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.

On the third day of Christmas – The best journalist

“On the third day of Christmas my true love brought to me….a knowledgeable person on the TV”

We love Twitter.  It is like visiting a Roman Forum back in 50BC, stopping to chat to all and sundry about everything under the sun.  Want some chat about the wrong tactics used by Inter Milan at the weekend, then touch base with Jonathan Wilson or Zonal Marking.  Fancy trying to understand what on earth is going on at Upton Park then have a chat with Jacob Steinberg, Mark Segal from ITV Sport, Matt Law from the Express or Dan Silver from the Daily Mirror.  And want to get a Pro’s view on life now or as it was a few years ago then have a chat with Martin Allen, Garry Nelson or Bolton Wanderers Kevin Davies.

But some stand out more than others as people who really know their onions.  These are people who make a living out of writing on the beautiful game, and often aren’t afraid to speak their mind.  So here are our three favourite journalists from the world of football.

Sid LoweDr Sid, as he is called by the Guardian’s Football Weekly podcast team is known as THE most knowledgeable resource on Spanish football there is.  Sid has been reporting back from Spain for the thick end of ten years in which time he’s translated for David Beckham, Michael Owen and Thomas Gravesen at Real Madrid, worked on Real Madrid TV and occupied a seat in every press box in La Liga and beyond. He’s often mocked on the Football Weekly Podcast for continued usage of the phrases ‘Rubbish’, ‘Caveat’ and ‘Hang on minute’ whilst trying to control his dog in the background.  Sid writes for The Guardian, FourFourTwo and World Soccer Magazine.  He was expertly interviewed by Danny Last last year here.

Jonathan Wilson Some people can make any subject sound interesting and that applies 100% to Jonathan Wilson.  He first came to my attention with the publication of his book “Behind the Iron Curtain”, a journey into football in the old Eastern bloc.  Some of his stories inspired me to travel to the likes of Moscow and Belgrade and in 2006 I was lucky enough to sit alongside him on an “experts” panel about England’s forthcoming trip to Zagreb to face Croatia for the EnglandFans London group.  He followed up this with his book about tactics, Inverting the Pyramid, which again is a top read.  He regularly contributes to The Independent, FourFourTwo magazine and the Daily Telegraph. He is the football correspondent for the Financial Times and the Eastern European football correspondent for The Guardian. Wilson has most recently appeared as the Eastern European football expert on the “The World Football Phone-In” on BBC Radio 5 Live.  But above all he seems to know everything about every footballer in the world.  Special!

James RichardsonOne of our high points of the week is the Guardian’s Football Weekly podcast, which features a host of characters but is nearly always anchored by AC Jimbo.  Richardson was the anchor of Football Italia on Channel 4 from 1992 to 2002. During his time on Football Italia, Richardson was joined by Paul Ince and Paul Gascoigne during their periods in Italian Football. Between 2002 to 2005, he presented British Eurosport’s coverage of Serie A as well as on Bravo TV’s live coverage of Serie A and Gazzetta Football Italia.

Richardson had a brief spot on Sky Sports’ Soccer Saturday as an on-the-street reporter.  So basically he knows what he is talking about in terms of Italian football, but it is the quick wit and tomfoolery that keeps us listening…..Read his interview with Danny Last et al here.

“Of course this wouldn’t be a legitimate football podcast without mentioning the Old Firm derby. Right that’s that done. Serie A …”

On the second day of Christmas – The best game

“On the second day of Christmas my true love sent to me….a top game of football or three.”

In 2010 (so far as this is written prior to the potential games post Boxing Day) we have seen 86 games of football, featuring 224 goals, 6 red cards, 3 dogs in 10 different countries.  So we have been a bit busy.  Consequently we have seen our fair share of dross (few of the 30,000 at West Ham United 0 Blackburn Rovers 0 in January 2010 for instance will remember anything) but we have also seen a few games that will live in the memory for a long time.  Here are our top three in no particular order.

Lewes 5 Dorchester Town 0Looking back now this game was irrelevant in the grand scheme of things.  However, at the time, Lewes’s biggest victory for over 3 years was priceless in their fight for survival in the Blue Square South.  Needing to win at least three of their last four games to claw their way out of the relegation zone, the team had gone away to Worcester City and won their first away game in 17 months.  Then came the “do or die” game against Dorchester.  The team simply over ran their opponents on a beautiful sunny day in East Sussex, with the Harveys flowing and the silky skills of David Wheeler on the wing setting up goals at will.  All of the reasons why I love Lewes so much in one afternoon.

Malmö FF 2 Helsingborgs IF 0We know from bitter experience that the meeting of the top two in any league towards the end of the season is a receipe for a dull encounter.  But not in Sweden.  The Allsvenskan was the tightest it had been for years in 2010 with bitter rivals Malmö FF and Helsingborgs IF matching each other result for result.  Coming into this game in mid September they were separated by 3 points.  Not only was the atmosphere one of the best we have EVER experienced at a game (see here for an example of what it was like to be there) but the game itself was an absolute cracker – end to end action that you rarely see in the Allsvenskan and two decent goals to boot.  Few of the 21,000 in the stadium that night will ever forget this one.

Carshalton Athletic 3 Tonbridge Angels 2A Ryman Premier League game on a chilly September night with England playing away in Switzerland on TV would hardly rank high on most peoples agenda for a night out but it turned into a classic game of cut and thrust.  In a real old fashioned football ground both teams were committed to attacking play from the first whistle, and whilst the skill on offer may not have been Premier League but it was a great game, capped off by a come back from the home team in the last 3 minutes from 2-1 down to win 3-2 including a stunner of a 35 yarder in the final minute.  All this for less than a tenner as well.

On the first day of Christmas – The best website

“On the first day of Christmas my true love sent to me, a brilliant football website accessible for free.”

Football websites have improved tenfold over the past few years.  Some are ten-a-penny, simply re-hashing content from other websites, blogs and media outlets.  So our awards for the best football websites of 2010 are made to those that have the “wow” factor.  Those that add value and keep you coming back for more.  So our three winners are:-

Zonal MarkingMichael Cox has had a fantastic year, seeing his one of a kind site gain all sorts of deserved plaudits but also making his debut on the Guardian’s Football Weekly podcast.  It is the defacto resource for the statistical analysis of games, providing enough ammo to amaze even the most ardent football fan in the pub. a work of genius.

LesrosbifsOnce upon a time, Gavin Stone came up with an idea to chronicle the adventures of English footballers abroad.  His site has grown to such as extent today where he has documented well over a hundred English players currently plying their trade abroad.  He regularly interviews them, providing a valuable insight into their lives abroad, and his Hall of Fame of the 21 best ever Englishmen to play abroad, with contributions from 21 of the best football writers is simply ingenious.

FootballFan.euLast month I had the pleasure of meeting Frans, the man behind the most comprehensive guide to football matches in Europe whilst in Utrecht.  His site is simply amazing, yet stunningly simple.  Essentially a social media network for football, the site allows fans to upload details of their games, photos, reviews and generally anything that could add value to anyone else.  Currently there are over 20,000 photos, 2,000 stadiums profiled and a distance calculator for what games are on for most top leagues (and lower leagues) in Europe.  Simply a work of art.