With over 50 games under my belt in 2008, added to 33 new stadiums and over 60 flights to get there I thought I would reserve a chapter at the end of the year for the first ever The Ball Is Round Awards. For a more musical view of the nominations and winners click on the relevant videos below.
Best new stadium visited in 2008
3rd Place – The Dinamo Stadium, Minsk. Not a real classic but a typical Soviet stadium with some huge floodlights and the away fans situated along the side of the pitch.
2nd Place – The Dripping Pan, Lewes> Yes it is really basic but it is certainly unique and one of the most picturesque. And it has the best name.
The Winner – The Rewirpower Stadion – VfL Bochum.
It had to be a German winner and what better stadium than Bochum’s Rewirpower/Ruhr Stadion. A classic ground with four connected single tier stands almost touching the pitch and a passionate crowd to match.
Worst new stadium visited in 2008
3rd Place – Trellesborgs. OK, it was a dark, damp night but I could not find anything appealling about this little town on the southern tip of Sweden. Not even the football lightened up the evening.
2nd Place – Salisbury City. I appreciate that it is a Blue Square ground but it really is in the middle of nowhere and had very little soul let alone atmosphere.
The Winner – MTK Stadion. The current Hungarian champions have invested absolutely nothing in their stadium and run away with this year’s award. A special mention must go to the ticket office workers who lock themselves in the womens toilet for their duty – sheer class.
Best Atmosphere at a game in 2008
3rd Place – Sweden v Greece – Euro2008 in Salzburg, June 2008. The Swedes came to town and took over Salzburg, turning everything yellow and blue. They filled the stadium and did not stopping getting behind their team in a dull game.
2nd Place – Orgryte 1 Jonkoping 0 – July 2008. A strange choice many would believe but this Swedish second division game played at the tiny Valhalla stadium in Goteborg was the homecoming of local hero Marcus Allback and so the ground was full to busting and the atmosphere superb. So good in fact that littlest Fuller fell asleep 5 minutes in for the whole game!
The Winner – IF Brondby 2 FC Midtylland 1 – March 2008 in Copenhagen. With the snow falling and the beer flowing the whole Faxe tribune literally bounced as the fans turned the heat up on a cold night. The game was the turning point in Brondby’s season and who can ever forget the impressive rendition of Elvis’s “Falling in love with you” by over 15,000 fans as the teams re-emerged for the second half.
Worst Atmosphere at a game in 2008
3rd Place – Any game at Upton Park in 2007/08. Yes, you have read that right. Under clueless Curbishley, West Ham played some of the dullest football ever seen at Upton Park, and this lethargy seeped into the crowd. Take your pick from a number of games but undoubtably the 4-0 defeat to Chelsea was the low point, with most of the crowd gone before the hour mark.
2nd Place – Grays Athletic v FC Totton – November 2008. No doubts about this one as “Our Barry’s” fan club provide the only atmosphere or noise at the FA Cup game versus Totton.
The Winner – Istanbul BBS v Rizaspor – February 2008 in The Olympic Stadium, Istanbul. A soulless venue in more ways than one that is so far from civilisation that NASA could recreate the moonlandings here. No public transport, no facilities and no crowds. Shall I go on? Even the riot police started arguing with themselves as there was so little to do.
Best game seen in 2008
3rd Place – West Ham Utd 4 Blackburn 1 – August 2008. Unbelievably still under Curblishley (although this was to be his last game in charge) and with Paul Ince back at Upton Park for the first time as a manager, West Ham tore Blackburn apart. Oh how we dreamed of a top 6 spot at this point.
2nd Place – Italy 1 Romania 1 – Euro2008 Zurich – June 2008.
Euro2008 was a tournament that on most part did not disappoint in terms of the quality of action. This appeared to be a real mismatch on paper but the Romanians came within a Buffon penalty save of putting Italy out in a full house in Zurich.
The Winner – Netherlands 4 France 1- Euro2008 in Berne, June 2008. Actually played on the same day as the Italy game above, this was the game of the tournament as Van Basten’s team swept aside a French team containing such world class talent as Anelka, Henry and Malouda. The Dutch seemed invincible at this stage. Cracking atmosphere to boot.
Worst game seen in 2008
3rd Place – Sweden 2 Greece 0 – Euro2008 in Salzburg June 2008. Who could ever forget the negative Greek tactics that included a spell of 47 consecutive passes where they played the ball across the back four trying to eat up time at 0-0.
2nd Place – FC Nordjaelland 1 Velje 2 – Supaliga in Farum, Denmark September 2008. Two teams with very little idea where the goal was who attempted to out do each other in hoofing the ball out of the ground. So bad I left after 50 minutes despite not having paid to get in.
The Winner – Histon 1 York City 1 – Blue Square Premier – December 2008. A game on the coldest night of the year was not appealling to start but add in a pitch in awful condition and a team who simply hoof the ball into the corners at every opportunity was as appealling as watching Rusty Lee audition for a job in the Playboy Mansion.
A note here that the game between South Africa and Australia played at Loftus Road in September 2008 could well have won this catagory but it was so mind numbingly boring that Jonnie and I spent most of the game drinking in the bar and thus saw very little of the 2-2 draw.
The Best Fans in 2008
3rd Place – FC Karlsruher fans at home to Werder Bremen – December 2008. In a stadium that is hardly condusive to building an atmosphere, bottom placed Karlsruher’s fans gave it their all in an impressive display that undoubtably helped their team to a 1-0 win versus Bremen and lift them out of the bottom 3.
2nd Place – England fans in Berlin – November 2008. We came, we saw and we conquered our old enemies in Berlin in November 2008. Despite England fielding almost a B team the fans, fuelled on by a day consuming sausages and stiens of beer out sung their German rivals in a full house at the Olympic Stadion.
The Winner – Swedish Fans in Salzburg – June 2008. There could only be one winner as the Swedes took over the town. The sight of 10,000 fans in their yellow shirts dancing and singing to Abba-esque in the fan zone was a sight to treasure, especially the cute blonde ones in their full football kits!
The Worst Fans in 2008
3rd Place – MTK Budapest Fans. The Hungarian champions were flying top of the league when I visited their crumbling wreck of a stadium in March 2008. A crowd of no more than 500 turned up to welcome me. I’d hate to be there when they aren’t successful!
2nd Place – Istanbul BBS Fans. Enough said already about this white elephant of a stadium that is almost in a different country from Turkey let alone in the same city as the other teams from Istanbul. I counted 34 fans who did not sport away colours during the first half – in a 80,000 capacity stadium.
The Winner – Levski Sofia Fans. The so called biggest team in Bulgarian football and one who had regularly played European football including the Champions League group stages versus the likes of Chelsea in 2007. Yet they had less than a 1,000 fans for a game on a Saturday evening in October.
Note – I would add here that the most disappointing were the Galatasaray fans who have been so hyped up in the past. Welcome to Hell – more like Welcome to Highbury…sshhhh.
My Three Favourite Grounds of All Time
3rd Place – Wembley Stadium – London. The old Wembley had a reputation as a world class venue but in reality it was a toilet. It was an awful stadium to watch a game in but the new incarnation, the 90,000 new Wembley is one of the finest stadiums in the world. Huge steep stands and every seat facing the centre circle means nobody is far from the action. The accoustics are very impressive as well. Just a shame that the FA sold its soul to the corporate dollar meaning that for virtually every game some of the seats lay empty.
2nd Place – Upton Park – London. It had to be in here. One of the few grounds that have improved since modernisation and it is a white hot atmosphere under the lights when the big teams come calling. Manchester United would testify how hard it is to get something here as they have lost for the past two seasons. It is just a shame the football on offer as been so poor over the past few years.
The Winner – RheinPark – Vaduz Liechenstein. I know many people will be amazed that my favourite stadium is a small 8,000 capacity one in a country that is smaller than Croydon but trust me there are few more picturesque stadiums than the home of FC Vaduz and the Liechtenstein national team. Sandwiched in the Rhine valley with the Alps on either side you can hear the polite cheers from the stadium from high up in the mountains. If you want to watch a game in a postcard perfect setting then come hear, grab a beer and a sausage and watch a game – Vaduz are currently in the top league in Switzerland so games are a plenty.
My Three Worst Grounds of All Time
3rd Place – Olympic Stadium – Barcelona. I hate Barcelona at the best of times but having been forced to come here to watch England play Andorra in two consecutive years is punishment enough for any fan. It is a nice stadium from the outside but is completely soulless inside with a running track and all bar one stand uncovered. Fine for the normal sunny climate here but not good for the torrential rain and near zero temperatures whenever we play here…oh and I hate Barcelona!
2nd Place – Renzo Baraba – Palermo. Before West Ham were drawn to play here in the UEFA Cup in 2006 you could only go on its reputation as a poor venue for fans especially for the away fans who are “caged” in a corner of the stadium along way from the action. Add to this the appalling conditions the fans have to go through to get into the stadium (walking through a unlit dark and damp cage where the home fans can throw down missles from above), the hostile policing and finally the fervant home fans and you get the picture this is not a venue for the feint heart.
The Winner – Heysel Stadium – Brussels. Most people will remember the stadium from the awful events of May 1985 when Liverpool met Juventus in the European Cup Final and the subsequent crowd violence left over 50 Italians dead. But this game should never had been played at this crumbling wreck of a stadium. The whole ground was demolished and rebuilt and renamed as the King Baudoin Stadium. However, the sight lines are appalling, entry and access still problematic and when the sun sets most of the stadium cannot see anything. It is hardly surprising that no major club games have been played at the stadium since 1985.