Young Turks bounce the Czechs


My original ticket application for the European Championships was divided into two distinct trips that would essentially have taken in a game in every venue, working my way up the country with a small break in the middle. Five years ago, whilst travelling between Trnava in Slovakia and Budapest, the idea of touring France had first been discussed. During the course if the evening we’d decided to buy an old London double-decker bus, do it up with sleeping quarters upstairs and a bar downstairs. What more could we want.

There were a couple of stumbling blocks. First there was the small matter of finding £30,000 for a bus. Surely a company out there would want to sponsor us? A brewery for instance? I’m sure that Meantime and Fullers will one day answer but it’s a big too late. Then there was the issue of driving. It was great that Danny, Deaksy and Stoffers contributed to the idea but none of them could contribute to the actual driving. I didn’t really want to be the Reg Vardy of the group if truth be told. Finally, there was the issue of trying to get tickets for the games we wanted.

When the original ticket allocations were announced our hopes of a Summer Holiday were dashed. Two tickets for two games over a week apart at opposite ends of the country put pay to our great ideas.

So after the trip to the chic and sunny Riviera I was now heading to the gloomy coal fields of Pas-des-Calais swapping the Promenade des Anglais for the slag heaps of Lens, with the ginger bearded wonder James Boyes at my side.

27215898903_8900ba26c3_kDespite the industrial hinterland, for football lovers you can’t go wrong with a visit to Lens. There’s no surprise that the town, where the whole population could fit into the football ground and still have a few spares, is a favourite when tournaments come a-knocking. And not just football either – the Stade Bollaert-Delelis has hosted games in the Rugby World Cup (twice) too. It is one of the most atmospheric grounds in France, built in a style not too dissimilar to Villa Park or a slim-downed St James’ Park (Newcastle United not Exeter City), which rocks on a match day.

27827478225_89d987786c_kA few years ago I read a story about the number of English-based fans who had season tickets for RC Lens. Fed up of the spiralling cost of tickets for the sanitised Premier and Football League games, groups of fans realised that it was cheaper and in some cases, quicker to head across the Channel and watch their football. From leaving TBIR Towers the 116 mile drive took around 3 hours including the time on Eurotunnel and cost less than £80. Add in a season ticket in the Delacourt Stand behind the goal at a ridiculous €125 for the 19 league games and you have a great day out.

The ground is not only really easy to find but also has plenty of street parking within a ten minute walk. We dropped the car off and headed into the town centre to find a spot to watch whether Northern Ireland could upset the odds and get a result from their game against Germany. There aren’t many drinking options in Lens and even less that had a TV so we attempted to go into the Fanzone.

If you want evidence that the pen is mightier than a sword then go and visit the UEFA Fanzone in Lens. Anyone trying to enter the area with such offence weapons as a pen, an iPad mini or even a keyfob with a badge on will be denied entry. Six foot flag pole? Come on in sir! Of course, I may have been singled out by a West Ham (key fob), technophobe who favoured the quill but I doubt it. I was denied entry, much to the amusement of James, and the chap who managed to sneak in a pack of beers whilst the stewards attention was drawn to my pen. Another example of the head-scratching, juxtaposing, randomness of everyday life in France.

27793098506_aa7c1942f5_kFortunately we found a bar that had converted it’s back yard into a “stadium”, as the signs read. The rows of plastic chairs were hardly The Emirates but it did the job and provided shelter from the impending doom that the dark clouds overhead were threatening before we headed to the stadium. Both sets of fans mingled without any sign of any problems whilst hundreds of individuals lined the route back to the stadium trying to sell spare tickets – it was certainly a buyers market with some fans who were prepared to hold their nerve being able to pick up a bargain as kick off approached. Once again, entry into the ground was swift with little regard paid to the contents of my bag (the lethal pen, mini iPad and key fob) or any checks on whether I was the named individual on the ticket (I was).

The two sets of fans were giving it their all in the build up to kick off. Both could still progress even though they only had one point between them such was the complexity and confused caused by the third place situation with a win, although based on their poor showing in their opening two games the odds were stacked against the Turks. But perhaps their fans could lift them at the eleventh hour and give them a chance of a few more days in the competition?

Czech Republic 0 Turkey 2 – Stade Bollaert-Delelis – Tuesday 21st June 2016
It wasn’t just the Turks who were dancing in the streets of Lens at the full-time whistle. The two-nil win meant that Northern Ireland would also progress to the second round joining the Turks who simply blew the Czech Republic away in a performance that was up there with the best in the tournament.

27215895593_587672d0bf_kIt took just ten minutes for the Turks to take the lead. The impressive Arda Turan played in young full-debutant Emre Mor down the right and his perfect cross was met at the near post by Burak Yilmaz to fire home, giving Petr Cech no chance. The celebrations both on and off the pitch were fuelled as much by relief as delight – the Turks had been disappointing up until this point on the tournament.

The Czechs immediately responded. Tomas Sivok powered a header from a corner against the base of the post, full-back Pavel Kadeřábek wasted a couple of good chances and Jaroslav Plašil seeing a vicious long-ranger tipped over the bar. But they were ultimately undone by a second goal from Turkey scored in the Ozan Tufan in the 65th minute, smashing the ball home after the Czechs couldn’t clear their lines.

The Turkish fans at the far end responded by lighting flares. Not just one but at one point we counted eleven. A number of Turkish players ran to the crowd to plead with the fans but they needn’t have worried – UEFA appear to have turned a blind eye to the incident despite once again it underlined the appalling lax security on getting into the ground. I’m sure if the incident was reported it would have been blamed in England fans.

27215917043_dcf391b7cb_kThe atmosphere for the whole games was up there with the best I’ve experienced. Two hours of intense noise. I had to drag James away at the end – being a Man United fan he’s not used to an atmosphere. Seventy five minutes after leaving the ground we arrived at the terminal at Calais.

“Where have you been lads?” Asked the UK Border Guard.

“Footballing heaven”…..

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Fancy a cheeky weekend away?


One of the greatest joys in life is a European Football Weekends.  We love them so much that Danny even named his site after them.  What could be better than sitting in a foreign football stadium, watching some crap football with a bottle of  “Plop” in one hand and a strange looking sausage in another?  Nothing I hear you cry, and you are 100% right.  We are often asked by virgins (in the football abroad sense) where they should head to break their overseas cherry.  Many want to head to the bright lights of the likes of the San Siro in Milan, The Camp Nou in Barcelona or the Estadio Bernabau in Madrid.  Sure, these cathedrals of football should be on everyone’s “Stadiums to visit before you die” but for the sheer pleasure in discovering a perfect weekend we always thrown in the venues below.  You simply cannot go wrong with the five destinations below (well, you can but it will be enjoyable!).  So clear some free weekend time, log onto SkyScanner and Hotels.com and off you go.  Remember to send us a postcard! Continue reading

Turning Japanese…I don’t think so


2002 is probably my favourite World Cup for a number of reasons.  Four years after I had attended my first tournament in France I was determined to not miss this one.  I had never been a fan of Asia as a region, although I have to admit I do have a penchant for far eastern ladies.  My mother, the original CMF once said at a family meal that she didn’t like anything in the Far East because of all that “Plinky plonky music”…Yes, my mother thinks that life in Japan, China and Korea is accompanied by some medieval Musak.

In 2001 I got the “best job in the world”.  Somehow I managed to blag a role that essentially saw me have to fly around Europe, first class all week, collecting air miles in return for a very fat salary and the occasional report on how certain sales teams were doing.  This was the second coming of the Internet bubble and you could not do better than working for a US internet company who literally threw money at everything.  In fact they were throwing too much money at everything and as 2001 became 2002 everything started to unravel.  The signs were quite evident…offices suddenly closing, doors being locked from the inside in others to stop the bailiffs and then wages not being paid. Continue reading

It’s in the shops…..


Passport to footballThe UK locked in a frenzy with the launch of “Passport to Football” .  Thirty chapters, thirty unforgetable trips (well, the bits we can remember in between all the foreign beer) and of course a fair few classic games.  Who can forget Hvidovre v AB, FC Orgryte v Jonkopings Sodra and Akademia Sofia v Radovski Sevlievo – well quite a few of us actually but many will want to remember Euro2008, France v England or Palermo v West Ham.

All your favourites are in here.  The “Jugtastic” CMF, Football Jo and all of her perversions and a cast of literally a dozen.  None of the tales can be found anywhere else apart from in the hallowed pages of “Passport to Football”.  So buy a copy by clicking here – you know you want to!

Well done to Neil Campbell who found an obscure interview I did some years ago and that my first ever game was between West Ham and Burnley from April 1976

The 2008 The Ball is Round Awards


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 Bochum massive

The Bochum massive

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 winner - MTK Stadion

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 Brondby fans celebrate an early goal

The Brondby fans celebrate an early goal

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 - The Olympic Stadium

The Winner - The Olympic Stadium

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.

France pound the Dutch goal in Berne

France pound the Dutch goal in Berne

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.

Histon v York City

Histon v York City

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.

A birds eye view of the Swedes

A birds eye view of the Swedes

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 hardcore fans congregate behind the goal at Levski Sofia

The hardcore fans congregate behind the goal at Levski Sofia

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.

liechtensteinThe 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.

heysel2The 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.