Five things from….Belgium 2 USA 1


Back by popular request for potentially his last run out in the World Cup is Andy Mack with his view from downtown Manhattan on the mood in the US Camp for their game against Belgium.

Many questions coming into this game needed to be answered:  How much time will Jozy Altidore play? (Zero.) How would the Belgian attack look? (Strong.)  Could the US see enough of the ball to pull off the upset? (Almost.) We would have our answers after a grueling 120 minute affair.

1. Tim Howard – How could we start with anyone else?  US goalkeeper Tim Howard gave one of the most courageous performances in World Cup history. Tim broke the record for most saves in a World Cup match with 16, and the US needed every one of them to stay in the match.  Howard was named Man of the Match, even in defeat.   To put things in perspective, Belgian defender and captain Vincent Kompany tweeted after the match   “Two Words.. Tim Howard #Respect #BelUSA”

2. Belgian Dominance –  The even possession numbers masked the fact that the Belgians seemed to have virtually all of the best chances to score throughout the match.  The last ten minutes of regulation time had the Americans holding on and hoping for extra time.  The insertion of Roman Lukaku into the Belgian attack provided the Red Devils the spark in the final third that impacted both goals.  The goals, and win, were well deserved.

photo 1 (28)3. Wondo…. OH NO – Many US fans knew that chances were going to be few and far between. The only path to victory was to take advantage of any scoring chances that the Belgians may concede. That single moment came in stoppage time when the ball came down on the foot of Chris Wondolowski in the 6 yard box with only the keeper to navigate.  With only charging keeper Thibaut Courtois to beat, Wondolowski skied the ball over the net. The way the game played out, you could feel that this would come back to haunt the US.

4. Klinsmann Making Great Moves – US coach Jurgen Klinsmann proved that he truly understands this team with impactful substitutions during the match. With Fabian Johnson forced to exit with what appeared to be a hamstring injury, Klinsmann looked to Deandre Yeldin. Yeldin’s speed proved to be menacing down the sideline, causing problems for the Belgian defense. With Chris Wondolowski having the chance to be a hero and Julian Green’s late goal, all three of Klinsmann’s substitutions were impactful.

5. Heads Held High – The US should walk away from this match with their heads held high.  This team proved to have the grit and guts that has been the staple of US soccer for decades.  Losing to a Belgian side (who, going into the tournament, was considered a dark horse to win it all) is not something to be ashamed of. The US will need to pair their resilient mentality with a better touch in the midfield in order to take the next step in their progression of becoming a top team.  Belgium will be moving on to face Argentina in the quarterfinals, which appears to be a matchup of two teams who have yet to fire on all cylinders.

The Beer World Cup
The beautifully crafted Delirium Tremens has the sophistication to edge out the bold, brash, Brooklyn Lager by the same score line.

Belgium 2 US 1

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Five things from…Belgium 1 South Korea 0


The second set of games so far this week have produced little in the way of excitement bar the antics of the Mexican coach, with all of the drama taking place when I have been in meetings in the office. But that was surely going to change tonight?  Whilst Belgium were through, and only a miracle meaning that the South Korean’s could go through, it was a game full of promise.  Or was I just too excited by the prospect of 90 minutes drinking a variety of Belgium beers?

1. It must be a bad game – When the TV producer decides to cut to a slow-motion replay OF A MEXICAN BLOODY WAVE.  Not content with us having to view the game through the emotions of various young girls in the crowd, the recognisable cheer as the ridiculous wave passes around the stadium sends TV producers into raptures about how fanatical these fans are.  Bad enough at normal speed, but to see it in slow-motion is unbearable. Every minute or so the cameramen found a female in the crowd wearing face paint and pulling a silly face.

image2. There’s no need for that – I know they are in Rio and I know it is hot but who suggested it would make good television to put the ITV team in shorts??  Children up and down the country will now be having nightmares about seeing Gordon Strachen’s legs. Fortunately someone must have had a word during the first half because at the break they had put their strides back on.

3. The Red Devils – Once again, why are BOTH teams playing in their away kits?  The Red Devils versus the Red Tigers yet neither are wearing red.  What’s next?  A special Knockout round lime green number? Simple rule in future – one kit allowed – if there is a clash of shirts then one team plays in skins.

4. Taking it for granted – Two weeks of wall to wall football comes to an end tonight when the tournament takes a break for 24 hours.  Shocking scheduling – Who is this tournament for, after all?  The players or the TV audiences? In living rooms up and down the country, couples will be forced to have real conversations.  Or you could do what I am doing and going to the pub, as CMF automatically assumes the football is on every night.

5. Technically his foot is offside – No Andy, he was OFFSIDE.  Your foot is still part of your body. If you cannot say anything to add any value then please just shut up.

The Beer World Cup

Back after a brief period of abstinence, this was one we had been looking forward to all week.  A quick visit to the Belgium Beer company at half time saw a number of the countrymen make it into my squad for the evening (i.e, my carrier bag) to line up alongside OB, the South Korean challenge.

Floris Passion White 11 OB 1

The Kit World Cup – Day 14

Adidas – 40pts
Nike – 40
Puma – 28
Lotto – 10
Burrda – 6
Marathon – 4
Uhlsport – 1

In Flanders fields the flare smoke blows


11179742773_79c4a65478_bYou can never do enough research or planning for these trips.  To maximise the short amount of time you have to sort out logistics before you depart.  Fortunately Danny and I are good at this stuff.  Very good in fact.  Unfortunately, ending up at 3am in a night club in a very strange French town and consequently sleep through three alarm calls ruins all of the homework. Welcome to day two of our European Football Weekend.

We, which of course means I, had a short drive across the border into Belgium today for what promised to be some spicy football.  Game one was a relative local battle of pride in the centre of Belgium.  Aalst, home of the textile industry, isn’t exactly known as a hotbed of Belgian football.  In fact it is a relative cool bed of most things, but we had been promised the best day ever so who was we to say no?

Confession time.  I’ve only ever had two kebabs in my life.  Once, back in 1989 and then again I had a moment of weakness in Cardiff after the 2006 FA Cup Final.  But with just 10 minutes at Gent St Peters station between trains, and no food, our only option was a kebab shop.  So we indulged, and I have to say, on a Sunday morning, it was wonderful.  I can now understand what all of the fuss is about. Sorry Current Mrs Fuller, a moment’s weakness.

Aalst certainly wasn’t rocking when we arrived at midday.  Perhaps it was the fear of the invading Royal Antwerp fans or the fact that time stands still in Belgium on a Sunday.  We were due to meet Yves, “Mr Fix It” at Eendracht Aalst.  With Antwerp being the visitors, this game had been designated as a “Combi” game (or a “Bubble” game in English speak), so tickets for three visitors from England would be difficult to get hold of.  Danny reached out for help via the Aalst forum and the answer was clear “Ask Yves”.  So he did, and three tickets were procured.  All we had to do was meet with Yves.

11179668336_d68068ee40_bOur chosen meeting point was, of course, a bar.  One of the Aalst fans bar.  In walked a chap with a big camera and a bigger moustache.  Judging by the back-slaps, high fives and kisses on each cheek this was our man.  Yves was a legend.  He gave us our staples for life – tickets to the football and a beer.  What more could we ask for?  Well how about a private audience with the Aalst mascot, a massive walking Onion?

Five minutes later we were ushered into a private room in the stadium.  In front of us was the half man/half onion outfit. The TV cameras were due to record a special programme on the chap who would be slipping on the famous outfit, having been doing the job for decades.  On the floor were the special onion shoes.  Opportunities to slip into the shoes of someone famous rarely come along and so Danny tried to put one on.  Alas, like Cinderella’s ugly sisters, he couldn’t get his foot in.  But it was a different story for me and I would be marrying the prince.  That was until the “prince” walked in and we made a hasty retreat.

Time to watch some football.  The Royal Antwerp fans didn’t seem to be too happy with their accommodation and started throwing everything they could get their hands on.  For far too many years they had been languishing in the second division and the fans were growing weary of seeing smaller teams gaining promotion.  They now had Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink in the hotseat but he hadn’t exactly set the division alight.  But perhaps this game would kick-start their season?

Eendracht Aalst 1 Royal Antwerp 0 – Sunday 1st December 2013 – Pierre Cornelisstadion
At the full-time whistle the home fans surged to the front of the perimeter barriers and joined in a spontaneous Zorba’s dance with the Aalst players.  After a decent first half, they had faded towards the end of the game and hung on for all three points. The single goal, scored by Andy Carroll look-alike Glouftsis was the difference between the two teams although it was the home keeper, Verhoeven who was the busier of the two.

11179600085_847ed533a2_bAalst took to the field with 11 Belgians in their starting line-up and came out of the blocks like a train.  Glouftsis had the ball in the net after a few minutes, heading in unchallenged after the ball had rebounded off the advertising boards behind the goal.  Apparently, the rule about playing off the boards still hasn’t been introduced by FIFA so the goal was ruled out.  Fortunately the pony-tailed striker didn’t have to wait long before his goal, taking the ball on his knee, swivelling and shooting in one flowing move.

At the heart of Antwerp’s midfield was a certain J. Bostock.  Six years ago Bostock made his debut for Crystal Palace at the age of 15 years old.  A year later, after just four appearances for Palace,  he was a Spurs player, after a heated legal row on his ownership.  Six years later the “wonder-kid” he has played just sixty games in his career.  In the summer Spurs released him, once again underlining the way in which promising youngsters are often simply warehoused by the top clubs.  Royal Antwerp have taken a chance on him and here he was in all of his glory.

The atmosphere created by just 3,500 was certainly impressive.  The away fans sent over a few flares, and the home fans retorted with a few songs about the parentage of the away fans.  But who was we to care.  We were in the middle of the biggest conga since Zorba the Greek.

K.V Kortrijk 1 Zulte Waregem 1 – Sunday 1st December 2013 – Guldensporonstadion
11179784356_32d5ba7885_b
On the way to Aalst we’d passed through Waregem on the train.  Damon had been here in May and suggested that is was a sleepy little place, akin to “Hereford” and that he didn’t think there would be much of an atmosphere for our final game of the weekend.  “About 4 or 5,000 I reckon” he told us.  So when our train pulled into Kortrijk station some 2 hour before kick off, we had to pinch ourselves at the scene unfolding in front of us.

Thousands of fans, dressed in red and white were preparing to march to the stadium.  And by preparing I mean firing flares into the air, throwing fire-crackers on the floor and twirling their scarves like there was no tomorrow. It was the best night ever.  Danny and Damon aren’t easily bought but put them a beer in one hand and the chance of a flare in the other than they are anyones.  As the sensible one in the group I went and got the car and drove it to the Guldensporonstadion and waited patiently for their three rings to say they had safely arrived.

11179715195_5ebaa87f80_bThe atmosphere in the ground was outstanding, with a couple of thousand home fans crammed into the big terrace behind the goal.  Think Ashton Gate mixed with Griffin Park and then you have the Guldensporonstadion.  Around six hundred away fans were crammed into a side stand and were drowned out by the fireworks and song after song (“We all agree, Waregem fans are Wankers” was a firm favourite).

The away keeper, Bossut, was welcomed at the home end with a shower of potatoes.  Not once did he bat an eyelid though.  Three minutes into the game and he needed to be on the top of his game as he faced a penalty from Santini, making a great save to silence the home fans. But it wasn’t long before they did take the lead when De Smet scored after some smart close control in the area and unsurprisingly the fans went mental.

11179720385_46a9ea672c_bThere wasn’t a moment in the game when we weren’t jumping up and down, linking arms and Poznaning across the terraces or swirling our scarves around our head.  Occasionally we watched some of the game, with the home side being reduced to ten men after a second yellow for De Smet.  Deep down we wanted to see what would happen if the Zulte scored at our end, and sure enough with just two minutes to go Habibou slotted home and cups of beers showered down from all sides.  A draw was the least the away side deserved based on possession and chances.  Once again they are fighting at the top of the table and are still in the Europa League.

It was time for us to come home.  For Damon and Danny it was a chance of a snooze, but for me it was a trip on the concentration highway.  It had been a long, tiring trip but one that had ultimately been more rewarding than a trip to Marseilles.  Even the UK border guard who questioned us about our trip agreed.  Rome, Copenhagen, Istanbul, Stockholm and Belgrade – The best derbies in Europe for atmosphere by far. Add to that list Kortrijk.

Just your Standard Super Sunday


“Are you getting up or what?” Danny wasn’t happy on the other end of the phone.  It seemed that Kenny had forgotten to change the time on his mobile from German to Belgium time, or so he told me.  Ten minutes later we were downstairs, raring to go.  It was 9am.  Whilst we were awake, Brussels certainly wasn’t.  Tourists gave us a wide berth as we marched across the old town wielding our croissants with menace.  Street cleaners were clearing away the detritus from the remnants of a lively Saturday night and the noise of their work echoed through our collective hangovers.  Was it too early for a beer?  Despite all the rules in the EFW charter, about being awake on foreign soil for more than 30 minutes and passing open drinking establishments, we stoically continued on our journey We had a train to catch, heading South East from the capital to Liège, the economic capital of Wallonia.

10404948905_0977f576f9_bToday was the day of the ‘Hate Derby’.  The rivalry between the two biggest teams in the French-speaking province of Wallonia isn’t in the league of any team and Anderlecht but it has still been spicy enough in the past few years for the Belgium police to class this as a ‘Bubble’ game and thus the few hundred Zebras fans to be bused direct from South Brussels to the ground.

Liège was the only venue I hadn’t visited during the fantastic summer of Euro2000 and in the past decade it had somehow eluded my attentions.  But few could ignore the outstanding architecture of the Liège-Guillemins railway station.  For those with a bit of an interest in the work of Santiago Calatrava will see on first sight that the €300 million new structure is up their with his best work alongside the terminal at Bilbao Airport, the Cuitat de las Arts i les Ciences in Valencia and Turning Torso in Malmö. Continue reading

EastDenders


A few years ago we were all raving about Germany being THE place to get your European footballing kicks.  Decent beer, cheap tickets, as many sausages as you possibly imagine and a bevy of beauties that will, well let’s leave it there had us flocking over to Deutschland at the drop of a hat.  And then Poland came along, with their Euro2012 euphoria filling our senses with even cheaper beer (even if it was called Plop), even meatier sausages and a bevy of beauties who for 50% less would, well we definitely need to leave it there!  But recently an old favourite has been turning our head.

“Hey boys” (adopt the voice of the Cadbury’s Caramel rabbit), “I have beer too…and not just beer-flavoured beer.  I have fruit flavoured, chocolate favoured, even chip-flavoured silky smooth alcohol.  And Sausages?  Well I have waffles, smothered in chocolate with a dollop on top.  And football….good old fashion football….with flares and fences.”  How could we resist that sweet Belgian voice?

But how could we get there I asked my imaginary furry friend?

“Well,” she whispered in my ear, “All of those trips to Paris for work have not been in vain.  You have Eurostar miles.  Hundreds, even thousands of them.  That is your currency.  They will take you to the party.”  So you see it wasn’t me, or in this instance, Danny Last’s fault.  It was that bloody rabbit who made us get up at 7am on a Saturday morning, travel to St Pancreas International, dragging Big Deaksy along for company, and boarding the first train to Brussels.  Damn you rabbit!

10405178733_08326964ae_bOf course it wasn’t only going to be about football, beer, chocolate and twice-cooked chips.  Oh no.  We had a cultural agenda as long as your arm. Well, that was what Kenny Legg told us who was arriving from his secret location somewhere in NordRhein Westfalia where he was still “doing stuff for Her Majesty”.  He had prepared the itinerary for our weekend.  Museums, art galleries and a classical concert I believe he said.  Only he left the plan in the Legg Arms on Friday night whilst he sang Trio’s Da Da Da on the Karaoke.  Bad form Kenny, bad form.  What to do, we mused on the train as it swooshed under the Channel.  Deaksy bravely suggested we revert to plan A of football, beer, chocolate and twice-cooked chips and the motion was carried 3-0.

Mid-day.  Brussels Midi

Like Marmite, you ever love Brussels or hate it.  I am a lover, whilst The Current Mrs Fuller is a hater.  “A dull, grey concrete jungle filled with Eurocrates goading themselves on tax payers money” was her summary a few years ago.  She had been to the city once, back in the day and was still bitter that Anderlecht had changed their game at the last-minute for TV and thus denied her an opportunity to take in a game.  I’d had some good times in the city and I had every confidence that this weekend would deliver more of the same. Continue reading

Long live the European Football Weekend


Whilst Danny Last’s famous site closed its doors just over a year ago, the EFW is still as big as ever.  This weekend Danny himself, Big Deaksy, Kenny Legg, Huddo Hudson, Spencer Webb and myself got familiar with the German beer, sausages and football at the weekend, our paths almost crossed with the Daggers Diary team who made the foray into Düsseldorf territory as part of their four game, three countries road trip.

About a year ago, Neil, Dagenham Dan and I made a trip into Europe to take in a game in four different countries over the course of one weekend. Even as we were making our way back from Oostende to Calais to catch the train back home, there were already plans to repeat (or improve) on the trip in 2013.

Despite the schedule of four games in such a short space of time, the only mad rush between games was between Koln and Venlo, and that was comfortably achieved without too much drama.

So this year, we thought we should try to do it all again. Obviously with different venues (fixtures permitting), but to attempt to repeat our 2012 trip would be great. A weekend was selected, and then we set about going through the games, seeing which ones we could feasibly attend. We selected four games, and unlike last year, they would all be in the top division of the respective leagues. Except that the French league was causing a bit of a problem, and after all of the others were more or less confirmed, we were kind of hoping that Lille would be scheduled for the Sunday evening, so that we could get a fifth game in. Unfortunately, that wasn’t to happen, so we would have to make do with just the four.

Of course, while we have got lucky with the fixtures and kick off times, there have been other things where we (or more specifically Neil), haven’t been so fortunate. Last year, about a week before the trip, Neil had an accident in the car, which meant that we ended up hiring a vehicle for the weekend. This year, the car hasn’t been the problem, but instead over the New Year period, Neil managed to break his wrist. This meant that, for a few days the trip was in the balance before the hospital proclaimed that the break should be healed in about a month’s time, and in plenty of time for the trip.

I say we have been lucky with the fixtures, and to a certain degree, we have. While Dan and I will be attending four new grounds (it’s two for Neil), we have potentially missed out on a couple of other games. For example, Anderlecht have a home game on the Friday of our trip, while Borussia Dortmund are at home on the Saturday night. Having already booked tickets for the other games as well as the hotels, we have decided to stick to the planned games. However, both clubs are ones that we all want to visit, but as we have found out before, getting tickets for Dortmund can be difficult.

So, now that we are half way through February, Neil’s fracture is healed, and we are on our way through the channel tunnel towards our first stop on the trip, Nijmegen.

Meeting Dan at Chafford at just before eight in the morning, we were lucky enough that the Dartford bridge was not too clogged up, and once across, we were able to make good progress on to our meeting point with Neil at Folkestone services. Arriving just after nine, we were able to sort out payment for Dan’s car parking before we carried on towards the Channel Tunnel. Booked on the 10.50 crossing, we were (after having breakfast in the terminal), through and onto a train, earlier than planned.

The trip to Nijmegen takes about three hours, and so once we emerged into the French sunshine at Calais, we hit the motorway and headed east to the Netherlands. Continue reading

You’re just a bunch of Antwerps


I could have written loads about Saturday but I let Danny Last have that pleasure here.

The first thing I remember about Sunday morning was Deaks running around the room in his pants telling us we had 20 minutes to get up.  I vaguely remember events from the night before.  There was a party in the Royal Antwerp players bar.  We accosted the Antwerp captain and made him sign a napkin and then told him it was a contract to play for Lewes. Continue reading