lighting the way to the ground from the M62. Hands up who thinks modern Britain is crap now eh?

Driving through the town on the way to the Victoria Pleasure Grounds suggests that few other people in these parts were heading to the big festive derby with Lincoln United. Goole is a town of nearly 19,000 souls, once an important port but now struggling to find an identity as is the case with hundreds of other British towns. The High Street (well, Boothferry Road anyway) is symptomatic with the failing British retail scene. Pound stores, Charity shops, Bookies and Weatherspoons. No problem with that, especially as we handed over our £2.50 for our lunchtime pint but Goole was losing its identity.

The history of the football club stretches back over one hundred years and various different entities. They started off with a plain old Town, then Goole Shipyard Football Club. When the hull fell out of the shipbuilding industry they found the Town down the back of the sofa which they held onto until financial problems saw the club go under. From the ashes came Goole AFC in 1997, the current version although the club tried to sneak the Town back a few years ago, enraging the West Ridings FA in the process who take such matters very seriously – sod trivial matters like racism, match fixing and respect campaigns, the serious business is about a town wanting to add the word “town” after their name.

15981017447_19a7bf7f8a_kWhilst progress hasn’t yet happened on the pitch, the club are still fighting. Quite apt that the current manager, Curtis Woodhouse, held the British Light-Welterweight boxing title until June, although perhaps too much of that fighting spirit rubbed off on former captain Karl Colley back in January when after being sent off for violent conduct in a game against Coalville Town decided to attack a fan. The club acted swiftly, sacking Colley who had previously been sacked by Belper Town for his conduct. I’m sure the West Riding FA will get round to adding their sanctions once they’ve dealt with other major incidents such as teams deciding which colours to play in or renaming a tea bar. Reading the programme notes it appeared that the club’s ownership was once again unclear. Being part of a community-owned club like Lewes does make me feel blessed at times. Perhaps this is the model that could work for Goole, bring the much-needed identity and inclusion to the local community that they talk about being missing.

“There is so little to cheer (about) in Goole alone that sport is a way of transforming the image of a place and sadly Goole football over the last 30 years has been unable to do so.” Tough words from the club in the match programme but they are 100% bang on.

Lincoln United are Northern Steve’s local team. They had lost the reverse fixture a week ago in Lincoln, so revenge was their primary motivation today. By attending this game he would be automatically elevated to the ranks of “hardcore” due to the unwritten code of football supporting. Talking of club names, the story behind Lincoln’s is a peach. Originally called Lincoln Amateurs, they signed a former Nottingham Forest professional in 1951, meaning they couldn’t keep their name. So the players had, according to the club’s own story, a “brainstorming” session in a pub in Sleaford and came up with the name United. The film rights to that story must have them queuing round the block at their Ashby Avenue ground.

Like Goole AFC, Lincoln United’s honours roster is modest to say the least. But that’s not to say they couldn’t serve up some silky football to warm up the hundred and fifty or so fans who had made the trip to the dockside. The exterior of the ground may have been stark but the welcome was warm. Pie, peas and mint sauce were the order of the day round these parts, perfect insulation against the hurricane that was blowing down the ground. Both teams would be fighting the elements as well as each other over the next 90 minutes. We took up our place opposite the main stand, still enthralled by the phallic structures behind the ground. Every 20 minutes or so a train passed by the ground, offering travellers a glimpse into the heart of grass roots football.

Goole AFC 1 Lincoln United 1 – Victoria Pleasure Gardens – Thursday 1st January 2015
With two minutes left the celebrations from the home side were as if they’d won the cup rather than just equalised against a mid-table rival. The goal, scored by Billy Law was completely unexpected and against the run of play – simply because of the conditions. The wind, coupled with the open aspect of the ground had led to some almost comical passages of play, with the home keeper struggling to kick the ball forward at all, whilst at the other end, the bookies had stopped taking bets on the next goal scorer being the Lincoln goalie.

15979399908_a05a84fab9_kBoth teams had started the game trying to keep the ball on the deck but the heavy conditions had made that problematic. Lincoln had set themselves up in an unusual 3-5-2 with the idea of getting their wing backs forward. Alas the wind blowing in their faces meant they spent most of the first half on their heels, trying to defend against lofted balls over their heads. Despite having the conditions in their favour, Goole struggled to trouble the away keeper Peet. Half-time and we were all square.

Lincoln opened the scoring ten minutes into the second half, making a meal of a clear-cut chance before Matt Cotton nudged the ball over the line. They immediately went on the front foot, playing the elements well. Whilst they hit the post twice and were denied by some astute goal keeping, there was only a few moments of quality. It took them eighty minutes to realise that placed rather than power was the key to using the elements for shots on goal.

15979358738_46b2a39bda_kWith time ticking away Goole tried to get the ball into the danger zone but were thwarted time and time again by the wind and a resolute defence. The post and Peet combined well to keep the ball out but they were powerless to prevent Law’s exquisite lob in the final minutes, timing it perfectly for a moment when the wind abated for a few seconds. Whilst they hadn’t used the favourable conditions to their advantage in the first period the goal was more than they deserved.

Goole probably wouldn’t have been many people’s preferred destination on the first day of 2015 but we had no regrets. Twenty miles down the road Hull City were celebrating their first Premier League win in front of 22,000, many of whom would have come from the terraces around the Victoria Pleasure Grounds. But were they really happy with their £35 seats? A tenner had given us a friendly club, a decent game, pie and peas plus a golden goal ticket. That’s the heart and soul of football. Let’s hope that Goole can engage the local community and grow as a result. If not then my search engine idea might just do the trick.

On the seventh day of TBIR Christmas – The Best Game of 2014

Happy New Year one and all…I hope last night wasn’t too hard on you all mentally and have your winter woollies on ready for a day at football..

We’ve seen a few turkey’s this season, and we’ve seen a fair few average games.  In fact it is hard to reflect on whether a game is good or bad in the hour or so after it finishes.  So trying to choose three of the best games of the year is a bit easier when we put everyone into context and focus. But three we did find, although it was easier to find the three worse games!

3rd Place – USA 2 Turkey 1
For the USA this was one of the last warm-up games before they jetted off to Brazil.  For Turkey, it was a distraction from their shopping trip in 5th Avenue.  The last time I was at the Red Bull Arena, the kick off had been delayed to try and rustle up a few more fans to break the four digit mark for the Red Bulls.  For this game we had to pay over $80 for a ticket on the secondary market.  #MNTUSA was in full effect.  The Americans do patriotism end of.  Everything about the game was rammed full of nationalism (in a good way). The game itself was very open, with the USA impressing from the first minute.  I could almost forgive the ridiculous licencing laws in US sports grounds….almost I said.

2nd Place – Real Madrid 2 Sevilla 0
Chances to see some of the best players in the world don’t come around every week…unless you live in Munich, Barcelona or Madrid of course.  When I first heard of the Super Cup being played in Cardiff I didn’t believe it.  But then I remembered that Platini is in charge of UEFA so figured that it was another one of his bizarre decisions, although it would actually be the biggest stadium this game had been played at.  The opportunity to watch Real was too good to miss – Ronaldo, Bale, Rodriquez, Modric et al.  The weather was perfectly Welsh – sunshine and heavy rain, the hospitality was tip top and the game itself didn’t disappoint.

1st Place – Lewes 3 Grays Athletic 2
You have to love it when your team scores an injury time winner.  It’s even sweeter when it delivers your first win of the season after a sticky start.  Add in the fact that you had also thrown away the lead when playing against 9 men and the game starts to change in context.  Amazingly, there was only two reds as both teams could have had men sent off – Lewes keeper Rikki Banks when conceeding an early penalty and veteran ex-Burnley and Reading midfielder, Glenn Little for a cynical and dangerous tackle when the visitors were already down to nine men.  But this was all about the winner, scored by Fraser Logan (and captured here by James Boyes).  The goal that saved a season?  Possibly.

Tomorrow, on day eight of the TBIR Christmas, the best

On the sixth day of TBIR Christmas – The Best Non League Day out

So we announced the best International (well, Yorkshire want to be independent) day out yesterday, so what about the grass-roots game?  What places offer the best day out for those who don’t give a stuff about the over paid pre-madonnas and who realise that more often than not, the ninety minutes of the game are often the low point of a day out.

3rd Place – Bromley
Hayes Lane is home to two teams, the landlords Bromley and the Tenants, Cray Wanderers.  The ground, now the Fortress Stadium is going through some improvements, including a new bar/restaurant and retains a rural feel despite sitting 15 minutes from the centre of London.  But it’s the proximity to decent transport links and some great pubs that has it in our top 3.  The Partridge, Barrel & Horn and Bricklayers Arms all prove the sustenance for a day out in Bromley.

2nd Place – Matlock
14824252268_da93451cac_zMatlock has already scooped the Best New Ground award but the town itself is a great pre-cursor to the game itself.  Opposite the ground is Hall Leys Park, which throbs with family entertainment in the summer, whilst just down the road, The Heights of Abraham provide some spectacular views of the stunning scenery.  Fancy a beer?  Who doesn’t! So head to the MoCa bar, the CAMRA Pub of the Year or the Buxton Brewery. It’s just a shame we don’t play in the Northern Premier League.

1st Place – Lewes
14579184744_2eed47d812_hOK, so I may be slightly biased on this one but the whole reason why I became involved in the club (and decided to stand for a second 3 year term as a Director) was because it is the best day out in Non-League football.  Not just my thoughts either.  Every other week we play at home, we get away fans coming just because they can come to Lewes.  It’s not all about the football club, albeit a top vista, Harvey’s beer on the terrace, superb match day food, a great PA announcer and an award-winning match day programme are compelling reasons, it is about the local pubs, the picturesque town centre, the fact that within 10 minutes you can be drinking in Brighton – the whole package.

Tomorrow, it’s time to reveal the best game we have seen in 2014