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.

On the fourth day of Christmas – The best away fans

On the fourth day of Christmas my true love sent to me….a set of away fans to make you proud as can be

Few teams these days really take a passionate away following wherever they go. Perhaps it is the cost of the tickets, the fact that fans are treated like criminals as soon as they step foot inside the ground or the simple blandness of most grounds now in England. However, outside of the Premier League there are some teams whose away support is legendary. In the 86 games we have seen in 2010 there have been some memorable away followings for a number of reasons, ranging from the single away fan from IP Bromma at Helsingborgs in March, to the thousands of York City and Oxford United fans that descended on Wembley Stadium in May for the Blue Square Bet Play off finals. But there can only be three winners in our 12 Days of Christmas awards….I give you the best away fans we saw in 2010.

FC Copenhagen – Whilst the team have dominated the SAS Superliga this season, finishing the first half of the season a mere 19 points ahead of 2nd place after just 19 games, FCK’s fans have certainly haven’t been bored in travelling all across Denmark to watch their team. A few weeks ago nearly a thousand fans travelled some four hours by train in appalling conditions to Randers where they stood on an open terrace in temperatures of minus 10 to cheer their team onto a comfortable 3-0 win. Whilst the passionate fans are often lost in the half empty 38,000 capacity Parken, away from home they generate serious noise on the road. The games against Brondby have been a tinderbox in the past few seasons, although the core of fans only want to support the team.

Dartford – Five years ago it was all doom and gloom for Dartford fans, facing another season in the Kent League, wondering where they would be playing their home games. But the one thing that never changed was the passionate core of support the club had. And it was the drive, commitment and enthusiasm of these fans, as with the case with AFC Wimbledon, FC United of Manchester and now FC Halifax Town, that the club have risen to where they are today. The first step was a stadium, the second was consistency off the pitch – again is it co-incidence that Dartford, FCUM and Wimbledon have risen up the leagues with the same man in charge? Even in the Kent League Dartford took hundreds of fans to the likes of Herne Bay and Lordswood, almost quadrupling the crowd in many instances. Last season we saw around 500 Dartford fans cram into Tonbridge Angels ground, not letting up their positive support for the team for the whole 90 minutes. Now just one step below where they should rightfully be, the fans can take massive credit for the role they have played in this rise from the ashes.

Ijsselmeervogel – A third tier Dutch game hardly sets the minds racing. It is the equivalent of a Blue Square Premier game in England. But when you have two teams from the same village, hell even sharing the same car park then you are onto a winner. Add in an inferiority complex that means both clubs will do anything to out do each other and you are sure to get a cracking atmosphere when they play each other twice a season.  A few hundred words here cannot do justice to the fans so head over to EFW to read about the whole event.