On the eleventh day of Christmas…the best tweeters

On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love said to me, I’m bloody knackered with these awards – make me a cup of tea.

As Vanessa Williams once said, we’ve been saving the best for last. Well sort of. It is only fitting that for a set of awards that have been communicated by the latest fad of Tweeting, the last one is for our favourite tweeters in 2010.And by our favourite we mean the ones that keep us amused in the football sense, and not just VizTopTips.  Some people have really embraced Twitter as a two way communication methodology, realising that Social Media is both a revolution and an evolution as to how we search and receive the news we want when we want it (can you tell I have swallowed the socialnomics text book?).

Thousands tweet about football every day but only a fraction see it as a two way dialogue. Rio Ferdinand has hundreds of thousands of followers but he simply cannot interact with them.  He uses it as a vehicle to push people to his outside of football ventures and good luck to him. Many clubs have a twitter account but fail to realise the potential of an opted in, listening audience. But our three winners are in here for their ability to keep people interested in our beautiful game as well as the banter they offer back. Ladies and Gentlemen our top tweeters of the year are:-

Garry NelsonEx-Charlton Athletic, Brighton & Hove Albion and Plymouth Argyle striker turned best selling author with his books on the game Left Foot Forward and Left Foot In The Grave has become an avid Tweeter, giving his opinions on the game, on his ex teams and generally wading into any issue that affects us all, such as who to vote for in the X-Factor final and when to go Christmas shopping.  One attribute that Garry also has is that he is more than happy to answer questions and comments, realising that Twitter is a two way method of communication. Continue reading

On the tenth day of Christmas….the best ground

On the tenth day of Christmas my true love gave to me, brilliant grounds not one, nor two but three.

This category is for our favourites grounds in 2010 – ones we have been to a few times.  Our criteria for this was, well basically, how we felt on the day. Ease of getting there, the food, the fans, the atmosphere – in short the whole package.  Notable runners in this category are The Beveree, home of Hampton & Richmond Borough, The Swedbank stadium of Malmo FF and Carshalton’s War Memorial Ground. But there can only be three winners in our awards, and they are:-

Princes Park – Dartford FC – Many clubs will look at envy at Dartford’s “new ground”, now actually 7 years old. They could have gone down an Identikit stadium to save money (step 1 purchase from Ikea, step 2 unpack, step 3 find some nuts missing, step 4 take it back) but instead thanks to the vision of the club and the assistance of the local council they have a ground so unique that clubs from all over Europe still visit to see for themselves.

A roof covered in grass which captures the rain water for recycling, a fantastic bar, a public transport system that whisks you from main station to the stadium in minutes, literally a minute from the M25, stands that can be expanded with ease as and when necessary and a 12 foot wooden man holding up the roof. Add in 1,000 Dartford fans and you have a cracking day out.

Wembley Stadium – For all its faults it is still the greatest stadium to watch a game in at the moment.  Every seat faces the centre circle (apparently) and there isn’t a bad view in the house. Sure people may moan about the lack of atmosphere when England play there, the expensive food and the nightmare getting home, but last year we saw a game from the press area (nice biscuits but we got locked in – read about it here) and an Executive box thanks to Adam Lloyd which was luxurious to say the least. For those two reasons it is one of our top 3 grounds – sorry we freely admit we sold out to our principles on this one!

The Dripping Pan – Lewes FC – OK we admit that we are a bit biased on this one but at the end of the day, Brian, these are our awards and if we can’t give them to whole we want then what can we do? I have publically gone on record, and been quoted in at least one national publication, as saying:-

“With the South Downs as a backdrop like a white stage curtain, a pint of local Harveys Ale in my hand and the roar of the Rook Inn Terrace behind me, there is no better place to watch football.”

All true. We like to say at Lewes there are no strangers, only football fans who have not yet fallen in love with the most fashionable club in England (well, I think I said it once after a few too many Harveys). Sure the football may not be the best at times but do we have fun watching it. And so should you. Attendances are up by 70% since the club became a Community Club last Summer,a dn fan involvement can be epitomised by the work in progress Rook Inn. You’d be a fool to miss out.

On the ninth day of Christmas….the best away day

On the ninth day of Christmas my true love sent to me, an away trip that fills you with glee.

Football awaydays are what it’s all about.  The planning, the anticipation and then the day itself, full of promise and excitement.  There is nothing we love more at TBIR and EFW than an away day to somewhere new, obviously punctuated with a few beers and a general chat with some new fans.  It doesn’t really matter what the game is or where we are, Beer Football is a universal language, understood by millions of people across the globe.  As you would imagine we went on quite a few of these last year so we had to apply some criteria to come up with the best three.

Firstly we decided it had to be somewhere new.  Secondly it had to be somewhere where the football was essentially secondary, and thirdly somewhere where other people could quite easily replicate the trip.  So that excluded our EFW/TBIR Ocktoberfest as well as our regular trips down to The Dripping Pan.  So here are our three best away days from 2010.

Spakenburg – There was no doubt that this trip would be in the best three of the year.  A weekend filled with football, beer, meeting new and strange people (Jim Donkers anyone) and enough surreal moments to turn Russell Grant into slimmer of the year.  Who would have thought a small village 30 miles south eastish of Amsterdam could hold such a party, but they do and they do it twice a year.  The school disco party after the game was mad enough on its own without their being an identical rival one in the club house next door.  I cannot do this weekend justice in one paragraph so click on the link above or have a butchers at the photos here.

Malta – Malta I hear you say?  Malta?  Yep Malta.  This is one for when you have to give a little back to the lovely lady in your life.  Dirt cheap to get to thanks to the budget airlines, decent hotels at knock down prices, a bit of culture thrown in to boot and if you time it right an opportunity to top up on the tan.  And the football?  Well most teams play at the Ta’Qali, the national stadium meaning double and triple headers are common each week.  It may be a bit of a trek but once there you can enjoy entry for €8 for the day (€4 for the lovely lady in your life) and beers for jut €2 a piece. Want some more proof?  Well have a look at these.

Neath – We love Wales – Fact!   It is a cracking place, to steal a phrase from a well known Welsh based comedy show.  Sod the fact the weather is often crap, the people are top-notch (Catherine Zeta Jones and Charlotte Church anyone?) , the beer is excellent (Brains) and the scenery is marvellous.  Add in the fact it is easy to get to by plane, train, bus, boat or even pony and you have the makings of a great away day.  We could have picked Llanelli, home of our favourite Welsh Porn Star Sophie Dee (WARNING – Contains lots and lots of nudity), Swansea, Carmarthen or Port Talbot but we chose Neath.  Why?  Because it is an old fashion ground, with welcoming locals and some decent football played at The Gnoll, a proper football ground name if ever I saw one.  It also has the legendary nightclub Signals for your post match revelry. Want some more evidence to convince you to go?  Have a look at these pictures.

On the eighth day of Christmas…the best atmosphere

On the eighth day of Christmas my true love sent to me, an atmosphere so red-hot it will make you wee.

The best atmosphere we have seen in 2010 is quite a difficult one to judge as in many games there are times when the atmosphere is cranked up to 11 due to a goal, a controversial incident or simply hatred against an opposition player, team or set of fans.  It is also related to the number of fans in the ground.  So a ground of 50 vocal fans in a crowd of a few hundred will generate a fair amount of noise.  But for us, the three teams below generate an impressive noise, show and support wherever they go, home or away.

Malmö FF- For the past few years things haven’t been too rosy for Malmö FF.  They had seen their dominance from the late 1980’s under Roy Hodgson disappear, unable to compete with the new challengers like Kalmar and Elfsborg.  Crowds at the old Malmö stadion started declining and the outlook was bleak.  But then things changed.  A new ground was built behind the old stadium and Roland Nilsson took over team affairs and since they haven’t looked back.  This season saw The Blues snatch the title from bitter rivals Helsingborgs in front of packed crowds at the Swedbank Stadion.  And do they love a show?  Oh yes.  Noise, colour and inventive fan behaviours.  Every game is a different show and you will be a fool to miss it.  Get there or be square!

FC United of Manchester – “Bring on United”…repeat to fade.  I guarantee that days after visiting Gigg Lane, Bury to watch FCUM you will still be singing that little line such is the noise, passion and commitment the home fans sing the song from five minutes before the kick off.  What FCUM have built is special.  A community borne out of frustration, to quote James, who have a common vision and goal.  And the fans respond with noise the like that Gigg Lane has not seen since Gracie Fields launched her new album there.  Flags decorate every spare section of the ground to show the passion and the songs carry on for the whole 90 minutes.  Just imagine when (and not if) the crowds are five times the size.  Deafening!

Brondby IF – On the field Brondby have seen any chance of getting the better over bitter rivals FCK disappear into the ether.  Their dominance of the domestic game is growing season upon season, and their run to the second stages of the Champions League will only see them get richer at the expense of the league.  However, one area where they do have the edge is the passion created off the field.  Go to any game at Brondby stadium and take a place on the Faxe Tribune and you will literally feel the stand shaking underneath your feet.  Follow them across down to Parken for the Copenhagen derby and you will see real atmosphere.

On the seventh day of Christmas….the best book

On the seventh day of Christmas my true love sent to me…a few books to bring on the beach by the sea

Spending so much time travelling backwards and forwards between London and Scandinavia means I have lots of time at airports where the best solution to travel boredom is a beer and a decent book.

Football books are hit and miss.  Go back ten years and you would see one a week being published, with an autobiography being saved for Christmas release by someone who actually has a story to tell.  Nowadays players normally wait a week after they have made their Premier League debut before putting pen to paper and publishing their account of their “tough upbringing” and “how lucky they were to be a footballer otherwise it would have been a life of crime”, conveniently forgetting to retell the events of their arrest for assault, drugs or shagging underage girls.

For every interesting story such as Steve Claridge’s “Tales from the boot camp” there is a “Walking Tall” by Peter Crouch, or an “Off the record” by Michael Owen.  The real writers of these books should actually get a medal for a)agreeing to write the book and b) making it so uninteresting.  However, there have been some absolutely fantastic football books published over the past decade, and many simply do not get the credit they deserve as they do not have the headline subject.  So if you do want a decent insight into some of the more interesting areas of the game pick up one of the following three books.

The Bromley Boys – Dave Roberts
Supporters diaries of a season are two a penny these days.  However, this one covers a season following non-league Bromley who endured their worst ever season and seen through the eyes of a teenager.  Still not convinced?  Well what about the fact it was written over 40 years ago.  A fascinating look at what life was like growing up in the 1970’s as well as supporting a less than fashionable team. The paragraph about taking his boots to his first ever game “just in case a few players were involved in a car crash” rings so true for those of us who remember our first football match.

Stamping Grounds – Charlie Connelly
Books about Liechtenstein are pretty thin on the ground.  Books about football in Liechtenstein are as rare as a West Ham win at the moment.  In fact you could say that this fantastic book by Connelly is the best ever written about the subject, simply because it is the only one.  Bored with work the author decides to follow Liechtenstein as they try to qualify for the 2002 World Cup.  He begins with a first visit to the landlocked Alpine country and through the book meets not only all the people behind the game in Liechtenstein but also all of the movers and shakers in the country, including a drunken introduction to the Crown Prince and a comprehensive guide to the Postage Stamp museum.  Part story of despairing hope, part travelogue to a place few actually know where it is, this is a great book to put our modern Premier League game in perspective. We all know there would be no happy ending for the team but its a great journey.

Scum Airways – John Sugden
It’s a bit unfair to just pick this book as it goes hand in hand with Badfellas, written by Sugden and Alan Tomlinson about the corruption in the game at the highest level – FIFA.  This book goes undercover to research the ticket touting market and how it has become an important market force for the owners of the game and the clubs and how it will never be eradicated.  Focusing on the 1998 World Cup, Sugden manages to meet some of the people on the inside of Football Associations as well as “running” with some of the most profitable touting firms in world football. You are left with a feeling that whilst everyone in football publically deploys the touts and their business practices, actually they provide a valuable service to football as a whole.  Wrong, simply wrong.

Choosing three books is incredibly hard as there is some wheat amongst the chaff.  Notable other mentions have to go to Tim Parks “A season with Verona“, David Conn’s “A Beautiful Game” Andrew Jennings “Foul” and David Peace’s “Damned United . Oh, and of course there is a great book by a little known author called Stuart Fuller called “Passport to Football” that should be on everyone’s Christmas list this year!

On the sixth day of Christmas…the best blog

On the sixth day of Christmas my true love sent to me…..three blogs that are simply just funny

We make a clear definition between a blog and a website.  To us a blog is a site that is updated regularly with time bound content such as match reports and more general around a wide range of subjects whilst a website will be normally about something very specific.  Take Budget Airline Football for instance.  A great website that provides specific information about travel to football in Europe, where as The Ball is Round takes the subject matter of football in Europe further by visits to games and what happens when  we are there.  Simple really.

The number of blogs created on the subject is quite frightening.  There doesn’t seem to be a day go by without a new one setting up.  One of beauties of programmes such as WordPress and Blogger is that they make it easy for even Bury fans (joke) to set up, and above all its free!  Some look good but the content is crap, some vice versa but our top three winners this year combine both to genuinely enhance the lives of us football fans online.

The Real FA CupWe love football at the grass roots level and so do these guys.  They are a perfect example of my old saying “Get big, get niche or get out”.  Their niche is the Cup.  Not just the FA Cup, but also the Trophy, Vase and sometimes I have heard even the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy.  They choose their prey carefully, analysing both teams in great detail before bring their readers all the important details about the game.  Oh and a match report as well.

“But first, and indeed last, there was the small matter of Bar Billiards, a fine pub, friendly locals and a mini beer festival. Having never been to Carshalton for either football or cultural delights, we didn’t really know what to expect. BeerInTheEvening for once came good, although the 7/10 their reviewers afforded The Hope must have meant there was a load of soulless Chelsea fans in recently expecting Stella, a fight and chicken in a basket

European Football WeekendsOK so we may be a bit biased on this one, but we do believe that the MULTIPLE award winning EFW blog is one of the finest things on the internet.  A mixture of off beat match reports from around Europe both first hand (AS Trencin v MFC Petrzalka anyone?) as well as regular contributors such as the latest series following the fortunes of Turkish champions Bursaspor along with some first class interviews.  I would wager a few of our pennies that no one has interviewed such a list of football celebrities in the past year in such an irrelevant style.  Henry Winter, Clive Tyldesley, Sid Lowe, Oliver Kay and of course AC Jimbo have all appeared on the hallowed pages.

From his recent interview with Come Dine With Me voice man, Dave Lamb:-

Do you ever commentate on the Lewes games in your head in the same bitingly sarcastic manner as on CDWM? No. Because Lewes are brilliant, unlike most of the people on CDWM”

Two Hundred PercentIs there anything more fascinating that understanding why some clubs are essentially screwed financially?  And who better to give you the real facts than someone who spends his whole day looking at balance sheets and tutting under his breath.  Another multiple award winning site and one look at the home page and you can see why.  Clean, bold and full of hidden promise, the TWOTH team cover football at all levels willing to give their opinion on the issues that matter.  The cartoon strip, Mungo, following the fortunes of Heart of Clachmanishire is a work of genius in its own right.

The club’s outstanding tax bill was in the region of £90,000 and £30,000 was paid off by the club itself. After a plea for loans from supporters, however, the remaining amount owed under the winding up order has now been paid and the immediate threat to the club’s future has been staved off. This is a remarkable effort on the part of the supporters of the club. It is perhaps worth reflecting upon the fact that a club whose average home attendance of 579 can raise £64,900 in just a few weeks – the money was put in by the supporters in the form of loans ranging from £500 to £3,000 – as this is an exceptional achievement and shows, as if it needed to be shown, the depth of the bond between the club and its supporters.

The list could go on as we have come across so many decent blogs so please do not take offence if you haven’t made our list – it will be you haven’t bribed us enough!

On the fifth day of Christmas – the best new ground

On the Fifth Day of Christmas my true love gave to me….a trio of new grounds to see

Hands up who isn’t excited by visiting a new ground? Not a brand new ground necessarily but one that you have never been to before. It’s that sense of excitement that it will be in some way different from all the rest you have seen in your life. Some grounds simply ouse excitement due to their location, some because of their design and some because of the atmosphere. In the past twelve months we have visited over 50 new grounds, some of which are forgettably familiar (sorry FC Midtjylland and Farnborough Town), some of which are as basic as basic can be (Whitehawk, Bethnal Green United and Llanelli) and some are full of character (Whitstable Town, SV Spakenbrug and Neath’s The Gnoll). But we have picked three of our “newbies” that just tick more boxes than most. God rest me merry gentlemen for the three Best New Grounds on 2010.

Ethnikos Asteras FC– Fancy watching a game carved into a hillside? Many point to Braga’s fantastic stadium in Portugal where one end is simply a sheer rock face, but it wasn’t the original rock-blasted ground. Second division Ethnikos Asteras’s Kessariani Municipal Stadium, located on the eastern outskirts of Athens sits high above the city but instead of having four stands, it has just three, with the rock face adding to the acoustics of the stadium. And that is not the only reason to visit the Kessariani. The club has a very welcoming supporters bar full of fans who are happy to share a beer with you and talk football. The stands are set above the playing surface meaning that everyone gets a good view of the action.  For more details on our visit click here.

Canvey Island – I am sure that in the middle of winter when the wind whips in from the adjacent Thames Estuary a place on the high terrace is probably not on many people’s lists of places to watch football, but our visit in July for the friendly versus FC Twente on a scorching hot day was almost idyllic. The sky was filled with fluffy clouds against a backdrop of serious blue, the view of ships going up and down the river was spellbinding and the club bar was as welcoming as could be. Add in some excellent football on the pitch from Dutch Eredivisie champions FC Twente you get the impression it was a cracking day out. Throw in a visit to the world famous Lobster Smack pub, a 20 minute walk along the sea wall and you can stick your San Siro and Camp Nou – give me Canvey any day.  For more details on our trip there in August click here.

Spartak Trnava – Football in Eastern Europe can be a bit mental. The fans are passionate, although in most cases volumes are a bit on the low side. However, a visit to Trnava, the seventh biggest city in Slovakia will see you right. Spartak’s ground is classic old school. A huge terrace behind the goal is dominated by the fanatical Spartak fans who do not give up their vocal and pyrotechnic support of their team throughout the 90 minutes. Two seated stands on either side of the pitch provide cover and the far end is another terrace. This is what football used to be like thirty years ago, with the floodlights leaning in to get a view of what is going on. Absolutely top notch.  For more details of our trip to Trnava click here.