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

Gareth Bales on us

It’s not often you get the opportunity to travel from one end of the footballing spectrum to another in just a few hours.  But today was one of those days.  After the highs of Lewes’s win at Wingate & Finchley yesterday it was a rude awaking at 3am for the trip to Madrid, on the first flight out of Terminal 5 at Heathrow airport.  So early was the departure that I had the BA lounge to myself for a good 15 minutes.  Still no Marmite though, but that is another story.  As the plane hugged the Atlantic coast of France I looked back on my previous trips to the Spanish capital, each memorable for different reasons.

9893199025_1e372f1884_b (2)In 1998, the Current Mrs Fuller and I made our first ever trip to Madrid on Debonair.  Remember them?  They flew from London Luton and went head to head with Easyjet for a number of years.  We pitched up in the middle of the Summer, not realising how hot Madrid could be.  A tour of the Bernabau raised temperatures even more, although the roof-top swimming pool of the Emperador was certainly a bonus (Madrid tip number 1: Not only an excellent rooftop pool but a huge buffet breakfast).

Two years later and we were back again.  In lieu of Christmas presents to each other we had invested in four consecutive weekends in European destinations that just happened to have four of the biggest football teams in Europe.  Milan, Madrid, Munich and Rome.  What an outstanding month.  Only it seemed such a good idea when we booked it in July.  Come January time and CMF was “just” five months pregnant.  Not handy for walking up to the top tier of the San Siro but she was a trooper and so I decided to treat her to a seat in the lower tier at the Bernabau.  Oh how she enjoyed sitting in the Fondu Sur with flares for company.  Nobody has ever mentioned that passive flare smoke is bad for unborn babies so that is OK.  In those days the East side of the stadium only had three tiers, rather than the five elsewhere.

Four years later and I was back to help Spain celebrate their 500th fixture.  And how were us party guests treated?  With water cannons in the streets around the ground, unprovoked baton assaults on the fans in the stadium and the racial abuse of Ashley Cole and Shaun Wright-Phillips.  The actions of the Spanish police went unpunished although their FA were fined $87,000 for failing to act on the abuse from the crowd. So that makes it all alright then. Continue reading

Ocho Santos…

imagesDay one of the new season and the Dagger Diary team are in full swing, although a few hundred miles away from Fleetwood Town.

When the Football League fixtures were announced in mid-June, the Daggers were given a nice opening day jaunt to the Lancashire coast, to play Fleetwood Town. Despite the fact that it would almost certainly be warmer than our previous visit in March, I was unsure about whether or not I would attend. In years gone by, I would have considered it sacrilege to have missed the opening game of the season, no matter where it was. Now, I have changed that a bit, and I really wasn’t that fussed if I attended or not.

As time passed, I started (albeit, at an almost glacial pace) to come round to the idea of going. After all, it would be the first game of the season, and although friendly games are ok, they don’t really match the intensity of the league games.

Then, I changed my mind again, and decided to go elsewhere instead. Barcelona announced that their Gamper Trophy game would be on August 2nd, against Santos, presumably as part of the deal that took Neymar to the Camp Nou. If I could get the appropriate flight back, perhaps both games would be a possibility?

Well, no it wouldn’t. After looking through, I thought that I would be unable to get to Fleetwood from whichever airport I would go to, so with a decision to be made, I elected to just do the Friday night game. With flights, hotel and match ticket all now booked, I was on my way to Spain once again.

The only thing that made me a bit nervous about booking this one would be what kind of team Barcelona would be fielding. With those that appeared for the Spanish national team in the recent Confederations Cup only just back in training, and the league season still a couple of weeks away, the team could be a mixture of reserve players and kids, or just the reserve (or “B”) side. Still, the chance to see Santos was enough to persuade me to part with the cash for the trip, and it was that factor that meant that Fleetwood (as nice as it is) could go whistle.

Not only would the game be Barca’s first home game of the season, but there would be the annual presentation of the squad to the supporters prior to the game. Although they have already been playing games in Poland, Germany and Norway, there is still the trip to the Far East (to play Thailand and a Malaysia XI) and the two-legged Spanish Super Cup to come after this one, which means that the big name players might miss this one, although I really hope not. Having beaten Santos 4-0 in the 2011 World Club Cup final, it would be nice to see the proper first team playing in this one, and it would be even better to see how Neymar fits into the overall plan. Continue reading

The Civil Service and Real Madrid: A mismatch made in Heaven

Today the term the Civil Service is still one that is mocked by comedians and commentators alike as a lapdog for the latest Government. Red tape, bureaucracy and corridors full of greying plastic furniture in nameless, faceless buildings sort of sums up the stereotypes still in existence from decades gone by. But 150 years ago it was the place to work, something to aspire to as well as an employee who offered some real social and recreational benefits. Job security was what everyone craved after the two World Wars and the Civil Service offered just that. As governments came and went, the only positions that were seen a sacred were those that existed in the corridors of Whitehall. But before the monochrome nature of this story depresses us, let’s rewind to the middle of the 19th century.

In 1863 the newly formed Civil Service Club was playing football under both Association and Rugby rules in an informal way, often rotating between the two codes every week. They became one of the eleven founding members of the Football Association in that year (a great trivia question is to name the other ten) and in 1871 they were invited to be founding members of the Rugby Football Union as well. In the same year a posh invitation popped through the letterbox of a certain Mr Warne at the War Office, inviting the “Civil Service football team” to take part in the FA’s inaugural national tournament, the FA Cup. They readily accepted the challenge and in the draw they were picked to play away at Barnes FC.

On the 11 November 1871 the club walked out into a roped off area of Barn Elms in South London (which would later be used by Fulham and QPR as their home ground) in front of an estimated 1,200 spectators. Whilst the team lost 2-0 they were invited to play in the subsequent four tournaments from 1872 to 1875 although they didn’t win a single game.

Outside of the FA Cup the team played a number of friendlies against local sides in London. In what was seen as a brave move they also accepted invitations to play “exhibition” games overseas. The team went on to play a significant role in the introduction of the game in Europe early in the 1900’s undertaking their first continental tour in 1901. Subsequent trips took them into Eastern Europe and in recognition of their contributions the club is today an honorary life member of both Real Madrid and Slavia Prague. In fact the club can lay claim to the most successful record against Real Madrid, winning twice in Madrid 4-0 and 3-1 during their tours. Quite what jobs the players actually did is a mystery, but in such a regimented occupation it is hard to imagine they weren’t expected to “make their time up” later in the year.

The one rule though that they club stuck by religiously was that they would only draw players from the Civil Service itself and vowed to remain amateur. Players were paid what was seen a good wage by the government, with good long term benefits and so it was seen as an honour to be picked for the football team. This meant that with the introduction of the Football League in the later part of the 19th century the club had to look elsewhere for its fixtures. They subsequently helped form both the Isthmian and Southern Leagues between and 1905 and 1908, playing for periods in each.

The Civil Service also boasted international honours from among its ranks in 1920 when C.W Harbridge, the club captain, won four caps for England, against Wales, France, Ireland and Belgium. He was among a number of Service players who featured on cigarette cards at the time, today’s equivalent of Panini stickers.

They still remained a bit of a force in the amateur leagues, winning a number of county cups prior to the Second World War. In 1971 they were invited back to play in the FA Cup, despite playing in the Southern Amateur League as part of the 100th anniversary of the club, and the FA Cup itself. In a bizarre move they were given a free pass directly into the first qualifying round of the cup. They drew Bromley FC, initially at home but for the first time ever in the competition, on police advice, the game was switched to Hayes Lane  “for safety reasons”.

In his excellent book, 32 Programmes, Dave Roberts recalls the game with fond memories.

“As the teams ran out, I couldn’t help notice that the Civil Service players all looked like civil servants. Not in the sense that they wore suits and bowler hats and carried umbrellas, but because they had about them a grey air of resignation combined with earnest endeavour, which we instantly recognised from our work colleagues and were starting to see in ourselves.”

At half time Bromley, officially classed as the “worst football team in Britain” in the previous season by Roberts in his book (and film) The Bromley Boys, were 6-0 up. If it wasn’t for the fact that most of the home team were fixated on trying to score themselves the score would have been more than the ten they eventually scored. The attending members of the Football Association looked on with resignation that they had possibly made a bit of a bad call in offering the Civil Service a place in the competition.

Since that fateful day in BR1 they have disappeared back into the Southern Amateur League Premier Division 2, which is part of the Amateur Football Alliance, a long way below even the Isthmian League structure having been relegated from the top division last season.  Fixtures this season include games against Crouch End Vampires, Bank of England and NUFC Oilers.  Seven games into the season they are second from bottom.

They play their home games just off the A316 on the way down to Twickenham at the Kings House Sports Ground in front of friends and family, their greatest moments consigned just to the history books, however in 2013 as the club celebrated their 150th anniversary, they hit the headlines when their home league game against Polytechnic FC played in the grounds of Buckingham Palace and officiated by Howard Webb, losing 2-1.

Whilst their position in English football today is minimal, their impact on the European game cannot ever be forgotten.

Write Barca off at your peril

History?  You want history?  What about the mighty Barca crashing out of the Champions League after a humiliating lesson in football in Milan?  That was sure to be on the cards as Dagger’s Diary Brian headed off to the Camp Nou on Tuesday…..

This trip represents a couple of firsts for me. It’s my first midweek trip to Barcelona, and also my first Champions League game here. While Dagenham Dan will be at the Daggers game against Torquay, I am here on a solo trip for the first knock out round game against Milan.

Barcelona are going through a bit of a wobble at the moment. A 0-2 first leg defeat at the Guiseppe Meazza three weeks ago has left them with a rather large challenge tonight, in order to progress. If that wasn’t enough, a league defeat at Real Madrid (coupled with a cup defeat to the same opposition) has reduced the lead at the top of the league.

Of course, even the best teams can have a bad run of form. The Milan defeat has been put down to just an off-night for the side, but the drop in form has also come along at the same time that the coach, Tito Vilanova has been in New York, recovering from cancer surgery. While those who have stepped up to lead the team are obviously giving it everything, the loss of the team leader is clearly having a negative effect on the club. While the president has said that the health of Vilanova is the main priority for the season, losing such a lead in the division, as well as the Cup and an early exit in the Champions League would mean that, in a world that demands success ever more impatiently, no trophies would signify failure, no matter what the moral issues of the time.

100_5939 Recent performances have not quite reached the high standards of the last few years, coupled with the results. Not keeping a clean sheet in the last twelve games signals a problem in defence, and the reliance on Lionel Messi for goals suggests a rebuilding exercise for the club in the very near future. However, Messi, Puyol and Xavi have all recently signed contract extensions, which should keep the side together for the next few years at least.

This game against Milan though is one that, even at this stage, will go some way to defining the club’s season. If they can succeed tonight, then the resultant boost from recovering such a negative position should provide enough to get league campaign back on track. Defeat, and the nervous looks over the shoulder at the approaching Atletico and Real Madrid might just turn the last couple of months into nerve fest which Vilanova might not appreciate, especially given the health scares of the last few months. Continue reading

Derby Day in Barcelona

Whilst the UK huddled under an umbrella last weekend, trying to keep warm with some FA Cup good cheer, the Daggers Diary team headed over to their warm weather retreat in Barcelona where the main event was a city derby with a distinct lack of atmosphere.

Back in November, the population of Catalunya went to the polls on the possibility of independence from Spain. With the economic difficulties affecting much of southern Europe, the issue of going it alone has risen to the forefront again. It is felt in Catalunya that they provide more to Spain that they get back from the central government in Madrid.

catalunya-espanyaThe result of the election was the separatists won a majority of the votes cast, although it actually has no legal standing in Spanish law. However, the issue of independence or nationhood for the region has always been simmering under the surface and much of this has been centred around the city’s main football club. Read almost any history of the club, and it will tell you of people going to the stadium during the Franco era, and speaking and chanting in Catalan, when the language had been banned by the central government. The club even had to change its name, from Futbol Club Barcelona, to the more Spanish sounding Club Futbol de Barcelona. It may only be a small change to those looking in, but to those fans at the time, it meant a great deal. Continue reading