On the seventh day of TBIR Christmas – The best atmosphere

Let’s face it, none of us want to watch football in the sterile environment that sums up the experience that is far too common in England these days. The all seater stadium, lack of signing, banners and organised fan displays is the complete opposite to the marketing blurb that tells us that the Premier League is the best in the world. Apart from a few instances such as Crystal Palace’s Holmesdale Enders, the atmosphere in our grounds is not comparable with most of our European rivals.

In the past twelve months we have wandered far and wide across the world, sampling some of the best and most hostile atmospheres. Whilst there are plenty more examples of red hot atmospheres, these are the ones that we personally experienced. Last year the clear winners were Legia Warsaw and the wall of noise they put up every week at the Pepsi Arena. But the club and the ultras have fallen out this year, leading to a boycott of the home games. But we have found three teams/matches where you simply cannot be beaten.

3rd best atmosphere – St Pauli fans
8113694560_4c8d8ef2fd_bAmazingly we had never experienced a St Pauli game home or away until this year when we went and saw them play at Paderborn. Despite the game being at lunchtime on a Sunday, and a fair distance away from Hamburg, they sold out their end three times over. The noise they produced through the whole ninety minutes was outstanding, especially as the temperature in the ground probably topped 90 degrees. Whilst the St Pauli fans like to think of themselves as alternative, their support was nothing short of Premier League.

2nd best atmosphere – Roma v Lazio
6810266862_db85df58a3_bThis was a real difficult one to choose. Our top two were neck and neck in terms of passion, noise and colour. But our one disappointment for the Rome derby was the stadium wasn’t full. Both Curve’s were rammed though, and it was very difficult to know which end to look at when they were in full flow. Pyrotechnics galore, banners poking fun at the opposition and of course flags. Lots and lots of flags. Book your flights now, it is unmissable.

To get more flavour from the game head on over to our Flickr page.

The best atmosphere in 2012 – Partizan v Red Star Belgrade
7152833997_69c50a948d_bMore and more people are venturing to Serbia to experience this game, which is up there with the most atmospheric in the world. Despite the stadium being 99% open air, the noise is unbelievable, the banners huge and the flares, well, have a look for yourself. Even standing in the side stand you are engulfed in smoke as old me join in with the youngsters in lighting up to full effect. Despite Partizan already crowned as champions, Red Star didn’t want to be out done here and towards the end of the game started setting fire to the seats. Oh, and tickets cost about a pound if you are lucky enough to get one.

Want some more? Have a look at these snaps then.

Ultra mild?

Kieran Knowles discusses the possibility of an Ultras movement in the Non Leagues.

On the 22nd of April this year the match between Genoa and Siena was famously held up after a group of the home club’s Ultra supporters, irate at their teams abject performance, began to throw objects onto the pitch. With Genoa trailing 4-0 the fans imprisoned the team on the field by blocking their entrance to the tunnel and, once the referee had suspended play, demanded the Genoa players remove their shirts and hand them over as they felt them not fit to wear them. Most players complied and it took the negotiating skills of midfielder Giuseppe Sculli to get the shirts returned so play could continue.

On the 2nd of July this year on the message-board of an unofficial Macclesfield Town website a few of the clubs Ultra supporters debated, in the language of excitable children, whether or not they would be sneaking a flare into the Stockport County ground during the Silkmens away fixture there this coming Tuesday.

In the late 1960’s Italian clubs Sampdoria and Torino were amongst the first to use the label with the creation of their ‘Ultras Tito Cucchiaroni’ and ‘Ultras Granata’ groups. During the 1970’s the movement spread across Italy as more Ultra groups were born and their influence within their parent club increased. By the 80’s and 90’s the movement had started to spread out across Europe into countries such as Germany and the Netherlands and the power wielded by such groups meant they could negotiate cheaper tickets and early access into the stadiums in order to prepare their displays. Continue reading

The Olympics Diary – Day Three – The Fast and The Furious

Fourteen years ago to the day I stood in front of my close friends and family and agreed to wed the Current Mrs Fuller. Despite her claims yesterday that going to watch the Tennis at Wimbledon was the “best day of her life”, it was a day full of fantastic memories for me and one I look back on every 1st August with fondness. Every year we try to celebrate it in a different location. In recent years we have had the excitement of a day on Barry Island, the canals of Birmingham and even a trip to see Cardiff City v Valencia. I know how to spoil a girl.

But this year what better way to celebrate our XIV Anniversary than a trip to the Olympic Park to get our daily fill of history. The ticket gods had been kind to us and we had manage to snaffle a couple of Water Polo tickets to go with our Handball ones (many thanks to the Daggers Diary team who had procured those for us last year).

Handball – now there is a game I would love to see more of in this country. I had been lucky enough during my time spent in Copenhagen to see the game played first hand in one of the best domestic leagues in the world and had loved watching the fast flowing game. I may have been slightly swayed in my admiration for the game by the fact the two teams I watched were young, female and blonde but even so it was a great event. Hopefully the packed arena in the Olympics will kick-start an increased interest for the sport in this country.

Water Polo on the other hand I had no idea what to expect, neither did any of the Fuller girls. I must have looked convincing when I told the Littlest Fuller’s that the game was basically Handball played on inflatables in the pool. They believed me and an idea for a new Olympic sport formulated in my head. Everyone I spoke to about the game told me it was “nasty”….The girls had seen a couple of games on Monday afternoon and confirmed that the female version was in no way ladylike.

An early start saw us drop the Littlest Fullers off at their child minders before we made the very easy journey to the OIympic Park via the DLR from Woolwich Arsenal. It seems this was the route into the park that the public ignored because every time we used it it was empty. Just over thirty minutes from leaving the house we were walking through security into the Park and heading for the Copperbox. Continue reading

Anglo-Italian relations

Back in 1992 West Ham looked on enviously as Sheffield United kicked off against Manchester United on a sunny day on the 15th August to start what is now the richest league in the world. The Hammers had been relegated at the end of the previous season and now had to fight their way back onto the top table, in a similar situation to this season although the Free bet sites at the time would have not been so genorous about an immediate return as they have been this term.

But all was not lost! Whilst the new Premier League teams shared the wealth, West Ham had the reformed Anglo-Italian Cup to look forward to. The cup had been played previously some twenty years before (although in the 1980’s it was a competition for non league teams) but for some reason the FA felt that having the FA Cup, League Cup and 46 League fixtures wasn’t enough. In previous seasons there had been the Full Members Cup (aka Simod and the Zenith Data Systems cup) but the Premier League clubs had stated they had no interest in that, so it was consigned to the scrap heap, and thus it was decided the second tier clubs needed a new distraction. So someone, somewhere came up with the crazy idea of a revamped Anglo-Italian Cup.

The first round saw the 24 First Division teams divided into eight groups of three. Everyone played one game at home and one away. The attendances in some of these games were poor to say the least. West Ham kicked off their campaign with a home tie to Bristol Rovers in September 1992. With Spurs almost filling White Hart Lane against Sheffield United, and a full house at Loftus Road for the visit of the Gunners, just 4,809 turned up at Upton Park – a Post War record low attendance. The 2-2 draw, with two goals from Julian Dicks helped neither side. Rovers then beat Southend United 3-0 meaning West Ham had to go to Roots Hall to win by four clear goals. They didn’t although the 3-0 meant a frantic call to the FA to determine what happened next. Despite leaps and bounds in technology it was down to a good old fashion coin toss in the referee’s changing room. Alvin Martin called “Tails” and West Ham were through. West Ham would be playing in Europe for the first time in ten years. Continue reading

Livin’ la Vida Loca

On the TBIR private jet on the way over to Rome,  Danny and I tried to draw up the best derbies in Europe. Between us we have covered quite a few. The Copenhagen derby (three times at both venues), the Stockholm derby, the Spakenburg derby in Holland and even the El Grande Island Classico (Canvey Island v Concord Rangers), but outside of Istanbul, is the Rome derby the most “atmospheric”? We said “yes” because otherwise we were heading off to the Stadio Olimpico for no real reason.

In the past the game has had drama, controversy, clowns and championships. It was first contested back in 1929 and since then AS Roma have led the way with 63 wins to Lazio’s 46. In 1979 a Lazio fan was killed by a flare fired from the Roma section at the far end of the stadium and in 2004 the game had to be abandoned after the leaders of the Roma Ultras groups walked unopposed onto the pitch and approached Francesco Totti to tell him to walk off after a rumour spread that the riot police had killed a fan. Violence then escalated onto the streets outside the stadium.

Few players make the move across the city which them either being a blue or a claret. The rivalry comes from the moral right to be the one true team to represent the city, as well as how the clubs were originally formed. To us mere English fans Roma means Top Totti, Cafu, Gabriel Batistuta and Christian Panucci. Lazio is Pepe Signori, Ravanelli, Alessandro Nesta, Gazza and Paolo Di Canio.

Both teams have been through the mill in terms of off the field antics. Back in 1980 SS Lazio were relegated, along with AC Milan after being implicated in a betting scandal. Match-fixing also cost the club dear in 2006 when they were implicated in the Calciopoli scandal that saw Juventus relegated and Lazio excluded from European competition. Long time club owner Sergio Cragnotti arrived at the club in 1992 and initially funded some massive transfers (£18m for Veron, £19 for Vieri & £35m for Crespo). But when his Cirio food empire collapsed, so did the club’s fortune. Continue reading

Affamato come un lupo

Match fixing, doping, prostitutes and Silvio Berlusconi – just your average week in calcio. Italian football is dogged by controversy. But this weekend wasn’t just about Serie A and one of the biggest rivalries in Europe. It wasn’t even about B, C or even D. Oh no. We were going right to the heart of Italian football. In his excellent book, The Dark Heart of Italy, Tobias Jones comments that the Italian words for history and story are the same – storia. And that is what we aimed to find here in Rome – a story, starting in the Eccellenza Lazio, the regional league of the province and ending up in the modern-day Coliseum watching Derby Delle Capitale – The Eternal Derby.

By we I mean Danny Last (of course Danny Last – EFW may be no more but that doesn’t mean to say the fun of the away day in Europe has stopped too) and the legend that is Adam Lloyd. His rise from the control room at the Madejski Stadium to his villa overlooking the hills of Rome is pure Boys-Own stuff, but here he was welcoming the English adventurers into his new home with a plate of tortellini and a Peroni if you please. Champione.

Our plan of action for Big Match Eve (BME) was a wander around Grottaferrata (the city of books and Swinging capital of Rome allegedly), a glass of Frascati in Frascati and an afternoon of sightseeing around the capital with a splash of some retail therapy in the AS Roma store thrown in for some measure (Tottie soap for Mrs Last, Roma hand cream for CMF). Amazingly just two weeks previous Rome had shivered as temperatures plummeted and snow had fallen. This is a real rarity in the city and caused many a style-conscious Italian to stay at home for fear of people thinking it was dandruff settling on his shoulders. Yet here we were in shirt sleeves enjoying the sunshine whilst wandering the sights of one of the best cities on Earth.

After taking in the Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, Pantheon and various other ancients wonders we headed back to the countryside for the biggest meal in the history of TBIR, involving just a mere five courses, two bottles of red and a Grappa to end it all off.  Our host, the love child of Gareth Chilcott and Willie Thorne, wished us well at the end of the evening with a genial “Fuck Off” and we went on our merry way back to Chez Lloyd (not to be confused with Cher Lloyd), peering in the windows of all the villas on the way to see if it was the home of the Roman Swingers Association. Alas it wasn’t.

Matchday arrived and Adam brought in our presents.  BME had given way to BMD (Big Match Day) and that was only marginally behind Christmas in terms of gift giving in the region of Lazio.  Our presents were Roma Magic Boxes.  Not only did we have some of the best seats in the house for the game, but we also now had our own Roma umbrella, Roma rucksack, strange Roma headband and a Roma scarf.    Before the big game we had a Plan. Our Plan (herewith called “The Plan”) was to head out to the countryside and take in a regional game as L’antipasto before the AS Roma v SS Lazio Il primo. And could there be a better place in the world to have the starter than a place where some of the big Italian nobs hang out sipping white wine – Frascati, just a 15 minute stroll down the road. Continue reading

An Englishman (or three) in Lille

Michael Miles takes us on a Champions league journey across the Channel.

LOSC v Inter Milan – October 2011
Lyon have, without doubt, been the most successful French team of the millennium, while Paris Saint-Germain and Marseille remain the country’s most high-profile clubs by a long chalk. And yet it’s a small provincial outfit from the unfashionable north, a club that only regained its top-flight status as recently as 2000 that is the current dominant French footballing force.

Lille – or Lille Olympique Sporting Club (LOSC) are that club, and the reason I was taking the Eurostar to watch them play Inter Milan in the Champions League. Continue reading