On the eighth day of TBIR Christmas – The Best Atmosphere

Happy New Year one and all…I hope last night wasn’t too hard on you all mentally and have your winter woollies on ready for a day at football.

What do you get when you cross the Best Game with the Best Grounds?  Well, that would be the Best Atmosphere of course!  Last year the winners were AS Roma, Bayern Munich and the All-German Champions League final at Wembley.  The dilemma of being a Non-League fan is that the atmosphere at games is generally poor.  You don’t really have high expectations in terms of noise, colour and flare(s) when your fellow supporters all have carrier bags to keep their programmes in or dogs with scarves on.  At some grounds the silence is punctuated with the stir of a cup of tea or the news that Walton & Hersham have taken the lead against South Park.  And I appreciate the beauty and serenity of the Non-League game.  But sometimes we want noise.  We want passion.  We want people waving fireworks around above their heads.  So let’s raise a glass to three grounds we visited in 2014 that had just that.

3rd Place – Lithuania v Estonia, LFF Stadion, Vilnius
A cold, chilly night in Lithuania isn’t many people’s idea of fun, but add in the spice of a Baltic derby, played at a time when the national team are playing some of their best football in history and you have a decent night out in one of Europe’s best, undiscovered cities.  The downside?  A three sides, mainly open-air stadium.  The upside, passionate locals who had fueled up on on cheap local spirits. Noise galore, roaring their team on to another, surprising victory.  Lithuania is the new Mallorca – you heard it here first.

2nd Place – Holstein Kiel 1 1860 Munich 2, Holstein Stadion, Kiel
The Pokal is taken very seriously in German Football.  None of this putting out the reserve/kids XI out – clubs take it very seriously.  Bayern Munich, arguably the best team in the world, want to win it every year – why wouldn’t they?  The rules means that the lower-ranked team plays at home, with no replays.  When the draw this season was made, 3rd tier Holstein Kiel were to host 1860 Munich – a near one thousand mile round trip.  But, without any surprises, the game was a sell out with nearly a thousand 1860 fans making the journey to bring their colour, songs and bad dress sense (well, a few anyway) to the famous port city in Northern Germany. The home fans did themselves proud on and off the pitch with a riot of colour, flag waving and singing.  Oh, and beer.  Lots of beer.

1st Place – Romania v Northern Ireland, Stadium National, Bucharest
15170367364_fc78920572_k (1)
Nearly an hour after the end of this European Championship qualifier had ended, the noise was still reverberating around my head.  The result was in some way irrespective – the noise in the enclosed Stadium National was turned up to 15 and this was despite various sections being closed due to crowd trouble in the last game against Hungary.  The Irish, whilst outnumbered nearly 30 to 1 played their part, never stopping their soundtrack, but it was the home side, with their cheering, coupled with the odd fire cracker and flare that kept the cold at bay.  Domestic football in Romania may not be much to write home about, but when the national team take to the field, expect something special.

Tomorrow, the festive journey continues with our look at the best tales from Non-League football.


On the seventh day of TBIR Christmas – The Best Game of 2014

Happy New Year one and all…I hope last night wasn’t too hard on you all mentally and have your winter woollies on ready for a day at football..

We’ve seen a few turkey’s this season, and we’ve seen a fair few average games.  In fact it is hard to reflect on whether a game is good or bad in the hour or so after it finishes.  So trying to choose three of the best games of the year is a bit easier when we put everyone into context and focus. But three we did find, although it was easier to find the three worse games!

3rd Place – USA 2 Turkey 1
For the USA this was one of the last warm-up games before they jetted off to Brazil.  For Turkey, it was a distraction from their shopping trip in 5th Avenue.  The last time I was at the Red Bull Arena, the kick off had been delayed to try and rustle up a few more fans to break the four digit mark for the Red Bulls.  For this game we had to pay over $80 for a ticket on the secondary market.  #MNTUSA was in full effect.  The Americans do patriotism end of.  Everything about the game was rammed full of nationalism (in a good way). The game itself was very open, with the USA impressing from the first minute.  I could almost forgive the ridiculous licencing laws in US sports grounds….almost I said.

2nd Place – Real Madrid 2 Sevilla 0
Chances to see some of the best players in the world don’t come around every week…unless you live in Munich, Barcelona or Madrid of course.  When I first heard of the Super Cup being played in Cardiff I didn’t believe it.  But then I remembered that Platini is in charge of UEFA so figured that it was another one of his bizarre decisions, although it would actually be the biggest stadium this game had been played at.  The opportunity to watch Real was too good to miss – Ronaldo, Bale, Rodriquez, Modric et al.  The weather was perfectly Welsh – sunshine and heavy rain, the hospitality was tip top and the game itself didn’t disappoint.

1st Place – Lewes 3 Grays Athletic 2
You have to love it when your team scores an injury time winner.  It’s even sweeter when it delivers your first win of the season after a sticky start.  Add in the fact that you had also thrown away the lead when playing against 9 men and the game starts to change in context.  Amazingly, there was only two reds as both teams could have had men sent off – Lewes keeper Rikki Banks when conceeding an early penalty and veteran ex-Burnley and Reading midfielder, Glenn Little for a cynical and dangerous tackle when the visitors were already down to nine men.  But this was all about the winner, scored by Fraser Logan (and captured here by James Boyes).  The goal that saved a season?  Possibly.

Tomorrow, on day eight of the TBIR Christmas, the best

On the fourth day of TBIR Christmas – The worst games of 2014

We all pay our money in the hope of seeing a cracker.  The beauty of football is that it can deliver five goal thrillers, end to end action and a few 22 man punch ups.  It can also deliver dull, turgid and frankly mind-numbing action.  Alas, it is more often the case that it is the latter rather than the former we witness.  Picking the three worst games wasn’t too difficult.  One was so bad that two of a group of ten of us actually fell asleep in the game, although the copious amounts of free German beer may just have helped.

3rd Place – Barnet 1 Alfreton Town 0
With 90% of football in England washed out, an opportunity presented itself to visit a new ground – The Hive, home of Barnet (the Bees – clever that!).  An easy journey all the way on the Jubilee line, passing the ground as we went.  Barnet, managed by the volatile Edgar Davids were in relatively good form, the visitors less so.  At £10 this would have been way too much for what was on offer, but nearly double it and it was possibly going to be the worst value game of the year, even 4 days in January it was that obvious.  The afternoon’s gloom was lit up by two things.  First was the winning strike from Dani Lopez and the second was watching the rare occasions when two tube trains crossed as they passed the ground.

2nd Place – VfB Lubeck 1 Goslarar SC 0
Even the joys of an EFW can sometimes be outweighed by a turgid game.  This one was so bad that not even cheap beer could keep Danny Last and I in the ground until the final whistle as we bunked off with twenty minutes to go, missing the one and only piece of action of course.  Nothing against Lubeck, and their fans who were magnificent, it was just that this game needed to be forgotten as quickly as possible so that we could get on with the rest of our weekend.

1st Place – Schalke 0 West Ham United 0
14816418855_8121f663ff_kA proper Jolly Boys Outing with ten of us heading for the bright lines of Gelsenkirchen as West Ham played in the inaugural Schalke Cup also featuring Newcastle United, Malaga and of course Schalke 04.  We arrived, having already drained Stansted Airport out of most of its alcohol and sat through the second half of a dreadful Newcastle performance against Malaga.  Of course, West Ham under Allardyce’s new regime of “attacking” football would put it right.  And if they didn’t then the magnificent surroundings of the Veltins Arena and its free bar (complete with a not-so free barmaid according to one of our party) would.  Alas, it was the most forgettable, negative, dire performance many of us could remember (and some of us remember a long way back) as both teams seem to have agreed to play for penalties from the first whistle.  Our party started falling like flies, whether it was to sleep or table football rather than watching the game.  Never again.

Tomorrow – The best Footballing Day out of 2014 – which games couldn’t we remember, which matches provided 90 minutes of pain in an otherwise great day out.

On the third day of TBIR Christmas – The best football book

Commuting from work these days gives me plenty of time to get stuck into a good book.  My journey is supposed to be just 12 minutes each way but thanks to the generosity of South Eastern Trains, they want me to get my money’s worth so it is regularly 20 minutes plus.  40 Minutes a day, 200 minutes a week.  That’s about a book a week.  Whilst not all of my reading habits are about the beautiful game, there is a fair few that are.  So here are the top three books we’ve tucked into this year.

3rd Place – Danish Dynamite – The Story of Football’s Greatest Cult Team – Rob Smyth
Back in Mexico 1986 the Danes arrived with no expectations, no hope and a garish kit that made us all adjust our TV sets.  They were in a “group of death” with a Francescoli-inspired Uruguay and the West German machine….oh and Scotland.  Few people knew anything about skipper Morten Olsen, a very young and slim Jan Molby, a whipper-snapper called Michael Laudrup and maverick striker Preben Elkjaer.  This fantastic book charts their development as a team during the early 1980’s, how they humiliated England at Wembley and qualified against the odds for their first World Cup in 1986.  This book isn’t just about Mexico – it is about Danish culture and the rise of a team to world prominence, who were skin-tight nylon shorts.  If you want to get an understanding of one of the most powerful footballing nations compared to their size then this is the book for you. For those of us of a certain age it certainly stirs up some great memories of football BPL (Before Premier League).  My favourite line?  “They were a team of rock stars in a polyester kit”.

2nd Place – Punk Football – The Rise of Fan Ownership in English Football – Jim Keoghan
OK, so I am a bit biased on this subject but I believe that fan ownership is the only route to save the beautiful game in England.  Our national sport has become bloated with foreign ownership, all chasing the dream of Champions League football, spending more and more money on overpaid, over rated players who have no more interest in playing for the badge than a lost puppy.  Keoghan’s excellent book gives us a background into the rise of Fan Ownership, the role that Supporters Direct have played and some of the more successful examples of clubs who have got it right such as AFC Wimbledon, Swansea City and FC United of Manchester.  He also delves into Europe to see how the model differs there.

My one disappointment was that Keoghan didn’t go lower down the footballing pyramid to see how it works at the real grass roots level. I’m pleased to say that he has since popped along to the Dripping Pan to put that right! Nevertheless, this is a great book and should be read by every fan who is starting to doubt the motives of their club’s owners.  There is inspiration in every chapter that the future can be bright and can be driven from the bottom up.

1st Place – Falling for Football – Adam Bushby & Rob McDonald
Put two football fans in a room who have never met each other and soon enough they will be swapping stories about how they love their clubs.  Sometimes it is a family thing, the allegiance passed down from generation to generation, whilst others it is an act of rebellion.  Some even admit the fact that they support X simply because they were successful.  We could all take the easy route in supporting the team at the top of the table, or those who are always on TV but where is the fun in that.

Sooner or later everyone realises that football is a succession of ups and downs.  Granted, for some clubs like Man Utd that “up” has been for nearly 20 years and now a new generation of fans are realising that teams like Swansea or Sunderland are allowed to come to Old Trafford and win.  But what about those of us who don’t support City, United, Arsenal or Chelsea?  What about the Weymouth fans who go through Chairman it seems once a month, or Tooting and Mitcham?  Well this is the story of 44 fans and their love for their team.

What makes this book great is that it is essentially 44 different styles of writing ranging from seasoned writers to those making their debut in print and reasons behind why they love their club.  This is a perfect book to pick up and delve into without losing any of a plot or story-line.  As far as I am aware it is also a first in terms of its subject matter.

Of course I am slightly biased as my journey from an Arsenal fan, via West Ham to the Dripping Pan is documented here but what makes this a great read for me is getting a rare view into the minds of other football fans – and trust me…that is worrying.  FIFA Five Stars from me

Tomorrow – Day 4 of our TBIR Christmas and our top three worst games of 2014.

On the second day of TBIR Christmas – The worst new ground visited

So Matlock Town scooped the prestigious honor of the best new ground visited in 2014 but which one of the 21 new grounds we visited was the worst.  Being the worst is very subjective of course – one man’s Wembley will be another man’s Mill Road, Aveley.  So if your club’s ground is on the list, don’t take offence.  We understand the efforts that go into trying to keep a ground maintained but…..

Last year we didn’t honour this category but this year we’ve been to a few places that kicked us back into action.  Without further ado…

3rd Place – Tallaght Stadium, Shamrock Rovers
Despite the League of Ireland playing a summer league, there is only one season in South West Dublin – winter.  With only two stands the wind whips all around the ground whatever the day, whatever the hour.  The ground is located on the fringes of the city, meaning that the highlights of Temple Bar are a good 45 minute tram ride away.  You’re OK if you fancy a pre-match stop in Tescos though.  The advantage of no stands behind the goal means that you can buy and eat your hot chips and not miss a minute of the action.  The history of the club’s search for their own home is well documented but sitting freezing on a cold wooden seat in October may have tainted my view.

2nd Place – Skonto Stadion, Riga Latvia
National stadiums fall into two catagories.  Those designed to wow, with innovation and supporter experience at their hearts.  These are your Wembley’s, your Parken stadium in Copenhagen and the new Stockholms Arena.  Then there are those that fall into the “must do better catagory”.  Welcome to Riga.  The city itself is awesome.  Medieval, historic city centre full of great little bars, superb restaurants and lively nightlife.  Then there is the football ground.  You can’t even call it three sided these days – one end is completely missing, the opposite end has a strange large domed-shaped structure in.  Think of Bloomfield Road, Blackpool, when it was half finished and then spray the remaining stands with shale.  It stays off bottom place because the beer is brilliant and cheap.

1st Place – South Kesteven Stadium, Grantham Town
13647123183_1b56e04bea_kI have a real problem with athletics grounds doubling up as football grounds.  It always seems that when I watch games in such places, the matches are quite frankly, rubbish.  Without any ball boys, the play is constantly broken up by players having to run miles to retrieve the ball.  Grantham’s ground looks like someone has simply stuck a two-tier structure on the edge of a school athletics track.  With crowds struggling to break the two hundred mark, match days aren’t filled with crackling atmosphere.  Inside the main stand the welcome is warm and hospitable but venture outside and be prepared to be blown away by the winds whipping in from the Urals.

Next up on the Third Day of Christmas – The best football book of the year!

The 12 Days of TBIR Christmas

14486517663_b9f4586b72_kFor the sixth year in the row we today launch our 12 Days of TBIR Christmas, celebrating all that is good and bad about our beautiful game seen through the team here (well, me basically) and my trusty iPhone camera.  We will celebrate the best of times and the worst of times.  The grounds we would go back to like a shot, and those that we would give a wide berth to in the future.  So sit back and enjoy the winners and losers in our Zeitgeist (I learnt that word from Google last year and it’s up there with serendipity).