On the verge of greatness

With England about to take on the 2nd worst international team on the globe, I thought I would take a trip down memory lane on one of my first overseas trips to watch football.

On the 20th November 2002, I came within seconds of witnessing footballing history. I was in the tiny principality of San Marino, sitting on the edge of the Apennine Mountains in northern Italy, watching the world’s oldest sovereign state play one of the newest, Latvia, and there was just a minute left on the clock when a San Marino corner appeared to be handled in the area by a Latvia player. The score was nil-nil and had the penalty been given it would have meant a first ever win for the country after some fifty internationals. Alas it was not to be. Latvia attacked, a free kick was awarded and from the resulting kick the ball was erroneously diverted into his own net by a San Marino player for the only goal of the game. There was 13 seconds left of injury time. Played 53, lost 52, drawn 1 read their record now according to the records.

Ten years ago I came up with a bright idea, or at least I thought it was. I wanted to travel to Europe’s smallest footballing nations, in order, until I saw one of them win. The likes of Malta, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg and San Marino rarely get an opportunity for a win so I figured this could be a long journey. And so this was why I was sitting in the makeshift press area of the Stadio Olimpico in Serravalle along with a reported crowd of six hundred. I say reported because there certainly wasn’t anywhere near 100 in the first half but as soon as word spread that “this could be the night”, the locals literally walked here.

This was the third “leg” of my trip and so far I had seen two heavy defeats for the underdogs, firstly in Vaduz as Liechtenstein had been spanked by Portugal, and then Malta had been humbled by Denmark. I arrived in Rimini with hope in my heart and Euro in my pocket. Rimini likes to think it is the Cannes or Marbella of Italy. But on a cold morning in November it just looked like Skegness on a bad day (is there a good day in Skeggy?). Even the most ardent Italian Lothario looked like Sid James in Carry on Girls and there was no sign of the famous Italian supermodels in their teenie-weenie itsy-bitsy swimwear. Fortunately I was not staying long and my carriage awaited me. Well, a local bus that whisked me through the Italian countryside and up, up and further up until we broke the clouds at the border with San Marino, a little less than 10 miles from the Italian Coast.

Back in 2002 not everyone had the internet to research places. And by not everyone I mean I didn’t at work, and at home I had to pay £19 per month for dial up charges for my 64Kbps Compuserve product. This was the dark days before the dawn of the internet we know and love today. We all remember looking at those “entertainment” sites where pictures took an hour to load and then just when it got to a good bit, someone would come in the room, or the telephone connection would fail. Looking back now and trying to describe what it used to be like to the kids seems so unreal. Twitter was something birds did, YouTube was something Alan Brazil used to say, Facebook was a make up catalogue and Googling was reserved for using binoculars near the nudist beach at Brighton.

So I had no idea what to expect when I arrived in San Marino. I had looked for a guide book before the trip without luck. I certainly didn’t expect such a mountainous place. The bus continued to climb upwards, towards the highest point of the enclave, the 750metre Monte Titano. On the way up to the city of San Marino (population 4,493) we passed the Stadio Olimpico. It was too good an offer to miss. I hoped off the bus and had a wander into the ground.

It was certainly a grand title for basically an athletics ground with one covered stand. I tried to recall when the Olympics had been held in San Marino but couldn’t for the life of me remember when. It wouldn’t have looked out of place in the lower reaches of the Ryman League. Work was continuing on the other side of the ground where a second stand was being built. Apparently UEFA had decreed that to gain their 2 star status to continue to host International games they needed to have a capacity of at least 1,000. I queued up for the official tour, and ninety seconds later it was all over. A visit to the gift shop saw me come away with a car sticker.  Everyone who went to the shop got a car sticker.  They were free and the only item in stock. I could hardly be more excited for the big game. Continue reading

On the eleventh day of TBIR Christmas – The Best football Weekend away

Now this may shock you, but we are quite partial to a weekend away once in a while, taking in some local culture, fine foods and wine and even, dare I say it, a football match or two.  No really, we never plan to go anywhere where there is football on – it is complete coincidence that some of the biggest games just happen to be on when we are there for a book festival or art show.

Nah, sod that.  Weekends away are designed for football.  Pure and simple.  It may be the crappiest city in the world, with the worst weather, most awful food and no beer but if it has a football match full of flares, chanting and basically all the things we cannot get at home then it’s great to us.  Well, OK, perhaps not one without any beer then.

In 2012 we ventured far and wide again, but three trips stood out above all others, and these were our winners last year.  So without further ado I give you the top three weekend destinations of 2012:-

3rd place – Belgrade
7006731234_ab9f21046a_bLet’s go to Belgrade and take in the Partizan v Red Star derby he said.  Just like that.  No ifs or buts.  And before you knew it Danny, Kenny Legg, Andy Hudson and I were waking up on the overnight train from Zagreb in Serbia.  What followed was an outstanding weekend.  Four games in two days, including one of the most volatile atmospheres I have ever seen and an exchange rate that made us all Dinar millionaires.  Add in some stunning scenery (both architecturally and otherwise), some amazing history and temperatures in the high 30’s and it was a tip-top weekend.

2nd place – Rome
6956370771_ff6205b731_bGranted we have the inside track on Rome thanks to the legend that is Adam Lloyd.  High up in the hills of Frascatti Mr Lloyd plots world domination, but on his days off he likes nothing better than a trip to the Stadio Olimpico.  He was only too pleased to act as our chauffeur, tour guide and hostess for a weekend that was heavy on the culture, very heavy on the stomach but very pleasing on the eye when it came to the Eternal Derby.  Rome is a brilliant city full stop.  But add in some stunning countryside around Rome, a fantastic atmosphere in the stadium and La Dolce Vita and you have a weekend that should be on every football fans itinerary at least once a season.

Best weekend away – Düsseldorf
8113648940_5f9e96bff7_bWe all love German football – that’s a given.  The food, the drink, the atmosphere, the tickets that cost less than an Emirates Burger, the club slippers.  It’s the whole package.  But in 2012 we discovered Düsseldorf.  Discovered?  Well, OK thanks to Kenny Legg’s secret mission with the British Government, we were invited.  What a place.  Fantastic drinking culture that starts in the High Street no less at 10am on a Saturday, a dozen stadiums holding 30,000 plus within an hour’s (luxury) train ride away and enough sausages to keep even the most ardent meat-eater at bay.  We loved it so much we went twice, and are going again in February.  If you are lucky enough to go then we can thoroughly recommend an afternoon at the Esprit Arena.  50,000 lucky souls in one of the most modern stadiums in Europe AND they serve Alt beer.  It is a must!

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